CC: Tell me about how you started playing poker, as well as how long you've been playing.
Daniel: I started playing poker the summer after high school. I was first interested in black jack, but I quickly found that the edge one can exploit in that game was extremely small. A group of friends and I started playing late at night when there was nothing else to do during the summer and I found it fascinating.
I got to Caltech and I discovered that there was a small community of poker players all ready there, playing online. I went out and got myself an account at the nearest bank (I didn't want my parents to know) and deposited into Party Poker. I started off playing 2/4 limit with a meager $150 bankroll, which was a pretty ignorant thing for me to have done, but I was lucky enough that it worked out. In the following weeks I was breaking even mostly, and then I played and won a $33 MTT for a bit over $3000. Since then the poker swings have just gone up and up.
CC: You're a full-time student. How much do you average playing per week?
Daniel: As a full time student I don't get to play as much as I wish to, but I nevertheless get tons of play in. For the most part I play probably 30 hours or so a week. I am constantly either working on problem sets for classes or playing poker, never really leaving myself room for much rest.
CC: Why did you start focusing on tourneys?
Daniel: I started focusing on tourneys after I won my first $33 MTT. The thrill of victory, conquering all those other players, was incredibly gratifying. I had won $3000 and that was a fortune to me at the time- I had never encountered so much money in my life. Since then I've been hooked.
CC: What has been your most successful week?
Daniel: One week during the summer, after my sophomore year, I won two MTTs at the same time in one day, and final tabled six more times in tournaments ranging from $33 to $100 buy-ins in the next two days. I have had weeks in which I have won much more, but that week in which I outright won four tourneys and final tabled in four others was probably the most successful.
CC: Tourneys seem to be quite a tough way to be a winning player, but you've built tremendous success. What are your keys mentally to weather the storms of bad beats and hands that don't get there?
Daniel: The biggest factor that leads to my tournament success mentally is patience. It takes just one slip to ruin a potentially huge tournament success, and it is patience that lets me evade such disaster. I never care about the average chip stack, I don't care if someone is stealing a bunch of blinds from me, I don't care that I had 20k in chips 10 minutes ago and now I have 10k in chips. I just sit there and wait, pick my spots only when I know I've got the best of it, and never try to force things to happen.
A lot of times players get upset and simply give up hope. If you have chips, you have an opportunity to win a tournament, no matter how small your stack may be. All you have to do is wait for your opportunity and go with it. A lot of my fellow players criticize my play for being overly tight, but I believe that online tournaments are so structured that trying to ‘accumulate' chips through hyper-aggressive play is a fruitless effort. Players have such courage online that trying to boss them around and forcing chips out of them is an incredibly difficult task that is usually not worth trying to do. I find that it's much better to wait in the weeds, utilizing extreme emotional control and patience to allow ones self to find good spots. It is amazing how easy it is sometimes to just let others bust each other out and fall all over themselves.
CC: I'm assuming you prefer tourneys to ring games. Is that the case?
Daniel: It certainly is the case. I find cash games to be such a grind, and quite boring. I find the variance in cash games to be much too swingy. Although MTT variance is pretty big too, there isn't any point in time during any one MTT session where I'll lose one hand and consequently lose hundreds of dollars, as is very much possible and common in ring games. The amount of money I can lose in any one tournament is capped and I enjoy the structured nature of tournaments.
CC: How does your approach to tourneys differ with ring games?
Daniel: In a tournament, once you lose all of your chips you're out. This phenomenon doesn't exist with ring games - it is this potential ‘poker death' that shapes my approach to tournaments. You have to balance survival and chip accumulation in tournaments, whereas in cash games all you care about is chip accumulation. The need to survive in tournaments forces a lot greater discipline, patience, and focus. I find that I play my A game much more often in tournaments than in cash games because the prospect of losing all of my chips and busting in a tournament is a very fearsome force.
I tend to play ring games more for fun and sport than for money. I like to play pretty quirky, have a lot of table banter and make outrageous bluffs and huge value over bets; just seeing what kind of stunts I can pull off. I have made attempts to try to grind out ring games online, and though I win at them (marginally so) they aren't enjoyable at all.
CC: How does the sheer volume of tourneys prepare you to face the best of the best tourney players?
Daniel: Playing so many tournaments allows you to better identify those key hands and pots that make or break your tournament. Oftentimes these hands are cluttered with extra ‘noise', and you have to sift through all of the detail to figure out what's going on and how to act accordingly. MTTs are like going through a minefield and sometimes you'll encounter situations where you have to play extra cautious, and other times pounce upon hidden opportunities. Playing so many MTTs and seeing these situations come up again and again allow you to identify how everything comes together: the flow of the table, the betting patterns of the players, the overall tightness and aggression of your opponents, your image, etc. It gives you greater skill in making correct judgments in these key pots.
So when it comes down to a table of tough players, your experience allows you to correctly identify what is ‘going on', and with enough insight and thoughtfulness, even the actions of the best players can become quite transparent.
CC: You had a chance to play on the Party Poker Cruise. Tell us about that experience.
Daniel: I had a blast on the Party Poker Cruise. I didn't actually play in the main event myself, just went as a guest of a friend who had qualified. I met a lot of great people there, and playing live tournament poker (sit and goes and side tournaments) is one of the most fun, thoughtful, challenging, and intriguing things that I have done. It's quite funny because I actually went on the PP Cruise during finals week at Caltech, so I did my finals on the boat. The first few days my buddies and I just played poker nonstop, only resting to eat at the lovely all you can eat restaurant.
The last two days of the cruise, I finished all of my finals at the most un-holiest of hours, writing them up from about 3am to 9am and emailing them over. I played in the two $1k side events - with very little sleep. In the second event I got to play with Paul Darden, David Levi, internet online poker celebrities, and Kenna James. I finished 2nd in the tournament and took down $35k, and one of my buddies made it to the same final table and finished 6th. The seven days on the cruise was poker heaven, and finishing it off with a big score was icing on the cake. I hope to do it again for the next few years to come.
CC: Do you have a network of players that you interact with? If so, how does this help your game?
Daniel: There is a small poker community at Caltech and we constantly talk poker and discuss strategy. We often times chop MTTs online and help each other out with tough hands during the middle of a tournament. Critiquing each other's play over and over with a bunch of really smart guys has improved the play of all the poker players here.
There are also a bunch of poker players whom we know at Princeton and we talk online with them about poker strategy. The overall poker network here is filled with very talented, smart people and we all have built upon each other's success.
CC: You have a summer internship when other college players are spending the summer playing full-time. Why not just play poker all summer?
Daniel: Although I have considered it, I don't think playing poker full time is going to be my career path. I pay for tuition, bought a car, pay for my own apartment, and still have so much money I don't know what to do with it, but I don't think I would be happy playing poker as a job. Sitting at my computer this summer, clicking a mouse all day long, I wouldn't feel I would be accomplishing anything very material. I would be earning lots of money, but I want to take this summer to challenge my mind in other ways - the tournaments will still be here after the summer. I have a passion for poker but I am not ready yet to set my heart on it.
This summer I have an opportunity to work as an intern with a top investment bank on Wall Street. I can play poker any time after the summer and after graduation, and I DEFINITELY will be playing a TON my senior year when I have very few classes to take. I want to take the opportunity this summer to see what else is out there and explore things outside of the poker world.
CC: What are your summer plans for poker?
Daniel: I know I will be working hard this summer, but if I can, I'd like to catch a tournament or two every night once I get back from work. I will hopefully play all the big ones on Sunday. I also want to give Foxwoods and Atlantic City a visit while I stay on the East Coast. It should be a lot of fun.
CC: And after school is over what, do you know your next steps?
Daniel: I might want to give poker a try for a period of one year after graduation if my stay at NY is unappealing, but right now everything is so far away that I don't know what I'll be doing yet. Thanks a lot for the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences, it's been fun!
You can follow Daniel's summer at http://dannylol.blogspot.com/