High Roller Radio
The 2011 World Series of Poker Ladies event meant much more to Marsha Wolak than just the title, the $200,000 in prize money and the coveted bracelet. It meant vindication & sweet justice.
“I felt like I won the tournament twice!” she said. It was the year a man made the final table, the year of poker karma. In 2011, Jonathan Epstein made history for the strangest of reasons at the WSOP; he made the final table of the ladies world championship! That year, the ladies buy-in was $1,000, an open event, and so each year a few of the opposite gender would enter for a variety of reasons. One, a bracelet’s up grabs and they’re kind of important, and two, some men are just not sold on the idea of a separate ladies event.
So, here comes Epstein, makes the final table of the ladies championship and, let’s just say, he wasn't a fan favourite. Epstein was booed and catcalled by the women and railbirds on hand, taking in this spectacle. So reviled for even entering in the first place that Epstein isn’t even listed by name in the 2011 Ladies Championship recap on WSOP.com. When he was busted in 9th, a chorus of cheers filled the rRio. Even the WSOP official holding the microphone, calling the final table action, joined in the taunts. And who was Epstein KO’d by? Marsha Wolak, who went on to win the title and the 192k that came with it.
Consider this, Wolak was almost a no show because just the year before, 2010, she was eliminated by a man wearing a dress, .the one and only Shaun Deeb.
“I almost didn’t play this year because of that experience,” she said, ”but knocking out the last man in the tournament this year, i felt like i won the tournament twice!’
WSOP officials didn't waste time in changing the rules to prevent it from happening again. In 2012, the ladies world championship became a $10,000 buy-in, with women getting a $9,000 discount.
Q: Why did you decide to start the book at threshold of their greatest pain?
TA: If you really think about it this is another way it reflects my coaching because, a lot of times, when people hire me it’s when they’re at their lowest. It's when they’ve been through the crying a number of times. They have been up and down and they’re at the point they really want to do something about the agony. It’s not like everybody comes to me when they’re at their lowest but certainly people do come to me during, or shortly after, a very low period.
Q: The great thing about poker is its psychological aspect. You see it all the time; the guy with all the chips, the guy who talks a a lot and thinks he’s the best, takes one beat, goes on tilt and loses it all?
TA: There’s two angles to what you just said; 1) is from the perspective of we don’t realize when we’re on tilt, and 2) I see it as my job, as a professional poker player, to watch every single hand, every single bet, and be completely in tune with anybody who might be a little mentally fractured. A lot of times you don’t see it overtly. You know, a guy loses a hand, you can feel him percolating over there, then he three-bets from the blind and you’re like, ‘Okay, I think he might be getting a little bit out of line here,’ and that’s because of a hand two hands ago. A hand he never cried about. So yes, sensitivity to every little tilt fluctuation, especially in no-limit, is essential.
Q: Everybody has a different pain threshold, right?
TA: Yes, that's more human nature than anything. In poker you can train yourself once you’ve set your sights on pain reduction as an objective. You can then improve on that consciously. Generally speaking though, some people are just more unhappy than others, that’s just how they’re set up, and so those people are more likely to lose their cool at the poker table.
Q: We’ve talked about players at their lowest point. What about those who are running good and playing their ‘A’ game. Do you think they neglect the coaching aspect?
TA: When you’re running good is not the time you think, ‘Oh, I need help.’ I’ve been trough that a million times and I detail it in the book. Anytime I’d run good for a period of time and boost my bankroll, get it pumped up, I’d somehow always find a way to destroy it. I never really wanted anything too good to happen to me. It’s just a natural part of the up and down pain cycle, that when we hit a low point some people have a natural urge to reform. For me it was like smoking cigarettes. Anytime I hit a real deep funk, when I was grinding all the time, I’d go in the hole for three days and I’d be like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna quit smoking. I’m going to start eating right. I’ll start exercising.’ I see my clients go through that cycle all the time. They write me letters and talk to me about it after the fact so many times. It’s just the natural course of things. We don't tend to seek out help when things are going well.
Q: There’s nothing worse than playing well all day, you’re up a little, and then something puts you off and you lose your stack. It’s like money means nothing at the table but, on the drive home, you kick yourself because that money means a lot.
TA: You just hit on a key thing, which is that conversation with yourself in the car. In fact, Painless Poker starts with the most painful weekend of my life and the main plot is about me being insane driving home. I can relate to that. You have to put that time to use for potential improvement. So, when you ask the question ‘What happened there?’ What’s the answer? Don’t tell me, you have to tell yourself and come up with a method, a slow gradual way, to improve. One of my favourite sayings is, ‘The walking way is easy. The hard part is standing up.’ The reason I started Elements of Poker with the topic ‘Quitting’ is because you need to have the ability to leave the game. I think this is the most important topic in poker for non tournament players. The key to good quitting is listening to the quitting voice, which we all have. There’s always a point where you have a thought, it might only be for a second, but you think, ‘I should quit now.’ When we don’t quit then, and lose afterward, we beat ourselves up. Not just for staying and losing but because the voice had told us to quit. As soon as you get that urge, that hunch, ‘I should quit now,’ it doesn’t matter what the reason is, again this is Elements of Poker, you have to train yourself to listen to that voice and quit. It’s one of the most empowering things in all of poker because if you have trouble with this, and most people do at some point, as soon as you do it once it’s so empowering. You may have 10 more bad quits but then you remember, ‘Wow, I know how to do this.’ So, you’re in your car with that extra money and you realize that if you were able to do it once you can do it again and again. I’ve dedicated my life to learning how to quit. The way I put iy in the book, I had two basic quitting policies; I would quit when I ran out of money and nobody would lend me any or when the game broke up. That was it, the only times I ever quit. Now, I can go and play, sit there for two, three, four hours, fold every hand, if it's correct to do so, and quit at any point. It’s been my life long objective. It’s crazy what it’s done for my game. I enjoy playing poker more because I’m completely safe, completely free, there’s nothing bad that can happen to me emotionally and it’s amazing. I think it’s important to start thinking of these mental bumps you go through as something you want to lesson, make them smaller, and just become more matter of fact, more objective, and less emotionally involved with any of it.
Q: Are you big on the Buddha and how would he approach a cash game?
TA: I am a practising Buddhist. I don’t call myself a Buddhist because it’s just a weird word but I do meditate everyday and I do read the readings everyday. It’s been a big part of my life for the past 13 years or so. If one develops the mindset of compassion and connectedness at the poker table, it is possible to play this game, which is inherently aggressive, without an aggressive attitude and without sending out any negativity to anyone at all. I do think it’s possible to play poker within the Buddhistic mindfulness. We don’t have to be drawn down by other peoples unhappiness and we don’t have to get sucked into their drama. You know, it’s easy for me, I never talk at the table. I just never say a word.
Tommy Angelo Thank-you!
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Q: I know Painless Poker is a psychological book but is it along the same lines as your very successful Tiltless Program?
TA: The book mirrors my coaching program very closely on purpose. If someone hires me to coach them we do a four-day program, a big deal, there’s a lot of pre-work and follow-up. What happens at the Painless Poker Clinic in the book, which is a fictional setting, is the seven archetypal characters beam in magically, boom, they just show up, and I coach them for two days. We go through a lot of the material I go through with clients. Then there’s push-back, arguments, debate, just like I go through with my clients. So it’s a very real depiction of the types of things I talk about with people and their reactions to it. The big difference is none of the people at the clinic volunteer, none of them are paying me, they just kind of all show up. What really drives the story is that each of them are beamed in at the moment of their greatest pain. So, you have one guy who just busted out of the main event of the World Series of Poker. You’ve got another guy on tilt, playing way higher than he should online, who gets disconnected and blows his entire bankroll. All of a sudden we’re just sitting there and we talk to each other for two days. Each of them tell their life stories and I give advice. We debate a lot of stuff and then there’s ark of character after that.
Tommy Angelo Interview
Author, Elements of Poker & Painless Poker (Full Audio of this Q&A HERE)
Q: On your website you have a series of quotes and I’d like to read a couple; ‘To win at poker you have to be very good at losing,’ and, ‘Poker is a process of illumination.' Can you talk about them?
TA: I’ve always found that once someone gets pretty good at the game, once they’ve put in their hours and have a few years under their belt, at that point, if they want their win rate to go up the most efficient thing to work on is consistency. You want your ‘A’ game to keep getting better all the time but if someone has big leaks in their game, like playing too long or going on bankroll tilt, that’s really where the profit is. So, that’s what I mean by, ’to win at poker you have to be very good at losing,’ because people underestimate the importance of how well we are performing when we’re losing. Through the coaching I’ve done, and all the pitfalls I’ve been through personally as a player, I’ve always found that to be something most players don’t focus enough on.
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Q: This quote, again from your website, I think ii must be about coaching; ‘Jesus says love thy enemy, Buddha teaches us how.'
TA: That one is from Painless Poker, which is about poker but it’s also about using poker as a way to better ourselves as human beings all around. The passage is really about the whole idea of Buddha and Jesus teaching the same message on one level but there's a big difference on the amount of instruction you get from Buddha to change yourself from within. Jesus is like, ‘This is how you should behave,’ but there isn’t really an instruction manual on how to do it.
Q: Another great one, ‘The game is forever changing but the pain remains the same.'
TA: That’s also from Painless Poker. The premise there is that I tell my readers some stories about my past, about pain, and what is was like in the 'before time,' before internet poker and the poker boom. I conclude that section by saying that through all these years, through everything I’ve learned, ‘The game forever changes but the pain remains the same.’ Part of the point of that is it always feels like things are in a state of stasis. You might be playing in a certain place for a couple of years and it seems like things are never going to change. No-limit Hold’em is the game and then all of a sudden PLO is the game. I’ve been watching this for so long and I’ve realized that things change fast all the time. It isn’t like poker suddenly started changing with the poker boom. It’s always been that way. I teach guys that, yes it’s important how you’re playing now, it’s important what the state of poker is, but the pain of poker is consistent. The pain of losing, the pain of playing bad, dealing with assholes, that never changes and that’s why I think it’s the most important thing to work on.
A Gambler's Word
"A gambler's word is as good as his bond, and that is more than I can say of many businessmen who stand very high in the community. I would rather take a true gambler's word than the bond of many businessmen. The gambler will pay when he has money, which many good church members will to."
- George Devol
Tommy Angelo Interview
High Roller Radio has interviewed some of the greatest gamblers, casino insiders, sports bettors, authors and poker players in the world. Here is our Q&A with poker player, writer and coach Tommy Angelo, author of the acclaimed Elements of Poker. He discusses his soon-to-be-released new title Painless Poker.
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Michael Craig, author of the fantastic book, The Professor, the Banker & the Suicide King, talks about one of his subjects - Ted Forrest.