Let’s Get to Work

28

I received a letter from a student recently. The student is from Latvia and is one of the nicest kids I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching. He has an incredible attitude and genuinely enjoys learning. I’ve never been anything but faithful that his poker dreams would come to fruition. Unfortunately, the game has not been panning out well for him.

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In his letter, he said, “I’ve moved down to lower limits to reduce variance and yet I’ve still hit a breakeven stretch for over 2,000 tournaments. This has really frustrated me, as I don’t know many people who have put in the hours like I have. I’m having a hard time focusing for long sessions. I wanted to know if you could give me some advice. I know you have started from the bottom yourself at least once in your poker career. What motivated you to keep going after you lost large sums of money? How did you change your attitude to go down the stakes?”

The timing of his email was serendipitous. Just a while ago, I put some money down on a prop bet for a low-stakes competition. I did it mostly because I didn’t have much money online and needed some extra motivation. I was embarrassed at the frequency of my recent reloads. I was tired of mixing money I worked for with my bankroll. I also wanted to prove it was still possible to make great money at lower stakes and that you could actually financially outperform many higher stakes players.

In the first weeks, I made a couple thousand playing $5 and $10 tournaments. Sweet! Time to move up and ditch this low-stakes crap! Then, I got cocky and started registering for anything and everything. In a few days, I’d worked through much of my profit. I’ve since recovered, but the lesson was learned: low-stakes are much more difficult than when I was coming up. I could definitely sympathize with the young Latvian now.

At the same time, a horse of mine has been extremely frustrated. This is especially hilarious because he’s on the opposite end of the spectrum. He won the Bigger 55 on a Sunday a few months ago and has not had a big win since, or even a win. He has moved down and devoted more time to studying because he realizes his Sunday win is an anomaly that doesn’t occur that often. Still, after winning such a large tournament, he seems to think he should be doing really well in $10 tournaments.

I started laughing thinking about all of us. We’re all frustrated for no good reason. What kind of inflated ego do I have to come in and play for two weeks and expect to make thousands like it was nothing?

My horse is playing in tournaments with more regs now than there were in that Sunday major field. Everybody, including himself, unfairly expects him to crush just because he won one single tournament.

Even my Latvian friend is in an advantageous position even though he’s grinding $2.50 tournaments. Yes, it blows that Latvia got poker so late in the game and that jackass Americans like me have been able to get an eight-year head start on him. At the same time, these Latvian kids have advantages I never had growing up.

For one, most of them live with their families. This is a huge win and most of these guys don’t even realize it. They have no expenses practically. Their bankroll can grow wildly. For a “woe unto me” comparison, I finished high school in a city an hour away living in a friend’s garage that had no bathroom or heating. I played poker with a gun to my head for the first years of my career, knowing if I lost, there was no one else who was going to feed me.

Do you think I had that much time to learn or think about the game critically? Even when I did get some time to learn, training websites were in their infancy and much of the advice given to me proved to be false.

I was grinding most of my waking hours, wondering why I was barely paying my bills, while forums and blogs were flooded with stories of 17-year-olds buying condos and “ballas” spending $4,000 on a dinner. Eventually, I had to start paying for my mother’s rent and other bills. My sister needed help with college.

In the midst of all the stress, I hit a downswing, so I broke down and got a backer. When I admitted to working with an investor, most players told me at the time that I wasn’t a real poker player. As I’d bust live events, guys would shout at me, “Just go borrow some more money, loser!”

I do not write all of this to get sympathy. I’m pretty damn happy right now and it’s a privilege to cash in on my “hard” upbringing. I write this instead to show you guys how uneducated we were back then. Backing stables and coaches work much more efficiently now to make you a great player. The learning curb is steeper, but there are many people who will knowledgeably lead you to the winner’s circle.

Furthermore, I wouldn’t trade how I came up for anything. I make a great living now from coaching students because I remember what it was like to not have time to analyze the game I love. I remember what it was like to have to drag myself to the computer 20 minutes after waking up each day. I remember not having a social life because my mediocre poker abilities ensured I’d be playing longer hours to make more paltry paychecks.

Everything I have today is a product of what I didn’t have at the beginning. “The enemy is a great teacher,” as the Dalai Lama (pictured) says. If you can’t figure out how to enjoy your job now with the abundant resources available, then money isn’t going to change anything. Your attitude is 100% your fault and your problem.

Do you know how many good people wake up every day knowing there is absolutely no chance their situation will change? Do you know how many good people have to wake up at 4:00am to work at a bakery for 14 hours only make one-tenth of what you’d make in some of your worst months?

The “hard” times serve to teach you discipline. They help you appreciate what is really important in this game: the freedom to work as much and as hard as you want. I have never known anyone who focuses on enjoying the quality and duration of their work who has not made a good living at poker.

There is no boss not giving you the promotion because of your gender, ethnicity, height, sexual preference, or because he thinks his son would be a much better fit for the job. There is no union rep who wants you in a different position. There’s no supervising committee second-guessing you every step of the way. There are no government permits to pull in order to enter a new game. Everything is on you and you alone.

The trade you make for this freedom is the variance you experience. Only the weak bemoan its existence. The strong realize its necessity and are even thankful for it. Your results must be delayed randomly in order to ensure the game’s survival and protect lesser players. If you want a game you’ll never run poorly in, go pick up chess. I know some flat-on-their-ass broke Grand Masters who will teach you for $20 an hour.

There has never, at any other time in history, been a game that has employed so many people. Let’s stop worrying that we’re not in the top 1% and instead thank God we were born during this time. If we were born 20 years ago, we’d have to play poker for a lifetime to see the number of hands we play in a month now. We’d be at the mercy of live variance and all of the fees that accompany brick-and-mortar casinos. We wouldn’t be able to work anywhere on Earth and consequently would not be able to currency leverage.

And for players who were born in a country like, say, Latvia? Twenty years ago, there was no live poker. Earning a living in USD playing a game wouldn’t be an option. You’d have to enter the workforce and enjoy high school with paychecks.

Don’t beat yourself up for getting down. It happens to everyone. I get depressed as much as anyone, if not more. The only reason I’m still doing this seven years after I started, when practically everyone I came up with is gone, is because I take the time to be taught. I talk to friends who are much smarter than I am. I reread articles that have helped me right the ship before. I try to have a life outside of poker so I remember what real people have to do for money.

Make the small changes you know are necessary to initiate the real shift. You understand if you keep a dog inside all day, he will get depressed. You have to take him out for a walk sometime. You’re the same way; go outside and do some kind of exercise a few times a week. Try not to smoke weed or drink on days you’re playing or the night before. I know how un-cool this is to say, but both are depressants and can make you foggy and irritable. Everyone who hangs out with Phil Ivey says he doesn’t drink hardly anything and admits he doesn’t like to smoke weed. Don’t you think there’s a reason for that?

Save money and live below your means. You’ll learn much more if you have six months of expenses saved up and you’re not sweating the electric bill. Have other interests outside of poker. Daniel Negreanu has said he has always done his best when he has had other things going on in his life. It helps even more if your hobby is something completely different than grinding at a computer desk.

If you read about a player doing everything we’ve discussed, you would go, “Wow, this guy is on his game.” You’re writing your own life’s biography every day. Be that guy. Pretend it’s a year from now. Looking back, what do you want the “you of today” to be doing? Do you think you’re a professional poker player? The question can only be answered through action.

Let’s get to work.

Alex AssassinatoFitzgerald has amassed $3,000,000+ in tournament earnings alone. Alex is an instructor at PocketFives Trainingand can be reached for private lessons at Assassinatocoaching@gmail.com. You can also reach him on Twitter @TheAssassinatoand on Facebook at Facebook.com/Assassinato. He currently resides in his suburban home in Costa Rica with his fiancé and poodle.

28 COMMENTS

    • As always, you delivery a message that is real, hopeful, full of great ideas. Some of these are common sense but then that is a commodity is in short supply.Thank you, Alex, for sharing with us what it means to be real!Steve

    • Incredible read. Thanks Alex. I hope you’ll take up some form of motivational speaking one day if you haven’t already.

    • Incredible read. Thanks Alex. I hope you’ll take up some form of motivational speaking one day if you haven’t already.

      Haha, I just do it through my personal lessons 🙂 But maybe one day if I swim the English Channel or something to make it more legitimate I’ll do it for companies 😛

      But thank you everybody for the response, the comments, the reposting, and all that. It really helps myself and Pocketfives out. Keep writing and posting and we’ll keep writing.

    • “The trade you make for this freedom is the variance you experience. Only the weak bemoan its existence. The strong realize its necessity and are even thankful for it. Your results must be delayed randomly in order to ensure the game’s survival and protect lesser players. If you want a game you’ll never run poorly in, go pick up chess. I know some flat-on-their-ass broke Grand Masters who will teach you for $20 an hour.”

      Couldn’t have said it better and I use this chess analogy all the time when trying to explain why poker is so profitable, we need our opponents to have that “illusion” that they can win, even though it sometimes blinds us when we are down and weak-minded, I think about this a lot and its the best motivation through rough patches.

      I’m also a firm believer that small-mid stakes grinders can outperform, high buy-in tourney regs and its a lot less stressful, I see a lot of players who I would think are a lot better then me making poor decisions and going busto or not being able to afford their stakes anymore because of downswings and thus they turn to a backer, which is fine and shit happens sometimes, that’s variance but its also a product of these very good players making very bad business decisions. Some of the top players can buy-in for/lose 5K-10K a sunday and still crush games, but the fact of the matter is it is very hard to do and you have to have a consistently solid work-ethic in order to be learning and one-upping other regs all the time, and lots of regs are not doing this well enough. When your playing in these fields, there are simply not as many soft spots a lot less dead money and thus MORE VARIANCE, this is why it can be more profitable to be a middle-stakes tourney reg.

    • Another great read. Its great how in almost every article you almost always mention something about how being a well rounded person outside of poker can lead to a much higher rate of success. You understand what it takes to be successful in and outside of poker. You are truly a great writer and motivator.

    • Finally, a good front page p5s article. We need more articles in this vain.I do have to say I LOL’d a bit when the author belittled working in a bakery. I’m not a pro and despite having a degree in Molecular Biology, work as a server here in Vegas to fund both my life and my hobby (poker). Be fortunate that many of you pros found poker soon enough before Black Friday to earn a living at this game. Several people playing this game live for those couple days a week where they get to do what you do as your career. Never bemoan it.

    • As usual, great read and incredibly well put on all counts! Thanks for contributing so much to the community and giving back so many of your key learning and experiences for the rest of us to benefit from!

    • Alex,Great article. Thank you for your time and effort here.Like your friend in Latavia, I arrived way late to the game, circa 2010′. I had one decent score, then BF hit… I’ve spent the last 2 years, building a bankroll working a real job in my chosen field – petroleum engineering. I’ve finally built up enough real world money to cover 18 months expenses, and have a decent starting roll for poker. In January I’m taking the plunge and heading to South America to chase the poker dream. I don’t know if I’ll make it but I won’t have to wonder what if 20 years from now.

    • Thank you guys for all the great feedback. I really appreciate it. I don’t have a ton of time but I thought I’d try to get back to everybody I could. Excuse me if my formatting in this reply is a little sloppy – I’m still not great with the P5s forums.

      Alex,Great article. Thank you for your time and effort here.Like your friend in Latavia, I arrived way late to the game, circa 2010′. I had one decent score, then BF hit… I’ve spent the last 2 years, building a bankroll working a real job in my chosen field – petroleum engineering. I’ve finally built up enough real world money to cover 18 months expenses, and have a decent starting roll for poker. In January I’m taking the plunge and heading to South America to chase the poker dream. I don’t know if I’ll make it but I won’t have to wonder what if 20 years from now.

      Good for you man. It’s always much better to get out there, try, and fail than to always wonder, “what if?” Remember every day is an opportunity to advance the dream and narrative. Good luck to you.

      Finally, a good front page p5s article. We need more articles in this vain.I do have to say I LOL’d a bit when the author belittled working in a bakery. I’m not a pro and despite having a degree in Molecular Biology, work as a server here in Vegas to fund both my life and my hobby (poker). Be fortunate that many of you pros found poker soon enough before Black Friday to earn a living at this game. Several people playing this game live for those couple days a week where they get to do what you do as your career. Never bemoan it.

      I never belittled working in a bakery. My sister is incredibly smart and works in a bakery. That’s what made me think of it in the first place. My only point was that there weren’t as many opportunities for advancement in a bakery. A truer meritocracy can be found in poker.

      I’ve been working since I was 14. I was a commercial fisherman, I moved Persian carpets, I was a shift manager at an Arby’s, I did landscaping, and I was a security guard. I would never belittle anyone’s job because all works serves to teach you something.

      I’m also a firm believer that small-mid stakes grinders can outperform, high buy-in tourney regs and its a lot less stressful, I see a lot of players who I would think are a lot better then me making poor decisions and going busto or not being able to afford their stakes anymore because of downswings and thus they turn to a backer, which is fine and shit happens sometimes, that’s variance but its also a product of these very good players making very bad business decisions. Some of the top players can buy-in for/lose 5K-10K a sunday and still crush games, but the fact of the matter is it is very hard to do and you have to have a consistently solid work-ethic in order to be learning and one-upping other regs all the time, and lots of regs are not doing this well enough. When your playing in these fields, there are simply not as many soft spots a lot less dead money and thus MORE VARIANCE, this is why it can be more profitable to be a middle-stakes tourney reg.

      There are guys at high stakes who can crush but mostly I agree with you. I went on my own, without a backer, for the first in years about a year ago. I had to move down; I didn’t have the money. I’ve been dumbfounded at how much easier and profitable medium and low stakes are.

    • You have no idea, how much I needed to see this article, I have been very depressed last year or so, been on a bad downswing, Mother is mentally ill, Brother lost his baby(my Nephew), My cousin is now ill, and I had health issues. Everything has really overwhelmed me over the last while to the point where Iv actually lost my once loved passion for poker. I’m trying very hard though to change my attitude back again. I started working with Ben Warington and, I’m really starting to realise so much. I think the trick to life is to focus on what makes you happy and let it kill you. Attitude matters more than anything. Positive Outlook on life will being Positive Outcome. I am a firm believe in Positive energy.Being positive in the worst of times has pulled me out of the darkest places in my life. As long as you KNOW there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, you have nothing to worry about. Because lifes full of trials, they only make us stronger people.. I will refuse to ever throw in the towel and continue to push through. Show the right attitude, because so many people forget there values when success hits them. Always remember where you come from. Thank you for this amazing message man, almost exactly the same as what I’m going through right now. Keep on moving forward from strength to strength everyone.

    • You have no idea, how much I needed to see this article, I have been very depressed last year or so, been on a bad downswing, Mother is mentally ill, Brother lost his baby(my Nephew), My cousin is now ill, and I had health issues. Everything has really overwhelmed me over the last while to the point where Iv actually lost my once loved passion for poker. I’m trying very hard though to change my attitude back again. I started working with Ben Warington and, I’m really starting to realise so much. I think the trick to life is to focus on what makes you happy and let it kill you. Attitude matters more than anything. Positive Outlook on life will being Positive Outcome. I am a firm believe in Positive energy.Being positive in the worst of times has pulled me out of the darkest places in my life. As long as you KNOW there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, you have nothing to worry about. Because lifes full of trials, they only make us stronger people.. I will refuse to ever throw in the towel and continue to push through. Show the right attitude, because so many people forget there values when success hits them. Always remember where you come from. Thank you for this amazing message man, almost exactly the same as what I’m going through right now. Keep on moving forward from strength to strength everyone.

      Keep fighting the good fight Element. I’m sorry to hear about everything that’s come up 🙁 Keep your head high, it’s always darkest right before the dawn. God bless!

    • nice read alex! You spotted man! I feel identified cus Im from a poor country Honduras and a lot of people does no have access to get a job and poker its not that popular so ppl not have a job! I feel happy now cus I have the opportunity to learn with you and other great coaches like alex, grant and Adam. thx man! great read!

    • Yet another good read,you ought to become a motivational speaker.You don’t wanna look back 20 from now and wonder “what if” :))