We recently sat down with Chris "GoMukYaSelf" Sparks to find out how he got started in poker, who would be in his entourage, and much more.
Hey Chris! How's it going? You are doing some serious work these days at the high-stakes no-limit games. Tell us what has been going on in your life lately.
Just life, grinding. Poker for me is definitely a full-time job, but I think it is very important to lead a balanced life. As far as poker goes, I feel like I have really progressed a long way and have been playing better than I ever have before the last few months. You never know how long these sort of stretches will last, so I am just trying to put in as many hands as I can without getting too burned out. The high-stakes games play pretty aggressively so it is hard to know how much of your success on any given day is positive variance. I just try to play my "A" game more often than my opponents and hope that the results follow.
How did you get started in poker? Did any books or training sites help you along the way?
I've always been a very competitive guy with a drive to be the best in anything from sports to card games, so my interest in poker was pretty inevitable. I've never really been blessed with a lot of natural ability, so in all games it was always important for me to work harder and be more prepared than the other guy. Between my involvement in student organizations and making time for power hours and house parties at Ohio State, I didn't really have much time to dedicate to my new passion in poker - but that didn't really stop me from trying.
After some guys I played $10 home games with deposited online and started having some success (surprisingly - I thought they were fish), I decided to give online poker a shot and started playing mid-large field multi-table tournaments in my spare time. I had no bankroll management, though, depositing $55 to play $55 MTTs and such. Luckily, I had a fairly lucrative position coordinating the advertising at our school newspaper, which sort of subsidized my early poker career [laughs]. Eventually I broke through, winning an MTT and "Moneymakering" a bankroll.
I decided to take poker a bit more seriously and made a nice side profit through sophomore and junior years. After a big heater where I won two major MTTs in the same week senior year, in my brilliance I decided that I had "mastered" tournaments and decided to play cash games for the first time. Obviously I jumped right into $1/$2 and started 24-tabling with predictable results. I was a fast learner though, and after a couple months started crushing the games and never really looked back. That was a little over two years ago, and it is crazy to think about how far I have come in such a short time. I am a big believer that information is power, and I try to get my hands on any piece of poker knowledge that I can. When I was first learning the games, I read just about every book and magazine article out there and have probably watched over 200 training videos lifetime. When you get to a certain point though, there just isn't very much information publicly available that is beyond my current understanding, so recently most of my poker "training" has been self-taught.
You pointed out two very important things in your first answer - always bringing your "A" game and living a balanced life. First thing, how do you always bring your "A" game? Do you have certain rituals or routines before you play whether it be going to the gym before, etc.?
I think anyone that says they play their "A" game all the time is lying, but I try to play my "A" game as often as I can. When I played low/mid-stakes it was much easier, since I could play a pretty set schedule and thus have a pretty solid routine to follow to get myself mentally and physically ready to play. At high stakes I don't have that luxury as the games can start and stop at any minute so a constant state of "readiness" is more important.
I try to keep myself well-rested and pay pretty good attention to the timing of my meals. I think overall though the most important thing is knowing yourself. There are some times where the games might be good but I just don't think I can "bring it" for whatever reason - I'm tired, frustrated, distracted, whatever, and I wait for a better spot - I think the edges are too small these days to do otherwise.
As far as in a session, I try to isolate myself from results as much as I can and just focus on making the best decisions I can with the information I have. A lot of times I will honestly have no idea if I am winning or losing until after the session is over and I review the hands. I think the "quit decision" is very important too, a lot of guys will play too long and I think they are costing themselves money. If I am on the verge of tilt or things just aren't going my way for whatever reason, I won't hesitate to walk away - there's always another game.
Obviously getting away from the computer and socializing is a big thing. Explain to the us how you balance your life and why you think it is necessary.
Poker obviously won't go the way you want it to the majority of the time so that's why I think its very important to have other aspects of your life you can fall back on - primarily your relationships with friends and family but also outside interests and pursuits. Living in the Hollywood Hills poker house (I share a place with four other poker players), it is natural that I would be semi-immersed in the poker world, so I try to make an effort to maintain relationships with more normal people [laughs] with diverse professions and interests that I can learn from. They help keep me grounded and give me some valuable perspective and insight. At the end of the day, poker is just a way to pay the bills - it's not who I am at my core. Having a balanced life helps me remember that.
We heard you live in a sick house in Los Angeles. Do you live next to any celebrities?
The mansion we are renting in L.A. is pretty sick. We are definitely paying a lot of rent by most standards, but we look at it more like investing in life experience and in that sense, our investment has paid off more than we could have ever imagined. Personally, I'm having a blast out here - I love these guys. Poker wise, I feel like I owe a lot to being able to talk strategy with them every day. The house has opened up some doors to us, too. We have met so many cool and interesting people we might not have come across otherwise. For example, a reality show producer heard about our story and convinced us to do some filming for a potential reality show series (working title is Young Guns, check out the trailer on YouTube and feel free to troll away). Being in a reality show is something I never would have considered before, but why not? Just trying to keep an open mind and enjoy the experience.
If you’re not grinding out the high stakes, what would you be doing?
I'm pretty easy going. I like just about everything, so I have pretty diverse interests, which vary from day to day. I live in a city where there are a ton of great concerts and events all the time, so I try to get to as many of them as I can. I love meeting new people, especially people with different backgrounds so I guess I just hang out and chat with friends a lot. I guess I probably read a ton for someone my age. The topic will vary from day-to-day, and I rarely actually finish a book. Anything from finance to psychology to documentaries (crime and mobster stuff is my favorite). I am a pretty big movie buff too, I am running out of good movies to watch so if anyone has some must-see recommendations let me know [laughs].
What are your top three movies of all time?
Godfather Part II, City of God, and The Prestige.
You’re at Supperclub in L.A. Who are the five people in your entourage?
Mark Cuban, Guy Laliberte, and Richard Branson because they all define what it means to be a boss and represent the level that I am aiming for [laughs]. The contenders for the female spots are wide open - let's go with Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis. Beauty is a dime a dozen here in L.A., but those two seem like they would be a blast to party with.
If you weren't a poker a poker player what would you be doing?
My professional poker career somewhat happened by accident. I studied marketing and psychology at Ohio State and it is still somewhat a passion of mine. I actually accepted a job in advertising after graduation and if it wasn't for a strange turn of events, it's probably what I would be doing for a living right now. Poker was just an afterthought for me at the time. I was making some decent money from it, but had always had it drilled into my head that the only option was the corporate route - work hard, network and try to work your way up the ladder - so going pro never really crossed my mind. This company, for lack of a better way of putting it, screwed me over. Basically kept me waiting with various promises for over six months and completely shattered the corporate dream for me. It was a blessing in disguise, though, being in a new city with infinitely more free time than I was used to having in college was a great opportunity to dedicate myself to taking my poker game to the next level and made me realize what ridiculous earning potential poker had to offer.
We have one more $15,000 Sunday Million Freeroll with PokerStars left to qualify for, with $1,000 to the winner and 260 tournament tickets, including 45 Sunday Million Tickets on offer.