Together with Bruce Briggs, my co-host over at the Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast, I recently interviewed Jonathan Little, a 2-time winner at the World Poker Tour and author of a number great poker books, including the 3-volume Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker series and Jonathan Little on Live No-Limit Cash Games, as well as hundreds of great strategy articles and videos on his own websites as well as other great poker sites. Jonathan spoke with us about a number of interesting topics, offering his views on sunglasses and headphones while at the poker table, telling us why poker coaching for $300 per hour could very easily be justified, and regaling us with interesting stories about he got his start playing poker professionally. SPOILER ALERT – airplanes were involved! Want to learn more about that? Below, you’ll find the entirety of Episode 223 of the podcast, which includes the interview with Jonathan starting at around the 8:45-minute mark. You can also read the summarized transcript below.
Interview Transcript (Summarized)
We’re happy to have with us as our guest Jonathan Little. Jonathan is a 2-time World Poker Tour winner, has won over $6 million lifetime, has a website floattheturn.com, and has written many poker books. We’ll be talking to Jonathan about tournament poker, cash game poker, and much more. Welcome to the show!
Thanks, I’m happy to be here!
Based on our research, we see that your first tournament cash was back in 2006. So what’s your poker background prior to then? When did you start taking the game seriously to the point that you thought “hey I could do this for a living”?
I started playing around 2003–2004. I was in high school or college; don’t remember exactly. I was playing Magic: The Gathering and one of my friends asked if I wanted to play in a poker tournament. It was for low stakes just $1. I lost. I kept playing once in a while, and I noticed that the same guy kept winning, and I realized that he was just better than us, not luckier. So I started reading all the poker literature I could. I started playing limit poker online on True Poker and PartyPoker. I eventually was able to run it up to the point where I was playing $30/$60 limit on PartyPoker, which was the biggest game they had online back in the day. No Limit wasn’t even really a think yet.
When I was 18 years old I started playing $200 Sit N Gos…moved up and down a little bit stakes-wise over the next three years. At 21 I decided to play live poker. But between the ages of 18–21 I was basically playing poker online all the time. I had a full-time job fueling airplanes, was also going to college, but slowly and surely I started dropping all that to just focus on poker.
Regarding the job, I made it a point to get on the graveyard ship at the airport, and about half of that time was dead time anyway. So I spent a lot of that time studying poker – that’s how I got good. I had a lot of free, uninterrupted time and it was very beneficial to me.
And did you keep on playing in those home games?
Well, those games were with the Magic guys and I’d rather have money at that point in my life, so I stopped playing those home games and just made an extra $1,000 all the time online.
Doyle Brunson once said something on High Stakes Poker to all the Magic guys, like David Williams: a bunch of young good looking guys, I don’t get why you’re holed up all playing games together indoors when you could be going out and getting the girls.
Well, once you win enough and start making some good money, you’ll be able to get the girls too…
I read on your site, jonathanlittlepoker.com that you did a post about sunglasses at the poker table. One point you made that I hadn’t thought of before is that by allowing sunglasses it encourages amateur players in the game. You were in favor of the sunglasses – want to elaborate?
I’m in favor of doing anything and everything that makes amateur players more comfortable and wanting to play. Another example of this is ladies tournaments. If it’s something that’s going to make the ladies more comfortable and into the poker room, some of them will trickle over into the other games. Same for the sunglasses people. I want to make the barrier of entry into poker as low as possible.
The sunglasses don’t give you a huge edge or anything, but they can definitely provide a level of safety or comfort.
By the same token – how about headphones? It’s sort of similar to sunglasses but they could also be a potential distraction to the player as well as the other players. What do you think about that?
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a decent professional have any problem with someone wearing headphones. Sometimes there’s a problem with amateurs who are new to poker. The WSOP has a rule “no headphones once you’re in the money”. I think it might be there to protect amateurs so that they don’t make a gigantic blunder for a lot of money. I wear headphones whenever there’s someone who is annoying at the table. In general I’d think you wouldn’t want to wear headphones because then you could pick up tells on other players more easily.
With home games, there’s a very social aspect involved. If you’re wearing sunglasses and headphones at a home game, you probably won’t get invited back.
The biggest winners in the poker world are the ones who are able to keep on getting invited back to play in the softest games. Don’t think that you need to be a world-class player to win a ton of money; you just need to know the right people.
In the really high-stakes private games, most of the players are just guys who wanna sit and have a good time. As a professional player, you have to be willing to give those guys that type of experience. If you sit there with your sunglasses and headphones and aren’t social, you won’t be giving them what they want and you probably won’t be getting invited back.
You also do a podcast each week (as well as a blog post each week). We’re obviously pro-podcast. You also wrote that you liked the Mental Game of Poker Podcast – we had Jared Tendler on a while back. You also wrote that you liked Life After Poker. Tell us more.
Ya, it’s by Terrance Chan, who used to run PokerStars support. Also used to play a lot of poker; not so much anymore. I just think it’s interesting to learn what guys who used to be in the poker world and aren’t any longer are now up to. I’m fascinated by people who are doing well in life.
I make a point to try and use my time wisely. When I’m on an airplane or in the gym I’m always listening to a podcast. I have a huge list of podcasts I have to get through.
Ya, well we’ve tried to find our little niche of catering to the tastes of home game poker players here on the Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast.
Home game players make up the vast majority of players, at least in America. Most people don’t have a poker room near them. The rake at those places is high and it’s difficult to beat that unless you’re playing for really high stakes, so it makes sense for home game players to get together and have a good time, rake-free, so long as they’re not doing anything illegal of course.
You’re a very prolific poker author, having produced hundreds of articles and training videos over the years for publications like Card Player Magazine and Pokerstrategy.com. You’ve also penned 4 books; the 3-volume Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker series and recently Jonathan Little on Live No-Limit Cash Games. Why so much dedication to trying to teach people how to be better poker players?
It’s a very rewarding thing to do for me because I get to improve people’s lives. More than 100 people have come up to me and told me they used to play for small stakes and now they’re professional poker players. Particularly, if you live in a place with a low cost of living, you could make it as a professional poker player even not playing for the highest of stakes. A lot of people in that situation have followed my coaching strategies in that regard.
In my career I’ve spent about $20,000 on coaching and it’s been worth it. I look at it as tuition and it’s cheaper to learn from someone who has already been there than try to figure it out yourself. Lots of people want to get the knowledge out of my head, so that’s why I do it. Coaching people also makes me a better player. Once in a while I’ll learn a thing or two as well. I also learn how amateur players play from listening to their thought processes – that’s something that’s pretty tough for us pros to do.
You’ve spent a good amount of money on coaching – who are your inspirations and who have you gone to in the past to learn poker?
In the past, I would try to learn a new game every 6 months. I would pick a different coach for each game – someone who specialized in that game. The one who has probably been the most beneficial to me was Greg Shahade; an international chess master and a very good high stakes Sit N Go player. I paid him $5,000 for 10 hours of coaching, which is high; like $500/hour. But he told me that he valued his time highly and that I’d make it back very quickly, which I did. He didn’t teach me too much generally speaking, but the things that he did teach me (plugging certain leaks in my game) helped me to the tune of about a 2% increased edge. That might not sound like much, but when you’re playing for high stakes and a ton of volume, that’s very significant; so I made a ton of money from his tips.
Today, I just bounce ideas of my poker friends – we sort of coach each other.
What’s floattheturn.com about and what’s unique about it versus other training materials?
It’s a training site I’ve had for a while. Over 500 videos. Only $10 a month and you get 10 new videos a month + access to all the old ones as well.
Many sites out there want like $100 a month, but I’m not trying to gouge people – there’s value in the coaching and what I offer.
I also offer one free webinar there each month. A few other coaches post videos there too.
I’ve seen a few times on Twitter that you offer 1-on-1 training sessions for $300/hour. In the non-poker world that’s a LOT of money; even in the poker world that’s a sizable sum. Seems like someone would have to have quite the bankroll to pay for lessons from you… Honestly, if that’s something they could already afford, they’re probably earning enough from poker not to need lessons, no?
It goes back to what I was saying: If I can increase someone’s win rate by even a tiny percentage, that’s gonna pay off pretty quickly (assuming they’re playing high stakes and putting in lots of volume). I don’t get very many recreational players. The majority of people are aspiring pros who have a job and a decent bankroll. They’re just looking to improve and I’m pretty good at finding holes in people’s games. I mean, you show me 10 hands, I can probably find 5–6 things you’re doing wrong.
I sort of look at poker coaching as tuition for going to college. People are perfectly willing to pay $20,000 a year to go to college but they’re really nitty when it comes to hiring a poker coach and paying for that type of education. If you want to get good information from qualified people, you need to pay some sort of a premium. I’m not really too big of a fan of offering coaching $300/hour, as I have other stuff I need to be doing. The other stuff I do, like article writing and video making is scalable, in that I can be training many more people simultaneously and making more money from that than just a one-on-one for $300/hour.
It’s great when such knowledgeable people like yourself, who have learned so much, are so ready and willing to give back and help other people.
I’m a big fan of teaching people who want to get good at stuff how to get good at it. That’s going to make them happy and that’s what makes me happy.
A lot of people don’t care to get good; they just want to sit around, play and have a good time. That’s not my target audience. My training is for people who aren’t afraid to get out of their comfort zone and who want to win money.
Thanks so much for your time Jonathan.