Jose “Nacho” Barbero has known success throughout his poker career. The 41-year-old Argentinian pro won two of his three career Latin American Poker Tour titles and a £25,000 European Poker Tour High Roller for over $1.4 million in the span of 11 months back in 2010.
But the run of form Barbero has been on over the last two months is staggering, even compared to his previous major results. After finishing fourth in the $25,000 PokerStars Players Championship for a career-best $1.5 million, Barbero went on a dizzying tear through high roller events at the PokerGO Studios and at Triton’s recent series in Vietnam.
Over the last six weeks, Barbero has won twice, finished second twice and made eight final tables in high roller events, including three consecutive final tables to open the U.S. Poker Open this week. That’s pushed him to $3.35 million in results thus far in 2023, which has moved Barbero past Alex Foxen and into the No. 1 spot on the Global Poker Index.
“I think I’m in the right mindset,” Barbero said of his recent success. “Things are going my way. I’ve been very focused on studying a lot, and I’ve been playing a lot. I’ve also been living a healthy lifestyle, going to the gym, doing Wim Hof [method] before every session, going to bed early and trying not to drink.”
Barbero’s wild high roller run and positive mindset feels all the more improbable because of what it followed. The fourth place finish for Barbero in the PSPC main event in the Bahamas happened after a dramatic moment at the final table. In the chaos of some banter going on at and around the final table, Barbero, then the chip leader, didn’t realize an under-the-gun raise had happened and put out 5 million chips – more than 20% of his stack – out as a raise to try to steal blinds with .
The under-the-gun player, Aliaksandr Shylko, had pocket jacks and shoved for slightly more than twice that amount and forced Barbero to fold. Shylko went on to win the tournament and $3.12 million for first.
Rather than fold in on himself following what he himself has called a $300,000 mistake, Barbero went in the opposite direction. Within a week he was back Stateside, making the final table of the $25,500 PokerGO Tour 10-Game Championship, where he finished eighth. Then it was on to Vietnam in early March, and the floodgates opened up. Barbero cashed for over $1 million with a win and a runner-up, in Events 2 and 8, respectively.
One of Barbero’s keys to success was to treat the Triton series like a business trip, limiting his focus to the task at hand.
“I’m not gonna lie – when I went to Triton, I only left the resort one time,” Barbero said. “I just stayed there, playing poker every day but one, just to get to know the city a little bit. I love Vietnam, and I’m pretty sure I’m gonna return next year, but I’ll just book a longer stay. Getting drunk means, the next day, you have to play hungover in what might be a $50K tournament.
“It was the same thing in the Bahamas,” Barbero continued. “I go there to make money.”
The work and the focus are paying off in a big way right now, but Barbero’s recent run of success can be traced back in a straight line back to Summer 2022. After kicking off June by winning a PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker Pot Limit Omaha event for over $100,000, Barbero lived out a long held poker dream in early July by winning a $7,000 Turbo No Limit Hold’em event for his first World Series of Poker bracelet. The $587,520 cash was his largest live result since 2010.
“That was a turning point,” Barbero said. “I was winning a lot of tournaments in South America, [but after that win], now I’m spending a lot more time in the U.S., even outside the WSOP. I actually stopped playing many tournaments for three years. For a long time, it was always in my mind that I could never get the bracelet, after some deep runs. I took a big weight off my back.”
The win also freed Barbero from some of the ghosts of WSOP runs past that still lingered. After missing out on becoming the first player from Argentina to win a WSOP bracelet when he took fifth in a $1,500 Shootout event in 2013, Barbero was lined up for another shot at that distinction in June 2015.
“My dream was to be the first one, and it was pretty funny – I was chip leader with seven left in a $5K 6-Max tournament,” said Barbero. “At the same time, Ivan Luca was chasing the same thing on the same night in a $1K event, and he actually won it. I finished seventh. He’s a great player, and I was really happy for him. But that sucked a little bit.”
Winning a WSOP bracelet and then cashing for over $1.5 million at the 2023 PSPC came with both direct and indirect benefit. It allowed Barbero to set foot in the high roller world consistently for the first time in his career, and the work he was doing translated into immediate results there.
The initial success can be attributed to preparation, study and results in larger fields. But for Barbero, being at the table with some of the brightest minds in poker is like being in a lab, putting all of your studies and theories into practice under the harshest microscope.
“It is gratifying, because you are waiting for the moment to be able to have this spot that you actually get yourself to,” said Barbero. “And I learn so much by just watching them play … I watched them play online all the time, all the replays, and now I get to see them live, every hand and every spot. I get to talk to them, because I hang out and spend time with them. If you’re grinding other stakes, you don’t get to hear the opinions of the top pros in the game.
“I think that’s an advantage that you get to share thoughts with them, while being able to see them play live – what they’re doing, how they’re approaching every step. It’s one thing with what you see on the TV, but it’s different when you see them play every day. You watch a player, and he’s doing this in this spot, this in another spot. It’s different, between watching a final table and when you’re in there seeing how guys play a tournament with 300 big blinds. Do they play very GTO, or do they deviate from the solver? How do they exploit spots against other great players? I think it’s the best thing about this, how much I’m learning from them.”
So what comes next for a player riding as high as Barbero is at the moment? After three straight final tables to open the U.S. Poker Open, Barbero didn’t bag final table chips for the first time in Event 4. At the outset of the series, Barbero was keeping his expectations fairly level, intent on playing within his comfort level – largely staying between buy-ins of $10,000 and $25,000.
“I just saw that I’m first on the GPI,” said Barbero. “I mean, unless I’m doing really good, I’m not going to be playing the $50Ks or $100Ks. I think you have to study all day if you’re playing in those tournaments.”
Barbero paused for a moment, and then, amidst the strongest poker run of his life, considered what it would take to make that work.
“Maybe I’ll change my mind.”