Our 24th episode features a very special guest, Steve “ChipXtractor” Catterson. A long-time player and poker strategist, Steve is also a key member of the Red Chip Poker family, has appeared in our training videos, and contributes everything from regular forum analysis to guest posts. We were excited to speak with him on the unique topic of “Finding Balance with Poker”, which is something that many players are aware of, but find difficult to nail down. What does it mean to have balance with poker? How do you avoid the myriad pitfalls of poor time or money management? How do you keep friends and family well attended to while grinding out a profit at the tables? All these topics and more are discussed in this week’s podcast.

Featuring: SplitSuit & ChipXtractor

Before we get to the meat of the matter, ChipXtractor runs down the CliffsNotes on his poker career:

• Playing 20-25 years
• East coast native started playing stud in Atlantic City in the 80s
• Transitioned to limit hold ’em in the 90s
• Switched to no limit in mid-2000s
• Predominantly cash game player at $2/$5, occasionally $1/$2 OR $5/$10
• Now travels east coast playing in NY, NJ, PA & CT card rooms

Balancing Schedules

Like many poker players, ChipXtractor has a busy schedule off the table. For example, his Fridays and Saturdays are usually spoken for. So he finds himself grinding Monday nights against entrenched regs. And he’s 3 hours away from the nearest casino, so trips to the cardroom really are trips… multi-day commitments.

One way ChipXtractor optimizes his time and value is to adhere to a fairly rigid schedule when traveling to play. On the day he arrives at the casino, he sticks to two roughly 4-hour sessions with a dinner break in the middle. The following day, he’ll play a third 4 hour session, and leave in time to beat the traffic home.

Off Table Poker Time

ChipXtractor keeps his game sharp with off-table play. Currently, he’s focusing on hand history analysis. Like many poker players, he went through a phase of “consuming too much information and not applying it well”. He’ll focus on specific concepts and hands and look for feedback in forums like ours or with friends.

He uses PokerSnowie, Flopzilla, Advanced Poker Training and other tools to help hone his skills. The most important part, however, is recording hand histories from actual play and working through them.

SplitSuit recommends more replying to forum posts as ChipXtractor is in an ‘application’ mode of poker study, so he can build a strategic rapport with more thinking poker players that will enhance his own game. As SplitSuit puts it: “If you’re wrong, who cares. If you’re right, awesome. If you help someone else, that’s great.”

Recreational Play

ChipXtractor went through a long period of time of feeling guilty for dedicating so much time to poker. It’s something many poker players can relate to, as the game often takes us away from our family and friends — and for recreational players, it takes us away from time we could be making money with our main profession. “It doesn’t really move the needle financially for me,” he says of his trips to play $2/$5. There can be lots of guilt associated with doing something that could be perceived as selfish when time could be spent with friends or family, or on a career.

What is poker for ChipXtractor? He cites “release” and “sense of accomplishment”, but also cautions that it’s a double-edged sword. He’s been a winning player pretty much his whole life, but he’s never moved past $2/$5 in over 20 years of play. He talks about the fear of moving up and realizing you might not be as good as you think you are. He also admits to struggling to figure out how poker fits into his life. A great discussion comes out of the back-and-forth that shares many undertones with last week’s podcast, 4 Tips for Moving Up in Poker.

SplitSuit gets into some mental game aspects of balance, including the importance of being comfortable with only being able to do one thing at a time. In other words, when you’re home with family, be fully present, and ditto when you’re at the poker table. This is an area where ChipXtractor concurs and is living proof that being present for your family will balance your time spent away from them.

Splitsuit also talks about different “seasons of life” — in one part of your life you’ll be focused heavily on work. In another, family will be your obsession. In another, your hobby may take precedence. Just as long as you always communicate and know where you’re at “seasonally” with your spouse and family, you’ll be OK. As long as we’re honest with where we’re at in life, we can avoid hating it.

Why Not Poker?

SplitSuit and ChipXtractor continue to debate the merits of time spent on poker as a hobby as opposed to a career, and how to balance that with life. SplitSuit points out that unlike most hobbies, poker doesn’t require sinking a ton of money into it once you’re a winning player. Most hobbies conversely require large sums of investment capital with little payout beyond personal enjoyment.

ChipXtractor points out at how well poker parallels other life pursuits. If you’re studying hard, playing your A game, being mentally and physically present — that translates into greatness across most disciplines.

SplitSuit concurs that there are very few places in life where you can learn such a diverse and useful skillset so quickly, then immediately apply that skillset for profit and translate those skills to real life.

Poker forces you to get good with money, tilt control, dealing with people, logic, etc. Shy of entrepreneurship, SplitSuit would be hard-pressed to find a similarly comprehensive and efficient skillbuilder.

Being more thoughtful before you act in poker is directly applicable to being more thoughtful before you act in life. That lesson applies across the board to all parts of the human experience.

Not everyone lives their life like they play poker. Some treat it as a stage or an escape. But both SplitSuit and ChipXtractor concur most people’s games mirror their lives.

Working on Balance

ChipXtractor talks about building more balance by building relationships with other players, not only to be a better poker player, but feel better as a person. SplitSuit remarks on the odd nature of people’s different purposes for playing poker. For some, it is purely social. Others, semi-social. Still others, anti-social.

Location, as they discuss, may only be solved by moving. And such a move is in ChipXtractor’s plans. SplitSuit cautions that one should be 110% sure they’re ready to play poker for the long haul if being near a card room is part of the reason for choosing a particular location (Vegas, baby!)

Ultimately, ChipXtractor is in it for the long haul. Besides being a great game that offers a profitable return, poker is an amazing opportunity to learn more about yourself, and apply lessons and skills picked up at the poker table to lead a more fulfilling, balanced life.

Showing 6 comments
  • Deryl

    Thank you for making this. It’s rare for me to be able relate to others in poker. The content that I enjoy feels as though it was created for people younger than me (I’m about to turn 40), who are hoping to go pro (not a goal for me). In Steve, however, I had little trouble seeing myself. Certainly there are still differences (e.g. I have six children), but our approach to the game is similar. It’s hobby with little, or no, hope of it turning into anything else.

    I am curious is Steve plays online at all. For me, it’s the only chance I really get to play. I prefer live poker, but part of that life-balance is that I can’t get to the casino much. Online play is a compromise for me. I’d love to hear from other in this situation and how they handle it.

    • James "SplitSuit" Sweeney

      Thanks for sharing Deryl! I can’t speak for Steve, but if you have online available to you it’s a great way to get some practice in between times when you can make it out to play live.

  • Steven

    Hey Deryl. Thank you so much for the kind words. I did back in the day play quite a bit of online poker. I go all the way back to the Planter Poker and Paradise Poker days. Long before Party or Stars came on the scene.

    When I was running my own business I did not have much time to play live so online was my best option. Recently I have not been playing much online. I find I enjoy live much more. I do think it would benefit my game if I did play a few hours a week and study those sessions. It is something I am considering getting more involved in again. Just another thing on the ToDo list. lol.

    Once again thank you for dropping a note and letting James know you liked the format of the episode. All the best my friend.


  • Jerry Monaco

    Steve, thank you very much for revealing so much of yourself in this podcast. Like most of the Red Chip podcasts I listened to this more than once. Once at the gym and once out for a walk. (Just so Sweeney knows I listen to the “deep” strategy podcasts 3 times. The third time I take notes into one of my poker notebooks.)

    What mostly impresses me about you, Steve, is your long term resilience and grit. I’m not sure that you realize that these are your good qualities but I can tell simply by the way you describe your life that resilience is a prime quality in your poker playing life. Do with this compliment what you will.

    I’m pretty new to NLHE. I’ve only been playing a year. In my youth, especially through college I played stud poker a lot. Now I try to play NLHE, 2 or 3 times a week. I live in Queens and have a family so my situation is similar to yours. I play games out of love and I hope that poker will become a hobby that will pay its way. Mostly I want to get better. I want to be good. But unlike you Steve I want to move up. I want to test myself to the limit. At the moment, I know that I am not as good as you but I study hard. I want to study better.

    I’m curious about one thing: Why don’t you go to the “cardrooms” in the New York City area.

    Most of my poker time, outside of study and playing on line for practice, is taken up by the games in the card-rooms around NYC. I play in some carpet joints and “home games” in midtown and near Union Square, in Flushing, Queens, and in Brooklyn. Is it because you consider these places dangerous? Or maybe not always on the up-and-up?

    I ask these questions because the New York City area cardrooms are all “advertised” on meet-up and are easy to find. They are convenient: I can get to these cardrooms by subway and it is so much easier than spending the night in Atlantic City or near Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, or the Sands. I have to make sure I am good enough to pay my way with poker if I go to the casinos. So I would like to know why you reject the cardrooms. Maybe your reasons for rejecting them will convince me to reject them also.

    I thank SplitSuit and Red Chip Poker, for the great podcasts and website. And, once again, I thank you, Steve for being courageous and honest enough to share your life.


  • Steve C.


    Thank you so much for the great reply.I appreciate it very much.

    I have played once or twice in a few of the NYC rooms.I have a friend in the city who plays just about full time in many of those rooms. Just never really got comfortable playing I guess. Honestly no good reason for me not to play those games.

    If you get a chance take a look in the forums at a thread we got going about an East Coast meetup of RedChip forum members in May. I will drop a link below. Might be a cool way to connect and meet other players from the surrounding areas.

    Thanks again for all the kind words. Look forward to talking more.

    Steve C.


  • Juan

    Great stuff! Thanks guys!