In December of 2018, Alex Fitzgerald and D&B Publishing released his second book ‘Exploitative Play in Live Poker.’ The book is a follow-up to his successful first volume ‘The Myth of Poker Talent.’ I sat down with Alex in Queens, NY to talk about the book and what the reception has been like so far. But in addition to his book, we discussed numerous other topics such as the state of the game right now, how it felt to be at a final table with over a million bucks on the line, and why going broke was in reality a blessing for him. Here now is my interview with Alex Fitzgerald, and be sure to come back next week for PartTimePoker’s in-depth review of ‘Exploitative Play in Live Poker.’
PTP: Alex, thanks for joining me here today. And congrats on the book. I’ve already recommended it to several players.
Alex: Thanks, Keith, I appreciate that.
PTP: So how long after your first book ‘The Myth of Poker Talent’ was published did you decide you wanted to write this second one?
Alex: I knew I wanted to do this book immediately after ‘The Myth Of Poker Talent’. I thought MOPT had to be done, because basic combinatorics and the math behind it gets you very far in poker. It helps you design your own plays. People need to know how to do that, and I thought there should be a guide.
After ‘The Myth Of Poker Talent’ was done, however, there were a number of people who read that book and said, “I can tell you know how to deconstruct poker plays. Now can you tell me what plays you found generally worked?”
I kept referring to my own playbook when that happened. Finally, I wanted to put a version of my playbook together in print format, and that’s how ‘Exploitative Play In Live Poker’ was born.
PTP: Was the writing process any different between these two volumes? And what about the experience from your first book did you use in crafting this second?
Alex: ‘The Myth Of Poker Talent’ was extremely deliberate. I wanted to make sure all the prompts and images were just right so someone could follow along at home. I knew that people would be using ‘Myth Of Poker Talent’ instructions for years to come, so I was careful. I reread it constantly and deleted entire sections I didn’t feel were good enough.
‘Exploitative Play In Live Poker’ was a different experience. I had just gotten to Queens, New York at that time. I was amped up. I tried to be more off the cuff. “This is my opinion, take it or leave it,” was the general theme. Thankfully, a number of people seemed to enjoy that.
PTP: Do you prefer one of your two books better or is that like picking your favorite child?
Alex: ‘Exploitative Play In Live Poker’ was more fun to write, because it’s essentially me mouthing off about my favorite plays. It’s deliciously fun to teach people how to bash holier-than-thou poker “pros” on the felt.
‘The Myth Of Poker Talent’ was my baby though. It took me a number of years to write that book in its varying forms. The math in that book is near and dear to my heart, because it helped me so much in life.
PTP: Your first book was filled with charts from Flopzilla, range calculators, Cardrunners EV, ICMIZER – seemingly on every page. But EPILP not so much; it’s much more text and conversational in tone. Talk to me about that transition. Was it a conscious one?
Alex: It was conscious. ‘The Myth Of Poker Talent’ was about how to train yourself to play poker for the rest of your life. It was meant for serious students of the game. Trends will change in poker, the math will not. If you know how to adjust the numbers, you’ll see the next play before the population does. That’s why ‘The Myth Of Poker Talent’ was so important to me.
That said, most of my clients are working people. They don’t have a ton of time to work on their games. They don’t intend to go pro. They just want to hold their own on the HPT or WSOP Circuit or at $1/$2 in their local casino. They want to not have to pay for their hobby. For them, I wanted to write ‘Exploitative Play In Live Poker.’ That book harkened back to the early days in poker, when guys would meet up in the diner and discuss strategy before they drove on over to the felt. That book was supposed to be a conversation, because conversations stay in your memory. Stat sheets don’t.
PTP: So maybe five years ago this big debate erupted over GTO versus Exploitative Play. Do you think that argument is blown out of proportion and what side of the fence do you personally fall on, if any?
Alex: Look, the best way I can describe GTO and Exploitative play is within the context of rock, paper, scissors. If you’re playing a kid who keeps throwing rock, then you should throw paper. That makes you exploitable, however, so it’s your job to pay attention to whether the kid adjusts or not.
If you show up at a rock, paper, scissors tournament for serious money, using a randomizer that picked each option 33.33% of the time would be an intelligent option before you figured out each player’s tendencies. This would allow you to be unexploitable while you explored weaknesses. That’s a powerful position to be in.
Then, when you saw your opponent favored a certain option, you could adjust your frequencies ever so slightly, to further exploit your opponent. Hopefully, you wouldn’t adjust so much so as to announce your new exploitable position, but you’d need to stay alert to that possibility.
So, as you can see, they’re different sides to the same coin. Most of the best GTO practitioners would tell you they’re working on exploiting their opponents when they play. I wrote a book about exploitative poker, and I can tell you when I play against great competition I have to randomize and try to find optimal frequencies. You can’t approach this game without knowing each side of this equation. To say that either one is superior is like saying you should go into a boxing match with only a jab or a cross.
PTP: One of my favorite things about EPILP was that the gloves come off a little bit. Without sounding judgmental you basically come right out and say “Look, this demographic of people generally plays this way, this age group plays this way, this nationality plays this way.” Were you trepidatious at all over saying things like that, regardless of how strongly you felt about them?
Alex: I have one rule when I write these books or make strategy videos: The strategies have to work. No one cares how beautiful your theory is or how smart you sound. Poker players always want to sound like the smartest guy in the room, so they make their strategies horrendously convoluted.
The truth is, if your strategy doesn’t make people money no one cares. Poker players are busy people. They have real jobs. They have families. They don’t have time for BS.
If you spend a certain amount of time in a card room, certain things become obvious: A practiced GTO game is more popular in Europe. Younger men tend to enjoy playing wilder poker. Older men sometimes seem to be there for coffee and conversation, so they can have a good time during their retirement.
Outliers do exist. That doesn’t change general trends, however. I was 18-years-old, and a huge nit when I started, but that didn’t change the fact most guys my age were playing aggressive for the hell of it.
We need to talk about these things before we show up to a game so we can be prepared for them. If we don’t do that, we won’t be prepared to win.
PTP: What’s the editing process like for something like this? Obviously D&B go over the grammatical and syntactical editing of your book, but do you bounce your ideas off anyone? Are there poker players that you trust to edit this for content?
Alex: For years and years, I had hundreds of students. I did three to five lessons a day when I wasn’t playing poker. To warm up before a session I’d often do one lesson with a student.
The great part of that process was very quickly I learned what worked and didn’t work. Poker players tend to be pretty vocal if something isn’t working for them, and that’s a good thing. If my explanation was confusing, I heard about it. If my strategy wasn’t working anymore, I heard about it.
If I was playing all by my lonesome, I could BS myself. I could be running well with inferior strategies, which would lead me to being overconfident. But when 20 guys in a week try a new play of yours you’re going to find out rapidly whether you’re right or not. If 18 out of 20 guys say it works, you can focus on what’s different in the two guys who didn’t succeed, but if you get mixed results you know you need to get back to the drawing board.
PTP: Are there any plans for books in the future?
Alex: I have one idea which is more in the vein of ‘Exploitative Play In Live Poker.’ It looks like it will be fun to write. Stay tuned!
PTP: And besides that, what are you working on?
Alex: I have a number of different products designed for rapid improvement in specific games. Cash games, tournaments, turbo tournaments, live poker, the works. You can learn about them all at:
There’s also tons of free training videos on that site, so check those out as well.
If you sign up for the newsletter, you can also get free strategic content sent to your email inbox daily from me. Just make sure to add [email protected] to your contacts.
PTP: The book ends with a somewhat cautionary tale – warning about the dangers of becoming a poker pro, the pitfalls of this life, and what it takes to survive. What was your thinking in ending the book like this? Most poker books I’ve read are very ‘believe in yourself’ and ‘hope springs eternal.’
Alex: I’ve gotten so much feedback on the end of the book. Essentially, what I wanted to leave people with is a realistic impression of what professional poker is like. I’ve probably worked with more working professionals than anyone, and I can tell you the average salary is $40,000 to $60,000 a year. According to my taxes, the vast majority of my playing years saw me making around $50,000.
That was fine for me. I didn’t start with that much when I was 18. If I failed in poker, I was just going to end up right back where I was…crashing in my friend’s garage working security jobs. I had nothing to lose, and truthfully, I’ve had a lot of fun.
However, if your parents are willing to help you go to school, go ahead and do that. It’s not fun being in your 30s without a college degree or any trade experience. My resume doesn’t have a real employer on it since 2006. That’s a risk. A journeyman carpenter doesn’t have that anxiety. A poker player does.
If you can find something to fall back on, you can play poker without fear. That is extremely powerful. I want my students to have that. If you’re willing to bust your ass too there’s a lot of opportunities out there. It doesn’t have to be a four-year degree. You can go to trade school. You can apprentice for someone. There are options. The more diversified you are, the more stable you can be. That’s power on the felt.
PTP: You talk some about old poker pros that were on top of the world, but haven’t been able to adjust to today’s game. Why do you think this happens?
Alex: I tell people all the time that going broke was good for me when I was very young. The reason for that was I had to take a hard look at my game, and what I found was something I’ve actually heard you talk about.
My natural game just happened to be right for that time in history. I wasn’t a good poker player at all. In 2007 to 2009, all I did was raise and re-raise everyone because I liked playing poker that way. That turned out to be a great idea at the time, because people folded their big blind often and folded to three-bets.
In 2010, I made some poor financial decisions, and I had to take a hard look at my game. I realized I was way worse than I thought I was. That’s when I began teaching myself the math day and night.
The math showed me a tighter but more aggressive way to play that was more appropriate for the games then. This helped me get to some FTOPs and WCOOP/SCOOP final tables just a year or two later.
If I hadn’t gone broke, though, that learning process would have never happened. I made the EPT San Remo final table before all of that. Imagine if my dumb 21-year-old ass would have won that? I would have gone from working at Arby’s at 17 to winning $2,000,000+ in Italy four years later. I would have thought I was a genius. I probably would have played every 10K I could have, and never adjusted my game. A few years later, I would have been in the same exact predicament as many of these old poker pros. I’d be multiple years behind the curve, as opposed to just one year or two. Then, I think at that point pride plays a big issue. You know you need to move down, but you don’t want people to be talking about you. So, you keep playing high stakes, keep going through your money, and one day you realize it all got away from you. It can happen to anyone.
PTP: So apart from the book, a question just from me. You’ve been at a final table (specifically that 2009 EPT San Remo Main Event) where first place was massive. 99% of the people reading this never have, and probably never will, play at a final table where first place is over a million dollars. Can you describe what sort of emotions go through you before, during, and after an event like that?
Alex: To be honest with you, you just try to focus on one hand at a time, otherwise you’ll lose your mind. If you start looking at the crowd or thinking of the payouts, you’re not going to play like yourself. Before I got to that final table a SNG wizard friend of mine had been trying to teach me push-fold math. Because that tournament played so shortstacked, I was just trying to remember the jam charts on every hand, then I made myself pay attention to every moment of the action. If I had stopped to take in the moment, I probably wouldn’t have played like myself.
People complain about jet lag and illness at poker tournaments, and I get that. But in a weird way, I thought they helped me in that tournament. I got a little sick to my stomach on day two, and on one particular night I only slept two hours. The weird thing was, that put me in this primal adrenaline-only mode where all I could focus on was the jam charts in my mind and the next hand. I sometimes wonder if I would have made that final table if I were perfectly healthy. A big part of me thinks I wouldn’t have.
PTP: So who should buy this book? Who do you think it’s best geared for?
Alex: I think anybody who plays normal poker games, which is to say non-high stakes poker, should buy ‘Exploitative Play In Live Poker.’ There’s a number of plays in that book in plain English that anyone can execute.
PTP: And finally, what would you say you’ve learned about yourself from writing this book, and what do you think readers will glean the most from it?
Alex: I say this all the time, but it’s really true: There’s no substitute for hard work.
I was a terrible poker player when I started. I had to read certain poker books three times because I didn’t understand them the first two times. Kids in my high school used to kick my ass at $5.00 home games constantly. For years, I played SNGs, and got no where. But I just stayed a cardroom rat. I never took my ball and went home, and I kept thinking about the problems. Once I found the software that could visualize ranges, I started formulating my own plays. The harder I worked, the further I travelled with the game. You have to work smart, but working period is a close second. Just never stop learning, never think you’re good. If you keep moving and learning, you’ll get somewhere one day.
D&B Publishing seems to be making its mark as the go-to publisher for poker literature. In just the last year they have released books from Phil Hellmuth, Chris Moorman, Jonathan Little, Lance Bradley, Dylan Linde, and many more. And in the next year they are set to release: A Girl’s Guide to Poker, Winning Poker in 30 Minutes a Day, and Daily Fantasy Sports Unlocked.
Keith Woernle is a writer, comedian, and semi-pro poker player based out of New Jersey. He was a producer for season 10 of the World Poker Tour. He won a WSOP circuit ring in 2011. And he likes poker a lot. Follow or contact him on Twitter @WoernlePoker.