Robert Dewberry is a poker vlogger and aspiring Zen master of the game. He’s known as The Poker Monk. Dewberry joined us to provide his unique perspective on the life of a winning player. Our conversation touches on strategy, studying, and the connections between winning at poker and winning at life. Hear musings of the Monk on this week’s podcast.
Zac: Robert Dewberry, The Poker Monk, welcome to the Red Chip Poker podcast.
Robert: Thank you very much, I’m a big fan of your work over on Red Chip, so I’m really looking forward to talking to you.
Zac: Likewise, I love The Poker Monk Blog. I love that you just gave us a shout-out on your blog, so thanks for that. Tell us a little bit about your blog in general, and how you became The Poker Monk.
Robert: Yeah, sure. I’ve been playing for quite a while, like a lot of people in my age group. I started right around the kind of Rounders, Chris Moneymaker era. I was working in Los Angeles. I’m in Virginia now, but I used to live in LA, where I worked in the television industry for all of my 20s and 30s. Started playing in home games, like a lot of people did back then, when it was kind of booming. Eventually started playing in all the LA casinos, Commerce, Bicycle, The Hustler, those places, and frequent trips to Vegas, and got kind of hooked.
I was definitely a recreational player for a good 15 years. Then I made a career change, and decided to go back to school. I moved out here to Virginia, where I went to the University of Virginia, and got a degree in history. After I graduated, I hadn’t played the whole time I was in school, and got kind of an itch to get back into the game. But I don’t know if it was because being in academia for four years, I took a much different approach this time, and wanted to be really kind of studious, and study the game. Yeah, so that’s kind of how I got back. Over the last two years, since I graduated in 2015, I’ve been really kind of studying hard, and trying to take the game seriously.
Zac: One of the things I love about your story is you really approached poker like you said, in a very academic way. You said, “I’m just going to go all in. Get coaching. Get life coaching. Join these training sites.” You seem to have taken it all on at once, and not necessarily to become a professional poker player immediately, although, I imagine that’s a long term goal. But you wanted to have this life balance of working jobs, of living your life, and also playing the game that you loved. Tell us about just going all in on studying, and some of both the challenges in doing that, and the rewards from doing that.
Robert: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know what it is, whenever I get into, whether it’s going back to school, or writing, or poker, I never do it half ass. It’s either all in, or nothing. I’ve done that with study. I’m in kind of an interesting situation, because I live so far from the casinos, so putting in a lot of volume, I don’t have that option, but I have a ton of time to study. So I’ve kind of just tried to embrace that. Yeah, I just love studying, Zac. I love the coaching. I love training sites, especially Red Chip. I’m on ton, as you know. I’ve been working a lot with someone you know, of course, Dr. Cardner. We’ve been putting together kind of a study system for me, that’s really been just eye opening, and really helpful.
Zac: That’s something that comes up time and again on the podcast. I’m sure our listeners have heard it before, but I always love talking about this idea of creating a custom study plan for yourself. That’s incredible that you have a coach assisting you. Can you give us a little behind the scenes, as to how you’re putting this plan together, and kind of the details of how it’s improving your game?
Robert: Yeah, absolutely. Like a lot of people, I kind of just was studying haphazardly. Whatever new book came out, I might pick that up. I’d flip around on the different videos on Red Chip, things like that. Then after I started working with Dr. Cardner, we’ve created kind of a more deliberate study system. One of the things we’re doing that I can tell you about, is we’re doing these two week sprints where, we’ll pick some subject, say ranging, or bet sizing, whatever it is. I’ll focus on that for an hour a day, every day, for two weeks. That first day will be collecting material. It could be training videos, like on Red Chip, but it could also be chapters from books, or articles. Andrew Brokos, a lot of his articles I’ve used. Some of the articles on ExceptionalPoker.com. I’ve used a lot of those, and just kind of put together two weeks worth of material. Then just go at it.
Zac: That’s brilliant. It’s amazing how much I hear time and time again, that players are not just passively taking in this strategy training material, but very proactively building study plans, and customizing them for the leaks, and the areas of your game that you have to work on. Now, you’re called The Poker Monk. I want to know, is that because you’re particularly mindful, or your mental game is sound? What’s the origin of that name?
Robert: Yeah, it’s a little bit of all that. I know you’re not supposed to pick nicknames for yourself, but this was the nickname I choose when I started playing online again. I wanted to give myself, kind of a reminder. I have this real romantic notion of monks. I love this idea of kind of dedicating your life to just studying one thing. I wanted to remind myself that studying need to be a huge component of this, so I gave myself this nickname monk, just to remember that. That studying was why I was doing this. Not to just … Like a lot of poker players, I love the game. I could just sit there and play all day, and never study again. But I want to keep reminding myself that, that’s kind of what the foundation of all this is, if that makes sense.
Zac: Absolutely. One thing we talk about a lot on this podcast is mental game, and how often it is overlooked, but it really ties into everything you do at the table. Every strategy you implement, every tactic, that you use. Have you developed your mental game? I saw you did a meditation challenge. What are some of the things that you’ve done to avoid tilt, and handle your emotions at the table?
Robert: Yeah, and that’s the other half of why I picked The Poker Monk, because I’ve so been into the mental game side of this. In fact, probably to a fault. I probably should be studying strategy a little more, than I do the mental game. But yeah, I love meditating. Meditating has been a huge part of my life. Those who watch my vlog know that I’ve struggled with panic disorder, and anxiety attacks, and things like that, for about the last 25 years. Meditation has been a huge help in dealing with that stuff. The great thing is, is I found that like a lot of mental game stuff you learn at the poker table, it kind of goes for both your poker life, and your regular life. Meditation has been incredibly helpful on the felt, and all the other mental game stuff that I work with. I also work with “>Dr. Cardner on that stuff.
Zac: Poker, ultimately at the end of the day, is about making money. However, there’s two very important things that are offshoots of that, which are improving your mental game, improves your life. Also, there’s a social aspect to it. Players like you and I who aren’t necessarily professionals, but take the game very seriously, we want to make money. That’s the way we measure our success in this game, but talk about what you get out of it in terms of the social aspect, and also the mental aspect, how it improves your real life.
Robert: Yeah, it’s been great. I didn’t really know this at the time, but the biggest benefit of doing this vlog has been the social aspect of meeting people. Having people come up to me at the casinos that I would never have met otherwise. It can be a real kind of solitary game. You’re kind of at war with everybody else, so it can be … For an introvert like me, that’s part of the benefit, but it’s helped me kind of get out of my shell a little bit, and meet some people. It’s really neat, you know this, being on the Red Chip side, that building these communities is really helpful. Not just for your game, but just for your life happiness, and your enjoyment, and stuff like that. It’s been awesome.
Zac: Let’s talk about your blog a little bit. Tell our listeners what they can find on the blog. You do a lot of different things. I mean, explain away.
Robert: Yeah, in one way, it’s kind of the typical poker vlog. Notice that there’s this kind of formula that’s emerged in the poker blog community. I definitely do some hand analysis. You join me at the casino. See how I’m running. I’m in midst of a big downswing right now, so it’s been kind of interesting to see how people are reacting to that. For some people, it means you’re a bad player. So it’s been interesting to see how people react to that.
Zac: Well, another thing I wanted to ask about, we talked about your study routine with Dr. Cardner. I’m curious to know what your routine is in terms of analyzing your hands after you play a session. Do you take notes? Do you crunch them in software. How do you look at the hands that you’ve played, in order to identify whether you’re making mistakes, or just running bad?
Robert: Yeah, that’s a great question. I take heavy notes at the table. I keep a small notebook with me on my lap. Pretty much any hand that goes beyond the flop, I will take some kind of note on. If it goes all the way to the river, I’ll usually take pretty extensive notes on that. One, because I’m looking for hands to talk about on the vlog, during the hand analysis segment, but also I’m using it for my hand ranging study. What I’ll do, is I’ll take that back. Then I’ll just go street by street, using Flopzilla, and putting players on ranges. Seeing how my range compares to the range I’m putting on players, and looking for alternative lines. Seeing if I made any mistakes in my play in game, and how I can kind of change that with similar situations in the future.
Zac: You’re someone with your blog, that has finger on the pulse of the poker community. You are in touch with a lot of the people who are creating poker media out there, and you’re a consumer of it. What kind of trends are you seeing happening in the poker world? Just to seed this conversation, on of the things I’m seeing is just so much poker training content out there. It’s getting to be almost difficult to know where to turn, what to study, what kind of information should you be taking in. Can you curate, for our listeners maybe, some of the best resources, or some of the things that you’ve learned overall in your work doing the blog?
Robert: Yeah, you’re right. There is a ton of content out there. You would think that’s a good thing, but it’s becoming difficult to kind of sift through all this material, and find kind of the diamonds in the rough. Not just because I’m on your show, but I really do love Red Chip. Red Chip has been so important to my growth as a player. I’ve worked with a couple of coaches who have turned me on to a lot of stuff. I took some coaching with Andrew Brokos, who is phenomenal. I like his stuff over on Tournament Poker Edge. I’ve definitely watched a lot of his material there. Then a site that a lot of people don’t know about, but that’s really great called ExceptionalPoker.com. A guy named Mark Warner is doing strategy material on there that has just been a God send for me. I’ve taking some coaching from him as well.
Zac: Our listeners are of all stripes, in terms of their poker knowledge. We certainly have a lot of people who are just starting out studying. You’ve done a ton of studying, so I’m wondering what you would recommend to them, in the Red Chip catalog or elsewhere. What kind of specific strategy concepts should people be studying when they’re just starting to get into poker? Maybe they’ve played for a while, but they’re just starting to study, because they realize you have to study to be competitive in this game. What are some of the resources that you would suggest someone start out with?
Robert: Yeah, I’m a huge Ed Miller fan, so any of the videos having to do with his book, The Course, I think is just a fantastic place to start. My game would be so different if I had started off reading that book in the very beginning, 20 years ago. That would’ve been an incredible resource. If I were just starting right now, I would look at a book like The Course. Go through the content session, and just start trying to figure out what the fundamental ideas are behind learning how to play poker; preflop ranges, putting people on hands, bet sizing. Kind of just make a list of all of those elements, and then just one by one, start knocking them out. You’re never going to master it, so don’t sit there and try to master each thing. But just try to get a good, fundamental understanding of each aspect, and then move onto the next. Pretty soon, you’ll just have a really solid fundamental game. You’ll crush the lower limits like that.
Zac: We’re obviously in an ecosystem where in the US, online poker is a little more difficult to get into than it was pre- Black Friday. I’m curious, again, with someone who has their finger on the pulse, where do you see poker going overall? Not just online, but certainly you’re a live player. I mean you’re in the trenches playing. Do you see the game growing? Do you see the game stagnating? Do you see certain trends that might appear in the future that will change things? I know our listeners are always curious to hear from people who are kind of in the midst, where they see poker going.
Robert: Yeah, I’m constantly hearing that poker is dying. That the games are not good anymore. That everybody has gotten so good. There is a ton of just horrible, horrible play out there. I know that I’m constantly making terrible mistakes. Any really good player who could play exploitive poker could destroy me on most days. I know there’s a ton of money out there to be made, especially at the lower limits. Of course, the higher limits are always going to see a ton of great players, but I still think the game is really strong.
If you go out to the MGM in Washington, DC there on a Saturday, it’s going to take you hours to get a seat. There is a ton of players playing this game. The games are still really good. It might take a little more work to really beat these games now, but it’s worth it. It’s a great game. It’s super fun.
Zac: Let’s say I’m playing in one of your games. I guess the first question is, are you playing 1/2, 2/5?
Robert: Yeah, 1/2, 1/3, is what I’m focusing on now. I’m just beginning to start taking shots at 2/5.
Zac: Awesome. If I’m one of those 1/2, 1/3 players, your average, slightly bad player, what are some of the moves, and some of the ideas that you are using to make your money off of me. What are my weaknesses that you are exploiting?
Robert: Yeah. You’re playing too many hands for sure, preflop. You’re not paying attention to position at all. You’re kind of playing the same range, regardless of where you’re at in the hand, or regardless of what position you’re playing. Your folding too easy. You’re not being sticky enough. You’re folding to my see bets too often. You’re calling down too loosely on the river. I’ve been surprised how much thin value I’ve been able to get on the river, on a lot of these players.
Zac: Thin value, I love that concept. I’ve only recently been grasping that. I definitely come from the nittier , tighter side of playing.
Robert: Yeah, me too.
Zac: All right, so maybe I can learn something here from you. I mean, specifically can you, for our listeners who are just starting out and don’t know what thin value is, maybe you can give them a quick once over on that. Talk about how you integrated that concept into your game.
Robert: Yeah, this has actually been really new for me. I’ve been very cautious on the river in the past. I definitely think that when other players are betting against me, most times they have. There’s very little bluffing going on, on the river in these low limit games. But thin value is basically … I’m trying to think of the best way to explain it here. It’s real easy to bet on the river when you’ve got a monster hand. But you’ve got not necessarily a mediocre hand, but a hand with less value, that may or may not be beat, you’re kind of betting on the river, hoping to eek out a little profit from these kind of lower value hands. Say one pair hands, and things like that.
It can be a little bit of an art. It all goes back to putting people on ranges, and know how your range stacks up against your opponent’s range, and trying to play that way. For other players, it all comes down to your preflop starting ranges. I’m able to get thin value in a lot of hands, because I know people are playing things like aces with weak kickers, and unsuited gappers , and things like that, where I know my top pair is going to out kick yours. Things like that.
Zac: Good point. In terms of your game selection, do you avoid situations where you see that there are really good players playing? Or you jump right in there, trying to battle? Do you have any preferences when it comes to picking your game? Obviously, it sounds like there’s a lot of games to choose from where you’re playing.
Robert: Yeah, it’s funny. I’m thinking about your previous interviews with people like Christian Soto, and Fausto, who loved to get in there and just crush everybody they come into contact with. I am not that player. I’m trying to build a bankroll here. I’m looking for the easiest, softest game I can find. If I’m at a table with a couple of people who are crushing it, and there’s a table next to me with a bunch of tourists, I’m going to be at the table with the tourists.
Zac: Me too.
Robert: I hope to someday be on that level like Fausto or Soto, where they’re just crushing it. But I’m not there yet, and like I said, I was to build this bankroll. I want to move up someday. I’m definitely trying to make as much money as I can right now.
Zac: Although I have to say, the couple of sessions that I’ve played with Fausto, and with Soto, I can’t say that overall I left a winner, but I certainly learned so much from watching them, particularly about aggression. Aggression kind of boils down to a very simple dynamic in a sense, which is that, think about the positions, and the times when you feel most uncomfortable at the table, when you’re made to be uncomfortable by other players. That’s what you need to be doing to other people. At the same time, you can get too aggressive, and kind of shoot yourself in the foot. Can you talk a little bit about how you integrated more aggression into your game, as you went through the Red Chip Poker material.
Robert: Yeah, absolutely. The main way that I’ve done that, after reading, and watching all of the material on Red Chip that is constantly pushing for more aggression, for a good reason, I mean that’s how you win at this game, but I went online. I play a few hours a day, every day online. I play at the micro stakes, so I can try different things. I would try things like, I’m going to raise every single hand preflop. I’ve done that trick where you put a post it note over your cards, and just play position aggressively, without ever seeing your cards. I’ve done things like raised and reraised every single button, or every cutoff. Raised in my blinds, things like that, just trying to get used to being aggressive, and kind of getting over the scariness of it at first. Then if you do that enough online, it becomes integrated into your game. It of course emerges when you play live as well.
Zac: It’s funny, I did the exact same thing. We did a few podcasts back in the day about adding more aggression, and then taming aggression. They seem to go hand in hand, because once you do get used to that, and again, it’s very surprising how just doing it online, or making a blind shove live kind of sums up the emotion that you would otherwise feel, as a nit doing something like that.
Robert: Yeah, that could be dangerous, because as you say. There have been times when I’ve done that, been practicing online like that. Then played live, and just donked off like crazy, because I was just shoving all in with any two, because you get so used to doing it online. But it’s not a good practice. There’s a balance.
Zac: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of a lifelong struggle to find that balance. I know talking to Fausto, he’s still honing that in. But a lot of it is player profiling. A lot of it is really figuring out what game your opponents are playing. Then trying to make their game run through your game. So I guess to wrap things up, do you have any general tips for how someone becomes that player at the table, the best player? I mean, you have been studying a lot. You’ve been playing a lot. What’s the right balance between those things? How do you just live your life overall? Maybe not as a pro, but as a serious player, who can win over the long term?
Robert: Yeah, I mean, we’ve used this word a couple of times now, balance I think is a big part of it. A lot of players have a tendency to study 10%, and play 90%. I think there’s a point when that would be correct, when you’ve been playing a long time, and you’ve had some success. But I think for most of us, there needs to be much more study. I would like to see myself study about 70%, and dedicate about about 30% to play. I think that would just transform my game. I think that’s probably true for most people. I think this is true in life too. How much better would you be at your day job if you were studying three times as much as you were actually working? I don’t know, I think we need to find that balance in all aspects of our life really.
Zac: Yeah, relationships, hobbies, everything requires balance. The correct frequencies, not going on tilt. These are all lessons that you can learn playing poker. It’s one of the things that make this game great, because you can also win money while you’re doing it.
Robert: Yeah, that’s exactly true. Every day that I play, I kind of learn some new life lesson, that I’m able to apply off the felt. It really has been incredible. It’s an incredible game.
Zac: By now our listeners must be very motivated to get out there and study. Where can they find your blog, and get in touch with you? Because it’s a great resource for people who want to learn more.
Robert: Yeah, thanks Zac. If you Google search The Poker Monk, all my stuff comes up. But you can search for me, The Poker Monk on YouTube. I do have a website at ThePokerMonk.com. Then my Twitter and Instagram is also The Poker Monk. I’m real easy to find.
Zac: Well Dewberry, AKA The Poker Monk, we really appreciate you being on the podcast, and wish you the best of luck, and run good.
Robert: It’s been a real pleasure Zac. I really do appreciate it.