Nothing I have said so far is brain surgery. Remember when I told you I was informed I had to repeat ninth grade math? There is a reason I say you do not need more than eighth grade level math. The rest of this is just basics.
Imagine you were playing fantasy sports and you heard a player was eating chicken wings and drinking beer for most of his diet. He was smoking weed daily and not attending practice. You wouldn’t want to select him right? Well, that’s exactly what hundreds of players do every year when they buy pieces of players who used to be successful.
I would even contend that life is not that difficult, but people just nervously over complicate matters. Unless there is a chemical imbalance at play I believe we have all the tools necessary to change our lives. We can’t even blame discrimination now with poker, because the chips know no sexual preference, sex, country, creed, or color.
You hear that one of your fantasy team players is suffering from depression. You’re unlikely to judge him for that, so why would you judge yourself harshly? Now, if you heard that gal woke up an hourly early in the morning and did 25 push-ups and took a short jog you’d go, “Yeah, what a trooper!” Extend yourself that same courtesy.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” We know what we need to do. We just fail to execute. One great example of this is when players want to stop smoking. I always ask them, “If I could snap my fingers right now and you could stop smoking, would you ask me to do that?”
Every single one of them answers, “Yes.”
“But you know what you need to do to stop smoking,” I say. “It’s not an impossible feat. Millions of others have done it, many without the tools that are easily accessible to you. So, if you want something, and you won’t work to get it, what you’re really saying is you just can’t take the struggle. You don’t have it in you.” A surprising number of guys have quit smoking after realizing they were always capable.
Many times we don’t even know what to do in a given situation. How do we make a peaceful world where everyone can be gainfully employed, fed, and have access to health care? No one has any clue how to pull that off on a global scale, despite what they tell you. There is no precedent. When it comes to making a living from No Limit Hold ‘Em there are hundreds if not thousands of guys who have followed these guidelines and made a living.
It takes much less intelligence then you are expecting. I had a student years ago who was not the brightest. To be frank, he was one of the worst poker players who ever approached me. He was a hothead. He was slow to pick up on new concepts. He’d been a loser for many years. I worked on a system of rote memorization with him, and gave him guidelines as to how to keep improving, but secretly I worried it wasn’t enough. This player didn’t need mine or anyone else’s pity, however. He simply began to act “as if.” He kept his job, but threw himself into his studies.
In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “We become what we pretend to be.” He couldn’t hear his numerous naysayers. He was too busy being buried in the hands. Every time he met someone in poker he never feared putting himself out there. He’d look you right in the eye, shake your hand, and let you know it was an opportunity to meet you. He listened intently and only asked a question when he knew it was really pointed. If he was worried he’d forget something that was said, he’d pull out whatever writing instrument he could and scribble something on a napkin. He was the nerd in every group, but he wasn’t paying attention to the detractors.
This guy is a professional poker player now, and a damn good one. He is married, owns a home, and is frequently at live final tables. And he still works his ass off. He remembers everyone who mocked him, and he’s never going to let someone take his spot.
Making Money at Poker
Find a game you can win at, and beat it to death. Most of my money when I was younger did not come from poker tournaments. It came from playing $200 No Limit Hold ‘Em on fringe networks with horrible software. It came from losing checks in the mail and entire bankrolls. It came from mis-click folding sets.
I would never wish for you to play home games with drug dealers like I once did, but you can look for softer times and sites. Most professional poker players in the Americas play banker’s hours from 9 am to 5 pm. In Europe, they play the same hours, which translates from 4 pm to early morning. Avoid these hours like the plague when you’re starting. If you live in the Pacific Rim just play the daytime hours. If you’re in the USA play nights. If you’re in Europe play earlier in the morning. Play small tournaments, and play as many hours as possible when you can focus entirely on your game.
Local sites are usually excellent for soft play. It’s even better if they don’t allow foreigners to play. France and Italy once had very similar poker populations, for example, but France’s poker market is considerably tougher now, because the sites are open to anyone in the European Union. If the site is sanctioned by the government that helps recreational players significantly. Most people somewhat trust their government or they assume they need to keep a more upstanding image. They also know they can trust their payout will come in case they do somehow win. Government sites are frequently advertised through local lotteries, which is a wonderful way to get recreational players in the mix. If your local government does not have their own poker websites look for the sites they sanction. That’s where the recreational money goes often.
Sportsbooks occasionally keeps their own awful poker sites for their punters. Google “sportsbook” + “scandal” and see if there have been any credible complaints. Some guy whining that his aces always get cracked does not count. It’s usually a credible newspaper that needs to be making a report. If the sportsbook is based in a country that doesn’t primarily speak English learn the word for “scandal” in that language and Google for that. Additionally, check their Wikipedia page and see if there is a “controversy” section.
Theoretically, you can get into these sites without being a citizen of the country they service. It seems like a fairly harmless crime, but if you break their rules the site has every right to seize your funds. You also run the risk of having to route your money through varied channels. If you want a real sweat, try trusting life changing money to someone you’ve never met before.
The solution would seem to be to cash out more often, and never leave a bankroll to be seized. This sounds well and good on paper, but often cash outs need to go through so many parties that it’s not worth making small ones. Some middlemen charge flat rates as opposed to percentages for the risks they take on. If these tariffs are too expensive it could not be worth it to make frequent cash outs. Therefore if you break into a site you’ll often be left creating a large bankroll with no way to cash out. It’s also unethical to play on a site if people would know who you were if you played under an account which could be legally licensed to you. For these reasons, it’s not recommendable to play that game. It’s not as profitable or kosher as some would have you believe. A better plan is simply to take a vacation to different legal zones and open a bank account
legally. If you’re not an American citizen it’s actually pretty easy.
Many times a sportsbook will have a site that’s open to a number of players, but nobody wants to play there because it’s so hard to use the poker client. Those were always my main focus. Remember, every time you get incredibly pissed off with the site tell yourself, “Some other regular got here and gave up. When I get to the finish line, which is much closer on this site than some others, I’m going
to pick up his share of the loot.”
Whatever site you pick just don’t pick PokerStars. They didn’t get to be the
market leader by being stupid. There were players in online poker’s infancy who won $800,000+ in a year of playing tournaments. They then went and did a lot of good coke, and all that money is gone. PokerStars and some similar sites do not like that. That $800,000 was worth a ton to them in the poker economy, where it could get raked again and again. To prevent that from ever happening again all the payout structures have been flattened out. Tournaments that favored professionals like multi-entry majors have been terminated. Tournament clocks have been sped up.
Many sites have adopted this strategy. Your goal is to find the sites that set up a fair game and just leave it alone, without bothering to socially engineer the outcomes they want. The sites you want will likely reward 20%+ for the first- place payout. The more that is in there the better. You study more than other poker players and logically are going to finish first more than other participants. If you accept 12%–18% payouts you are permitting your first-place payouts to be divided among all the people who constantly finish in the middle of the pack.
I think drugs contribute to much more pain than most people realize. Nobody has ever run six miles on a treadmill and then shot up a McDonald’s. Set an alarm clock for the same time and go to bed at the same time every day. If you keep going to sleep at different hours you’re effectively giving yourself jet lag. Drink lots of water. Get some form of exercise each day. I hate gyms too and don’t do any of this to look good naked. However, if you just lift some weights every day, run, and sweat out the lethargy it will go a long way toward keeping you sane during downswings. You can get a couple of free weights and a kettle bell and do all this at home. You can run around your block. This doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
I used to love drinking and smoking weed. I quit doing both of them. It’s not because I really wanted to, but when your business is what many people call “a mind sport” it seems pertinent to keep yours in high working order.
Selling Your Action
Did you know that a player with a -5% ROI can consistently make money each month? Welcome to the wide world of selling percentages. If you can sell pieces of yourself with a mark-up you can effectively turn a profit every month you play. As you can imagine, this is an incredibly stabilizing force for your profession.
I could write about this extensively, but here are the basics: mark-up is the fee you charge people to buy a piece of you. Say I’m selling 10% of myself in the WSOP Main Event, that would be $1,000 of the overall buy-in. However, I’m not going to sell you 10% of myself for a $1,000. I might have a 200% ROI in that tournament. Conceivably, every $1,000 you put into me becomes $3,000. Of course, I will charge a premium for the percentage I’m selling you, since you’ll conceivably be making more money than what you’re paying me. The more established a poker professional I am the more of a mark-up I can charge.
Poker players are hilariously bad at buying percentages strategically. They generally buy a piece of whoever just won a poker tournament, as opposed to players who have been consistent for years. As you can imagine, they are increasing their variance by only betting on those who have experienced good fortune.
There has been a movement to start giving grind-it-out professionals a chance to get in on the action. Everyone wins. The player gets a stable income from the mark-up. The backer is likely a person who understands great profits can be found in small stakes tournaments, but doesn’t have the time or the willpower to play small stakes. Now, he doesn’t have to: he can just pick players who win consistently and have been vetted, and if their bankroll is large enough they will eventually see a decent return.
This is one of the best ways to make a stable income in poker. I could write an entire e-book on this, but if you’re near a computer you can simply Google “Alex Fitzgerald Backing Webinar.” The first video result you see will be a free webinar I did about the benefits of selling percentages.
Work at the Game
“How many hours do you play a week?”
“Ummm… eight… 10 hours a day. Five days a week.”
“Uh huh,” I say, scribbling in my notebook. “And how many hours a week
do you study?”
“One… two. On a good week.”
This exchange happens in a majority of my lessons. Here’s where I never
“Jon Van Fleet, AKA Apestyles. How are you doing?”
“Good to be here. Thanks for having me for this interview.”
“No, thank you Apestyles. You’re the most consistent online tournament
player of all time. You’ve been in this game since 2005, yet you still manage to evolve and succeed. Now, let’s start with our first question. What is your poker playing schedule? How many hours do you work on your game?”
“Well, the hours fluctuate, but I always study with 25% of the time I put into the game.”
Many people think that because they’ve made a couple of dollars their first few years in the game that that is going to continue indefinitely. Whether you realize it or not you are studying constantly when you begin. The enthusiasm for the game has you constantly talking hands with your friends. In your private hours you visualize situations and dream of ways through them. But once poker becomes your job you stop having these kinds of thoughts. You’re so used to the game that you want to catch up on television or Facebook by the end of the day. Now, you’re effectively a boxer who has stopped training. Mike Tyson was the best boxer in the world. Many argue that in his prime he was the greatest of all time. Yet, he didn’t train for exactly one fight in his career. Do you want to guess which one that was? If you opined, “Buster Douglas” you are correct. What many consider to be the worst upset in the history of the sport was made possible by Mike Tyson’s decision not to train for a mediocre opponent.
If you do not put the hours in you will fall behind. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The game evolves constantly. It is mere entitlement when you state, “I’ve been in this game for… years; I think I know what I’m doing.” Yes, perhaps you knew what to do five years ago, three years ago, or last month even, but that playing style could be less valuable now.
Every player that comes to Assassinato Coaching with 300K+ in makeup has the same story: “I’m putting in the volume! I’m playing exactly the way I used to when I was crushing! I don’t know what’s going on.” The game is going on around you, and you’re not paying attention to it. That’s the problem. You’re forcing an algorithm on the game that is no longer applicable. Even worse, when you start to play more tables to try and grind through the variance, you’re paying less attention. Your diminished ROI becomes worse.
Take a step back, every day if you can, and review your game. Try not to focus on fringe river spots that never come up. Select topics that always arise. Try to solve the shorter stacked situations first, and then gradually move up in complexity. Don’t just go through your hands with an ass-kissing friend who will go, “Yep, this all looks good. God, we run bad don’t we?”
There is a reason the goody two-shoes always gets the best grades. It’s not because he is a brown noser. It’s often because he is the only one in the classroom who cares. I’ve heard so many educators who are friends of mine go, “There is a war on boys in this culture! The boys’ grades are much worse than the girls, and no one cares.”
“Yes, and no one should care,” I say, “It’s always been that way. Women care about their studies much more than men, and they always will.”
I don’t believe either sex is naturally more intelligent. We do have our strengths, but generally the person who puts in the most effort gets there. I have many professionals say to me, “You think that you’re better than us.” I’d like to think I’m living a life of value and service to others, and yes in my horribly misaligned worldview I’d also like to think this puts me ahead of the unwashed guy in basketball shorts dripping ketchup onto the felt while screaming at a waitress. But honest to God, I never think of who or what I’m better than. People act as they do, and I can’t imagine a greater waste of time than asking myself where I stack up on the totem pole of life.
The problem with most people is they think someone doesn’t drink alcohol so they can tell people, “No, I don’t drink,” as if that were something to hold over on someone. It is an unbelievably narcissistic practice to assume someone made a change in their life just to spite you. Most likely that guy drove his Pontiac Aztek through a phone booth at 11 am the last time he got sauced, and he would like to see his kids again at some point in time.
I wake up early every morning to study not because I think it makes me better than anyone but because I care enough about my game that I want to take care of it. That is it. It’s actually much more intimidating to put in the work than it is to blow it off. If you tell everyone that you can’t make it out tonight because you’re trying to study more, and then you start struggling in the game, many people will look at you as stupid or incompetent. These shallow people do not matter. You know the right course. What would your hero do in your situation? Be that.
One problem I often see after one of my students starts committing themselves to a study and work schedule is a lack of moxy at the table. A poker hand is a beautiful thing. The multitude of options and ranges attached to each decision can blossom into millions of branches. Profit can bloom from each individual path. It is a constant pursuit to find what is bearing the most fruit. You can think of none of this at the poker table. You have come with your designs, and it is time to execute them. If there is a need to adjust you should note exactly what indicates a change of course is necessary. If you do not see one of your markers you are going to proceed with your strategy.
A poker player must be a philosopher away from the table, and only away from the table. He must be a boor on it. Do not get lost in the minutiae and look dazed, thus allowing your opponents to see your weakness. You did the work, now execute!
When you come up with new answers for this game and you apply them, do it automatically when you play high volume. Study the spots that trip others up. Find where people have glaring inefficiencies, and repeatedly take advantage of them. When you play a number of tables it can cause a disaster if you venture too far from what you’ve firmly established. Your table feel is weakened by all the action going on around you. You have less time to think through your decisions. If you think you found a potential spot, mark it for review and fold this time. Don’t learn on your own dime, tilt, and lose control on 10+ other tables.
When you move into higher stakes the game is about perfection. Everyone is likely to have gotten to the upper echelons by exploiting the exact inefficiencies you discovered. You will have to find exactly where your opponents’ weaknesses lies – probably not in an obvious place. You will need to take each hand step by step and statistic by statistic. You will need much more time. Play much less when you get to this level. Play for less time and play fewer tables. Spend much more time on improving your focus through proper life balance.
Have you ever watched a Christian have a public debate with an atheist? It is painful. There are so many hack “intellectuals” in the Christian sphere it is bewildering. When they get up there in front of an audience that isn’t entirely composed of their brethren their arguments are stripped bare.
Before you start decrying what a Godless heathen I am, relax: I am a practicing Christian. I didn’t intend to state my religion in this book, but this is a wonderful example of what I am talking about. Chances are at some point in the last few paragraphs you were astonished by something I said. It is likely that you had some very strong preconceived notions about faith when you read that text. Perhaps you projected your faith or lack thereof on me. It is possible you are thinking differently of me right now, or that you were before.
When I lived in poverty as I was growing up I relied on the charity of people from varying faiths and ethnicities. I was an atheist when I was younger, but one of my best friends was a Mormon. Why? We needed each other. We were both washing dishes and crammed into apartments. We had to help each other out a number of times with moving, money, or other matters.
Growing up I wondered why I was poor. Now, I can say it taught me one incredibly important lesson: another person’s faith, ethnicity, or culture need not be my concern. Of course, if someone starts screaming at me about their beliefs and not leaving me alone, that is one thing. However, in general we can all get along if we put in the work and focus on our shared interests. I have had the luxury of meeting some incredibly wealthy self-made people in my consultations. What always struck me was how humble and open they were. Growing up I believed rich people were evil and only got their fortune through treachery. While I’m sure people like that exist, that isn’t the experience I’ve had with self-made businessmen. Instead it was inspiring to me to observe how self- effacing they were. If they didn’t know something they’d simply say something like, “Hey, sorry to cut you off, but I’m drowning in the ignorance pool here. What does that term mean?” Not only did they learn more from everyone around them but people knew they were authentic. They got on well with successful people because generally the affluent are used to people trying to speak their language. To have someone say, “I know nothing. Please teach me” is a stunning change.
Many poker players have a religion: The Church of the Latest Results.
Whoever is crushing it is right. Everyone else is wrong. The other faith is The Church of Ballers. Whoever has been given exalted status could never be wrong. They needlessly divide themselves into other cliques based on age, ethnicity, or what have you. You know Phil Ivey never did this. Ivey’s good friends when he was coming up were John Juanda, Barry Greenstein, Amarillo Slim, Howard Lederer, Allen Cunningham, and Daniel Negreanu.
In my part of the USA when I was younger there was still quite a bit of racial tension. Yet here was this group. Amarillo Slim was 10,000 years old. They had Asians, Jews, African-Americans, and even a Canadian. What’s more striking about Ivey when you hear him interviewed is that he will listen attentively to anyone who is proposing a different viewpoint. I’ve also seen Faraz Jaka do the same thing with even very low level players. What they are gaining is experience and data. They are learning from anyone who could teach them anything. If there are 1,000 total skills in poker and they have 981 of them they need to speak with everyone they can; who knows who might have the final 19? They could be unknown to the poker populace as of now. Perhaps these ideas were sneered at when they were first proposed, and the inventor retreated into the shadows. It’s our job to make players feel comfortable enough to speak. It’s our mission to learn as much as possible. Perhaps all we will learn is how a recreational player thinks, and that’s okay. That is very valuable in itself. However, there are plays that are golden, and in my experience only “donkeys” do them.
This really goes for everything in life. If you count yourself as a socialist you shouldn’t groan when you hear someone discussing the free market in glowing terms. This is an opportunity to learn! This will strengthen your views if nothing else. This is why I used Christian speakers as an example. When I was a kid I couldn’t stand many of the holier-than-thou Christian types who’d say, “If you don’t understand, I don’t know what to tell you.” Now, many Christians in academia are expected to be patient listeners and apologists, hearing the refutations against their faith. Debates from 10 years ago are hugely different from debates today because now the leading speakers have to learn about their opposition and put themselves into uncomfortable situations.
Socrates knew this truth 1,600+ years ago. The Socratic Method is the process of questioning every angle about a statement to see if the speaker has really thought through their position. In its best state, it is not done to embarrass but to illuminate. If someone asks you something you do not know the answer to make it a practice always is, “I don’t know, can you teach me?” Not only will you get an incredible amount of data, but eventually you will be able to run the show in any industry you’re in.
If you want to be a restaurateur go work as a bus boy and ask everybody at
the restaurant what they are doing in their job and how you can help. The same applies if you want to work in practically any field. Get in at a low level and learn how to run the place. Once you know more than anyone your employer can’t fire you. The same applies to poker. Always be honest. If you say “I don’t know” people will trust you much more. In this world of faux outrage and countless self-proclaimed experts an open mind is a true rarity. When I have hired employees I have always been extremely pleased when they told me, “I don’t understand,” even if it was the second or third time I ran through something. I was grateful because I knew that once they’d grasped it, I’d never need to explain the process to them again. They were being honest with me, and I could worry about them less. That established trust, which allowed me to promote them.
If someone ever tells you your way of doing anything is wrong, reply, “I didn’t know that. Thank you for correcting me. Could you please show me the evidence, process, methodology, blueprints, data, formula, etc?” This will help you find the valuable information much faster than your opponents, and access it before they can learn to humble themselves.
When you begin to use the methods and open thought processes we have described in this book it will be intimidating at first. No one wants to admit what they do not know. Yet, as our knowledge begins filling in the cracks of our mental foundations, we find ourselves becoming stronger. We no longer need to feign confidence at the table. We have earned it.