Mickey Craft is suddenly famous after taking the World Series of Poker by storm (1on1 with Jon Evans podcast)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Mickey Craft made a living for years helping repair damage done by storms. Hail storms, lightning storms, hurricanes, flooding. No matter the cause, Boss Storm Repair worked to make things better. Mickey Craft took Las Vegas by storm in July, when he vaulted to the top of the standings at the World Series of Poker Main Event.

The lead-up to that story started decades ago, when Mickey Craft grew up in Ohio. His family sat around the table playing cards, and Mickey remembers his father having friends come over to the house to play poker.

"Dad would always play with me," Mickey says. "I remember having a paper route, and the money I made from the paper route, dad would play me poker. He's the type of guy if you lose, you lose. If that money is gone, don't ask for it back, you know."

Mickey continued to play poker, in college and in the Army. But it was the advent of online poker that fed his desire to play competitively. He began playing at a site called ultimatebet.com.

"Twenty years ago, I started playing online for something to do during working hours," Mickey says. "I owned my own company, I had a lot of down time so I just started playing poker."

Mickey had some success playing online poker. He won his way to a Texas Hold 'Em tournament in Aruba, where he cashed and took home $40,000.

"It was just as frightening as the first day of school, but it gave me a huge itch then," Mickey says. "Now I see there is money to be made and I hadn't made any money up until now, and I didn't make any for quite a ways afterward, so I must have gotten lucky in that tournament a little bit. For four or five years after that I didn't make any money. I had to sharpen the skills and read some books and polish up."

Mickey kept playing, and kept working. He moved to Myrtle Beach and began doing repair work for storm victims. He heard people in the Wilmington had suffered some damage from a hail storm in June of 2015, and looked to the area for business. Mickey says the first door he knocked on belonged to his current fiance. Mickey later sold his house in Ohio, and moved to the Port City permanently.

In 2016, Mickey sold his share in the business, and decided to concentrate on poker full-time. "I just decided to become a professional poker player," he said. "So last year was the first year I got to write on my taxes 'professional poker player', claim what I won, and so forth."

Some success on the World Poker Tour in 2016 gave him confidence enough to enter World Series of Poker events in 2017. More success followed. Mickey cashed at an event in March. In June, he entered a $3,000 Limit Hold 'Em tournament and made it to the final table. A third-place finish was worth nearly $70,000. He entered the WSOP Main Event in July with some momentum. He talks about it at 17:30 of the podcast.

"Nobody started talking about me at all until the World Series of Poker," Mickey remembers. "I was the first one to 500,000 chips, I was the first to one million chips, first one to two million chips, first one to four million chips. I was second in chips the second day, I was first in chips the third day, first in chips the fourth day, first in chips the fifth day. Then I had a shot of Petron, and it all went to crap."

Mickey says he and his fiance met up with some friends and started celebrating their engagement. The celebration went a little too deep into the night and the early morning. Mickey arrived late for the fifth day of play, telling people he had less than an hour of sleep, and was still drunk. His chip lead disappeared, and Mickey ended up going out. He finished 146th out of more than 7200 entries, taking home $53,000.

"What got me was 'the buzz'," Mickey admits. "Here we are, talking about Mickey Craft, who's not known in the poker world at all. From people coming up to me saying 'during your break, can we interview you?'. I did about 20 different interviews. What really got me was they said 'we're going to send you over to the feature table because they won't shut up about it on Twitter. Everybody wants you on the feature table'. That kind of went to my head. I don't regret anything. It was a learning experience and you learn from your mistakes. I learned from my mistakes and hopefully I'll have an opportunity to be there again next year."

So far in 2017, he's won more than $130,000. But, it's taken a while for Mickey to get to this point. A lot of playing, a lot of losing, a lot of studying. He's closed the gap on the best players in the world.

"Everybody thinks they are good enough," Mickey says. "But when you get around these professional poker players, who are better than me, these guys have been doing it a long time. They've got it down to a science. If you read some of those books, they know all the math there is. Now they have something called a 'Positive EV', equity value, and a 'Minus Equity Value'. These kids are crazy with these numbers these days, and they're good. They're taking the fun out of the game, in my opinion."

Bloggers and writers hailed Mickey Craft for his performance in the main event. They loved his free-for-all style. One fellow player tweeted Craft is "the hero we need, but don't deserve", while another said, "we were sad to see Mickey Craft leave". He's been invited to take part in upcoming events with some of the biggest names in the game. The sudden notoriety is hard for the 48-year-old to believe.

"I'm still stunned by it," he says. "I don't know how it happened. I'm a little amazed by the whole thing, but it's been fun."

My interview with Mickey Craft covers a lot of other topics. Some of the ways professional poker players figure out if an opponent is bluffing, what are called "tells", is fantastic. Mickey told me how his brother almost cost him the opportunity to win that tournament trip to Aruba. His favorite hand, favorite seat at a poker table, the most money he's won in a single hand of poker ($112,000 cash) and the most he's lost ($30,000). It's a fun interview. You'll like it.

You can listen to the entire interview with Mickey Craft on the free "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast: 

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