Today, professional poker player Ryan Schnabel is a core member of the Red Chip Poker community. But his story stretches back to the early days of online poker, where he quickly rose in the ranks to playing $50/$100 limit versus household names in poker. He learned no limit, became a Supernova Elite and crushed online tournaments, and then was crushed when Black Friday hit. Through struggles on and off the felt, his dedication to the game never wavered, and today you’ll find him grinding live games at a healthy profit. This is his story.
After the typical kitchen-table-poker-with-the-family start, Schnabel began his life of poker coming to the game as a Magic: The Gathering player, which is another strategy card game well-known as a breeding ground of professional poker players.
After competing on the Magic Pro Tour, he developed a group of friends that moved from Magic to poker and started getting more serious about poker as home games grew in popularity amongst his crew. From there, he transitioned to online in the early days of online poker.
Schnabel started with limit poker, because back in the early days of online poker, in the early 2000s, poker was in the pre-Moneymaker no limit boom. He worked is way up to the highest stakes on PokerStars, playing in the regular $30/$60 limit game and occasionally playing $50/$100 when that game broke out.
He transitioned to no limit with single table sit-and-gos, and then MTT sit-and-gos. Starting of small, he expanded to higher stakes and developed his skills on the various poker training sites that were around at the time. He then started playing larger tournaments, and by 2007, he was still working at a corporate job but his goal was to quit and play poker full-time.
After a string of surgeries left him in recovery, he took the opportunity to see if he could play poker at a professional level, and started grinding tournaments. After being very successful, he had the confidence to decide to play full-time. Simultaneously, he was laid off, so his professional poker career very quickly became a reality.
Schnabel decided to go for Supernova Elite on Pokerstars, which was a special rakeback promotion in exchange for playing a very large volume of hands. The program was brand new at that time, and has since been discontinued. This marked his transition into no-limit cash games. He started 2- and 4-tabling, worked his way up to 24-tabling cash… and playing some tournaments on the side!
He achieved Supernova Elite status by playing an average of 10,000 hands per day. There were only about 150 Supernova Elite players in the world at that time. After so much 24-tabling and despite the elite status and profitable poker, he grew burnt out on the game and his lack of a social life.
He started to take breaks from poker, and simultaneously running into a play bad/run bad scenario while tinkering with his game. The style of poker he was playing was very tight/aggressive, but he started to notice his friends player looser styles and fewer tables and racking up greater profits through playing more exploitatively. The adjustments he experimented with, along with running bad, led to a downswing, which led to more breaks.
The exact moment Black Friday hit, Schnabel was 24-tabling on PokerStars. One by one, the game windows started disappearing, and he was left, like so many online players, in shock and disbelief. At the time, he believed, very optimistically, that poker would be coming back as a regulated game.
During his wait for online poker to come back, he never seriously considered going back to corporate work, despite being very skilled in it. Based on his bad experience being laid off after a period of dedicated, hard work, and after tasting the freedom a professional poker life could give, he was still focused on poker as a passion and profession, but had no way to pursue that.
As if Black Friday wasn’t bad enough, Schnabel bought his house right before the housing market tanked, so he picked up a few jobs, one as a CrossFit coach, to keep his professional life and personal passions close as an athlete. This allowed him to have a social life and get his life game together, but he still missed poker dearly.
Unfortunately, he lived in an area of the country where there were no live card rooms, and online was still his specialty. He decided to move to get in action online, so he sold 98% of everything he owned and moved to Costa Rica to play online. He worked with an agency which specialized in moving professional poker players abroad so they could continue playing post-Black Friday.
Schnabel moved to Costa Rica with his girlfriend, and the idea was to build up a bankroll playing online and transition to live back in the states. After a while, it was clear life abroad wasn’t his girlfriend’s cup of tea, and she headed back to the states. Now he was stuck with an expensive apartment in a luxury community that he didn’t need, so he decided to make the jump to live sooner than planned, and left Costa Rica behind to get in action live, full-time.
In 2015, he made the move to live poker, and hasn’t looked back since. He’s building a bankroll to move up to higher stakes, while taking stabs at MTTs.
Schnabel talked about how the players he came up with in online poker were unknowns at the time, but now they are legitimately the best players in the game. It’s a big motivator for him to keep going in poker, because he was once on par with them and the only reason he fell behind was that he fell out of action whereas they kept going.
“There’s no looking back,” he said. “I’m either going to go broke trying, which I don’t see happening, or I’m going to make it.”
He talked about wanting to be his own boss, and how your upside in the corporate world is capped, whereas his upside in poker in unlimited, and his results are a direct correlation of how much work he puts into studying, strategizing and playing.
He also talked about the difference in being a recreational player versus a professional, and how because a recreational player’s bankroll is essentially just their disposable income, they tend to focus on winning pots versus long-term profit.
Schabel recommended getting better through playing an ABC style first — tight, aggressive, few bluffs. Then, from there, you can start expanding and adding different tactics. Get comfortable with that, and add a little more, he said.
“People need to find out by experience,” he said. Studying, discussing hands in forums and talking poker is important, but you need to be in a situation several times to get comfortable using new tactics. You have to make mistakes sometimes.
“If you’re not failing, you’re not learning. You’re just repeating the same thing over and over again. You’re not improving. You should be trying something new,” he said.
He also talked at length about getting involved with Red Chip by meeting other Red Chip Poker members, particularly Fausto Valdez, and that made all the difference in changing his game for the better. He also cited SplitSuit’s Hand Reading Lab as pivotal to improving his game, as well as his Red Chip Poker PRO membership. He also cited Solve for Why Academy as an integral part of evolving his game.