Poker is full of cliches – it’s war, it’s a fight, getting pummeled – all fit in to the poker lexicon. Nicknames run the gambit too – the Mouth, the Kid, the Chainsaw. Andrew Todhunter lived all the cliches, he’s taken the punches, he’s been in the fight and now, he’s living them out on the felt.
A quick glance over a tournament field and Todhunter won’t stick out. He’s a 36-year-old Oklahoman farm boy that blends into the players around him. Look longer and you’ll see a crooked nose, calloused knuckles and cauliflowered ears fighting to push his ear buds out.
Growing up farmstrong
Small clues point to his country toughness.
“I grew up on a farm where there’s not much to do – if you like to fish and hunt, there’s a lot of that,” Todhunter said. “Now there’s some poker, there’s some two-stepping, but not much other than that.”
Todhunter is trying a new path in life – he served as an Army sniper, went 8-0 in professional MMA and his fighting career ended before he was ready. He had to stop fighting.
Before the biggest fight of his life, he broke his neck.
Healing and recovering through cards
Now, he’s chosen another hard way to make easy money. He picked up two cashes at the World Series of Poker Circuit Tunica series and is just starting to get his feet wet in tournament poker.
“This is my first real road run; I’ve only played tournament poker a little over a year,” said Todhunter. “I started playing some bigger events, but I don’t have a lot of stops under my belt. Dan (Lowery) is getting me out to more stops.”
“I’ve played across the country a few times now with Dan,” he said. “I went to Cherokee, and I had great time, but a terrible run. I just couldn’t win. It made me rethink poker completely.”
Finding the right coach
Lowery’s connection with Todhunter has been instrumental in him finding a footing in the game. But it didn’t start off well at all. “This old guy kept beating me in Tulsa and I thought he was just lucky,” Todhunter said. “He always fucked me up. He hit quads on me when I had queens, and I honestly didn’t like him.”
Lowery and Todhunter met up a few weeks later at a final table. They were three-handed, Lowery had shoved over the top and Todhunter held Q-9. He told Lowery he thought it was flip, called, and was up against pocket fives.
“It was a big spot for a lot of chips,” said Todhunter. “I flopped two pair and he lost it on me. I didn’t say anything, I saw him three weeks later, he comes up and asks to talk to me in the hallway.”
Lowery apologized for losing his cool, they grabbed dinner, and have been friends since. “It was big of him to approach me, and it really changed how I felt about him,” said Todhunter.
Fighting, fighting, fighting
Todhunter’s been an athlete as far back as memory starts. He started wrestling at four-years-old, studied boxing and Tae Kwon Do through high school, and enlisted in the Army out of high school. It was there he discovered Jiu-Jitsu.
“I got to boot camp and these guys were just beating my ass,” he said. “I would beat them standing, but when we got to the ground, I’d get submitted over and over again – by little guys. I started taking private Jiu Jitsu classes so I could teach combatives.”
Todhunter studied to become an Army sniper while serving. It was an easy reach for a nickname – ‘The Sniper – for his training partners when he turned his focus to becoming a professional fighter.
He was undefeated as a pro, all with stoppages.
“I got a lot of rear-naked chokes because I would beat them from the top and they would roll over and quit,” he said. “That’s why I have so many chokes. People try to get away when they’re mounted and getting punched in the face. They think they’re going to get out of the situation, but they’re going to get choked.”
“I would have liked to have the TKOs, but a win’s a win and I was trying to get paid and get out of there,” he added. “When you talk about guys spewing chips or going on tilt, it’s the same when someone loses composure in a fight and they give up at the end.”
“I watch a lot of guys get down to 15 blinds or take a bad beat and they’re just like, ‘Fuck it, I’m all in,’ and they give up,” Todhunter said. “You hear that speech a lot at the table and in life in general – so in poker, so in fighting.”
A tough break
“I came to poker because I took a really bad injury to my neck,” he said. He was signed to fight Tim Caron on Dana White’s “The Contender” series. But Todhunter’s fate related to White’s organizations was snakebit.
Todhunter was two weeks out from his fight with Caron and felt something different during sparring. He was getting stingers down the left side of his body and went to get cortisone shots. Doctors ordered an MRI and found he broke his T1 vertebrae and had another two bulging discs.
“So, that was the end of fighting for me,” he said. “I don’t know why it worked out for me like that, but it did. With the UFC, fate would have it that something bad would happen to me.”
“As you get older you still like to compete and I’m still competing – it’s just not the same,” Todhunter said. “I’m still mentally competing; the mental war is still there.”
Finding clarity in chaos
Somehow, Todhunter’s competition and mental warfare keeps him cool, calm and collected. “Poker is more of a stress relief than a stressor,” he said. “Poker has a hard learning curve. I’m not one of these super intelligent guys, so for me poker is about understanding the game.”
Todhunter’s game has grown since befriending Lowery. He turns to him when has questions about the game. Since then, he’s had a lot more deep runs. He’s learning how to finish, like he used to – by pummeling faces.
“It’s not about the min-cash. I used play to just cash and now I realize you’ve got to get chips,” he said. “You’re never going to have a shot to win if you don’t take risks. I take those spots now, where I used to fold.”
When he trained as a sniper, Todhunter’s targets were far away blurs he could only see well through a scope. Today, his sights are more refined. His opponents are mere feet away, and his most valuable target— succeeding in his third life — is as close as it’s ever been.
“For the amount of time I’ve been playing, I feel like I’m not far off,” he said. “I’m not the best, but I’m not far from where I need to be.”
All photos courtesy of 8131 Media – Rachel Kay Miller