My Story Pt. 1 - The Power Of People

The continuation of my story. Here I dive into my spent living with other pro poker players, and then I take you right up until the wild events of this year. Find out what led to the most successful tournament run of my life.


After his victory, Greg Merson moved back home to be with his family and his girlfriend (and what better thing is there to do after being victorious in battle, than to return home to your loved ones to share the spoils of victory?). This left me in alone in a three bedroom apartment in downtown Toronto paying about $6,000 a month in rent. Even though I’d just received a +$200k windfall, I knew that staying here by myself was a recipe for quickly blowing through my gift. So, I went on the search for roommates, which wasn’t too hard once word got out that I’d played a small part in the transformation and eventual triumph of Greg Merson.

Griffin Benger was the first to step forward and say, “Hey man, I’d like to do what Greggy did. Do you think if I moved in with you, you could help me do that?” And me still being the somewhat self-centered person I was, I said “If you can teach me how to play tournament poker at your level, then you’ve got yourself a deal.” Griffin instantly signed on the verbal dotted line and we were both excited for what was to come.

Finding a second roommate proved slightly more challenging for a few reasons:

  1. There aren’t too many people who have $2k to spend a month in rent.
  2. It was no longer a two person dynamic: we needed a roommate who meshed with both of us.
  3. Winter was only two months away, and Toronto, Canada isn’t exactly the dream location for during this harsh season. Most people who fit criteria #1 have the freedom to live wherever they want.

But for those who were interested in becoming better versed in tournament poker, the setup of the characters in the apartment and the fact that I’d had proven success made it appealing. So, players came through, stayed for two-three months at a time, and learned from us while we learned from them. It was truly a one-of-a-kind experience, and one for which I’ll forever be grateful. We had the likes of Ankush Mandavia, Calvin Anderson, Paul Gees, Mark Herm, Nick Verkaik and Simon Charette to name a few. All of these players were extremely talented, and I was applying The Secret to our lessons. They also taught me, helping me learn what I needed to in order to win the Main Event. 

Looking back now, I can see that I was willing to sacrifice everything in the pursuit of winning the greatest poker tournament in the world - and I had the perfect setup. But deep down, my soul was saying something else to me: it was saying that these people, despite their incredible resumes in poker, needed help. They were archetypes of all the various personalities in the poker world, but while they were teaching me a lot about the game, they weren’t offering me insight into what’s needed in the poker world to alleviate stress, anxiety, worry and grant true ever-lasting happiness and fulfillment to this space. 

I played my poker sessions with them as much as I could, and I watched them play as much as I could. But I also spent a lot of time with my nose in the books, and with my body in yoga studio, massage studios and other alternative places so that I could learn about the beneficial teachings that these all-in poker professionals didn’t even consider. As I learned, I shared, and I saw my roommates and my acquaintances lives improve for the better because they were getting more balance. And I too was getting more balance in my life because I’d gone from being selfish and self-centered to being selfless and concerned with the well being of others. As their lives improved, my living environment improved, and everything else followed with that: my mood, my attitude and my results.

I went on to achieve great success in the field of tournament poker, and my four year litmus test to see just how good of a tournament poker player I could become was a success beyond my wildest dreams. 

I won my local $1k tournament for $14k: one I’d been dreaming of winning since the first day I played it. I won my first International event at the LAPT for $10k. I won many online tournaments and final tabled Sunday Majors on Pokerstars which was also a big goal of mine, to prove to myself and the world that I could compete with the big boys. And I cashed the Main Event every single year that I lived in that apartment, and also made some profits with the new-found swaps (% trades) I made with my roommates and those who had come through my apartment.

There’s no doubt: when these elite players decided to swap with me, they were decreasing their expectation in the tournament slightly, but at the same time, they knew I had what it took to get the results (hell, they were the ones who taught it to me), and they knew that I was a good guy who would do good things with the money if I were to cash in on a swap with them. This is the power of friendship and teams. They transcend the world of numbers finance and money, and really look at the overall value someone’s energy and being brings to picture.

Just as I wanted to have them in my corner for strategy if I went deep, I’m quite sure they loved to have me in their corner for all the other things that I could offer if they went deep.

I knew I was blessed to be in the situation that I was, and I was aware I was living a very unique life. I realized that unless people got to hear about it, see it, and know it through me that they may not have the drive or motivation to go after the experience themselves. This is one of the main reasons I started the Gripsed Poker Training YouTube channel and why I put so much time and effort into the content. I wanted to empower others to be able to live the same dream and, at the same time, to protect them from a lot of the darkness, pain and suffering that would come from neglecting key elements for wellness and sustainable success. 

What’s the good in having the skills to win big money, if you don’t have anyone to share it with? If you don’t have the energy to do anything fun with it, or you just have no idea what to do with money when you get it? This was the biggest flaw I saw in all these elite players: they were obsessed with poker to the exclusion of all else, and they had a hard time finding happiness when they weren’t playing.

For the first time in my life, I finally understood the saying, “money can’t buy you happiness.” I also realized that when we have happiness, money is actually quite easy to acquire. 

Environment is also key to success, as we are a product of our environment, and living in an environment wrought with addiction, compulsion, ego and competitiveness was not the optimal place for me to be, if I was to serve others and put quality teachings out there.

Eventually, the apartment was getting too tough to maintain, as more and more characters came through and the cleaning duties not being met. Think of a college dorm or second year student house and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. But now take it to another level where you have people who can afford almost anything they desire - and they desire a lot of things - and you’ve got a space that is bursting with things - except enough room to breathe.

In 2015 I moved out on my own, feeling that I’d learned all I needed to achieve my goal of winning the Main Event. I later learned that if there’s something I can’t live without, it’s my team. I also remembered strongly what Tony Robbins had once taught me: namely, that your expected income is the average of the five people you spend the most time with/interact with. Likewise your values, goals, character traits, results and life experiences are predominantly based on the five people you spend the most time with and the types of things they’re interested in.

Once I moved out on my own, suddenly I didn’t have that same feedback I required to get my grind on regularly. Yes, I now had time to myself and could design my own life, but I didn’t want to listen to my intuition because I was still fixated on the thought that to achieve my dream - to prove The Secret was a real thing -  I had to personally win the Main event. So I obsessively read books on tournament poker, purchased every strategy webinar I could find, and played every Sunday that I could, applying every technique and using every mind hack for peak performance pre-game and for relaxation and recovery post-game that I could find. 

During this period I learned a ton about the game and myself, but what I realize is that most of the poker stuff wasn’t new to me; I just needed to be reminded that I already knew it. When I was in the company of my friends, it was easy to remember that I already knew that stuff, because we are a reflection of the people we spend the most time with. 

I realized that it’s a lot harder and takes a lot more energy to learn things on my own, and that if I’d stayed in the company of my team, I could’ve trusted that I’d stay up-to-date and learn the fresh poker strategy from them, while I could focus on diving even deeper into the mental game and peak performance stuff, keeping them up-to-date on the newest, most effective techniques on that front, thereby keeping all of us playing and living at our highest levels. This is the power of the team, this is the power of the hive mind, and this is the power that The Secret often leads to us realizing: if we focus on finding and cultivating the right relationships, the rest will be easy, and our dreams will unfold for us automatically.

In that time on my own I achieved the biggest personal accomplishments I’d ever in poker:

  1. I final tabled more Sunday Majors than I ever had before (on ACR, PartyPoker and 888).
  2. I had my biggest personal score online taking 2nd in the Sunday Supersonic for $33.7k.
  3. I chopped the biggest $1k tournament in Canada, the WPT Fallsview for $162k.

But there’s one thing that I must mention, because I can’t take all the credit for these results. Not at all.

Prior to achieving result #1, I went to a seven day Heads-up Sit-n-Go boot camp where I learned about GTO (game theory optimal play) from one of the most sought after coaches in that realm: Adam ‘Cofeeyay’ Sebowlski, not to mention the other eight great minds who also attended that camp. 

Prior to achieving result #2, I spent two weeks in the Bahamas watching Tony Gregg win the PCA, watching Calvin Anderson crush online poker, and spending seven days listening to incredibly wise teachers of the mind at the Sivananda Ashram. My strategic and mental games had been brought back to their peak, because I chose to place myself in the company of the top dogs.

And finally, prior to result #3, I spent a few days with my new best friends, my ‘float family’ and experienced first hand once again what real happiness, love and support feels like. This experience gave me renewed and reinforced motivation - a reminder of why it’s worth putting in the long days in the tournament room, why it’s worth pushing the body and mind to its limits. If I emerged victorious from battle, I was going to have people to share the spoils with; I was going to have the opportunity for fresh new experiences. I wasn’t simply going to go back to the solo grind of online poker, which while profitable can be a lonely and consequently, an often demotivating experience.

But even after all that success, I still didn’t feel content, and the reason why was because I was convinced that to be happy, I needed to have my dream come true, and I still thought that meant I had to PERSONALLY win the Main Event. I had bought into that idea so much that I became attached to it and was completely blind to the fact that my wish had already been granted. I’d been there front and center to watch the experience, I’d had a share of the winnings, I’d become friends with many of the most talented players in the poker space, I had the respect of my peers and strangers alike, I had been gifted financial freedom, and I’d learned how to work hard, how to learn, and how to take care of myself so that I could do pretty much anything. Most importantly, I had true love in my life finally.

I had all the elements that go with being happy, all I had to do was accept them. All I had to do was be grateful for them, and to stop looking for something more. It was so fucking simple. It was right in front of my eyes, but because my mind was fixated and obsessed with one thing and one thing only, I couldn’t see my life for what it already was.

And then I went through some dark periods. I went through some rough and challenging experiences - experiences that gave me perspective and to show me what true darkness feels like, just so I could realize just how much light there was in my life. 

But I didn’t realize there was purpose to the darkness then. In fact, I was in danger of living in this darkness - and I’d created every inch of it myself. So, how to find my way back to light?

I’ll talk about that next week.

Photo Credit: Alfonso Jimenez | Flickr