Jason Strasser, like his play, is counterintuitive. A senior at Duke, he's had a magical 2006 in the world of poker. He cashed four times during the World Series, including his first final table, finished in the top 200 at the Main Event, ran strong throughout the summer online, culminating in his score of over $440,000 taking down a WCOOP event on PokerStars. He's decided to leave all of this behind in July 2007 where, upon graduation, he will miss the World Series of Poker and head to Wall Street. Over a great barbecue dinner in Durham, Jason talked about why he's leaving poker behind even as he's emerged as one of the top new players on the poker scene.
CC: So I hear your joining the career world. Congrats on your new job. How did that come about?
Jason: Yeah, thanks. All these big companies come to Duke to recruit, and my grades aren't stellar by any means, pretty mediocre. But I was looking at some of the trading jobs, and companies are looking for kids that are good with math, handle stress, can take risks, so I said, "I'll put my name in the hat." And I got a job, so I'll be in New York working next year.
CC: How did you start thinking about that? You're majoring in engineering, right?
Jason: Yeah, I'm majoring in biomedical and electrical engineering. I knew I wasn't going to be an engineer, but I was thinking I would play poker for a year or two. There are a few factors: one of them is that I'm less marketable for that type of job in the finance world in two years, if I was taking time off to play poker, than I am now. Now I can sell myself as a kid who didn't do that well in school because of some distractions, poker being the biggest one, but he's still qualified and be motivated. But if I take two years off, then it's different. I'm out of the loop; it's hard to get interviews. Ultimately, I didn't see myself being a lifelong poker player. I like the game, but I don't want it to be like that. So the same night or morning I won that huge tournament on PokerStars ($440k), that morning at 10:00AM I went for an interview. I went to that, got a second interview.
CC: Now the rent's high in New York, so you'll have to get a $3k a month two-bedroom apartment and have five or six people living in it.
Jason: I'm going to live with my college roommates. A lot of them are working in New York, so that will be great.
CC: What has poker been like for you recently?
Jason: I played poker really seriously through the summer and that tournament, then the legislation passed and I kind of yanked my money off for awhile, and I've put some money back on, and I'm just taking it slowly recently. It's a great game, but at the same time I was playing so seriously in the summer. The start of the summer, I was in a complete zone all throughout the World Series. The results started showing up in the end, and then after that I was in a complete zone online. I went on a tear. The tournament I won, I was just on a roll. Then it got to a point where I needed a break, and I had some downtime, and I was playing not because I wanted to play but because I had nothing else to do, and I lost a little money back, not a lot. I don't want to be playing the game if I don't want to, I don't need to make some specific amount of money. The money never drove me to play the game, not because I had a figure in mind. I wanted to play because I like to.
CC: Have you kept up with Doug Kim much?
Jason: Yeah, he's traveling a lot. He's still adjusting to the grind, which is going to be a hard adjustment for me as well. The beginning of those types of jobs, you do a lot of crap work until you really get into it.
CC: Do you know specifically what you're doing yet?
Jason: I'm probably going to be on the single stock equity group of the trading desk. Options trading, and you start as an analyst, it's a two-year program, and if they like you, they ask you back to be an associate, and you go on from there. A ton of hours, but there are jobs where you work way more. It's probably a 60-70 hour week vs. some of the i-banking jobs where it's over 100, eighteen hour days. There will be no weekends, just working around the market. There are advantages to it, but I'm just excited about it. It's kind of like a big game, another game. Trading, that's what it seems like.
CC: Think about how you described your job pitch: I was distracted in school, playing poker all the time, and maybe I could do this, then they say, "That's great, you're hired!"
Jason: More or less, it's weird. There are certain companies that didn't want to touch me with a ten foot pole, like the consulting companies. They want a good student, they want the hard worker. I'm a hard worker, just my grades haven't been great. I work a lot harder than some kids that don't have as hard a major.
CC: But your poker success looked good to some companies.
Jason: My poker credentials set me apart, so although I have negative qualities this set me apart from other kids. The first guy who interviewed me at one firm paid his way through college playing poker, and the hiring manager is a former professional blackjack player.
CC: When do you start?
Jason: End of July, so likely there will be no World Series for me this year.
CC: No World Series, wow.
Jason: It's ridiculous, I know. Maybe I can squeeze out time for the Main Event, I don't know how it works, but I'm guessing no.
CC: You're supposed to negotiate those kinds of things before you take a job.
Jason: The thing is that it is such a structured program in the beginning, do you know what I mean? It's a five-week training program, so it's not like I can just start in another month because then they wouldn't train me with the rest of the kids. They put all the first year hires together, and they train them.
CC: You're a Mets fan, right?
CC: Did you hear George Steinbrenner got sick at Chapel Hill Sunday night? He was watching his granddaughter in a play?
Jason: Really, I hadn't heard that.
CC: What were you doing on Sunday?
Jason: I don't know, why?
CC: Well, they don't know exactly what happened to him, I thought maybe you found him and poisoned him or something.
Jason: No, maybe, I should have. I don't hate Steinbrenner, I just think he's annoying.
CC: So this was a big year for you, finally winning a division.
Jason: Cardinals were like the tenth best team in the Majors and they won the World Series, which was pathetic. They had 83 wins or something like that, but whatever. They pulled it together when it counted, and the Mets didn't play very well. David Wright had a terrible series. This was a golden chance for the Mets, and they blew it. When I was in New York for interviews, I went to two Cardinals games and saw one of the Dodgers games before that. I saw three games at Shea, which was a lot. The only thing I spend money on are food, traveling, and, yeah, just food and traveling. It's true though.
CC: We talked about this during the summer, but I want to go back over it. Take us through how you got started in poker.
Jason: I started like most people; it was a social game for me. I played with my friends a little bit in high school, played games for twenty bucks, came to college and did the same thing, just little games for twenty bucks. Then my friend and I got together because you could only deposit $50 on PartyPoker, which was the minimum. So we'd each put in $25, then we played, we might have busted a few times, we ran it up and ran it down, then one day we played in a limit tournament, got really lucky, we were terrible obviously, and we got 4th place for $1,000. He took his $500 offline, and I kept mine online, and that's how it started. I worked it up, I played a lot of $30 sit-n-go's, then one time I got my account up to $2,000. I was in a cab going home from my girlfriend's house, I looked at my watch, and I think the Party Super's start at maybe 9:00. I looked at my watch, and it was like five til nine. I really wanted to play, and it was $150 buy-in or something like that. I wanted to gamble, called my friend up, told him to sign me on because I wouldn't make it home in time to sign up, signed up, played it, it was the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, I got 2nd for $17,000. Pure luck, I was not very good at all, I had way more money than my skill level dictated that I should have.
Then I had $18k, wow. Played $5/10 NLHE, kind of broke even, played the $200 SNG's, and that's where I really learned the game, I could beat that game after awhile. I was a huge poster on 2+2 on the one table and MTT forums, that's all I ever posted if you look back at my old posts. I used to play with Alex Jacob a lot, we used to be competitors in the $200 SNG's, that's how we met. He saw me on 2+2 and he made a comment that he never used to see me playing $200 SNG's, and then one day he saw me on there. We exchanged names, and that's when we started being friends. He moved over playing $5/10 NLHE seriously, he ran it up to $40k in one month once, so I decided I had to try this. I went over and struggled for a long time. I played the $500 and $1k heads-up, I broke even but struggled. Then I started talking more to people on 2+2, taking it more seriously, and then I started beating the game.
Then I moved up to $10/20 NLHE, beat that, then I started qualifying for tournaments, buying in for tournaments. I took a lot of chances with my bankroll. Whenever people ask about how to handle a bankroll, I think it's excellent to take controlled shots. I think that's how I've been successful. You have to be disciplined enough not to lose all your money and go crazy, you can't just lose all your money. But the same time, I would decide, I'm going to take a three buy-in shot at this game. Sometimes I would move up for good after that.