Tommy Angelo: Author Elements of Poker, World Class Poker Coach

Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 025

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My guest today has had a tremendous influence on the game of poker both online and off through his perspectives on game strategy, coaching techniques, mental health, and more.

My conversation today is with professional poker player, coach, and author, Tommy Angelo. 

Tommy has been playing poker professionally since the mid 80’s, preferring to play almost exclusively in live cash games. Having already accrued more than a decade of pro poker experience when most people were just beginning to discover and play the game, he quickly found himself with a successful coaching career as the popularity of poker began to grow and online games exploded. 

Still one of the most popular books among serious poker players, Tommy’s first book, Elements of Poker, was released in December of 2007

Since then he’s written four more books on poker and one on the topic of meditation — something he has practiced daily without missing a day for more than 15 years.

Tommy has also either written or regularly writes for many popular poker publications including Poker Digest,, Bluff Magazine, and PokerNews as well as being a regular poster on the 2+2 poker forums — where, by the way, he inadvertently became the creator of the name “the hijack” for the seat at the table just before the button and cutoff. 

He has coached some of the most well-known professional players in poker over the years (Including Phil Galfond, Jay Rosencrantz, and David Benefield) and is highly regarded among them for his unique way of looking at the game and his invaluable advice about how to deal with the tough mental aspects of playing cards for a living.

During our talk, you’ll hear countless bits of wisdom that will undoubtedly help guide you on your path to poker greatness. 

Thanks again for listening. And now…Mister Tommy Angelo on Chasing Poker Greatness. 

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Transcription of Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 025: Tommy Angelo

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Brad: Yo, what is happening. Welcome back to Chasing Poker Greatness, the podcast that takes you inside the greatest minds in poker. Their stories in their own words and their own voices. I’m your host, Brad Wilson and my guest today has had a tremendous influence on the game of poker both online and off through his perspectives on game strategy, coaching techniques, mental health, and more. My conversation today is with professional poker player, coach and author, Tommy Angelo. Tommy has been playing poker professionally since the mid-80s, preferring to play almost exclusively in live cash games. Having already accrued more than a decade of pro poker experience when most people were just beginning to discover and play the game, he quickly found himself with a successful coaching career as the popularity of poker began to grow, and online games exploded. still one of the most popular books among serious poker players, Tommy’s first book, Elements of Poker, was released in December of 2007. Since then, he’s written four more books on Poker and one more on the topic of meditation, something he has practiced daily without missing a day for more than 15 years. Tommy has also either written or regularly writes for many popular poker publications, including Poker Digest,, Bluff Magazine, and Poker News, as well as being a regular poster on the Two Plus Two Poker forums, where by the way, he inadvertently became the creator of the name, The Hijack for the seat at the table just before the button and cut off. He has coached some of the most well-known professional players in poker over the years and is highly regarded among them for his unique way of looking at the game and his invaluable advice about how to deal with the tough mental aspects that come with playing cards for a living. During our conversation, you’ll hear countless bits of wisdom that will undoubtedly help guide you on your path to poker greatness. Thank you once again. And now without any further ado, here is Mr. Tommy Angelo on Chasing Poker Greatness.

Brad: Tommy, my man, welcome. Welcome to the show. Good morning.

Tommy: Thank you. Good morning.

Brad: So, you’ve been around you know, you’ve, you’ve been in poker long before the money maker boom. I wanted to start out our talk by asking you about your transition from musician to poker player. What did that look like? What was the catalyst how that happened?

Tommy: Well, the catalyst was that I’ve been hooked on Poker since I was like 14, that’s when I started playing for money. And all during my 10 years as a musician in the 80s, I still, I played poker with my buddies. And I, there was one article in New Yorker magazine, my mother gave to me and it was about Doyle Brunson and all these guys and the beginning of the World Series of Poker, and I was just like, headed in my head my whole life. As soon as I ever heard of there being such a thing, as a professional poker player, I thought I might be one someday. And so then, the end of my music career happened in ’89 and ‘90, I developed a thing called temporary threshold shift, I was playing a country rock band, we were allowed us how we played six nights a week, five hours a night for years. And basically, I blew up my left ear, and I was wearing earplugs. And you know, one thing led to another. So, I left the music business and jumped right into poker full time. That was in 1990. And at that time, I was playing in a circuit of illegal home games in Columbus, Ohio. And that’s where I made my living for seven years, the first seven years of my poker career was in home games. And so, you’re asking about the transition. That was basically it. I ran into hearing problems, but I always had it in my mind that someday I would play poker for a living.

Brad: Right, right for the jump. Yeah. And it was just like, love at first sight. Hearing about cards.

Tommy: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I was raised in a household of games and puzzles. And, yeah, I mean, I was just recently writing up my very first time playing for money, but it was literally pennies and nickels at my buddy’s house. I was 14 years old. I was raised Catholic. I was like, I’m not going to gamble. You guys are all degenerates and all that. And then I, but I knew how to play poker. I played with my brothers as a kid just for funsies with chips, right? And just got hooked immediately. You know, that was it. And so, you know, when people ask me, why did I choose to be a professional poker player, I say, it chose me. I was so addicted to poker. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. I was just, you know, that’s all I wanted to do. So, I had to learn how to win, so that I could play poker all the time. That was really what exactly what happened.

Brad: Good thing, you weren’t born a billionaire.

Tommy: I never would have pursued it.

Brad: You never would have had to learn how to win. You could just lose forever. And

Tommy: Oh, yeah. That too.

Brad: How did your family and friends, what did they think? Were you married at the time of this transition? Because this is, you know, even a way different time than me in 2004. Like, I, when I decided that I wanted to try to be a professional poker player in 2004. I was working at Applebee’s and like, literally, people laughed in my face when I realized what I was doing. So, in the 90s, I have to imagine oh, you’re not crazy. Probably rough.

Tommy: Yeah, yeah, I’ve got a lot of stories. I’ve got a lot of stock lines that I would come up with for people. You know, like one of them, people say you know, what, what do you do about retirement and taxes and, and health insurance? And I would say well, taxes, I pay it. Health insurance. I buy it and retirement, retire from what? So anyway, I was married at the time when I made the move. It kind of happened voicing, no, I was not married. Yeah, I was with the woman who I did marry after I went pro but um, we were committed. And, and she had a daughter, you know, we’re not together anymore. But it was really rough. I mean, it was one meter extra rough. I mean, at least when you went Pro. It was at a time when wariness of poker was going up and, and the ability to get good, faster, was going up soon after you got it. Right. But back then it was like I my whole, I was not together at all. I mean, I moved so come to everything that was, right. So, I was barely holding it together.

Brad: What do you what do you mean by six?

Tommy: Oh, just terrible health habits. You know, drinking cocaine, pot, just lost in the whole gambling, gambling extravaganza. So, it wasn’t like I could like today, if I presented myself as I’m a professional poker player, they can look at me and they say, wow, this guy’s got his shit together. Right? I didn’t have it together at all back then. No.

Brad: I think you overestimate people. I think like even today, it’s so it’s such a rare thing. Like, you know, getting a haircut. And the hairdresser is like talking about, you know, making small talk. And like the response always is, you can make money doing that.

Tommy: Oh, yeah.

Brad: Like, that’s always the response. Like, I think like when you’re immersed in poker, especially you, you live in Vegas, right?

Tommy: No. Oakland.

Brad: Oh, okay. Yeah. Well, the Bay Area that that’s pretty good. Yeah, we got a good poker, poker spot, too. But yeah, like, that’s people, people just still don’t know. It’s still, you know, fairly relatively small niche. And not many not. There’s not many professional poker players around. And number two, when I started, you know, there was supersystem. There was a theory of poker, supersystem was around in the 90s too, right? Like, did you get access to supersystem? Yeah, you know, there’s there still wasn’t like, a ton of training sites like card runners hadn’t come around yet. So, it was still, you know, I think, you know, I leaned on my friends. And I was very, very, very lucky and blessed that I had of an extremely talented friend that helped push me forward. And I think that without that, yeah, it would have been a massive, massive, massive struggle.

Tommy: Oh, it’s critical. I mean, the, the first V book that changed the world was called Golden for Advanced players, boys queens came out with an 87. You know, that was the first book ever that had a starting handcart or anything like that. And then their books in the 90s were basically all we had, and to work with and each other, you know, buddies, right. That was, that was the only education available? Yeah, so much different time. But the other thing is, because there was so little education, the games were way softer.

Brad: Oh, yeah. That’s, that’s the alternative. Right? Like, yeah, it’s great. It’s great having the knowledge and the education. But the downside is everybody has the knowledge and the education. And so, it makes the games tougher.

Tommy: And really, in the 90s, you could say it was sort of like a golden age of professional poker in that. Even though the whole poker world was much smaller. The ratio of people who are accessing good information was it was like almost nobody relative to the number of people playing. And so, if you got your hands on these books and you studied and work on your game, you’re going to have a big edge right away.

Brad: And I’m assuming you read those books. You dove into the studying right away. 

Tommy: Oh yeah. Oh, yeah. Constantly. Yes. From I started really studying poker hard in 87. Turn pro 90.

Brad: Did you have success when you turn pro? Like directly after? Were there any struggles? What did that look like? Besides the cocaine.

Tommy: My definition of success is solvent. Okay, that’s it, survive. Brian. Yes, I was too primly successful and that I did survive

Brad: And take care of the people that you love. I think that

Tommy: Exactly, exactly. The way I put it is I never had to pass up a concert, because of the ticket price. That’s my definition of success.

Brad: Never have to look at the menu, the price

Tommy: I wouldn’t go that far.

Brad: It depends to where you’re eating, I guess, never have to look at the price of gas. I think that’s, that’s the thing I don’t think I’ve ever looked at is like the price of gas, right? I just buy gas and go on. So, you were successful. And then

Tommy: The next, the next chapter was

Brad: Yeah, the next chapter.

Tommy: The next chapter was 97 is when I moved to California. And now all of a sudden, I had 24-hour access to mid stakes and high stakes games all the time. So, it was kind of like the first seven years I survived in Ohio. And during that period, I traveled a lot to Vegas, Atlantic City, and I learned during those trips, a great, great deal playing against real pros. Right. And then when I moved to California in 1997, that was that was when I really jumped off the cliff. Now I was away from friends, family, I came out here totally alone, the only person who I heard was my brother. And, and I had 24-hour access and I had discipline issues still playing too long and all that right. So that was really dangerous. And I, and I, did fine. You know, so that was so for 97 it told no limit got to the casinos. It was limit hold’em all the time, except here’s a kind of a neat little thing a lot of people don’t know in the Bay Area. Okay, so no limit hold’em moved in the online around 2001, moved into the poker rooms around ‘04 will say, okay, where people started playing cash games and legal poker in the Bay Area. It’s been here since 1987, since California legalized hold’em, and that’s because there’s one casino called artichoke Joe’s that was already playing no limit draw. And they just adapted it to no limit hold’em, not because it was no limit hold’em. I mean, it’s a great story. Yeah, I grew all the way up around the Bay Area. So, there’s been people grinding out for a living at no limit hold’em here since ‘87. So, when I got here in ‘97, I was able to learn from a handful of really great pros. Okay.

Brad: That’s a big edge.

Tommy: Yeah. And that was six years before the no limit craze. So that’s why when no limit to a cold and I started coaching in 2004. I was ahead of the game, I was already able to coach them at that time.

Brad: Yeah, you had had it like a decade of experience.

Tommy: Yeah. No.

Brad: I mean, when I when I started playing on the boat in 2005, I was barely 21 years old. And they didn’t spread no limit. Like I started playing 5-10 and 10-20 limit because they didn’t spread no limit cash games. And this was you know, 2005. Yeah. So, it is funny. Most people can’t imagine going into a card room and then not spreading no limit hold’em. But well, that’s just that’s just how it was even the online games where they were like 25 big blinds buy in on party poker. It was like, yeah, you can, is it to one two, game and max buy ins like 50 bucks. Like, you can’t even really imagine the landscape that it was back then. But that’s just how it was.

Tommy: It changed so fast.

Brad: So, you’re, you had discipline issues. And by that, putting in too many hours, when you moved out to the Bay Area, it was that, you know, the, did you get divorced, and then move out? Was that the, the transition there?

Tommy: Yeah. Tammy and I split up around 2004. So, and then the next three years in Columbus, I played and I also ran games.

Brad: In 2004?

Tommy: I’m sorry, I’m sorry. 1994.

Brad: Okay.

Tommy: 91, when Tammy and I broke up and then from 1994 to 1997, I was playing in Columbus, but also ran games. And that’s how I built up enough of a bank called actually moved to California with you know, 50 grand, like 20-40 limit. So, yeah, I came out here I was totally, totally single. And then so the next five years or so was really the prime part of my career where I was just me and my buddies and I was doing nothing but playing poker, writing about poker. And that’s it. And then Kathleen and I met in 2001. We didn’t get married till 2005. And then the, you know, we’re going to be talking about performance and all that stuff, right? This is the real big turnaround for me was on August 18, 2003.

Brad: Why do you remember the date?

Tommy: Anybody who quits drinking one, one time always knows the date and have. And that’s what we’re talking about. So, I didn’t even have an alcohol problem. Until about a year before I quit drinking. I developed a thing called late onset alcoholism. So, I had a lot of experience of drinking from playing country bands in my time family, but I never drank alone. I didn’t even drink when I played poker, like ever. I smoked a lot of pot.

Brad: Why did you start drinking?

Tommy: That, there’s conceivable reasons, there’s ways to explain that, well, actually, I’m going to just blame it on online poker.

Brad: Okay.

Tommy: Because I ended up quitting online poker and drinking on the same day, they sort of developed. And I wasn’t the only one who developed this weird sort of, you know, mild buzz drinking habit while playing online poker. Anyway, that’s what happened. I quit it all at the same time, because I got a DUI. But the, but part of this backstory that’s relevant is that that was, I decided, right then just start doing yoga every day. And you know, I wasn’t just going to quit drinking, I wanted to really get my life together. And I’ve been in California long enough. At that point, I’m an Ohio boy, all the yoga stuff seemed kind of crazy when I got here. But after six years, and knowing so many people that were into better mental and physical health, I was like, hey, you know, I want that. And so I decided to start doing yoga every day. And when I go into something, I research heavily. So, I started reading everything. And that it led me immediately to sitting meditation, formal sitting meditation, the Buddha’s version, okay, I’d never heard of such a thing. As soon as I started doing yoga, every day, after about a week, I realized, okay, I have to never skip a day, ever. We’ll talk about that coming up. But I knew that because I had quit, started all kinds of things over the years, cigarettes and whatever else, right? So, when I started reading about sitting meditation, I was like, holy shit, this is the grandpa of meditation, right? This was like, the ultimate version. That’s, that’s how it seemed to me. So, I was like, I’m going to do this. So, I learned how to do it. And I started doing it. About a month after I started doing yoga, and I haven’t missed a day, since, 15 years, I see somebody coming in, like their looks just like our cat.

Brad: Yeah. Always wantingm always wanting to get involved in the show.

Tommy: So, it was only you know, I was already 45 I’d already bounced along the bottom enough. And I knew that once I started doing this practice, I was like, this is it I like to do is never drink again. And I’ll do my sitting meditation every day. And, and things are going to get a lot, lot better. And, and that’s exactly what happened. So, you know, my whole coaching business, my whole writing business, none of that would have happened, had I not started meditating.

Brad: And how did you hold yourself accountable to meditating and doing yoga every single day? Because I know, I know enough about performance to know that accountability is, so self-discipline is a very hard thing. Pretty much a crappy way to get things done. So how did you, how did what system of accountability did you use to not miss any days? 

Tommy: We could spend the rest of the interview ask, answering that question. So, I, I’ve written five books for them, or poker books. One of them is a book about meditation. And the title was called Dailyness. And the subtitle is How to Sustain a Meditation Practice. And so, I’ve worked with a lot of coach poker players who were beginning meditators, and who started and stopped, and wanted to keep going. So, I have a great deal of experience with the whole act of starting and stopping things that we want to do every day. Like, let’s say, we’re trying to lose weight and whatever, or quit smoking cigarettes, okay.

Brad: Go to the gym, get fit.

Tommy: Exactly, whatever it is, or some, maybe you want to do that three times a week, go to the gym, but then you go on vacation, and you miss a week, and then you miss another week, and two months goes by and you’re beating yourself up. And this is the cycle, right? Because I’ve been through that cycle so many times and various things. I was like, okay, this is the time I’m going to end the cycle forever. Never going to go through that again. I just had enough of that pam Pratik crying telling you about it. Right. And so, the whole gist of the book dailiness and the concept of Dailyness is that you take the option away. One of the lines in the book is, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s about meditation or anything you want to do every day. You know, I didn’t know how do that a year ago, but I practice harmonica every day. Right? So, if this one line, I don’t have to decide if today is going to be a day I meditate, that decision is gone. Right? It’s just not an option. So, I basically make it like a life or death thing.

Brad: You burn the boats. That’s a, I think it was Hernando Cortez, they were coming to North America. And you know, they’re, they’re explorers, and they were going to go to war and they were severely outnumbered. And his, his crew, his soldiers were feeling very anxious about the battle, and he didn’t think they were going to go through so at night, he burned the boats.

Tommy: Right.

Brad: So, they can’t go back home. They have no choice now. But to push forward.

Tommy: Yes, exactly. Yeah. And so, so what I realized was the, I what I did was right from the beginning, I strategized for what am I going to do if I have a call? What am I going to do if I have to go to an uncle’s funeral? And I’m going to be there depressed for four days How am I going to maintain my practice? And that was that kind of shows you the level of priority it was. I realize is like, this is it. You know, this is my one shot. I was with Kathleen, I mean, that was a big part of it. You know, when I coach guys, when we talk about some of these things, they’re like, yeah, yeah, but I don’t really, don’t have a fire inside, I was really lucky to have sort of like a pot of gold hanging in front of me, which was if I just hold my shit together now, my love relationship with the woman who’s now my wife was so awesome. There was like, I can’t fuck this. I fucked up so many in the past, not this time. You know, so I was extra motivated,

Brad: Gets it. Basically, I’m a broken record on this podcast now talking about emotional goals. But that’s an emotional goal, an emotional driver behind the behavior. A lot of times you say, you know, poker players, especially, I want to make more money, I want to increase my hourly rate. But that’s not an emotional goal. The emotional goal is what can you do with that money? How does it change your life? How do you, can you send your children to college? Can you know all of these things that are behind the money? Like those are healthy and emotional goals and maintaining a relationship with the love of your life is of course, the most emotional goal that you can you can come up with, I think.

Tommy: Yeah, we’re true.

Brad: So, how did the meditation specifically, how did that affect your poker game?

Tommy: It made me well, the short version is it made me calmer and more focused. Because meditation is training at focusing. So, if you’re sitting there trying to count to 10 breaths, and you get to four, and you lose track, and you realize you’re thinking and then you start over at one, that is training at focusing, no different than lifting weights, if you do that 100,000 times, you’re going to get really, really good at focusing. And so, I used, and by focusing, I mean, paying attention to the game.

Brad: Awareness.

Tommy: You know, knowing what every knowing every single thing that’s happened in the game, every little move.

Brad: And not, not just in the game, but and this, this comes into play I’m sure, we’re, especially with your coaching, and the mental game side of it, but also having an awareness of how you feel on the inside and awareness of your emotions in real time.

Tommy: Absolutely, yeah.

Brad: Valuable to poker players.

Tommy: While I was at getting that.

Brad: Sorry, sorry.

Tommy: What I mean, there’s a number of specific ways that meditation has improved my poker game. One of them is just the ability to just watch the game and not be tempted to go to my phone and watch whatever. Okay, just focusing. Then the other one is just calmness, reestablishing a state of calm. And the way I do that is I, I sit up straight before every single hand, I take a mindful breath, and I placed my hands mindfully on the table, and I have my feet flat on the floor. So, this is how I approach every single poker hand of my life. Right? That’s quite a bit different than this, you know? I mean, now, now it took me probably 10 years of training at the table after I started meditating to get through I was this consistent. But, but my effort all the time, every time I went to play was I want to meditate more at the table. By meditating, I mean, being aware of whether I’m breathing in or out, that’s it, nothing else and sitting straight. And so, all of that goes back to what you were saying awareness of my own thing, okay. So, but it takes the posture and the breathing to create that little wedge of awareness, that it then allows me to actually witness my own pain and joy. You can’t just decide you’re going to do it. There has to be some almost like a physical mechanism to allow it to happen. The physical neck mechanism is the body awareness. This is how it works for me and then, so I just lost, you know, I just flopped a set, and the guy spiked the two out on the river to beat me with the bigger set, I just lost my stat, that’s I can do all that self-conscious checking in with my own mindset, like over and over and over and over, right. And so, the sheer repetition of doing that, over these last 16 years since I started meditating at the table, it, that was part of it. Then, it also allowed me to practice specific, plugging specific leaks, I’ll give you an example. So, one of my leaks was let’s say, I had played a really good session. And, and I’ve been carded for about an hour, and I’m going to be leaving in about half an hour. And I’m like, you know, I kind of deserve a little action. Right? You know, I really, I really would like to see one more decent flop return or, you know, have one more little thrill, one more bit of fluctuation. And so, it used to be way worse than that. That’d be like, yeah, I’m going to jam it up. It’s last, I mean, depends on how far back you go.

Brad: Yeah.

Tommy: The last half hour always needed a little action in it if, if there hadn’t been enough before. And I knew this. So, then I started training consciously at my last lap. I would decide, okay, this is going to be my last lap. And I am going to play exactly as consistently tight before the flop right now, as I would if I just sat down the game. I call it lockdown mode, right. Because I like to start out really, really tight. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. This was a, this is an example of the type specific leak, I could plug with the training that was available because I had awareness of my mind. I could decide before I went to the casino, hey, every day this week, I’m going to practice work on that last half hour. So, I did that for years. So now when I play, I go to Vegas, I go for five days. And I play four 90 minutes sets per day, I play 90 minutes, I take a half hour break, go up to my room, do some stretching, come back down, play another 90 minutes then I take about a four hour break and eat, go visit a friend or take a nap or whatever. But I play two more 90-minute sets. It’s a six-hour day. That’s my poker day in Vegas, it doesn’t bear. It took a long time to get to that point.

Brad: Why 90 minutes specifically?

Tommy: Because I have found through experimentation that I start to lapse that two hours, you know, and so I don’t even want to come close to ever leaking, I don’t, my objective is to play my A plus game on every street of every game.

Brad: How did you come to the awareness? You start, you start slipping at the two-hour mark? Was it something you’re actively looking for?

Tommy: Yeah. No, research.

Brad: Keeping data on yourself, your, your life. 

Tommy: Exactly.

Brad: Your state of mind. I, this is another thing that I think almost nobody in the poker world does, create data points on when they start, you know, when their cognitive ability starts getting a little fuzzy. And I’ve spoken about this on the show to a lot of people too. And it’s you know, poker is a very mentally taxing game. And when you’re talking about you know, live poker, you’re playing one table at 35 hands an hour, where when you’re talking about online, a lot of times you’re playing for table, six tables, 10 tables, and getting you know, hundreds and hundreds of hands, sometimes 500 or 1000 hands an hour, and you just get fatigued. I used to beat myself up at, for only being able to play three hours of six tables of online poker. I would say like, you know, I can mentally remember telling myself, you’re weak. Why are you so weak, like Nananoko can go 12 hours a day at 10 tables, what’s with you, you can, you can go six hours maximum throughout multiple sessions at six tables. And I’ve just learned that you know, the brain consumes 25% of your body’s energy at 3% of the mass. It’s, it’s an energy hog. And when you’re that and when you’re focusing that intensely on a given thing. You burn calories, you get tired, like it’s just it’s, it’s the human condition. There’s all this research on chess players losing tons of weight over the course of like a week of intense concentration.

Tommy: I saw that.

Brad: Yeah, it’s like you don’t think about it. Like it’s like, I would get done with a session and my brain would feel like mush and people, nobody would understand. Like, you just sat there for three hours. How could you How could you be tired? But like, that’s why you know.

Tommy: Yeah, yeah.

Brad: So, after the yoga, the meditation, you decided to take some time off to write your book. Why, why did you take the time off? What, what, what was what spurred that decision?

Tommy: Well, I do it was really no choice. So, so this is even. So that was in 2006. Okay, so I know I’ve been meditating three years. But even at that time, I knew that up till then I had begun long range projects a number of times in my life and none of, none of them, I didn’t stick with it. Okay. And, and at any point, poker was able to, like, throw me into a funk, it was even the same before meditate.

Brad: What do you mean by three,

Tommy: Like a three- or four-day depression.

Brad: Like a, like a downswing?

Tommy: Yeah, I would go through a downswing. And then I would have a depression where I just wouldn’t talk to anybody or answer my door for three days. And that was like my routine, I do that like 20 times. And so, I knew that to write elements of poker, which was basically I had, you know, hundreds of pages of notes that I collected from a couple years of coaching. I knew that I had to not play poker during the entire time, because if I did, it would, I would risk that project ending, you know, I could go play poker get into a little bit of a funk. And I also knew at that time that poker used up the same creative energy as writing. And I, you know, so like, I was writing articles at that time, right. And so, I could be anyway, doesn’t matter how I figured that out.

Brad: Well, I mean, your brain’s depleted of energy, like it’s the creative process. I mean, you need energy. And when, when you use so much energy playing poker, it’s hard to do anything else.

Tommy: Right. But it happens even be the same, the same type energy that, so I just knew that the likelihood of the book coming into existence, if I didn’t play, quit playing poker was like 50-50, maybe higher, you know, I just I just knew I had to, right. And I at that time, I had never stopped playing poker, right. Never even stopped. So, and I also stopped coaching. Now, the only thing has happened there was at that point, I had been coaching a couple years, and I coached to a golf on the David Battlefield and a couple other heavy hitters. And they said some nice things about my coaching, and then I wrote Elements of Poker. And so right after that is when my coaching business just went crazy. And that’s what I was doing, like a three- or four-day program in Vegas, kind of a high price thing. And I was doing, I did one of those every three weeks for two years.

Brad: Wow.

Tommy: That was a really intense period. I even quit smoking pot during that period, because I was around a bunch of sharp young guys like you, and I got, I got to refocus.

Brad: I would, I want to go back. Because, you know, I think this is genius, coming up with a strategy to write the book in the first place and removing the obstacles or for having the foresight to notice the obstacles, which probably feeds into the meditation practice and the awareness. But there’s also the danger. And I’ve experienced these many times in my poker career, too. You know, you go into a funk when you lose, but there’s also the danger of winning, because when you’re winning a lot of money, it’s hard to find motivation to invest time into other projects. And so, you know, if you’re winning, like, whatever, you have a month, where you win, like 30 or $40,000. And you think, ah, why do I need to write this book that’s going to earn like fraction of this, like, I’m just going to play more poker. So, it’s another, like, by not playing, you avoid both sides of the equation that depression and, and the winning, but anyway, sorry, sorry to interrupt.

Tommy: Yeah, no, that’s fine. That’s a really good point. And you know, another thing was, I’ve really had three passions my whole life, which is writing games, and music, playing music. Okay. So, I’ve always been a writer, I’ve written songs and everything, and I take it very seriously. And so that was the other thing is I didn’t, I wanted to dedicate all of my energy to the writing itself. That was another, another part of the decision because I quit coaching too, just quit everything for basically for writing.

Brad: No income stream.

Tommy: Right, right. Well, you know, what they say is be behind every, every great writer is a spouse with money.

Brad: So, you’re married well, so that

Tommy: I’m definitely good at that.

Brad: That ease, ease the financial hardship?

Tommy: It created options, put it that way.

Brad: Oh, for sure.

Tommy: They weren’t there before.

Brad: Yeah, that I definitely believe that. So, so you’re, you decided to take the year off, you dive into writing. Tell me about, you know, the day that you finished the book, the release, all of these things and how it affected your coaching business? Because like you said it, it boomed.

Tommy: Well, it says in the book that one of the reasons I wrote the book was for coaching clients, because if they read it, so what was happening was, I had a lot of material I wanted to teach people that was new to them. But that is just material, it isn’t really coaching them on their game in their life. Right. So, I’ll give you an example reciprocally, which is one of the things concepts in to poker, which is the idea that you have to do something different than the other people do, or money won’t move. So, if we all play pocket aces the same way. Nobody actually, you’re not really making a profit pocket aces from that, through that lens. Okay? Anyway, to neat concept, you can apply it to tilt, you can apply it to everything.

Brad: Life.

Tommy: Yeah, so, so before on to poker, I would need to explain that, and then maybe we would have time to talk about it, you know, they are coming away with information, more information, and less actual coaching. So, when people can read the book first, and some of these ideas already in there, and they’ve already had a chance to practice them and do them, then when the coaching happens, it’s just coaching. It’s not less teaching more.

Brad: So, it’s a foundational element to it.

Tommy: Yeah. And oh, here’s the other thing, that’s a great vetting thing, this has worked out really well, which is that if somebody reads my, because I, you know, kind of a style as a writer, if it speaks to a person, then they’re more likely to, to get value from my coaching. If somebody reads my writing, and it’s just like, they think the jokes are ridiculous, or, you know, it’s kind of flaky, which is fine. Well, they’re not going to hire me. So, it’s kind of like a self-weeding process, it makes it more likely that the clients to hire

Brad: And that you’ll enjoy the experience

Tommy: And that too

Brad: For the coach, you know, the experience can be enjoyable or not enjoyable as well, depending on the students. So yeah, that, that, that’s also that’s a great benefit. The vetting process, if they read it, and they’re like, screw this guy. He’s not

Tommy: Yeah.

Brad: I don’t like him, then. Great. Like, it’s, it’s a win, win for both of you. They say they save the 10k for the coaching and you save the headache of dealing with somebody that you don’t like spending time with.

Tommy: Right. Yep.

Brad: So, 18 months, you, you get it? It’s released. Tell me about life after that.

Tommy: Yeah. Well, it was self-published, you know, which is, an, I am a publisher, and that is a business. I mean, that, I mean, there’s like so many learning curves, and so many things they’re doing all the time. So that was all brand new to me and completely terrifying.

Brad: Oh, I can imagine.

Tommy: My editor and a paradox, if anybody’s out there writing anything, look her up in a paradox. She’s edited at least seven or eight poker books, Ed Miller, not win. But she has been my, my muse and my guiding hand through all my writing career. So, she was instrumental, and then my wife helped tremendously. Just get to, that was tough. And I, you know, I had even though I’d been meditating three years, and I was learning a little bit about, you know, the nature of ego and the cause of pain and all that, I was still wrapped up in the egoic fears that all writers have when they’re releasing their first book. Right. And so that was kind of tumultuous, but then it came out. And

Brad: You don’t have those fears anymore? When you release?

Tommy: No.

Brad: No? No fears?

Tommy: They’re completely gone. Yeah.

Brad: Wow. That’s,

Tommy: We can talk about that. It’s been quite a journey.

Brad: Yeah, I believe it. That, that’s like, that’s something that doesn’t happen overnight, for sure.

Tommy: Yeah. But anyway, the book came out. And enough people said enough good things about it that my ego was fine. I didn’t go through everything.

Brad: Good thing.

Tommy: Yeah. But then, but then, you know, yeah, that’s, that’s basically it. It isn’t like it’s set the world on fire overnight. I mean, you know, self-publishing, marketing, I knew nothing about marketing. Yeah.

Brad: Yeah. It’s a different world. Like now there’s a lot of information on self-publishing, it’s relatively easy. Back then, you know, 12 years ago, I would assume there are lots of obstacles, lots of hurdles. Just there’s a mass there. I mean, there’s a massive learning curve for anything that you do, like creating a podcast, a YouTube channel, writing a book, whatever it is, there’s, you know, you look at, people look at entrepreneurship or solopreneur ship is this like, sexy ideal, and then when you get immersed in it, and you realize, I’ve got to be good at like a 160 different things.

Tommy: Yeah. Exactly.

Brad: That nobody even notices or cares about, like, but you just have to because you don’t have a choice.

Tommy: Right. It’s like I could, I could, I could probably name 50 fonts, just by I mean, just to give you an example. Yeah.

Brad: Tell me about a back-cover blurb, like the energy that it takes to write you know, just a back-cover blurb to a book.

Tommy: Yeah. It’s all good. You’re good. I love, I just love making stuff creating stuff, you know?

Brad: Yeah. Music. Music, games, writing. Like these are new

Tommy: Yeah. Technology makes it. Yeah, it’s you got to learn some technology. But once you learn how to learn the technology, and you realize, okay, I just got to learn this like Final Cut Pro, took me six months, but now I can dance around in there, you know, it’s great.

Brad: And a lot of times to, the you know, that’s the barrier to entry to start in these things, to starting a twitch stream or whatever it is that you want to start. All these struggles, all these times you want to punch your computer. And you, you have these self-doubt of I can’t do this, I don’t know if I can do this, this is too hard. This is what everybody goes through. And if you keep on going, that’s the barrier to entry. So, keep on fighting the fight.

Tommy: But I can give one piece of advice and that is dailiness, no matter how big the software is that you have to learn, if you just go in there for 20 minutes a day and do something. And then some days, you’ll be three hours a day. That’s the whole idea of dailiness is like, you don’t wait for the giant surges, they’ll come. But if you do it every single day, whatever it is, it will, some days will be off days, some days will be great days, but it doesn’t matter. You never go a week without growing in that direction that you want to go. So powerful.

Brad: Yeah, you will get better through reps.

Tommy: Yeah.

Brad: And yeah, that, that, to me is the real power of meditation, because I don’t think people think about focus and their emotions enough, and focus being like, a tangible thing that they can improve. And, you know, there’s tons of research now on meditation and just the, the myriad of health benefits. It’s like a lot laughable, right? It’s

Tommy: Yeah.

Brad: In comparison with lifting weights and taking care of yourself and physical exercise. And you don’t even need that data, you just need to do it.

Tommy: Exactly.

Brad: Just implemented it into your life. And then you start feeling the benefits. Like they’re, they’re very tangible, tangible benefits.

Tommy: So, I want to bring a couple aspects of meditation, a lot of it, the way meditations presented now to young folks is that, you know, you do this and you’re going to feel better. And, you know, you asked, like, why do you want to feel better? You know, well, maybe to make more money, or, you know, but ultimately, what it comes down to is reducing on happiness. That’s really, if you think about why we do anything, why we change anything, you know, why would somebody start to go on a diet? Ultimately, if you keep asking why that’s the reason, okay. The part of meditation that I think is really important to research as somebody who’s getting into this from the beginning, and I do think that all the major religions touch on the idea of compassion for all. And that we’re and, and that separation is an illusion, you know, that we’re actually are, you know, one.

Brad: Okay.

Tommy: Now, these ideas, I think, are important for a meditator to have another mix, because, and I was reminded this of what you said, it’s like, the awareness of our own thoughts. When we become, when we sit in meditation over and over, we become aware of that our mind is basically spinning all the time. And we see it and we learn to not even judge that, not even think there’s a problem with that. Right. Then what happens is, when you’re with somebody else, and they get angry at you, instead of thinking of them, as a person who’s being angry at you, what you see is some, you see their own happiness, you see that they’re sad, first, okay. So, a good example is like, if somebody if you’re walking on the street, and, and, and you don’t judge why they’re upset. So, so if they’re blaming you for something you didn’t even do, right, this is the transition from pain to non-pain, you can take that moment where somebody is attacking you directly for something you did, and you’re innocent. And you can turn that into a moment of non-suffering. It’s like, it really is like a miracle. And but it begins in your own mind, because you recognize that everyone has the same voice in their head. Okay, so the idea of this level of we’ll call it social early spiritual compassion, there doesn’t need to be a creator. This is just humans, being humans, you learn to recognize their anger, or their frustration, or whatever it is, as just another human mind doing what they do, which is suffering. And they wish things are different than they are. That’s a form of unhappiness. So, it’s like, if you see a kid riding down the bike, right down the street, he falls off as buy, or sell or a guy, you don’t go up, you rush to help immediately, because you see he’s in pain, there’s no thought. It’s just an instinctive compassionate reaction that humans have. You don’t go up and ask him, hey, are you a Trump supporter or not? Yeah, I mean, you don’t have to qualify it. There’s no judgment, you see the pain and you want to help. When you can see other humans like that, like at the poker table, and there’s the drunk asshole and see who’s giving you shit all night. And instead of reacting in the traditional way is like, okay, he’s throwing darts at my ego. My ego is going to throw darts back. Just saying, here’s the guy who’s hurting. What can I do to make his life better? Well, probably just not saying anything. That’s the only thing I can do, right? But you’re not doing it as passive resistance, you’re out of being an asshole, you’re just like, alright, this guy’s hurting, that’s okay. So that’s the deep level of compassion that can grow from a meditation practice that I don’t know how you can get it any other way, except just living a long time.

Brad: And, yeah, it’s having awareness of the suffering, noticing that this human being like, because the way people act on the outside is a reflection of how they feel on the inside. And so, having this awareness that somebody’s suffering in their life, and this is causing them to project onto you this anger. I think that just having that awareness, like you said, your first reaction is compassion for them instead of anger and defense, followed by offense, you know, let’s get even let’s, let’s take revenge, all of these things. Like it’s fundamentally understanding humans better and reacting, reacting in just a healthier, healthier way.

Tommy: You know, I know, I would hear these like, well, how do you get from here to there? And the analogy I heard, which really resonated with me was if you look at the guys like karate, and they chop blocks of wood, right, they don’t start out chopping. They start out with one, this thing. And then this big, and this big, and it’s, it’s that type of thing.

Brad: It’s lifting weights is the same, you know. My brother in law, you know, he can bench like 300 plus pounds, and I can’t, right? So, how do I get there? Like, I can’t just go to the gym and bench 300 pounds, like as 150 pound, five foot 10 guy, I have to start benching every day, and not every day. But you know, I have to create a practice where I get stronger and stronger and stronger over time. And like that, that’s the linear route to get there, you have to practice on it on a regular basis, that that’s, I mean, it’s just anyway.

Tommy: And that’s it, then if you can somehow actually get trained yourself to enjoy the act of exercising, then you got to make it.

Brad: Yeah.

Tommy: That’s what I’ve done. That’s what I did with my writing. I was like, I looked at every single thing that causes me stress with my writing, whatever it is, at every little level, and look at the stress itself. And not try to fix it by, by changing my habits necessarily. But, but I wanted it to get to where I would get up, you know, I get up at 4:30. I meditate and do yoga for an hour. And then I write from 5:30 to seven. That’s when we met this morning. And I can’t wait to jump out of bed in the morning and get to writing. But that’s because I tweaked it over and over and over. I’ve gotten rid of all the little obstacles that are in the way of me having a good time writing.

Brad: You made it a priority. You, write, prioritized it above

Tommy: All the stress reduction in my writing. Yes.

Brad: Which took time and practice. Through over many, many, many years.

Tommy: Yeah, back to the earlier point, right.

Brad: Right. This circles, circles back.

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Brad: What’s the most unexpected thing that’s come from doing business with folks in poker?

Tommy: Well, I didn’t expect to have so many of my clients turn into what I would call friends. I guess, man, that’s a tough one. I really, I just can’t really think of anything I didn’t expect. I guess I didn’t expect to survive as a poker player.

Brad: But here we are, 12 years. 12 years right after Elements of Poker. And I was, I did a YouTube live just two days ago with Ryan LaPlante, who brought you up with no prompting, didn’t know that I was interviewing you in two days. I think, you know, the longevity and the value over a decade. Like was that expected when you when you publish the book and put it out there?

Tommy: No, it wasn’t expected. But it was strategized to become possible. Okay, so I did write the book. And I wrote many of the words and many of the sentences with, with ever greenness in mind. And I wrote a lot of individual quotes that I thought could latch on. And so, one of the ways I market the book is I just made a bunch of slides. And I tweet the slides that are quotes from the book. So, I’m not, I’m not really I didn’t expect it to have this kind of life this long. But I’m not surprised. Because I didn’t write it with that intention that it might happen.

Brad: See this, that was a poor question on my part for, for the guy that plans and thinks through and like, you know, tries to look at every all the details, all the small details that maybe other people might, might overlook. What would you say, like if there’s one thing right now, there’s somebody that’s suffering, they struggle with their anger, they struggle with their tilt their emotions at the poker table? What’s the most high impact thing that human being can do to take a step towards reducing that right now?

Tommy: Meditation. I mean, is that a trick question?

Brad: No, it’s not a trick question? Where do they go to start meditating?

Tommy: Okay, here’s where they go. So, these are the two books I recommend. I mean, there’s a lot of good books out there. These are the two I recommend anybody getting started. One of them is by a Westerner, one of them was by mom. Okay. Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. And these are the two of the top, top meditation authors in the world. And then the other one is a book called The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thích Nhất Hạnh, was a Vietnamese monk who lives in France. I think that my book Dailyness, I wrote that specifically for people like us, you know, the premise of the book is that the reader doesn’t need convincing that meditation is a good idea. This is for people that just want to do it. Okay. And I kind of say, you know, if you want, if you need, actually take this part out, but there was a thing that said, you need convinced go do that somewhere else and come back. Okay. But I really, really think that that book I tried, you know, worked out a long time to boil it down. It’s only like 110 pages, to the real meatiest, most useful stuff. Anybody that wants to meditate, so it has the stuff in there about overcoming obstacles, but it also has, how to do and what to do when you sit. Okay, so now another thing that’s good that I, the guided apps, and I talked about that in the book. So, there’s my, headspace and calm. Have you heard of those?

Brad: Yeah, I have calm. I have a subscription.

Tommy: Okay. So, here’s my little spiel on that for somebody starting out, that’s a great way to go. Especially if you’re on the podcast generation that works for you. Right. However, I also would urge anyone who uses those to experiment with just sitting meditation. And it’s a drastically different experience, because it’s just you and your mind and body and there’s no human voices. You know, those apps are wonderful for what they do. It’s definitely way, way, way better to use those apps than to not do any meditation ball. But I think that a more well-rounded practice that will accelerate, accelerate your path further, you know. One analogy is like, guided apps are sort of like walking. You know, it’s great exercise, but you’re not going to build muscle, you know, to really build a focusing muscle. Hard. That’s what sitting meditation is. An analogy isn’t exactly right. But for, for our purpose. It’s true enough. You know, it’s just, it’s, it’s just harder, just sit there by yourself for 10 or 20 minutes with nothing else around and commit to doing that every day. However, because it’s harder, the impact is greater.

Brad: Like, like a lot of things in life, you know that the guided meditations give you an anchor, they keep talking about


Tommy: And one more thing for beginners, you do need input. You need to be reading messages about how to do meditation, about compassion, either Buddhist version, I mean, if you’re Jewish, or Catholic, or whatever, go to the spiritual teachings that you’re familiar with, and read the stuff that’s about being good to each other, you know, get those thoughts in there have that part of it. There’s a, if you want to look up the Buddhist version of Sure Generosity, it’s called Bodhisattva. You know, that’s a word. It’s a, it’s like a battle. And I’m not saying people would do that. But you need to be reading these ideas about compassion, as part of a healthy practice, to, to optimize, really, the time that you’re spending in sitting is to, is to put these thoughts in your mind. 

Brad: That you definitely want to maximize the results, right, like I think, with any endeavor, optimize the energy that you’re spending, and how can they get these inputs? Like, is there is there an app to or a, email newsletter? Where can one find something to just give them these daily inputs, these reminders?

Tommy: Oh, books, just read books. I know, what I’m talking about is, it, of course, I know my path really well and there, there are a lot of other books, there’s, there’s some great books by, by non-monks, you know, written for our types. But I find like another book by Thích Nhất Hạnh, called the Heart of Buddha’s Teaching. You know, once you find a couple of books that speak to you on these topics, then you can just reference those books over and over. You don’t have to keep reading new stuff. Because as your practice develops, each time you read them, you’ll get more out of them. That’s really, really true.

Brad: So, find a couple books and just reference those on a regular basis.

Tommy: Yeah, that’s, that’s a good way to go. Other, other people, just like with poker, that always want to read the newest latest book, it’s fine, but you just need fresh input coming in, it’s not hard to find,

Brad: I could very easily take us off track here, because meditation is something that it’s, it’s a big interest of mine. It’s, it’s a practice that I’ve, I’ve done on and off for the last four or five years and has made just a giant impact on my life. But I do want to I really, I really, really had this curiosity, this piece of me and I’m not I’m not sure the audience, audience is curious. But I’m curious if you’ve gone to a meditation retreat for any significant amount of time. And the results of that your experience there.

Tommy: You know, it’s kind of interesting, I haven’t. But I know a lot of people who have I know a lot about what goes on different retreats. And each one’s different, depending on all sorts of different things. Interestingly, I live, you know, I used to live over on the Peninsula, south of San Francisco, and I live in Oakland, which is right next to Berkeley. And so, this is, there’s a lot of meditation and yoga and, and stuff like that around here, centers, right. I’ve never been to one. I’ve never been to a group meditation sit even, even one time.

Brad: Why not?

Tommy: And well, it’s kind of interesting. It’s like, I have kind of a smartass answer to that, which is, you know, I haven’t clone, climbed Mount Everest, and nobody’s asked me why I haven’t done that, you know. So, there’s a lot of things I don’t do. I always feel like I don’t necessarily need to have a reason for not doing something but anyway.

Brad: You don’t.

Tommy: But I do have an answer.

Brad: Okay. The reason I asked is because like, you know, just, I find that in life, like experimentation, right? You, you can get something out of something that you don’t necessarily foresee. Like, if you go and you’re like, this was silly, why did I do this? Okay, did you lose nothing, right? But if the communal experience enhances it in some way, then you could potentially be missing out.

Tommy: Well, I strongly agree with what you said. So, it’s kind of a funny thing, because there have been many times over these last years. Well, I’ve even made a note, go to a meditation set, because I would tell myself, you know, even just as a researcher, as someone who teaches meditation, I’m obligated to go experience this for the sake of my clients, if nothing else, right, so I know what they’re going through. But for whatever reason, I never take my blood down there. And so maybe you don’t, maybe I don’t even know why but it isn’t an anxiety about going out. I can’t say one little side, okay. People that go to yoga classes. They, that is the exercise they go, they’re like 60 minutes long or 90 minutes long. I mean, it’s a workout, they have done their fatigue in to some extent. I do yoga and stretching all day every day, you know, a couple chunks a day, but then little bits all the time, you know, I go on a walk every day with incline. So, because my daily habits are so good, I really don’t need extra yoga, I don’t need to go out and do a class. No, it would be too much, it would actually throw my stuff out of bounds. I kind of feel that same way about going to a meditation center. Now that doesn’t mean, that doesn’t explain why I haven’t even gone one. I don’t

Brad: Do I need to tweet you, do we need to tweet at you every day, Tommy just go like, I tell you till you get it done. Just great. Nice. So, this this accountability.

Tommy: But, but, but my point was that I don’t need it for my own balance in life. So, the people that go to meditation retreats for seven days, are generally speaking, that aren’t people who come to where they, they feel like they really need something, you know, they’ve gotten kind of stressed or whatever, and they need some great release. That’s not true for all. I mean, a lot of them, it enhances their practice tremendously. They have a daily practice. And then they go to these retreats, which is like, you know, they’re like, you know, at a higher level than I am in terms of how much their practice is prioritized in their life. Mine’s pretty high. But there are people higher.

Brad: Yeah, when you when you talk about meditating without any, any input. That’s like the most hardcore version of that you could get is like a two-week silent meditation, retreat by yourself. 

Tommy: Now, I will say one thing. I do have one reason why I don’t go to retreats. And all I ever hear about people is they say how hard it is. You know, we talked to some friends not too long ago who have been to multiple retreats, they went to a five day when they came home on day three, they couldn’t handle it. And so, I’ve been to yoga classes, not a lot, but I’ve been in maybe seven or eight yoga classes over the years. And it’s like, it’s freaking hard, it hurts. It’s like I did I mean, the stuff that they make me do, right, is more strenuous than what I’m used to doing. You know, I’m 60 years old, I’ve evolved my, my yoga stuff to where it’s like perfect for me. So, I do yoga, and meditation, for one reason, to reduce on how to reduce my unhappiness and reduce the unhappiness around me. Well, if I go to yoga, and it hurts, that kind of goes against the plan. If I go to a meditation retreat, and I’m just sitting there and my knees are sore, and I’m starving to death, it’s like, that’s not reduction of suffering. Well, some people are going to do that. And it’s a pale, right? They go through the pain, you know, got to pain before you can gain. They go through the hardship of meditation retreat with the idea that they come home, and now they’re going to be better people. And that’s great. I just don’t need that, my past is fine. You’re doing home.

Brad: Right. And like, it’s goal centric, right? It’s the, it’s the why behind doing whatever you’re doing. Some people are doing yoga to get more fit. Yoga kicks the living crap out of me personally, no matter how much I’m in the gym and lifting weights, my wife will take me to a live yoga class and like, like, I remember that, one of the first time she’s like, yeah, let’s go to yoga in the park. I’m like, yeah, okay, sure. Like, I’m, I’m fit. I’ve been working out like, I’m strong. You know, I got there. And I was like, what on God’s earth did I get myself into like, it kicked my ass after like 20 minutes. But it’s just, it’s a whole different. It’s a whole different deal. Alright, so this is, my curiosity sated for now. 

Tommy: Okay.

Brad: I don’t know if my listeners will care about that segment, one iota. But like, it’s just very, it’s very interesting to me, because I’ve considered doing yoga retreats myself, or a meditation. I’ve never pulled the trigger. But I’m just wanting to get your thoughts. But. So, when you think about joy, in your career, helping poker players, what’s the first memory that comes to mind?

Tommy: Well, see, I’m not big on memories. But I mean, but it’s a recurring joy. I get it all the time. So, I’m doing half hour coaching by the half hour now. On Zoom, I started doing this two years ago, and go to, you can read all about it, I get great joy out of the coaching because it’s just really fun working with people who are excited about learning and improving and being part of their improvement.

Brad: Any, any, you know, recent, any recent memories of like folks trans, trans, transforming. 

Tommy: Yeah. So

Brad: Coming, coming to you at like point A, and then having a breakthrough ending at point B or C or D.

Tommy: Yeah, I could remember, you know, I mean, those are happening all the time, have one fellow who, he’s an attorney, had his own practice successful, and he’s like, 40-45 now and he’s like, I’ve done everything I can do. You know, in terms of accomplishment, in the attorney business, he goes on ready to move on, you know, I want to play poker for a living. And over the course of, you know, basically talking to him about once or twice a month for 14 months or whatever, he’s moving to another city where they got poker, and he’s going to be playing, he’s playing poker for right now. You know. And, and, I mean, it’s happened before. I’ve talked people out of playing poker for a good number of times.

Brad: Yeah, me too.

Tommy: But the, you know, the, the oh, man, that the, the transformations that people can go through? It’s like, a one guy recently. Do you ever use the words of the concept get permission, like when you’re coaching, like sometimes people, they tell you, they know exactly what they need and want to do, but they just needed somebody to tell give him permission to do it? You know, I

Brad: I don’t, I don’t use that phrasing. It’s good. It’s good.

Tommy: Yeah, it, this is a guy who is a coach himself. And, you know, he wanted to write a book, but he didn’t want his player tool, his own player pool to know that he was like, an actual teacher, because they think he’s still kind of a fish in the games. But he didn’t like the idea of trying to be dishonest. And like, like, why if they asked him about his coaching or whatever, you know. And basically, I gave him permission to stop lying about everything. And just tell the truth about everything all the time. And just go with that,

Brad: Which is great. Great.

Tommy: Oh, friggin happy right now.

Brad: Yeah, that’s great feedback.

Tommy: And he’s, he’s working on his book with my editor. It’s going to be awesome. And, and he’s just, he’s come out, it’s a form of coming out.

Brad: And, you know, I’ve had students that have done that, too. They’re like, you know, I don’t really want people to know that I’m professional, or, or whatever. And they tell stories when people ask them what they do. I’m like, dude, just say what you do. Like, who cares if they know that you play cards for a living? Like, I mean, for me, you know, I’m a 22-year-old white kid who’s shuffling chips, very proficiently, like I sit down at the table, wearing sweatpants. And like, the whole world knows that I didn’t just wander in here from you know, from, from the streets, like people pick up, people are not stupid, they pick up on the players that are playing very well, especially the good players and the recreational players, they don’t care. They don’t care if you play poker for a living or not. As a matter of fact, a lot of times it piques their interest and they start asking you questions. So, like, there’s really no benefit to deliberately masking that you play cards for a living. And there’s actually a lot of drawbacks to withholding that information just for yourself. And for everybody else too.

Tommy: Yup. I told him the story about how I went to all the same anxiety with elements poker, same stuff, right? And it’s like, when the guys in my 20-40 limit, who learned about the you know, at the casino, learn about the book, they’re like, okay, that’s cool. You kind of deserve this. You know, you’re one of the top players here, it’s all great. But the big, the high stakes, no limit game, in that game that I played in, I was just like, small cheats. And that’s where my ego is, right? I was like, these guys are going to think that I think I’m way better than I am, and this is the shit I went through, just like everybody does, right? But that’s how I’m able to tell this guy. You don’t need to do that. Just tell the truth.

Brad: Yeah. That’s great, that for anybody listening, that’s not telling the truth. Tell the truth. Just, just tell the truth.

Tommy: Little fingers. You don’t have to remember what you said.

Brad: You don’t have to. Yeah, you don’t have to remember what you said, you don’t have to wear a mask. You don’t have to be uncomfortable. And if you’re a compulsive liar, well, this, this podcast is, uh, this is not the scope. So. So when you think of pain in your career, helping poker players, what’s the first memory that comes to mind?

Tommy: I mean, paying for my life or just paying, helping.

Brad: Pain from your life. It could be pain from observation. You know, players, like the lawyer that’s playing poker for a living, folks that want to do something and then they can’t, or things fall apart. Just like as a coach. Just feel it, feeling that pain.

Tommy: Are you familiar with my book, Penguin’s Poker? Have you heard of that?

Brad: I’ve heard of it, but I have not read it.

Tommy: Okay. So, it’s a really long book. And most of it is, it’s fiction, and it’s set in a place called the Painless Poker Clinic, which is me. The fictional, fictional version of me teaching a class to seven poker players. And what they all have in common is they were beamed in magically Star Trek style at their moment of greatest pain. Okay. So, all and each one of them is architect archetypal player type. And each one of them has a story of what they were doing when they got beaten to the clip. So here are seven stories that I can talk to the, the most painful things poker players to go through. The next chapter two on chapter one, which is what I’m going to tell you about is the story, true story of my moment of greatest pain. And it’s about a hand I lost in, in St. Louis when I was in 1995. And I was traveling around the play. And it was a I’d gone down there three times, three different weekends and my, went down 3000 and doubled up to 6000. They’re playing pot limit Omaha. Pot limit Omaha game in 1995. Okay, was half Alma Hall and half hold. Now, but anyway, really bad players, really soft game. Even in my state, I had a big edge in this game. Went down the third trip of 10 grand. Ended up getting it all on the table because they were straddling the games, only 5-5 blinds but ended up being 5-5-10 really loose game. Got down to my last 1500 and I was going to be broke after you know, these three weeks, build it all the way back up to 11 grand in this session. And then with 15 minutes left to go before they kick you off the boat. Because this was at a boat right next to arch. There was only one other guy who by far the, by far the best player in the entire player pool. He had been crushed all night, he had 10 grand too. Everybody else had small stacks, I should have quit. And this hand came up. Where I have Ace, three of diamonds, he has six, seven of diamonds. And the board ends up being Deuce for five, eight of diamonds. So, I flop a straight flush wheel, these 2,3,4,5 a diamond, he flops, a flush with a straight flush draw. He’s got 4,5,6,7 and the eight of diamonds comes on the river. Now at this point I’ve got, so in this story, the way it’s written, it’s a story of pain. This is my story of greatest pain, right? And so, as a writer, I tried to summon up all the pain that I was feeling, all the different kinds. And one of them was, this is in the car ride on the way home. Okay, the only hand that that I could beat once he got strong on the river was the fourth nuts. Because I have a ace, five flash card. I have the wall flush. The only hand I could beat would be the king high flush. Right. And the betting on the river goes 1000 by, 1000 by him, 3000 by me, 10,000 by him. And I snapped call that last 7000 with the second straight flush, right, who wouldn’t call? And then immediately when I called I knew it was as beaten, but then the correct analysis is, this is the tightest player in the game. The most solid player in the game, he knows I’m a rock. He bet 1000 on the river, I made it 3000 on the river, he shut up. The only hand I can beat is a king high flush. Right? absolutely terrible.

Brad: But he’s never doing that.

Tommy: Yeah, not in a billion, billion years, right? Better chance that he misread his hand that

Brad: Yes. No, yeah, for sure.

Tommy: And, and so, but every kind of pain was there, deep ego pain, financial pain, the playing bad pain. You know, it was just all there. I don’t even have any idea. This is related to your question. But

Brad: No, this is a painful memory.

Tommy: Yeah, well, it’s so painful that when I was starting to write the book, I was like, you know, I was writing this stuff about healing pain, fixing pain. And I was like, you know what, I should just tell him a story that I’ve been hanging on to for all these years of my most greatest pain. So then when I started writing, um, there were times I was writing at cry.

Brad: What did you feel? Well, in that car ride home? What were the thoughts going through your head? What were you feeling?

Tommy: Suicide?

Brad: Really? 

Tommy: Yeah. So, the thing that made, the part that makes it kind of a little bit. Here’s what happened. It’s a seven-hour drive to get down there. It took me 22 hours to drive back. Because I kept pulling over and going to sleep. And I was wide awake. I had no idea why. I was so depressed. I just could not bear to be awake. My mind was saying you have to stop. You have to stop you have to either run into a light pole, going 100 miles an hour or go, go to sleep. I mean it hey, I can’t even imagine. It was bad. You know and, and it took me 22 hours to get home in that state, you know, I’d only been playing a few hours. I mean, I’m sorry. A couple days. I was playing stay a couple more days and all of a sudden, I’m in my car coming home. Anyway, yeah, all every type of poker pain was, was drawn on. During that. It was it was really brutal. And then you know, questioning, this was the big problem for me, because I would have success and not blow up my bank and have success and what my bank? So, the anxiety, and I’ve been through this with clients, the anxiety wasn’t, am I good enough to win? Or the game is beatable? It was like, am I ever going to not blow up my bankroll? Am I ever safe? You know, I might go a year where, okay, my bankroll goes from 20 grand up to 50 grand. I was, I felt like at any moment, I might just destroy the whole thing. And that in itself was a form of pain.

Brad: Yeah, just, just waiting for the other shoe to drop. In my conversation with Berkey, he talked about the same thing, building it up to 50k, going broke, building it up thinking in his mind, at what amount of money do I no longer have to worry about going broke? Like 500k goes to broke just that this cycle over and over and over again. And that’s a very, very powerful story. I’m very grateful that you shared it, especially the vulnerability of, you know, thinking about suicide, and this was ’97?

Tommy: ‘95.

Brad: ’95. So, you’d been in the game for eight years. At this point? Have you had any similar occurrences? Was that a catalyst to you know, was there a breakthrough made because of this pain?

Tommy: No. No.

Brad: Nothing?

Tommy: No. Say well, no, no, there were some more so. So, this is also in painless poker. So, is poker is basically a short chapter of memoir than the clinic, and more memoir, more clinic, more memoir, and then a really exciting last chapter. Okay. So, one of the memoir chapters talks about the period of life when I was still self-destructive. Before meditation, so this, so I’m playing in California, really crushing the 2014, 40-80 games at lucky chances. Okay, and, but then every once while I would get in self-destruct mode, so they had at 160 111 at a time, that’s where the very best players in the bay we’re playing the best limit hold’em players, right. And that was also out of my bankroll, and that scared by 40-80, a lot of times I would split axe with my buddy Alex, it was a little dicey at that time to play 48. But about once a year, I would go down and they want to one and blow five or 10 grand, playing at a 160 limit hold’em. I could do it down there, people didn’t know me. And it was like a slow bleed kind of weird tilt than I had. But somehow, I would find a way to lose, you know, a couple racks, which is, whatever, 10 Grand $20 chip. So that was going on in nine, you know, 1999, 2000, 2001, I was still, had a big, self-destructive, need, whatever you want to call it. 

Brad: Streak. Yeah.

Tommy: And I don’t think it was ever going to just stop until I started meditating, and fell in love and all that other good stuff. You know, I was really heading for a not a good life.

Brad: Not a good outcome, which, unfortunately, there are a lot of poker players that do meet that outcome that don’t find the love of their life.

Tommy: Well, I got to say, though, despite all that pain, that those years from, say, ‘97 to like, 2003 when I started meditating, those six years, had a great amount of joy in that. I mean, I was, I was living the life, I had plenty of bankroll the whole time. Really, you know, I was never really in jeopardy of going broke, and doing nothing but playing poker and hanging out with my buddies and going to concerts and, you know, really truly was a wonderful period except for the pain.

Brad: Okay, let’s do lightning round. Let’s, let’s do lightning round. And I’m glad, glad that you mentioned that too, because the experience always matters. Despite the results, I think people focus a lot on the pain of traveling, losing money. All I’ve done is lose this year, six months of straight losses.

Tommy: No.

Brad: And they we have this ability to forget the good conversations, the good food, the good experiences, the relationships gained this despite the monetary gain or loss. I think poker is much bigger than that, the experience of playing live is much bigger. When I lived in the commerce and was playing 60 hours a week of high stakes, no limit. My best memories are with my friends, period. They’re not taking down to 20k pot or 30k pot. The most valuable thing I gained was friendships. With you know, some people that have come on the show and one guy I consider to be my best friend in the world. So, ignore those lessons, ignore those experiences or minimize them at your own peril. Focus on them because they, they’re at the heart of the poker journey.

Tommy: Absolutely. Well said.

Brad: All right, let’s do lightning round.

Tommy: Okay.

Brad: What’s something you feel folks who are chasing their poker dreams don’t spend enough time thinking about?

Tommy: Bankroll.

Brad: What’s something you think they spent too much time thinking about?

Tommy: I can’t think of anything.

Brad: You heard it here first. Tommy, Tommy Angelo doesn’t spend much time thinking,

Tommy: I have resistance to making generalizations. I have no problem with bankroll. Yeah. Okay, next.

Brad: Yeah. Next. I think for me like variance, like the fear the fear variance, the fear of the other shoe dropping, I think is something people think way too much about. Just the simulations in their mind very bad things.

Tommy: Variance. Okay, variance. There you go. 

Brad: No coaching at all. What’s common poker advice you hear that you completely disagree with?

Tommy: You know, wish you would have any yesterday, asked me these yesterday. See, I’m a writer, I need time to process these.

Brad: Yeah, maybe, maybe I should have sent you the question list. Yeah, I haven’t had it.

Tommy: All right, what ask it again,

Brad: Some common poker advice you hear that you completely disagree with?

Tommy: You know, everything. When we make these statements about, okay, that’s a piece of advice, that is wrong. It’s like, what the hell does that even mean? You know, if one person heard that advice, and it made them play better, then its right, you know.

Brad: If 100 people heard it, and yeah, but if, if 100 people heard it, and it made 99 people play worse

Tommy: Then I have no data, you know, so I just don’t go into these.

Brad: Yeah, it’s opinion. It’s just your opinion, you’re allowed to have an opinion.

Tommy: No, actually, I don’t. I don’t make it consciously avoid opinions.

Brad: Consciously avoid opinions.

Tommy: Yeah.

Brad: All right. If you could erect a billboard that every poker player had to drive past before going to a casino, what would the billboard say?

Tommy: Just fold.

Brad: Just fold.

Tommy: That’s my Billboard.

Brad: And you want to expand any or no?

Tommy: No, no, it’s one of the messages that if you expand on it, it loses it, whatever.

Brad: There you go. Okay. That’s a good point. That’s a good point. A lot of opinion questions here. If you could wave a magic wand and change something about poker, what would it be?

Tommy: Well, I don’t know if this qualifies, but I’d like to just see more human decency. But I feel that way everywhere. So, I don’t know if it qualifies to poker.

Brad: Now. it definitely, it definitely qualifies. I am with you a 100%.

Tommy: And then lower rank. Let’s go with that.

Brad: I like the first answer. The second answer, like whatever. Of course, of course, we want lower rake. But also, we want people to be decent to one another. Because it’s a fellowship, we’re playing a game with, with, with each other, and

Tommy: We need each other to even have the game. Yeah, we actually come together as a team to create the game.

Brad: And enjoy the fellowship of sitting around a group of people, the camaraderie of playing cards and having good conversations. So, what’s your current big goal? What’s something you’re working on that’s near and dear to your heart?

Tommy: Okay, so I don’t set goals. What I do is I aim at targets.

Brad: All right.

Tommy: And, and right now, I don’t even have any targets. But I am involved in a huge project with Lee Jones, have you heard about this?

Brad: I have.

Tommy: Okay, poker simple, which is videos, right? So, I’ve sort of suspended my book writing energy, and I’m making videos. And we actually, it’s kind of amazing that we really don’t have a goal or objective with these videos, we are enjoying making them. And we don’t even have a plan to monetize them. I mean, I’m getting a little more coaching business than I used to, and selling a few more books. But that’s, you know, nothing.

Brad: What’s the purpose of them?

Tommy: Just to teach, because it’s really kind of hard to explain. Lee came up with this idea. He’s like, oh, you want to make videos? So, he we’ve known each other for a long time. So, he’s in the blog world, he knows Jaman, all, all those guys, right? That’s my experience with them. So, Lee’s original ideas, let’s do a vlog. And I was like, well, I’m never going to be putting up like what I had for lunch or that.

Brad: We meditated again for the 10,100 and 22nd time.

Tommy: Exactly. So when, you know, he lives down here, we started kicking around. We’re like, what, what if we did it no instructional video, you know, pick a small topic and we just talked about. So, one thing happened. One thing led to another and every stage, we just kept having fun with it. But we’re like, well, if we’re going to do this, we got to learn Final Cut Pro. I’m like, I’ve always wanted to learn how to make movies anyway. So, we’ve actually got to this point where we’ve got 10 videos out. And we don’t really have a, like, a legit reason for doing that. That could make sense, except that we’re just liking doing them. And we’re getting great feedback. People are coming back and saying this really helped. And I guess that really is the gratification of being a teacher. I’m realizing that I’m not making that much money at it, but I love doing it. So, it just must be that.

Brad: Impact, sharing wisdom, scaling, sharing wisdom on it on a scale that’s similar, similar to books. Yeah.

Tommy: Yes. Do you have any books?

Brad: I don’t. I own a bunch of books, though. I consume, I consume a lot of books.

Tommy: You’re consumer, okay.

Brad: That’s, that’s a project that is in the future, it’s likely going to be related to this podcast. Actually, it’ll be a sort of a compilation of the wisdom and the journeys and the lessons that have come from this doing this show, interviewing these amazing people that I’ve, that I’ve been fortunate enough to have come on. Alright, so Tommy, it’s been great having this conversation and getting to know you better. The final question is, where can the chasing poker greatness audience find you on the inter webs?

Tommy:, everything is there. And my coaching is there. My book is there, right at the top of the page is a link to the book or simple videos with Lee. And yeah, I don’t think there’s anything else to share. And I would just really encourage anybody, including you who now or will ever want to have a meditation practice to get my book Dailyness. It really is going to speak to poker players, it’s got our kind of logic.

Brad: By, by a poker player for poker players, I think. Thích Nhất Hạnh probably isn’t writing meditation, poker players, right. And by the way, don’t try to find Tommy at a meditation center in Oakland. That you’re drawing pretty dead there. My man, thank you for coming on. I appreciate it. Have a, an amazing rest of your day and I can’t wait to share this with the world

Tommy: I will enjoy it. Thanks. 

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 podcasts might 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.

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