In January of 2020 Mike Del Vecchio completed a unique streak that spanned three consecutive years in the same tournament. Starting in 2018, the 31-year-old poker pro managed an average finishing place of just better than sixth place in the Aussie Millions $10,600 AUD no-limit hold’em main event, a tournament that drew an average of 814 entries over that time period.
That first year he finished fifth out of 800 entries. In 2019 he finished runner-up out of a record 822 entries. This year, he fell just short of making the final table for the third straight time, finishing in tenth place when he ran pocket kings into the pocket aces of eventual champion Vincent Wan.
Del Vecchio cashed for $1,294,200 USD across those three scores, including earning his largest career payday of $915,957 for his second-place showing in 2019. With more than $2.9 million in lifetime live tournament scores, Del Vecchio’s three cashes Down Under represent nearly 44 percent of his total career earnings.
The Long Island-born Del Vecchio went pro playing online poker while in college. He dropped out of school at the age of 21 to play full time roughly a decade ago. A few years into his career, his friends Jesse Sylvia and Russell Thomas both made the final table of the 2012 World Series of Poker main event together, which Del Vecchio noted inspired him to take the tournament side of the game more seriously.
His results in live tournaments improved after he took up weightlifting in 2016, which he credits for improving his discipline. Not long after, he had his breakout win, topping a field of 421 entries in the 2017 World Poker Tour Rolling Thunder $3,500 no-limit hold’em main event for $284,638. Later that year, he took third at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic main event for another $752,196.
Card Player recently caught up with Del Vecchio to discuss his incredible streak in Australia over the past three years, where the run ranks for him in his list of poker accomplishments, and much more.
Card Player: When did you first decide to play Aussie Millions? What led you to take that trip?
Mike Del Vecchio: It was pretty crazy actually. So, three years ago I had originally planned to do a powerlifting meet and I went to the WPT Five Diamond series and I took third in main event that year. It was at Bellagio, so essentially my home casino. And, after that I got mono, sick for two weeks. I lost about 15 pounds over those two weeks and I was supposed to do this powerlifting competition in early January, but I couldn’t after having been sick and lost all that weight. So, having just made a huge score at Bellagio, I was feeling good about poker. Australia was a trip I always wanted to take, but it just never really lined up right, and it’s such a big commitment to travel 15 hours on a plane to go there. Once I began to recover and feel better, I was like, ‘Oh, I might as well go to Australia while I can.’ And so I made the flight and managed to final table the main event the first year I played it. Australia is really awesome as well, and Melbourne is possibly my favorite city in the world. So, after that I was like, ‘Oh, I definitely want to come back here as much as I can.’
CP: Outside of really enjoying the city, is there anything else you think about the Aussie Millions main event in particular that you feel has helped you find repeated success there?
MD: If anything, the structure. It’s definitely a structure that allows me to play to my strengths. I have a cash game background and am very comfortable playing super deep stacked. And, it’s one of those tournaments where only every now and then will the average stack dip under 60 big blinds. So, for the most part, everybody is super deep, and as a result you could put people in more uncomfortable spots than you normally can if they only have 30 big blinds.
Also, when you get short you have plenty of time to double up, potentially, because the structure’s so good. So, that’s definitely something that plays to my strengths. I do also generally feel good playing there as well, but at the end of the day it’s a sample size of three tournaments, as you said. I have probably five or six big final tables over the course of thousands of tournaments I’ve played in my career, and three happen to be in Australia. There’s only so much you can control.
CP: This year, you got back to the final 10 after having finished fifth and runner-up the two previous years. During ten-handed action you got short and then were able to rebuild your stack, only to run pocket kings into pocket aces. You gave an interesting, earnest bust out interview on the live stream in which you spoke about feeling like you were just on the verge of doing something historic, and how it was so disappointing to fall just short. Was it hard not to get ahead of yourself in a situation like the one you were in this year?
MD: Oh, it is hard enough to get ahead of yourself in any tournament, let alone a spot where you have a chance to do something cool and a bit historic. Even before the tournament started, I joked with my friends. I was like, ‘I’ve probably got better than a one percent shot of making three final tables in a row.’ Then I was at a table with my friend Russell Thomas on the very end of day two, and by that point had built a pretty big stack. I won a couple more pots and Russell turned to me and he jokingly said, ‘You know, Mike, it’s not possible for you to make three final tables in a row.’
So, it was definitely something that was on my mind the whole time. And yeah, if you’re being realistic, it is almost impossible to do something like final table an event of this size three years in a row. When you’re playing any tournament, when you start to build a bigger stack you start to think, ‘Okay, this could actually happen.’ You know, ‘This could actually be this time.’ And sometimes it is, but most of the time, it’s not. I came really close this time, but wound up falling just short.
CP: Where does this accomplishment sit for you, in terms of your career achievements? Was putting together a three-year streak with an average finish of just better than sixth place in one of poker’s marquee events more meaningful to you, than say, your World Poker Tour Thunder Valley main event title?
MD: The WPT win will always be special to me, as it was my first big victory and essentially my breakout score. I would rank my fifth-place finish the first year that I played the Aussie Millions as close to as big of an accomplishment as that win, though. When I chopped the main event last year, that was an even bigger accomplishment in my eyes than the WPT title. Finishing tenth this year, if you separated it from the fact that I had happened to run deep the two prior years in the same event, in my eyes wouldn’t rank very highly among my poker accomplishments. It just happened to come in this particular tournament, where I had happened to run deep three years in a row. Otherwise, I wouldn’t consider it particularly noteworthy.
CP: So the Aussie Millions main event and the WPT Five Diamond main event which you mentioned are both two of the largest $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournaments in the poker world. In recent years there have been fewer and fewer big events at this price point, with an increase in super high roller tournaments and the more affordable ‘mid-major’ tours. Do you wish there were more of these $10,000 main events held throughout the year?
MD: I guess I wish that there were more of these $10,000 tournaments. The circuit is definitely split into the high rollers and the not high rollers. The thing I don’t like about the high rollers is… when I first started playing $10,000 events, when you take a shot at that level, it’s five days with a great structure. When you shot take these $25,000 events… and I’ve played four or five, those tournaments were essentially two-day semi-turbos with 40-minute levels. All the big ballers who play these, they don’t want to just spend five days playing one $25,000 event. They want to play a day or two and get it done. So, given that I view my strength as being deep-stacked play, it’s sort of frustrating to me that these high rollers are largely fast-structured turbos. I love what they did last year with the PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC), which was a deep-stacked $25,000 buy-in with no re-entry. That’s great, and I would love to play more of those as well. It just doesn’t seem like what the VIP players really want to play most of the time.
CP: You said going back and watching the featured table footage that you could from this year that there were a lot of hands you were really happy with. Was there one in particular that you really liked your line in a hand or, conversely, was there any one hand that you really wish you could take back from this tournament?
MD: Yeah, I have two spots, I guess. The 109 of hearts hand I definitely really liked. With 14 players left, Nicholas Malo opened 97 and I called, cutoff versus button. The big blind was Oliver Weis, he came along. The flop came down J44. Weis checked, Nick bet 50,000, which was a pretty small bet. I definitely want to continue here, but I wasn’t sure if I should raise or call. I ended up calling and Oliver folded. The turn was the 7 and I picked up a gutshot straight draw. I bet 180,000, or around 60 percent the size of the pot. He called and the river was the Q and he checked. I bet 320,000, which was about 40 percent pot, I believe. And he snap-folded his 9-7, which had turned a pair.
So, that was a hand I was very happy with. The only hand I wasn’t happy with was one versus the eventual winner Vincent Wan that didn’t get shown on the broadcast. I raised from the button with A10. He three-bet the small blind to 250,000. He had been three-betting a lot. We were shorter, maybe like 33 blinds effective. I called and the flop came down K102. He checked and I checked back. The turn was the 3, which made a backdoor flush draw possible. He bet 200,000 into around 600,000. I called and the river was the 6, meaning no flush came in. He jammed for like 675,000 and I called.
The only reason I really regret it is because most people, when they three-bet preflop and then they check the flop, that’s not a line that they take to bluff very often. If people want to bluff when they three-bet pre, they’ll almost always just do it by betting flop, not by checking, betting turn, jamming river. So, that hand, I definitely regret, but it was definitely a close spot either way. He had QQ for a higher pair. There were some other reasons why I called as well, but in hindsight, I just think people don’t three-bet and then check with bad hands and then start bluffing turn and river. That’s more of a population type of read though than anything concrete about his play.
CP: Most of your biggest tournament scores have come in deeper-stacked, large-field main events. What advice would you have for an amateur who is playing in an event like that? Where do you think people go wrong in these events when they have more play than they’re used to?
MD: I would say that the biggest mistakes I see are that on day one people spew way too hard while by day four people are playing way too conservatively. On day one some people don’t really care too much, and will just stick the money in way too lightly, especially in events that have re-entry open for forever. People are just blasting it in there. But, then by the time they get to day four and there’s no more re-buys and the real money is in sight, a lot of people tend to really clam up and not take any of the spots they normally would. They just make fold after fold and they don’t open as much as they should. Basically, you need to play your game and you can’t be afraid. That’s what I see the most, and as a result, that’s what I try and take advantage of the most.
Featured image credit: Aussie Millions / NT Creative Corp.