Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015 | 11:05 p.m.
Joe McKeehen struggled to find his niche as an adolescent, or in his own words, he “wasn’t very good at life.”
His apathy led to what turned into a permanent nickname of “Joey Ice Cube” one day when he was supposed to be helping a family friend move.
“I was not doing a good job,” McKeehen reflected. “So what I ended up doing was holding the door and filling up his ice-cube trays.”
McKeehen eventually discovered something he was good at, and became the world champion of it Tuesday night at the Penn & Teller Theater inside the Rio. With chants of “Joey Ice Cube” raining down from his friends and family, McKeehen won the 2015 World Series of Poker main event for $7,683,346.
And the 24-year-old from suburban Philadelphia did it more decisively than anyone has since the start of the delayed November Nine format eight years ago. McKeehen sat in first place from start to finish at the final table of the $10,000 buy-in event that 6,420 players entered this summer.
No one else at the table ever accumulated half as many chips as McKeehen, who knocked out six of the eight other players. His domination resulted in play ending at 184 hands, or 76 fewer than the previous record-low for a November Nine.
“It’s really nice to just have all the chips at all times,” McKeehen said. “I was never at risk. A lot of my chips were never even in play. Every pot, even if I lost, I’d still end up being the chip leader, so it was really nice, really smooth and went my way.”
McKeehen cruised past the rest of the field to such an extent that social media swelled with complaints about the dullness of the action broadcast on ESPN. He never made any mistakes and benefitted from a rush of fortunate cards.
McKeehen didn’t even go through any suspense on the final hand. With more than 8-to-1 chip lead over Josh Beckley, a 25-year-old from New Jersey, McKeehen knew the worst-case scenario was only a marginal loss to his stack.
He called an all-in bet with Ace-10 off-suit against Beckley’s pocket 4s. The first card the dealer spread out was a 10, pairing McKeehen and giving him the ceremonial championship bracelet.
“Joe ran really well, and it was hard to beat it,” Beckley said. “I couldn’t do very much with my short stack. I couldn’t make very many moves.”
Beckley felt he played to the best of his ability and was more than happy with the $4,469,171 second-place prize after coming into the final table seventh in chips.
It was a surreal experience, especially since he had played against McKeehen for years. The two professionals live about an hour from each other and frequently play at Parx Casino in Bensalem, Penn.
“It’s great that we both got here and got heads-up,” Beckley said.
Neil Blumenfield, a 61-year-old recreational player from San Francisco, was the other finalist to advance to the last day. McKeehen outplayed Blumenfield in some key spots and grinded him down before scoring the elimination with pocket Queens against pocket 2s.
“The way the cards came out, it didn’t seem like I had too many tough decisions,” McKeehen said. “And when I did, I generally made the right one. It was definitely easier than facing adversity and battling.”
McKeehen got his fill of that earlier in life. It wasn’t long after he received his “Ice Cube” moniker that he started acting on a gift for strategy games.
He won the world championship of the board game Risk in 2010, which came with only prizes and no cash reward. At the same time, he was in college attaining a math degree that he thought could help with a career in poker.
“I always had confidence in my ability to be able to make money, make a living off of this,” McKeehen said. “This is definitely the greatest accomplishment anyone can do, so I’m very happy to have done it.”
McKeehen hasn't decided how he'll spend his winnings, but he could probably at least afford to pay for a moving company next time.