What started as a bit of a joke at the frequency of Mitch Johnson’s ability to make the money in tournaments but only ever record a relatively small cash has now turned into a nickname that Johnson, or ‘min-cash Mitch’ as his friends call him, is looking to shift here in Malta. “I’ve put myself in a lot of good positions, but every time it’s fizzled out in the money or I’ve never really got the hands at the right time,” he tells the PokerStars Blog during a break in play. “In a way I do feel like I’m due a bigger score than I’ve had so far. I’ve had a lot of cashes, but my biggest cash so far is about $20,000, but I’ve just got to keep putting myself in the positions to get that big score.”
It’s something he’s done again here in Malta on Day 3, turning a decent position into an even better one during the opening two levels of play and this despite the presence of a tricky player on his immediate right. “I came back with 200,000 which was a decent stack. Sam Trickett was on my right with almost double my stack though. He was taking all the spots and I kind of just let him take them, not that I folded any hands I’d usually play as I was pretty card dead, but then I got into a decent spot against him.
Mitchell is now on 460,000, that’s how good a spot it was. “He three-bet a guy who was playing 25 bigs and I found kings on the button. Sam had been opening a lot of hands but not three-betting a lot of hands and it looks like he’s three-bet calling versus the 25 big blind stack which is perfect so I four-bet to 42,000 playing 160,000 total. Sam’s three-bet was to 18,000 and he wasn’t really happy about it when I four-bet. I could tell he was happy with his stack and he didn’t really want to get into a spot with me. He also knows that I think there’s better spots than trying to tangle with him.”
Both Trickett and Johnson play cash games in Nottingham but not necessarily against each other. “We don’t have chunks of history, but he knows I don’t have to have it there and so he ends up getting it in with ace-king suited and despite a queen-queen-jack flop we hold. That got me to around 360,000 and we’ve pushed on to 460,000 now.”
Not that denting Trickett’s stack has changed the game flow that much. “Sam had a bad half an hour in the last level he came back with 400,000, got up to 560,000 and then dropped down to 160,000, but he’s quickly got back to the same sort of stack. I’ve cold four-bet him once and he’s stopped opening every single hand and he’s given me a few spots. I’ve not had anyone play back yet, but I imagine now the bubbles burst people will be happier to get it in. There’s definitely worse tables in the room but there’s definitely better seats. Even though I’ve got direct position on him when he’s opening it’s still a bit awkward.”
The Derby natives relative lack of tournament success can be somewhat put down to sample size as for a long time he simply didn’t play ththem. “I started off playing cash, then I chased the big score in tournaments and the big score didn’t come. So I went back to cash and now that a lot of my close friends have had good success in tournaments it spurs you on and you think ‘if they’re winning these tournaments’ then I want a piece of the action.'”
The 28-year-old is part of close knit bunch of friends who travel the circuit together, they include Simon Deadman, Alex Goulder, Andrew Hulme and his namesake Keith Johnson (not his brother as once thought!). The latter is the father figure of the group and he’s had a big win in Malta as he took down the IPT High Roller for €144,500. “Keith is the man who’s never got a stack in a tournament, just grinds his way through, never gives up and then he gets a nice result out of it,” says Johnson.
Sadly for Mitch the nice results have, thus far, been few and far between. “I’ve been playing £1k tournaments every weekend for maybe two years and I play most of the EPTs. I do kind of feel like I should’ve had a bigger score than I have by now,” says Johnson who’s biggest live cash to date is $20,530. “I had a stack in Sanremo (Johnson finished 49th out of 556 players) but did it in two hands to the same guy, that’s the best I’ve done on the EPT so far. I didn’t punt it or anything the two hands were unavoidable, in fact I’ve probably got a reputation that I don’t punt enough stacks.”
You sense that those who call him ‘min-cash Mitch’ would be delighted if that nickname could be confined to the dustbin. “Our group is pretty big on the banter but no one ever takes anything to heart,” he says. “When you’re travelling in a group and you’ve not had a score for a while at first it’s like hahahaha but after a while it’s a bit more like ‘he’s not cashed again,’ especially when people around you like Simon (Deadman) and Alex (Goulder) have had really good years. I think everyone’s ready for me to lose that nickname, no one more than myself to be honest.”
Being part of a group of players who travel to a lot of these tournaments is very much a positive most of the time though believes Johnson. “Generally if you’re thinking about going to a tournament and then you know a couple of your mates are going then you know it’s going to be a good laugh for a week too. There’s a lot of poker talk too, which is good for talking through hands, and of course there’s banter and drinking too. We’ll have a couple the night before the tournament but generally if everyone’s out then everyone’s happy to have a good time. It’s finding the balance between a holiday and a work trip.”
In the beginning that balance was firmly tilted towards holiday, but if anything it’s now swung the other way. “The first few times we started travelling it was always play the main and if you get knocked out then get pissed. Now with events where the tours have merged together there’s so much to play, expenses add up and you should play as much as possible. There’s always a day at the end where you can go out. I’ve played the IPT, the IPT High Roller, two €500 sides, min cashed one of them! And a little bit of cash.”
And another perk of the group mentality is that if someone has a big score everyone gets to celebrate. “Generally if someone has a big cash there’s normally a night out, or someone will always buy dinner the next night. When Simon (Deadman) had his big result in Vegas he took us all out for a nice meal the next night. I remember in Prague when Keith (Johnson) won the Main Event we’d agreed beforehand that we’d pool 10% of any winnings between our group so that was a nice last night out and we had plenty to spend. I’m been well treated by my mates and I think I’m due to send some treats out to people.”
Unlike most poker players of his age, Johnson is married, tying the knot last year, but it’s not changed the amount of time he can spend travelling to poker tournaments, indeed his wife will often accompany him on trips. “We’ve started to try and mix it in, she was in Prague and she’s flying out to Vegas for five days this summer. We still go on holidays together but she’s interested in coming to these sort of places. Generally if there’s somewhere nice with stuff to do as a couple she’ll come out for a bit and then fly home. She owns her own business so our jobs really work well together. She understands my job and she’s cool with the travelling I have to do and never moans about it.”
In between stops on the circuit Johnson goes back to his roots, aka live cash games. “I used to play at Dusk Till Dawn five nights a week but the games have dried up a bit so now I travel to London three nights a week, stay in a hotel and play cash at various places in London. I had a spell of playing online for a bit, I won the Big 162 but had no other major success. I don’t get the same buzz out of it, it feels so much more like a job playing online and much tougher. So, I never really got on with online poker and think I’m a much better live player. I feel like I’m playing blind online, whereas if you’re sat at a table playing against someone in a yachting jacket and a hat I can make better decisions.”
Whilst he may not get on with online poker he is enjoying the new venue on the EPT. “I think maybe if they did it a month later in the year when the weather is better that’d be ideal. The price of everything is fair. It’s nice to order a drink and pay €1.50 for it rather than €7. A baguette and a Red Bull in Barcelona was €20 or something stupid. It’s just nice to know they’re not ripping you off.”
And with that the break is over and Johnson heads back to the tables knowing that he’s already secured another min-cash. If he wants to lose that nickname then the hard work starts here.
Follow all the action from EPT Malta on the main EPT Malta page. There’s action from the Main Event on the Main Event page, and information from the Italian Poker Tour event on the IPT page. It’s also about time you downloaded the EPT App, available on both Android or IOS.