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Casey Sandretto Finds Validation in WPT Rolling Thunder Victory

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Casey Sandretto couldn’t stop smiling. It’s understandable, he just topped a 458-entry field to capture the his first World Poker Tour title at WPT Rolling Thunder for a career-high $246,600 cash which includes a seat to the 2024 WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas in December.

But it was more than that. It was validation. Validation for taking a second chance at a poker career after having tried and walked away from it nearly a decade earlier.

Almost 90 minutes before the tournament actually ended, Sandretto was already partially a winner. He and eventual runner-up, WPT Champion Michael Kinney, agreed to a chop; one that was as close to even as the venue and WPT would allow. But instead of snap-shoving all-in at the very next opportunity, the pair fought hard for the spot on the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup.

Even though Sandretto started the day fourth in chips, he never wavered in his belief that he would find a way to chip up, overtake the massive chip advantage of Yunkyu Song, and anyone else who he came up against.

“I played 10 billion Sit & Gos in my life,” he said “So I’ve been in situations that are similar to that obviously, but not for this much money,” he said.

“Obviously you have to run good, you have to get some big hands.”

Those 10 billion SNGs he’s referring to took place in his early 20s. Sandretto, now 37, is a product of the Online Poker boom and like many poker players of that age, found himself engrossed in the game and looking to give it a real shot as a younger player. But also like many, he ran into an unavoidable roadblock, one that continues to haunt the industry today.

“Black Friday just completely wrecked me and I was not prepared at all.”

He tried to persist, got backed but also got busted. He grew tired of the grind and made the decision to leave the poker life behind and jump into a real job. One that pays a real salary.

“I need to give myself a chance to have a regular good life if I’m not going to be able to make a lot of money playing poker. So I didn’t want to do that, but I did feel like it was the responsible thing to do. I didn’t play a single hand for three years.”

But the game stuck with him and with the security of a real job, he found his way back to the tables. But as he said, this time it was different.

“All of a sudden the Games that I played before that felt big to me, didn’t feel as big anymore. And so it felt like, okay, now I’m just playing the game.”

He started recording cashes again in 2022, and in early 2023 made the final table of the WSOP Circuit Main Event at Thunder Valley. He played with a new confidence and was able to find a new angle to approach tournaments. One he brought with him to the WPT Rolling Thunder final table. A notion that he could have fun and while the money meant a lot, he just wanted to try to win.

“You can be more present in the game when it doesn’t mean as much to you. When the money means a lot, then you’re too focused on, you’re too attached to, the money aspect of it kind of fucks with your head. And I don’t have that anymore,” he said. “It feels there’s less anxiety attached to it, less of a need to have to win instead of I’m just playing for the love of the game.”

Sandretto had some friends on the rail, but more importantly he had family and friends who had his back, watching the livestream from afar. Some of them weren’t thrilled when he first made a run at being a poker pro, but he says he’s got the full support of his family now – even well before the win.

“My family’s super excited and they’ve been really supportive the entire time. They weren’t super thrilled when I was 22 years old and wanted to quit a job to click buttons on the internet for a living, but they supported me and they trusted me with it.”

Ultimately, that trust and confidence has turned to validation. Validation of many of his choices, including the notion that he had a knack for this game and a reason to give it a second go as a pro.

“For a long time. I felt like I wasted time in my mid-twenties when I could have been doing something else. I probably should have gone to school and got a regular job, but I’ve never felt like that kind of person. And now there is definitely some validation behind that.”

While Sandretto thinks people would normally call him a “cynical kind of person”, in the afterglow of the win he was reflective of the journey that got him into the Champions Club. Excited, but humble, he knows that it takes both luck and skill to get to the top of the hill.

“In the five or six years I was playing live, I didn’t have any opportunities like this,” he said. “But I had plenty of good opportunities and it felt like every time I got close, I ran [not good] and nothing went my way every time. It got to the point where it just kind of drives you crazy. After a while, you get so close, you can just taste it.”

Today, Sandretto finally got to eat. His score in WPT Rolling Thunder eclipses his entire previous resume and will set him on a path to traveling, playing more, and enjoying his second shot at a poker life.

“I definitely will mix in some more events,” he said. “I’ll probably mix in some more non-Hold’em events this year too, to try to get a bracelet now that I’ve got a WPT Championship to my name.

“But yeah, I definitely plan on playing a full schedule in Vegas for the summer and maybe even head down to Hard Rock. So a non-zero chance they’ll see me down there.”

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