Poker players and fans are starting to hear about Upswing Poker. And anyone familiar with the game in a serious way knows the two men behind the start-up business – Ryan Fee and Doug Polk. Both are not only highly successful in the online and live poker realms, but they are each outspoken, witty, and just as confident in their opinions as in their poker skills.
Upswing Poker is their collaborative effort to offer a serious poker training site to the community. Players can get to know the site and the Fee-Polk duo through numerous articles on the site, as well as an affordable entry into the world of training. Preflop poker charts are free, the post-flop system is offered now for only $7, and access to the entire poker lab starts at less than $25 per month. Alongside those offerings is their Twitch channel, which is a complimentary learning tool.
While the guys are sometimes controversial, their poker skills are proven. Fee has nearly $3 million in live tournament cashes and wins, and Polk has nearly $5 million, amounts which are multiplied when adding their online poker earnings. Their paths to poker were different, but they converged over the years and led them to the level of wanting to share their knowledge with others.
Fee and Polk garnered some extra attention for Upswing this summer when playing in the World Series of Poker $1K buy-in Tag-Team NLHE event in Las Vegas. What was initially a fun endeavor to promote the site became an exciting run to win the tournament for a combined payout of $153,358 and a WSOP gold bracelet for each. It was the first for Fee and second for Polk, and to win together was something special.
We talked to Fee about all of it and more.
Poker Update: How did you and Doug Polk initially meet?
Ryan Fee: Doug and I initially met playing a video game called Warcraft 3 in high school. We didn’t really meet in person; we sort of played on the US-East ladder back 13 years ago. I knew his WCGRider screen name.
I started playing poker and I was playing $1/2, $2/4 online cash games when I met Doug. I had just dropped out of school to pursue poker and Doug was going to school at the University of North Carolina. He posted a story with one of his poker buddies at school — about how had started doing flips with this friend and Martingaled it into busting his roll entirely. I saw the story, read it and sent him a message because I recognized the screen name associated with Warcraft III. I said, “Hey man. I’m this guy who also plays video games online. I read your story and it really sucks, but us Warcraft 3 grinder have got to stick together!”
So I sent him $250 on Full Tilt Poker and I watched him play three tables of $.10/$.25 NL while coaching him. We sort of just went from there and he built up his bankroll and we sort of became friends from there. We met in person a year later (2004). About three years go by, and it comes out that the thread Doug posted about Martingaling his bankroll was completely false. It was a complete lie; it never happened. He just made up a story and put it on the internet! (laughs)
But I’m glad he did because we’ve sort of been best buds ever since.
Poker Update: As so many players fade in and out of the game through the years, what keeps you two on the same page?
Ryan: This is a really good question. Poker has been super cyclical in terms of who the best players are. I don’t know if I have the perfect answer for this, but I believe there is a fundamental similarity in that Doug and I were just never really cut out for the school grind. It didn’t really work for us, yet we both consider ourselves to be intelligent, super-motivated people… we just happened to not fit in school, so that was how we first related to each other was through our enjoyment of video games and similar experiences with formal education.
So I think the first answer to this question is that we have certain traits in common as people. The second thing is that we treated poker very seriously as a business. We exercised extremely cautious bankroll management. We didn’t really come out of nowhere and win a tournament to elevate our stature. We grinded our way up through low-stakes online ring games. We’ve been playing poker for a decade and have never done anything really stupid with our bankrolls. We take a very logical and analytical approach to the game and I think that has not only helped us to remain successful, but also legitimizes us as the best coaches in poker… period. We are very organized and analytical in everything we do. It’s not like, “Aww, this person doesn’t have good grades” or whatever. We look at it as, “Okay, this is our range, we are playing our range.”
Also Doug and I are part of a larger community that incorporates a group of people (aka the Evil Empire or Team Upswing). We have a solid group of friends and it’s pretty tough to get in the mix. We have very high standards for everybody, and everyone’s really great about helping each other, and it’s a really cool, sub-culture niche community to be a part of.
Poker Update: How do you think the average Joe or Jane can benefit from you two, who compete at the highest stakes and to whom money isn’t an issue?
Ryan: I believe one thing the average Joe or Jane sees in Team Upswing is a story they can relate to and be inspired by. Our philosophy is that you can actually be successful at poker (or anything else you put your mind to) if you work hard at it and enjoy it. I think that Doug and I are two of the best role models in poker for finding your personal path in life away from the traditional school/job grind. So I believe that aspect of our story can be highly inspirational to aspiring poker players.
On another front, we’re carefully consider the things we say, where we’re coming from — challenge your own views because remember… we’ve been doing this for basically a decade so we’ve sort of seen it all and that experience allows you to know a lot about yourself and successfully relate your thoughts to subscribers and fans.
Going back to how certain poker players tend to fade out… they sort of get into the game and they do things that sort of work. Maybe they 3-bet small or maybe they call all the 3-bets. Or maybe they 4-bet a lot. They have some strategies that are successful when they first get into poker. But then opponents adjust, the game changes and people wise up to what these players are doing and they aren’t always capable of adjusting, changing or adapting their game and they sort of fade out. So with Doug and myself, the average player can identify with the strategies we incorporate and teach. You can always keep learning and adjusting and trying new things. Upswing Poker instruction encourages players to adjust and grow with the game.
Poker Update: What does your typical Upswing Poker student look like, i.e. age, gender, pro/recreational status, etc.?
Ryan: The average Upswing Poker Lab student right now is a guy in his early 20s to early 30s. Our younger students tend to mix their poker play with school and related activities, while I would say the older students trend toward semi-pro to pro play with perhaps a job as well. In many cases, our subscribers may not have the money or the current skill set to become a professional poker player, but they are aspiring to do so.
So a lot of our Lab users are people are play small to micro stakes games and are trying to take their poker skills to the next level.
Poker Update: Both of you seemed to pick up on poker concepts and game analysis quickly when you started playing. What qualities are necessary for the average player to do that?
Ryan: (chuckles) Haha, I don’t know if we picked up on things that quickly. It took a really long time before we started approaching the game in a different way. When we started playing poker in early 2007 I was 18 years old (Doug was 19). I would say it wasn’t until the beginning of 2012 that we began pursuing poker and approaching it the way we do today.
When I first got into poker, I just started doing stuff poker-related, I participated on the forums at TwoPlusTwo, I found out what a HUD was, I was just trying to play tight… flop sets or get it all-in with overpairs, etc. It was super just like clicking buttons. Around 2009, I started playing heads-up online which definitely accelerated my growth as a poker player. At that point I kind of had a post-flop strategy but there was still a heavy element of doing or button-clicking then. One of the traits that helped me compete at the highest heads-up levels is that I constantly fought for pots, but I still wasn’t focusing on the hand combos or math. I wasn’t looking at the game through a microscope but rather was looking at it from a more general standpoint.
By 2012, both Doug and I had changed our approach, and that’s when I would say that I truly came into my own as a poker player. I made a lot of money in those first years and the games were really easy back then, but it wasn’t until I almost forced myself to approach things in a new way — embracing math and theory — that I made significant progress. With that said, I think me and Doug are a great example of raw poker players who have spent years developing their skills and eventually arriving at the correct approach to poker.
So what can other people do? Most people with average poker skills can’t do anything on their own. A way that I got good is that I started out communicating with players who played higher stakes than me, who were further along in their poker careers and trying to learn from them. But now with the Upswing Poker Live Twitch stream, players can super-accelerate their growth more quickly than ever before by watching us compete in games across all stakes. Watching our live casts can put an aspiring player down the right path. The overwhelming majority of players — both online and live — aren’t doing that and I think viewing our shows and getting into our heads a bit will put you above the rest of the field.
Poker Update: What do you get out of teaching poker and sharing your knowledge, besides any financial benefit?
Ryan: Doug and I really like to coach. We really like the sort of abstract aspect games, whether that’s poker, Warcraft III or any other competitive activity. Like, I wasn’t getting any money to play Warcraft hour-upon-hour every day after school. I was just having fun.
I wrote a free How To guide to play poker because I was so grateful of the success I enjoyed after my first year of playing online thanks to TwoPlusTwo (going from $300 to $17,000 and then working that up to six-figures before I won the LAPT event). It was basically a primer for what to do strategy-wise in certain 6-max NLHE scenarios to get players started. Because when I first got into poker, I only saw a bunch of buttons that I could click on to make stuff happen. So the guide was aimed at helping aspiring players grasp some of the basic, rough concepts of how to successfully maneuver online cash game fields.
So one benefit that we obtain from coaching is the overall goodwill of helping people, and the other benefit is that we really enjoy the sort of abstract part of the game. For example, I enjoy trying to figure things out way more than I do actually playing poker. Playing poker is sort of like desert, whereas the appetizer and main course is more in-tune with sitting down, trying to figure things out and implementing whatever the best strategy is.
The position we’re in allows us to have a lot of fun, meet interesting people, and receiving feedback from our students that achieve a higher level of comfort with their poker skill sets versus their opponents. It’s a very rewarding pursuit.
This is the spot for the Upswing Poker Party this Saturday, Encore Players Club. Gonna be sick! pic.twitter.com/kWdEt6RERa— Ryan Fee (@fees88) June 27, 2016
Poker Update: Congrats on your tag team event win at the WSOP. You said that entering the event was a way to promote your site, but you both seemed to have fun with the tournament in the end. Did the experience do anything to remind you of why you fell in love with the game in the first place?
Ryan: Yeah, we really did have a good time playing the 2016 WSOP Tag Team event. I wouldn’t say it reminded me of why I love the game. I’m reminded how much I love the game when I play heads-up NLHE or PLO online. To me, that is the most challenging.
Doug and I tend to have a great time no matter where we go or what we do… and the whole vibe of the entire Tag Team tournament was like that. Most tournaments are kind of like serious stuff and kind of boring, but Doug and I were there cracking jokes, laughing, etc. There are so many times when we’re streaming that viewers know I’m in the room even if I’m not on-air because they can hear me laughing in the background.
I will say that this year’s Tag Team event — if nothing else — did remind me that tournaments are definitely the way to go. Like, if I had gotten second place in that event, I would probably still be tilted but wow… IF you win a tournament (laughs) it feels real good.
I didn’t play any other tournaments this summer so I guess the thing that reminded me the most of how fun it was to hang around our Evil Empire members and watch them battle it out on a daily basis.
Poker Update: Can you share a funny/entertaining/embarrassing moment from your early days of poker?
Ryan: Sure! I’m not certain if this story is exactly what you’re looking for but after my first two years playing poker online and building up my bankroll, I decided to head down to Costa Rica in November 2008 with some friends to celebrate. The Latin American Poker Tour $3,700 buy-in Main Event was taking place in San Jose, and I registered at the last minute.
I had originally planned on spending most of my time at the beach, but the hotel where we were staying (and where the tournament was being held) was sort of landlocked. There wasn’t much for me to do that week except play the event. I was 19 at the time and got crazy blackout drunk with some crazy Russian dude the night before Day 1. We were drinking rum & Cokes and washing them down with Corona. I was jumped pumped to be able to drink alcohol legally because the legal drinking age in Costa Rica is 18.
So I got super drunk, had a bunch of cash on me and gave it to one of my friends. She went down and registered me in the tournament — which I hadn’t even planned on playing because this all happened the night before the event. After finding out, I said to myself, “Ahh… I’ll get in there. Take my money!” It’s funny that playing the tournament wound up being one of the best decisions I ever made.
So I woke up the next day super hungover (for a 19 year old), and I went downstairs to the tournament and played all of Day 1. I ran really hot and was the chip leader, and I was complaining the whole time. I was like, “Ugh, I have a hangover. Just gimme my money back and you can have these chips.” Luckily, they don’t do that because I also ran hot on Day 2 and entered the final table as the chip leader. I continued cruising through the final table, and I won the event for $285,000 (essentially doubling my poker bankroll at the time as I had 95% of myself).
I’m fully aware of how fortunate I was to take a blind shot at an event and have that amount of success in my very first attempt. It’s kind of funny how I just went for it and ran hot enough to experience a live event win on my first try.