Tommy Angelo is a legend among the poker community. He has been playing longer than I have been alive.
I first came in contact with Tommy about 3-4 years ago I think. I contacted him after I went berserk at the poker table and realized that I needed more tiltlessness in my life.
Here’s the interview, enjoy!
Henri: I remember when I first discovered poker. One of my friends had made $500 and I instantly thought “If he can then I can” and I started reading books and everything I could get my hands on. How did you find poker?
Tommy: I started playing poker with my older brothers when I was five years old. That was in 1963. I started playing for money when I was 14. At age 17 was the first time I ever heard the phrase “professional poker player,” and I knew I wanted to be one. 13 years later, my dream came true. Two months later I was flat broke.
Henri: There are many reasons people turn pro, most of today’s online players seem to just fall into it. One day they’re making $10,000/month and they decide that it is awesome and they should try going pro, but what made you go pro, was it when you reached a certain amount of income or something else?
Tommy: I became I pro because I was so insanely addicted to poker that there was literally nothing else I wanted to do. And if I was going to do nothing but play poker, well, I was going to have to win, or else. So because of obsession and necessity, I learned how to win.
Henri: I know you’ve been playing poker for almost 20 years now, that’s almost as long as I’ve been alive! I know I’ve learned a thing or two from playing poker, so my question is.. Have you learned anything during all these years?
Tommy: Just to get the numbers straight, I went pro about 20 years ago. I played for money for 15 years before that! Yes, I have learned the most important thing to work on now and forever is playing my best all the time, no matter what it takes. If I do my best, then not only do I enjoy the game optimally, and make the most money possible, but I also have no regrets, no matter what happens.
Henri: Did you ever go broke or have to work in some weird places? What kind of jobs have you worked in your life. Did you enjoy them? What did you learn from them?
Tommy: I was either broke or on the verge of broke my first five years as a pro. I haven’t worked a regular job since I went pro. Thought I have had a variety of small income streams, such as parking cars in my yard on Ohio State University home football games (that was six days per year, back when I lived in Ohio). And writing poker articles. And, well I guess that’s it. These days, I hardly play anymore. Between doing poker coaching, and book sales, I’m making plenty of money, and I love those activities, obviously, or else I wouldn’t be doing them!
I have a new major project out right now. It’s called “The Eightfold Path to Poker Enlightenment.” It’s an 8-part poker video series. You can see it at DeucesCracked.com. You can read the details about in this blog post.
Henri: And an important question I almost forgot. We all know Eckhart Tolle (the author of Power of Now) likes cats, but do you have any pets and do you think that they are secretly manipulating us?
Tommy: I have two cats, Max and Emma, and they rule my mind and body. I am powerless before them.
Henri: There’s something strange about cats. They’re tricky. I like it. Onto the next question. Have you ever been so sick of poker that you just wanted to kill something cute? What did you do during those times? Did you take a break or just plow through it?
Tommy: 1) Yes. 2) Damaged myself instead.
Most of my running bad “breaks” were really three-day depressions. I’d just read and sleep and watch movies and not answer the phone. And there were times I plowed through. I’ve been through every kind of bad streak so many times that just about every which way of handling it, and not handling, has occurred.
Henri: You’re well known for your tiltless coaching program, where you help poker players reduce their tilt issues. If you could sum up the best advice ever on how to reduce tilt into a few sentences, what would you say?
Tommy: Meditate every morning. Tune your instrument. Then use your mindfulness skills during your sessions and on your breaks. I just made a page at my site for people looking to get started. TommyAngelo.com/meditation101.html
Henri: If someone is thinking about going pro, what would you say to them?
Tommy: Go for it.
Henri: You’ve started making a new series on the poker training site DeucesCracked called “The Eightfold Path to Poker Enlightenment”, do you have any plans to produce future videos and what will they be about (if you can disclose that)
Tommy: There are still a couple months of intensive work left to be done on the video series. After that, I am going to take a break from major projects for a few months. I have no specific plans yet as to what my next project will be. I might write a book with the same name as the video series. As to videos, I have no plans to make more, and no plans not to. My general plan is to start my next major project, whatever it is, in January 2010.
Henri: Did you ever study at college or get any “higher” education?
Tommy: I went to Ohio State University for one year. I left college to play bridge. I was definitely one of the higher people there.
Henri: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Tommy: An astronaut.
Henri: Many poker players say that being broke is an interesting feeling, you feel free. Have you ever been completely no-pennies-in-your-pocket broke? What was it like?
Tommy: Yes. It totally sucked. I did not feel free because I was broke. I felt shackled. However! It was worth all the pain, because the freedom I DID feel, the freedom of waking up everyday with no one relying on me and me relying on no one else, was absolutely priceless.
Henri: What is one of the awesomest things you’ve ever experienced at the poker table or related to poker?
Tommy: This was at a home game back in Ohio. It was like a casino game, with a house dealer and all that. Everyone knew everyone. This old-ish guy went into a red-faced vein-bulging rage over losing hand after hand. He stormed to the bathroom while blaring, “I’m going to go blow my fucking brains out.” He went into the bathroom, and we heard a gunshot go off. Nobody got up. A minute later, he came out, even more angry if you can imagine that, because no one had come to see if he was still alive.
Henri: You’ve been coaching tilting players for quite some time now. Are there any general patterns you see in people that you would like to share, like not quitting enough, not breathing etc..
Tommy: The most pervasive tilt-causing pattern, and this is in all people, not just poker players, is that we think and think and think and think, about what happened, and what will happen, and we have all this negative mental crap that get stirred up by our judgments and reactions, and if we would just stop, like, now, and just listen, and look around, and take some calming breaths, and give our discursive thoughts a chance to slow down and even stop, for just a second, if we would do just that one thing, multiple times throughout the day, our overall tilt factor would go down in direct proportion to the amount of stopping we do.
Henri: And lastly, why do you love the game of poker?
Tommy: Because it is boundless. Because it has a thousand faces. Because it tests every aspect of humanity, and it allows every skill and every trait to flower. Poker is the ultimate game because it molds itself to each person. As to playing it, I love it because, well, I don’t know why. I just know that I do.
Henri: That’s a wrap! I hope you guys enjoyed it. I know I did!