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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Interviews

Dusty Schmidt: A Competitor at Heart - From the Golf Course to the Poker Biz - Part I

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Like so many in poker, Dusty Schmidt came upon poker as an outlet for his competitive spirit. At a point in time that his physical abilities were limited, he found that online poker provided a mental challenge that, if done correctly, could also be a financial supplement. But what started as a diversion during a golf career hiatus quickly developed into something that was profitable, challenging, and fun…and a sport of sorts that would replace golf as the passion of his life.

Schmidt began his transition into adulthood as a golfer who quickly proved to be a rising star. He turned pro at a young age, broke several junior golf records previously held by Tiger Woods, and became the leading money earner on the Golden States Tour. But at the age of 23, he suffered a heart attack that brought that career to a screeching halt. It was then that he turned to poker and took it seriously, looking to discover the secrets to making money at a game that he could play during his recovery to complement his competitive nature.

His next rise was in poker, where his dedication to the game brought him success that escalated from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars…and upward. Schmidt’s confidence in his game, along with physical recovery from the heart surgery, led him to issue a million dollar challenge - a $1 million bet with anyone who thought they could beat him at poker and 72 holes of golf. He obtained permission from the United States Golf Association (USGA), of which he was a member, but the premier golf organization ultimately decided to oust him. That led to a court case that Schmidt ultimately lost, and with it he lost his status as a USGA golfer.

What was a competitor to do in such a situation? He leaned on his strengths and took his poker successes to a new level. While he was already working as a poker coach at StoxPoker.com by making videos for students of the game, he took the advice of those students and fellow teachers and put his thoughts on paper. What resulted was a book entitled, “Treat Your Poker Like a Business,” which became available to the public in December of 2009.

Soon after, Schmidt transitioned his poker knowledge from StoxPoker to Drag the Bar, an educational poker website where he began working with poker coaches like Hunter Bick and Jeremy Menard. The future for this golfer-turned-poker-pro is as uncertain as the next flop, turn, or river, but it is certain that this entrepreneur and consummate professional will land on his feet. Whether it be in golf or poker or an as-yet undetermined endeavor, Schmidt has proven that he will dedicate himself to it until success is his.

PokerWorks: In your early 20’s, you endured heart surgery. How did that spur a transition to poker?

Dusty:
It was more or less a competitive outlet for me, with not being able to golf anymore as a result of some heart issues I had. Before that, I played recreationally a bit, but it wasn’t until I reached a point where I was just about broke that I really started to take poker seriously.

PokerWorks: How did you build from there to being comfortable enough to issue the Million Dollar Challenge?

Dusty:
When I started in late ’04 playing poker and into ’05, I got to a point where I was making a little bit of money. Toward the end of ’06 was when things started to get fun, and I started to get good enough to make $30,000 to $40,000 a month. It was in the middle of ’07 that things took off to a point where I was making over six figures most months. In terms of how I did it, it was basically just a complete immersion in the game of poker, trying to figure out how to play the game at the highest level. I can’t really point to one specific play or one specific trait; it was just a lot of hard work.

PokerWorks: When you went public with the challenge, did you have any idea that it would interfere with your status as a USGA golfer or were you willing to take that risk?

Dusty:
I was certain it wouldn’t interfere with my status because I wrote the USGA and asked them if I could do it, and the director of the appropriate committee wrote me back and said that to participate in the challenge would violate the rules, but I could issue the challenge. He likened it to becoming a pro athlete; until you declare yourself a professional and enter the draft, you can speculate all you want. That’s what I was doing with the poker challenge, just speculating. But it completely changed course after I issued the challenge; the USGA said that by virtue of issuing the challenge, I violated the rules of amateur status. That’s how the lawsuit happened; I was told one thing and I believed it, but they changed course.

PokerWorks: But you lost the case…

Dusty:
The judge told me, not in these exact terms, that he agreed with me. He reprimanded the USGA verbally, in a way, by saying that if they wanted to be the governing body of the game of golf, they better treat members fairly and in line with what’s right. But then he turned to me and said that it broke his heart to say it but I didn’t have a legal remedy under which he could rule in my favor. They did something messed up, but they didn’t break the law, so that was where I fell short in the case. What they did was wrong, but the facts of the case showed that they didn’t do anything illegal.

PokerWorks: Is that why you decided not to appeal the case?

Dusty:
I had an attorney who did a pretty poor job. I probably had no business suing the USGA in the first place, in retrospect, because I didn’t have a broken law to point to that was strong enough. There were some things to argue, like implied in-fact contract, but it was too weak. For instance, that implied in-fact contract puts them as the governing body and I’m the golfer, and we had an implied contract. I wrote them if I had questions about the rules, and they’re supposed to enforce their rules fairly. And in any contract, there’s the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and it can be argued that they didn’t deal with me in good faith. But those arguments aren’t a slam dunk by any means. My lawyer thought I had a good case because he found a law that he thought applied, when in fact it did not. Once he screwed that up, I fired him and represented myself the rest of the way. At that point, I was just fighting the good fight and standing up for myself, but I knew I didn’t have much of a chance. And it didn’t work out. Like the judge told me, if a pastor of a church excommunicates a member, could that member go to a federal court to go back to the church? No matter the reason, there is no such authority over the church and the person would not have a case.

Continued in Part II

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