Thursday, November 5, 2015

The end of the online poker pro?

In the beginning of online poker, there was no rakeback. There was only rake. In the days of Planet, Paradise, and Party Poker, no one thought that 5% to $3 was a great deal, but hey, it was the same or less than most brick-and-mortar rooms were charging. It didn't really matter; the games were so good. If you played poker seriously in the era where Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem or Jamie Gold were reigning world champions, then money was falling out of the sky and landing in your bank account.

It was, of course, the affiliate system that led to what we now know as rakeback. Poker sites wanted more players, so they turned to affiliates. Savvy affiliates said that they wanted lifetime value players, not to be played a flat CPA. Savvy players then realized that affiliates were making buckets of money from the rake they were paying, and in turn they demanded rakeback.

PokerStars was intelligent in proactively doing an end-around this process. They knew that people were hungry for rakeback and that they would circumvent the rules to get it, so they created the VIP program. And their tiered system was brilliant. The more you played, the higher your status. The higher your status, the more you earned. So you wanted to play more and more, a positive feedback loop that never seemed to end. At least, until this week. This week, Stars pulled out the rug on its highest volume players. With its announced VIP changes to 2016, PokerStars is being very obvious in what they want to do long-term. Stars no longer considers poker pros making 50k or more per year to be partners in their business. Rather the statement made is that poker pros are leeches on our games, parasites on our idyllic poker economy.

Pulling out the rug on the 2015 Supernova Elites in such a fashion is not something that sits well with me. From all indicators, these people entered into a quasi-contract with Stars that they would get an expected amount of effective rakeback for 2016. There certainly would not be the backlash that there is in the poker community right now if they announced these changes 12 months ahead of time. By announcing the changes so late in the year, they continued to make the revenue line look good for investors, keeping the stock price high. Who knows what the volume in 2015 would have looked like had they made this announcement in January? Stars is now under immense pressure from its players to pull back from their announced changes. I hope they do bow to that pressure, but don't be surprised if they don't. This isn't the Scheinberg era, folks.

In any case, the implications the new VIP program are huge. The death of the online poker pro has been predicted many times, but this one is as legit as it comes. It won't be an explosive implosion; the games will not suddenly dry up on January 1, 2016. But at least in the short term, there will be a significant contraction of the money available to win (across all limits) and the marginal pros won't survive. If you are an online poker pro, and you have not made at least 100k/year in the last two years, you should strongly consider applying for a real job somewhere. If you are an aspiring poker pro and haven't quite made the leap yet, you need to look long and hard about whether you really want to sign up for this grind. Stars' goal is to create an equilibrium where everyone is a small loser. It is an uphill battle when you are fighting against the most powerful organization in poker.

I have some further thoughts on how this will all shake down, but I'll have to save them for a Part 2. Tomorrow though I'll be talking about this more on this week's Pokercast (sponsored by the PokerStars VIP Club!) though, and hope to have that Part 2 up soon.

Edit: I want to clarify that with the exception of honouring its previously advertised 2016 commitments, I'm not taking a position on the rightness or wrongness of PokerStars devaluing their VIP program. They have the right (and responsibility) to control that program as they see fit and to maximize the long-term profits of their company. Stars does not owe poker players the right to make a living at their tables. They do, in my view, have a responsibility to deliver on the promises made to them in 2015. But aside from these commitments, I am not taking any sort of moral position on the changes.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The WSOP didn't earn my business today

Context. Today is 1B of WSOPE event 8, the 1000+100 Euro turbo event which was scheduled (for weeks) to start at noon local time
. This tweet showed up at 11:58am.

When I responded that I was already en route and asked when this change happened, Jack responded:
I want to express my disappointment in Jack’s decision to change a noon start time, and announce it at 11:58am — two minutes before cards were supposed to be in the air. According to Jack, only 50 players were registered at noon for the turbo, leading him and other management to believe that they must have thought it was a 4pm start.

I think making a last-minute change to the start time based on a guess that players simply misread the schedule is a terrible idea. Here are just a few reasons why:

1) Many pros/regulars tend to buy in late for a 1k event. I was literally getting in a cab when I saw the announcement and was planning to show up around 12:20pm.

2) Many recreational/infrequent players don’t necessarily follow Jack on Twitter, and would not know of the change. They would only see the website and/or the print material distributed in the Spielbank casino.

3) The change was announced so late (again, 11:58am) that even if you do follow Jack, you likely couldn’t do anything about it.

4) Jack himself sent out a reminder tweet (now deleted) at about 11:15am reminding people that the start time was noon and late reg closes at 3:45pm.

5) Even if there *are* a great number of people who thought the actual start time was 4pm (and I dispute this is the case), those people would have until 3:45pm to register anyway.

6) 50 players is actually an awful lot to go tell “sorry, go take a hike for four hours”. I also suspect a very high percentage of these 50 players are recreational players as opposed to influential circuit regulars. In general, I think recreational players get screwed over a lot by pandering to vocal pros and it’s one of the things I like least about poker.

I think it would be hypocritical of me to be this critical and still patronize the event, so I’m choosing to skip the event. I both enjoy playing in turbo events, and feel I have good ev in them, so my decision is certainly harming me more than them. I do feel like it is a bad look for them. But more importantly, I feel like an ass if I take the time to do all this complaining and then hand over my 1100 Euros anyway like an obedient sheep. I love the WSOP but not more than not appearing to be a hypocrite. Today I simply don’t feel like the WSOP has earned my business. So instead of playing, I’m choosing to skip the event and instead take my girlfriend (who patiently puts up with my bitching about poker tournaments, among my various other character flaws) to a much-deserved dinner and night out.

See you guys tomorrow in the main.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

An "unlucky" injury

I've been forced to pull out of my September 11 fight due to an injury.

There are so many thoughts that go through your head when you have an injury right at the end of training camp. The most tempting, the most pernicious, is "fuck, what bad luck."

It's a dangerous thought because it's partly true. You do need some luck to survive a training camp without a major injury.

Poker players know that losers blame bad luck when they lose, and call themselves geniuses when they win.

Winners know that while you can't control the luck, you can do everything possible to stack the odds in your favour.

MMA training camps are hard things. The best way to train for a fight is to simulate a fight. A fight is a mess of fists, feet, knees, elbows flying all over the place while two guys tangle themselves up in a struggle to control the other guy's arms, legs, heads, and spines. And the best way to train for a fight is to find people who are as good or better than you at all the chaotic punching, kicking, and limb-tangling, and try to fight off their attacks.

If you don't train hard, you don't get better. If you train too hard, you get hurt. It's a hard tightrope to walk. Athletes and coaches always want to do more. The great sprinting coach Charlie Francis always said that he spends 90% of his time holding athletes back and only 10% of his time pushing them to do more. Balancing overtraining and undertraining is a hard task; there's no magic test or formula that tells you what to do.

It really sucks to pull out of a fight two weeks before it, right as training should be tapering off. I was very much dedicated to this training camp. I invested hours and hours into my mental and physical training and I felt like this was going to be the best iteration of me in the cage, ever. And now I don't get to prove that to myself. It's rough.

You'll notice I haven't talked about the details of how I got hurt. That's because it doesn't matter. I could blame this, that, or the other, but the blame lies with me. Maybe it was because I didn't warm up properly. Maybe it was because I hadn't rested and recovered enough for that session. Maybe it was because I didn't have the mental focus in that moment. Maybe I should have asked the training partner to take down the intensity. But the bottom line is that I have to look in the mirror and say that I'm injured because of me, because of decisions that I made. It's my body, it's my athletic career, and at the end of the day, I have to take responsibility.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

REMATCH! Chan vs Wasuk II

A little over two months ago, I fought Ali Wasuk and won a unanimous decision. Last time out, because of new rules recently instituted in British Columbia and because Ali had fewer than three fights, the fight had to be conducted without strikes to the face on the ground. Now that Ali has three fights, he is eligible to fight with "ground and pound", the trademark of MMA.

Apparently, he feels that it will be a completely different fight with ground and pound, and he has asked for a rematch.

I am more than happy to grant him this rematch. While I admire his heart, I think this is a poor decision for him. I'm sure he was motivated by his loss back in April and will be training even harder this time around.

But I am extremely motivated by the idea that he thinks he will win under the more complete MMA rule set. I believe, however, that this gives me an even bigger advantage to press. This time, I intend to finish the fight by KO or submission, and I am committed to not allowing it to go the distance.

So that's the setup. The full fight card is here, and tickets will be on sale soon. As last time, if you do purchase tickets online, please do e-mail your receipt to This helps support me for future events. Thanks!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Does grappling work "in the streets"?

Two short stories about grappling.

Yesterday I was at an open training session. I was training with my cousin and had him in a side control (wrestling pin) position. In an effort to escape, he started jamming his elbow in to my throat. This is actually a fairly effective move to get someone off of you. Nevertheless, we both had a good chuckle about it, and I threw a few friendly knees to his ribcage to let him know that I could also be mean if I wanted to.

My cousin and I have a good healthy training relationship and we often do these types of “dick moves” to one another. We’re never trying to injure one another, but we definitely do play rough, generally rougher than we would against other training partners.

Five minutes later, the tables were turned. My cousin was tired and I started getting dominant positions and doing dick things. Grinding my chin into his nose or my forearm into his ear — all in good fun, of course.

Then this morning, I read a Facebook post from a BJJ training partner in Hong Kong. Apparently some road rager freaked out, slammed on the brakes in front of him, and attempted to provoke a fight with him. The BJJ guy double legged him and got to a dominant position. The aggressor attempted to bite, scratch and eye gouge the BJJ guy, but my friend held him down until the cops arrived, neutralizing him without throwing a punch or causing him any bit of harm.

The key takeaway from this is to be wary of the notion that grappling or MMA is ineffective “in the streets”. While it’s true that a well-placed eye gouge or groin shot can cause series damage, it’s pretty hard to do these things when you’re pinned helplessly to the ground. It turns out that the best way to learn how to fight dirty is simply to learn how to fight.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Fight recap video

Trying out something new this time. In the past, I've written lengthy blog posts about my pre and post fight. But this time, there were so many people who watched my fight on the live stream that didn't know what were going on and had a lot of questions to ask.

For them, I've posted a video with commentary. Check it out! (Make sure you have annotations ON.)

Comments and questions welcomed, encouraged, desired!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Fight day

I made weight yesterday officially at 134.6 lbs, and went to bed at about 141. My opponent weighed in at the limit of 136.0 lbs, and presumably went to bed probably a little heavier than me.

I've talked about how difficult this road is, and how much I've given of myself to be here. But I am also extraordinarily lucky to be able to dedicate this much time, energy, and money in the pursuit of my passion.

I am grateful to training partners in Vancouver, Las Vegas, Hong Kong and beyond, who have sparred with me, held pads for me, worked techniques with me, or even just had some words of advice or encouragement.

I'm calm, I'm ready, and I feel great. It is these moments that I love.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Audio interview with me ahead of Saturday's fight

I did a 30-minute interview with Battlefield Fight League's marketing guy, Jamak Golshani, ahead of my fight this Saturday. Check it out here!

Info on buying tickets to watch live, or purchasing the pay-per-view, are available here.

And speaking of podcasts, I'll be the lead host of the 2+2 PokerCast tomorrow for the first time ever. In fact it'll be the first time in the history of the show that neither Mike Johnson nor Adam Schwartz will be sitting in the big chair. I'll be joined by Mazin "MSauce" Khoury in the studios, and that show will be out late Tuesday evening.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Less is (sometimes) more; ruminations on the minimum effective dose

I normally drink 4-5 cups of coffee a day and also a few cups of green tea. This probably comes out to around 600-800 mg/day, which is probably too much, especially for someone who only weighs 64kg.

If I drink zero cups of coffee, I feel pretty lousy. Headaches, withdrawal symptoms and the like. Once every few months I will do a caffeine reset and try to go 3-4 days without any caffeine, but I am pretty unhappy while doing it.

Yet if I drink just one cup of coffee, I feel surprisingly decent. Today I've had one cup, went to the gym, and here I am writing a blog post, and generally behaving like a normal human being.

The health/exercise benefits of caffeine are well documented. Caffeine, in a reasonable dose, is a very good thing for the body.

But the curve is U-shaped (like it is for many things we ingest). The effects of too much caffeine is also well-documented. Man, I love me some caffeine, but I don't want to destroy my nervous system either.

Each cup makes me feel a little better, but there are diminishing returns. Meanwhile, the dosage that is beneficial for me increases rapidly and falls sharply.

So my general thought for this low-caffeine morning is that you should always try to find the minimum effective dose. Know what you need as a baseline. Often you should push yourself past the minimum. If you've just got to study for the big exam, you're running a marathon or you're going to spar 10 hard rounds, then you can caffeinate as much as you think you need. But on other days, try to find the minimum.

To know how much is too much of a good thing, you also need to know its opposite -- not enough of a good thing.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why Fight? Part 2: The Reward

If you ask any fighter -- indeed, any athlete in any sport -- they'll mention the importance of the mental aspect of the game. Follow the game plan. Be confident, but not cocky. Respect your opponent's strengths, but don't fear them. Be mentally tough.

Training as a competitive athlete must necessarily involve going farther than the brain wants to go. Many people are tremendously self-motivated individuals who will work until exhaustion daily. Others need to be pushed by coaches and training partners, to be broken down by them, so they can be rebuilt stronger.

In my previous entry, I talked about the difficulty, toil, and investment a fighter makes in his training camp. Surely if someone voluntarily goes through something so hellish, there must be a powerful reward on the other side.

Rewards of the fight game

Why do people participate in dangerous sports? There are a variety of reasons, but this article touches on the subject. Summarizing:
  • Extreme sports release dopamine, which triggers the reward system by making the person feel good. This creates an addiction to the feeling, and by association, the sport.
  • Extreme sports are transformative, and those who participate in them may exhibit a higher capacity for humility and courage.
  • Those who participate in extreme sports understand intellectually that these things are dangerous, but that fear is something to be overcome, not avoided.
Fighters will often say that the fight is the reward for the brutality of the training camp. That like sex, months of discomfort are traded for minutes of enjoyment (except the causal direction is reversed).

As someone who has stepped through the cage door four times, it's hard to dispute this idea. Putting all that training to use in a live combative situation, in front of a screaming audience, is a great feeling. While Mexican or Thai boxers fight to escape poverty, fighting in most of Western society is a first-world luxury. If you do it, you do it for the love of the game.

I try not to think of the fight as the reward, and take a somewhat more zen approach of the reward the journey rather than the destination. I have written before about the value of being uncomfortable, and doing things that are hard, simply because they are hard. 

But don't get me wrong. Fighting and competing is fun. This will be my fifth MMA fight. I've also had an amateur boxing match, two kickboxing matches, and probably about 20 grappling competitions. (Grappling is a fight sport where it is reasonable to be a dabbler, since getting tapped out is orders of magnitudes less bad than getting knocked out.)


Confidence is another positive product of the grueling fight camp. Again there is a paradox at play here. Throughout training camp, the fighter often suffers crises of confidence. As he gets beat up in sparring, he can often question his own skill, and his confidence may wane. He may become self-defeating. I have thought to myself many times, "I suck at this. Why am I doing it?"

And yet other days, the fighter is supremely confident. On those days where things feel good and the fighter feels sharp, he feels nearly invincible, ready to take on the world. Today, as I'm writing this, it is how I feel. I feel supremely confident that on May 30, I will enter the Battlefield cage at the River Rock Hotel and Casino and put a beating on Blake Sigvaldason of Terrace B.C.'s Dungeon Fight Team Ali Wasuk out of Clinch MMA in Port Coquitlam, B.C. I feel like no other outcome is possible. Whether or not this is a rational response is another question -- I know nothing of the man other than watching a few fights he had well over a year ago. I don't know how strong he is, how athletic he is, how developed his skills have become. I have never put hands on the man, nor has he put hands on me. Yet right now, as my fingers touch this keyboard, I believe fully that there is no way he is ready to compete against me in that cage.

This stems from the incredible commitment required of a competitive fighter, which I touched on in Part 1. The fighter thinks, "I am spending so much time and energy on this fight. I am doing everything right. I am working with great coaches and training partners."

There is a tremendous optimism bias when one goes through a hard training camp. The thought is simple: "There's no way that this guy has put in what I've put into the fight. There is no way he is this obsessed with winning. Therefore, I will win."

Camaraderie and the Team

Finally, it is worth mentioning the team aspect of fighting. There are very few r┼Źnin left in combat sports; even the most gifted fighters are now part of a team, training under a competent trainer. The relationship a fighter develops with his coaches and training partners is fraught with contradiction. The MMA coach borders on sadism, often pushing the fighter far beyond where he wants to go, throwing exhausted fighters into the shark tank to spar against completely fresh opponents. But the great coach does not simply break the fighter down; he builds his fighter back up.

The training partners beat up their teammate as hard as possible, though ideally without injuring him. The training partners are simultaneously your best friends and your worst nightmares in the gym. Because of them, you are battered, bruised, and often injured. But without them, you cannot succeed at the sport. The beatings that teammates give one another foster a tremendous sense of camaraderie and brotherhood (and sometimes sisterhood; I use non-neutral pronouns out of convenience, not disrespect). No one knows what a fighter goes through better than another fighter, and so fighters are surprisingly empathetic creatures -- at least when it comes to fighting. The punches to the face are always followed by fist bumps, hugs, and pats on the back.

Personal conclusions

It's my hope that this brief series answers some questions about the precarious balance between the costs and benefits of fighting as a passion, or vocation.

Fighting is not safe, and it is not healthy. It costs money, but even more so, overwhelming amounts of time. It is mentally draining. It has the potential to put valued relationships on rocky ground.

On the other hand, it also fosters and creates new relationships. Competition keeps me optimizing my own human performance. Training camps have taught me humility and perseverance.

Sixteen days until my dopamine receptors get their fix.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why fight? Part 1: The Investment

People I know from the poker world, or from regular society -- or from any place other than the inside of an MMA gym, really -- often think I'm crazy for being willing to get in a cage and endanger myself by fighting another man until one man quits or is rendered helpless against the assault of the other.

The truth is, however, that fighting itself is not the crazy thing.

The crazy thing is what fighters do in order to fight.

For the last five weeks (and the next two), I have faithfully shown up the at the gym to take my daily beating. I have done this voluntarily and in full control of my own faculties. I do this without being bound to any contract, and without any financial incentive.

For these weeks I have felt exhausted throughout most of the day. I have woken up many mornings feeling like I have been hit by a car. I'm a morning person and yet I am often forced to train past 10pm, eat dinner around 11 and fall asleep well after midnight. But since I seem to have developed the lark chronotype, I have trouble sleeping past 5am.

Though I haven't tested them, I am sure my cortisol is elevated and my testosterone is lowered. In health terms, those are bad things -- they lead to increase in fat, decrease in muscle, decrease in sex drive, insulin resistance, cravings, bone loss, and illness.

Indeed, being a competitive athlete is not nearly as healthy as most people think that it is. Of course, it is better than being sedentary. But too far in the other extreme can be unhealthy as well. Being a serious competitive athlete means doing a lot of things that trade health in favour of performance. The athlete trains hard and risks injury and overtraining. All athletes train while injured; the only difference between athletes is how injured is too injured, necessitating a missed practice or competition. Virtually every serious athlete practices and competes through minor injuries, and many (most?) compete through more serious injuries. A typical training camp always involves a handful of small injuries. No one ever enters a fight at 100%.

Combat sports are worse than most in terms of training through injury, stress, and fatigue. Part of it is the inherently macho aspect of the sport itself. But some of it is simply the incentive/disincentive mechanism. The boxer, wrestler, or MMA fighter considers a day off of training to be a day that his opponent is gaining an advantage on him. And there are real consequences to being less trained than your opponent. The athlete who loses at a big swim meet or baseball game surely feels bad about his performance, and wishes he trained harder or better. The unprepared fighter, on the other hand, can find himself dominated, brutalized, and concussed. The soccer player misses out on a trophy. The fighter can end up in the hospital. This is not to put fighting on a pedestal or claim it is a more noble or tougher sport; it is just reality.

Thus overtraining and injury are too often ignored. It is a rare day that the fighter is seen outside the gym during fight camp. Fighting is not a sport for to dabble in. It's all-in, or fold.

And yet, injury is the most fearful part of a training camp. I know that every day I show up, I have a small percentage chance of suffering an injury which will prevent me from fighting on May 30. That percentage on any given day might be just 2-3%, but still with 8-10 sessions left, these odds might be as high as 1-0.97^10 = 26%, still nearly a 1-in-4 chance I won't get to fight.

That's scarily high! It is hard to express how much it means to get through each day without suffering a major injury. Although I know it's not true, I feel like the world would end if I didn't fight on May 30. This is why fighters fight hurt. A fight camp demands so much of the fighter emotionally, psychically, and financially. Fighters spend so much time getting psyched up about the fight. They endure the beatings in the gym knowing that when they leave, they are one day closer to the fight. They sell tickets to their family and friends. They have told everyone around about their fight. To not fight feels like a crushing defeat, far worse than stepping in the ring and coming up short.

When one has a fight lined up, one obsesses about the fight. The fight not only occupies one's thoughts all the time, it also dominates one's activities. I wake up in the morning and do mobility exercises, yoga-like movements that will lower my chances of getting injured, and make me more powerful. Many people are happy to get an hour a day to exercise. I spend at least an hour a day getting ready to exercise.

I run. I lift weights. I'm getting extra private lessons. I bought a Compex stimulator unit and use it daily. I plan all of my meals meticulously and carefully -- protein and fat in the morning, carbs at night. I schedule naps, because as mentioned I only get 5 hours of sleep a night. I watch fight footage and technique videos in my spare time. I stalk my opponent on Facebook and Twitter.

In truth, I become a very boring person while fight camp is going on. I am about fighting, and nothing else. There is very little that I do in any given day that is not related to my goal of winning my upcoming fight. (I do watch a lot of TV, and read a lot. That is because those are things I can do with minimal effort, either physical or mental. Most of my day, I am conserving energy.)

The time that I am not spending on the fight, I try to use to take care of personal relationships. I began writing this post on Mother's Day, and I did my best to make my mom feel special that day. My girlfriend has been tremendously supportive of me through this fight camp, putting up with both my moodiness and low energy levels, and so I do my best to take care of her in turn. But personal relationships are surely compromised through a fight camp. I see friends and family much less often than I would otherwise. In truth, I see a lot less of anyone other than my training partners and my physiotherapist.

Fighting is pretty much a financial net negative for anyone but the top 1% of pros. Fighters not in that 1% would make far more money working in a trade. I have spent money on this camp on physiotherapy, acupuncture, medical tests, private training, equipment, high-quality food, and supplements. I am very fortunate that I am not under financial pressure and that I get to pursue my passion fully. For me, the opportunity cost is more significant than the actual expenses. I have passed up on money-making opportunities (consulting jobs, poker, DFS) because of a lack of time and energy to spend on them.

This is what choosing to fight really is, beyond what you see in the cage on the night of the fight. It is angst and difficulty.

If that's the case, why does anyone do it? I'll talk more about that in my next post.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

ICYMI: Tickets and PPV for my fight

Sorry about the blatant self-promotion, but it does seem there are those who missed the first announcement.

I'm still scheduled to fight on May 30 at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, BC. Training is going well, and I am working insanely hard. My opponent is Ali Wasuk (2-0) from Clinch MMA.

You can buy tickets online here.

Once you buy the tickets, I would appreciate if you forward your confirmation to and mention my name. This will allow me to get credit for selling the ticket and drawing another fan in the door.

The pay-per-view will be available here. I don't get anything for PPV buys, but feel free to tweet @BattlefieldFL and let them know you're buying it to watch me!

Thanks for your support!