Jesse Yaginuma: A World Class Poker Combatant

Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 003

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Today’s guest on CPG is a high stakes cash game beast with over $2 million in live MTT cashes, and one of my personal favorite humans in the poker world, Jesse Yaginuma.

You may recall Jesse being mentioned in a story recent CPG guest Justin Saliba told about the $5,500 High Roller Online WSOP Freezout event where in a very strange twist of fate 3 out of the 10 or so guys in a group chat managed to be the last three players remaining in the tournament.

They had planned to meet up and play soccer the next day, and when Jesse busted out in third place he quipped, “You boys better bring your shin pads tomorrow.”

This, to me, is a pretty typical experience with Jesse.

On the green felt he’s about as tenacious and unflappable as they come and, off the felt, he’s just a laid back, hilarious dude that’s as cool as they come.

In my mind, all of these are very important ingredients in my personal recipe for live poker greatness.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s also one of the most talented poker players I’ve ever had the good fortune of going to war against.

In today’s episode with Jesse Yaginuma he’s going to tell you poker stories that are near and dear to his heart, what he’s been up to since coming onto CPG almost two years ago, how he goes about addressing and plugging weaknesses in his poker game, and much, MUCH more!

So now, without any further ado, I bring to you an amazing human being who’s a genuine poker talent… the one and only Jesse Yaginuma.

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 Jesse Yaginuma 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 003: Jesse Yaginuma: A World Class Poker Combatant

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Brad: What is happening in future world beater you? Welcome to Chasing Poker Greatness where I’m very blessed and grateful to be able to sit down with some of the greatest minds on the green felt, and ask them the questions that are going to give you valuable insights and wisdom on your own journey to poker and mortality. I’m your host, founder of, Brad Wilson. And today I’m talking with a good friend of mine, Jessie Yaginuma. Jessie has been playing poker professionally since 2006. He started his career in Maryland on the East Coast, but he’s called sunny California home for the last eight years. Jesse’s a world class player in both cash games, his specialty where him and I first crossed paths, and he promptly crushed me in a $10,000 pot, and tournaments with 1.9 million in lifetime winnings, despite playing a very limited schedule. As with any poker player, things haven’t always gone Jesse’s way, and he’ll explain how he deals with the blissful upswings and the horrible existential crisis causing down swings that come with a career of playing cards. Jesse has a natural interest in psychology and is extremely driven to learn all he can about the why, behind human beings and the things that they do. He shares his wisdom on what you can do to keep your mind right, what he does to optimize his own mental health, and the sheer physical energy that your brain consumes when you take on a task as mentally draining as poker. Jesse has a well-founded reputation for being one of the calmest people you’ll ever meet at the poker table, no matter where he plays, a testament to his envious ability to always keep his head in the game and emotions in check. As we talk today, you’ll learn how he started his poker career, the super valuable tools and lessons he’s used for growth, and how he rejuvenated his game after realizing he had grown a little stagnant over the years, he’ll talk about the importance of having a good network of people around you, how he feels about some of the most common modern poker advice, and what wisdom he’d give himself if he could go back in time. He also keeps mostly to himself on social media. While you might see tons of pros all over poker forums, Twitter and Instagram, Jessie stays fairly quiet and goes about his business, mostly under the radar, except when he’s sitting at WPT final table, of course. And given his personality and outlook on life, that makes 100% sense to me. So saddle in, and gear up for this rare opportunity to consume some value hand grenades from the world class poker combatant. Without any further ado, I bring to you my conversation with Jessie Yaginuma. Jesse, my man, how you doing, sir?

Jesse: I’m good. Thanks for having me on a one time what’s it.

Brad: Yeah, my pleasure. My pleasure. It has been way too long that I’ve sort of disappeared from live poker altogether, battling on the virtual felt. Let’s kick this kick by, let’s talk about your poker journey. You know, just in the pre-show conversation. You mentioned you’ve been in LA for like, what, eight years now?

Jesse: Yeah. Going on a little or more years. Moved right after Black Friday in 2011.

Brad: Yeah, yeah.

Jesse: And he represents.

Brad: So let’s, let’s go back. Let’s go back to Maryland, pre-L.A Jesse days. Just a kid, just a kid in Maryland trying to find his way.

Jesse: Oh, yeah, there are lots of us.

Brad: Tell me the story of how you got into playing cards for a living.

Jesse: You know, for me, I actually didn’t play poker at all growing up. Unlike some people, like some kids, some guys played like poker with their dads or grandparents. Their whole life like really young, but I didn’t play until college at all. First time I played poker was freshman year, in my dorm room with a few friends for like five bucks. I’ve never heard of Texas Hold’em. And I think the first time I played obviously I got super lucky and won like 20 bucks, for like a 18 year old college kid. It was like, it was a cool thing. But I always was like, I always played sports, I was competitive. So after finding poker, I wanted to get better. I wanted to improve. I want to beat my friends. And so, you know, I play for fun around the campus for like a few months, like winning and losing a few dollars here and there. And then start taking a little bit more seriously. Started you know, like playing some games around town. I haven’t heard it online poker there, maybe I’ve heard of it, but I never tried it. And so, I actually started playing mostly live poker at the beginning, which is also different from a lot of people who played like a free roll, but like 10 bucks online reading over there. I actually started playing live poker in the Maryland poker scene.

Brad: Yeah, I started playing live poker too on the cruises to nowhere down in Florida. What did  do to improve your game at that point? Was it just buying some books reading some books?

Jesse: Yeah, I’m not so much books actually. I mean, I did, I bought me a ball like one or two books. But, they don’t didn’t really have a lasting impression on me. I remember mostly it was a think like some online forums like two plus two we’re still getting more popular then I lurked on there a little bit. I talked to them. You know some friends who are not specific especially good at poker, but we thought their own strategy tried to build our own stuff from there I mean, obviously I was not very good back then. But neither was anybody else. I worked out for a while and then just kind of went from there.

Brad: How did you transition from playing live to online? Like was there a moment when you realize like oh wow, I can I can I can spend my time doing this. It’s gonna be very profitable way to make a living.

Jesse: Yeah, um, I jumped into online just to dabble with it for a small amounts of money here in there the beginning. I think maybe when I was like, towards my end of my freshman year of college, when I’m not college, freshman year of a boy, UNBC, I won like a $30 tournament for a few thousand dollars. And it was just like, huge amount of money to be announced that I was like, wow, you can actually make money in online poker instead of like, using our 10 bucks like I was before.


Brad: Yeah.

Jesse: So yeah, that got me pretty excited. I was still playing some live, some online, kind of like mixing the two. But I had some friends who are very successful online. So, I knew it could be done.

Brad: Where they just random people that you happen to cross where the guys from two plus two? Where did you meet these guys?

Jesse: There were some guys around the Maryland poker scene that I have mainly met playing the home games of Maryland. Some of the guys, I guess by this time I’ve been playing maybe some like 2/5 and 5/10 like the home games. A couple of the guys were playing pretty big online. Like it’s an ultimate bet back then.

Brad: How big?

Jesse: I’ve been playing like the.. Maybe like a quarter 50 even up to like 50, 100. Like you’re playing like really big and I was like wow, like this is crazy amount of money to play for and seemed like a different universe back then for sure.

Brad: Battling the prologue Friedman’s.

Jesse: Yeah, yeah, that was about right back into writing for a lot of days. Yeah, definitely.

Brad: Probably some guys to get, it got scammed by the superuser. Back in the day too.

Jesse: Definitely. Possibly. I’m not exactly sure. If I got scammed or not personally. Yeah, those are some crazy, Wild, Wild West days online poker.

Brad: They certainly were. So, you know, you see that is possible. And you’re actually, you know, you’re not playing small stakes yourself. Let’s lead into Black Friday. Lead into like, what were you doing? What stakes were you playing? What was your outlook on Poker, at that time?

Jesse: Yeah. So Black Friday, I was, I was mostly playing online tournaments around that time. At that time, I met pretty good friends. I was pretty close to through like going to the World Series and some people I had known from Maryland, like, I’m like some of my best friends, Michael Katz, Shannon Shore, Adam Guyer. And of course, like you said, you interview Jonathan Middle yesterday.

Brad: Some okay people to have in your tribe.

Jesse: Some very, very good people to talk to poker with. So yeah, so I was like hanging out with them in Vegas. And when I was at home in Maryland, I would play online. Sometimes I’ll go to drive up the Atlantic City and play the Borgata, play some cash games up there. And I’m saying, I was living in Northern Virginia with a few roommates at the time. Life was pretty like, life was pretty simple, like nothing too crazy. But I had always kind of even before Black Friday, I kind of wanted to try something different, get out of Maryland. I always liked the idea of California. I’ve been to Congress a few times. You know, they actually, was pretty fun. I just liked the West Coast lifestyle. So, I was thinking about moving to California anyway. And then Black Friday happened. And I did decide what I wanted to do. If I wanted to continue playing poker, if I wanted to go somewhere else like California, Vegas, Florida was the option. And I decided to expedite my trip to California and just I wanted a World Series that summer and then right after World Series, I didn’t even go back to Maryland. I just drove straight to California. And I had all my stuff back in Maryland. I think I paid some friends to like, move all my stuff out and put it into storage and take it to my parent’s house or something. And I basically, I just stayed out there until I figure things out.

Brad: That’s awesome. Did you have any thoughts about quitting poker? Doing something else?

Jesse: Uh, yeah, I have, I’m not necessarily gonna just dedication but yeah, I’ve had a few thoughts of quitting poker throughout my life. I think anybody who’s played poker long enough, like, long as we have, as a, gone through some existential thoughts about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it. You know, especially obviously, it’s one where you’re winning. But you know, especially if you’re going through a downswing, you’re gonna go through, like, a lot of reflection about why you’re here and what you’re doing. But, but you know, so I went through a phase more than once, but, but you know, overall, like, I’ve been extremely lucky. I’ve been extremely happy about my journey. I’m happy that I’ve played poker, and opportunities it’s given me. So yeah, I definitely don’t have any regrets. But I’ve definitely thought about different paths.

Brad: Do you think that playing cards is something you’ll be doing for the remainder of your life? Or do you think you’ll transition to something else?

Jesse: I think cards will always be a part of me. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of playing cards, like, even if it’s just for recreational purposes, like, I don’t necessarily think that I’ll be playing poker for a living like 20 years from now or something like that. It’s possible, but definitely not like a certainty.

Brad: Yeah.

Jesse: But, but yeah, I like the competition. Like I enjoy book or like, some people say, like, some people say they get burnt down, and everyone play again. And I think after a while, like, I might not want to play the volume that I’m currently playing, but I think I’ll always like enjoy going to play like, I mean, especially for sure, like the main event each year, as long as I can, like, get it in. And then you know, just like the competition, the camaraderie, even in live poker, which is like, I like the social interaction like poker. You meet some interesting people. Just also why part of the reason I think I was drawn to live poker. I mean, obviously it’s also softer, but, yeah, there’s things about poker that I really enjoyed it. I think of it continuing to do for the rest of my life.

Brad: Awesome. And I would expect nothing, nothing less from you, sir. Especially somebody who spend so much of their time battling, you know? And you’re right like the rollercoasters, the roller coaster of poker. I don’t think I think there’s a poker player alive that has it. At one point just kind of thrown their hands up in the air. And it’s like, you know, fuck this, like, why am I doing this to myself all the time, right? And typically, coincides with the down swings.

Jesse: Absolutely.

Brad: But I know too, that you have spent a ton of time studying the psychology behind the game. Would you like to, we’re just psychology of human beings in general. Would you like to get into that and why that fascinates you so much?

Jesse: Definitely. Psychology is always interested me just, I’m just starting with like classes in high school and college, you know, throughout your poker room. You know, it’s, it’s something that is not talked about, I think, enough, just mainstream in society in general, not just in the world of poker, about the ups and downs that people go through on a daily basis. But um, I think in poker, it’s even exaggerated because the stress factors that can come in you know, like, in a regular job, obviously, you can’t go and then come home with less money than you started with. It can be an extremely stressful situation for a lot of people and it affects the people that are you might, the average person might perceive from the outside as a crushing have not a care in the world. It definitely affects the people at the highest levels, best players, even the most sound normal people are, are not immune from the psychological ups and downs of poker or life in general. So yeah, it’s a, neither am I, of course. I’ve gone through my plenty of ups and downs. And I think it’s a fascinating and important part of a life that we need to put more attention to.

Brad: And, I would say from personal experience, having, you know, battle Jesse on the felt, he’s a stoic dude. You look at him, it’s feels like, it feels like nothing’s going to affect him, regardless of what happens, right? So, from the outside looking in, it looks like you know, you’re as strong as they come, as you know, in the poker field. But that’s been my experience.

Jesse: Well, thank you. That is the image I’m usually trying to convey on the felt. That nothing is affecting me.

Brad: It also feels good that you struggled to, like, maybe not for you, but I mean, it’s, it’s comforting to know that yeah, like everybody struggles, regardless of how stoic they might seem. Poker is a brutal game. And it it’s going to affect you emotionally and mentally, and you just have to learn how to deal with it. You can’t get around it, you can avoid it. It’s just going to happen 100% no matter who you are.

Jesse: I agree. And I think there’s ways to improve it. You can, and I don’t, I don’t know if anyone can completely just solve this, solve like a mental aspect of it. But there’s ways you can tackle it from a perspective of like, being healthier and stronger mentally. You can do meditation, you can do physical fitness, you can just be eating healthy, fulfilling lifestyle, if, if you can find a way to do that. You can, like more balanced. I know people, I know some friends who started doing volunteer and Big Brother program, stuff that they find more fulfilling outside of poker to kind of give them a great perspective on when things go bad at the felt or when they’re wondering what are they doing their life like. It gives them a more of a balance at all. It doesn’t drive them as crazy when things don’t go as well.

Brad: Right? And that existential crisis that you talked about, in my view, in my experience, and all I have is like a sample size of one, right? So, I can’t really apply it to everybody. But in my experience, there’s a lot of times where fulfillment, especially as a cash game poker player can be lacking. And you can, I would have these questions in my head, like, am I just taking from the world? Like, what am I giving back to society, humanity, the world? So even on an upswing, even when things are going well, I still have these questions in my head. And finding fulfillment outside of poker. Not having your identity completely wrapped up as a poker player, is just super healthy thing to do. If you’re spending a lot of time playing cards, and can give your life balance and more meaning.

Jesse: Yeah, I definitely agree. And I mean, I’m not we’re not the first poker players to feel this. I think every poker player has felt this at some point. And we’re definitely not the first people to talk about it either. But I think it, it definitely like, is important to reiterate it. And I’m just thinking about it because it is an important thing. You know, I think we will, there’ll be plenty of people after us and go through this exact same thing, but okay. I’m sure it’s not like that’s like, let’s go die. So yeah, I think it’s definitely important to just hammer the point home and

Brad: Create awareness. 

Jesse: Definitely. Create awareness.

Brad: So, speaking of all these things that you do that help you feel better mentally, let’s, can we break that down as specific as possible? As far as the processes, like you mentioned, exercise, eating healthy, meditation. What does that look like for you in your daily practice?

Jesse: You know, I go through my ups and downs. And when you’re like, in your downs, it’s harder to keep these habits up, for sure. And I’ve gone through some streaks, we’re definitely off the wagon. So, for me, I try to keep reasonably healthy. I don’t keep myself to like a super strict diet or workout plan or anything. I like to have some flexibility. That is the reason I play poker. But actually, my girlfriend is a super into, she’s great. She’s super into meditation, she works for a meditation company. And she’s been a great motivator and insight for my mental health, that aspect. And then I tried to, I try to do some readings and insights and research, when I can, different topics. And then, you know, like, I wouldn’t say I’m the healthiest, most fit guy, but I think I’m above average. So, like as long as you keep like a reasonable baseline that you’re happy with. And I think that’s the most important thing.

Brad: Yeah. And going back to your girlfriend, that she does guided meditations, like in her job, what is that? What is her impact on you kind of look like?

Jesse: So, I have tried meditation, like before by myself with middling, mixing, mixing results, I guess. I’ve had some great, like, great benefits from it, but then they’ll fall away from me, and I got hard time getting into it. But I think, I don’t know, like, I watch her, I watch what she gets out of it. When she like, it’s, it’s changed, like her mindset, or like outlook on life has changed your life in lots of great ways. And so, I know the benefits that I could get out of it. If I, if I put my mind to it. And when I do have a lot I do meditate, which is not as often as it should be, might be like a couple times a week right now. But I think, I think it’d be nice to get into like a daily practice. You don’t have to do it for hours every day. If some people that’s some people’s thing. If it works for you, that’s great. But I think if you do it, you know, 15 minutes in the morning or something, it’s kind of the same thing as going for a jog or a quick, quick workout. It’s, it’s something that can have a really lasting effect every day, if you can get into a habit.

Brad: For sure. It’s kind of like, and I’ve been into meditation for a number of years as well. The daily practice aspect of it is hard, right? There’s so many known benefits of meditation, like just as far as improving mental health, improving quality of life, and all of these things. But even know, even with that knowledge, doing it every day is tough. And in my opinion, the reason that is tough is that like, you know, physically, when you’re making yourself physically stronger, you have to lift weights, you push yourself. And it’s not a super fun process. Lifting more weights than you think you’re capable of. It’s a struggle. And meditation, it can also be a struggle, like maintaining focus and clarity. Staying in the moment, while your brain is going, just batshit crazy. Thinking about a million different things, having awareness of that can be tough. And I think, because of that difficulty, we struggle, you know, we’re like, I should meditate. But then like, I don’t want to, and that is because it’s hard, right? It’s a hard thing that you’re doing. You’re effectively strengthening your awareness, which is tough. But yeah, the benefits are just out of this world, if you can do it on a daily regular basis.

Jesse: Absolutely. I agree. You know, like some people, it’s not like that for everyone. I think like, most people are like you and I were just getting into it. Just the idea of going to the gym is the hardest part. Once you get there, it’s okay. Or like, just starting your meditation is the hardest part. Once you get into it, you feel great. And afterwards, you feel great after doing both of those things, and some people can, can’t wait to do it, can’t wait to go to gym. Love the whole thing. Yeah, like, can’t wait to meditate. And, you know, like, maybe I will get there at some point, but I’m not there right now. But, I do, I do try and like, I always feel great afterwards. I always ask myself, why don’t you just want to do it when you know, you’re gonna feel so good afterwards, but it’s not.

Brad: Yeah, it’s definitely not that simple. And my brain can be a real son of a bitch, like my I can I have learned over time, that, for instance, here’s something that I’ve learned; that I can wake up, and I feel tired, right, like, maybe I didn’t feel like I slept well. I feel like my brain is telling me that my energy levels are not super high. Now, maybe you should just skip the gym, Brad. Maybe you should just do something else and just relax, just watch some TV, you know, take it easy. And then I’ll go to the gym. And despite what my brain telling me that I don’t have enough energy, my body is completely different. My body is like ready to go and ready to rock and feels great. So just having the awareness that, you know, your brain can trick you into thinking you’re not capable of going to the gym, or just telling you this internal narrative that you don’t, you don’t have enough energy, you don’t feel like it, you know, just it’s lying to you. If you can get to the point where you recognize that, hey, my brains lying to me, this is what I need to do and then you go do it. That to me was a big realization that helped me maintain better habits on a daily basis.

Jesse: I definitely agree. And as humans, we are actually, we’re terrible at knowing what we want. Whether it’s a, whether it’s going to work out, or whether what’s what we want, that will make us happy, what kind of like, you know, you might think this thing that, this person’s gonna make you happy. This class is gonna make you happy. You do it, and you’re always very often you’re very disappointed, like, our brains are constantly lying to us. And, you know, that’s just the way it is. And if you can find the inner motive, the inner power to really realize, be rational, and kind of force yourself to do things that are gonna make you happy, and make you stronger and make you a better place, then it takes a long time to learn. But you’ll be better off for it for sure.

Brad: Yeah. And this is a story that I’ve told many people. When I was at commerce, playing my 60 hours a week, you were the first guy that kind of brought me out of my shell. We were sitting at the little commerce bar, just talking and you’re like, hey, you know, let’s go out. Let’s go do something. Let’s have a drink. And I’m like, nah, man, like, I gotta, I gotta go to sleep, because I’m waking up at 7am. And I’m playing for 10 hours, and I don’t want to go out and, you know, go off my schedule, and you’re like, no, no, come on, you’re coming, like that. That really. I remember that specifically. And it meant a lot to me, because it was the first start of me developing friends in Los Angeles and a life outside of poker, which, even though, I thought I didn’t want to do it was much more fulfilling than the life that I had been living up to that point. It brought me a lot of happiness and joy. So, I’m always grateful that you know, you push me to me doing something I didn’t necessarily want to do but was good for me overall.

Jesse: I appreciate that. Thank you. We had some good times back then. I’m glad we could be a part of that.

Brad: Yes, we did. One day maybe we can resurrect the commerce Basketball League.

Jesse: Absolutely.

Brad: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. So, I’ve been consuming a lot of marijuana lately before bed. And I’ve been realizing that I make connections when I’m high that I don’t normally make. Now, this is not to say that I’m in a greater state of mind, because I’m still an idiot, like 95% of the way. But there’s also insights that I get that I wouldn’t have otherwise. And as far as mental health goes, I watched a documentary yesterday on psilocybin and magic mushrooms. And I was just wondering if you had any insights on those sort of drugs, you know, experiential things that can improve your mindset and prove your mentality, maybe make you think about life in a different way? Do you have any experiences?

Jesse: So, I think I actually did some reading on it recently, where there are some studies of psilocybin mentioned in a couple different books that I’ve read. And I definitely think that they can have, I’m not so sure on like marijuana, but for sure, so I’ve been we have a strong effect on many people, a very lasting impact on many people. And I thinking that very positive effects on many people, I think it brings out the same feeling in the brain, that a strong religious connection or a strong spiritual connection can bring about and like from these studies back and before they start. Before they began to sell sleeping studies, there was all the studies, a lot of the results were extremely positive. These people changed their mindset, like smokers could all of a sudden quit, because they saw like the different, saw the world a different way. Whereas they saw different priorities, like the fact they felt more value to their life. They felt better connections to the people around them. And so yeah, I think, especially psilocybin, maybe some LSD drugs like that, mind-altering drugs can have some great effects as far as marijuana. Not sure how the study is going. But I’m sure like, I think it’s different for everyone. So, for you that stuff like but for me, I smoke, I just get paranoid. I don’t, can’t do anything. I can’t think. And for me, it feels like the highs, obviously still there. But for example, my girlfriend can smoke and have these amazing conversations about the world and life and all these amazing thoughts. So, it’s different for everyone. So, so, so for you, I think it makes sense that you have these connections, whether they’re true or just like, whether it feels just that way around me, but it’s definitely possible, and I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t count them out.

Brad: Yeah, so there’s a high likelihood of some delusion involved in the process. However, there are things that I think about after the fact, you know, I write these down, or I, I document them, and then I analyze them after the fact. And I have gotten some, just different insights, things. It’s like my empathy gets amplified in a way. I can, I can understand how people are thinking and how people are reacting and the emotions behind things, just differently than I otherwise would. But, as far as the psilocybin goes, it’s like, it’s very interesting to me, and I ran across the same thing that the research was very positive before the 60s, the 70s when Nixon basically ended it all and everything got demonized and now it’s, I think it’s making a comeback, or maybe just in the circles that I communicate in and traveling.

Jesse: No, I think it is also making a comeback. Yeah, I have definitely some people that are happy like, like the drug. I think it’s I think it’s a positive impact. And um, yeah, it seems like it’s more common these days a little bit. There also became I think, they’ve released, proposed or it has been decriminalized in a couple places, I think starting maybe in Denver.

Brad: Really?

Jesse: Yeah.

Brad: Nice. Need to go to Denver for a couple of minutes.

Jesse: The drug game seems like

Brad: Yeah. I spoke with a friend of mine, Adam Creek. He, he’s Olympic gold medalist, lives in Canada. And he was telling me that over the summer, he experimented with LSD. It’s like LSD, dash M or something like that. It has like an extra molecule, which makes it a quote unquote, legal in Canada, but basically just more unregulated and it’s exactly the same thing. But he had positive things to say about it, too. So

Jesse: Yeah. I think it’s a, it’s definitely like a field worth exploring. And I mean, obviously you want to don’t abuse it. moderation, But, but if you do it responsibly, then go. You definitely have some benefits.

Brad: Yes, set, setting an intention. The three, the three things that you need to keep in mind. If you try something like that you need to be in a good set, a good setting, and have an intention going in and do your research. Don’t be a dummy and just assume your life is gonna change by yourself doing it like five feet from traffic on the interstate, you know? So, what would you say is the highest impact action that you’ve taken to improve your poker game?

Jesse: I think for a little bit there, I was stagnant. I’m just kind of, I was wondering like, this is what I want to do, and I wasn’t, when you’re not committed to something, you’re not going to take steps to improve it. So, I wasn’t studying for a little bit. I was just like, going through the motions of, you know, I’ll go and I’ll play certain modalities. I’ll place important moods, and then I will just go home and I’ll go through the motions without actually trying to improve myself, especially in this day and age in poker. If you’re not improving yourself, you’re getting left behind by people. Those other lots of other people out there studying, the recreational players are studying, everyone’s trying to get better. I mean, it’s a dog eat dog world out there. And, and yeah, I wasn’t, I was, I was getting a little bit. So then, you know, I was like, I just had to be asked myself if I want to keep playing poker as a career, then I’m gonna have the diamonds. So, you know, I started studying more, whether that be instructional videos. It could be solvers. It can be just talking with friends and going through different spots. But yeah, I started putting in more time. And I think the results have shown the last few years. I mean, I’m, I don’t want like huge tournament or anything, but I think I feel like poker overall is doing pretty well. Can’t complain. And I’ve been talking with friends especially and like, I feel like our games are all improving. And I’m so young, I don’t know how to answer that exactly right now. But yeah, I think, I’ve been basically putting in a lot more time studying for sure.

Brad: Right. And that’s, that’s a major benefit. Even when you grow complacent after you’ve had success in poker, that you still have these friends that you can talk to, and just having a network that’s available to help you, that, because basically, if somebody crushes a poker, and loves poker, then they like talking about it. Because that’s what kind of what their life is consumed with. So just having those guys to talk to is hugely beneficial.

Jesse: It is, definitely. And just to have say, even outside of the strategy aspect, just to have someone who’s going through the same stuff as you are in terms of the highs and the lows and ups and downs, you know, like we all have, we all know what it feels like to get crushed in the playing poker and, uh, you know, just having some camaraderie, that’s also very beneficial.

Brad: For sure. And also having people that you know, the brain despite being like 3% of our mass, consumes 25% of our daily energy. Like the brain is just a massive energy hog. And when you play cards all the time, you’re expending a shit ton of energy. I mean, there’s, you know, studies on people playing chess and tournaments and like, throughout the course of a tournament, losing 30 or 40 pounds, right, because they’re expending so much mental energy and that’s something that people overlook. You know, you play cards for five hours, you get done, and you’re like, oh, like my online poker, like my head hurts. I feel just like mush. And poker player.

Jesse: Yeah. I was just gonna say that’s actually something that I didn’t even like, give enough credit to until somewhat recently, is the amount of mental energy it takes on you. Like I would just, I would fly and then I would start to feel tired, my brain feels like mush. And I’d just be like, what are you doing to snap out of it? Just figure it out. And like, until like, somewhat recently, I guess I didn’t give enough respect to how much how drain you really is to your body overall, and how you can’t just snap out of it. You have to give it to you in respect for the proper care.

Brad: Yeah. You got to rejuvenate. You got to go to sleep. Take a nap. Get away. But yet non-poker players, like what do you, you just sat in a chair for five hours straight? Like how could you be tired? Like no. That’s not how it works, man. I’m doing other things.

Jesse: It definitely looks like a lot of stuff.

What is up you future star of poker? You. Coach Brad here and I just wanted to take a moment to let you know about PKC poker. If you’re sitting there wondering, why? Why is coach Brad promoting this PKC poker app thing? Allow me a moment to explain my why. Battling in cash games has been my livelihood for the past 15 years. It’s how I survive and put food on the table, which makes it imperative that I either test out or seek qualified opinions on all the poker platforms on the market. One juicy fine can mean the difference between a meh year and an amazing family vacation and why kind of year. With that said, I’ve tried almost all the major poker apps on the market to date. And despite the hype about amazingly juicy games, I’ve come away from the experience unsatisfied. I was just never able to find amazing success against seemingly weak competition. And in one specific case was getting outright destroyed by passive villains playing more than 50% of their hands. What the heck was going on? After many evenings sitting in the bathtub, wondering if I had lost it, I finally dug into the data and learn something that shouldn’t have been too surprising to you. These dudes were colluding and super using their pants off. So, I swore off those free money, decentralized devil apps and decided to go back to my more familiar streets of ignition. It was then that I was contacted by a good friend of mine, who turned out to be the Vice President of Worldwide Operations at PKC. Him and I had a long in-depth conversation about security, the ecosystem and the future direction of PKC, and he managed to convince me to give it a shot. That shot turned into an incredible six months with an hourly rate, that’s about five times what it would have been playing on any other US platform. As it turns out, I didn’t forget how to play. I just needed a level playing field to return to my crushing lights. I have no doubt that you, my community, my audience is going to play poker somewhere. And I want to be damn sure that you don’t go through the pain and frustration I felt by messing around with any poker app besides PKC. This is why promoting PKC is a no brainer. I love my community, and I want to put you in the best position to succeed at this game that we both love so much. So, if you’d like to join me in the streets of PKC simply head to and get your invite code to play. You must have an invite code and you must be 21 years of age or older. One more time that’s Best of luck and now on with the show.

Brad: I know that you’ve, I don’t want to say transitioned, but you’re playing more PLO these days. Is that correct?

Jesse: It is correct. Yeah, most of my play, most of my cash game plays is that feel of these days.

Brad: And for somebody that’s starting out playing poker, what game would you suggest they dive into and to get fully involved?

Jesse: I would still recommend that they jump into no limit hold’em, just because of the availability of the games, at a lot lower stakes. You’re not going to find that many PLO games you can probably find no limit hold’em game anywhere. Any casino that offers the poker room. 

And because of that is also gonna be a lot more weaker players. And also it builds just kind of fundamental just how poker works, you know, how people are thinking, people are acting. I mean they’re PLO and limit hold’em are very different games, but a lot some of the fundamentals, like position, like playing out of the blind, and stuff like that are still applied. So, I would still recommend you get a strong foundation and no limit hold’em before you branch out into other games.

Brad: Yeah. Also, there’s you know, pot odds and fold equity and all the other things that just overlap. So then why did you, why did you make the switch to PLO from no limit hold’em?

Jesse: Part of it was just a line to do something different. I was like no limit hold’em. I’ve been playing for so many years, it’s getting a little monotonous. Economists wanted to mix it up. And the next most common game spread was PLO, at least the stakes that I wanted to play. I mean, those other games like, I don’t know, that mix games take a long time to learn. And there were only spread like really high stakes or really low stakes PLO. There was some like, middling stakes, where you could like learn the game, figure it out. And, and it was still big bet poker, which I liked. I liked the like big bet poker is more fun, you can bluff people. So, I decided to you know, try it out for a little bit at first kind of just to break the monotony. And then I actually enjoyed it. It’s more fun. It’s a little more gambling. But it brings out like other people that are a little bit more gamble. He said, I think it’s a, I think it actually makes for a better cash game overall. As long as you have the right, was quite great group of people together. And but yeah, and it’s becoming more popular these days also, which so I want to have an option to be able to play in whichever game I wanted to play, whichever game seemed best at the time. So yeah, I think it’d be a good skill to learn and it’s pretty fun.

Brad: And I would say that you’re probably particularly well suited for it because of your, your innate mental strength. Because like you said, it can be more gambling. The variance can be a little higher. So, on one side, people hate that aspect of it. But in the side, from this sense that you’re strong, you’re not going to go on tilt, you’re going to continue playing your A game kind of regardless of what happens that’s a major benefit versus playing against somebody who completely falls apart and continues playing and goes on tilt.

Jesse: Oh yeah, I would like to think so. I mean, there’s definitely a, it’s easier to tilt and feel.

Brad: Oh yeah, you don’t look at a Jack Deuce under the gun and thank god this is playable no matter how tilted you are. You look at a shitty hand in PLO, it starts looking pretty nice.

Jesse: Everything looks pretty reasonable.

Brad: Yeah, let’s look at the the 5,7. with a suited 8. Maybe.

Jesse: Maybe one time.

Brad: I’m one with this four months ago. So, what’s some common poker advice you hear that you completely disagree with?

Jesse: That I disagree with? Maybe being like, too conservative with like games that you play like I, I don’t, I never recommend like taking too big of a risk. But I think if you actually want to move up, or like, do different things in poker than just play the same game you’re playing right now for the rest of your life. And even take some gamble, some shots, you know, like, you see a good spot, go after it. I mean, I’m not saying play with your rent money or anything like that, but just be, maybe just be a little bit less risk averse in some spots, and a lot of people are. And just but up to a reasonable extent where if you lose, you can go back and kind of grind it back.

Brad: Yeah. Not, not, don’t take a shot. Like where you have four buy-ins, versus your, your regular stake. You know, you can take a shot move up in a game that looks really good. Lose, you know, four or five by ends, and then move back down. But.

Jesse: Yeah. It sucks. But I mean, I think it’s a, it’s something if you want to like change. If you want to move up and vote for think something you have to at some point.

Brad: Yeah. You do have to take the risk and get out of your comfort zone. And like we said, don’t go broke. Don’t be an idiot. But it can take a man at manageable risk, right? Looking, looking back from the guy, like you said, eight years ago, is there any wisdom that you’ve learned from living in LA, playing the live scene, that you would give to that kid that moved to LA right at the end of Black Friday?

Jesse: Maybe just kind of just being more in the moment. Be more trying to be more present, which is something I still struggle with. I still struggle with being present sometimes and being a moment, but like, I always tell him, just the more I appreciate what you have, you like extremely fortunate to be in the situation. Living in this great city, playing a card game for your living. And also, just don’t let things bother you as much. I think definitely let the small swings, whether it’s poker swings or some other frustrations in life gets me more back then. And then. So yeah, I’ll tell them to see the big picture a little bit more. And also, you know, don’t beat yourself up over, over maybe the lack of the fulfillment aspect, kinda where I was always struggling with, what am I contributing to the world? You know, like, yeah, there is that aspect of it. And it’s not something you should completely overlook. But at the same time, we’re such a small blip in the history, in the history of the humanity, universe, we’re gonna look at it and say, you know, don’t beat yourself over too much. As long as you’re doing what you think is, best doing the best you can, be the best person you can, and just appreciate life and be present. That’s what I would tell myself eight years ago.

Brad: Savor it. Savor the journey.

Jesse: Savor the journey. Most the games were a lot better than some fun. Play a lot more.

Brad: Get off your ass man. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about either poker tournaments or cash games what would it be?

Jesse: Cash games, I mean I think you better to create more action. I think, I think they’re trending in the right direction, like a lot of cash games now have an anti or big blind anti, some sort of that just create more action. And I think like a lot of the reason some of these Olympic Games have dried up is just doing getting like slow, everyone’s just playing, everyone wants to try and outdo each other as a problem. I’m not saying the wildest player in the world by any means, but I think like anti you just liven up the game, creates obviously creates more action, forces you to play more hands. So as far as cash games go, I think that’s a change that we better, that’s also, is becoming, is coming into play and becoming more popular. As far as tournaments, I think, I think the changes that people are making are better like the big bloody idea that’s is pretty common in most tournaments now. I think is a huge improvement. Saves a lot of time. The recreational player someone sit there and watch a dealer make change every, every single hand for two minutes on.

Brad: No fighting over.

Jesse: Yeah. Less fighting over who posted, was the prologue.

Brad: Prologue has come up twice in this conversation now but yeah. Fist fight over an anti.

Jesse: He’s good. I actually was on the basketball team with him like a year or two ago though. I didn’t bring that up. He’s a good guy.

Brad: Your accumulated wisdom in your journey yourself, what would you like to share with folks that you know, they’re hell bent on realizing their poker dreams?

Jesse: I would like to, see what I like to share. It’s a lot of work. It’s not all just funding games. I mean, and you know, most people I think realize that to this point if they’re like trying to seriously go and poker player but it really is a lot of work. You have to take your risk seriously. You have to put in the time to study. It’s time just to play, there’s plenty of things you can’t learn just by watching videos. You have to put in like, the effort, and you’re gonna have to be honest with yourself about how much you’re gonna make. I mean, or how much time you have to put in. You can’t just go and spend a bunch of money every night. I mean, some people get in if they’re winning enough, but the average person getting into poker isn’t getting people to go and buy expensive dinners every night, go stay in expensive hotels every night. You’re gonna have to, you have to be honest with yourself. And if it’s something that you’re still interested in, and you think, you think it’s better than your other prospects, you just really don’t want to have anyone to respond to no boss. I’m like that. And it’s definitely not impossible. But I would say take a strong look at it before delving into it.

Brad: Agreed. It’s way harder, from the inside, looking out than people think it is. And they, it’s very easy to become delusional in your prospects as far as like a yearly earn, right? And it’s really easy to be lazy to write. I mean, let’s, let’s be blunt. You mentioned earlier, the flexibility, the autonomy that we have as poker players, it’s a double-edged sword, because it’s great not having a boss, but you also don’t have anybody telling you hey, man, get your ass in gear, like you need to study, you need to go play.

Jesse: Yeah.

Brad: So being able to be responsible.

Jesse: Yeah, and some people perform better when they have some structure. Somebody like telling them where they have to be at some time. And I mean, I’m not immune to that, like so. I like some structure in my life. Like, it’s good to have like some schedule, some reasonable schedule, maybe not like a single day, but having a routine is pretty big for me. Otherwise, I’ll just kind of fall off and start. I don’t know, I won’t play for like, you know, a week straight or something. If I like fell, if I fall off the cliff and then, you know, those is also kind of why, these days I don’t play all night or anything like that anymore. I usually quit somewhat reasonable time. I like to have my mornings as kind of just a structure in life. Whereas maybe like when you and I are playing, like I would play go all hours in the morning somewhat, somewhat frequently, nothing like not every night, but and, but then my next days ruin. They lose all sense of time and structure. And overall being the long runs is one more so forth. Yes, structure has gone overboard.

Brad: I’ve turned into an old man over the last four years, like I’m in bed by 10PM. Up by 6:30. 

Jesse: Yeah.

Brad: Ready to rock and roll. And the only time that I’ve deviated from that in like the last three years, the only time was, I was in Cherokee playing a tournament and it went till you know, 12:30 or 1am. I found myself standing in line buying some freaking dope, Dunkin Donuts at 1:30 in the morning, and I’m like, what am I doing? What am I doing here? Like, they’re just completely miserable the whole next day, like just couldn’t get it together. So, I’m with you. Like, I thrive with some structure. I don’t want you know, somebody, I don’t want all of my time monopolized. Like, I do love the flexibility. That’s one of the reasons why I played poker, but I, I’ve learned that I do thrive when I have some sort of accountability and structure in my days. What’s your current big goal, as related to your poker career?

Jesse: I have a specific big goal right now. Like I think when I was first starting poker, my big goal was to like play the biggest stakes. I wanted to like, I saw the games running on ultimate bed doing a 15, 1500 and I was like, oh, I want to play that one day. But, you know, I played some, I don’t play that regularly now. But I played some reasonably big stakes in my life is points and I’d have played you know, some good tournament. So, I’ve never won like a major title, which would be cool. Like, like a World Series bracelet in WPT something like that. But, but I’m not like dead. I’m not heartbroken if I never win one. I mean, I don’t, I don’t travel a tournament circuit nearly as much as I used to. So, it’s not like I’m giving myself all the chances in the world. I only play a handful of those a year. But I mean, it’d be cool to win but I don’t think, I don’t know if I have a specific goal right now besides just kind of enjoying poker and enjoying life at the same time, and trying to be a trying to balance the two and happy medium. And just basically living my life.

Brad: I, that reminds me of a story about you playing the main event over like a four year stretch. You played every year. You never cashed. And like every year you made day three, right? Like.

Jesse: There was a there was a stretch where I made day three every year basically was like 100 often money every year. And actually, I still have never cashed them either over 10 over 11 which is pretty funny variance. Yeah. What can you do below?

Brad: Here basically, you’ve probably played for hours in the main event than anybody else without cashing at this point.

Jesse: They’ve got to be a pretty big favor to say. It’s pretty incredible.

Brad: Yeah, not, not something you really want on your resume, but it’s still pretty funny.

Jesse: Yeah. Pretty funny.

Brad: To me, I guess you’re laughing about it says funny to you, too.

Jesse:  Oh, it’s funny. It’s definitely funny.

Brad: What’s a project you’re working on now that’s near and dear to your heart? Or something you do on a regular basis, you know, you might have volunteering and stuff like that.

Jesse: Yeah, I’ve um, I picked up golf recently, which I know is not like the most giving back to the world. But I’m enjoying it. It’s a, it’s competitive. It goes well with poker. I have some other friends that also picked up golf recently. So, it’s, it’s something we try to improve on.

Brad: Good that you’re probably all in the same relative skill level too.

Jesse: It is cool. Yeah, actually, a lot of us are a group of friends I play with and we’re all pretty similar. So, it’s a good time to get out there. As far as some more fulfilling projects I’m working on. I’ve been trying to read on a fairly wide variety of things, everything pertaining from like books on mental health, which I read recently that we were talking about, through like some novels, some, some other like, also, I read recently, except books on society, like how we are a society. So you know, I’m trying to be a little bit more well-read than I used to be. Definitely. Still not a scholar or anything like that. But.

Brad: Who is?

Jesse: But, but trying to expand my expand my, I guess knowledge a little bit.

Brad: Yeah. Out of those books, or any book that you’ve read, like, if you could, if you could gift one to the Chasing Poker Greatness audience, what would you suggest? What would you gift?

Jesse: There was a book I read several years ago, called the Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Hite. And I’ve read a lot of books and stuff, this one’s still really stands out as one that resonated with me. I recommended it to many people. My friend Garrett, who many people might know, plays a lot of high stakes poker on streams. Also.

Brad: He made it on Survivor. Yeah.

Jesse: He made it on survivor.

Brad: For a day, which by the way, was the funniest episode of Survivor that I’ve ever seen. I don’t watch it, but that one specifically.

Jesse: Was definitely made for good TV. But, but no, I think that’s a that’s a very, very special book that resonated with me. And I recommend that to anybody for sure.

Brad: The Happiness Hypothesis.

Jesse: Yeah, by a psychologist named Jonathan Hite. And it sounds like title makes it sound like a self-help book like category but- but it’s really not. It’s more just about life perspective, like differently societal things, perspectives on the world. And, yeah, it’s a very good read,

I recommend.

Brad: These are my favorite kind of suggestions on a poker podcast books that don’t have anything to do with poker, but just increase your, improve your outlook on life. You know, there, there are multiple things you can do to improve at poker and not all of them involve sitting in front of a silly solver, putting a bunch of stuff in and waiting for it to spit an answer out, you know. We’ve touched on meditation, we’ve touched on physical fitness, you know, your mind goes where your body takes it. So being strong physically helps you with mental strength and being happy, I would say, helps you with your mental strength and helps you play poker well over extended periods of time.

Jesse: Oh, absolutely. It’s very difficult to play good poker when you’re irritated from something else in life. It easily bleeds through.

Brad: Oh, yeah. And magnify. Again, talk about something that like, magnifies or exaggerate. You know, if you’re a somewhat aggressive and shits going down in your life, all of a sudden, every spot looks like a good race. Okay, everything that are very marginal, you’re gonna lean towards aggression, way more than you otherwise would.

Jesse: Yeah, poker is tough enough as it is. To come in come into play, free to pre-tilted is not a winning strategy.

Brad: Yeah, it’s a recipe for disaster. You know, at the end of the day, and I know this is sort of a heavy question. But how would you like you know, your friends, that people that you interact with the poker community, how would you like them to, you know, think of Jessie Yaginuma?

Jesse: I think I would be happy if I just thought, they just thought that I was like, in generally a pretty good person. I mean, nothing super, super complicated. I’m sure I present myself to everyone like, in a positive way. I try to interact in a positive way and bring some, bring some happiness to both of our lives if possible. You know, I think I’ve mainly connected pretty well and most people I’ve met throughout my life. I mean, of course, you’re gonna, you’re gonna rub some people the wrong way, and you’re gonna connect much, much stronger with other people. But, but in general, I think if they just view me as someone who’s trying to do well, someone who doesn’t, doesn’t mean harm, just trying to have fun, and I try to impact everyone’s life in a positive way, then I’d be happy with me. I know I’m not knocking one out there like breaking any records on sports or breaks and having any crazy you know, theoretical physics breakthroughs or anything like that. But, you know, just want to be a simple person that brings some joy to the world.

Brad: And again, I can only speak from a sample size of one. But that’s certainly how I think of you. Just a good dude. A good dude that I was fortunate enough to cross paths with, in my own perfect journey.

Jesse: Thank you. I appreciate it. Likewise.

Brad: My pleasure, man, I appreciate that too. So where can the Chasing Poker Greatness audience find you on the inter webs, if you want to be found?

Jesse: They can find me if they want. I don’t post a whole lot these days. But I’m on Twitter @jesseyagz. I don’t have an Instagram so won’t find me there. But, yeah, I occasionally might post something. But you know, I’m not a whole, I don’t have a whole lot social media.

Brad: But off the, off the inter webs, we’ll say commerce casino right. That’s

a start.

Jesse: Yeah, yeah, you’ll probably find me play some cash games in commerce. You find me in several tournaments around the LA area. And if you’re there during the World Series of Poker, then you’ll probably find me out there.

Brad: Alright, man, well, let’s get together at the WSOP next year.

Jesse: For sure.

Brad: And this is you know, been a great joy having you on, having this conversation. Let’s do it again.

Jesse: Brad. Thanks for inviting, appreciate it. And I will definitely meet you again.

Brad: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Chasing Poker Greatness. If you haven’t yet subscribed to the show, please take a moment to do so on Apple podcasts or wherever your favorite place listen to podcast may be. And once again, I also wanted to let you know about PKC poker if you’re on the lookout for a new platform where the games are safe and secure and the action is amazing, head to to get your code and jump into the games. You must have a code to play as well as be 21 years of age or older. One final time that’s Thank you so much, and I’ll see you next time on Chasing Poker Greatness.

Thanks for reading this transcript of Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 003: Jesse Yaginuma: A World Class Poker Combatant

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