Today is entirely focused on the things that I have learned over the last 11 years being a poker pro to improve my efficiency and avoid making big mistakes. This will be focused on anything from gameplay to boneheaded accounting mistakes that I've made, or travel mistakes, or anything that I believe has increased the value of my career.
A lot of good things have happened over the course of a decade, and in between all of those good things, there's been a bunch of bumpy mistakes and a bunch of ambiguity, and that's what I'm here to do. I'm here to offer you a little bit of advice.
Gameplay and Pressure
The first area I'm going to cover is gameplay and pressure. This isn't just executing your best at a final table; this is consistently playing the best that you can. It's really important to be in the right state of mind before you go play.
Recently, on a trip to South Korea, I was playing on Jeju. It's about 3:00 in the morning. I get a phone call, and I roll out of bed. I've been sleeping about an hour, and I sprint down to the cash game room.
The next thing I know, I'm playing in one of the biggest games I've ever played, maybe the biggest game I've ever played.
I remember for the next 30 minutes, I was having trouble counting what the ante structures that we played were. They often change, and I was trying really hard to figure out what exactly we were playing in the first hand. I was all in, and I was miscounting the size of the pot in the biggest game that I'd ever played.
It's really important that you take a couple of seconds, take some deep breaths, move your body a little bit, and get the blood flowing before you roll into this.
This is the same thing as waking up a little late to roll into a tournament. If you haven't registered, I think that there's generally more EV in you showing up to a tournament 10 minutes late and taking the 10 minutes where you're driving slow, you're not speeding through traffic, getting yourself stressed out, and you're also listening to one or two songs that kind of get you a little pumped up. Nothing more than that; you don't want to go crazy on the music.
Visualizing yourself playing your best, not being rushed, and being able to calibrate your brain is such a very big deal.
The visualization thing isn't black magic, but it isn't nonsense either. It's a very real thing. It applies to every competitive avenue. You want to envision yourself doing your best, winning a gold bracelet, or a trophy, or putting in a solid 12-hour cash game session.
Visualizing can bring big, terrifying goals down to earth; they make them feel tangible. I can tell you, as somebody who has done some things in poker that I never imagined I would do.
I remember in the beginning watching Rail Heaven and being like, "Oh my God, will I ever get to meet the guys that play those stakes?"
Now I'm here; now I'm doing it.
It's the same for all these athletes. You can hear the story isn't a rare one; it's a common story of you have a goal, you imagine yourself doing it, you work hard, you maintain the work ethic, the focus, and the next thing you know, one day you wake up, and you're there.
It's really important to maintain this focus for the long term and not just be destroyed when something doesn't work out for you. Poker, as we all know, is a game where things oftentimes aren't going to work out. If you look at the beginning course of my live tournament career, it felt like years before I'd won a tournament, and so much of that was just luck-based.
You just have to continue coming back, and you have to realize the game that you signed up for is one that doesn't reward you in the short term. It may sometimes, but it doesn't always.
So, you're at these final tables for the first time, and you're trying to do your best to execute what you've practiced, and things are new, and you're scared, and you make mistakes, and you feel like a failure.
I've done that a thousand times.
What you have to understand, is that you are gaining experience. You will get to the point where the stakes don't hurt anymore; you're not afraid. You're not afraid to pull the trigger at a final table, and you have a collection of memories that you can access to do your best.
So, get there, play your ass off, prepare, but understand that you have to take licks to be ready for the good stuff.
There's also a really valuable video that I suggest all of you watch. It was Phil Galfond who made it years ago. So, fire that up and listen to Phil go on one of these uplifting rants. I believe this video was recorded a day after he got absolutely demolished online.
-- There are two videos by Phil Galfond that Jason could be talking about here:
1. Advice on Running Bad (Recommended)
2. How I Deal with Downswings (More recent)
Traveling like a Poker Pro
If you're going to a different time zone, especially halfway around the world, get there early. I'm not going to go crazy on this, but it just blows my mind how many people show up to play gigantic tournaments on one-day acclimation to an 8-hour time zone. That's just not going to work for you. You're going to sleep like shit, and you're going to play your C game.
The next mistake that I always see people make, is they see a big main event and they say, "Oh yeah, there's $2 million for first. I got to travel to that stop and try to bank off that 2 million bucks."
That isn't the way you should look at it.
Look at it as an energy-based thing.
Look at it as the financial cost of your travel minus your overall ROI in the tournament.
Look at the average amount of hours that you're going to have invested into this thing and try to get a rough idea of what the trip's worth to you before you just jump on a plane and go over there.
Your time is really valuable, and time spent learning, even though it's not money in your pocket immediately, is often a much better choice than flying halfway around the country or halfway around the world, whatever it may be, and blowing up all your energy and time and expense to play some very average main event.
My God, keep solid notes. For the first x amount of years of my poker career, I think I was keeping notes in like my iPhone. I don't even know if I was backing it up on the cloud; it was insane.
Now, this was a long time ago, but I can tell you I made tons of mistakes with transactions, even if it's just handing somebody a $100 chip at the Rio. Make sure you send them a text and say, "Hey, paid you in chips at the Rio."
I keep a running WhatsApp chat with myself, and I text myself every single financial transaction I make.
An example would be if you lost a last longer bet to me at the World Series, you would say something like, "Pay Jason 1.5k in Rio chips at 7:25 because I will last longer during the WSOP." So, be more detailed than just, "I paid you $500." Say "I paid you $500 for this or that."
These things really will come back to save you time and time again. I've made so many mistakes that have cost me a ton of money.
Balancing Life and Poker
Alright, so if you're going to stick around in poker, you've got to have balance. That doesn't mean that there aren't phases of your career where you should just be going crazy and doing nothing but studying or nothing but playing.
Right now, in this phase of my career, I feel good about the game, and there are opportunities that present themselves to me that won't be around forever.
That sometimes means long sessions or long trips, but make sure you have scheduled breaks. You've thought about and committed to breaks that you're going to take once, say, you're done playing the World Series or an EPT or a partypoker stop or whatever it may be.
I think of someone like Erik Seidel, who I've developed a close friendship with over the years playing in the tournaments, and I see him, you know, he's been crushing poker for 40 years, and he still has time to fly to San Francisco and grab dinner with his daughter or hang out with his wife on a regular basis and enjoy shows, whatever it may be.
The reason the guy is still around 40 years later is because he loves poker and he loves to compete, but at the same time, he's not one of these degenerates who's just inside of a casino 350 days a year. It's just entirely unsustainable.
Listen to Your Body
Listen to your body; that's a really big one. Whenever I'm feeling it, I'm going to go hard, but if I'm not feeling it anymore, I'm totally cool to take a break, and you know, I did that this year in the middle of the World Series. I just took two weeks off.
I was thinking to myself, "Man, I just absolutely need to breathe some fresh air." So, you know, I went to Cali for a few days, and I think it paid big dividends for the end of my summer.
I'm not here to tell you that you have to be some kind of extreme athlete to play great poker; that's obviously not the case. A lot of the best poker players are in pretty piss-poor shape.
I would suggest that you have something where you're moving around. It doesn't matter what you're doing. Sure, you can have focused workouts, and that will improve the efficiency of your time, but more than anything, it's just about committing to getting in somewhere and doing something once in a while. You've got to respect your body; you've got to take care of yourself, especially if you're sitting in these chairs for, you know, 12-hour sessions.
I can tell you, I've taken pretty good care of myself. I already feel a lot of issues from being in a chair. That's why I'm standing here right now. Actually, I do my best to stand as much as I possibly can. I think I already mentioned walking outside, but I'm really crazy about nature therapy.
Generally, we have the luxury of being able to step outside no matter where we're at, playing poker. So, if you're not into doing squats, power cleans, and lots of hard cardio, you're going to get a ton of benefits just from getting outside, walking for a couple of hours, an hour here and there. Really commit to that. These aren't tedious things.
We Are all Ambassadors of Poker
Some of the most outstanding memories I have from early in my poker career are centered around me battling it out with others in online tournaments and online sit-and-goes, whatever it was that I was playing. Those rivalries fueled all of us to get a little better, and over time, you develop so much respect for the people that you once had friction with, that you once went to war with, that you once may have had some friendly or unfriendly banter with.
I just think it's so important to take a step back and have the understanding that we're all in here, mutually trying to gamble for a living.
On top of that, we have governments blocking us from playing online poker against one another. We have massive taxes and bad tax incentives. There are a lot of things that make gambling hard.
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Poker is not only strategically difficult, it's just really, really difficult to make a living at.
If we're all here trying to do that, you have to share respect for each other.
You have to make this world one that's inviting for the recreational player. We can't be time banking for 45 seconds pre-flop at the World Series of Poker when there are three regs there. You guys, we have to treat them as if we're hosts.
We are ambassadors to the game.
You are an ambassador to the game.
Buying Porsches and Clubbing, but Never Selling Out
I think about some of the most difficult times in my poker career where financially, I may have blown up a bunch of money being a complete jackass, trying to prove to the world that I made it. Out there buying Porsches and spending money in clubs and sitting there at the club wondering, like, how do people think this is fun? This is miserable.
My back was against the wall at some points in my career, and I had some friends who took care of me. But I remember, I never sold out. There were times when I could have been a real piece of garbage.
I think that when you feel like you're drowning and you feel like times are tough, you may want to take the easy way out and scam people. I backed a guy in the very earliest part of my career that I grew up playing tee-ball with, and this guy ended up robbing me for $112,000 and disappearing.
I just think, wow, we got off cheap.
Me and another buddy are the ones who are backing him. You just think about these sellouts, and you think about how it is tough when you're broke or when things aren't going your way. But you have power through a network, through people, people that are out there playing the same game that you are.
The Moral Bankroll
If you keep your integrity, you have a much bigger bankroll than what is readily available to you at your time. Even if you're not backed, if you have a reputation as being an honorable, hardworking person, you're going to stay in business. If you stay in business and you really want to play poker for a living, you will succeed.
It's not too late.
Sure, solvers have made the game more difficult, but if you look for value, and you approach the game like a professional, you're going to find ways to win.
If that isn't what you want because it's a really hard way to make a living, that's cool too. And I would recommend not feeling like a failure. It's cool to move on. Without that passion, you're basically drawing dead to make it.