Poker aristocracy Jake Cody is often called Mr Nice but we decided to investigate his darker side: “The life of a poker player can be pretty ridiculous at times, and we’re doing our best not to just become fat degenerates”

Fast cars, all-night parties and Love Actually: welcome to the world of Jake Cody

The dark smoke filled room is spinning wildly as the bass from awful European dance music pounds the walls. A few inches in front of my face a grinning blonde stripper grinds and thrusts towards my face. This is not the straight-laced Christmas party I was expecting when Jake Cody and some of the UK’s best young players invited me on a night out in Leeds. It’s much, much better.

‘Are you enjoying yourself, darling?’ the stripper says through a think Yorkshire accent. I should say yes, but instead I stagger back up the stairs to the club dance floor. By the bar stands Matt Perrins, chatting away with fellow pros Jack Elwood, Toby Lewis, Jamie Sykes and JP Kelly. Nearby, Ash Mason, Rob Woodcock and David ‘lildave’ Nicholson are knocking back shots. And with them is the player I’ve come to see: Jake Cody.

Ever since winning poker’s elusive Triple Crown last summer, thousands of column inches have been dedicated to the Rochdale youngster, covering Cody’s rise from the pub games to the  high-stakes tables and everything in between. Yet very little is known of the 23-year-old behind all the glory. Until now. For the past 12 hours, I’ve had unprecedented access to Cody, his friends, his home life and his thoughts. It’s a day I’m never likely to forget.

Pulling into Leeds train station on an icy-cold afternoon in early December, I realise I don’t know where Cody lives, what we’ll be doing or even where I’m staying tonight. And after struggling to work my phone with frozen fingers, I call Cody’s mobile to find out the answer to some of those questions. No answer. I try again… still no answer.

Deciding to find a cheap hotel and escape the brutal northern weather, I set off through the city centre, worried that our meeting has been forgotten. About 20 minutes later the phone rings. ‘Hi
mate,’ says Cody in an easy fashion. ‘Sorry, I’ve only just woken up.’ It’s 3.30pm.

The Hangover

We agree to meet at a nearby Nando’s for a bite to eat. And after another ten agonising minutes of waiting, I’m stirred from a bossa nova-induced coma by the whir of expensive engines. First Cody drives past in his white Audi R8, followed swiftly by Lewis, Mason and Sykes in a matt-black Land Rover. As they pull into the busy parking lot and slump out of their cars,  everyone looks a little worse for wear. Decked out in a mismatch of trackie bottoms, beanies and bed-hair, you wouldn’t pick them for the UK’s brightest poker talents.

As we tuck into some chicken and perinaise, the memories behind their bleary eyes begin to surface. Dancing on tables, drunken fisticuffs – it’s all a standard night out for professional poker players in their early twenties. But as each story emerges, I can see Cody squirming.  We’re yet to set any boundaries and he’s clearly uneasy about what I will and won’t report.

With lunch finished, I blag a lift from Lewis back to Cody’s house, a quaint five-bedroom detached house complete with double garage, garden and gravel driveway on the outskirts of Leeds. It’s a long way from the bachelor pad I was expecting. And the suburban, middle-class nature of it all is more American Beauty than Entourage. In fact, the only thing differentiating Cody’s house from middleclass suburbia are the cars. Alongside Cody’s Audi, Mason’s jet-black Jaguar proves these aren’t your typical twenty-something neighbours.

Family Man

Cody moved into the house after last year’s WSOP and the ‘For sale’ sign in the garden shows he and his tenants Mason and Sykes have only just got their keys cut. Inside, a row of dirty Nike trainers line the hallway en route to a spacious living room. DVDs, computer games and an assortment of controllers litter the beige-carpeted floor. And a crumpled up duvet on one couch is the lasting token from the night before.

Less than a minute after walking through the door, Mason and Lewis fire up their laptops to check their emails and play a quick sit-and-go. In the kitchen, Cody shows off his new £15k dining table and fetches everybody a drink. Staring round the house, it is reminiscent of the ultimate student flat. Only cleaner. And furnished.

‘I looked down south but it was so expensive,’ Cody tells me. ‘In London I would have paid the same for a one-bedroom flat. Not even in a great area. There are so many of my friends up here, and the airport’s only ten minutes away so it’s perfect really,’

Taking a seat around the dining table – a huge chunk of marble circled by high-arching leather chairs – Cody tells me his mum still comes over once a week to check up on him, although not to do the washing like you might expect. ‘I’m shrinking a lot of my clothes, so she might have to help, though,’ he jokes. ‘She’s happy that I’ve done something with my money rather than just spending it on cars and stuff like that. It’s been a long time since I was having talks about getting addicted and blowing everything.’

I ignore the bright white Audi sitting a few yards away and ask what else he’s done with the $3.1m in live winnings he’s earned since 2009. ‘People have way less money in poker than others realise,’ he says. ‘When you’re playing $5k tournaments every day you can rinse through your money pretty quickly.’

But other than a few things for the house, including a planned extension for a ‘games room’, one outlay comes as a real surprise. ‘My dad and his girlfriend were trying to have a baby, so I paid for their IVF treatment,’ Cody says. ‘It made me feel quite proud. They didn’t ask, I just wanted to do it. They would never have been able to afford it in a million years, so to have that opportunity was important to me. They were over the moon.’

His honesty stuns me into silence. Not only is the gesture impressive, but that he’s so willing to tell me something this personal in less than the time it takes to drink a bottle of Becks displays an openness I wasn’t expecting. When I ask how else life has changed, apart from his new found wealth, Cody admits to being taken aback by the legendary status he’s already achieved from poker.

‘When I go to events nowadays, everyone wants to talk to me and I’m getting messages online all the time,’ he adds. ‘It’s strange the way people look up to me. It’s hard to get my head around. But I still don’t think I’m anything special.’

Cody’s stayed remarkably grounded since making a splash at EPT Deauville back in January  2010. Walk around his house and there’s no trophy cabinet, no photos of him and his poker heroes sharing a staged joke. Instead there’s the odd fixture and fitting that he’s yet to attend to as landlord, and a couple of rom-coms hiding among the DVDs on the shelves.

‘My favourite is probably Love Actually,’ he tells me through gritted teeth. ‘I’m a fan of the cheese and Hugh Grant. Who isn’t?’

Lighten Up

Whatever his movie tastes, the décor and feel of his house are a far cry from the emo image Cody’s been labelled with. Yes he does dye his hair jet-black, and sitting in his new kitchen in a bright pink T-shirt and thick bobble hat, he doesn’t look like your typical poker pro. But as he explains, being typecast as some angst-ridden kid couldn’t be further from the truth.

‘Everyone says I’m emo straight away,’ he mutters between sips of his drink. ‘I’m not massively against it, but people who know me know I’m not like that at all. It’s just a style I’ve had for a while.’

Instead he confesses to liking everything from pop to dance music, and claims Al Green has been his artist of choice over recent months. But when I ask him what he was like as a teenager, he struggles to come up with an answer. ‘Poker dominated my life back then,’ he tells me. ‘That was all I did. It wasn’t too glamorous.’

That soon changed. After leaving school aged 17, Cody has won more major titles than most pros can even dream of. And even after securing poker’s prestigious Triple Crown faster than many thought possible in June, he hasn’t stopped. Since beating Yevgeniy Timoshenko in the WSOP $25k Heads-Up Championship for $851,192, Cody has notched up another four final tables, including the WSOPE and GUKPT London main events, not to mention signing his first sponsorship deal (with PKR), and the honour of letting me snoop around his home in the hunt for a story.

To some, he’s clearly done a deal with the devil. And Cody is the first to concede that run-good has been a major factor in his game-changing breakthrough. ‘Obviously it’s more than I ever could have expected,’ he says. ‘18 months ago I was sitting in my bedroom at my mum’s house playing online. Now I’m the head of my own house, with people renting off me and having to buy dining tables and stuff.

‘Even if we knew exactly who the best player in the world is, to get my set of results they’d have to have been very lucky. There’s a lot of skill involved, but there’s also an element of running massively above expectation. My success has become so much more than I ever imagined it would. But it could easily have gone the other way as well. I could still be living at home and playing online, not in a position to move out any time soon.’

Sitting in a budget hotel room later that evening, I’m beginning to think my own run-good has started to sputter. Cody and his friends are off enjoying a Michelin-starred dinner to ring in the end of an unbelievable year at the tables. And at £150 a head, the meal is a touch outside of my price range.

I’ve been promised the chance to join them afterwards, but sitting alone watching reruns of MasterChef on UK Food, I’m beginning to think they’ve forgotten about me. One hour passes. Then another. And another. Around midnight I consider cutting my losses and swapping my jeans for pyjamas. Then the call finally comes.

Hitting The Town

Hopping in a taxi, I head out to Call Lane, a bustling side street littered with bars and clubs in  the centre of Leeds. Hundreds of partygoers are out enjoying their Christmas dos while Cody and the gang are holed up in Neon Cactus, a cocktail bar with barely enough room to stand on your own two feet.

As I push past the crowd, he shoves a mud-coloured shot in my hand and motions for me to down it. ‘We always try to get out and go bowling, and get some time away from poker,’ Cody says. ‘There is more to life than just winning big pots, and it’s important to step back every once in a while.’

He describes his circle of friends as a ‘tightknit group’ and the camaraderie is obvious as the drinks begin to take their toll. Moving from bar to bar, everyone seems to be in the Christmas spirit, except for Ash Mason who lost the credit card roulette at dinner and had to foot the £1,000-plus bill. And inevitably, poker permeates almost every conversation.

Each decision they make, be it whether to have another drink or chat with one of the girls circling the tables like scantily clad vultures, is based on maintaining good ‘morale’. And tonight morale is high. The party atmosphere is bigger than any I’ve experienced and it’s not long before I’ve forgotten why I’m here and am overindulging in the enormous bottle of Belvedere Vodka that stands proudly on the table.

Behind me Matt Perrins dances with a £50 note dangling from his belt, Nicholson jumps around on the tables and Cody has the look of a man who is just taking it all in. It reminds me of something he said back at his dining table: ‘The life of a poker player can be pretty ridiculous at times, and we’re doing our best not to just become fat degenerates. When we all see each other though, it can be difficult to think of an idea other than drinking.’

High Spirits

The rest of the night is a blur of strip clubs washed down with more Belvedere. In one club,  Perrins tells me how he’s determined to be on the cover of Men’s Fitness within five years to win  a prop bet. In another, JP Kelly talks candidly about leaving PokerStars and running deep in last year’s Main Event. But throughout Cody keeps himself fairly composed, smiling and laughing while the rest of the crew cause havoc.

During the night I chat with Cody’s good friend David Nicholson and he reveals something interesting about poker’s most in-form 23-year-old. ‘Jake never lets anything negative into his life,’ says Nicholson. ‘His morale is impenetrable. He actively avoids stuff and people that might damage his spirit. He’s always positive and that’s been a big help in his career.’ It’s a fleeting  insight into what makes Cody unique in a generation of great British players. He’s got the attitude of a winner. And if all else fails, he’s got a support network of other great players to fall back on.

‘Oh no. I never do that,’ laughs Cody when I ask him if he ever brags about his Triple Crown in front of the others. ‘I’ve not got an ego at all and I’d never be a dick like that. ‘My friends are definitely happy for me, but they want my success as well. It’s a form of motivation in a way. They’ve seen what has happened to me and I’m sure they’d like that as well. My mates are sick, sick players and they just need a few more breaks.’

By 6am the party begins to die down. In the VIP area, a few upturned bottles of vodka are all that remains of the last few hours and one by one, the group make their way back to whatever bed or couch they’re crashing on that morning. I shake a few hands, mumble some goodbyes and head outside. It’s bitterly cold.

In the distance, the sun is just beginning to peer over the Leeds skyline and I’m ready to return to my budget room and catch a few hours’ kip before heading back to normality. As a parting gift, Cody lets me jump in a taxi with him.

Closing Time

Swaying back-and-forth as the car whizzes around the empty streets, I ask Cody whether there are any downsides to life as one of Britain’s best poker pros. To some, having the money to live like a playboy, even if just in Leeds, doesn’t really have any drawbacks, aside from the odd  vicious hangover. But as the last few hours in Cody’s world have shown me, money isn’t everything.

‘Poker can mess up a lot of things in your life,’ he tells me. ‘I missed out on the whole university thing. I’ve got a lot of friends who I go and visit at university in Liverpool or Manchester who seem to be enjoying themselves and I’m disappointed in a way, but the sacrifices were more than worth it. At the end of the day, all we do is go out and play poker, so it’s not all bad.’

As the taxi pulls up outside my hotel, I shake Cody’s hand, stumble up to my room and microwave an oven pizza I bought from the confused hotel receptionist. The next day, Cody went on to crush the DTD Monte Carlo, finishing third for his sixth final table of 2011 and another £31k. As for me, I tried my hardest not to be sick on the train back to London.  Somehow, I think Cody shouldn’t fret too much about his life choices.

This is just one of the amazing interviews that we feature every month in PokerPlayer magazine HERE


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