Near the end of 2016 D&B Publishing released The Myth of Poker Talent – Why Anyone Can Be a Great Poker Player by poker pro Alex Fitzgerald. The book has been very well-received with critics praising both Alex’s coaching and writing style. Alex was kind enough to take a break from the virtual felt to talk to us about the book, his life, and the current state of online poker.
PTP: For those of you who read my review of Alex’s work, you’ll know that I was incredibly impressed by his first foray into poker literature. I declared it to be the best poker book I had ever read. But Alex, let’s just be honest. Did I overdo it a bit in my review? Surely your book’s not that good?
Alex: Haha, you’re very kind. I appreciated it. Of course, as the writer of that book, I can see many parts I want to improve. I heard an artist say once, “you’re never done with your work. You just let it go at some point.”
That’s how I felt with The Myth Of Poker Talent. I had to let my publisher run it to the printers. I’d demanded several rewrites and had dragged the manuscript months past it’s due date. I finally had to let some sections be.
I’m very happy to hear someone appreciated my work so much. I wanted to know my 10+ years in the industry meant something. It means everything to me that the book has been so well-received.
PTP: Now in the opening chapters and sprinkled throughout the book, you go over your backstory and how you got to where you are. But give me a brief summation of those pages for readers who may not be as familiar with you.
Alex: It’s always strange to discuss this. On one hand, I want to tell people where I am from, because it really impresses upon them, “anyone can do this.” However, it’s also incredibly awkward discussing some parts of my childhood.
The broad strokes are I grew up in a family marred by poverty and drug use. Most of my high school years were spent getting high daily and chasing girls. I was more likely to be found blitzed at some punk show then at Homecoming or Prom. Despite decent grades, no one talked to me about going to college. If you look at my high school yearbook there’s no Senior photo of me. No one asked me for one. It’s like I didn’t exist. I was too busy working and playing cards.
In my senior year of high school, I rented out a garage from my friend’s family. The family was incredibly kind to me, but the garage had no heating or plumbing. It was right next to a street called Casino Road, Everett. That part of town was known for crime. I was lucky enough to never see that, but my roommate did have to scare off intruders, and occasionally I’d be walking home and a SWAT team would rush a street nearby. It was strange.
My friend and I went to a high school a few cities over. It was very inspiring getting to talk with him every day on the way to school. He was in every advanced class we had at our high school. Being around him made me want to take academics seriously. Our talks really helped me see there was more to this life than getting lit up and partying.
I didn’t have a first period class, but he did, so I showed up an hour early every day off of his ride. I’d spend that time in the school library reading and getting my homework done. That’s where my love of reading and studying really began. I couldn’t play poker in that library, so I took to studying the game every day.
I was pretty poor at the time. I worked at Arby’s. I worked up in Alaska as a commercial fisherman. I worked security. I didn’t get to do many of the things a normal teenager does. That makes me sad when I stop to think about it, but I’m also so grateful I had those exhausted hours to study and read. Being in a warm library and feeling the rush of learning something new was so much more relaxing than working in the cold. If I hadn’t developed that passion for learning about card-playing, if I hadn’t developed that perspective and eventual gratitude…I have no idea where I’d be today.
PTP: My first impression was that you were speaking a lot of thoughts that I’ve had myself over the years. Namely the frustrations with entitlement in poker and rebuking a lot of misconceptions about what leads to success. Is that idea of entitlement a big pet peeve of yours?
Alex: It’s a huge pet peeve, but I should preface this by saying I was very entitled when I was younger. Jared Tendler once told me, “it’s like poker gave you everything, and you’re angry it didn’t give you more.”
In recent years, I’ve begun to worry about the longevity of the game. Guys my age don’t bother to put on a pair of jeans or real shoes before they show up to play. They berate the casual players for doing anything out of the ordinary. They forget these people could easily go play table games where people are much kinder to them, and the action would move much more quickly for them. They’re paying to play with us, and we’re treating them terribly.
Entitlement worries me greatly, because it’s the easy way out. I know when I used to sulk it was because I felt I was a much better poker player than I was.
There’s a phrase. I think it’s Russian. “Show me what you hate and I’ll show you who you are.” I wrote much of The Myth Of The Poker Talent after I started seeing how hard my friends in Costa Rica had to work for fractions of what I made for talking about a card game. Many of them had advanced degrees, spoke English fluently, and worked two jobs. I realized what a joke it was that I was pouting over river cards.
I’m much more grateful now. I feel bad for many guys my age who act as if poker owes them something, as if any game of chance is a reliable source of income.
What’s really baffling to me is how many of them drop out of college to pursue this career, never study, and then complain about variance. I went into poker precisely because I couldn’t go to college. My parents couldn’t have paid for a semester. My great aspiration in life was to get union pay at a grocery store, and Fred Meyer wasn’t returning my calls. If I could have gone to college I don’t even know if I would have done any of this. Poker was a great opportunity for me to travel and make decent money. Nothing more. Nothing less. I don’t know what these other guys my age were expecting. I don’t know what else I was expecting.
PTP: So I would not consider you a household name yet as far as poker goes. Is fame something you chase? Do you wish you had more major television time here in the U.S.?
Alex: No. Televised poker is a crude joke played on a classical discipline.
I don’t know anything about soccer. There is no where on Earth I could get a job announcing a soccer game. I couldn’t do it for a youth league. Yet we have these people who know nothing about the game announcing highlight films.
The only exception to this rule was Mike Sexton. He was our Vin Scully. And he just quit. I have very few regrets in poker, but not having Mike Sexton call a final table of mine is one of them.
There will come a time I get more attention in poker than I deserve. You play enough of these tournaments you’re bound to win one. I’m sure the spotlight will make me wildly uncomfortable, but in two years they’ll move on to a new group of guys who don’t deserve the attention. And so, the cycle will continue.
PTP: How long have you considered yourself a poker pro?
Alex: I quit my last “real” job on October 31, 2006. I have not worked for another man since. I was 18-years-old when I went pro.
PTP: So now let’s talk about the book itself. When did you first decide to write this book, and what was your motivation for doing so?
Alex: I always toyed with the idea of trying to write everything I knew about poker into one book. I didn’t know if anyone would buy it, so I figured I’d self-publish it. I doodled at home, and quickly found that what I thought about No Limit Hold’em couldn’t be contained in 1,000,000 words, much less 100,000. The goal from then on was to write the most impactful 100,000 words I could.
However, I had a day job. Assassinato Coaching has 2,000+ students. It’s a full-time gig. I play cards to analyze which plays work and which ones aren’t working anymore. I spend time studying recent trends. I do a great deal of database analysis. I watch more hand histories than anyone on Earth. I live and breathe the game to make sure my students get the most cutting-edge information for their money.
I needed money to write the book. I didn’t need it to pay my bills. I needed it to offset my losses. I would estimate writing The Myth Of Poker Talent actually cost me tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages.
That said, around 2012 I was just not feeling the passion I used to feel for playing the game. I had some offers to get a good traditional job. It was very tempting after I’d gotten married. I also had my physical therapy clinic and house in Costa Rica, and I was finding myself less and less enthused with card-playing. I didn’t know what the future held.
From that point on, I wanted to leave at least one book, so if I left the game I could at least say I made my mark. I believe poker will have historians in a hundred years, much in the way chess does now. I’ve had so many of my ideas stolen from personal students who then branded them as their own. I know it was vain, but I wanted to leave a legacy. That was part of the reason I opened myself up more in the book than I initially wanted to. I wanted to leave something, in case I had to leave in any shape or form.
Jonathan Little was kind enough to contact me to contribute to Excelling At No Limit Hold’em. I knew that was going to be my audition. If you look at the players involved in that book it’s clear I had no business being on the roster. I loved the fact that I had a chance to change that perception by the end.
I worked hard to nail that audition, really hard. I went over my manuscript many times. I made graphs and charts to illustrate my points. I made sure my arguments were airtight.
Sure enough, D&B Publishing loved my section, and offered me the chance to write a full book. I jumped at the chance.
PTP: Books like this require so much thought away from the actual writing. Lots of planning. How long in total did it take you to write?
Alex: I’d estimate around a year. Every single week I pounded on it. I rewrote it so many times. I cut so many sections. It was extremely exhausting.
The fault was also my own. I’d never written a strategy book before. Structuring the sections and editing was a very new process to me. I estimate now that I could write a 100,000 word book in a couple of months.
PTP: This book is published by D&B Publishing. As I mentioned in my review, D&B has really been rising up the ranks lately and putting out some great poker literature. What was the process of getting in touch with D&B? Who came to whom when deciding to publish this?
Alex: I pitched a book to them years ago, but to be honest my idea was pretty poor, and my pitch was terrible. Understandably, they passed. I learned from the experience. They were kind enough to give me a shot with Jonathan Little’s book. I did my best to make their job easier. I knew I could write, but I also knew they needed evidence of that.
I got really busy with coaching after the book came out, so I didn’t even think of writing The Myth Of Poker Talent. They wrote me, however, and we got to work.
PTP: So I myself have read seemingly a hundred different poker books over the years, and gleaned a lot of knowledge from their pages. I’ve noticed lately a little pushback against strategy books, training sites, and coaching. How would you respond to those who say that coaching does more harm than good? That teaching your immediate opposition base may hurt your longterm EV?
Alex: I wouldn’t still be a poker player if it weren’t for my students. Every day I have to wake up early, regardless of how I’m feeling. When somebody pays you $200 for an hour of your time and waits three weeks for their appointment, you don’t exactly get to call in sick.
Every morning, no matter what, I am in my lab analyzing the game with young professionals and serious amateurs. These people have the money to play cards for a reason. They are very successful in other fields. They have the most creative and focused questions. If one of my theories doesn’t hold water, they’ll tear it apart in minutes. They’re helping me apply the Socratic method to my work.
You can put me in a No Limit Hold’em game anywhere on Earth and I will be able to make a living. I wouldn’t be able to say that in 2017 if I never coached.
PTP: Your book is heavily dependent on an understanding of HUDs, tracking software, and the like. How do you feel about online pokers general trend lately to cater to recreational players? Will going to anonymous screen names for example nullify some of the skills you’ve learned?
Alex: It needed to happen. There will always be sites that allow HUDs.
I’ve shifted a great deal of my teaching toward those sites. In my lessons, we first discuss what the general field does in certain situations, and then we look at the HUD. I’ll also throw in random red herrings from hypothetic live games. My goal is to prepare you for every game.
Of course, I love the feeling of reading a dial and picking off my opponent, but I accept poker needs to cater to recreational players.
Some players are fine with other players using HUDs. Some aren’t. Either is fine. I’ll be prepared for both.
PTP: So the book came out late last year. Obviously you and D&B will make a push to get it in the hands of readers at this year’s WSOP. How are you guys promoting the book out there?
Alex: I’m holding a meet-up for followers of my book and work through my mailing list. You can write me for details at email@example.com
You can use that same email address if you want to contact me about coaching services.
D&B and I have been trying to set up a signing, but it’s been difficult. This year has been very hectic for me. I haven’t been at the WSOP for more than a couple of weeks.
PTP: What has been the reception so far? Both at the WSOP and in general?
Alex: Everyone who has come up to me has been very kind. I love them so much for it.
I still have so much to say. I’m really grateful people have been so complimentary when it comes to my first poker book. It was an arduous process to write a published work for the first time, so it’s been very rewarding to know the incredible number of challenges didn’t hurt the overall work for my audience.
PTP: And finally, what’s next for you? Are you planning on writing more books? Or is it back to grinding and coaching in Costa Rica after the WSOP?
Alex: I’m always going to be coaching. I’m not a natural poker player, but I take to coaching like a fish to water. I love meeting with my players every day to talk about the game I love. I never knew before that a job could be this fun.
Last year I amicably split up with my ex-wife and left Costa Rica.
In a few months, I’m moving to New Jersey to play online poker and to be closer to my girlfriend in Queens. I’m also planning on transitioning there into being an author. I felt being closer to New York would be a natural fit for that dream.
I would have written The Myth Of Poker Talent for free. I love drinking coffee and writing so much.
Don’t get me wrong. I love poker, and I have the best job on Earth, but it’s not who I am. Writing just feels right, so I’m going to pursue that. I’m really looking forward to that new journey.
The Myth of Poker Talent: Why Anyone Can Be a Great Poker Player is published by D&B Poker (www.dandbpoker.com) and is available in paperback and ebook.
Keith Woernle is a writer, comedian, and semi-pro poker player based out of New Jersey. He was a producer for season 10 of the World Poker Tour. He won a WSOP circuit ring in 2011. He likes poker a lot. Follow or contact him on Twitter @WoernlePoker.