In honor of our 100th episode, we have an all-star lineup on this week’s podcast. James “SplitSuit” Sweeney, Ed Miller, Mike Gano, Dr. Tricia Cardner and Doug Hull all drop by to share their answer to a single question: What first inspired you to study, and what inspires you to continue to study?” You’ll hear five very different stories about falling in love not just with the game of poker, but the study thereof. It’s a unique look into the lives of five very accomplished poker coaches, and there is something for poker players at every level to relate to here.
James “SplitSuit” Sweeney
“Anything that I’m going to do I want to do well… I’m striving to be top 10% in anything that I do, top 5%, even better.” – James ‘SplitSuit’ Sweeney
Sweeney’s rationale? Be the best, within reason. Striving to be the top 1% might be foolhearty. Top 5%? Top 10%? That is always his goal.
Surrounded by poker players at all times on campus, Sweeney talked about hands non-stop. He spent hours with friends discussing hand histories and fell in love with the brain-expanding nature of that discourse.
He loves studying, not just poker, but anything that he’s trying to get better at. The serotonin drip of getting better at something is enough to keep him involved.
Feeling objectively more confident, having objectively less question marks when you’re playing sessions — those are important benchmarks to measure yourself towards.
In regards to why SplitSuit studies these days, his situation is unique. He’s not so much a player as he is a coach, and he’s often studying for the benefit of his students if not also his game.
“You never fully understand something until you can teach it well,” is one of his favorite quotes, and he applies it to his study and coaching every day.
Sweeney also notes that the parallel between the skill sets you need to be a good poker player are the same skill sets you need in life. The way you understand balance, emotional control, bankroll manangement… all of these things are things you see in real life.
“I found it fascinating that you could gamble and play a game and make money doing it.” – Ed Miller
Miller was inspired by tales of counting cards and blackjack, but with the advent of online poker, he quickly found his way into the online poker scene. After losing a few buyins, he bought the 2+2 canon of books and was quickly on his way to profiting from $1/$2, $2/$5, and eventually, $5/$10 games. It took a while for Miller to prove himself a long-term winner, but when he arrived, he was ready to share what he learned with others, and established many of the strategic concepts we use to this day.
Dr. Tricia Cardner
“When something really gets into my bones, I go full-force.” – Dr. Tricia Cardner
Dr. Carnder relates her full-force love of psychology and how total immersion in her subject matter is what she thrives on. The same was true of poker and her discovery of the game was at a home game during the poker game. She was taken with the game immediately when she sat down and realized it was a math and psychology puzzle.
“No limit hold ’em is one of the most challenging things you can study,” she says. Her motivation is unwavering because her sole goal is to become the best poker player she can be. What motivated her was that she has the personality type that when she’s into something, she’s into it.
“Once you get a taste for something you’re good at, then you just want more. I do at least. I don’t want to settle for being good, I want to be great. So now the question just remains, ‘How far can I take this?'” – Mike Gano
Gano’s dad was a card-counting blackjack player who built a blackjack table and taught him to deal while he practiced counting. He learned early on that some forms of gambling were things you could study and get an edge on.
He also was a competitive chess player. He read theory books, read his games, played against computer simulations… all the same things he does with poker now.
Once he got into poker, he saw the same players showing up and winning every year. By the time he became interested, he got the first poker strategy publications like the Super/System and Sklansky/Malmuth books.
“It became obvious to me that there is something going on. These [pros] are getting an edge somehow,” he said.
“I didn’t put money online or go into a casino until I had read about a foot and a half of poker books. I was not going to go in there until I was sure I was going to win.” – Doug Hull
Hull got into poker during the Moneymaker boom. He was inspired seeing the equity calculations on the World Series of Poker telecast. As an engineer and programmer, he built an equity simulator to understand how the math of the game worked from inside out. He relates a story of his first big win in a casino and how he was instantly hooked.