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Jonathan Little at Stones

Noted poker player, author and instructor Jonathan Little made a recent appearance at Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights. He was there to work in the commentary booth for the Stones Live production of the Fall Classic final table on Twitch TV.

Brent Harrington was on hand to talk to Little about Stones Gambling Hall, his expanded career as a teacher and author, and the things it takes to become a better poker player.

Brent Harrington:  So, first of all, how do you like Stones?

Jonathan Little: Stones is great. I didn’t know what to expect coming here, because I’d never been here. And I’m blown away. The ambiance is amazing. They have a fantastic restaurant called Sammy’s, and the poker has been fantastic. I played yesterday in a $5/5/10 game and then $4/8 limit Hold’em. Very different games and they were both a lot of fun. It’s been nothing but great.

Do you travel a lot to new poker rooms? Is this something that you have been doing a lot?

Almost never. At this point I travel mostly to casinos and poker rooms that have very big tournament series and that’s mainly so I can invest a lot of buy-ins in a short period of time, because that’s how I make a living as a professional poker player. So that typically means that I’m going to the same places over and over again on a six-month circuit, if that makes sense. But, every once in a while I get invited to a place like Stones and quite often it doesn’t fit in the schedule. But this time it did and I’m really glad I got to come out.

Is there any sort of transition between being a traveling pro and marketing yourself as coach?

I have a site (pokercoaching.com) and there I coach a lot of people. And what I have transitioned to over the last few years has been more of a poker instructor as opposed to a player. I still play two weeks per month or so, but I knew I was going to have a son, or was going to start a family, about three years ago. I knew I was going to move in that direction and I wanted to be able to be home with my son and my wife a decent amount of the time and that kind of implied figuring out a way to at least be somewhat productive from home.

So I started writing books, started coaching more students. And now I spend two or three weeks per month at home and one or two weeks per month traveling. I’m playing a lot of poker when I travel now. In the past I would play one tournament a day. Now I’m playing whatever the maximum amount of poker is.

In terms of the crowd here, has everyone been pretty accepting?

Yeah, [tournament director] Justin [Kuraitis] apparently asked a lot of the people here who they wanted to come out and commentate their final tables and enough people said me to where he invited me. So that was quite an honor. So I came out and I have met a ton of people here who have liked my work and had many people who said they made a deep run in their main event. And they studied my books, and that’s always exciting to hear. So I’m glad that people here are enjoying my work and I’m happy to be here.

Is that something that when you set out as a poker player that was a goal or just a pleasant surprise? Like, “Oh wow, these people are actually gaining some sort of benefit from me being around them and in this world?”

Well, I knew that I learned a lot from people who were better than me when I started playing poker. And it’s almost like you give back. As you develop skills, you can either keep them all to yourself or you can share them with the world. And I quickly realized that it’s much better to share your experience and your knowledge than to hoard it. I’m happy to help people. And people who want to study and want to learn or want to improve their lives, I’m happy to help them do that.

If everyone’s getting better, then the better people have to get better, too. How do you see yourself fitting into that?

Well, I probably study more than all of my students do. So I’m constantly working hard to improve as well. I associate with a lot of the best online players in the world, and I learn from them. So I’m constantly learning from the players who are playing a ton at the highest levels. And I can take that knowledge and share it with my students.

For somebody who is just starting out, where should they begin?

It depends on what you’re trying to study, first off. I mean, a lot of people just get a poker book to try and learn poker, but very often you’re playing a specific game. You’re playing no-limit Hold’em tournaments or small-stakes. If that’s the case, get a book in the strategies for competing in small-stakes poker tournaments, right? Get a small-stakes book on those games because that’s gonna give you the advice you need for that exact thing.

And you have to realize that, all these forms of poker are quite different, to some extent. Like even a small-stakes cash game or a small-stakes tournament, they look similar, they play similar. But they are different. And at this point there’s enough information available on the Internet or in books by great players that you can get very specific information on what you’re trying to learn.

And also, try to not give yourself information overload. A lot of people try to study everything when they first learn about something and very often they end up getting overwhelmed.

So are you planning on coming back if the schedule and everything works out?

Yeah, for sure. I know I’m going to be back over the next six months to a year or so. The deal I made was I wanted to be able to use footage from their screen in my training products because I have watched the Stones stream a few times and I thought it was good quality. They had a really good mix of players from very, very good to very, very splashy. And that creates a lot of good content so I’m not one of the content creators who just blatantly steals content. I always try to get licenses and agreements with the people whose content I use. And so I talked to Justin here at Stones and he said, “Yeah, come on down and commentate and you can use the footage.” So here I am.

If I did not have to live in New York City, I would just move here and play here all day at Stones, because Stones is sweet. It is shockingly nice for a cardroom in a place where you would not suspect a very nice cardroom. I was thinking, “Man, how can I come here more?”

How do you find the Sacramento crowd?

Oh they’re great. I played $5/5 yesterday and everyone wanted a straddle and so we straddled and we came to the idea to just make it a $5/5/10 game. And so we made it $5/5/10 and we ended up playing for a good long time. It was great. I had a lot of fun, everyone was splashing around, gambling it up a bit. And it was a lot of fun. I’d definitely play again.

Do you think part of your brand name as a coach and an author needs to be boosted by tournament results?

I think that tournament results are definitely relevant if you’re going to be teaching people to play tournaments or cash game results are relevant if you’re going to be teaching people to play cash games. It’s a tough thing though, because I understand there are a lot of poker players who are very good who just have not had results in tournaments, especially, because there’s a lot of variants in tournaments.

I say that in a part of almost all my books—make sure you are learning from someone who knows how to beat the game they’re discussing. It’s very important. Otherwise you’re gonna learn from someone who doesn’t know how to play the game.

Have you found there’s a line or connection between the ability to play well and the amount of time one has to devote to the game?

A lot of people, they’re very good at poker but they don’t travel to play poker because they have other stuff going on, right? A lot of people have a family or they have a job that’s a good job. I mean, I know a guy in Manhattan who’s a lawyer making half a million or more a year and while he was doing that, back online he was winning as much or more every night playing online. But he didn’t quit his job to go full time because he had a good job. He’s almost certain to not become a professional poker player because he has too good of a life, right? He’s already doing too well.

So quite often, people have a career, they’re not going to turn that down to travel and play poker. If someone has a family and they just like being home with their family, that’s their priority. They’re not going to travel and play poker. I mean, that’s my situation some would say now. My priority is to be home, so I’m not going to travel and play poker, or as often. The minimum amount of time. Like right now I’m just trying to play as much as possible in the smallest amount of time.

And so, yeah there’s certainly a lot of great poker players at all local casinos who, for whatever reason, decide that they don’t necessarily want to go travel and play poker. Or you know, maybe they decide to take a shot here and there each year and if they do well, maybe they’ll give it a run and if they don’t, they don’t. It’s certainly possible to make a good living just playing at a local cardroom.

If you’re that guy or that girl that has a good job and who doesn’t necessarily have a ton of time to play, do you think there’s a minimum amount of time you have to be able to devote to poker? Like a couple hours a day or so many hours a week if you want to actually see an improvement?

That’s a tough question because, really, to beat poker, you just need to find people who are worse than you to play with. That’s all you really have to do. So you’ll see this in a lot of private home games in L.A. where it’s a bunch of celebrities playing $200/400 no-limit where you have one random pro who’s okay, who would be efficient in a random $5/10 game but he’s playing $200/400 no-limit because he’s playing against complete amateurs. So, in theory, if one of those complete amateurs devotes an hour per week to studying poker, if they’re kind of smart, they’re going to become the second best player in that game despite the fact that they probably couldn’t beat the $1/2 no-limit in a casino.

But to become very world-class, you need to devote a lot of time to poker. And if you look at every person who is regularly playing $25,000 buy-in tournaments, they’ve all had like three or four year stretches of their life where all they did was play poker. And that’s why you see a lot of the best players in the world are 28 to 35 years old; that was right in the poker boom, all of those players who got into poker at that time were very often college or high-school students who didn’t really have anything going on. They had no responsibilities. I fall into this category. I had no responsibilities when I was 18 or 19. If all you do is play poker for three years, and you end up devoting yourself to it, you’ll get very good at it.

But today the environment is a little bit different because Americans especially can’t really play online poker as easily as you could in the past. Fortunately there are lots of ways to study online now like my site PokerCoaching.com. There we have a lot of interactive quizzes, right? So it’s like you are playing and getting feedback immediately and doing things like that will make you better at poker and I had none of those tools when I was starting. All I could do was play a lot, use very low level programs to study and go from there. But today there are a lot of tools that make you decently good pretty fast.

But again, to become one of the best in the world, you do have to devote yourself to it.

Alright, I think that’s it, unless you have anything else you want to add about Stones.

Well, Stones is great. I definitely suggest that everyone check it out. If you go to Sammy’s they have a great salmon dish.

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