In poker – like in life – it’s the blue-collar guys that keep the dream alive.
The modern game is heavily invested in the concept of celebrity. Become a millionaire, WSOP.com declares; Be extraordinary, urges PokerStars in a teaser trailer for a new documentary chronicling the career of Daniel Negreanu:
But the reality is that there can only be so many millionaires made; the number of true “Poker Legends” who have a place in the popular consciousness can be counted on one hand: Negreanu, Ivey, Hellmuth, Brunson.
Most people understand this. And yet, we play on. Why? Because at its core, the promise of poker is freedom. Freedom to make your own way in life; freedom to be your own boss.
That’s the beauty of one of the most underrated scenes from the iconic poker movie Rounders. A broke, desperate, Mikey lashes out at Joey Knish for not “having the stones” to chase celebrity. Knish has this response: “You did it to yourself. You had to put it all on the line for some Vegas pipe dream…I’m not playing for the thrill of victory here. I play for money; my kids eat.”
This – the life of what I call the “blue-collar player” – is where you will find the backbone of the poker world. I also believe it’s the most alluring and enduring aspect of the game.
Far from enjoying the trappings of celebrity, these players grind long hours at their local card room; they push the limits of poker theory from behind their computer screens.
For those with the right set of skills who are willing to put the work in, the trenches of poker can be anonymous, grueling…and yet oh so rewarding.
Pedro Gonclaves: From Customer Service Worker to Poker Professional Overnight
Pedro Gonclaves is one of these blue-collar players. After taking down his first 5-figure score in 2006 he quit his customer service job and went pro. He’s hasn’t looked back.
He was kind enough to spend some time talking about his life in poker. I asked him about having fun on the poker circuit, the skills required to be successful at poker, and most importantly, what it’s like to be your own boss.
What is the most exotic place poker has brought you to?
Definitely Barcelona. I’ve been there to play the EPT twice now and it’s a fantastic city. You can’t compare it to anything else. The beautiful beaches, marina, everything is crazy.
Everybody has a great time there. The party is the sickest thing…for the PokerStars party they rent out a piece of the beach. So you have a huge restaurant and a bar – and everything is free.
Everybody comes there; I even have a picture with Barry Greenstein.
What’s your best poker story either on or off the felt?
Poker people are pretty nerdy in general.
One time at the EPT Barcelona, I was sitting with a group of poker players at a bar and there were really beautiful women all around us.
No one looked at them.
Everyone was just talking about poker! I’m looking all around the whole time and going, “Oh man did you see her? What about her?” and they are answering me, “What? We were talking about this poker hand.”
I just remember thinking, “Oh my gosh; such beautiful weather and the women are so hot here…what are you guys doing?!”
What has allowed someone like Daniel Negreanu to have so much success?
He consistently keeps improving, that’s the biggest part.
He is very open minded; he’s not closed to new ideas. He actually embraces them and is very open to listening to new stuff.
Following ideas and allowing himself to make mistakes is his biggest strength. He allows himself to make mistakes. A lot of people will only do something if they know that it is 100% the best thing to do, except, you can never know that if you don’t try it first.
Is Poker Dead?
No. Everybody keeps saying that – for the last six years.
Poker is not dead. If you put in the time and the study, the effort, the focus, you are going to become good. There are so many people making insane mistakes even today, it’s incredible. It’s not even close to being dead.
How have you kept up as the game evolves?
There are two rules that I always follow and that I tell everybody to follow even though it’s really hard to do.
The first is that you have to be very open to new ideas. You cannot be the guy who says, “yeah I did this for the last three years and it worked so I’m going to keep doing this for the rest of my life.”
It’s just not going to work, because the game evolves. The moment you stop being open to new ideas is the moment you are going to die – be it in poker or anything else in life.
The second is to surround yourself with the best people possible, all the time. Whoever is the best player that you can be around – that’s the guy you have to talk to.
Invest as much as you can in your game.
What do you think are the top three skills that someone looking to get into poker should be focusing on?
I think the number one skill is for sure work ethic. Poker is a lot of work, but the good thing is that when you put in the work you get the rewards almost instantly.
This is the main thing that got me into poker; when I put in more time I get more reward. That’s not the same thing with a normal job – you can put in 50 hours a week and get the same salary you would have made working only 40 hours that week.
The second thing is you need to be constantly interested in the game. Sometimes, I see people confuse a lack of interest in poker with a fear of losing at the game…but they aren’t the same. The reality is if they were winning they would still be interested. Poker has variance based into it, and you have to be willing to stick with what you are doing in order to improve.
The third thing is you need to be very objective. You need to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be honest with yourself about your weaknesses. Most people lie to themselves every single day; a good poker player is honest with themselves and serious about self-improvement.
What would you say to someone arguing that poker is just like gambling at any other casino game?
When you Google Michael Jordan, what do you get? You get percentages. Percentages on free throws, 3-point shots, etc. etc.
Poker is the same thing; you have to put yourself in the best position you can to succeed. So just like Jordan in a basketball game, if a poker player finds themselves in a situation they don’t understand in-game, their job is to avoid it until they can study and improve in practice.
This is what you do in every single part of your life if you are smart. Go with the things you are good at, avoid the negatives, but constantly be studying so you can improve.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
This is my favorite question.
I could not imagine anything better than being your own boss. I can’t have someone telling me what to do; I just want to do it on my own. If I make mistakes, you have to be responsible for them. If you make something great, you are responsible for that to. That’s the huge upside of it.
But you have to be very objective. If something went wrong, don’t say “this is terrible,” just analyze it and learn.
The best thing about poker is that you have infinite time to do whatever you want to do. When you work for yourself and focus, you are able to increase your expected value and make more money. That allows you to have more time.
So you can constantly increase the time that you have to do the things you love, no matter what that might be.
How has coaching helped you in your process of evolving as a player?
To see the value of coaching all you need to do is the following experiment:
When you review a hand, record yourself talking about your thought process — whatever it is. Then, two days later, go back to what you recorded and listen to it again. You are going to be shocked at what you said; you are going to be wrong most of the time about what you even think that you are thinking while playing.
Both coaching and being coached is worth it because you get to talk about what you are thinking. Whenever you say something that makes no sense, someone is going to be aware of it so you can go back and correct it later.
You learn to better understand your thinking and express your thought process properly in your actual in-game play.
Tell me about your own coaching site
I’ve been coaching for a long time already. What I aim to do is to make your habits so strong that everything you don’t want to do becomes easier and more efficient. Once we do that, time begins to free up so that you can now spend it doing the things that you want to be doing.
There are things in life that you don’t want or like to do but they are necessary like doing your taxes, going to the gym, having the perfect nutrition and so on…
New Video: How was your grind? Check it out and laugh :) https://t.co/kXjWeGV9u5— Change the Why (@Change_the_Why) February 12, 2015
I like to talk about unpopular things; the popular stuff is only going to take you as far as everyone else goes. You should always be asking more successful people what they are doing that other’s aren’t, and then sticking with a steady plan to learn and improve.
I want to give you as much time as you want to do whatever you want, across all areas of life. You can check it out at changethewhy.com
How will coaching help a new player?
The biggest thing you can get from a coach is the little details. When you watch a training video you always tell yourself, “wow I would have done the same,” but the reality is that you wouldn’t.
When you have a coach they will tell you, “this little detail keeps you from having huge success.” Most of the time people are looking for the huge mistake – the huge thing that is going to evolve their game – but a really good coach searches for the little things.
For example, it only took me two sessions with one of my students to correct little things that allowed him to become the #1 ranked player in 180-man sit n’ go’s. He was doing everything right except for one little piece.
When that clicked…he just stopped the coaching and went on to be the #1 player at his stake and level.