Exactly one year ago, Red Chipper Fausto Valdez appeared on our podcast to discuss his dedication to becoming a professional poker player as he moved from $1/$2 to $2/$5. This week, Valdez drops in for an update, and it’s a big one: He quit his job to play poker full-time and has dedicated his life to the game. He’s even coaching! Look inside the mind of a cash game grinder and tournament shot-taker this week and get a taste of what professional poker is all about.

Featuring: Valdez, & Shaw

“Full time is not easy,” Valdez says, and since leaving his job, he’s been grinding hard. For sanity’s sake, though he appreciated his day job, he needed to be on the felt full-time.

Having students as a coach now gives Valdez more excuses to dig deep into studying. His main focus is macro strategy and metagame, and this is what he teaches to his students. Adaptation to new dynamics is as key as forcing the game to change through strategy.

Being forced to explain these concepts to someone else, Valdez must be on the top of his game to teach to others.

He credits Christian Soto, who gave him a good amount of coaching, as a formative strategy mind that influenced the fundamental way he approaches the game. There are many layers of complex dynamics that one must be aware of, and Valdez emphasizes that a style that seeks to dominate those dynamics always runs the risk of “going overboard”. Honing in that aggression by paying attention to the nuances is key.

Can You Beat the Game Without Studying?

“Feel players” that recognize patterns and exploit them do OK, but they can’t deal with other players that adjust to them. If you want to get better and start playing bigger games, learning to beat any opponent that sits at your table, you need to do some studying.

“It’s a war of attrition and you don’t know who’s going to give you the challenge at any given moment,” he says.

Game Selection

Valdez says he never asks for a table change and will play anyone in any position. This is his personal decision to learn to beat any type of any opponent regardless of the level.

“It’s my job as a professional to understand a dynamic and find a way to win,” he says.

Game selection might be good at lower stakes for profit, but when you encounter higher stakes or higher skills, you’re going to be in a tough spot.

Player Profiling

“Through a lot of table time… and based on the way they handle themselves physically and verbally,” you can profile players and understand their motivations and metagame quite quickly.

“I categorize opponents based on their passiveness and aggressiveness, how they approach preflop, how they’re setting themselves up postflop, how intensive they are with their stack sizes, their betting patterns, when they’re attacking, and overall, their frequencies. Based on that, you understand the strategy that they are implementing, and the pros and cons of that strategy,” he says.

“So if someone’s limping a lot, there’s pros and cons to that strategy. If someone’s being very aggressive, there’s pros and cons to that strategy,” he explains. He adds that a style that has a lot of limping preflop but then is highly aggressive postflop often takes players off-guard.

“You can change people’s behavior through your own sheer aggression,” he says, putting players in fit-or-fold spots.

Inducing Mistakes

Valdez explains that board runouts are key to applying maximum aggression and inducing mistakes. This is especially true, he says, in deeper-stacked games, where there are more postflop decisions to be made. When playing shallower, it’s more of a preflop game that sets up flop and turn decisions for stacks.


Valdez has been playing more tournaments because he needs to have fun every once and awhile.

“Cash games can get tedious sometimes,” he says, and he likes taking shots at big fields and big payouts.

He recently came in 13th out of a field of about 1,000 in a Vegas tournament and is looking to get his big score soon. He frequently has come very close to the final table.

Mental Game

“Everybody thinks they’re better than everyone else. Everyone thinks everybody else sucks. I’ve come to realize: you never want to get to high with the highs and too lows with the lows… as long as you trust your behaviors and it’s working for you toward whatever your goals may be… you just have to believe in it without losing your confidence… and if you can do that, you will succeed,” he says.