CC: So you would take a chunk of money and try to pursue a game, x number buy-ins.
Jason: Right, and sure your risk of ruin is high, but that is what it was for me. I would take a shot, lose, go down, rebuild, take a shot, move down, hit it, do good, then keep moving up. I didn't really accumulate a ton of money and then move up in a very controlled fashion. I'm sure I got lucky at the right times when I needed to.
CC: Was there anything when you hit these plateaus, these new levels, when you were struggling to beat a game, does anything jump out at you on a consistent basis on why you broke through?
Jason: A lot of times, when I was really beating up on a game, I'd play really loose. As I moved up, players are much smarter about how to attack these crazy players like that. It's hard to make them uncomfortable, because they can play right back at you. I would say, I really only play three or four handed, that's my game. Every now and then I'll play a full game, but I'm way more interested in short handed play. It's more fun, there is more action, there are more decisions, and you get to play more. The variance is much higher, but I can handle that. Variance has never been anything I've shied away from.
Then I got so lucky in that Stars tournament, it was unbelievable. It came out the day of the legislation. Poker is kind of like a video game for me, I really enjoy it. So many people are motivated by money when they're playing poker, and that's just a huge barrier, it gets in the way. There are two things that really distract a lot of players: money and on a hand by hand basis they are too distracted by what they are holding in their hand.
To me, the difference between a good tournament player and a great tournament player is a situation like this: you're in the small blind, and a loose player opens on the button, you look down and see 6-7 suited. In your mind, if they have twenty big blinds and they open for three, you think wow, 6-7 suited, this would be an excellent restealing hand. Even if I get caught, I'm x% against aces or whatever, I can't be that far behind, I'm still going to be 2:1 if we get it all in, so it's not that big a deal if I get caught. And they use that for the reasoning for moving all-in.
Instead, if they look down at J-4, they look down and say oh, jack high with a four, that's crap, I'm throwing that away. When, if you think about it, and you think about all the situations that can happen, how EV is that decision. The amount of times you go to showdowns is very small, so with that in mind even when you do go to showdown, the difference between 6-7 and J-4 is also fairly small, you might even be in better shape with J-4 against some hands, you don't even know.
Instead of picking good spots based on the rhythm and the feel and what's going on in their heads and their gut, they pick spots based on what they are holding. A very good player will see something and will say, I'm moving at this guy, and he looks down and sees J-4, and he doesn't blink, he's going to go after them. Too many people are distracted by what they're holding, and they don't really understand, they read books about starting hands and it's more than that.
CC: Did this understanding for you come in bits and spurts or did you gradually grow over time, or was there a big ah-ha for you where you made that sort of breakthrough, because it's a very difficult breakthrough to make.
Jason: I have some roommates who play poker, and they've been watching me play some tournaments, and I've been helping them out a little bit, and they're progress has been much faster than mine, but they have someone to look at. I don't know, I don't really remember it all just clicking, but when you see other players doing it, you realize that other players are playing a lot better than you. I would say there wasn't a moment; I very rarely have these clicking moments in my poker career. Most of the stuff about poker you already know, there isn't anything earth-shattering about the game.
People talk about Bill Chen, like he's doing crazy calculations in his head. No, Bill Chen's a genius, but he's still going through very similar thought processes. It's about putting them together on a hand-by-hand basis, grouping them together. The skill in poker, that's why 2+2 kind hasn't been as interesting to me. It's still interesting, but the interesting part about poker, it's not about one hand. It's about how it all comes together, how you're perceived, how past history affects current play. That's the interesting part, and it's hard to do that on 2+2. That's why you see in the high stakes forum sometimes, there will be an interesting debate, and you'll see some interesting math type of thing come up, and that's good, but for the most part you'll see the regulars give one-word answers like call, fold. Honestly, the decisions are so close that it doesn't really matter that much, it's just not that interesting.
But the interesting thing is when you're playing a guy heads-up, OK, I've been running him over, how do I shift gears. It's hard to talk about, but that's the fun part of the game. Or in a tournament, you've been raising every hand, how do you use that information to further manipulate your opponents in the future.
A lot of times, a guy will open and I'll come over the top and he'll fold. Then he'll open again, now the mind game there is: on one hand, I could say if I came over the top now, he's not going to believe me as much. That's kind of first level thinking. Often, it's actually a good time to move on him again, because he's more likely to think: wait, he knows I will be stronger here, so why is he playing back at me again? A lot of times in tournaments, I do stuff like, I'll raise twice in a row where it isn't normal, so basically it's taking conventional thought processes and manipulating them.
Some people will say, "Why are you making a move on him? You just made a move on him before," and I'll think, "Well, he's going to talk himself into a fold because he doesn't think I'm making a move here, he's going to think he doesn't want to showdown. Obviously, you can look terribly wrong, but that's the idea. You're taking what you think conventional players are thinking, and you're using that to their disadvantage.
CC: Let's talk about your tournament success in the last few years. You started playing live tournaments in Europe, and in the European tourneys you accumulated chips only to see them disappear. Take us through that.
Jason: When I played in Paris in a WPT event, basically I played a bunch of tournaments in Europe before I was 21. Paris especially, I was second in chips after the first day. On the second day, I sucked out on this huge pot and was the chipleader. I had kings on a jack-high board, I basically Doug Kim'ed him except I made a runner straight instead of spiking a king.
CC: Did you scream like a girl?
Jason: No, if you ever catch me screaming like Doug did, just ask me to leave. In Paris, I actually did think I played poorly. I had a lot of chips, I wasn't composed, and I lost some. Basically, playing live poker is a different beast. I can play poker, but the type of skills you need to be successful in a live tournament, a lot of it involves patience, I was never really very good at mellowing out a little bit. I didn't shift gears enough, I just wasn't patient enough. I picked my spots very poorly, better than most but still poorly. A lot of it was luck too, I don't know. A lot of times I have a lot of chips and lose them, and that's not a really big thing for me. I don't get upset over that, because I look at tournaments I play and a lot of them, if you plot my chips, they steadily go up and they either fall off or keep going upwards. That's just the way it is. I've lost so many chipleads in my life that it's just standard, I don't think I'm doing anything wrong a lot of times. In Paris, that was a time where I had a lot of chips and I felt terrible about how I lost them.
CC: How did you lose them?
Jason: I just got outplayed by some European players who are crazy. One hand I bluffed into bottom set, I don't know, I just didn't play very well, I played a lot of hands badly, I didn't take my time in certain decisions. One key hand; the guy raises, I reraise him with jacks thinking he was almost always committed, but he had a stack of big chips that were hidden from me, they were in the back, and he moved all-in, and I was about to instacall him when I realized, wow, now I'm getting worse than 2:1, where did all these chips come from?
Then I got myself into a huge pot where I lost to queens, and I didn't feel good at all about it. I just made a lot of dumb mistakes, those where people can tell you not to do them, but you have to make them yourself, or at least I have to make the mistakes.
I hear so many things like, "Oh, you're not going to like trading, the hours are ridiculous, you're going to get burned out," and I think maybe they're true; most people do burn out and not like it. Bottom line, though, is that I have to figure it out myself and make these mistakes myself. Maybe I'm just a stubborn person and that's the kind of way I carry myself in general. I played OK, but even in the beginning in Vegas I had some tournaments where I was playing impatiently. In the $5k short-handed event I woke up and felt like I just didn't have it. But I showed up anyway and immediately bluffed off all my chips and went back to sleep. Just because I can play online, live is different. It's probably easier, but it's just different, and I have no experience.