Should You Learn Poker And Make a Lot of Money

2008 Main Event WSOP Final Table players dubbed the 'November Nine'
(My friend, Ylon, after he won $3 million at the World Series of Poker in 2008)


A friend of mine lost his job at [put in super high-powered internet company]. He had already been “warned” and whatever else they do when a bureaucracy wants to slowly fire you. They tied him up to a chair and poured whip cream on him and let a rabid dog lick it off. That sort of thing.

He had to turn in his “badge” and they changed his passwords. I felt bad for him but we both knew he was miserable at the job.

He IMed me the next day: “How can I learn poker?”

He wrote, “Since I have a lot of time to spare I figured I should learn poker. Do you have any tips on this?”

The answer is yes: I once spent 365 straight nights playing poker. I barely slept. During the day I would study the game. Videos and books. The day my first daughter was born I left the hospital to play poker. In the summer I got myself a place in Atlantic City and I would take a helicopter down each weekend. I would play for 36 straight hours and come back. I went to Las Vegas whenever I could. I played in all the underground clubs in the city.

“Do you want to learn poker to have fun or to make a living?”

He said, “to make a living”.

Me: Are you a game player?

Him: Yeah

Me: I mean, are you in the top 99.9% of either scrabble, chess, backgammon, Go, or Bridge?

Him: I play scrabble.

Me: Does that mean you are a tournament player of scrabble?

Him: I beat my friends and family all the time at scrabble.

Me: Do you know what “stems” are?

Him: It sounds familiar but I don’t think so.

Me: Then you don’t know how to play scrabble. Stems are six letter combinations of the most popular letters that if you add a seventh letter you will most likely have a legal 7 letter word.

For instance, “SATINE” is the best stem. Example: add “E” to “SATINE” and you get ETESIAN. Add “X” to SATINE and you get SEXTAIN. And so on. SATINE, SATIRE, RETINA are the three most popular stems. But you need to know the top 15 or so popular stems.

Do you know the Q without U words? Like QAT QOPF QI QANAT?

Do you know all the 3 and 4 letter J words?

Him: No. I’ve never studied a game per se. I just play games.

Me: Ok, you can’t learn poker yet.

Him: Can I learn scrabble and poker simultaneously?

Me: No, you will lose all your money at poker AND you won’t have fun doing it.

Scrabble, or chess, or backgammon, or POKER takes thousands of hours of intensive study. With scrabble, for instance, you need to learn all of the tricks above, plus rack skill, the endgame, the psychology of it. The statistics, etc.

And then you need to play other hard-core players and beat them.

Then you can learn poker.

The reason I am saying this is that to learn poker there’s actually four things to learn.

1) you need to learn how to learn games

2) then you learn poker

3) you need to learn how to be a stone-cold killer. The psychology of the game. i.e. you need to learn what it feels like to lose a lot. A LOT.

4) for poker: you need to learn about money. When you lose money it’s a different psychology than just losing a game.

Him: Ok, I’ll learn scrabble but are you sure I can’t learn poker at the same time? I know how to play already and I play a lot.

Me:   In Texas Hold-em after the flop if you are four cards to a flush, what are your exact odds of getting a flush by the river?

Him: [no response. ]

Me: Don’t look it up online. What’s the answer.

Him: [no response]

Me: That’s one statistic you have to learn. You have to learn 1000 of those statistics at least. And that’s before you even start playing and learning the psychology.

Him: Where can I learn those statistics?

Me: By learning scrabble first.

Him: Ok, I’ll learn scrabble first.

Me: It takes 1000s of hours to learn Scrabble. Every great poker player I know is a stone-cold killer. You have to kill or be killed. Most great poker players I know are great at all other games and have been since they were kids. A friend of mine spent 20 years becoming a chess master, another 5 becoming a great backgammon player, and it took him 10 years before he made a dime from poker. Now he’s made about $5 million from poker.

Everyone thinks he’s a nice guy but when you meet him you also say to yourself, “this guy is a hard core criminal.” That’s what it takes.

Him: I want to learn


learning a game teaches you how to be a killer

you dont want to learn how to be a killer while you are losing money

because thats a different skill you have to learn – how to lose money

better to first learn games. then learn about money

this is a long way of saying: i dont think you should learn poker

focus that time and energy on other things

Him: [no response]

One thing I didn’t say: poker is not fun. It seems like it’s a game but it isn’t. You sit around a table of disgusting guys and everyone is laughing and trying to be friends but all you do is lie to each other and try to take each other’s money.

It’s also boring. You have to play for 12 hours straight every day. And if you are good, maybe you get to play in 2 or 3 hands per hour if it’s a full table. BORING.

Another thing I didn’t mention: time doesn’t have to convert into just money. Figure out why you were miserable at your last job. The same things will cause you to be miserable at anything you do.

There are exercises to be more calm and happy with life situations. Learning a game with the hope of making money while sitting around seldom works.

Better to hug people. Better to make friends. Better to take a drawing class. To kiss someone. To eat well and sleep well and use your free time to get in shape. From this foundation will blossom new opportunities. This foundation will sit below the house you eventually live in. Don’t waste it sitting around a smoky table with a bunch of people who will lie and steal from you. Be around people who love you. Love is the best way to flourish.

Reading List: 

“Everything Scrabble” by Joe Edley – has all the stems, the Q without U words, 3 letter words, puzzles, psychology.

“Chess” by Laszlo Polgar. Polgar is an interesting story. He had a theory about raising kids. Indoctrinate them at the age of 3 and home school them to be focused on one topic. His three daughters are the best female chess players ever. He also had a theory of chess learning. Many, many easy problems instead of few difficult problems. So his book is 5000 problems of varying skill. Anyone who gets through that book will be a chess master.

“Backgammon” by Paul Magriel – the bible of Backgammon. But then I recommend Bill Roberts books starting with “Backgammon for WInners”.

“Hold-em Poker for Advanced Players” by Sklansky. This is only the starting point with the basic stats. Then I would get books that go through hand-by-hand decision making.

[Note: all of these books are just BOOK #1 to read to even get your foot in the door. Then there are manymore after that to actually get good.]

Better reading list: 

“10 Things to Do if You Were Fired Yesterday


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