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.