The Action Clock on the World Poker Tour chimes with 10 seconds remaining and buzzes when the 30 seconds are over.
Joe McKeehen rarely hears these sounds.
Over the span of three days, hundreds of hands, and tens of thousands of dollars at stake on his journey to the WPT final table at the Borgata Winter Poker Open, McKeehen never used a time extension chip.
Not once McKeehen did need more than 30 seconds to make a decision that other top pros agonize over for hundreds of seconds. The time chips sat next to his tournament chips gathering dust as his actual stack grew.
Last week, McKeehen reached the WPT final table for the third time in four BPO Main Events. His worst result of those final tables was fourth place.
While McKeehen will always be best remembered for his masterpiece at the 2015 WSOP Main Event, he has quietly churned out additional works of art unmatched by most in the poker community.
McKeehen’s brain processes information as quickly than anyone in poker. The speed with which he thinks through decisions transfers over to brisk physical movements on the felt.
His genius can even be recognized in the small moments during a hand.
A Master of Efficiency
If you watched Friday’s WPT Borgata final table with a keen eye, you noticed something about McKeehen that separated him from his five competitors, all of which are accomplished players. When evaluating how to proceed with a preflop decision, McKeehen blinks at his cards and within a snap-second, knows what he will be doing with the hand.
You also would have noticed his fold. An ordinarily mundane motion that for McKeehen is a whip of energy. In one fluid motion, his cards go into the muck or chips go into the pot. There are no actions to second-guess from McKeehen in the moment of any hand.
Any dealer who pitches to McKeehen never needs to worry about additional stretching across the table to retrieve his cards.
If he plays, he picks up the requisite chips off the top of his layered stacks and drops them in with each one sliding off the other into a multi-colored trail on the felt. When McKeehen’s chip wall peaks, he scales it to pick up units that usually end up retrieved by the end of the hand.
The pace of his play establishes a rhythm that disorients his opponents. His intense hazel stare intensifies the disorientation. His opponents aren’t facing a man. They are facing a conveyor belt of tournament success that has gone over seven years without incident and earned him $14 million in cashes.
The Monster at the End of the Tunnel
Joe McKeehen doesn’t sit down with the intention to intimidate. His results over the years make him the inevitable villain in the stories of his opponents. Even his wardrobe is inevitable. Always the faded gray zip-up sweatshirt. Just like the mechanic’s suit worn by Michael Myers. The only thing missing when McKeehen climbs the leaderboard is a John Carpenter score.
McKeehen writes his inevitable tournament diary through a methodical process. Over three days at Borgata, McKeehen accumulated small pot after small pot on his way to the WPT final table. Michael Myers never runs to catch prey and neither does McKeehen. The prey succumbs to their inevitable will.
From the time McKeehen bought in for the final time on Day 2, he was never all in and at risk for his tournament life. He assembled chips through time as chapters that add up to another brilliant text. When McKeehen makes it deep, there is no other destination than the final table.
The Next Volume
McKeehen didn’t win this WPT, but his return is a matter of months not years. The next time you see McKeehen play from a distance, walk to the front of the rail and watch his perfection at work.
These are the moments that can’t be witnessed on a live stream. A final table gives us a glimpse but glosses over the full picture. Six hours are not enough to show the mind game that has annihilated fields of all buy-in levels for seven consecutive years.
Tournament live updates, while practical for the macro observer, fail to convey McKeehen’s microscopic genius. His mind moves at a pace that none of his opponents can keep up with and save for the rare short circuit of a bad beat, the symphony of excellence conducted inside McKeehen’s brain plays without interruption.
Another page-turner at the level of this savant is never going to be published. There is no second edition version of Joe McKeehen hitting the shelves. He nailed the first draft.
Lead image courtesy of WPT/Flickr