When you talk about approaches to poker, there are two extremes. At one end you’ll find players who are guided almost entirely by instinct and don’t spend a lot of time articulating their processes. At the other end you’ll find players like Andrew ‘Foucault’ Brokos, who spend so much time articulating their process that one wonders – when do they actually find time to play? All kidding aside, Brokos is an excellent player with a focus on mid stakes no limit cash and some interesting insights into what it takes to make both a good poker player and industry alike.
Brokos is best known to most as a regular author over at 2+2 and an instructor for the online poker training site PokerSavvy+, although others might recognize him from his deep run in last years WSOP Main Event. He took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us via email.
PTP: First, let’s start off with the obvious question – why Foucault? Why not Derrida or some other (relatively) obscure critical-theorist-type?
AB: It’s nothing to do with who’s more relevant to poker (though actually Foucault writes a lot about understanding power relationships through a “strategy” framework). Foucault was just one of my favorite writers as a philosophy student and college. In some sense, though, he was responsible for my getting into poker. I graduated from college with a philosophy degree, and, naturally, had trouble finding a job. While I was looking for work, mostly in the non-profit sector, I was playing $5 sit-and-goes to make a little money on the side. I soon realized that if I took poker seriously, I could make more money playing part-time than I would full-time at any of the terrible entry level jobs I was applying for. Ultimately, poker gave me the time and money to launch the non-profit organization that I wanted.
PTP: Here’s another favorite: I’m a reasonably intelligent person with a grasp of poker fundamentals and a good amount of free time – let’s say 20 hours a week. How long would I have to work to have a shot at beating 5/10 NL 6 max online? How long would I have to work to beat 5/10 live for the same net hourly win?
AB: There’s a lot of caveats here, but supposing you were to do it solely by playing and analyzing your own game, I’d say it would take you a year or so. That might be overly optimistic these days, but you could also speed it up considerably by watching instructional videos or especially by hiring a coach. That’s just to beat it with good game selection, which I think almost any reasonably intelligent person could eventually do. To be able to sit down and beat any 6-max game going would be a lot tougher.
Learning to beat 5/10 live would be a cake walk. Beating it for the same hourly rate would be impossible, assuming you are multi-tabling when you play online. Live poker sucks.
PTP: In an online poker world largely populated by specialists, you’re a bit of a hold out insomuch that you seem willing to compete in various formats of cash and tournament play at fairly high buy in levels. Discuss.
AB: I don’t know, I unfortunately do think of myself as a NLHE specialist. I’d like to become more well-rounded, and especially to get better at this PLO thing all the kids are playing these days, but that’s just never how I feel like spending my poker time. I really admire players like Anthony Rivera, Terrence Chan, Vanessa Selbst, and Tom Chambers, to name a random few, who maybe have a favorite game but can compete at the highest levels of other games as well.
It’s true that I do play a variety of NLHE games, from 6-max to full ring to tournaments. I guess that’s my compromise. I started off my poker career as a tournament player, so it still pains me to miss a Sunday. It’s just hard to shake the feeling that, “Maybe that was going to be my week!” But that’s also what I hate about tournaments.
PTP: You’ve written tons of articles for 2+2 strategy. I’ve read a handful, but save us the time and pick the two that people should absolutely read above all others.
AB: I’ve been shamefully bad about updating the article archive on my website. It would depend on where you are in your skill development, but overall I think the best articles are those that help you to see the whole game in a new light. Most people focus far too narrowly on how to play this or that situation and miss the interconnectedness of decisions from street to street and hand to hand. So I guess I’d choose the two-part “Your Opponent’s Arsenal” series (Part 1 and Part 2). Profitable Mistakes is a good one too- that realization was a real eye-opener for me and saved me a lot of frustration.
PTP: Your blog is (with the exception of the 7-11 vignettes) fairly impersonal. Is that part of a philosophy you have regarding what a blog should be, or just a natural outgrowth of how you prefer to write?
AB: I would love to write about myself, I just don’t think anyone would want to read it. There are people with really interesting lives who can fill a blog with great personal stories. Shane Schleger and Tony Dunst come to mind. For the most part, I don’t think I’ve got enough interesting stories to tell about myself to support a more personal blog. My work in the Boston Public Schools introduces me to a lot of characters, but often they are either people I still need to work with or young people whose stories I’m not going to share in a public forum. But I do write about that stuff occasionally, when something both appropriate and funny or interesting comes up.
PTP: If you spend any time on poker forums, you’ll hear a lot of pining for the “Party Poker (i.e. pre-UIGEA) Days”. Do you think there’s a tendency to overstate how soft the games were in that era, or have the games – especially the mid stakes cash games) really gotten that much tougher over the last few years?
AB: I think the games have gotten much tougher. As fortunate as I consider myself to be making money at this game at all, I do wish that I could have been as good as I am now a few years ago, or at least had the bankroll and stomach to play in bigger games. I feel like I could have been making two to three times what I am now with a lot less stress.
PTP: If you could magically banish any single player from ever sitting on your immediate left again …
AB: David Benefield is probably the biggest pain, because he understands how to exploit position better than almost anyone and it’s a huge part of his game. Thankfully he very rarely plays down in the little leagues where I am. Recently Dani Stern has been sitting at a lot of 5/10 deep tables, and I would love to wave a magic wand and send him back up to 25/50. But he’s a beast even when he’s out of position, so I’m not sure that just moving him to my right would be enough.
PTP: With a screen name like yours and a blog title like yours, one begins to suspect you’ve got a few books on your reading list that aren’t directly poker-related. What are some of the non-pokercentric texts that have had the largest impact on your game?
AB: I actually don’t read much philosophy any more, or many poker books for that matter. I mostly read literary fiction or non-fiction stuff related to public education and/or urban poverty.
I don’t think they’ve impacted my game much, but they do influence the way I think about the relationship between poker and society. On the one hand, the game is wonderful training for decision-making in the real world. On the other hand, it’s absorbing a lot of great minds entirely and pretty much wasting their talents. I would love see more poker players get involved in something outside of poker. We’ve seen recently how badly people, even so-called professionals, manage risk and make financial decisions. As a result, a lot of other decisions are being made now, decisions that will affect our country and in some cases the world for generations to come, with frighteningly little forethought. Which businesses will survive and which will fail? Who will work and whose skills will be wasted? What will the role of government be in American life? I wish I had more confidence in the people making those decisions. Successful poker players are great decision makers, and that’s a talent that’s badly needed right now. At least we’ve got one in the White House.
PTP: Any plans to one day go the “Tao of Poker” route and write a book that views poker through the lens of a particular philosophical prism? If not, any plans for any sort of book?
AB: I’ve been threatening to write a book for a while. Recently I’ve been kicking around some more concrete ideas, but I don’t think I want to say more than that right now.
PTP: Why PokerSavvy+? Why not distribute videos on your own?
AB: I have no interest in learning how to produce or market instructional videos, and even if I did, I’m sure the people at PS+ would do a far better job. I really contribute only the poker content. Everything that looks and sounds good about the videos is added by the PS+ production staff, and they’re working very hard to tap new markets as well. I could never do any of that on my own. Not to mention they are just a very enjoyable outfit to work for, with a great approach to teaching poker and to working with their pros.
PTP: A little revisionism: let’s say that sites like PS+, Cardrunners, et al never existed. By what factor are current online games easier to beat?
AB: It’s impossible to say, but frankly I don’t buy into the “don’t talk about fight club” approach to poker skill. For one thing, as I said before, I look at the social role of poker as training for better decision-making more generally. So in that sense, training sites are 110% consistent with advancing the broader objectives of this little sector of our society.
But even from a strictly pokercentric perspective, I don’t see them as a negative. Poker is a “trickle up” economy. A lot of the people who lose money in my games are winning it in smaller games. Something needs to give them the skill to beat their current games and the confidence to move up to where I am waiting for them!
In “The Elements of Poker”, one of my favorite poker books, Tommy Angelo emphasizes that winning at poker requires making better decisions that your opponents not just at the table but with regard to sleeping, eating, play schedule, etc. Virtually everything you do is an opportunity to do something better than your opponents, and thus an opportunity to find an edge. Instructional books and videos are just another opportunity to “outplay” the competition. I’m going to try to make the best decisions I can about which sites to subscribe to, how much time to spend watching videos instead of playing, etc. If I balance these things better than the other players in my games, then that’s another source of profit for me.
PTP: A little honesty: how rampant do you think cheating in online poker really is? What format strikes you as most vulnerable to the colluders and multi accounters?
AB: You’re asking the wrong person. I am not tapped into the larger poker community to anywhere near the extent that a lot of others are. When it comes to multi-accounting in tournaments, at least in the huge field ones that I play, I’m more concerned about the damage to poker’s image than I am about harm to my bottom line, which is probably minimal (though it’s a far bigger problem for those who play a lot of small field, big buy-in tournaments like the weekly 1K’s or daily 100 rebuys). I’m personally most worried about high stakes NLHE players playing under other names to get heads up action from people who wouldn’t otherwise play them. I have no idea how often it happens, but it’s probably the thing that would most affect me.
Lee Jones made an interesting suggestion a while ago to allow everyone the option of playing under a new username every time they sign in. I don’t know that this is the right solution- game selection is another one of those “meta” spots where smart players can find an edge, and the opportunity to rail celebrities like OMGClayAiken and Durrr is very good for the game- but it’s the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that will help to solve the problem. Unenforceable prohibitions are better than nothing but far from an ideal solution- just ask the recording industry. Ultimately, we’ll probably need to make a compromise new technology instead of trying to force the square peg of a hundreds-of-years-old game into the round hole of the internet.
Come to think of it, this is an interesting application of Foucault’s thought to the game of poker. A lot of his work was towards an understanding of subjectivity: what an “individual” is and how people come to think of themselves as selves in the ways that they do. He would probably be fascinated by the ways in which internet screen names and avatars problematize our understanding of the individual and by our crude attempts to force a one-to-one correspondence between physical bodies and a collection of digital pixels.
Thanks to Andrew for his time. Check out Andrew’s blog here.