Brian Koppelman: Co-writer of “Rounders”

Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 053

Photo found on his Facebook

Brian Koppelman on social media:

Today’s guest is someone the entire poker world ought to be thankful and grateful for, one half of the 2 man crew who wrote Rounders, a movie near and dear to the hearts of all poker players, Brian Koppleman.

Brian and his writing partner David Levien are also the men behind films like Knockaround Guys and Oceans Thirteen as well as the critically acclaimed Showtime series “Billions”.

(Which ramps back up for season 5 in a month or as of the release of this episode.)

As someone who has watched “Rounders” at least a bajillionty times, I think you can believe me when I tell you that I very much looked forward to this interview and Brian of course knocked it out of the park.

In our conversation today you’ll learn:

– Why Brian fell in love with the game of poker so much that it became a world he has invested himself into for decades.

– The way cardplayers often surprise Brian with their generosity off the felt (And how David and Brian wrote that into the character “Knish”).

– Why playing on random poker apps is probably a scarier proposition than you might think (Even if you think it’s extremely scary already).

– And much, much more!

So, without any further ado, I bring to you the man behind some of the most beloved fictional characters in poker history (Mike McDermitt, Worm, Teddy KJB, Knish, etc.) Brian Koppleman.

Click any of the icons below to find the CPG pod on the platform of your choice. Then sit back, relax, and enjoy my conversation with Brian Koppelman on the Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast.

If this is your first time on the Chasing Poker Greatness website, be sure to check out our groundbreaking poker courses to help sharpen your strategy and profitably implement solid, data-proven solutions to your game today:

Transcription of Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 053: Brian Koppelman

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Brad: Welcome, welcome, welcome my friend to the chasing poker greatness podcast. As always, this is your host, the founder of, Brad Wilson. And today’s guest is someone the entire poker world ought to be thankful and grateful for. One half of the two man crew who wrote Rounders, a movie near and dear to the hearts of all poker players, Brian Koppelman, Brian and his writing partner David Levien are also the men behind films like Knockaround Guys and Ocean’s 13, as well as the critically acclaimed showtime series, Billions, which ramps back up for season five in a month or so as of the release of this episode. As a man who has watched Rounders at least a bajillion times, I think you can believe me when I tell you that I very much look forward to this interview. And Brian, of course, absolutely crushed it. In our conversation today, you’ll learn why Brian fell in love with the game of poker so much that it became a world he has invested himself into for decades. The way card players often surprise Brian with their generosity off the felt, and how David and Brian wrote that into the character conditio why playing on random poker apps is probably a scarier proposition than you might think, even if you think it’s already extremely scary, and much, much more. So, without any further ado, I bring to you the man behind some of the most beloved fictional characters in poker history, might make D worm, Teddy KGB, Knish, and many others, Brian Koppelman.

Brad: Brian, welcome to the show, sir.

Brian: Hey, man, my pleasure to be here.

Brad: Before we jump into the interview, I did want to take a second on behalf of myself. And just a ton of pros that have come on the show that started playing cards in the 2004, 2005 year. Thank you for all the, I can pretty much attribute all of the best things in my life to playing cards for a living and you are definitely a big part of that. You plus Chris Moneymaker I would say.

Brian: Yeah, I well, first of all, David Levine, who I wrote Rounders with and do all my creative work with and I, we love the fact that the movie helped give a language and a romance to this world that we saw and that so many people get into it and you know, Chris Moneymaker, he and I were texting this morning, he started playing because around this so it all ties in together. And Chris definitely is a huge part of why poker is, but I remember when we were making Ocean’s 13 in Vegas was one of the first times I, I realized maybe that was 2006. I knew it before then. But I remember distinctly walking through the poker room in the world series about start and I remember walking through the poker room. And at every table, somebody got up to give me a hug of thanks for Rounders. And because I guess I was with Bill Locke was there and he was introducing me to some people and feeling and I have felt this really since the year the movie came out in 1998. I have felt a real part of the poker community and I have a great deep affection for and love for people who make a life out of the game. I love it so much. And if I were a little better at it, I think it’s something I would have done for my life potentially. You know, I love the, I do love poker that much.

Brad: It’s probably better that you, you weren’t a little better at it, I think. Exploring your creativity and just accomplishing the things that you’ve done. Poker I found, poker players tend to go through many existential type crisis’s of, you know, what they’re providing for the world and their lack of fulfillment. And this is something that that I’ve personally struggled with, and I didn’t even realize it was like a normal thing until I had a bunch of guys on and talked about it with them. And it’s like, oh, this is very, this is a very common thing in the poker space. And you know, just being able to be creative, meet people and share wisdom is the main driver for this podcast for me myself, right?

Brian: That makes total sense to me. I mean, look, I think in every almost every industry, almost every sort of career path that someone chooses because it almost feels like it chose them. So, like being a poker professional, you get so much out of it in a way that you do wonder where your contribution comes in. But I feel like the poker community, yes, there are some outliers, there are always going to be people who are selfish and mean and but generally yeah, everyone wants to take everyone else’s money at the table and wants to win and wants to be proven right and wants to be smarter than you. But away from the poker table, I have noticed that poker players are incredibly generous to one another, incredibly supportive of one another that the same way comedians who each want to get up and kill will sit down afterwards and try to help each other make their jokes better. And I found that with the best comedians that, that, you know, I’m friends with a lot of the very best comedians. They want to destroy, and they want to be the best of the night and they, but afterwards, they want to help you make your jokes better, they want to talk to you about your tags, and they’ll sit if they feel like you’re approaching it, like a top professional, like you’re giving everything you have to it, they want to help you. And I have noticed and been touched by the way in which card players will really just try to block each other as bad as they can at the table within the rules will afterwards sit down and go, let’s talk about the way we played that hand. Let’s talk about how you played that handle. What were you thinking about there? What, what ranges were you thinking existed? Did you think about this as a possibility or some models I’ve been running. And it’s I don’t know, I find that, I find there to be, and you know, that goes back to the text, the poker players playing out of the same bankroll, and yet trying really hard to beat each other, or the way in which you could walk into a poker room. And if you saw somebody that you’ve played with a lot, they don’t want to be someone who’s like a close friend of yours, and, and you’re like, throw me a purple chip or something. That’s really likely they’ll throw you the purple chip, and then you’ll, they’ll know you’re going to pay him back. It’s, it’s just the way that that world works. So, so I do think there is something about that sense of community of people who are card players, that’s pretty beautiful.

Brad: Poker players are just a unique combination, just how they’re constructed. I think that by nature, they’re empathetic people. You almost have to be an empath to be able to get in the heads of other people and think the way that they’re thinking and you almost have to be sociopathic, to see somebody in a position with the same obsession and drive to succeed that you once had. And just completely ignore them, walk past them and not, not give them any feedback or not give them any help like that. That’s like, especially in a world where, you know, it’s very aggressive, right? You’re, you’re battling folks on a daily basis, you’re trying to try to beat them and take their money. When you have the chance to give back, poker players naturally, my experience is the same. They’re extremely, extremely generous, they do things to their own detriment a lot of the time, just because they feel like it’s the right thing to do there. There is a lot of honor in the poker community.

Brian: It really is.

Brad: Yeah, more so than, more so than people. I think people from the outside would, would notice. And I would say there’s more honor in the poker world than probably in the corporate world, or a lot of different

Brian: Look, that’s one of the reasons that we have, right? You know, Knish is based on a real dude. And, you know, inspired by the, this guy, Joel Bagels, who is in New York, and he would give poker players his truck, that was a real thing. And, and we want to put that right at the beginning of the movie, so that you get the sense of connection that existed and the ways in which people might draw lines about, well, I still see the world like a cardplayer so if I know you’re going to lose this money, I can’t give it to you, but how can I help you? And that’s a part that’s, you know, certainly a part of what David and I have always seen in that world and, and you know that’s why I love the poker podcast that exists. You know, I’m a huge fan of Thinking Poker podcast and Mavis’ show, those guys will go to such lengths to help other card players figure it out. They’re both I mean, Andrew is a brilliant card player, I think I don’t know how many times you’ve played with them or not, but he’s obviously a great card player. And I’ve watched the way he’s gone so far to sort of help other people basically for free. It’s super cool.

Brad: Yeah, I, I don’t think I’ve ever played against him. I’m pretty sure he’s a tournament guy, right? I’m always been a cash guy. So, our worlds of, you know, kind of diverged in that sense. Where did you get this passion for poker? Like, where did this come from growing up? Why was this a world that interested you so much?

Brian: Well, a few different things. My dad was, he wasn’t a huge poker player when I was a kid, but he was a heavy card player during college and you know, you sort of pieced together facts about your parents as you, as you grow and what he had, he had a home and office at home like, in our house, next to his bedroom, his, my parents’ bedroom, there was this little office that was his office. And behind where he sat, there was a carousel of chips. And they weren’t like the thin plastic ones. They weren’t clay. They were some almost stone like, but they were chips. And I love that carousel. And I would ask him what they were. So, I, there was something about the poker chips that I really loved. And I went to camp when I was eight, and guys were playing poker. And I lost all the money I had for the summer at camp. They taught me, you know, these other eight year old’s taught me to play, and I got wiped out. And I was like, I want to get good at this. I don’t want to lose it this again. And then I started, you know, really like, at eight or you can do a sort of play and think about it. But then I guess when I got a little older college, I start playing like every night in college, and then I started reading some books and thinking about poker a little more deeply. I was never, I’m not gifted at math. But, you know, I’m alright at figuring out people and so if I had a little bit of the math from the books, I could then apply the people stuff and, and be okay at it. Back then it was all seven-card stud. So, I became a good stud player, like when the US poker championships were in Atlantic City, year before routers, we were writing it. I won like a 350 person, seven card stud event. And a bunch of the guys from Mayfair were there and cheering me on. And that was probably like when I was at my best at playing cards. I was bad at hold’em and then it took a long time to get where I can do basically a winning poker, a winning hold’em player, but I’m a winning hold’em player at 5/10. You know, I’m not a winning hold’em player, if I went much higher than that, and I’m not a huge winning player, I’m just basically a winning player.

Brad: That’s good enough. Very few people are winning players in, in the poker world at 5/10. I assume you, you play live.

Brian: Only live.

Brad: Where do you generally play at? What’s your cardroom of choice?

Brian: Home games.

Brad: Oh, in LA?

Brian: In New York. I’m a New Yorker.

Brad: Oh, a New Yorker.

Brian: Home games with, home games with dealer, a dealer we’ve all known since the Mayfair club. She deals and she deals in like probably eight or nine games in the city. There’s one game that’s the main game that I play in. Sometimes I’m pretty big underdog in the game because one person who regularly plays a WPT Player of the Year and a bunch of other, sort of well-established poker players. And then there’s some people who just are splashing money around.

Brad: They’re finding that, that judges game, they’re getting involved battling the future noblemen and magistrates. Tell me, so in the late 90s you know this is pre-poker boom.

Brian: Yes.

Brad: Rounders really introduced the World Series of Poker to people’s lexicon like most people probably didn’t even know what the World Series of Poker was back when rounders came out. What was it like for you witnessing the moneymaker boom, the poker boom after creating Rounders?

Brian: I have to give a shout out. There’s a friend of mine for 30 years named john Schecter, but Shecky Greene is what he’s known as and in the poker world. And he final table a couple times at WPT. But he was, I met him, or I knew him before this, but we started hanging out a lot in 96, 95, 96. We started hanging a lot and he was going to Mayfair, and he showed me on VHS tapes beside Dell Chan final table. And he was the one who started showing me and then he had, he had this collection of like every one of those World Series poker videotapes on VHS and so he would show me those things and I was just totally, obviously just, I found it the most compelling and interesting thing on earth. And so yeah, we, when we met and that’s when I started like really going out there and interviewing people and learning about it and we, we made the movie. There was like the, you’re right, the poker room didn’t really happen yet. But soon the whole card cam came and the WPT which started to give people a real understanding of what cards meant and then when Chris won, everything exploded. Each, I’d say like at every step along the way, well a couple things one, because of Rounders, my lifestyle goes in this other direction were that Dave and I were making movies. So, poker wasn’t even really over wasn’t the focus for sure my life. And although we would make some movies where we were playing poker on set where it was a premium, we’re making Ocean’s 13. We’re better poker game going the whole time, every day. So, I was watching all this and I was really interested in it. I guess at first, I was probably a little annoyed, not by Cris, not Chris, before Chris, as the whole card camp happened because I was like, and you know, that first season of the WPT. They would show clips from Rounders and mentioned at all the time on the broadcast, and I, I remember thinking, I wish the movie would have been more successful. But then very soon, because of the poker boom, the movies and because the movie helped the poker boom app, and its status just rose with the way poker rose and, in the country, you know?

Brad: Yeah, it’s, I mean it, they go hand in hand. And like, I, it just has to be such a cool thing to experience that the world falling in love with this game. Right? That was that was born nation.

Brian: Yes. And that brought people back to the game, but also that it brought people to the movie because when Dave and I wrote the movie, what we really wanted was for it to exist the way movies like Diner and Stripes did to us where it was a kind of movie goodfellas, people would watch over and over and over again. And, and for us, then at 29, 30. Mostly we’re thinking about guys like us, and years younger than us, maybe by guys like us, who we’d hoped would memorize it and throw lines back and forth at each other. And the fact that that started to happen really quickly before the poker boom, by 1999, you couldn’t go into like a college frat without dudes knowing that movie by heart. And so, as that started to happen, it also gave us the sense at the beginning of our movie career that we weren’t crazy, that like we were choosing something that we were good at to spend all this time on.

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Brad: What do you think has sort of you know the, there hasn’t, there was Black Friday obviously and then a saturation of poker content like that kind of accompanied the boom. What do you think needs to happen to introduce storytelling in, I guess it’s a hard question but in ways make poker more compelling TV? Because like the first WSOP for me it was like ultra-compelling, there were biographies is about the players, the characters, the backstory, now it’s become a little bit more functional.

Brian: Well, I still love what, I mean I still watch every episode that they’ll air of WSOP. Part of it is the frustration that you can’t play right for most people. I really think it’s not a function of the way they tell the stories on TV. I think it’s a function of the fact that we can’t then go do the thing, right? I mean pro sports, we can go out and play basketball or we can go play golf or tennis. We, I think part of the reason hockey’s not so big is like in a lot of the country, people can’t go out and play hockey, they didn’t grew up playing it, they don’t know how to play it. Poker played, like the way they play it in the tournament’s. I mean, it’s just not, it’s not available in people’s houses anymore. And it’s not available online, that you know, online in their houses that that thing where you could watch the World Series of Poker or WPT, and then go try your hand at five cent, ten cents if you want it with all you know, as you know, micro pet cents if you if you want it. That allowed people to, you know, it’s like I’m a basketball fanatic, right. And, and when I was a kid, I could go out alone on the basketball court, and I could be every player that I watched, and I could act that out. And I could be trying to hit a foul shot with no time left to win the NBA championship. And that existed in poker for about five years, and then it went away, and longer than five years, 10 years or whatever, and then it went away. So, I think that’s what’s required is somehow, and I did tweet the other day, that the same way they do compassionate use medicines, where if you’re in bad shape, medicine that hasn’t been officially approved, the Congress should do compassionate use online poker during this time, when we’re all stuck at home.

Brad: There are ways to play, you just have to, you have to venture, go, take, take the riskier path to get an

Brian: Well, I had an offer to do the thing of get me an agent, you know, agent for get money on and be able to play on one of these apps. But I, what I really worry about is because of the way my mind works, I do worry about collusion. And I do worry about, I worry about cheating in a way that when it was really when it was like regular, you know, when these when these big companies had an interest in making it bigger and bigger, they had a big interest in making the games fair. And I don’t know that some app that you can just play on your phone where there’s an agent getting money, I, it’s hard for me to believe that they have a big interest in keeping it fair, what do you think, man?

Brad: They don’t. They absolutely don’t, I’ve been super used, I’ve been colluded against in all of these apps. Most of these apps trying them, I did promote one app in the last year. And that was because I knew the people that created it. I knew how seriously they were taking security. And it was a platform that I genuinely believed in. And I felt like since I do have an audience, that it’s beneficial for me to tell them about a thing that I feel is legitimate versus them getting involved with the, you know, this this agent process, right? Like, what blew, blew my mind about the agent thing was that on like the Chinese apps, somebody contacted me wanting to stake me, to give basically to provide the portal to get in the games. And like, you know, they’re like, I have an agent, I get money on. And all this stuff. I’m like, okay, cool, we’ll take care of it. Like, I’ll do it if there’s no risk for me, right? Like, or we’re chopping it. If I get cheated and lose money, then it’s on you. So, I did that for like a year, maybe longer. And then at one point, I remember asking the guy like, what’s going on behind the scenes? Like, what is the process look like for these cashiers, and all this stuff? And he’s like, well, I messaged a guy on WeChat. And I’m like, who is it? I don’t know.

Brian: Right.

Brad: Oh, who owns the club? Who are these guys calling the shots? I don’t know. The, the, the cashier doesn’t even know who the guy is. Like, it’s like a chain of anonymous human beings that you’re just supposed to trust. And it’s like, no, this is the most ridiculous system that I’ve ever heard of in my life like.

Brian: Right. Well, I get it. And also, the agent thing is literally it’s just like a loan shark system really are bookies. So, I just, I’m happy to play in my once a week. Listen, I would love like a play on live poker right now. But the level, I want my friends and I did in our home game. And I think people at home this is a great thing to do. So, if you trust people that you play with, and you have some sort of home game, using one of the iPhone, iPad apps, setting up a private game, and then being on zoom, so you can all see each other. So that’s, that’s what we’ve been doing. So, there’s nine of us on zoom. We’re playing on the app, and it’s just as close to our game as, as you can get.

Brad: Just settle up afterwards.

Brian: Yeah, well, we all, we all anyway, I always set up after. We all, we, we, because if you don’t pay you don’t get to play in the game. And it’s a, that there are a bunch of, everyone in the game. Really, the game is either sort of a high-profile person in some way or they want like they want to play with those people. So, no one wants to get disinvited over $2,000.

Brad: Right, and nobody wants to rob is

Brian: We’re doing for years and the guys who run the game are good at this and so yeah we settle up afterwards. Ee just know everyone will either whatever at, whatever you use Venmo or PayPal or whatever, everyone just settles up.

Brad: That’s great. So ever. You just have a zoom session, nine handed and play against each other. And that’s a good experience.

Brian: I mean, yeah, yeah, it’s perfect. I mean, it’s not quite the same, but it’s close enough. I mean, during this, right now, we’re, we’re all having some kind of a small chrome of experience, right? So, we have to just figure out how to make things feel as close to the real thing as we can.

Brad: Yeah. Necessity is the mother of all invention, right?

Brian: Where are you based? Are you in Vegas?

Brad: No, I’m in Atlanta, Georgia. Which means I’m in a poker complete black hole dead zone.

Brian: Right. You can’t play online unless you play on an app that you trust suit. Have you found one that you kind of trust now?

Brad: I play on Ignition. So, I just play on Ignition, Bodog, Bovada, whatever people want to call it nowadays.

Brian: And how do you get money on?

Brad: Bitcoin.

Brian: Bitcoin ahead of time?

Brad: Yeah, it’s, it’s centralized. It’s a centralized, centralized platform. It’s been around for actually just a really long time. But there’s, there’s sketchiness that’s potential in pretty much anything that you do, but as a as a poker player, like, what are my options, right? I’m married, I have a family. I can either go play in a home game that has sketchiness written all over it potentially, or I can play online on a platform that’s been around for 10 or 15 years. So, you know, I did my time, I did my time traveling around the country and living at the commerce casino for 60 hours and playing high stakes poker 60 hours a week. And

Brian: Sure.

Brad: I’m, I would much rather head to my computer, fire up ignition and put some time in. But yeah, it’s, it’d be nice if it was, it was less of a shady type of situation, you know, going back to Bodog or Bovada, even when they were sending checks out to people, you know, I would get a check. I would cash out 3k and get a check from Singapore, and take it to my bank. And they’re like, what do you do you? Like, why do you have this? And like, I would feel like a criminal every time and I’m like, I’m a business consultant. Like I’m a horrible, horrible liar. Especially when I’m like, in this unknown situation. I’m like, oh, God, please don’t arrest me for playing poker.

Brian: You, how many tables you play at the same time?

Brad: Bovada allows four, so I play four and back in the day, I would say my, my peak is six. That’s, that’s the point that I would reach diminishing returns. I’m

Brian: At six, you could keep track of all the players at the table, their tendencies, their ranges?

Brad: For the most part. I mean, maybe there, there are some diminishing returns as far as like win rate goes, but like as hourly it would, it would maximize my hourly rate

Brian: Right.

Brad: Playing six but like, I’ve always been a high intensity player. So, play two or three hours and then just feel completely spent and burned their time with

Brian: That’s why I’m writing.

Brad: Yeah, yeah. I mean,

Brian: Hours of really intense work, and I’m good.

Brad: Yeah, you’re you’re you feel like mush, right?

Brian: Like, I get a ton done. I really that’s the way, a couple hours of intense, intense work is great for me.

Brad: Right. And I’ve talked about it on this show. A lot before too. I used to, when I was younger, I would feel weak for only being able to go two or three hours. I’m like, why? Why do I have, why am I lazy, right? Like why do I have this bad work ethic? Why am I lazy? And then come to find out years later, I read a study about chess and these guys and chess tournament where they’re burning like, you know, 3000 calories a day because of the intense mental exercise and I’m like, oh, okay, I’m not, I’m not lazy. It’s not me. This is. Yeah. And when you’re in it, man, it’s, it’s high, intense, high intensity. You’re trying to keep track of everything and make the best decisions possible. You’re making, you know, every session, thousands and thousands of decisions. It’s enough to wear folks down.

Brian: I sat in, sweated Phil Laak a couple times in really high stakes at commerce with the guy from Mr. Chow is at the table.

Brad: Yeah, Mr. Chow?

Brian: Did you, so I wonder you were in I’m sure you’ve played in that game. Right.

Brad: I’ve played against Phil Laak very, only a few times, but I’ve played against Mr. Chow a ton.

Brian: As I’m saying.

Brad: And Mr. Chow and Max, before max passed away. Mr. Chow’s always covered in paint for some reason. I don’t know why.

Brian: It was really fun to, it was fun to you know, be at that game and sweat Phil, wash that shit. It was really a fun time for me.

Brad: Yeah, I mean, what’s funny is like, I don’t even know like, I didn’t even know who Mr. Chow was. I didn’t know who Max was like, people have to tell me oh, that’s the creator of BCBG and I’m like, what the fuck is BCBG? I don’t know. And then like, I google it. And I’m like, oh, he’s a billionaire. Oh, Mr. Chow’s like super famous restaurant. All restaurants all over the world.

Brian: Well, but that’s why those guys can be at the table if they’re not real poker players, right? So,

Brad: Yeah, everybody that you play against. And that’s something another thing that I talked about on the show, like, one thing that continually comes up is, is like, treat people well, and follow your curiosity. And I want to get into that briefly before we, we call, call this show. But follow your curiosity ask people about themselves because as a professional poker player, everybody you’re playing with at the table is more successful in life than you. It allows, that allows them the opportunity to play high stakes poker, recreationally and for fun and like, don’t do it as like a predatory thing of like, what can I get out of this guy, but just be genuine and ask questions about life and wisdom. And these guys, again, going back to people being generous, they’ve always been super generous, always happy to give wisdom and guidance when, when they feel it’s necessary.

Brian: And, and especially if you’re nice also like that they don’t feel as bad about losing the money to you. I mean, I, it’s always funny to me when I’m at a table and someone is curious, and they ask. And, you know, when I say what I do, if I end up saying Rounders, it’s always a fascinating thing that happens at the table. And

Brad: Yeah.

Brian: They’re, you know, and then I have to decide whether what someone wants to do is to bust me and if that means, just want to stay in hands with me longer. They wanted to, they want to bluff me out, do they want to induce me, you know, because it does change what’s happening at the table, unless you’re incredibly disciplined playing against me, you know, there’s a story you’re going to be able to walk away with. And so, I have to try to decide what game they’re playing in that moment. For the first half hour after people know.

Brad: It could be advantageous though, if people are coming after you, then they’re most likely going to overextend and make, make bad, bad mistakes. For me, like, I think as, as a pro, it’s just like, okay, I mean, you know, you, you take the personal and, and the game that’s going on, and you separate them and you’re just kind of trying to break down this

Brian: Oh yeah, against poker pro it wouldn’t. Most poker pros would say this. Yes, it’s true that most poker pros wouldn’t consciously change the way they played if they found out I wrote, just because I wrote a movie. But if I wrote the movie that made you want to do what you do for your life, co-wrote it with Dave, you will be a little bit rattled at the table.

Brad: Probably.

Brian: And almost anybody will be a little bit rattled for 10 minutes or 20 minutes. And I mean, I’ve watched it, it’s fascinating, right? And it only happens for most people when maybe they would give a fuck, but if you’re a poker player in that spot, it matters differently sometimes.

Brad: Well, I mean, Rounders is iconic, right? Like, like we going back to the beginning of the show for, for pros, that we have Rounders to thank for our livelihood, you know.

Brian: That’s nice to say. Well, I always hear also the way people take apart the hands. I mean, you go to two plus two and asked about Rounders. Yes, everyone’s seen it 20 times, but half those watchers were so they could critique the way the hands are played, and which I find funny, of course. But also, I’d see the reverses when I’m at the poker table, and I, I’m still so in awe of people to do what you do. If we’re that good at poker. I find myself just trying to study how you know you do what you do. And I’m, I am totally fascinated by it. You know, I can read Adam Miller’s book. I’ve read a couple of his books and basically understand it all conceptually, but the fact that you can put it into practice and then make your own versions of figuring out how to play optimally is amazing to me.

Brad: It’s a lot of practice, a lot of obsession. You know, I think that’s, that’s one key to it on this show is like the curiosity, the obsession. Tell me about curiosity. You’ve following

Brian: It’s my North Star professionally, for sure is one of the things I say a lot when I talk to younger or greener people in this want to do what I do is calculate less. You can’t try to game out a career in the arts. You have to follow your passion and your curiosity. I’ve found that when I’m super curious about something, it allows me to be as obsessed as you’re talking about, dive in, really understand and try to figure out what is amazing about it to me. And so, like whether it’s the world of hedge funds and US attorneys, the way that Dave and I have been obsessed with billions or Rounders or knockaround guys. Any of the things that we’ve done in our lives salt, salt, or many of our movies or TV shows. It starts always with a deep curiosity about a world. Usually a world that has an insular language, customs. There’s a, an inner group in our group where, where we’re just drawn to that stuff. And we’re writing the first movie who knew if anyone was going to care, same with billions. I mean, they’ve been a lot of shows about business people that most of them all, you know, at Wall Street tanked. But we were utterly compelled by the materia,l by questions that were, you know, it raised. And so, we pursued it. And, and for me, that’s the vibe, by the end of every day feel like I’ve stoked all that, then I feel like I’ve had a good day professionally, you know. And so, I meditate and I do my morning pages, and I take walks, and I do whatever I can to get myself in the head, to be able to do this work. But then I’m just trying to listen in the purest way I can, to what’s really drawing me. And then I try to follow that, you know.

Brad: Most people don’t ever have that opportunity to write be obsessed with one, even one thing, much less multiple things, right. And I think that, for me, this is where fulfillment comes from. It’s following your bliss, Joseph Campbell’s, The Hero’s Journey. And like you said, curiosity is your NorthStar. I love that. That’s a great principle for people to abide by and live their lives. 

Brian: By the way, it’s great at the poker table. Can I say right, curiosity is great, as you said a second ago. But instead of knowing your, you know, I remember when talking to Eric Seidel once and saying, hey, once you put a read on somebody, is that it when you know what they haven’t? He said, no. No, that’s you’re convinced. But you must stay open to new information, you must stay open when the new information happens, you have to be willing to change your hypothesis. And I think that that’s really completely true. And I at the table poker players who are, yes, you’re great. You’re constantly trying to figure out ranges and understand what’s possible, but you want to be open and curious, so that you can find out for sure,

Brad: Yes, this is the number one thing that holds poker players back is having a high degree of certainty in a game where there’s almost never high degrees of certainty. And when you feel like you’ve got it figured out, and like you’re resistant to even an argument that maybe you did something poorly, this is when the wheels fall off. And like, you know, Eric Seidel, he’s obviously one of the, maybe the greatest poker player that that has ever lived in my mind just takes off all the all the boxes. I do want to come back to him in a second, by the way, because after watching Rounders a few days ago at the Eric Seidel thing is hilarious. But, yeah, it’s like, always be curious, always ask questions. Pokers, the poker table, the players that sit around, it’s a living organism that changes from moment to moment. And when somebody loses a hand, goes on tilt, becomes emotionally compromised, or even is winning, right? They rack up their chips, everything means something. And this is new information and new data. You have to be aware of this new information and new data where you’re going to make mistakes. I mean, poker, by nature, I think, the most successful players have this innate sense of curiosity, which, to me, you know, going to the personal things about asking the businessmen and just inquiring about them, like it’s a natural transition, just because this this is how we exist in the world. We’re always questioning every single thing and remaining curious, and that’s what really drives the careers of successful poker players. Going back to Eric Seidel though,

Brian: Yes.

Brad: How does he feel about, about that scene in rounders, where he looks like the biggest dummy?

Brian: Well, you say like, anyone who really knows, understands that Eric’s I don’t one of the three most successful turno players who ever lived, you know, and managed his life in an incredible way we talked about. Yes, he’s one of the great poker players who ever lived. But Eric has just managed his life. He raised his family, he lives beautifully. He’s a kind and giving person. He’s a really great guy. And he’s figured this whole sort of thing out. So, he has a great sense of humor about it. I mean, I’ve been friends with him for a very long time now. And I remember, the first time I met him, we had to get his permission to do it. We got his permission. And then I met him shortly thereafter, and he got a kick out of it. I mean, he understands. Look, he’s part of this, this thing. I mean, Johnny loves it, obviously.

Brad: Well, yeah, he’s, he’s like the he’s the genius. And

Brian: I don’t know, Johnny, I don’t know Johnny well, at all. I spent, too, you know, I’ve spent a day and a half of them in my life. But Eric, I know really well. And I think the world of Eric.

Brad: Eric, the way that he’s been able to transition from being a successful tournament player in the 90s, you know, in the late 80s, then the 90s and the 2000s. And now playing super high rollers against, these are the kids, right? These are the kids that were born after Rounders existed, right? Like poker has been a part of their world forever and they’ve been completely obsessed with it and they’re the very best in the world at their craft.

Brian: Yes.

Brad: Inside elves in their kicking their ass at you know, as a 60 year old man, like that is there’s nothing to me that, that it’s just it’s 

Brian: Like an arrogant and look I know how controversial Daniel is. But I also think what Daniel’s accomplished. Daniel is close to 50 years old, and what Daniel’s accomplished is crazy. It’s insane that he still wins as much as he wins.

Brad: Sure. Phil Ivey. I mean, Phil Ivey like went to the online world and was a conquer from pretty much day one with from the transition from live to online and which is something that is obscenely difficult.

Brian: And its amazing to me, when you look at some of this. I know Phil, and I know Daniel for a long time, Daniel, I know for a long time too. And like, watching them, like, decide to challenge themselves, Daniel and Eric in particular, like, Hellmuth goes about it a different way, certain of these famous really famous guys, know him for a long time, too. But watching Daniel, being willing to take himself apart as a poker player and build himself back up was incredible to me. Because he didn’t have to do that. There’s brute matter what, he’s, he’s rich for the rest of his life. He’s as famous as you can ever get by playing cards. And yet, the competitor and him wanted to see if he could do it.

Brad: His identity is as a card player, though, from a very young age. And when you got guys talking shit and trolling you on the internet, you got to prove yourself and he, to me, he’s always been a guy that’s risen up to the challenge of proving himself and willing to grind buses ass, do what it takes to stay relevant in the poker world. We got about three minutes here, two minutes here. Let me ask you a couple questions. And then we’ll, we’ll call it. If you could give all poker players one book to read, what would it be and why?

Brian: Oh, I love this question. If I could gift, What I Talked About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami. No doubt about it. That book, it’s short. It’s a sensibly a book about how somebody became a marathoner. It is not a book about how somebody became a marathoner. It’s a book about what you’re willing to sacrifice to become the person you want to be in order to pursue that which you were put on this earth to pursue. It is, I’m so glad you asked this question. I’m going to read it again. I read it about once a year, and it is, it’s just a perfect 200 pages and about what it’s, the essential sacrifices and the rewards for making the essential sacrifices.

Brad: That is a greatness swamp, it’s going to be fired up to actually go read that book because they’ll

Brian: Go read it. What I Talked About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami. Well, the other thing is, I think Murakami is the world’s best writer. He’s a fiction writer. This is nonfiction. So, you’re reading this total master’s book, but it’s, it’s so easy to read and it’s so compelling. Okay, go.

Brad: If you could write the billboard every poker players got to drive pass on the way to the casino. What does it say?

Brian: Fold more.

Brad: Fold more. Tommy Angelo. Alright, man. Well, what’s a project you’re working on? Anything you want to talk about this year?

Brian: I mean, nearly a podcast the moment my podcast which I dive into all these issues. And, and I’ve been, I’m trying to, I have a really great one up this week with Seth Godin, who’s a genius and about how we should be thinking about this moment in time. And I’m on Twitter after I compliment you.

Brad: There you go answer the last question for me. Thank you, sir. It’s a pleasure having you on. Have a great rest of your day.

Brian: Take care.

Brad: Take care.


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Thanks for reading this transcript of Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 053: Brian Koppelman

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