Lee Davy sits down with the Australian poker player, James Obst, to talk about his personal battle with health problems, the people who inspire him the most in the world, and much, more.
James Obst is a professional poker player from Australia, who excels both live and online.
He recently won his third Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) title; to add to his World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP), and Turbo Championship of Online Poker (TCOOP), and has made two final tables at the 46th Annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) finishing fifth in the $10,000 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball (Limit), and sixth in the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed event.
During our interview Obst talks about his long-term health problems, the people who inspire him, his role models, and much more.
Give me the James Obst Elevator Speech
“I’ve read that an elevator speech is supposed to spark interest, so it won’t be a good one! I’m a poker player of about 10 years who, for the most part, has kept to himself more than most.”
“I was hooked by the prospect of playing a card game for significant money when introduced to the game by some of my chess-playing friends. I had a lot of fun the first day I learned the rules and had to follow up on it.”
I believe you have been having some health problems, could you expand upon that?
“It’s hard to know how much detail to go into, but yes I don’t mind discussing it. My issues mainly started on an overseas flight when I was 16, where I contracted some sort of bad infection on route. Thereafter I developed an autoimmune condition of the GI tract. I was given the standard treatment for the condition that involved steroids, which served to suppress the symptoms for a while, but resulted in recurrence and subsequent resistance to treatment. Surgery was recommended to remove the large intestine, which was badly inflamed. There were there operations in total and all manner of complications in recovery – I was told that typical recovery time was 3-7 days from each operation I had. I spent six months total in hospital and over 40 days after each. At the time there was no obvious explanation for why this was the case, and I later discovered that the nurses and even my surgeon believed I was faking pain to score more morphine (I wasn’t!), which at the end I experienced nasty withdrawal symptoms from – not recommended.
“I went from 65kg to 52kg during this period and for years after did everything ‘wrong’ – to encourage my health to keep declining. I ate shockingly and was consumed by chronic stress. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the medical knowledge yet to understand what any of this was doing to my body. For a few years I was trying hard to improve my habits to gain some health back, but nothing really got better. It didn’t matter how many mainstream doctors or nutritionists I saw, no changes noticeably improved things. It remained a challenge to stay awake towards the end of poker sessions and lasting more than two or three minutes of high-intensity exercise without significant rest wasn’t possible.
“In late 2013, I had been getting personal training and seeing a tennis coach three days a week for many months, and was invited by a friend to play a match for his club tennis team. I’d done the same about a year prior – that time it was a total embarrassment, the opposition team was chastising me for taking so long between points, thinking my heaving for air was some sort of act or game I was playing. I was looking forward to measuring my improvement this time against that – there wasn’t any at all. Up to this point I was only willing to blame my poor lifestyle for my poor health, no one wants to be a hypochondriac – but something was obviously wrong.
“I saw another GP who ran tests and later told me I had Type 1 Diabetes. It wasn’t something I was expecting at all, but it was encouraging to have an answer, I thought. Unfortunately, controlling my blood sugar led to no tangible improvements either.
“At this point I started to consult with the right type of doctors – alternative practitioners who have been shunned by the mainstream, for many reasons, whose ethos is to treat underlying causative factors for illness rather than many in the mainstream who have simply been taught how to help manage symptoms. I’ve discovered I have an issue with mercury toxicity, and that the heavy metal burden is likely what’s lead to all the issues – many I haven’t cited here. A quick Google search will enlighten people as to the plethora of ways heavy metal toxicity can wreck normal bodily and cognitive functions. A combination of poor gut health, chronic stress and genetic susceptibility likely conspired to render my body’s natural detoxification ability near useless.
“It’s been distressing to learn of the epidemic of heavy metal toxicity in today’s population and the mainstream’s current resistance to recognizing it as an existing issue, particularly with regards to mercury. That I have had no obvious large exposures through dental amalgams or fish consumption in my life – only the standard things like vaccinations, flu shots etc. that contained thiomersal amongst other things is quite alarming. I’m also concerned for my peers when considering the reality that poker players are inherently more at risk for these issues than people in other walks of life.
“It might seem like a hard luck story, but it’s not really. Fortunately I’ll be able to chelate the metals and I believe within a couple of years I’ll be a picture of health and what I’ve been forced to learn as a consequence of these issues makes me unbelievably lucky in relation to the millions of people struggling with illness without the time or ability to teach themselves what’s really happening to their bodies – instead still having to submit to all the misinformation they are being fed by their mainstream doctors, and in many cases struggling to afford the wrong treatments.
“I don’t feel sorry for myself in any way, shape or form for this experience – I’ve had an unbelievably lucky and privileged life up to now and I hope to be able to help others with the medical understanding I’ve gathered over this time.”
How have you managed to be so successful despite these mental and physical problems?
“I haven’t been successful at life at all; the only thing you might say I’ve been successful at is poker. The way things have played out have meant that I have less distractions than most. Whilst I have some lofty ambitions outside of poker, until I’m in a position to chase them to the extent that I can handle the stress, poker holds the priority. Viewing life from the perspective of what it could be if you get it right, rather than having it easy and feeling entitled to that ease, has been a blessing in that it creates a level of resilience to the bad runs and determination to stop at nothing to make it to where you want to get to.”
When you think of success who is the first person to spring to mind and why?
“Hugh Laurie. A quick wiki will show you how much this guy has solved life and I’ve gained a lot personally from his sheer brilliance as an actor. Legend.”
What inspires you?
“People who are able to overcome adversity to achieve amazing things inspire me. People that know me know that Stan Wawrinka has been my favourite tennis player since before anyone knew who he was. For some reason I was able to identify with him very quickly. He often got criticised for a lack of mental strength under pressure when he was ranked around 20th for a few years. I saw it differently – he always possessed superb fighting qualities in matches, but often appeared troubled by personal issues that wouldn’t allow him to be in the right headspace to produce his best consistently. Despite his mesmerising shot making that was always there, no one predicted that he had what it took to break out in the way he has. I didn’t necessarily expect it either but always believed the game was there if he found stability and good support. It’s been awesome to see him get to where he is now and how humble he’s stayed in the process.”
What moves you?
“Self-effacing people achieving or doing great things, whether it is for themselves or for others.”
If you could choose five people to be your closest friends (anyone in the world) who would they be and why?
- Hugh Laurie – biggest genius alive
- James Spader – second biggest genius alive
- My three closest friends I have today because they are top notch people
How do you educate yourself to become a better person (books, training courses, mentors)?
“Mostly through the power of logical thinking and observation. My father was an amazing role model for me and continues to be an inspiration after his passing.”
What really gets on your nerves and why?
“Bad umpiring decisions at crucial times in sports games. Umpires needing to imprint their personality on matches. No…really…not that much now. I’m grown up enough to see things for what they are, to understand why they are that way and to accept them to an extent. Probably the biggest things are my own personality weaknesses and my inability to overcome them at times.”
What’s your view on giving back to the world and helping people less fortunate than you?
“In my opinion this is a perverse area of life that is filled with hypocrisy. Helping others less fortunate should be a practice done by those who feel it is right to do so, and for that reason. The motive should never be to seek adulation for having done it. I feel a little disgusted any time someone publicises their having given to charity, etc. as it reeks of ulterior motives. We should all be trying to help those less fortunate, and none of us should be grandstanding for it, but unfortunately that’s not how life has evolved.”
What advice would you give to an 18-year old James Obst?
“Eh, I’d want to say so many things. But maybe I’d just hold my tongue like Raymond Reddington despite it being excruciatingly difficult to do so. People need to learn things in life through experience and others are often far too quick to try to show people the way who don’t want to be shown but would rather discover.”
Who are your role models and why?
“My father is my only true role model. He would put anyone he cared about before himself at all times without hesitation, and never complain when things were tough, despite at least two and probably usually all three other members of the family emulating none of these traits. That reality alone is remarkable to reflect on.”