Viktor Blom: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

If you play or follow online poker, just seeing the name “Isildur1” evokes a strong emotional response.  He first became known for having (far and away) the most epic rise and fall in online poker history.  Let’s start there.

The Myth

From what I assume was a relatively small deposit onto Full Tilt, Isildur1 quickly amassed six million dollars playing the best of the best at the highest stakes available.  Much of this money was made playing $300/600 and $500/1000 HUNL against none other than Tom Dwan.

Isildur went on to challenge himself in ways that we still have never seen in online poker.  Seared in my memory is the image of him nine-tabling $500/1000 against Dwan, Ivey, and Antonius all at the same time.   Isil swung up and down, creating some amazing action for the railbirds.  It was the first time in my life that I felt like a fan watching the big online games.  I couldn’t wait to grab my front row seat and watch the spectacle.

He focused on HU NLHE but once he built up the bankroll, started taking on opponents at PLO, a game he wasn’t familiar with.  Unfortunately for the railbirds, Isildur1 (whose identity was still a mystery) and his bankroll came crashing down, mostly in one long PLO session against Brian Hastings, one of the strongest PLO players around.

Over the coming year, Isil ran bankrolls up and down again, creating more action in the high stakes online games than anyone before (or after) him.  The largest winning day in my career occurred HU vs. him, at the $300/600 and $500/1000 PLO tables.  After what felt like a full day long battle, I walked away with over $1.6 million.

Fast forward to the end of 2010, Pokerstars announced the signing of Isildur1 and promised to reveal his identity.  Not long after, we all knew the name Viktor Blom, and saw the avatar of a young, handsome Swede with a stare almost as intimidating as his game.

Since then, I’ve played more hands with Viktor than I have with any other player over the full length of my career (6-8 tabling HU adds up pretty quickly).

How Good Is He?

Given that Viktor is the most talked about player in online poker, I frequently get asked about him.  For all of those who don’t compete at his stakes, who watch his incredibly aggressive play style and his swings to match, it’s very hard to tell actually how good of a player Viktor actually is.  I think I’m as qualified as any to shed some light on this for you.

When I first played PLO against Viktor back on FTP, he was bad.  Now, he wasn’t a bad poker player.  He was already world class at NLHE, but he had just started playing a game that was completely different, and had jumped in to the highest stakes possible.  He overvalued weak pair+draw type hands, weak two pair, and all the other hands the typical NL convert misplays.  I was able to play a relatively tight style, and get a lot of money in with my dominating hands and draws.

Even while he was making so many mistakes, many signs of his poker intelligence leaked through.  It’s hard to explain what specifically I mean, or how I could tell, but just trust me.  I could tell that I was playing with an incredibly smart person.

Black Friday hit, so I went many months without playing online poker, and consequently, many months without playing with Viktor.

At the end of last year, once Viktor and I started playing on Stars, I was shocked by how far his PLO game had progressed over such a short period of time.  Not only had he corrected most of the leaks I’d seen earlier, but he was playing a style that was new to me, and forced me to think very hard about my own game.  Because of that, I’ve learned and improved a large amount just from playing with him.  I still felt I had a decent edge, and that his game wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t expect it to last long.

It turns out I was right.

By early 2012, Viktor had not only become very good at PLO- he’d become the toughest opponent I’ve ever played against.

Now he’s one of three opponents that I play with but genuinely have no clue whether I have an edge or not.  I’m going to keep the other two to myself, sorry.

The Man

This summer in Las Vegas, I finally had the chance to meet Viktor.  We’d exchanged numbers and talked a little bit via text, but that was the extent of it.  Though the first time we met was in the poker room, I had the chance to hang out with him a few times over the course of the series.

The first thing that stood out to me was how tall he was.  The second was the image in my head of Isildur1 (the intimidating, aggressive, scary dude) being shattered to pieces.  Viktor emanates happiness and kindness from the moment you meet him.   He’s one of those guys that you can instantly tell is a truly nice and genuine good person.  His happy-go-lucky demeanor makes it very hard not to smile, and it seems like he goes through life just having fun.

After hanging out only a few times, both me and my friend were bummed that he couldn’t move back with us to Vancouver.  I feel like he’d definitely be one of my best friends in poker if we had the opportunity.

Over the time we spent together, I got to learn more about his thought process and his approach to the game.  Some fun facts:  Viktor doesn’t use any kind of poker database or HUD, and he doesn’t watch any training videos.  In fact, he hasn’t used any of the resources that almost all full time online pros have.

The main thing that came across to me was Viktor’s pure love for the game.   My impression from talking to him was that he genuinely doesn’t care about the money.  I know some people say they don’t care… but they care.  I’m not sure Viktor does.  He plays poker because he has fun playing and he enjoys the competition.

If you could have heard him describe playing the $50k 8-game WSOP event, which included six games he didn’t know how to play, you’d understand what I mean.  He was so excited to be playing in such a huge event and to attempt to learn the games on the fly.  He looked like a kid in an arcade who’s Dad had just given him $500 worth of quarters.

I’m extremely jealous of the amount of fun that he has playing poker, and I’m someone who loves the game more than most.

My friend played in a 3 handed $100/$200 PLO game with Viktor this summer and told me a funny story about a hand from that night.  Viktor was facing a large river bet in a medium sized pot, and instantly folded.  As the dealer started to pass the chips the other way, Viktor looked confused and reached for his mucked hand.  After taking a look at it, un-phased, he said, “I don’t know why I always do that.”

He had folded a full house without noticing when the board paired on the river.  Not surprisingly, given the insane speed at which he plays online, this wasn’t the first time it’d happened.

Viktor explained to me over dinner one night that he likes to make his decisions instantly so that he doesn’t question his first instinct.  Apparently, folding the nuts every once in a while is a price he has to pay.

Most of us would be upset at misreading a hand.  If you’re a pro, it’s not impossible to deal with the swings of poker because they’re out of your control.  If you misplay a hand horribly (like accidentally folding a monster), that’s both financially and emotionally damaging, at least for me and most of the players I know- But not for Viktor.

Why? Because what you’re doing with a fold like that is simply throwing away money, and as Viktor says (more believably than all the other players who try to say it), “It’s just money.”


Strengths and Weaknesses

Viktor’s passion for the game is his biggest strength as a player.  He told me that he likes to play most with whoever he thinks is the best in the world.  I guess if you’re going to challenge yourself, you might as well REALLY challenge yourself.

I’ve said this before, but playing against tough players is one of the greatest ways to improve.  I’m sure that Viktor learns from each opponent he plays against, and it explains how quickly his game has progressed, especially without using any of the tools that most pros use.

When you start thinking about the money involved, it inhibits your ability to play your best.  People who approach poker purely as a job, for the financial reasons, will have a very hard time becoming the best of the best (though they may make plenty of money).  To actually be great, you need to love the game.  You need to have fun playing.  Viktor has these covered and then some.

His passion is also his biggest weakness.  Since he doesn’t care about the money, he’s not careful about the games he plays in.  If I were just talking about the opponents he chooses, that would be one thing.  Playing only in tough games of course makes your variance and risk of ruin skyrocket, not to mention that he may be an underdog to some players.

More than that though, I’m talking about the actual variant of poker he’s playing.  He lost most of his first $6mill roll playing PLO before he really knew how to.  Just this month, he’s been playing the highest stakes available of Omaha 8 or Better and 2-7 Triple Draw.  These are both games that he played for the first time this summer, and he’s taking on the specialists at the highest stakes.  It’s almost a lock that he’s an underdog in these games, and a favorite to go broke in them, but he probably knows that already.  He’s probably just having too much fun.

Viktor still has some work to do on his 6-max PLO game, too.  He’s very good postflop, but his love of playing big pots causes him to put in way too much money preflop with some marginal hands (my opinion).  In a 6 handed game, someone is much more likely to have a good hand to punish his looseness.  Also, many weak hands can play okay in HU pots, but not when the action is multi-way.

On top of this, Viktor definitely has a C game that he hits often after losing a large amount.  When tilting in a 6-max game (or even a HU game), I think his results get hurt quite a bit.  They’d benefit a great deal from Viktor employing a stop-loss strategy.

If you’re wondering why I’m posting this publicly, potentially helping one of my most frequent opponents improve, I’ve told Viktor personally all this before, and they were things that he already knew.  I’ve told him that I’m happy to be honest with him about what I think he does right and wrong.  In fact, we both talked very openly about the ways we’ve adjusted to each other over the series of HU matches we’ve played.

The Legend

The majority of my high stakes opponents have put more work into their games away from the tables than I have (which is still more than Viktor).  For whatever reason, studying poker in that way doesn’t interest me.  The reason I’m still able to compete with them is that I’m lucky enough to have some natural skills that make up the difference.  Call it what you’d like: intangibles, raw poker talent, poker IQ… whatever it is, I’m very lucky that poker comes more easily to me than it does to others.

In my opinion, Viktor Blom clearly has more raw poker talent than I do.

He impresses me on every level- Not only his game, but his competitive drive, his love of poker, and his refreshingly happy disposition.  Frankly, I’m a legit Viktor Blom fan.  You just have to respect someone who has his money from poker but plays the toughest games and highest stakes available for fun.

So what does Viktor’s future in poker look like?   With his talent, fearlessness, and pure enjoyment of the game, are we witnessing the beginning of one of the top poker legends of our time?

Personally, I believe that Viktor has the capability to be the best in whatever form of poker he focuses on (certainly any big bet game), but he needs to work on his discipline if he wants to have sustained and major success.

So that’s the question.  Can he plug some of the leaks standing in his way to rising to the top and staying there?  Can he avoid games he’s not familiar with until he’s practiced at lower stakes?  Can he tighten up his 6-max PLO game?  Can he exercise some bankroll management and not put his whole roll on the line consistently?

The answer:  Sure, he can… but it doesn’t sound very fun.

Poker and Your Life

I recently came to the realization that I start all of my posts with “Hey Guys.”  I’m not really opposed to it, but it looks a little weird on the front page here that all posts start with that and a couple lines of empty space, right?

Hey Guys!

I’ve been getting a TON of questions emailed in, which I appreciate so much.  I really truly will try to answer as many as I can, but please forgive me if I don’t get to yours.

This post isn’t going to answer specific questions, but it’s inspired by quite a few.  The questions I received most of fell into a category of decisions pertaining to poker as a career:  “Should I finish school?”  “Should I put more of my $ into this and give it a real shot?”  “How much should I try to reduce swings at the cost of EV now that I have a family?”

Since this ended up kind of long, I’m going to try to organize it and chop it up for you.

Below I’ll cover:

  • Happiness
  • Goals and Values
  • The Decision Making Process
  • Long Term vs. Short Term
  • Non Financial Factors
  • The Future of Poker and You
  • My Own Experiences and Opinions

Many of the stories I got made so glad that I asked for questions because there are people who I feel are poised to make a poor decision that will have a major effect on their life.  I’m going to try to respond to as many as I can, most privately, but I wanted to make a more general post about my views on poker as a career.  I’m sure that for every person who emailed, there are 100 others in a similar situation.

While I’m not arrogant enough to assume that my 27 years of wisdom are enough to make major life decisions for people I don’t even know, I hope that I can help people methodically think through their own situations and make the best decisions they can.  Actually, I hope this post will be general enough that it doesn’t need to apply only to major poker related decisions.


“Right” and “Wrong” and Your Results

I think it’s important, when making big decisions, that you first realize that there is often no “right” answer (in my opinion).  Or there is one, but it may not end up turning out “right.”  What I mean is, all you can hope to do is to make the best decision you can given the information you have right now.  I say this for no reason other than to remind you that you can’t beat yourself up later on if you feel you made the “wrong” decision, and you can’t hesitate to make a decision out of fear of it being the “wrong” one.

We learn this through poker.  I make the best play I can every chance I get, but sometimes my reads are wrong, or they aren’t even wrong, but I run into a small part of my opponents range that I made the “wrong” play against.  There are SO many things that will happen in your life that you have no way to predict, and you can’t blame yourself for completely unforeseen consequences.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider the possibilities though (more on this later).

Next, it’s important to note that everyone’s situation will be different.  The right answer for me, or your friend, may not be the right answer for you.  There are so many factors… not only your poker skill, your alternative career options and financial situations, but your personality, your goals, wants, needs – what will make you happy.



When making a big decision, I like to start here.  Ask yourself: What is important to me?  What do I value?  What are my goals?

I’ve personally done a lot of soul searching on this, and though many of you will have different goals and values (next section), I’m happy to share the conclusions I’ve come to for me so far.

I went through things I wanted, and kept digging deeper.  So, I want to succeed at poker?  Why? Competition, money.  Why?  etc.

It all seems to boil down to only two things I want in life-

1) I want to have a net positive effect on the world and the people around me.  To be kind, fair and respectful to everyone I interact with.  To be the best friend/loved one I can to those I care most about.

This is a personal goal of mine, and not one that helps me much with many major life decisions.  Maybe I just made sure to include it so you don’t judge the other thing that matters most to me:

2) I want to be happy.  All of the minor and major things I want, I want because they make me happy.  Not so profound, but an important thing to admit.

What’s great about realizing this is that I now know that I want to be successful in poker because it makes me happy.  I want to earn more money because I think it will make me happy to do so.  So, Why is this helpful?

Well, I often times in the past have weighed poker and life related decisions-

  • Should I go out with my friends or should I play these good games?
  • Should I move out of the country so I can continue to play online?
  • Should I drop down in stakes to lower my stress levels, or maximize EV and deal with the swings?

What I used to think I was doing was sacrificing happiness/contentment/peace of mind for EV (aka money).

What I now realize is that I’m sacrificing happiness for… happiness!  Once I made this realization (recently), I started seeing how much happier I could be in my day to day life by sacrificing some EV.  I used to feel like I HAD to work hard, and I was doing the “right” thing by maximizing my earn rate rather than being my happiest.  It almost felt like a duty… like it was honorable.  But now when faced with a decision of making a sacrifice in happiness for more $EV in poker, I’m no longer comparing apples to oranges.  I’m choosing apples (happiness) or apples (happiness).  So really, all I need to do is decide what (which apple) will make me more happy (apple).

Recently, I’ve realized that a lot of stress is the worst thing for my happiness, so I’m making efforts to minimize stress, even at the cost of $EV.  (Playing while in better moods will probably gain me some EV back anyways)


Goals and Values

Happiness is pretty general goal.  I think that all of us want to be happy (if you’re someone who doesn’t, I mean, that’s pretty weird, man). It’s important to decide for yourself what major factors lead to your personal happiness and contentment.  This is what you can use to help make decisions.

For me:

1) Personal relationships –  All of the people closest to me matter much more than anything else, especially in terms of my happiness.  I derive the majority of my happiness from my closest friends and family.

2) Competition, Success – Not just financial, but I like to be working towards something and doing well at it.  Poker has been great for me because I dedicated myself to becoming good at it, and it’s gone extremely well.

3) Stability, Routine, Security – I like things planned out, and I like to have backup plans.  I’m not a fly by the seat of my pants kind of guy (nor do I completely understand why that saying means what it means).

4) Freedom – Again, not only financial, though financial freedom is awesome.  I like not being buried in obligations and commitments.  I like to be able to take a few days off when I’m not feeling focused.  I like to be able to spend an entire day alone if I’d like.

This list was off the top of my head, and I’m sure there’s more, but my list isn’t really important.  It’s just an example.  You need to come up with yours to help you make decisions.

So, for me, playing poker works pretty well.  I nail #2 and #4.  I have the ability to setup #3, and I have been lucky enough to have the freedom (financial and time) to spend time and travel to many of the people who matter most to me.

4 is something I didn’t have much of in the past, when I was a complete slave to the games.  Whenever a great game ran, I was there, and I dropped whatever else was going on (sleep included). I made a lot of money during this time, but if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t.

1 is something that I haven’t worked as hard as I’d like on.  Black Friday threw a huge wrench in my plans (a saying I understand a bit better) and I’m not positive I’ve handled it the best way I could’ve, or how I’m going to handle it going forward.

Obviously, the fact that I’ve been financially successful has helped with many of my goals, so that is certainly part of any career decision you make.

Another good thing to do would be to make a list of things that make you UNhappy, unless they’re covered by the above list (meaning they’re just the opposites of them).  I’d add- Stress, bad sleep, lack of personal space/time, and maybe a few more.  Again, just examples… You need to list yours.

Now, there are a tonnnn of smaller things that lead to happiness (reading, exercise, tv, ice cream, cat videos, etc).  These are very important too, in that you should:

a) Strive to do these things as much as possible on a day to day basis.

b) Consider if any major decision will impact your ability to do so.


The Standard Part

Of course, when making any decision, you need a list of your options.  Whether this list is on paper or in your head isn’t important (unless you have a horrible memory).

Then you can go through the obvious process- pros and cons.  Which option will satisfy more of your personal goals or happiness triggers?

I don’t have much to say on this topic because we all know how decisions are made.  The only advice I have, other than everything in the other sections, is to not just choose a path because you “want to” or especially because you “think you should.”  Those aren’t good reasons alone for doing anything.  Why do you want to?  Why do you think you should?  Add those in to your pros and cons lists.


Long Term vs. Short Term


It’s important to think long term, but it’s also very important to think short term.  A lot of people sacrifice their short term happiness in hopes that it pays off later.  The problem is, as I’ve said, we can’t predict what will happen later in life, or what we’ll want in the future.

ESPECIALLY if you’re under 25, not only are there are so many things that could pop into your life and change it’s path, but you are still very much growing and maturing as a person (I’d probably say this is true past 30 too, but I’m not there yet).  Your values will change, and you’ll learn so much more about yourself and about life.

You know how when you’re a teenager, grown-ups tell you that you don’t really know what you want in life yet, and that you just don’t know nearly as much in general as you think you do?  Know how you get extremely annoyed because you’re smart and you know what you want and what you value and believe in, and you obviously aren’t going to listen to them?

Well, what sucks is, the grown-ups are right.  Hopefully you’re more likely to believe me because I’m only like, a half grown-up.  The truth is, people grow and change for a very long time.  I learn a lot every single year, and I look back at things I thought/did two years ago and feel stupid

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you want and follow your passions, because you should (for the most part).  It’ll make you happy, and that’s how you’ll learn more about what you really do want and value.  BUT, you should be very careful making a big decision that will be life altering (like dropping out of school to play poker full time).

One of the embarrassingly few books I’ve read was called “Stumbling On Happiness.”

The author, as one of his main few points, argued that we are terrible at predicting what will make our future selves happy.  He gave a whole bunch of good explanations for this, which I wouldn’t care to recycle even if I remembered them all.  He said that people older than us, even if they aren’t all that much like us, are better predictors of what will make us happy than we are.  I believe him (due to the many compelling arguments that I’ve now forgotten), and I think this is especially true the younger we are.

The moral of this is two-fold (I feel smart and cool saying “two-fold”):

1) Don’t trust your own judgements of what will make you happy 20 years from now.

2) Ask and put more weight into the advice of your elders. They know more than you think.


More Than Money

For many people, they look at poker vs. their job or poker vs. college as purely a financial decision.  They think, “Which path will make me more money?”

Is this an important part of the decision?  Of course.  Do I think it’s an overvalued part of the decision?  ABSOLUTELY!

Any career is about much more than the money.  Do you love what you do, or can you tolerate what you do?  Do you like your work environment?  How do the demands of your job impact the other important aspects of your life?

Playing poker professionally is a pretty big lifestyle change compared to most jobs.  You will almost certainly be under more day to day stress.  Your hours aren’t structured (pros and cons to this, of course).  You have no guaranteed income (ignore the $EV of this, and consider the month to month happiness ramifications for you, your family, and anyone else around you).

There’s not much job security in poker (though there’s not much anywhere right now, I understand).  In addition though, no health care, no retirement plan… those are additional expenses.

Then many things will depend on your particular situation within poker.

For me, I often have to make a hard decision to cancel or not make plans with friends in the first place, since there are occasionally “unmissable” games I “need” to play in. Poker also “forces” me to spend at least two months a year in Las Vegas, and currently is “forcing” me to spend a lot of time outside of the US.  I use quotes because those are technically my decisions to make (some of which I still struggle with), but they are important parts of allowing me to compete at the level I’d like to.

Online poker lends itself to a more solitary day to day life than most jobs.  I have friends in poker who are clearly extroverts, and I can see that sitting alone at their computer all day drains them.  I love my alone time, so it’s usually not a problem for me.

Another thing to consider is what people think-

I don’t worry about people judging me because I don’t have a real job, but if that’s something that will bother you, keep it in mind.  Something that’s more important is how poker affects those in your life.  Specifically, if you are or would like to be married, even if your wife doesn’t judge poker, she may feel very uneasy about the uncertainty of it.  Also, even if you don’t mind people judging you, she may mind, especially if it’s her family.  Just remember that you’re not only accepting the risks and stress for yourself, but for those who depend on you (or will in the future).


The Future of Poker and You

One major thing that many people may not think about-  When you have a regular job, you get better with experience, and your resume grows over the years, making you MORE employable and more secure within your company.  Poker isn’t like that.

You’d think “I’ll just get better each year,” and you’d be right, but your opposition gets better at an extremely fast rate.  Think of how many pros used to crush poker and can’t even win nowadays.  I even know people who used to destroy the highest stakes online five years ago that can barely beat 1/2nl now.

To stay competitive, you need to actively work very hard on your game, even after 10-20 years.  Young kids with new software will be analyzing things that you didn’t even think of (this already happens to me).  So, unless you make a TON of money, you won’t ever be able to sit back and just casually grind and earn your salary.  It never gets easier… our brains don’t get bigger and faster.

The more obvious thing to worry about is the future of poker.  Will it be as popular as it is now?  As beatable?  Will bots take over online poker within five years?  Will multiple countries ban internet poker?

These all fall into the category of things that you can’t predict, but you can consider as outcomes, along with things like:

  • What if you start a family and the expenses drain your bankroll (and ability to make money)
  • If you’re currently staked, what if you won’t be able to find a deal in the future?
  • What if everyone stops playing your game of choice, and you end up being terrible at the new popular game?

There are so many things to consider, and you should prepare yourself for their possibilities, depending on how likely you think each of them are.  For instance, learn other games, have backup plans, have money set aside, etc.


My Opinions and Experience:

So far, I’ve just given you a ton of things to think about.  I haven’t weighed in too much on my own experience or opinions and advice.

In my last blog, I told my own story of my early years in poker.  I’d recommend you check it out.  I wrote it.

I want to touch on some other experiences and opinions I’ve formed over the last handful of years.

Poker Skill:  Predicting Greatness

Do you think you have what it takes to be a very good poker player?

Great! That means you’re a person.

Nearly everyone thinks that they are already good at poker, or that with just a little bit of work, they can become great… either because they are good at math, or they watch poker avidly, or they played a sick hand one time.

There’s a catch-22 with predicting one’s own poker ability.  Some of the best traits a good pro poker player can have are self-awareness and humility. They let the player know when they’re on and off their game, what they need to improve on (and that they need to improve), when someone is better than them, when someone has something to teach them.  They allow a player to make responsible and prudent decisions about poker in their lives. The self aware, humble people who will often be great at poker aren’t sure they can cut it, and are often the last to make the jump and play full time or move up in stakes.

Then there are people with no self-awareness.  They think they are great and that they will definitely succeed.  Those with no humility think that books, training videos, and other players all have very little to teach them.  These are the people that will often fail, and the people who don’t know that they lack these qualities, even as they read this paragraph.

So, how can you trust yourself to predict your own ability?

You can’t.

The only way you can be confident you have what it takes is with over a million hands of poker experience and data, showing your progress and your win-rate with a somewhat reasonably high degree of certainty.  Some people seem to be under the impression that poker skill is a standalone ability that you can be born with, like singing or sprinting (which can both be improved, but some people are just born with a much higher ceiling than others).  Poker is a culmination of skills.  There aren’t just dumb people who are bad at everything but great at poker.

So what are these other skills that add up to one, powerful, poker-playing mind?

Important Skill Sets

I’ve had many friends get into poker- friends who have had seemingly the same skill set I have, but couldn’t cut it for some reason or another.  I’ve seen so many legit geniuses try their hardest and fail.  I’ve also seen people with only above average intelligence be wildly successful (over long, sustained periods of time).

There’s no doubt that there is a strong correlation between IQ and poker success, but it’s far from the only thing that matters.  There are plenty of players with IQs that dwarf mine who are forever stuck at smaller stakes.  Still, if you have a very high IQ (or any common standardized test score), that’s an unbiased source that can make you a little bit more confident that you will have what it takes, and unbiased sources are hard to come by.

I’ve narrowed predictors of poker skill down to three major categories:

  • Deductive Logic
  • Psychology, social adeptness, understanding how people think and how they are affected by things (considerate people)
  • Math / Statistics

Those are in order of importance, in my opinion.  Yes, math is last (a distant last actually, though still clearly makes the list).

I suppose that’s a little bit misleading because Deductive Logic falls under the wide umbrella of Math, but there are people who are very logical who just could never do well in other math classes.  Those people are usually better off than the number crunching, stat/calc wizards who don’t meet the other criteria.

There are also three minor categories, which are less about predicting poker aptitude and potential, and more about predicting how likely you are to reach and use that potential:

  • Competitive Drive (especially with oneself)
  • Humility and Self-Awareness
  • Self Control

These are also in order (again, my opinion). This is the closest I’ve been able to get to explaining what makes a great poker player.  It’s far from conclusive, and I’ve seen many people who seem to fit most of the mold just not be able to do it.  I’m posting it as a place to get started- Something to help you estimate if you are more or less likely to be successful.  Also, it’s just a question I’ve been asked so many times… I thought I’d share my thoughts to everyone.

Good luck to all the non self-aware people who are congratulating themselves for their excellent logic, math, and people skills.  I tried 🙁


Drop Out of School?  Quit my Job?  (Answer: Not Yet)

As I’ve been saying, every person’s situation is different, and every person’s potential is different.  However, I feel that my answer to most individual people is to wait a long time before making the jump. What sucks about this plan, for many college students today, is that Black Friday destroyed their ability to stay at their school in the US and play online poker on the side.  I feel strongly that it’s the best way to go if it’s an option (even though it wasn’t the route I took when I was that age).

Look no further than Brian Hastings or Z and Hac Dang for proof that you can be a world class player and literally make millions while going to and finishing college.

Building your resume (with college or your job) is an extremely valuable Plan B to have (or Plan A!), and poker abilities are extremely hard to predict without years of actual playing. I would almost always recommend that someone plays poker on the side of their main job/education until they can be certain that they are very successful at it, and that they still love to play.

If you’re in the US, honestly, I don’t know.  If transferring to a school in another country is an option, I think you should seriously consider it.  If there’s a casino with good live games nearby, you can build your roll and experience there, I guess.  I don’t have a great solution anymore, given the current obstacles.  Hopefully they won’t be in place for too much longer.

My General Philosophy

I was talking to a friend of mine about some problems she was having.  Just kind of general aimlessness and uncertainty about what she wanted or where she was heading. (something that almost everyone struggles with at some point or another, and then another)

I said to her, “I’ll tell you the secret to life,” at which point I realized that I had never verbalized or even thought out my own philosophy for how to lead my life, and that I now had to make it up on the spot.  Opening with “secret to life” was probably a little bit reckless of me.

I don’t think I have the secret to life here, or anything close to it, but these guidelines have worked well for me.

“Day to day, focus on three things,”  I said.  During our conversation I amended it to four, or three and a half, really:

1) Do things that you enjoy

Simple, yet something that people don’t focus on nearly enough.  Stop focusing so hard on working and planning to improve your life.  Today is your life.  Every day is. Do something that you enjoy right now.

2) Work Towards Short Term Goals

It’s easier to stay motivated when you can see the finish line, or you enjoy the ride.  Don’t write a book because you want a big payday two years from now… Write it because you enjoy writing it.  Or, if it has to be a long term goal, set up checkpoints.  Write ten pages by next Friday and you should feel rewarded and accomplished when you do.

The things that you care about, whether it’s a project of some kind, physical fitness, relationships- Ask yourself at the end of each week, “Am I closer or further away from where I want to be than I was last week?”

Great things don’t usually happen overnight, but as long as you’re moving towards them and not away from them, you’re doing it right and you should be proud of that.

3) Invest in Personal Relationships

Spend time with people you enjoy, people you love. Be good to everyone, but especially the people most important to you.  That is where your happiness will come from in the long run.

3b) Choose Your Friends Carefully, And Continually

Don’t waste your time, effort, and emotion on friendships/relationships that don’t have a net positive effect on your life.  People tend to feel stuck with friends, even it’s clear that nothing comes from that relationship but negativity.

If your friend makes your life harder, rather than easier and more pleasant, that’s not what a friendship should be, and that’s often their own fault.  You don’t owe them anything just because you have been their friend.

You owe it to yourself to cut ties with net negatives in your life (you don’t have to do it in a mean way). More importantly, you owe it to the relationships with people who are truly good to you, who deserve your attention and effort.


Bringing It Together

So, that was a bit all over the place (in case you didn’t notice).  If you got this far, I hope you were able to grab a couple of bits and pieces that spoke to you.  I hope that those of you who are at a crossroads, whether it be poker related or not, think carefully about the options in front of you, while at the same time not fearing the possibility of choosing the “wrong” path.

Writing things like this out helps me as well.  I’m very far from having my life and my path figured out.  As I’ve alluded to, I’m not even sure I’ve been making the best possible decisions for my life and career over the past year.  I’m not sure that I know what’s best for my life and career in this next year either.

What’s important is, I’m okay with not knowing, and with making educated guesses to the best of my ability and not looking back.  Whether I choose the best path, if there even is a best path, I’m confident that as long as I focus on what’s important to me, especially day to day, I’ll be getting most of it “right.”

Not sure if that last “right” needed quotes.

Take care.


My Poker (+other) Story

Hey Guys,

So, I told those who follow me on Twitter (@philgalfond) that I was working on a long post and wondering whether I should chop it up into two pieces or not.  I thought it was going to be over 5000 words.  Most said just post it whole, and I was planning on doing that.

When I got to this section of my post, it felt different.  The rest was observations mixed with some advice, and this was a story.  It flowed differently and it read more quickly.  Less dense and (hopefully) more fun.  I decided to pull it completely out, expand on it, and make it it’s own post.  It was supposed to be one of ten parts of the big post.  Little did I know it would end up hitting the 5000 word mark all on it’s own.  This kept me up much later than I planned on being up, and I am not going to edit, so please excuse any typos.

The other big post will be finished soon, and I’ll post it sometime in the next week, in one or two parts.  For now, I give you this.

I was asked by many people how I got started in poker, or how I made the decision to drop out of school to play full time.  The following is a collection of  bits and pieces of my story, from ages 18-22.  Some of it is about poker, some of it isn’t.  By no means does this cover everything that happened in my life during that time, but I think it gives a good overall feel for it, and hopefully let’s you guys get to know me a little bit better.

The Beginning

I started playing online poker for fun when I was a freshman in at University of Wisconsin – Madison.  I deposited $50 and began with $10 Sit-n-Go’s.  Clearly, I didn’t know much about bankroll management at the time.  I lost my first $50.  I had a few thousand dollars in my bank account, mostly leftover from my Bar-Mitzvah and two summers as a camp counselor.  My parents were paying for my school, housing, and a meal plan, and I never spent money on anything other than video games, so I wasn’t running out anytime soon.  I deposited another $50.

Once the winter of my sophomore year rolled around, I had a run that $50 up to a few thousand.  I had read a handful of books, joined 2+2, bought PokerTracker, and was making about $30/hr playing Sit-n-Go’s.  I had recently gotten a job tutoring for SATs and ACTs, which paid pretty well for a college job (I think maybe $17/hr).  They had a setup where they’d send out a schedule, and you would call in to volunteer to teach one of the available time slots.

I never called in.

Poker was my college job now, and I loved it.  I didn’t have a need for extra money, as I said, but the idea that I was making so much of it was very exciting.  More importantly, I was competing.

I played football throughout high school, and though our team was horrible, it was my life.  I loved football and I loved competing.  After a year of longing, I’d found a replacement to scratch my competitive itch.

I’m an obsessive kind of guy, so when I find something that interests me, I dive in full force.  I was studying and playing around the clock (though mostly playing…  I’ve never been big on studying).  Poker was like a video game, an awesome video game, and I was focused on building my bankroll, my ROI, and the stakes that I could beat.

I spent most of my nights at my desk, next to my bed, above my 6″ high carpet of dirty laundry, in my crowded little room.  I’m an introvert, so I enjoy my alone time.  Actually, I need my alone time.  I like people, sure, but too long in a crowded environment with no chance to get away is debilitating.  I need my alone time to reset.  My room was poker plus alone time – heaven.

My heaven was part of a three bedroom apartment.  I shared it with two girls, one of whom was sure I was gay for the majority of that year.  I think it was because I had a small poster on the outside of my door of a cat with a tiara that read “I’m a Princess” (I thought it was funny), and because she never saw me with a girl (how am I supposed to meet a girl while I’m in my room learning to crush online poker and also while I’m afraid of girls?)

I met Caroline through an Improv class that I took my freshman year.  She was much better than me, but to be fair, she’d done Improv in high school.  I was brand new.  Her and Shannon were going to live with a third girl who ended up backing out.  Caroline asked one of our mutual friends from the class if he knew anyone who needed a place to live the next year.  I was always leaving things to the last minute, and this time my procrastination was handsomely rewarded.  Caroline and Shannon were the best roommates I could’ve hoped for.  I lived with them for three years, and though we don’t currently live in the same place, I consider them two of my closest friends to this day.

I was really lucky it worked out that way.  I barely knew Caroline and hadn’t even met Shannon until they “interviewed” me for the spot.

The interview included questions such as “Do you do heroin,” “What’s your favorite color,” and “Do you have any heroin?”

I didn’t have any, but they accepted me anyways.

My favorite color is green.

School and Atlas

I decided I’d be a Philosophy major.  I didn’t know what it would lead to in life, and I didn’t much care.  I found the classes really interesting, and that’s much more than I can say for almost any other class I’d taken, ever.  As a student, I was always an underachiever.  I developed some pretty bad study habits early in life.  My Mom later told me “Maybe I should’ve made you work harder, but you were always getting A’s.”

I managed to get through middle school and high school doing almost no work, though towards the end my GPA suffered (I’m fairly certain my Chemistry teacher changed her grading system to 50/50 tests/homework from 90/10 because she hated me for not doing a single homework assignment all of first semester).  I don’t know what it is about me, but I never was interested enough in something to do my homework or to study.  I was good at tests, and I just relied on that to make it through.

College was no different.  Actually, it was: There were fewer homework assignments and more tests, and most of my teachers didn’t know whether I was in class or not.

So, here I was in college with a new passion, little need to go to class, and my own happy place (my room).  I think we all know how the next couple of years went.

I spent roughly 50% of my time asleep, 40% playing poker, 5% with my roommates and other friends, and 5% in class.

I moved up from $20 SnG’s to $30s, and then to $50s.  I was playing, and studying, and loving it.  I continued to have great results, and started to gain a tiny bit of recognition in the SNG community.

I now had a group of poker friends, most of whom I’d met on 2+2 and interacted with almost exclusively online.  I also made a couple of “real life” poker friends.  I helped them learn SnG’s and they both progressed fairly quickly.  I’d like to think it’s because I was a good teacher.

I also started to take Improv further.  Caroline and I had taken that class during the beginning of my freshman year, and I hadn’t gone back.  During the end of that school year, she’d auditioned for and been accepted into Atlas Improv Co., which was actually a spin off of the company we took classes with, but that’s a long story.  She told me that our old teacher Mary had asked about me, and encouraged me to audition.

I didn’t think I did very well at auditions.  Most people were less reserved than I was, willing to be more adventerous and outlandish on stage.  I was very surprised to hear the next week that they wanted me at callbacks.  There were 9 of us at callbacks, and damn, these people were good.  Intimidatingly funny, if that’s a thing.

I once again felt very outmatched, especially with my limited experience in Improv.  I was much more surprised this time when I got the call that they’d accepted me into the Audition Class.  I’m not sure what they saw in me to pick me over all those people, but I guess they thought I had a lot of potential.  I certainly wasn’t there yet.

Audition class was a grueling (not joking) 10 weeks of learning improv.  I had two regular classes a week (free for me) with other amateurs, and the one private audition class with just the four of us who made it.  This private class was followed by 4 hours of watching the company perform.  I became friends with the other auditioners – we had to stick together.  Atlas had an extremely intimidating setup.  The members of the company are to remain seperate from the auditioners, and you were intimidated by their impenetrable inner circle.  The fact that I lived with Caroline kind of broke the barrier a bit for me, but still, I almost never hung out with the pros while I was auditioning.  It was all very secretive.

One of the auditioners, Anne, became my best friend.  We did a lot of hanging, and a lot of talking about the stress of the company.  Funnily enough, she also is still one of my closest friends, and is also dating and living with Thomas, another one of my closest friends (who was already in Atlas at the time, and who happened to later be my roommate in Madison and NYC).

I’ll skip a lot of the improv stuff, as I assume you’d rather hear about poker.  Long story short, after the 10 weeks, three of the four of us in Audition Class were accepted as full members of the company.

Outside of poker, Atlas was my life.  It was a 8-14 hour a week commitment (two shows and 1-2 classes a week), and the guys and girls in the company were my best friends.  This was the other defining part of my time in Madison, and the other thing that shaped much of my life, including leading me to New York.

So that was my life: Poker, Atlas, Poker, Poker, Friends, Atlas, Poker, Class, Poker, Poker, Atlas.

I continued to move up, from $50s to $100s.  By the beginning of my Junior year, I was making $100-$200 an hour, and started dabbling in $200s, $1ks, and even $2k SnG’s (I still hadn’t completely mastered bankroll management).

The Big Decision

When I turned 21, in January of my Junior year, I made a decision.  I was going to miss the first week of class and take a trip to Tunica, Mississippi to play in a $10k WPT event and a $10k WSOP circuit event.  My bankroll must have been around $100k, so this wasn’t the wisest BR decision, but it’s something I really wanted to do.  I wanted to play with the people I saw on TV, on a real stage, where I could possibly win a tournament on TV.

One of my two poker friends in Madison came with me to cheer me on and play in the cash games.  They actually had a lot of Satellite SnGs, which we both played in and crushed (everyone was terrible).

I busted out of the WPT event early, but I had no regrets.  It was still such an exciting experience for me, and the WSOP circuit event was even better.

I managed to survive and build up a stack.  On day 1, I sat at a table with Todd Brunson.  I was playing with someone from TV! Todd looked miserable most of the time, like he didn’t want to be there.  I was shocked and disgusted at the time (but I get it now, Todd).  How could someone be living the dream, playing in a $10k buyin live poker event, and be unhappy?! It was so awesome, I just couldn’t possibly understand.  I decided then that I wanted to grind SnGs year round just to save up enough money to play in as many $10k events as possible.

On Day two, I sat at a table with Daniel Negreanu – one of the biggest stars in poker.  He was a different story.  He was having a great time, talking to everyone.  He was seated near me and actually talked to me a lot.  I couldn’t believe it.  He’s a celebrity superstar poker player, and he was just talking like a regular person…  to a regular person.

I continued to build my stack.  This whole experience was just getting better and better.

Actually, on my first table of the tournament, I also sat next to Bill Edler, who made the tournament so much less scary for me.  He’s still to this day, possibly the nicest and friendliest person I’ve played with.  I had no idea who he was at the time (before he introduced himself) and I don’t think he was well known then anyways, but I still am thankful for how comfortable and pleasant of an experience he made my first WSOP event.

The tourney went on.  I played on a few tables with Daniel.  I played with Bill again too, and there were plenty of familiar faces who’d become my temporary friends.  I was beginning to get more comfortable.

I don’t remember a single hand, unfortunately, but I ended up going pretty deep.  I busted somewhere around 22nd, which was good for a mincash of  around $22k.  I’d made my money back for the trip.  I was still disappointed because I was so close to a TV final table, which was my dream, but I was mostly content with my break-even trip.  (I actually won about $6k playing blackjack that night after busting out.  I had a bit of a blackjack habit back then)

I went back to Madison, ready to go to my professors and collect everything I’d missed.  It ended up being about 1.5 weeks of class.  I loaded up my schedule online and started locating the classes, and thinking about asking them for the things I needed.  I just felt overwhelmed…  didn’t feel like doing it.

I decided that I would take the rest of the semester off to play poker, and come back to school after the summer.  I had a lot of AP credits so I wouldn’t even fall behind as far as graduation timing.

Oops, Skipped Stuff,  Some Flashbacks

Sometime during these last couple years, I’d taken a trip to Vegas to meet up with some other SnG pros from 2+2.  I met a whole bunch of people, including (I think..  all the trips are blurring together) notables such as Raptor517, g0od2cu, theUsher, Apathy, and Daliman.  Now known to most as Dave Benefield, Andrew Robl, Alan Sass, Peter Jetten, and Daliman.

Also sometime during that span, I made it out to the Bahamas for my first ever PCA.  It was the first live poker tournament I’d played, and wow, it was exciting.  I went fairly deep, but didn’t manage to cash.  I did have a memorable experience and an epiphany, however.  I was in a hand with a player who was very angry from the hand right before it.  I think he may have gotten sucked out on, or maybe nothing happened and he was just an angry person.  I don’t remember the action, but I remember that I’d gotten to the river with a missed flush draw that was now nothing but a measly Ace high.

You see, Sit-n-Go players didn’t really have to play postflop.  During the early stages of SnG’s, you just played very tight.  You’d continuation bet and then you’d give up unless you had an 8 out draw or top pair+, in which case you’d bet two or even three times! Most of the edge in SnG’s came from the late game, where you needed to judge people’s opening ranges, shoving ranges, and calling ranges, and run the math in your head for which hands you could shove or call with.  I became very good at this rough head-math, and especially in judging the ranges of various opponents at various times.  This was my edge over the other pros, I believe.  I could tell when people were more or less likely to make a play based on game flow and my guesses related to their psychology.

Back to the hand.  Here I was on the river with Ace high vs.  a very angry man.  I’d called the turn on whatever the board was, and I’d missed my flush draw.  I checked, and angry man bet…  and he bet angrily.  It occurred to me then (embarrassingly late in my poker career) that he could’ve had another draw that missed, or just some random air that he was angrily betting multiple times because he was so angry.  It occurred to me that I was allowed to call with no pair…  something they didn’t teach us in the basic guides to Sit-n-Go’s.

I mulled it over.  After some thinking, I sheepishly pushed my chips into the pot.

The angry man tossed his hand into the muck.  Well, not “tossed” of course.  He threw them angrily.  I kept my cards where they were, and the dealer kept the chips where they were.  I didn’t know that I would be forced to show my hand.  I wasn’t looking for pride or recognition.  In fact, I didn’t want anyone to see my hand.  I didn’t want to embarrass the angry man and make him more angry at me.

I slid my hand towards the dealer, who flipped it up.  The table erupted.  Looking back now, it’s strange, since nobody makes a big deal about an Ace high calldown anymore.  I guess the games were different back then, or my table was full of amateurs (I think a bit of both).

The other players praised me, the angry man got angrier, and I kept my head down and quietly collected my pot, working hard to suppress a smile that was fighting its way to the surface.

After that point, I was hooked.  I was hooked on hero calling, and I was hooked on postflop poker (though I didn’t follow this passion just yet).

My good friend Dan (who I’ll meet soon), believes that I like calling because of my personality.  I’m a passive person, and I don’t like aggressive people.  What better way to feel satisfied than to outsmart them and make them feel stupid due to their own aggression?

It wasn’t long until I started to venture away from the postflop-less SnGs.  In February of my Junior year, on the advice of Peter Jetten, I made the transition from my well established roots and solid hourly rate in SnG’s into the unknown world of cash games, where I could exercise my newfound calling muscles.  Peter told me that there was more money to be made in cash, and Peter was right.

Cash Games

I started playing 5/10nl 6max on Party Poker.  I was immediately a 5BB/100 winner (the games were extremely soft back then).  I was nervous that I didn’t have the fundamentals for cash games.

I hired two coaches.  First, Emil Patel (whitelime), and then Tommy Angelo.  Emil helped me with some preflop fundamentals, though I probably only got three hours of coaching from him.

I thought that Tommy would be teaching me about cash game strategy, but man, was I wrong.  I spent a weekend in Vegas doing Tommy’s coaching program.  We worked on game selection, tilt control, quitting, and everything else that I wasn’t looking to be taught but needed to.  Tommy didn’t teach me how to play poker, he taught me how to be a poker player.

Since then Tommy and I have become friends.  I still call him from time to time for advice (actually did just two days ago).  Emil and I became friends too, but that was bound to happen anyways, as our paths were going to cross many times.

I spent the semester in Madison playing as much poker as I could, and still doing Atlas stuff and seeing my friends.  Pretty much the same as before without the minor inconvenience of class.  I still played from my same desk, in my tiny room, in the same three bedroom apartment.  Now though, I had two Dell 21″ FP monitors, I paid a company to do the laundry that was on my floor, and Caroline no longer thought I was gay.

The First Summer

The summer of that year, 2006, I came to Vegas for my first WSOP.  I rented a house with Peter Jetten, Alan Sass, Max Greenwood, Andrew Robl, and the aforementioned Dan Quinn.

I learned more about poker that summer than I had in any full year thus far.  Poker is what we had in common and poker is what we talked about.  We were all students of the game, and learning together had a multiplying affect

Sure, we had fun too (too much fun for my taste).  We were young and in Vegas for the first long time, so there was plenty of partying.  It actually was a pretty stressful summer for me because I didn’t get to have much alone time at all.

It was during this summer that I started taking shots at bigger games.  5/10 and 10/20 were still my main games, but I started to try my luck at 25/50 and even 50/100 when the games were good.

I ran up $100k in a day on UB at 10/25 and 25/50, and promptly lost it back.  The games weren’t good there, as I was mostly playing with Taylor Caby (Green Plastic) and Prahlad Friedman (Mahatma/Spirit Rock).  I started playing in some FTP games.  I believe I’ve talked about this more than once in the past, but I played my most memorable hand one night that summer.

Everyone had left.  Most people were out partying, and I remember Andrew went to play poker somewhere.  I was alone in the living room, one tabling on my laptop against 10lbBASS.  The hand went a little something like this:

$50/100nl hu

I have KQs

He raises button to $300
I 3bet to $1111
He calls.

Flop 236r

I bet $1111, He calls.

Turn 2o

I check.  He bets $3300 into a pot of $4444, leaving me around $3200 behind (he had me covered).
I go into the tank (though not for that long…  no timebanks back then)

He wouldn’t have called preflop with a 2 in his hand, and he wouldn’t bet that big on the turn with a 6.  He could somehow have an overpair or a set, but very unlikely.  He was the type of player who floated a lot of flops.  Could I actually shove this hand? It seems like my thought process was leading me there.

As I realized I was deciding to shove, my heart was racing.  I was already down $20k that day, and I didn’t have that much money left.  “I shouldn’t be playing this high,” I thought.  Tommy had taught me better.

I inched my cursor over to the raise button and clicked.  All-in.

He went into the tank.  As his timer counted down, I was trying to think about what he could have that didn’t already make a decision.  I had no idea, actually.  Maybe he bet with 55 and thinks I have an overpair now? (heart beating) ‘Well if he does call I still have 6 outs, so, it’s okay Phil.  Good play, no matter what.  Don’t worry.’

With about half a second left, he called.  My heart sank.

His cards turn over…  KJo

My heart did whatever the opposite of sinking is for hearts.  I just got $10k in with GREAT equity.  Nice work, Phil.  Oh man, this is awesome.  I’m going to get unstuck for the day.   Maybe I’ll even run it up and go on a huge heater!

River…  J


I didn’t know what to think.  Bad things, of course, but I wasn’t sure what specifically to think or feel.  I just felt, I don’t know, like I wish that didn’t just happen.  That’s all it felt like.  I wish I’d have won that pot, I wish I didn’t play so big in the first place.  I was a devastated.  I didn’t have any money left in my Full Tilt account, so that was it for me.

Andrew came home soon after to find me sitting on the couch in the dark.  I told him what happened.  He told me he just got “pwned by Wayne Newton” in a big pot at Bellagio.  He wasn’t devastated though.  He let out a signature Robl laugh…  you know what I mean if you’ve met him.

Everyone came home eventually.  I remember spending a lot of time talking to Max about being depressed about it.  Everyone was understanding and tried cheering me up.

The thing about me, when there’s something wrong, regardless of what it is, I don’t just “get over it.” I need to do something about it.  I need to make a plan that will improve whatever the problem is.  I made my plan that night- go back to 5/10, grind endlessly, and get it back.  Easy.  Sadness lifted, determination activated.

The next day, it was back to work.  I was on a mission, and I felt motivated and happy.

It was during this summer that I first met durrrr, now more commonly referred to as Tom Dwan, the man, the myth, the legend.  We became only friendly acquaintances over this summer, and it wasn’t until Fall of that year, and the following summer (when we were roommates in Vegas) that he became my good friend, a year which also introduced me to good friends, Z and Hac Dang.  These three became a huge influence on the growth of my poker game, and especially my PLO game.  I don’t think I’ll get that far in this post though.

Senior Year

Fall started and I enrolled in classes back at UW.  I began going to class, playing poker, performing, just like old times.

At that point, I figured I was making around $500 an hour playing poker.  I would stare at my professors and not hear a word they were saying.  I’d think about poker, about my next shot, about strategy, about my goals.  I just couldn’t take school seriously at all.

After a couple of weeks, I decided to stop going to school for real.  I told my parents.  I showed my dad my PT graphs, and my hand samples.  I explained it as best I could to both of them.

I learned later that my Mom was crushed by my decision, but at the time she completely hid it.  I’m not sure how she did that, or how she thought so quickly to do it, but I’m thankful for it.  Knowing I was potentially breaking her heart would’ve taken a lot of the drive out of me.

My Mom told me she didn’t understand, but she trusted me and knew I’d make a responsible decision.  My Dad understood.  He said he wished I would stay in school, but he would’ve done the same thing if it were him.

So that was that- I was a full time poker player (and part time improvisor)

My friend Dan (from Vegas) had coincidentally just moved to Madison for his girlfriend (now wife).  We helped take each others’ games to the next level.  I built up my roll and took another shot at 25/50 and 50/100.  It didn’t work that time either, and I moved back down.

The key for me was my ability to move down and take it seriously.  Some people can’t move way down after a big shot and loss, but I always could.  I would take a 4-5 buyin shot at some bigger games, and immediately move back down and grind if it didn’t work.  I don’t recommend this for most people, but it worked well for me.

Dan would sometimes come over with his laptop and we’d both just play poker all day.  I had a bigger room now.

I was in a new apartment, though just as cheap.  I never really spent any money until I moved to NY two years later.  Caroline spent a semester in South Africa, so Shannon and I moved into a two bedroom across the street.


So, I dropped out of school to play poker.  Would I do it again? Do I regret it?

The truth is, I do regret dropping out, and actually, I regret getting so serious about poker so early on.  I don’t mind the fact that I don’t have a degree (what’s a Philosophy degree worth anyways?), but I mind that I missed out on being a college student.  I missed out on some of my youth.

Sure, I was still hanging out with friends, some of whom were students, but it wasn’t the same.  I had other focuses, responsibilities.  I had job offers from training sites, accountants to hire, bankroll decisions to make.  I grew up too quickly.

I wish I would have stayed in school and played a little bit of poker on the side, but not so much that it almost consumed my life like it did.

You can always go back to school and get a degree, yeah, but you can’t go back and be 21 again.

I have a lot more to say about making a big decision like this, but I’ll save that for another post.  Please don’t interpret this post as my view on what you should do with a large life decision.  That will be covered in my next post.  For now I’ll just wrap up.

The Rest is History

I spent the rest of that year doing the same things I’d been doing.  I was loving poker, Atlas, my friends, life in general.

After “Senior” year, things started to change.  Shannon moved away, along with many of the other friends I’d made.  As much of a city as there is in Madison, it’s still a college town (an awesome one, I might add).  People graduate and leave.  This is what eventually led me to New York.  I wanted to buy a home and stay in the same place, and I didn’t want all of my friends to keep leaving.  Thomas and I followed Caroline, Anne, and not-yet mentioned friends Gabe and Theresa, along with many other friend/acquaintances to the Big Apple.

But first, in my “Super-Senior” year in Madison, I moved into a 5 bedroom house with Thomas, Josh, and Dave…  three extremely awesome guys from Atlas.  I had two rooms now: One bedroom and one office.  Both were on the top floor, and both were the only rooms with full bathrooms in them. Everyone had to use the shower in my office, which was interesting.

I had another amazing year living with them.  I’ve really lucked out with roommates throughout my life.  My five years in Madison (actually, just the last four) were the best years of my life to date.  That’s not to say I’m not happy…  I am.  But those were years full of laughter, fun, poker, great new friendships, and it was still before I started to have real grown up responsibilities.

I had plenty of room in my new office for Dan to come over and play, or for me to store my mountains of empty gallon jugs of water and empty boxes of protein bars.  I now had two Apple 30″ Monitors, and my comfy Aeron chair.  Still was working on a fold out table as a desk, but overall, a nice setup.

Towards the beginning of that year, I took another shot at some bigger games.  This time I didn’t look back.  $25/$50 and $50/$100, then $100/$200, and eventually $200/$400.  I was playing a lot of HU and some good 6max games ran too at higher stakes back then too.  Every time I beat someone up at a level, I’d move up to the next level and play the next “boss.”

The competition was getting more and more exciting.  My drive was getting stronger.  The video game was becoming more real.

People online soon started talking about OMGClayAiken.

Ask Phil: Answers (Part 1)

Hey Guys,

I asked for some questions, and I got a whole bunch. If I don’t get to your question, I’m sorry.

I’ll keep responding over the coming days though, so hopefully I’ll get to a lot of them. I’ll be picking out the questions I think are more interesting first, and thinking about what you guys would prefer to hear answered.

Keep in mind that I’ll be much more likely to pick your questions quickly if they are more specific and interesting.

Mr. J asks:

1. Let’s say poker, in every way, shape, or form, became impossible for you to play (online poker banned across the world, casinos shut down, all other poker players simultaneously find other hobbies). What would you do? Not in a “how would you react” way but “what sort of projects would you take up, would you look for an actual job, etc.” way.

I’d have to do some soul searching. The two first things that came to mind were teaching and starting a business. Second two were writing a book or getting into finance. Hmmm.

Since I have no college degree, I can’t really teach. Something I’ve often thought about and would like to do would be to start an organization that offers all around tutoring and SAT tutoring to children who’s families can’t afford those advantages, as long as the kids show the desire to learn and work hard. I think it’s something I’d be good at, and I feel strongly that investing in education is one of the more worthwhile causes around.

This obviously wouldn’t be a money maker for me. I technically could stop trying to earn money, but I’d have to live a more modest lifestyle than I do now. Plus I also enjoy the challenge of success. So I’d need to do something alongside with that.

I guess starting businesses or getting into finance would be my main two options for earning a living. Writing a book or teaching in some way (like that above) are two things I’d like to do on the side. I’ve thought about both for a while, and have even started to write a little bit, but I just find myself to be so busy and burnt out from poker.

2. I give you magic sunglasses that let you see every player’s hand, but in return, you will have the nut low every time and will never win at showdown. You enter the Main Event and no one will catch on during this tournament. What is the probability you final table? Probability you get 2nd place?

Interesting. You’d be at a massive advantage on the first few days of the tournament. Hopefully you can build up a big enough stack to have some room later on. Actually, you’d do very well later on too. You can steal or resteal anytime everyone left to act has weak hands. You try to keep pots small when you can, so you can bluffraise or bet turns or rivers.
I think I’d be a large favorite (90%) to final table, and around 50% to make the top 2. Stacks are so short at the final table that it’ll be difficult to use my advantage, especially since I’ll lose every showdown. (I’m assuming you always have nut low by the river, not just when the money gets in)

3. Favorite books?

I don’t really read. Wish I did, but I get bored so quickly. I’m more of a TV guy.

4. Advice you would give yourself 5 years ago? 10 years ago?

Well, I’ve learned a lot about myself- the way I think, the way I’ll react to certain situations, things I can do to help myself when things aren’t going well. So I’d explain all of that to the old (young) me. Same thing for people in my life… who I can trust, who I should keep in my life, how I can help them.

The only general advice I’d give would be very cliche. Something along the lines of “Take more chances. You won’t regret things you do, only things you don’t do.” This is good/standard advice for anyone, but for me especially. Though it may not make sense, since I play nosebleeds (and have played underrolled even), I’m one of the most all around careful people I know. I’m the opposite of impulsive. I think for a long time before doing anything. I even will usually think through something before speaking out loud.

Mr. C asks:

i was wondering if you’d take us through your thought process on a hand from the last season of High Stakes Poker…between you and Phil Laak.

Phil Laak raises with 77 from the cut off

you 3-bet to 11,500 with 3s4s from the SB
Laak calls

Flop is 9s 4c 6h

you lead for 13,500
Laak raises rather quickly to 40,200
you tank for a bit then shove all in (144,000), Laak folds.

i’d love you analysis on this hand.

my take on the hand was you using Laak’s play against him. Laak is a tight player and loves to slow play big hands, especially post flop. Laak opened, called your 3-bet. then quickly 3-bet your lead post flop. i’m guessing you figured Laak would never play a monster like this, and knowing Laak’s tight nature – if you shipped it here – he’d lay down virtually all one-pair hands. obviously AA, KK and overpairs didnt really bother you too much.

you can view the hand here…
starting about 40 minutes in.

Well, let me start by saying that my reasoning happened to be totally off. After the hand I laughed to myself at how lucky I was that I made the right play based on a totally wrong read.  I’d love to take all the credit for a sick read, but I can’t lie to you guys.  I’ll tell you what I was thinking.

Preflop is a semi-standard light 3bet against a late position opener, so I won’t go into that.

After betting flop and getting raised, I had to figure out how often I thought he’d fold to a shove. With my pair + backdoor flush/straight draws, I had over 20% equity against any 1 pair hand, and a teeny bit of equity against 2pr or sets. Obviously, with 20-25% equity at best when called, I need to be pretty confident he’ll fold if I was gonna shove.

So, the basic way I think it through is to start with all of the hands I expect him to play this way that will call my jam:

Sets: All sets play this way preflop, and I can definitely see him raising flop with them (though he would slowplay sometimes as well, so I have to discount some). Also, there are only 7 hand combos that make sets, given the 4s in my hand. Very rare.

2 Pair: Would he raise flop and call with 2 pair? Absolutely. But how often can he have two pair? I expected Phil to have a tightish calling range against my 3bet. So can he have 94s? No way. 96o, 64o? No way. Could he have 96s or 64s. I thought probably not, but maybe.

However, look at how many combos there are for those hands: 96dd, 96cc, 64dd. That’s it. 3 combos, IF he would even play it that way.

Overpairs: This was the hand I was most worried about, by far. I thought that Phil might slowplay some overpairs preflop, and get it in here, and there are far more combos of overpairs than sets/2pr. I discounted QQ, as I thought he’d 4bet that hand almost always. JJ and TT, he may not want to get all in with. AA and KK, he may want to slowplay. QQ might be strong enough to get in, but not strong enough to slowplay, in his mind.

Those were my guesses. So, 6 combos each for 4 hands = 24 combos, and I felt he was more likely to play these hands this way than the above two.

Top Pair: There are more than a handful of hands (handful of hands? weird image) that he’d call preflop which contain a 9. So I had to ask myself, “would he raise J9 on this flop?” I decided that he wouldn’t. This is where my read seems to have been off (since he raised 77, which I never would have expected).

I felt that he’d put me on strong overpairs, missed high cards, and lots of weak bluffs, some of which may have hit the 9. By the way, this is why I draw a distinction between TT and J9… with TT, I feel he’d get it in, knowing he’d stack all my 9s- and overpairs just have a different feel to them. Most people have too much confidence in an overpair and too little confidence in top pair. A9, and even K9/Q9 are much stronger than TT in his spot, but most people don’t treat it that way.

Anyways, point is, I felt he’d just call with his 9s and try to get to showdown, rather than treat them as a value hand, since they’d (perceivably) only get stacks in against the strong part of my range that has them beat.

This was the ultimate deciding factor for me. I thought he wouldn’t raise a hand weaker than TT or maybe A9 for value, and there were so few hands that met that requirement. I felt that even if he only occasionally bluffraised with KQ and QJ type hands (wayyy more combos), his bluffs would outweigh his value hands in terms of frequency. All-in!

As it played out, I assume he raised 77 because he thought he was likely to have the best hand, and he wanted to protect it.  He might have felt uncomfortable calling and facing a turn bet on almost any card.  Once I raised, he probably felt I had the strong end of my range (overpairs) or the weak end that hit a 9.  Very lucky for me.
 I wasn’t trying to bluff him off of a pair… only to make him fold his bluffs and protect my hand.

Mr. X asks:


First, thanks for taking questions. I am sure you will get a ton. I just turned pro. Cash game only. I am married. The wife has given me this wonderful opportunity to play cards.. do something I love for a living. How do I keep from letting her down? what I mean is.. I can feel deep in side that I am not making the right decisions at the table because I don’t want to take a big loss and have to tell the wife.

I know the rule is to make the right moves at the right time at the table. Always the best play regardless of chips. (for the most part). Let me say that she is nothing but supportive so its not a fear thing. I just want to succeed so badly that I can tell that I am not making the right play when needed.

First things first- Your marraige is more important than your poker career. I’m sure you know that, but remember to keep it in mind. It’s easy to be consumed by poker and how it’s going and what you should be doing differently. It’s easy to temporarily lose sight of the things that really matter.

You’re lucky that you have a wife who supports your love of the game. Many poker players have family, and especially significant others, who are not so comfortable with gambling as a profession. You should keep that in mind, especially when you are conflicted about poker related decisions that will impact your wife.

Since it’s something she’s seemingly gone out of her way to let you do, even if she’s a very kind-hearted person, it will be hard for her to avoid feeling extra resentment if you’re neglecting her or otherwise inconveniencing her because of poker. You want to avoid putting her through that, for her sake and for the sake of the marraige. (Seems like you’re already very worried about how things will impact her though)

Non poker players have an extremely difficult time understanding variance, and how powerful it can be. Our brains aren’t built to understand it. You should play around with this:

Take a look at how possible it is to run horribly, and show your wife. She needs to fully understand that the swings usually aren’t your fault, even the bad ones. She needs to be prepared for how bad it could get. She may even need this opportunity to change her mind about poker… you don’t want her figuring out 3 years from now how big the swings can get and regretting her decision.

Now, to your poker game!

It may help a little bit if you know your wife is mentally prepared for the swings. It still seems like you’ll have this problem- the fear of a big loss… the fear of disappointing your wife. It also seems like you know perfectly well what the problem is, and what you ‘should’ do (pull the trigger, make the best play).

I’ve tried to out-logic my emotions for years, and I it’s been a waste of time. I believe you have to work with and around your emotions.

Without knowing the games available to you, and your financial situation and goals, it’s hard to give specific advice (feel free to follow up with more details and questions). That said, it seems like the best fix would be to move down in stakes, where a big loss isn’t a big loss. I’d expect you to play your best here, and to be playing against worse players. Maybe those two factors combined will result in higher, or almost as high, yearly earnings with much much smaller swings. Remember, as your winrate goes up, swings get cut substantially + you’re playing smaller already, which reduces swings.

I think it’s always good advice to move down and play overrolled, but I think it’s especially perfect in your situation. Hopefully that’s a viable option for you. Good luck!

Mr. D asks:



1.Have you been asked to represent any online poker site such as Pokerstars or Fulltilt etc? If you have, why haven’t you signed with any? You are a top notch professional and have always had a clean reputation. I would surely think you would be a valuable representative of a company.

After winning a bracelet in 2008, I recieved an offer from FTP (I thought this over and don’t see why it would be a problem to reveal… I’d be more discrete with new offers from (more) existing companies). It was similar to what I understand their ‘standard’ deal was, which wasn’t worth very much to a nosebleed player like me. I declined.

In addition to the money not making a huge difference for me, and the potential for not being allowed to play on other sites (very costly), I was very confident in my game and my future. I had proven myself and had the respect of the high stakes online regulars, but I had no recognition outside of that. I felt that it was reasonably likely that my status would grow over the coming year(s).

A little while after the UB scandal, they offered me a deal. I likely wasn’t interested at any price, unless they could somehow magically satisfy me fully that things were completely different, and all of the people in power were no longer in power. I wanted to give them a chance and hear them out. Not that it mattered, but they offered me less than FTP had before (and my reputation and BR had grown a fair amount in the meantime). No thought or investigation required.

I have been asked to hear offers from some newer smaller sites, and I’ve declined to listen. Regardless of price, I decided I didn’t want to represent a site that I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting $500k on.

I’ve been in talks a few times with potential start ups, some which have since launched, and some which never took off. I was extremely careful and picky (probably to the point of seeming very unreasonable), and nothing ever came of it.

I’m not against representing a poker site, but I’ve never received a meaningful offer. I’d rep a site if I believed in it and the price was right. (Not that I would audit the company first or that you should be positive a site is safe just because I or another pro signs with them. I fully believed in and would have signed with FTP for the right price.)

Anyways, nowadays, there aren’t many large deals being thrown around, especially for Americans. If and when the legal situation in the US changes, I’d hope to get some good offers.

2. Why did you choose to relocate to Vancouver? New York is pretty close to the border and you chose to move all the way to the west coast instead of choosing somewhere closer to home like Toronto.

Yeah… weird choice I made. I wouldn’t say I relocated. I kind’ve split time between Vegas, Vancouver, NY, and Maryland (where my family is)

1) I thought I’d travel back and forth from Vancouver to Vegas all the time. This didn’t exactly happen.

2) I heard nothing but great things about Vancouver. After spending time here, I agree with them.

3) I have a good amount of poker friends in Toronto, and more that went there after Black Friday. I didn’t know anyone in Vancouver. This was exciting to me because I wanted to do my own thing, to meet non-poker people and not just live in an extension of what WSOP time is for me. This didn’t totally happen, as I only hang out with a few good poker friends here so far. I still have been able to be very productive since I have fewer social obligations (and options) than I ever have.

3. Maybe talk about how many WSOP events your going to play this summer.

I’m very much on the fence about this. I’ve started to appreciate live poker more, so it may actually be fun to play a bunch of WSOP events. The cash games should be great, but you play 25 hands an hour, so I don’t feel I’d be missing out on a ton if I just skipped most of them.

I think I’ll just play it by ear. I tend to end up doing that anyways, even if I make a plan.

4. Any thoughts on the 1 drop? Or buying pieces of anybody playing in it?

I think it looks awesome. I may or may not play myself. I may or may not buy pieces. We’ll see.

5. Why does stars only have table limits up to 200/400 for big bet games NLH and PLO. Why dont they have any tables higher than that? And why are heads up tables only 50/100? What advantages do they see in not having any 300/600+ etc.

It’s bad for a poker site when players go broke. If they could, I bet many poker sites would stick with 5/10 or 10/20 as the highest stakes game. Weaker players (and even some strong ones) go broke to easily playing that big.

The sites benefit if we all just pass our money back and forth and continue playing as many hands as possible. (Same reason some sites don’t have or have waited on HU tables… too large of a disadvantage for the weaker players)

I’m thankful that the sites have all gone the route of offering bigger games.

The financial value of games 50/100 and higher for the sites lies solely in their ability to entertain, in my opinion. People watch and follow the high stakes action. Those people deposit and play on the site. Free publicity on sites like HSDB, people talking about the games, etc. Even with the recent rake increases, I don’t think they make much money at all directly from the games I play in.


Thanks for the questions, guys! There are many more that I’ll get to, assuming you guys want to hear them. Please keep them coming to  As I added to my last post:

I’d much prefer to address problems/questions more specific to you (especially outside of or only peripherally related to poker), or specific questions about me or perhaps parts of my game or thought process that haven’t been talked about.

In addition to more questions, feedback is always appreciated… even when I don’t get a chance to respond.

Take care.



Hey Guys,

As you may have noticed, if you follow my blog- I’ve been slacking lately.  The main reason for it is that I decided when I started this blog that it wouldn’t be a blog about nothing.  I wanted to post entries that had content, or value, to you guys.  When I get an idea (hopefully an interesting one), I write about it.  It’s not very easy to force ideas, though, at least good ones.

So, how can we all win?  I’m hoping some of you will ask some interesting questions.  And please don’t limit them to strategy questions.  Personal questions are cool (though I may pick and choose some to answer).

I’d actually enjoy offering my opinions/advice on personal, real life problems the most.  I’ll still address poker questions of course- I know you guys would prefer that.

Please send any questions to

Looking forward to my next post!

*Update*  Lots of questions coming in.  Thanks guys!  Please keep them coming, but keep in mind ‘will you coach me’  ‘what stakes should I play with $x’  ‘how can I recover from running bad’  and other generic questions have all been asked many times.  I’d much prefer to address problems/questions more specific to you (especially outside of or only peripherally related to poker), or specific questions about me or perhaps parts of my game or thought process that haven’t been talked about.

Take care.


Lindgren, Loans, and a Little Advice

Hey Guys,

Hope you’re all doing well.

I just became aware of the huge thread on 2+2 about Erick Lindgren.  I don’t have much to say about it, as I don’t know enough to give any kind of real opinion.  I was very disappointed reading through the thread.  Erick has been extremely kind, personable, and cool to me in our somewhat limited interactions.  I’ve always liked him a lot.  As far as loans, I once loaned him a small sum of money on FTP and he paid me back promptly.  That’s the extent of what I “know” about Erick.

I also know and trust some of the people speaking out against him, and have to assume that most of the accusations are true.

I don’t have anything else to say on the specific situation, but it does bring up some ideas that I’d like to talk about.  If anything I say below seems like I might be talking about Erick again, it’s only coincidence.

1) Some Advice for My Fellow Online Players

Let’s be honest with ourselves:  The online generation is comprised in large part of people who fall somewhere on the scale of your run-of-the-mill introvert to completely socially inept.

We are intelligent.  We have the desire or at least the ability to play and study countless hours on our computer, alone in our room (most people can’t handle a job/life like that).   If we became full time pros before finishing college, we are lacking in life experience.  Those of you who are 21 will often have less life experience than your peers, and wayyyyyyyy less than the 30-50 year olds in the poker world.

(This doesn’t all apply to everyone in the online poker community, but there are some who I think it’ll be very helpful to)

When you come to Vegas for your first WSOP, it’s intimidating. All of these players, even the ones you’ve never seen or heard of, seem to know everyone (especially in the mid-high cash games). They all know how things work at the tables, in casinos, etc. You’re nervous you’ll make a mistake of some kind, whether it’s at the table or just some kind of social faux pas (never seen that word spelled before… I had to look it up).

Your discomfort and the complete comfort of everyone else (as well as the very apparent everyone knows everyone situation) gives the illusion of established reputations and trustworthy people. Surely if this guy knows and is friendly with everyone, he’s a long standing and trustworthy member of the community, right? (obviously, no… not right)

Don’t get me wrong; there are a ton of super stand-up guys in the poker world, but there are also plenty who will angle shoot, lie, and steal. Be careful.

There’s sometimes a guy who seems really nice and cool, and he’s making you feel welcome in a place you felt like an outsider. Usually, this is just what it seems- a nice guy. However, a guy being friendly has nothing to do with a guy being trustworthy and ethical. As a matter of fact, almost every shady person I’ve met is extremely charming. They have to be in order to fool and take advantage of people like you.

If you know that you’re someone who’s uncomfortable socially, and you feel especially uncomfortable in your first live poker experiences, keep in mind that you’ll WANT to trust people who are nice to you, and you’ll want them to like you too. This could lead to you being more willing than you’d think you’d be to lend someone money. You may not want to seem like a dick when someone asks to borrow an amount that you can clearly afford. You’ll want to fit in.

I think a lot of people in our demographic have a hard time admitting weaknesses like this. They’re extremely smart, and that’s something they take a lot of pride in, so it’s important to them that they believe they’ll make good decisions in every situation. Be honest with yourself. You’re not good at everything. You have faults and insecurities that impair your ability to make decisions.

There are times when loaning money to people is a good decision. It can either be profitable for you immediately (if they’re going to continue to play with you, and poorly), profitable for you in the future (when they return the favor if you’re in need), or just a plain old nice thing to do.

You just need to be careful. Young players with a lot of money and no experience in the live poker scene are the biggest marks in the poker world.

Almost everyone I know has been burned at least once, myself included. Hopefully some of you can learn from this rather than from that kind of experience.

When betting with or lending money to someone new, the most important thing to do is ask around about them.  The poker community is a small one.  You should know someone who knows someone who can give you some info.

If you’re so unconnected that you don’t know enough people to ask around, ask yourself, “Why is this ‘established’ person coming to ME for a loan?”

The answer usually is that they either already owe money to everyone else they know, or that those people all know not to loan him money.

When I started to play higher stakes games, a TV pro who I sometimes played with (and who I genuinely like) got my contact info and asked for small loans from time to time.  He was often much slower than he said he’d be, but he paid me back each and every time.  In hindsight, I should have realized that he should have been asking his huge circle of poker friends for money, not some online kid who he didn’t know.  I think he was borrowing from more than just me, and I believe that had he run worse, I could have easily not been paid.  It’s hard to imagine that a pro you’ve seen on TV might be broke, or might be untrustworthy (not talking about this specific person), but it’s a very real possibility.

There are a few handfuls of people in poker who’ve shared with me their financial status at some time or another, and others who I’ve heard about their financials second hand.  Every single one of them had less money than the public thinks.  I’ve never known someone to have significantly more than their perceived bankroll.  Keep that in mind.

Once, playing a WSOP tourney a few years back, I played with a slightly well-known live player.  I didn’t know who he was at the time, but he clearly knew everyone and was very comfortable at the table.  He seemed to play very confidently and well.  We were friendly at the table… he was very personable and charming.

I ran into him in the Rio hallway later that week.  He said he’d found out more about who I was… didn’t realize I was such a big deal.  He told me about a weird spot he was in (I forget the details), and asked if I’d be interested in staking him for the remainder of that year’s series.  At the time, I heavily considered it.  I had no one to ask who knew anything about him.  He seemed to be well known and liked, and he played well, from my one day of observation.

I ended up declining, but I really shouldn’t have even considered it.  If he was so good and so trustworthy and connected, why would he be in a situation to ask me for help?  Surely, some of his many friends would be willing to stake him, right?  There had to be a reason.

I’ve interacted with this person many times since, and he’s always been kind and cool to talk to.  That said, I believe now that had I followed through and staked him, I would’ve gotten a bad deal and/or have risked not getting paid.

Just like you ask yourself why someone played a hand the way they did before making a river decision, you need to ask yourself why someone is asking for or offering you something.

This applies not only to loans, but to business deals: whether it’s staking related, an investment opportunity, or some other business venture.  There are plenty of business deals that can be mutually beneficial, but keep in mind that everyone will be primarily looking out for their own best interests.  If you don’t know someone well enough to fully trust them, and you don’t know the business well enough to have a very clear understanding of the value, you should proceed with extreme caution (if at all).

I don’t want to scare young guys into not trusting anyone, or thinking that everyone is out to get them.  That’s not the case at all.

I just want the new crop of online phenoms to be prepared.  Be skeptical.  Ask questions.  Remember that even though it feels like you do, you don’t know a lot of things yet.  I promise.


2) Poker and Debts

It seems that some people think money being owed is a sign of something wrong, and that debts that last longer than a couple of weeks are the result of someone irresponsible or shady.  This just isn’t the way it works in the poker world.  Debts are standard.

Money being owed back and forth is almost unavoidable.  Maybe “unavoidable” is technically the wrong word for it, as you can decide never to let yourself owe or be owed money, but it would be very impractical to do so if you’re a higher stakes pro.

It’s not easy to have huge sums of money everywhere that you might play (FTP, Stars, Bellagio, random casinos for WPT/EPT, etc).  Sometimes you run out of money on Stars, and borrow from a friend who has a lot.  Sometimes you lose $500k in a live game, and don’t have any more money in Vegas, so you borrow from someone who does.   Of course, you return the favor when your friend is in need.  You both are better off because of the relationship than if neither of you lent money.

There are times when you’ll bet with someone, and as a result, one of you will owe the other money.  There are also times when you may take 25% of someone’s action in a bigger game.  Again, someone owes someone.

In my opinion, there are three different kinds of debts, and they should be handled differently.  This means that you absolutely need to know what type of debt it’s going to be before you get involved.

Money They Have:

This is when someone owes you money (for whatever reason) that they have elsewhere.  If they can’t pay you back the way you paid them, they have a backup way to get it to you.   Either they’re short on money online, but have plenty in cash, or the reverse.

I’d further divide this into two categories:

-Relationships where money goes back and forth all the time

With friends you know well, where trust is 100% and money is owed in each direction all the time, it’s very normal to not have a payback plan, or to discuss when the money will be returned.  You have outstanding debts all the time, as it’s just easier than constantly settling up.

At this moment, I owe probably three people money (one of them a large amount), and three to five people owe me money.  I think I owe slightly more than I am owed, but that’s not really relevant.  None of us are worried.  If any of us urgently needed to collect because we were short on cash, the other would do everything they could to settle up immediately.

I have had some friends who are very slow to pay back; even at times I’ve needed the money.  This is different than just not having a payback plan.  I’ve never feared with these people that they didn’t intend to pay, but I tend to be less likely to loan them money as a result, just due to the risk of major inconvenience.

I’ve also had friends who end up never having money to lend me, and asking to borrow all the time.

In either of these cases, you shouldn’t feel guilty denying your friend a loan.  It’s just not a fair relationship to you.  That said, I still do feel guilty at the thought of saying no when I have plenty to loan out.  It’s human nature.

-Relationships where debt is rare or new

I have almost never borrowed from someone who wasn’t a close friend.  It’s happened occasionally, and other times I’ve made bets with people, so it’s happened that I’ve owed acquaintances money.

If I ever owe to a non-close friend, I payback as quickly as possible.  If I may be unable to payback right away, I’ll let them know beforehand.  Ex: “I’ll pay you back after today if I still have it.  If I lose this, I’ll wire you the money by next week.”

A looser version would be: “Mind if I hold onto this till I run it up?  If you ever need it back quickly, just let me know and I’ll figure it out right away.”

I think that expectations of payment should be very clear cut.

Money They Don’t Have:

When someone is borrowing money that isn’t just for short term convenience, it becomes a whole other situation.  If someone borrows $100k, and they have a current net worth of $15k, they are asking for a much larger favor (Especially if they have no side income).

If they lose your $100k, they may not be able to pay back for a long time.  They may never be able to pay you back if they stay broke; especially if they go on to borrow from five other people and end up in huge debt.

Obviously, the person lending understands the high risk nature of a loan like this.  I’ve sometimes heard of people offering or requesting interest on these higher risk loans.  I think it’s pretty reasonable to do so.

I had a situation almost like this once, a few years back.  Due to a combination of unforeseen expenses and a bad run, I found myself too short on BR to continue playing nosebleeds.

As I was deciding what to do, a good friend (very good friend, as you’ll see) offered to loan me $1m indefinitely with no interest.  I insisted that I’d pay interest if I took it, and thanked him for the offer.  I ended up declining and playing smaller to rebuild, but I will always remember how generous my friend was willing to be when I was in a tight spot.

This loan would have been kind of like the above, but I did have money tied up in other places.  Had I lost the $1m and more, I could have liquidated and paid him back.  I personally will never borrow an amount of money greater than my net worth, unless perhaps I had a very reliable stream of income that would quickly cover it.  I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to borrow more than you can afford to pay back at the moment (as long as they’re aware), but I personally am not comfortable with it.


What to Take Away

The main point I want to convey from all of the above, other than just to explain some things to people unfamiliar with the world of high stakes loans, is that you need to know what you are getting into.  I believe it’s the duty of the person borrowing money to volunteer when and how they plan on paying back, and if they are borrowing money because they don’t have enough HERE or if they don’t have the money anywhere.

If you’re considering loaning, you should ask for this info if they don’t volunteer it (unless it’s with one of your long standing money-loaning relationship friends)

The ethics of how quickly to pay back may be slightly blurry, and everyone may have different opinions on that, but it’s clearly unethical and shady to lead someone to believe you have plenty of money elsewhere to payback a loan when that’s untrue.  Which brings me to my next thought…


3) Ethics and Calling People Out:

It came up in the 2+2 thread that there were people who wanted to publicly out someone for not paying his debts, but didn’t.  This usually happens either because the person who’d be doing the outing feels it’s not their business to call the person out publicly, or because they think it would hurt their chances of getting paid.

The latter, unfortunately, is a very good reason not to out someone.  I’d never ever blame somebody for putting their chances of getting paid back above some indeterminate amount of help they’d be giving the general public by calling the person out.

As far as it not being their business, I believe it depends.  If someone is doing something that you consider clearly crossing a line into unethical, I think they surrender their right to privacy when it comes to that issue.  Sure, it’s not my business to tell everyone that this person is broke.  But if that same person is borrowing money left and right from unsuspecting victims, all the while making it seem like he has the money to pay everyone back tenfold, I think I can say something.

This doesn’t only apply to loans.  If someone is cheating, or running some other kind of scam, people should know.

There are other factors to consider, though.  Do I want this person that I’ll be seeing and dealing with often to hate me?  Do I fear retaliation of some kind?  When it comes down to it, there are many reasons to NOT speak up when someone is out of line.  It’s an unfortunate truth.

What sucks about this is, without people speaking out, it’s very hard to truly know who to trust.  For instance, everything I’ve heard and seen would lead me to believe that people like Patrik Antonius and Daniel Negreanu are 100% trustworthy.  But if you came to me and said that one of them wants to borrow $500k for a couple weeks, asking if I could vouch… I mean, I don’t really realllllly know.  I’ve never had close financial dealings with them, and I barely know them personally away from the tables.  I’m very confident that they’re both stand-up guys, but how can I really tell you I’m positive?

I felt the same way about Chris Ferguson, who some people now blame for his part (whatever that may have been) in the FTP scandal.  I’ve even spent a little bit of time with Chris away from the tables, and he was an extremely kind, generous, awesome dude.   I hope that it comes out eventually that he did nothing wrong (other than perhaps not knowing as much as he could have), but I obviously can’t truly know his character from a few surface interactions.

I’ve actually been tempted to speak up a few times in defense of some of the people under public attack, but I’ve held myself back, realizing that I don’t truly know enough to make statements that are anything more than half-educated opinions.   Maybe I’ll say more on this another time.

The truth is, I’ve been shocked too many times now by finding out someone I thought I could trust wasn’t trustworthy.  I’ve learned to never be sure until I’m truly sure.

Another problem with everyone keeping quiet is that the person being unethical may not even realize they’re doing something wrong.  Sure, they’ll know that some people disagree with what they’re doing, but they often still believe they’re in the right.

From some things I’ve read, and my own experiences, almost everyone considers themselves a good person.  It’s a pretty basic human need to look at yourself in the mirror and think, “I’m ethical.  I do the right thing.”

I think there are very few people who believe that something is scummy or wrong and do it anyways.  They just come up with justifications for themselves.

“Some people do the same thing and get away with it.  I’m at a disadvantage if I don’t”  Yes, but if 95% of people aren’t doing it, you’re gaining an unethical advantage against them.

“He wronged me first, so I can be unethical in retaliation.”    But what if you’re wrong about him wronging you, or what if it’s a misunderstanding?  It is just your opinion, after all.  Now you’re just being plain unethical and doing things you know are wrong.

“Yeah, I know it’s not ideal that I don’t pay people back for as long as possible, but I’m gonna pay eventually.  I’m not stealing.”  Really, dude?

Because of this, I think that what we should do, if we can’t bring ourselves to publicly out someone, is to tell the person himself how we view their actions.  After writing that, it sounds very elementary school guidance counselor, but let me try to explain.

For example, there are still people today who publicly defend multiaccounting.  They think there’s nothing wrong with it, and it’s part of the game.

But let’s say someone they respect says to them, “Hey, I think multiaccounting is clearly cheating.  You’re in the wrong here, and it’s not close.”

What if three people they respect tell them the same thing?  Now the person might start to question his beliefs.  Maybe he changes his view of what’s crossing the line and what isn’t.

Maybe you get to hear the person out, and they explain their view, telling you why they think they aren’t in the wrong.  Depending on how you feel about it, you can argue with them, agree with them, or realize you now consider them a scummy person and don’t want to be their friend.

Maybe this does nothing, and I am just being an idealistic elementary school guidance counselor, but I truly believe that people don’t try to cheat and steal, for the most part- at least in their heads.  If we let them go on thinking that what they’re doing is acceptable, they’ll definitely never change their ways.

Even if we convince someone he’s being scummy and he doesn’t change anything, at least now he looks in the mirror and sees a scumbag.

Take care, guys.


Help Me Help Bruiser Raise Money For Cancer!

Hey Guys,

How’s it going?  Nice.

I’m writing this post today because my very good friend, Bruiser (sometimes called Vanessa), is on a mission to raise funds and awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (  She’s running for LLS Woman of The Year, so not only does she want to help fight cancer, she wants to beat the other people who are helping fight cancer. (who doesn’t like winning?) You can find her personal donation page, with more details about her mission, here: Bruiser’s LLS Page

Bruiser has been working so, so hard these last few months.  I was hoping we could help her out, and help out a great cause at the same time.

I’ve set up a charity tournament on Pokerstars, and I’d love you guys to come play.   Stars tried to help out, but were unable to withhold a portion of the prize pool for us, so we ask that by entering, you agree to donate 50% of any winnings.  We will be offering non-cash prizes as a thank you (some valuable ones so far, I’d like to think).

The details are as follows:

Date:  March 11, 2012, at 3:00pm EST

Tournament ID:  525144041

Tourney Name:  Phil&Bru’s LLS Event

Buyin: $10+1

***We ask that you agree to donate 50% of any winnings from this event to LLS (transfer to my account and I’ll send to LLS)***

Password: donatetoLLS  (case sensitive)



1st Place:  2 Hours of Private Coaching from me

2nd Place:  1 Hour of Private Coaching from me

3rd-10th Place:  TBD
Any help we can get will be very much appreciated.


Added to the prize pool so far:

-1 Hour of Coaching from expert Mental Coach Jared Tendler

-1 Copy of “The Mental Game of Poker” signed by Jared Tendler

-5 one month memberships to Cardrunners

-5 copies of HoldemManager  (or equal store credit, if you already have HEM)

-1 Hour of coaching from Jorryt van Hoof, aka TheCleaner11

-1 Hour of coaching from Jason Koon

Thank you so much, to all of the people donating, both prizes and money, and everyone helping to spread the word of this event and LLS.

I will decide soon how to split up the prizes.  If I continue to get donations and the player pool doesn’t grow too large, I will set some aside for a 2nd tournament, or charity auction.   We have 50ish now, which is $500, while the current prizes are valued at roughly $10,000.  However, all of the above prizes WILL be included in the prize pool for this tournament on the 11th, regardless of how many sign ups we get.  Tell your friends!

*Final Update*

1st place – 2hrs of private coaching from me

2nd place – 1hr of private coaching from me

3rd-6th – Choose in order between 1hr coaching from Jared Tendler (+signed book), Jason Koon, or Jorryt.

7th-12th – 1 copy of Holdem Manager AND 1 month membership to

Any other prize donations – I appreciate all the emails I’ve received.  Due to the lower than expected turnout for this event, and the abundance of prizes, I’m going to think of something else to do with the rest of the prizes.  I’ll contact you to see if you’re still interested in donating the prizes at a later date.  Thank you so much!

See you guys at the tables tomorrow!

*End Update*

If you’d like to help us out by donating coaching, or whatever else you can think of (an autographed pair of your pants), please email me at and I’ll update this page with a full list of prizes as the date approaches.  If you’d like to contribute to LLS on your own, please go to This Page and find the donation link.

Also, if you could help spread the word about this event, that would be super cool.  Twitter, Facebook, Post Cards, Tumblr (does anyone know what Tumblr even does?  I have no idea).

Thanks for reading (Bruiser thanks you too).

Take care, guys.



Quick Update, Fake Math, and My Philosophy On Being a Logical Poker Player

Hey Guys,

I haven’t posted in a little while because I didn’t have much to say.  I don’t want this blog to be a  “Hey guys, I lost 2 buyins today and now I’m going to eat an avocado sandwich,” kind of blog (especially because I don’t like avocado).

I feel bad though, because after my last blog I got so much support, and didn’t update you guys until now.  I really appreciate everyone reaching out and offering advice, or kind words.  It seems I made some people worry about me, or think it was worse than it was.  I definitely was feeling not great, but I was totally fine… it’s part of life, and I’m a pretty stable dude.  My Dad called me the next day to see how I was, and my Mom the day after (guess I know who loves me more).  I didn’t know they were reading actually (Hi Mom, Hi Dad).  Turns out there were a lot of people from outside of poker that have been reading my blog, which was something I knew was a possibility, but didn’t think would happen on as big a scale.

Anyways, whatever.  It is what it is.

After my last post, I played a couple more days.  Lost both, in annoying fashion.  So from there I decided to take some time off.

My decision to continue playing (at lower stakes) rather than immediately take a break is one that most wouldn’t agree with (though most still would do, of course).  I actually fully agree with my decision. It was really just a combination of an EV + hEV (happiness EV) calculation.

Some Fake Math

I was positive I was in a mindset to play well, and games were soft, so I knew I was +EV to play.

If I played and won, even a $50k win at 25/50 over two days, I’d be much happier.  Part of the pain of an extended downswing has to do with the feeling of hopelessness it creates.  You guys know what I mean.  I lost 10/10 days, some big, some small.  Just reminding yourself that you can win does wonders for your confidence and happiness.

If I played two days and lost, I’d be unhappy.  During those days, more unhappy than I would have been had I started my break right away, and after the two days, it would feel the same as if I’d just quit (since the amount was small in comparison to prior losses).

So, to simplify, let’s say I lose 50% of the time, win 50%, which is pretty conservative of course.

The other half of the time, I am much happier for two days (and on average much happier over the following week… I could breakeven or win more and be happy, or lose again and go back to where I was).  I’d call this +30 happiness points.  I win an amount, call it $80k, but then I also don’t take a break.  So I have an extra, let’s say week, of playing.  We can call that $40k in EV.Half the time, I am a sadder for two days (we can say -10 happiness points if we want to put numbers to it).  I lose an amount, let’s call it $80k.  Then I take a break for an extended time.

So, half the time I lose 10 hp and $80k.  Half the time I make 30 hp and $120k.

EV = +10hp and +$20k

This was also assuming that I am 50% to win, which was a low estimate.

Anyways, the point of this hack calculation that any mathematician would laugh at, is something I finally figured out a few years ago about poker.  Those of us who learned from books and from forums… we were taught to think purely logically.  There are a lot of emotions that can influence the way we play, and we’re supposed to suppress them or push them aside.  We’re supposed to learn to become robots.  We make our decisions based on math and logic alone.  It makes sense, since any good technical book should have theories that are fundamentally sound.  If you can’t more or less prove things with math and logic, it’s hard to recommend them in your book.

My Philosophy

After some time, I came to the realization that this was the wrong approach.  We are human, and as much as we desensitize ourselves to the swings of poker, as much as we tell ourselves that we’re indifferent to whether he was bluffing this hand or not because we made the right decision against his range, we can’t completely do away with how those things make us feel.  I am better at separating logic and emotion than almost all of the people I know, and I can’t be a full robot, so I assume that most of you can’t either.

Our emotions exist.  We can still be logical, and make calculated decisions, but we need to factor our emotions into our decisions rather than fighting a losing battle trying to eliminate them.  This, of course, requires a good amount of self-awareness – one of the top 5 areas of skill that makes a great poker player, in my opinion.

Let me try to illustrate my point:

Example One

Say that you play $2/4 PLO across four different sites.  Games are plentiful.  On one site, let’s say PartyPoker, you are down $30,000 over a whole lot of hands.  On all other sites, you’re winning.  The games aren’t any tougher on Party, so there’s no reasons to suspect you can’t beat those games just like you beat the games everywhere else.  Obviously, variance is the culprit.  You change nothing.

I think this is a mistake for most people.  I would agree that variance is almost purely to blame, and you likely had a good expected winrate over your hands played on Party.  However, whether or not you will admit it to yourself, you’re going to be affected by the way you’ve run there.

You can’t break the associations in your mind between losing and the look and feel of the game on PartyPoker.  It’s your own body protecting you.  (Last time I bit into a rock, it hurt a lot.  I’m scared to do it again)

You’ll feel as though you are more likely to make the wrong decision, which will scare you away from big plays.  You’ll fear the suckout, so you’ll jam to protect your hand, rather than slowplay in a spot where slowplaying is the better EV play.  You’ll feel like you’re going to lose your flips, which just brings a general negativity to your mood, perhaps making you tilt more readily.

So you’ll play worse on PartyPoker than the other sites, and possibly even worse on all sites while you’re playing there.  Given that your options for games are plentiful, there’s no reason to put yourself in a situation where your play is likely to be compromised.

Before another example, some of you at this point may be thinking, “I don’t get affected by any of that.  I can be purely logical.  This is a total joke, bordering on superstition.”

Look, unless you’re in the rare < .1% of the population who is a pure robot (if there even are any people that can be purely logical), you are affected by things.  You will play differently.  If you’re either too prideful or not self-aware enough to see that, I honestly believe you’ll have no shot at being a great poker player.

Example Two

Let’s say, totally hypothetically, that you’re a high stakes online player – we’ll call you Phil Galfond.  Let’s say, hypothetically, there’s a great player you play against sometimes – we’ll call him Phil Ivey.

You’ve played a fair amount with him.  Over the years, playing HU NL and PLO against him, you’ve lost more than twice as much as you have to anyone else, and in not all that many hands, hypothetically.  It seems as if anytime you have a decent hand, you’re up against a better one, anytime you bluff, he knows.  It seems like he just has a hold over you.  Even in 6max games, when you’re involved in a pot with him, you are worried that he’s one step ahead of you, knowing what adjustment you’re going to make next.  Even though you truly feel like you have the skills to compete with him, time and time again you’re reinforced to feel otherwise.  Hypothetically.

What can you do about it?  Well, maybe first you stop playing against him HU.  Great.  But he still is in your 6max games often.  You can just decide to get owned, or realize that variance may have played a large part, and just continue doing what you’re doing (not admitting to yourself that you are affected).  Obviously, I don’t like those ideas.

The first step is to admit to yourself how you feel.  You feel as though when you have a very strong hand, it’s likely to run into an even stronger one, perhaps causing you to play less aggressively and value bet and raise less thinly.  You feel like he’s likely to know what you have or what you’re thinking, and it’s causing you to hesitate making moves or adjustments in anticipation of him countering it immediately.  This will cause you to hesitate making bluffs.  Now that you’re not playing thinly for value, you bluff even less (otherwise you know you’ll be unbalanced).  Then you assume he realizes you’ve stopped bluffing, and you play even less thinly for value, because you know you won’t get paid off.  Look what happened.  You’ve resorted to playing a very straightforward, tight-passive game against him.  Of course he’s going to absolutely destroy you.

The way I see it, there are two things you can do to to combat this problem, and you can do both in combination with each other

First, you can play fewer hands against him in your 6max games.  If you don’t want to admit to yourself that you play worse against him than against other players, you’d just continue playing your ‘standard’ preflop style.  If you realize that you’re going to play worse than usual against him, then you can see that some slightly profitable hands become unprofitable.  So you fold a bit more preflop when it’s likely to be a HU pot with him.

Next, you need to constantly remind yourself how you feel.  You’re in a hand on the turn, and your immediate instinct is to check-fold.  This is an instinct you can’t trust, as it’s based in irrational fear.  Yes, Phil Ivey is a phenomenal player, but you are good at disguising your hands.  He doesn’t actually know what you have every hand (I hope), and he’s definitely no more likely to hit a good hand than anyone else at the table.  You need to stop your knee-jerk movement towards the fold button and say to yourself, “He’s got a very weak range here, and it’s difficult for me to be bluffing.  A check-raise has to show a profit.  Wait, but I feel like he’s going to know that I wouldn’t usually have played a boat this way on the flop very often. PHIL. STOP.  He can’t know that.  He can’t know your game in and out. Make the right play.”

Wrap It Up Already, Phil

When you admit that your instincts during a hand are affected by emotion, you can then take a step back and find the best logical play.  However, if you pretend you don’t have emotions, or that they don’t affect you, you will let them influence your thinking.  You’ll convince yourself that you were just making the play you logically thought was best.  You’ll be wrong.

The great thing about becoming fully aware of the way things affect you, and the impact those effects have on your game, is that you begin to better understand your opponents.  I have had many times where I knew my opponent felt exactly the way I… I mean you, were feeling in the hand above.  But my opponent usually won’t admit it to himself and make the proper adjustments.  I get to completely run him over.

There are many more examples (quitting decisions, stake selection, any kind of tilt, etc.), but the message is the same:

You are a person.  You feel things.  Rather than pretend those feelings don’t exist, you can use those feelings as factors, adding them, alongside your probabilities and logical deductions, and whatever else, into your decision making equation.  I’d argue that this makes you much more logical than the wannabe robots who’d laugh at you for doing this.

Anyways, I left Vancouver a few days ago.  I’ll be in the US for a little while, doing some pretty cool stuff.  I’ll update you on that later though.  That’s a whole new post.

Hope you’re doing well, guys.  Thanks again for all of the feedback on my last post, and all other posts.

Take care.  (Love you, Mom and Dad)



It Always Comes Back to Balance, Doesn’t It?

Hey Guys,

Couple of things before I get into this post… I’ve finally gotten my blog rehosted and up and running.  There should be no problems from here on out.  I should warn you, I’ve been sleeping very poorly, and I’m currently failing at trying to fall asleep.  If this post is a bit rambly and weird… no complaining… you’ve been warned.

I wrote this without thinking or editing much.  As I said when I started this new blog, I want to share a little more of the real me.  So far the feedback I’ve gotten has been in tune with that… you guys said you liked seeing how I handle my downswings, how I think through things.  I’ve been continuing to deal with the current downswing, and I wanted to share a bit more about it.  I’ll continue to try my best to be open and honest.  For anyone out there who still views me as invincible or a poker superhero, I hope I don’t completely shatter your image of me.




I feel like half of the advice I’ve ever given, regardless of the topic, could be summed up in one simple word:

“Advice”  Just kidding…   “Balance”

In high level poker, being well balanced is something I stress tremendously, and something I think about constantly while playing.  Anyone who’s read any articles or watched any videos of mine probably gets annoyed by how much I stress it.  Sometimes I even add it when it’s unnecessary:  “I think the best play here is to check-raise… obviously I’ll have to balance with check-raising some of my weaker hands, and of course I won’t ALWAYS check-raise this hand… maybe 80% of the time.”  PHIL, just say “I’d check-raise.”

I can’t help it.  It’s kind of an OCD type thing in poker for me, where I feel if I don’t state the disclaimers that I’d be giving incorrect advice, or be advocating a flawed strategy.  And if I were to ever employ a strategy that is drastically unbalanced, I don’t know what I fear would happen.  My face would fall off or something.  I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Anyways, what I was thinking about today was another kind of balance that I’ve always advocated to poker players: Balance in life.

Ever since I started playing poker, I’ve had plenty of poker playing friends.  However, the friends that I spend most of my down time with were always non poker players.  This was something that was extremely soothing (can’t find a better word to describe it) for me, especially during my early-ish years where I was grinding day in and day out.  After I dropped out of college, I stayed in Madison, WI for a while.  I loved it there, and I loved my friends there.  I would go from a 60 hour week at my computer to hanging out at a bar with eight people who knew absolutely nothing about poker, and barely knew anything about the details of my career in poker.   I’d play for 14 hours and then wind down by watching a couple hours of TV with my roommate, who, again, had a relationship with me built entirely on non-poker life.

Even though I’d stopped school (which had been helpful for balance), I had my friends, I was in an improv company that performed and practiced weekly… it was as if I was leading two lives, in a way:  Phil-the-poker-player and Phil-the-regular-person.  This was very very helpful for me.  I needed an escape from poker.  I truly believe it’s absolutely necessary in order to live a healthy and happy life.

From Madison, WI, I moved to New York, NY.  I moved their with a friend of mine, and following a handful of our other friends who had moved there in the previous 1-2 years.  I built (not literally) a home that I loved, I played some flag football, formed new relationships while maintaining my current ones, and achieved a balance similar to the one I had in Madison.  I was happy again.  Or happy still.  Whatever.

Fast forward to 2011.  Boo.  2011 sucked.  I was already having a bad year, and then Black Friday turned my world upside down.

My life is not at all the same.  I don’t feel as though I have a home anymore.  I spend some time in Vegas, some time in Vancouver, a tiny bit in New York, and some more in Maryland.  I sleep in four different beds.  I don’t feel as though I can focus and build a life and routine anywhere.  The only city of those that I have a solid core of non poker friends is New York, where I’ve spent the least amount of time.

So, I rarely hang out with friends anymore, other than a few poker friends.  Don’t get me wrong, I have some poker friends who I absolutely love and love spending time with… It’s just not an escape from poker.  I don’t have any regular activities going on, as I don’t know how worthwhile it is to start doing something ‘regularly’ when I’ll be in a different city soon.

My daily routine usually consists of waking up whenever I stop sleeping, playing poker, eating while playing poker, waiting for games to run, playing poker, and trying to fall asleep while I watch TV.  I’ve lost my balance.

For the first few months, this was fine.  I missed online poker badly, and I was so excited to be playing.  I was crushing, studying my game, working hard and putting in a ton of hours.  And I was having fun doing all of that.  All seemed great.

Things have changed since then.  First of all, it’s been a while, and the reality is setting in that this is not a business trip… it’s my new life.  I don’t know if and when I’ll move back full time to one city, or what city that would even be.  I have left behind many of my best friends in the world, who mean much more to me than anything poker can give me, for who knows how long.  I no longer miss online poker, as I’ve now played more hands in six months than in any of the last five years.

And now, what’s worse is: I’m losing.

See, normally, I have a lot of things going on in my life… a lot of things that make me happy.  If poker was going badly, I had my friends, my activities.  I truly was leading two lives.  Phil-the-poker-player was losing and stressed, but Phil-the-regular-person had a full life outside of poker that even a $1.5m downswing couldn’t put a scratch on.

So now, I’m in Vancouver on a downswing.  A somewhat rough one, though no worse than I’ve experienced many times before.  But this time, it’s different.  I step away from my computer and what do I have?

I can go out with my poker friends.  It will be fun, but I won’t stop thinking about poker.  We’ll definitely talk about poker.  I won’t forget about how much money I just lost, or how much EV I’ll miss out on if I don’t have enough online $ to play in some good bigger games if they run.

I can go for a walk.  That helps me sometimes.  It’s a nice escape, for maybe an hour.  Now I’m back home.  I can go watch TV?  I can take a nap?  I can look at the Pokerstars lobby and watch other people play poker.  I can talk to friends on AIM (mostly poker friends) while watching other people play poker.  I can write a blog post for other poker players to read.

I think that just about does it for my options.  Sound depressing?  It feels depressing, but like… I know I’m not supposed to be depressed.

The reality is, my life is great.  I would be an idiot to think anything different.  If the above sounds like complaining, well, it kind of is, but I know that I have it good.  Better than good.  I think I chose to write about this now because I know it will help me.  I know that when talking to you guys, I have to admit to myself that I have a very good life.  I’m forced to accept that fact.  I’m forced to stop feeling sorry for myself because I know how many poker players would love to be in my shoes.  I have had every advantage in life, and if I am unhappy and remain unhappy, I have no one to blame but myself.

Look, downswings hurt.  They’ll always hurt.  Losing is painful, and losing money is stressful.

But the truth is, as long as I keep my level of play up, put in some reasonable hours, and stay responsible, I should never be under any “real world” financial stress.  I really should treat poker like a video game.  The money shouldn’t matter outside of the game.  Sure, I’m competitive and passionate about this game, and I want to win badly.  I will of course feel bad when I lose.  But once I shut down the game, turn off my computer, and leave my office, I’m back to my regular life.  The game is left behind until I play it tomorrow, or whenever it is that I start again.

My regular life should be awesome.  I have the freedom to work when I want, and my job is playing a game that I love.  I have great friends, my health, an amazing family.  So why doesn’t it feel that way now?

Obviously it’s my lack of balance.  I need my friends and my real life to remind myself that there is a Phil-the-regular-person.  I need to be reminded that there is more to life than how much money I won or lost today, or how much confidence I have in my game, or how much EV I’m missing out on by not playing tonight.  I need to remember that it’s just a game.

When Waluigi wins a race in Mario Kart, he feels amazing.  When he loses, he’s miserable.  That’s all he has.  When you turn off your Wii and to out to dinner, he’s still in there racing.

For the last eight months, I’ve been living my life stuck inside a game.  When I lose, it hurts badly, because it’s all I have now.  Some days I win, some days I lose, but it has to be either one or the other.  There are no alternate outcomes for me each day.  I am either playing poker, or doing other things in order to play poker… I need to grab something for lunch and dinner so I can play all day.  I need to fall asleep soon so I can wake up for games tomorrow.  I need to go for a walk to clear my head so I’ll play well.

What I really need to do is leave the game and walk away into my real life, but I don’t have a real life to walk away into anymore.

Over the last few months, I’ve actually tilted to the point of clearly playing worse on more than a couple of occasions.  That’s something that never has happened to me in my first full seven years as a poker player.  That should have been my first clear warning sign that something was very wrong.

At least now I know what the problem is.  That’s the first step, right?  Next, I’ll have to figure out what I’m going to do about it.  Easier said than done.

My current plan:  Post this blog.  Sleep.  Figure it out later.

Thanks for listening, guys.  Sorry if this was ridiculous.  At the very least, hopefully you can take this as a warning to not fall into the trap that I managed to avoid for seven years before falling into now.  Balance is important, and I believe that nothing is more important in your life than your relationships with other people, and your day to day happiness.  I’d even go so far as to say that those are very important parts of your poker game as well.

Take care and good luck.


Sometimes I Lose

Hey guys,

Two videos in a row!  This one is just me talking with no plan.  I was thinking that would make it more of a “blog” than, I dunno, a speech.  I covered my recent downswing and my own mentality during downers, my NYC condo, and I forget what else.  As always, feedback and questions are much appreciated.