On May 21, Jon ‘apestyles’ Van Fleet became the fifth person this year to pass $7.5 million in online tournament winnings for their career. Nine people did it all of last year, including the likes of former #1 ranked players Nico ‘PokerKaiser’ Fierro and TJ ‘1bigacehole’ Ulmer. Van Fleet, needless to say, is in some pretty elite company.
“I’m a goal-oriented person,” Van Fleet said, “so it’s always nice to achieve different milestones. I’ve always appreciated the rankings and badges for that reason. I know when I first deposited $50 on partypoker, I had no idea it was going to turn into a decade-long career. Mainly, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to pay the bills playing a game for a living and have some kind of longevity in a fickle industry.”
Van Fleet has been a member of PocketFives since year one in 2005. He has five scores of at least $100,000 to his name, which came over an eight-year period between 2006 and 2014. He was ranked as high as #3 on PocketFives nine years ago and still finds himself knocking on the door of the top 100 in the world at #129.
“The ability to adapt, having a work ethic, an open mind, and a little bit of luck are the key ingredients to my success over the years,” he said.
Van Fleet used to epitomize grinding. Now, he’s more focused on coaching, a gig that even led to his Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time book series with co-authors Jon ‘PearlJammer’ Turner and Eric ‘Rizen’ Lynch. Nowadays, you’ll find him mainly firing up online tournaments primarily only on the weekends.
“I made that adjustment because I wanted more balance in my life,” Van Fleet said of playing a couple of days a week. “On an average day, I do two to four hours of coaching, one or two simulations using PioSOLVER or CREV, watch a few videos, and am always preparing and discussing concepts with other poker players. Coaching is very beneficial for my game, as it allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of the game. Also, I’m lucky to be in a study group with some elite players who are way smarter than I am, so I get to use their ideas.”
Part of the reason Van Fleet has had such a longstanding stint in the poker world may have to do with his core beliefs.
“I’ve never totally bought into the go to school, get a 9 to 5, get married plan, so that’s part of why poker has worked so well for me,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that plan; it’s just not for me. That said, poker as a career has to be hard on partners and kids, and Black Friday was a major upheaval in my life that took a few years to recover from.”
Van Fleet owns $5 million in winnings on PokerStars alone, more than most players have across all sites, and he almost hit $2 million on Full Tilt. In May, the poker player, coach, and author took down the PokerStars Hot $109 and Big $22, his 99th and 100th career online tournament wins.
Given that it’s 2016 and he continues to be active in the game, will he still be around five years from now? What about 10 years?
“I’m not sure,” he said. “There are two reasons that poker as a long-term career doesn’t really work for me. First, the instability of the game. I think we have quite a few years left, but it gets tougher and tougher for pros. Second, poker is inherently a selfish game, as any non-team game is going to be. In the long-run, I’d like my life’s work to be something that was a net-positive on society. So, I have dreams of investing in a drug treatment center at some point in the future.”
The treatment center is still in its nascent stages, but given how determined Van Fleet is, the idea coming to fruition won’t be a challenge if his mind is set on making it happen.
“The treatment center will most likely draw from different models like mindfulness-based addiction recovery, CBT, 12-step recovery, and clinical interventions,” he said. “There’s nothing like watching the lights come back on in a person who had once lost hope. There are a lot of addicts dying out there, so it would be great to make a difference.”
In the present, Van Fleet knows what it takes to stay relevant for a prolonged period of time. He’s outlasted industry upheavals like the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act’s passage in 2006 and Black Friday in 2011. He’s seen the rise and fall of Full Tilt, partypoker and 888 leaving the American market, online poker going the way of the dodo in the US, and the explosion of worldwide interest in the game.
“Stay process-oriented and objective, not results-oriented,” he advised. “Focus on the things you can improve and work your hardest not to be affected by results. Bankroll management is huge, as is keeping a healthy body and mind. Also, confidence is huge, but a humble confidence. The minute you start thinking you know everything is the minute you start losing. The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. Above all, work hard, treat it like a job, and be professional.”