Jordan Young won millions in online poker tournaments and is approaching the million mark in live tournaments as well. This week, we talk to him about what advice he imparts to other tournament players who seek to achieve similar results.
We focus on strategy and discuss the foundations of a winning tournament gameplan. Young helps listeners identify and eliminate weaknesses in the way typical tournament players approach the game. He also gives tips on population exploits at the WSOP, and shares how it feels to sit at a final table with six figures and a bracelet on the line.
Zac: Jordan Young, so great to have you on the podcast. Welcome.
Jordan: I appreciate you having me on.
Zac: Today, I was hoping we talk a little bit about something you are really good at, which is cashing consistently in tournaments. For our listeners out there who aren’t familiar with your track record, could you tell us a little bit about your tournament results and what you’ve been doing in poker over the last few years?
Jordan: I mainly played tournaments for the first eight years or so of my career. I’ve been playing professionally for about 10 years now. I played mainly online and have recently just been kind of transitioning over into live but online, I had a lot of success. I would say those middle three years actually, maybe four years, I had most of my success where the first few years was just kind of a learning experience, getting my foot in the door and making a little bit of money, and then those middling years, I really found a, I guess kind of a niche playing style maybe is the best way to say it or a contrarian playing style where I was just relentless pre-flop and just kind of exploited a lot of the player fields that way. I had a lot of success doing it. I’d played nearly 40,000 tournaments online and cashed for over $5 million, I believe, and I’m just hoping to break through to the $1 million market in live poker pretty soon here.
Zac: Hey, you’re right up there. I mean, that’s just so impressive in terms of results. Now, one of the things I k now you’ve been doing recently is the Solve for Why Academy and I know you have something exciting to announce. We’ll talk about that at the end of the podcast but we know you work with Matt Berkey and our own Christian Soto on that. I’m curious what that experience has done in terms of changing the way you approach the way you play the game and think about strategy. What have you learned in the process of coaching others in this kind of mastermind format that you’re doing?
Jordan: That’s a great question and I’ll just kind of hit back on what I said at the very beginning where I won in those middling years and then I failed to mention the, like two, three years after the middling years and that was just essentially me not winning. It was because I wasn’t studying. I didn’t really know what to study and it was just a godsend to find these two guys really. They became really good friends of mine and they were both very much students of the game. They showed me the way to study and the way that people were studying and getting better.
I mean, I needed it. I needed it so much and now, with the Solve for Why Academy, just working with these guys doing that, teaching other people, I know that this is … A lot of people have probably heard this but the best way to learn something and have it stick in your brain is to be able to teach it to somebody else. I believe that more than anything in the world now with what I’ve seen from the last two years.
Zac: Looking back at your successful run, you mentioned kind of applying a deviation of strategy, kind of going against the grain, against the poker common sense at the time and that’s something that Christian and Matt have both mentioned when they’ve been on this podcast as such a key to their training and their success. Do you think that you need to be able to deviate and play that kind of meta game level in order to cash consistently in tournaments?
Jordan: I think that there is a path of just playing solid, very standard, good poker and you’re going to cash a lot but I think there are a lot of different ways to win in this game and one of the ways and the way I prefer is when I do cash, I give myself a shot at winning and it’s a more high variance volatile style. I feel like the rest of the field really isn’t playing with that format, so I’m comfortable playing like that. I know the swings and the mental aspect of it can really get to you but I just have never been someone that wanted to fit in with the crowd.
Zac: I mean, your story is so inspiring in terms of the phases that your poker career has gone through. One of the things that struck me when I observed you at last year’s $1,500 final table at the WSOP, I believe you came in second in that. Is that correct?
Zac: You had this amazing mix of being relaxed, calm, and casual and yet at the same time, you were hyper focused and you could tell you’re picking up all the information. How did you manage to develop such a balance between being relaxed but also being so tuned in?
Jordan: Preparation. I mean, there’s just … Preparation’s second to none. The work that I put in prior to playing last year’s World Series was the most work I had put in in any year leading up to it. I just kind of welcome the … Let me rephrase that. I was very in tune with how big of a moment it was but I knew that if I was trying to figure out what the best thing to do at this very time when I was in the midst of it, I was going to let emotions become involved and so to eliminate the emotions, you have to be prepared beforehand so you’re not relying on those emotions in the moment. I fully acknowledge that that was one of the coolest things and the biggest moments of my career at that time, yet I had never been quite as comfortable as I was playing there.
Zac: There was a great camaraderie too. I imagine that must have helped you knowing that you had the support of your fellow teammates in a sense. They’re rooting you on, right?
Jordan: Yeah, absolutely. All my friends were there really. It was great. I had a rail of 30 people or so and they had all come down and we’re just watching. It’s like with that support, I mean, it just makes life so much easier, I guess. Then, Christian and Berkey specifically, I mean Christian was over there on the rail biting his nails most of the time but I could tell he was enjoying it. He wanted me to win as much as I wanted me to win and that’s a quality of his that I really, really love about him. Berkey was like chip leader of a six-max and he’s telling me that he’s going to sit out for an hour so he can come watch us play heads-up but I’m like, “Dude, I’ll let you know if I win. You should continue playing that tournament though,” but he’s like missing hands and just like coming to see how I’m doing. He’s in a different room a couple hundred yards away. I don’t know. It’s pretty cool. Having that support is great.
Zac: It was quite a scene. I can’t wait to see it unfold again this year. Now, you’re playing some incredible levels in terms of tournament poker. You’re winning millions. You’re doing things that every tournament player dreams of. I’m wondering for the Joe Average poker player listening out there who plays in their local cardroom tournaments, maybe even their local home games, and they just want to get better and cash a little bit more consistently, what do you suggest they focus on studying when they sit down and watch training videos, read books, that sort of thing?
Jordan: I think that they need to focus on … Well, I want to simplify this as best as I can. They need to believe in where they’re getting their information from and they need to be loyal to that information source because that information source is going to give you very consistent information. You know what I mean? There’s so much information out there from all these different spots and you got to figure out like, “Is this good? Is this bad?” If you’re just starting up or you are at like a average-ish level, then getting all your information from one source is probably most important, I think.
Zac: Got you, so finding that trusted source and I imagine reviewing hands and reviewing your play is key just as it is in cash games but how do you approach sort of analyzing your play in a tournament in contrast to a cash game? I imagine there’s somewhat of a different process because your hand selection is so different, right?
Jordan: Yeah. I would say that’s spot on. I mean, in a tournament, I basically am doing most of my studying and thought process of depending on how much I have in front of me, how many big blinds I have. All of your play is going to be correlated to how much you have in front of you, so when you have a big stack, you should have a strategy. What do you want to do? Do you want to just try to open a lot of hands and steal a lot or are you going to try to just three-bet somebody that is opening a lot and you’re just going to play kind of snug? Are you going to look for spots?
Then, when you have a middling averages stack depth, how are you going to be playing? Then, short stack is pretty much … it speaks for itself. There’s only so much you can do but with short stack depth, I’d say shore up your big blind where you’re playing correctly from the big blind and that will help you a significant amount. Get a strategy for when you have a big stack too because if you have a good big stack strategy, you give yourself an opportunity to go really deep/maybe win the thing . Your middling stacks are going to be the most difficult, I don’t know, just … Well, I don’t want to say I don’t know. I do know. I think that defining your strategy for all three stack depths and all three stages of tournaments is very, very important prior to showing up to play.
Zac: Got you, and that’s what we’ve seen in your pro videos that you’ve contributed on the subject. I’m kind of curious. One thing that we don’t talk about a lot on this podcast in terms of tournaments is structure. I know that structures can vary wildly depending on where you’re playing. What do you look for in terms of a tournament structure to maximize your strengths and what kind of structure would you just avoid entirely?
Jordan: I don’t think there’s any structures that I would avoid entirely. Actually, I lied. The marathon structures, they’re just not suited for how I like to play poker. That might be more of a comfort thing because I’m very comfortable playing deep stack. That’s how I play cash games quite regularly but my favorite type of structure is one that just kind of … it moves along pretty well. You don’t start with a ridiculous amount of chips and you know where your opportunity is really going to be on day one. In the World Series, you’re either out by dinner or you have a bunch of chips. The structure is really good the whole way, one-hour levels. I don’t know. Those are the best structures in the world, just like the WSOP events are my absolute favorite.
Zac: I mean, it’s just an amazing time of year. They treat everyone so well and it really is like Poker Disney World.
Jordan: It really is.
Zac: It’s just incredible and we do podcast every year before it happens encouraging people to go. We go and we have our meetup. Speaking of the WSOP, getting to something specific because you’ve had a lot of success there. We think a lot about population exploits and certainly people who are out there playing in their local cardrooms, kind of have a feel for the way the room plays. Are there tips you could give about the population at the WSOP, at a typical big field WSOP tournament? Are there specific exploits that you can kind of use across the board or is it like everywhere else?
Jordan: There’s definitely exploits. I think that the one that I use is something I’d talked about like just a tiny bit, so I’ll get more into that. It’s that the structures are really, really good throughout and all you need to do, is get a bunch of chips. It seems easy, right, but I tend to do that right away and when I’m able to do that, my strategy when I have a big stack is I’m just trying to steal relentlessly because I know that the field, as a whole, is typically … The recreational amateur players, they don’t do this full time, so this is their big moment a lot of the time and you can kind of try to take advantage of that, I suppose, if you have a big stack, much better than if you have just an average stack. Typically, in tournaments, you won’t see me with an average stack all that much. It’s like first or I was out before dinner. I mean, not first but I’m giving myself a shot.
Zac: Got you. Yeah. Talking about first, it’s one thing that we don’t talk about a lot either, is the final table. What is the final table? What is it like to be there? I’m asking you because I’m genuinely curious what it’s like to be at the WSOP final table and just … I mean, is it a completely different game when you’re getting shorthanded?
Jordan: Yeah, it is a completely different game once you get to day three of the World Series events. When there’s 27 people or less, just the atmosphere is so much different. You’re sectioned off where the final two tables are, no one’s allowed to come within the rails so that’s pretty cool in itself. There’s actually security guards standing right around there and you have people that are two or three deep on the little roped off rail that they have. It makes you feel like you’re doing something really big and it’s a really, really cool moment.
Actually, in the 1,500 this past summer, we had 22 people left, I believe it was, and no one had said a word at my table for … I don’t know. It must have been two hours. No one wanted to say anything to give anything away because it was a lot of amateur players who, it’s like the first time they’ve been there and I actually said to them, I was just like, “Guys, this is so cool. Isn’t it? This is awesome. Fully recognize the moment you’re in right now because it’s one of the coolest things in poker.” I was saying it for myself as well. I was finally in the position where I felt like I could win one of these things and I think it had more to do with the preparation I’d put in prior. I just really wanted to fully live in the moment over the next six, eight hours because it was so cool. That’s the best way I can describe it.
Zac: Wow. What an amazing way of capturing that feeling. I’ve got goosebumps. I’m sure our listeners are right there in the thunder dome on stage imagining themselves at that final table. I guess just to get back to the theme of the whole podcast and we’re talking about cashing consistently, we can dream about hitting that WSOP final table but for most of us, just cashing, not just getting first or second in our local tournament would be enough. I’m curious, how do you know when you are cashing consistently in tournaments? There’s so much variance. What kind of results are you looking for before you can accurately say, “Hey, I’m actually doing something well here and I’m not just lucking out”?
Jordan: I mean, I think that a lot of the times, it takes a mental attitude and confidence that even though things might not be working out right now, you are still confident that you’re making the right plays. It can be ridiculous in tournaments. You can go years where you’re just taking 14th over and over and over again and it seems like you’re playing horribly but I would say that it’s mostly … You’re mostly able to tell when you’re not just dwindling away with your stack. You’re either playing a big pot and losing, or you’re getting in to the middling stages of a tournament and you’re just losing a flip or something to go broke for 40 big blinds. I mean, that stuff just kind of happens but what you don’t want to do is win three flips, then lose that 40 big blind flip and then just all of a sudden think you’re running bad because I hate to break it to you. You just flipped four times and you didn’t cash, so that’s something to go back and evaluate.
Zac: Well, I got to say this has been a really eye-opening experience and I felt in many ways like I’m sitting right there with you at the table seeing things from your eyes. You got me super excited to play more tournaments and to work on my tournament game now. I know that at the end here, we like to talk about what our guests are up to. You’re actually up to some pretty big stuff over at Solve for Why. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Jordan: Yeah, sure. At the beginning of this year, or I suppose a month prior, myself, Berkey, and Christian Soto all … We rented a office space for an expansion that we’re doing with Solve for Why. It’s starting to come together now. We are running 12 academies this year as opposed to the six we ran last year, plus we’re doing three times as many webinars over 12-month cycles starting in the beginning of May because in May, we are going to be doing two things. We’re going to be launching a subscription site and we are also going to be doing tournament academies where we’re expanding to three tables as opposed to one table.
We’ve already started a list for the tournament academies and we have at least one full table already and that’s a few months away, so we’ll have 27 for sure. That’s right before the World Series, so that’s going to be really cool. I believe Mr. Soto is in the process of moving to Las Vegas as well, so that’s pretty exciting. We have a desk waiting for him and we’re at the headquarters every day just making more and more content and we’re going to really flood it all out there in May. It’s really exciting. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Zac: That’s fantastic. I know a lot of our red shippers have gotten a lot out of the Solve for Why education. We’ll be very excited to hear you’re expanding those efforts. Jordan Young, again, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and it was incredible to vicariously live through your successes. I hope our listeners can take something from what you’ve said and apply it to their own successes. I hope to have you back on the podcast sometime soon.
Jordan: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me, Zac, and I would be more than happy to be a guest any time you are interested.
Zac: Awesome. We’ll talk to you then.