Mike D aka TStoneMBD from Connecticut is a player most of us can only imagine. Averaging 600 hands per hour playing at Party Poker 15/30 or 30/60, this twenty-one year old has taken the bootstraps approach to poker: bypassing college, scraping and clawing to the world of five-figure daily swings.
CC: Tell me about how you started playing poker, as well as how long you’ve been playing.
Mike D: I started playing poker pretty much as a novice. With a background in gaming however, I took to the game well and was a winning player from day 1 just because I refused to sit in games with players that were better than me. My friends started taking me to Turning Stone Casino a couple of times and we would play the 1-3 spread limit up there. The first night I won $230 and although my win rate certainly wasn't that high, I was definitely the favorite in those soft games. I started to feel a bit addicted to poker and loved the freedom of making money by playing a game, so I would regularly take the three and a half hour drive up to Turning Stone to play. One night they opened up a 1-2 NL game for the very first time. The game was absolutely fishtastic and I got really lucky to make a $900 score which to me at the time was a lot of money. I stayed in the hotel for the entire week playing all day making just enough to pay for the hotel every night. I then decided it would be cheaper to just find a cheap apartment in the area without a lease agreement and give a shot at going pro. I was fortunate enough to find out about 2+2 early on in my career. While I was good enough to grind out the $13/hour I was making, I never would have progressed into the player I've become as quickly as I have, if at all without that site.
CC: How did you progress through different levels of the game?
Mike D: Turning Stone casino didn't have many big games. The biggest NL game they spread was 1-2NL and I was making a living in that game just from my natural ability. The only way for me to move up and progress through limits at that casino would be to convert to limit as they spread 10-20 and 20-40 there regularly. I studied the limit forums on 2+2 vigorously and within a couple of months I became astute enough to turn a good profit.
After playing live poker for about a year exceeding my expectations and goals, I converted to online play. I took to multi-tabling like a fish takes to water and was 8-tabling by my 2nd week. I was making many mis-clicks but I was playing in 3/6 where my expectation was so significant that mis-clicking wasn't that big of a problem. I then played about 100k hands at each level and would then move up as I maintained a strong win-rate.
CC: Do you play fulltime currently?
Mike D: I wouldn't exactly consider myself playing full time, because I am absolutely horrible about putting in hours. I truly dislike playing internet poker as multi-tabling a true grind. The money is amazing but my work ethic is horrible. I haven't had any other streams of income for the past 2 years however other than some other money making opportunities I've dabbled in when they've presented themselves. I didn't really do anything prior to playing full time. I'm 21 years old, and my parents and I couldn't afford going to college. I was self-employed making like $800/month doing something I loved doing. That's about it really. I knew I had a future for myself however once I found something I wanted to dedicate myself to. I've always been able to excel at whatever I've put my mind to other than athletic activities.
CC: Take us through how you came to the decision to leave play fulltime.
Mike D: Since I didn't have much going on in my life and I loved playing poker, I figured I'd give going pro a shot. If it didn't work out I could get out and try something else. I knew it would be a struggle early on but I had the dedication to improving my game and knew that if I could survive early on it would be a very prosperous career for me. I didn't realize just how prosperous it would become however, as at the time I had no idea how much money can be made playing on the internet.
CC: Are there any criteria that someone should use before playing poker for a living?
Mike D: There really aren't any set criteria that you need to play poker for a living. People who like to make rules like "you need 300BBs" or "you should make at least $30/hr" have very narrow thoughts. Being a professional poker player is about making good decisions while playing but more importantly about life. Everyone's situation is different. Some people's criteria are right for them but not right for you. Develop the wisdom so that you can make your own criteria.
CC: What percentage do you play live vs. online?
Mike D: I hardly ever play live anymore, but I enjoy it so much more than online. I’ve started playing in a live NL game that I just found out about. It’s incredibly juicy, so I may start playing in it regularly instead of some of my online hours. I'm hoping to start playing in some of the major tournaments this year or the next. We'll see how things go. Other than the major tournaments and some very high stakes cash games, my hourly rate in live games just can't match internet play.
CC: What have been you greatest learning’s during your time playing fulltime?
Mike D: That's a good question and one that I'm sure I could elaborate on for hours if I wanted to take the time. Off the top of my head, I'd say that in order to make it as a professional poker player you need the passion to learning the game. If you don't enjoy taking your game to new levels and really hitting the books then there may not be a future in the game for you. However, poker has become so incredibly profitable these days that some basic knowledge of fundamentals and you can make more money than the average US income.
Be careful about moving up too fast. Make sure you're a winning player in the games you play. Think rationally, not emotionally. Think mathematically, not psychologically. It's good to take shots in bigger games as long as you can afford to lose the money you put on the table. If you have enough BB’s for your level to maintain a very low risk of ruin, anything in excess of that can be used to take shots at bigger games. For instance, if I have $60,000 as my working bankroll, that's enough for me to play 30/60 for a living. If my roll goes up to $70,000 I can use $10,000 to buy-in to a tournament because I still have enough money to avoid going broke. Because my income is in the multiple 5 digits a month, I can afford to buy-in to a big tournament once a month because my income far exceeds my risk.
If you decide to dedicate yourself to learning poker, be careful about which game you start playing. Because I had to learn limit to progress as a player, I am now very advanced as a limit player but still don't understand NL very well. It is also hard to take the time out to learn NL because that time could be spent on improving my limit game which immediately increases my hourly rate whereas learning NL wouldn't have any immediate effect on it.
CC: Tell us more about your interest in tourneys.
Mike D: I feel the bug. I don't play tournaments online because I don't enjoy them and my hourly rate is much bigger in cash games. There is a lot of money to be made in the 10k buy-in live tournaments however because the caliber of play is generally very bad.
CC: Where have you seen the greatest improvements to your game?
Mike D: I used to be a very mathematical player. I understood all the odds and numbers and math behind my decisions, which was very important and something I was proud of at the time. My game has really been evolving into the conceptual side of poker. I understand how certain hands work against other hands and how scenarios play against each other. It's very hard to discuss because it would take a long time because it's not something easily taught like math is. Unfortunately however, because I haven't been keeping the math aspect of my game sharp, my math is starting to become rough on the edges. I'd say my math IQ in poker has dropped and my wisdom IQ in poker has gone way up.
CC: It sounds very glamorous to actually play poker professionally. What does it really mean to you?
Mike D: I used to think it was a dream. It's reality now. I used to think playing in WPT events was a dream and still do to an extent, but I see making it a reality in the future. I'm not really proud of what I do. I don't add anything to the economy other than cycling money and allowing the government to double tax people's income. I am however very proud of my development as a player. I've worked very hard to get where I am and I'm proud of my results. I earned the knowledge I have, and that's a very satisfying feeling. My life isn't really glamorous at all right now though. That's because I haven't tried to make it glamorous. I plan on moving out to Vegas next year and hopefully doing some big tournaments so perhaps it will be glamorous then. The idea of becoming rich is glamorous to the people who probably won't become rich or may become rich in the future. It's generally not that glamorous to the people who are rich or know they will become rich because it's just their reality. Why do you think there are so many "glamorous" people who live miserable lives?
CC: Well said. What does the future hold for you?
Mike D: I think I'll become very wealthy. I'm not really worried about money anymore like I have been in the past. I also think I have great potential to become an elite poker player. I wouldn't say great because I don't believe I have it in me to become great at anything, but I would say that I have it in me to become an elite player because there are just so few great players out there right now. To elaborate, the level of poker play is just very primitive right now. With a background in gaming, I can tell that everyone's understanding of the game is just very underdeveloped.