CC: You did well at the World Series, from the very beginning in these big monster field events with relatively a small number of chips to start. Was the World Series different, pre-Main Event, different than your European experience?
Jason: Yeah, you had more play in the European events. A lot of the EPT events are varied in structure. I didn't like the London event, the casino was horrible, the people were mean to me, I wasn't wearing the proper dress code, and they had a crappy structure.
CC: I've been to the Grosvenor Victoria.
Jason: The Vic, yeah. For the most part, you get some play. You like to think if you travel all the way to Austria or Paris or the Bahamas you get some play out of your money. I would say the small buy-in events at the World Series, I ran really well, I had four cashes. Basically, the very first tournament in the whole thing, the big one, the guy who came in second was Mark (Phong) Ly or something like that, you can see him on ESPN. At the end of Day 1, the average stack was $18k and I have $30k and Mark is on my left with $32k.
I'd been raising and raising and raising a lot. I look down at kings, it's folded to me, I open on the button, Mark Ly makes a huge reraise, he calls and has queens and then a queen spikes and I lose, and I'm sitting there like ‘wow'. I would have been top five in chips at my first World Series event, so I went home. The next day I came in and Nick Shulman is at the table, and he and I are getting in every pot, all these old people are just watching. I pick up Aces and raise, he reraises me, I move in, and he calls right away with jacks, flop is jack-jack something. I remember coming home and thinking that these beats online is just like breathing, it's nothing, and live you're more emotionally invested with what's going on. Especially in tournaments, where I've really concentrated for five hours. Online it's like, whatever.
If you ever watch me play online, I'll lose a ton of money and won't even care, I'll just reload. Live. I lost some big pots this summer, I lost a huge pot at the Bellagio to Phil Laak, huge, like $80k, he sucked out on me with six outs. Looking back, I'm glad it happened. It's like whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger or whatever the hell that means. The end of the World Series, things just went my way. On the first day, I was down to $3k in chips right away, built it back up, and sucked out at the end of Day 1. Some guy raises, a loose player cold calls behind him, I have A-9 for twenty big blinds, and the first guy folds and the second guy instacalls with queens. Flopped an ace and ended the day with $38k.
CC: Day two was a big monster day for you.
Jason: Day 2 was a big monster day, Day 3 was a big day, and Day 4 was a great day until the hand.
CC: Let's talk about the hand. Do you know his name?
Jason: No, I remember his name was Matt.
CC: His name is Matt Wilson. You were up to $700k, and he was frustrated.
Jason: I was killing him.
CC: I walked up and saw the hand before, I think the blinds were $2k/4k or $1.5k/5k, you raised to $15k, and he reluctantly mucked. I walked up to get your chip count, and I saw how frustrated he looked.
Jason: I probably had a hand, because I had targeted him as a guy like, "I'm playing with my balls, I'm not going to get pushed around by this young cocky hot shot."
CC: So then the next hand you wake up to aces.
Jason: That hand hurt. (Jason raised to $15k, Wilson reraised to $75k, Jason moved in and Wilson called after ten seconds with As-Ks. "It was a massive pot, around $900k, and ESPN cameras shoved others aside. The flop came 4s-7d-Jc, and Jason sat motionless. The Qs hit the turn, and more people rushed over to see the action. The 6s hit on the river, and Wilson let out a scream of delight as he had doubled up with a big suck out.") Not only did it cost me a ton of money, someone afterwards made a post where they asked how much money did that hand cost Strassa. People were saying between $300-500k.
CC: You never know really.
Jason: No, you never know, but you can guess. There were so many bad players left at that point. I don't know. I was playing good. The next hand I lost with tens vs. nines.
CC: The thing I hated the most was watching him get a massage with all those chips for the next two hours.
Jason: He did, Matt Wilson did? He didn't even break a hundred, did he? He got something like 90th?
CC: He got 119th (actually 112th).
Jason: Whatever. The other day, I've refused to watch the Main Event on TV, I mean I watched Doug at the Final Table just to see what he looked like, but I just didn't want to watch it. I'm not bitter, but I just didn't want to see it. No interest. We were setting up our TV from PokerStars, we got one of those big plasmas with FPP points, turned on the TV and bam, staring me in the face is Matt Wilson. I said, "Just change the channel." The kid was an ass to me, we kind of got into afterwards. It was frustrating, it was basically one day of me staring in the mirror and screaming and then it was done.
After the Main Event, I went on a tear. You only read about the tournament finish, but just in general, after the Main Event I ran well and played well, which is the killer combination. The most focused I've been in awhile. For awhile, Doug Kim was like, "You're going to catch me, and you're going to catch me." (Doug won $2,391,520 for finishing 7th at the Main Event).
I haven't caught Doug Kim. It was a great experience for me. It would have been nice, obviously, to score something at the Main Event, but enough people saw what I was doing and appreciated how well I thought I was playing. Very rarely do I think I was playing that well or that focused. It's a combination of two things. I'm better at being the guy running people over. If there are a ton of good players at the table, I'm not the best, I can adjust and play tighter, but I'm not as good at that. What I'm really good at is when people let me take advantage of them and I bully them over.
Constantly at the Main Event, from Day 2 until Day 4, I had these guys in control. It was a combination of them being terrible and me being the wrong type of guy. They were terrible but terrible in the way that I could take advantage of. There are terrible players who you shouldn't try to run over obviously. It was a great experience for me.
CC: After you were out and screamed for a day, what was it like to be there with Doug who obviously, he'd be the first to say that he enjoys poker and is interested in the game but isn't as accomplished as you are. It was different for you to have someone that close to you doing so well, and for you to be there.
Jason: I was happy for Doug. You go through something like that, and the kid in high school worked really hard, and had parents who were very demanding of him. He kind of came into his own in that Main Event. He really had an opportunity to stand out. He did very well in school, he got a very respectable job out of school in New York, but the bottom line was that during the Main Event, he was the man. That's good for anyone's confidence, but Doug really cherished that. I was very happy for him, and I had a piece of him so I was rooting for that.
CC: Which you negotiated down from the 5% that Doug wanted to trade of each other's action to the 2% that you settled on.
Jason: Yes, yes, blah, blah, blah. I could have had 5%, yes.
CC: You could have had 50% if you think about it. I'm sure Doug would have traded each other's action after Day 2.
Jason: I probably could have. I don't know if you met Ariel, he's another Yale kid, and he was staying in the hotel with us, and Doug would come home and tell us about hands. They weren't great. Some of them were ugly. Some were him making a huge hand and blowing someone off second best hand or missing a lot of value. It's hard to say, but it's his first live tournament, and he was going through things that I went through during my first live tournament. At the same time, he's a good poker player, that's it. He's a solid player but he makes a lot of mistakes, he makes more mistakes than someone like I would make. Ultimately, when he was getting ready to go in the morning, I'd try to get him in a positive mindset, and I would just say, "Go for it, don't hold anything back. Go with your gut." He definitely opened up, I remember a few times where he was telling me he was reraising with weak hands. We were talking about taking advantage of his image, stuff like that. He was doing better. At the Final Table, I think he played great. He couldn't do anything with the last hand.
CC: He didn't play to move up in finishing position; he played to win.
Jason: Definitely. That was the way for him to play. He did very well. There were some hands on Days 4, 5, and 6 that were disgusting that he played. It's easy to say that when you don't have decisions to make right at the table. I think he did a great job. Especially now with the climate of poker, you don't know what it will be like next year. That might be the biggest tournament ever played.
CC: And he was right there.
Jason: People give me crap about it, Doug Kim did that instead of you. I'm like, whatever. Anyone who understands poker understands the variance involved. My friends have just done insane. Alex Jacob, have you seen him recently?
CC: Yeah, that's incredible.
Jason: I mean, the kid doesn't even play poker really, he basically lazily gets up and goes to these tournaments, drags himself to these $10k events, then cashes just ridiculous results. At the final table, he's going to make one of these moves. Did you see one of these hands he played? He made this huge bluff at the final table. He's going to be the next super star, he's going to be one of them. He's not very charismatic, which is going to hurt him a little bit, but he's so damn good at the game, and he's so smart. You take a guy like him, he got a pretty good GPA at Yale studying math and economics, and you take a mind like that and apply it to poker. No offense, he's way smarter than I am. You take a kid like that, and it's just not fair.
The kid is obviously very good at logic puzzles. Poker is one of those games that a lot of people are pretty successful at it, but it's so much a function of circumstances.
The right things happened at the right times in my life. Sometimes it's too easy for people to make money. That's why poker, two years ago when I was getting into it, it was such a perfect time to get into it. It was such a hot thing, there was so much uneducated money, there were so many players playing so badly. The amount of money people like I was making, like Zeebo and ozzy, that type of money was absurd. It was absurd. That's why when I was making that kind of money, part of what motivated me was that this was a short-term thing. There's no way this is going to be like this permanently. There's no economy that can be like this. The house is taking this much money, these kids are winning this much money, it's got to come from somewhere. There's no way that all this money can be sustained. So part of me was motivated by this get-what-I-can-out-of-it-now, because it would be money I'd be looking back at when I would be making $80k a year in a job, and I didn't want to say, "Wow, what if I had put in a few more hours in college into poker? What could I have made?"
CC: Not only at Duke but at other schools, you've probably seen other students who haven't been successful.
Jason: Yeah, sure. The thing I tell people: people ask me about poker, they want to start. It's one of those things where, if you're going to get into it, be serious about it and take it seriously, really get good it at. If you're on either extreme, you're OK. If you are a casual player and you play for fun, it's fine. If you're a really serious player, you study it, and it's your profession, that's fine. It's the people in the middle who are kind of gambling, kind of enjoying themselves but aren't progressing. First of all, they're probably losing and not getting much out of it, and they're wasting huge amounts of time. Then they have gambling problems, it's in the middle where I think it's really dangerous to fall into that group. Doesn't mean you have to be playing huge stakes, it just means you have to be serious.
CC: During your time in college, poker exploded, and I'm sure you've seen kids who got into poker, got distracted, and didn't do well in school.
Jason: Yeah, I'm one of them. You can look at it in two ways. You can say I was really lucky, and a lot of the recognition I was getting is from my tournament results, and a lot of that is pure luck. It's not luck in a sense, but even no matter how well you are playing, some things have to work out. When I was playing that event on Stars, I don't know if you saw any of it, but I got lucky when I needed to, like where there were 200 people left in the tournament. I kept getting lucky, kept winning the coin flips, at the Final Table I won a big coin flip. I'm really lucky in that sense in that I have a big accomplishment like that, but I've seen horror stories, sure. I have friends who are unemployed now, had bad grades, never excelled in poker but that's what they wasted all their time doing.
CC: It might not have been poker, it could have been something else they wasted time on if they weren't involved in poker.
Jason: Yeah, it could have been. Who knows what?