Welcome back to Poker Curious, Dusty. Before we talk about your new book, “Treat Your Poker Like A Business,” you recently announced your departure from Stoxpoker, where you’d been for three years, and signed on at DragTheBar, a relatively new training site. What led to this move?
It really has more to do with where I’m going than where I left. DragTheBar.com is an emerging site that I think has a tremendous amount going for it: great teachers, membership offers, rakeback, etc. The owners are very innovative and they have a mentality where if one succeeds, we all succeed. Plus, I’m very entrepreneurial and like to do a lot of things, and they support me in that just as I’ll support them. I really loved being a part of Stoxpoker’s community, watching players grow and making friends. But all things must evolve, and this change represents an evolution for me in anticipation of what I feel will be the next evolution for poker-training sites.
You have your first poker book on the market, “Treat Your Poker Like A Business.” Why did you decide to write a poker book now?
I’ve been playing at a high level of intensity for so long now, I was looking for a new challenge while I recharged my poker batteries. I’d achieved what I’d set out to achieve, and all that was left to do was to try to match it year after year. I wanted to be the best poker player at the limits where I was playing. Nobody won more at those limits than I did heading into 2009. Just trying to do the same thing over and over wasn’t going to motivate me, so I was looking for a new challenge.
More importantly, I thought I had a fresh perspective to lend to what was already out there in terms of poker books. The concept of looking at your poker as a businessperson would was very fundamental to me, but that didn’t seem to be the case for most poker players. Most people think of the business aspect as being peripheral to poker success, but I see it as everything. I’m in this business to make money, not for ego gratification or online credibility. When you subtract those things, what’s left is business.
The sub-line for the book states it’s “A Wise and Inspiring Guide to Turning a Hobby into an Empire.” That’s an ambitious goal to claim. Can anyone achieve considerable success in poker? Is it possible in this day and age for hundreds and thousands to achieve “Leatherass” type success?
Well, financial independence through poker is absolutely achievable. To make $100K or $200K is available to anybody willing to put in the effort. I would say that if any person of average or above-average intelligence was willing to eat, sleep and breathe the game for three years, financial independence would be there by Year 4. If they couldn’t make $200,000 by Year 4, I’d be shocked. I’d question if they did actually have average intelligence!
As far as having “Leatherass-type success,” that’s a tough one. I think I can say objectively that I’ve been among those at the top of my game for a number of years. There’s only so much room at the top. It’s like saying to a hitting coach, “If I do what you say, can I be in the top 10 in batting average?” The coach can give you the tools to do that, and he can believe in you, but ultimately that achievement rests on factors beyond the coach’s control.
You write, “The fact is that some of the most important factors to your overall win rate have nothing to do with actually playing the game of poker, but rather how well you run your poker business.” What do you mean by that?
Take the NFL, for example: An athlete might run really fast and have great hands, but what does it all mean if he can’t run a route, take a hit, pick up on the QB’s reads, and so on. You can have all the talent in the world, but it doesn’t matter unless you can turn it into something useful on the field.
In poker, you might know how to read an opponent, but if you don’t understand variance, you might win $100K in a night, figure you can do it every night and buy a Ferrari the next morning. Sooner or later, you’re going to have that thing repossessed. You have to understand the business side of poker to have any longevity in it.
As someone who has been involved in small business most of my adult life, I appreciated the parallels you established in comparing your poker world to the business world. Who do you consider your main audience for this book?
The book includes 15 chapters on strategy that could help the best players in the world. As for the rest of the book, I’d say it’s for anybody who strives to play poker for a living, and certainly anyone who wants to turn poker into a serious and consistent source of revenue. And if the person already is playing poker as a job, this will teach him to make it a more lucrative job.
I do understand the nature of your question, though, because the book can be turned on its head so you’re seeing business through the prism of poker. I’ve heard of sales managers buying the book and giving it to their sales forces with the intention of better helping them understand business.
One of the heavy emphases of the book is on improving your volume of play. Do you feel any poker player can massively multi-table, or are some players simply destined to play fewer tables? What type of time commitment and hand volume do you currently get in a week/month?
The book explains that any player will reach a point of diminishing returns in terms of the number of tables he’s playing. You just have to constantly be applying some math to your game. You might play 16 tables successfully at a given limit, but that 17th table makes the other 16 suffer. Alternatively, you could move up in limits and down in tables, and you could find that is more profitable for you. So, no, we’re not all capable of the same threshold. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all be successful if we arrange our businesses the right way.
I spent most of 2009 focusing on things besides poker, including the birth of my daughter, so my numbers were down this past year. I’d say I play about 25,000 hands a week, 100,000 hands in a month. I play about 25 hours a week.
A quote you use well in your book is "The man dignifies the job; the job doesn't dignify the man". Can you explain your thoughts behind it?
I’ve talked with a lot of people who say they’re scared to say out loud that they make their living playing poker. But I feel that any man who makes his living doing something legal has a right to be proud of it if he does it well. To me, a janitor who works his tail off and makes $30,000 a year to feed his family is more dignified that the first-round draft pick who makes millions but doesn’t put in the work. It’s how you live your life that matters. Like they say, character is what you do when no one is looking.
You have important contributions from Jared Tendler, stoxtrader, mbolt1 and even your wife. Is poker really a team effort to really be successful?
Absolutely. First and foremost, everyone should have someone like Jared, who can take your performance to the highest level. If you have a family, you have to have them on board. It’s such a unique job. If you don’t get them on board, it’s a massive uphill climb. It’s also important to humble yourself and learn from those who’ve gone before you. So it’s absolutely a team effort.
The book relies more on the other intangibles than on strategy or hand analysis. Do you feel poker is more mental than strategic?
You need both equally. Getting back to my football analogy, a guy can have a great arm and throw. That’s great, but you need to understand your scheme, run progressions and stuff like that. You need to have it all, like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Look at Tim Tebow. That guy probably knows the game as well as most coaches, but most scouts say he won’t be a good NFL quarterback because he lacks innate talent to play at that level. It’s hard to believe, but they’re probably right. You need to have everything to be successful.
You allude to a second book, Raise, coming out later this year. How will that book differ from this one?
Raise is my autobiography. It goes into detail about the home in which I was raised, my losing my golfing career to a heart attack at age 23, reclaiming my life through poker, and the charity work I do now that I hope will inspire others to do the same. I know that I’m very young to be writing a biography, but when you have a heart condition as I do, you live with a greater sense of immediacy. And I do think I’ve condensed a lot into my short time in this life. I think my story has something to offer everyone. I hope it does, anyway. The title is meant to imply that this is a book that will inspire you, lift you up.
You’ve often been a polarizing figure in the poker world. You said in the book that "Criticism is driven by jealousy." Do you feel your own self-directed hyperbole contributes to negative attention you receive? How do you block out the hate and focus on the feedback that is positive?
Certainly I merit some degree of criticism just as anyone else does. So not all criticism is driven by jealousy; some of it is constructive. But online poker is a hyper-critical environment, a fact that is driven by the anonymity of it as well as the fact that you’ve taken people’s money and now they’re mad.
In my blogs, I’ve recorded what’s happened as accurately as I can. While I’ve had those who’ve said I’m self-aggrandizing, just as many have said I whine too much about my downswings. I write about the news, more or less. My blog is my journal. You might read it one day and think I’m bragging; you might read it another day and think I’m pathetic.
You also have to consider the source of the criticism. When someone says, “Go have another heart attack,” you can’t take it too seriously. If I’m walking down the streets of Portland, where I live, and a person started screaming at me about how I’m stupid, I wouldn’t take that too seriously, either. The only criticism to which I’ll respond is from players I know and with whom I play frequently. Otherwise, I just don’t pay attention to random strangers who say hateful things.
You recently donated $21,000 you made while playing four days in downtown Portland to the Transition Project to assist three homeless down on their luck people in a 'pay it forward' intention. Can you explain your goal with this donation? Is it a one-time donation or something you will continue to build off of?
I’ve been down on my luck. Prior to starting in poker, I saw my resources dwindling down to nothing and was scared to death. It’s definitely not a one-time thing. I’m starting a foundation called House of Cards, and its intent will be to house homeless people around the country, with other poker players joining me in the mission. Ideally, I’d like to see all of us contribute a week’s earnings to this foundation or a similar one. I’d eventually like to buy and refurbish homes in places like Detroit, and just give those homes to families who are down on their luck. All I ask is that the recipients of my good will “pay it forward” by doing something good for someone down the line.
Congratulations on the birth of your first child, Lennon. How has that changed your world? What else does the future hold for Dusty 'Leatherass' Schmidt?
Lennon has changed things completely. Early in 2009 I went through a selfish period where I wanted to do things like play more golf. I’d been working so hard to get to this comfortable spot that I wanted to indulge in it a little bit. But when she was born I realized I wanted to be the best for her and our future kids. I’ll need to help them out for a long time. I also want to be an example to them of how to live with charity in their hearts. That’s led to a desire to get more out of the game. I’m thinking of setting a goal for myself of making $1 million this year. I was maybe thinking about too many things in 2009. This year, I think less will be more.