The nerves didn’t really kick in until the final table.
Up until that point, San Diego’s Corey Peeples was simply living the poker dream, playing in the biggest tournament of his career, freerolling his way through the over 600-entry field of the $1,100 Mid-States Poker Tour Sycuan Main Event. It was the poker experience of a lifetime, a deep run and a fourth-place finish for more than $41,000. And he was able to experience it thanks, in large part, to his friend (and customer) Johnnie Moreno.
Johnnie ‘Vibes’ Moreno, you’ve probably seen him. The Las Vegas by-way-of San Diego poker pro has a solid reputation in the poker community, one of a poker vlogger and content creator as well as a respected cash game pro. But for those that follow him closely, Moreno also has a reputation for generosity. Especially when it comes to those who have followed his journey from his early poker vlogs to building a community of more than 50,000 on YouTube.
That’s where this story gets its start. Back when Moreno lived in San Diego, his apartment was right above BESHOCK Ramen & Bar, which he used to frequent and it’s also where the 35-year-old Peeples has worked as a bartender for the better part of four years. Soon enough the local regs get to know the staff, and vice versa, and naturally the pair became friendly and would “chat poker”.
Peeples became a friend and a follower, watching Moreno’s videos and streams. Keeping up with the poker pro who used to live above the restaurant. So when Moreno was in town again to take part in the MSPT Sycuan Main Event himself, he stopped in, and took a seat at the bar to grab a bite and catch up with Peeples.
In that conversation, halfway through a sentence, Moreno was struck by inspiration.
“It just came to me in the moment. I didn’t think it through ahead of time or anything,” Moreno said. “I was just like ‘What are you doing this weekend?’”
On a normal weekend, Peeples would likely be working. Whereas Moreno is on that poker grind, Peeples is on another. A stay-at-home father to his three-year-old son during the day, a bartender at BESHOCK and a bar manager for a comedy club at night. Peeples is always moving, always helping someone else. Moreno was hit with the thought that, if they could swing it, he wanted to give back to someone who supported him but didn’t have a lot of time for themselves. He was going to put Peeples in the $1,100 MSPT Main Event.
“And he was just so stunned. The other bartender was standing there, too. And they were just so stunned in the moment. And he started tearing up and crying a little bit and he walked away. And it was at that moment that I knew that I did the right thing because I didn’t really have time to think it through. It’s just something that really just came to me at the moment. And when I got that reaction out of him, I was a hundred percent like, this is exactly what I should have done.”
Peeples couldn’t answer right away as he had “to clear it with two jobs and a wife” but ultimately, he was able to move things around and took Moreno up on his offer. Moreno as the backer got 40%, Peeples would take 50%, and Peeples’ co-worker was in for 10% as a friend and witness.
Moreno may be generous but he’s also sharp enough to know that Peeples had some chops and that it “wouldn’t be a total punt of money.” Outside of watching the vlogs and learning through watching, Peeples was a cash game grinder back in the day.
“I grew up playing quite a bit of poker, never a ton of tournament poker. I grew up playing in home games and then when I was old enough to play casinos, I pretty much stuck to cash games. [Johnnie and I] have the same home casino [Seven Mile Casino in San Diego] where I usually play my cash games. So yeah, I don’t have a lot of tournament experience, but before my son was born, I was playing 20 to 30 hours a week.”
When the final starting day of the event came, Peeples took his seat in the biggest tournament he’d ever played in – with little to no expectation on either side.
“I tried not to mess with his game,” Moreno said. “I was like, ‘Look, I know that you know how to play cash game poker. I know that you’ve never really played tournaments. But just trust your instincts… Have fun, and trust your instincts.”
That’s what happened. Peeples started strong and picked up chips throughout Day 1. By the time the money bubble approached, he was sitting on a top-10 stack.
“Honestly, I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t super nervous. I was really excited. The nerves came later. Where I got nervous is when I made the final table. So the first day was just fun. I was just having a good time and just trying to accumulate chips. I didn’t feel any pressure. I felt like Johnnie didn’t really expect any money back. I mean, how could he? I don’t have the experience for it. So I really felt zero weight until later on in the tournament and my phone’s blowing up and poker friends I haven’t talked to in years are seeing me on Twitter and stuff. And that’s more where I felt the nerves and I really needed that dinner break right before the main event to clear my head and just kind of refocus because I was feeling it at that point in the tournament.”
For those keeping score at home – Peeples battled his way into the final table, entering seventh in chips, and, with Moreno on the rail offering a little coaching and advice, he ultimately laddered to fourth place for a career-high cash of $41,518. The bartender who supported the content creator was supported in kind and together these friends reaped the rewards.
“That was by far the best experience,” Peeples recalled. “Having him there for the final table because I was definitely getting some coaching on the side and I was in the zone and he was trying to give me advice as quickly and as quietly as possible when I was on the rails. So that was super fun, just getting all that knowledge in real-time and trying to apply it right then and there. So that was super exciting and it was the experience of a lifetime.”
“I was just hoping that he would have a great experience,” Moreno said. “That he would get to play some poker, take a day off away from his family without having the financial stress of having to buy in for himself, and have a great experience. And it was something that I probably would’ve never shared with the world, if not for him running deep.”
On Monday, Peeples admitted that his head was “still spinning a little bit” from the experience and attention. While he doesn’t live a life that would allow him to uproot and “jump on the tour”, the score has got him feeling like he could enjoy playing a little bit more seriously.
He doesn’t have Twitter but he was feeling the love from the poker community and when he walked into BESHOCK to give his fellow bartender his share of the score he felt the love from his co-workers.
“I got a little cheesy standing ovation, but I liked it. It was nice.”
“He did everything on his own,” Moreno said. “And it was just so fun to be a part of him making this run and sharing the camaraderie. And when he would win a hand, I would cheer for him. It was like cheering for my little brother, Andrew, who goes deep all the time. So while it was fun watching him, it was so rewarding for me and so fun for me, and it’s an experience that I’ll actually never forget, either.”