From Penn State Tennis To World-Class Poker: Meet Jake Toole
A quick Google search of Jake Toole leads you to a few unlikely combinations: a GoPSUSports bio page, the twitter handle “@Psutennis,” and various poker tournament websites displaying his winnings totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If you don’t know him, you might assume that Jake Toole is just a common name, and these are two different people.
You would also be wrong.
With further thought, his life makes more sense — both poker and tennis are essentially individual, competitive, high risk-high reward games. And Toole has been on every end of the risk-reward spectrum. He’s won $453,687 just as quickly as he’s lost his entire bankroll.
Toole hails from Sharon, Massachusetts, a quiet town nestled just south of Boston. He garnered attention from various Division-I tennis programs throughout his high school career, in which he was All-American, ranked as high as 34th in the country. He accepted a tennis scholarship to Penn State when he graduated from Sharon High in 2007.
Although he dabbled in poker throughout high school, it wasn’t always something he took as seriously as tennis.
“I discovered online poker late in high school, around the 2005 poker boom. I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he said with an introspective chuckle. “That took me into my freshman year in college, where I messed around with it a little more. I was busy with tennis and school, but by the end of my freshman year I was winning, throwing $50 playing every once in awhile.”
Toole said his priorities started to shift while he was injured and the team was away on a trip to Purdue. “I decided to stay in on a Friday night and somehow, I ended up winning $6,000,” Toole said. “It might as well have been a million. That’s when I realized it was possible to make money playing.”
Poker is a game of inevitable highs and lows, though. The emotional swings and the game are intrinsically tied, a package deal. When Toole sustained his first huge loss, he thought his poker career was done for good.
“That summer I stayed at Penn State to take classes, so I pretty much just played poker, did school work, and played tennis. I learned that just as easy as I could make it, I could lose it. I ended up losing most of a $25,000 bankroll. I was playing too high stakes and wasn’t good enough yet,” he said, quite matter-of-factly.
When he describes his losses, he isn’t self-loathing or hypercritical.
“After that happened, I thought I was done,” he said as he gave off the self-aware, albeit competitive, vibe that both poker and tennis demand. “I didn’t like the emotional swings, so I took a few months off but I stayed in touch with the guys.”
The next fall, he still had a few hundred dollars in his poker account and decided to ease back into it. One night shortly after, he won a few thousand, the next night he reeled in $25,000. “I haven’t looked back since then,” he said.
While one passion was rekindling, the other was diminishing. Toole quit the tennis team after two years.
“It wasn’t because of poker, it was because of not getting along with coach [Todd Doebler] and I was really unhappy playing,” he maintained. Three victories in the 2007 Big Ten Indoor Singles Championship consolation bracket highlighted his collegiate career, but he didn’t want to spend the next two years unhappy.
With more time on his hands and a new-found passion, his poker career flourished soon after. When he started winning big with consistency, he faced a tough decision. He was doing so well that a full-blown career in gambling wasn’t out of the question, and the perks of that life are undeniable. Toole toyed with the idea of leaving Penn State for a while until he finally decided to take the plunge the fall of his junior year.
“When you’re 20 years old and making money it’s easy to be full of yourself and think that it will last forever,” Toole said. “I didn’t think I was ever coming back to Penn State. I traveled all over: Europe, Prague, Barcelona, Australia, then various places in America.” He placed second in the 2009 Pokerstars.com EPT German Open, winning $101,678. Toole gambled his way through Europe, picking up winnings of $71,100 here, $15,105 there.
About a year later, he decided to re-enroll at Penn State through the World Campus. Staying true to himself, he chose to switch majors from Finance to Psychology. He started off slow, easing into three classes per semester while he moved to Manhattan, then Toronto. $41,613 here, $143,052 there.
Two-and-a-half years later, he graduated, and flirted with the idea of a desk job. He even went on a few job interviews to see how it would go. “It was okay,” he said in the voice of someone who thrives off highs and lows.
“Okay” just isn’t for him. At the time, he was living in Washington D.C. and wasn’t playing much poker. He described this as “fine,” but he realized he wouldn’t be happy without the game.
“I kinda just realized I’m good at poker,” he said as my laughter put our conversation on pause. “It’s something that I might not want to do forever, but for now, I do.”