Advice from Alex “Assassinato” Fitzgerald, Vol. 1: Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
When you get to meet me, you’ll find one thing more than any other has led to my success in poker — sheer, abject stupidity.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Alexander Fitzgerald. Online I go by the cheerful moniker, “Assassinato.” Before poker, I was a commercial fisherman, a grunt worker at a fast food restaurant, a landscaper, a professional schlepper of Persian carpets, and a security guard. I quit my last “real” job at 18, and have been a professional poker player ever since. I’ve accrued $3.5 million in tournament earnings across live and online. I’ve lived for at least a year each in Asia, Europe, and North America. I’ve spent the last four years in Costa Rica.
What’s really separated me from the pack, however, is Assassinato Coaching, my consulting brand. I have more than 600 players who have studied under me, including Players Of The Year and multiple top ten PocketFivers. The world’s largest backing houses have commissioned me to be their coach. There is no one else in MTT consultation who is more in demand right now.
I’ve always been a huge fan of PokerNews. I was honored to do podcasts with them and an interview with the legend Chad Holloway. Now they’ve commissioned me to write articles for you guys, based on lessons I give my clients. I couldn’t be more honored.
Let’s start with our first lesson today. You ready for it? Here it comes:
Yeah, you heard me. Be silly. Take chances. Whatever you do, don’t take yourself seriously.
Believe it or not, this is something I repeatedly have to harp on with students. Arrogance or an unwillingness to look stupid has sunk more poker careers than any drug, relationship, or ill conceived attempts at shot-taking.
I’ll give you one example that’s come up multiple times in my teaching. My student will be in the cutoff making a raise with not much of a hand. The button, a good regular (but not outstanding), flat-calls him on the button. The board then comes . My student has nothing, but continuation bets anyway and gets called. The turn comes the .
My student checks. “I don’t like your check,” I tell him. “Well, if I bet again, he’s just going to call,” he answers. “Let’s analyze that statement,” I’ll say.
“‘If I bet again,’ is what you said. What kind of bet are you betting again?” I ask him.
“You know,” he says. “The usual. Half the pot. Three quarters.”
“Okay,” I say, pocketing that information. “What do you think he has here?”
My student, being astute, says “well, I don’t think he has an overpair. He would have three-bet that preflop. He can’t have a set, because he’d raise that on the flop. His hand range is capped at one-pair combinations and draws.”
“So,” I say. “What bet would make those hands fold?”
Many of you already know the answer, although it didn’t seem obvious when we started. “Well, I guess a big bet,” he says to me.
“Imagine sitting there with on the button, and your opponent overbets the pot. How would you feel?”
“So he might be folding the top of his range, huh?”
Here’s where the problem comes in: Many of my students won’t want to overbet, and for a variety of reasons. Players at the table will look at them strangely. Their backer will chide them. Their poorly selected friends, obsessed with the status quo and not feeling bad about themselves, will ostracize him for not playing exactly like them, not even looking into how often the bet needs to work.
“If you bet 1.5x the pot here, how often does that bet need to work?” I’ll ask.
Quick, ask yourself. Do you know the answer to this question? The answer is 60% of the time. Does that sound like an insurmountable amount of hands to fold out? I don’t know about you, but on the button with there I’d almost always fold to a bet of 1.5x the pot, especially from an unknown. If I’m folding top pairs I’m folding close to all of my flop-calling range, which means for sure the overbet is going to work 60% of the time. It’s probably in the neighborhood of 80%+.
Obviously, this is a play you can’t overuse. Thinking back on my WCOOP season this year, I think I used it exactly one time. Yet the play well illustrates how I teach poker.
You have to acquire a playful attitude. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the minds of most professionals there are few.
Much of my teaching has to do with unlocking answers players could already possess. You have to ask the questions...
- “Am I betting for value or as a bluff?”
- “If I am betting as a bluff, what do I want to fold?”
- “What will make those hands fold?”
- “If I am betting for value what do I want to call? What will those hands call?”
Don’t make a bet just because everyone else does it. Many of you might not even follow the pack with your play. You could be quite autonomous in your own poker study, but I bet few of you saw the answer in the first hand we described. That’s because 99% of bets you’ve seen throughout your career have been half-pot, half-pot, 40% of the pot, 60% of the pot, and half-pot. By adopting the pattern you are still adhering to what most people are doing.
Being open to new possibilities applies to more than just your bet-sizing. When you’re at the table, don’t act like “big scary pro.” You’re not Phil Ivey. No one is going to be afraid of you. Be less predictable. Show up dressed like some spoiled rich kid whose using his father’s trust fund. If you’re in your 30s, wear a button-up and a Venetian hat (my favorite, because no online reg would ever be caught dead wearing it).
People don’t like losing to a hustler who has made it clear he has only stepped into the poker room to take people’s money. Meanwhile losing to some goofy kid, or a recreational house husband… who cares? It doesn’t hurt as much.
Make it hurt less. Be silly. When you get caught in a bluff, go “I have no idea what I was thinking here, I guess middle pair is no good, nice hand,” and laugh. Now, no one will look at that board and assume you had considered bluffing there. You will have purchased cover. No one will know what you’re raising with now, if you’re one of those weird guys who could raise with a pair “to see where you’re at.” Now they can’t three-bet so easily on a dry board, because you’re not just raising with sets. You’re tougher to read, because you acted like an amateur!
Work to make people feel better when they lose to you. If you three-bet bluff someone and they fold, go “damn it, good read,” and laugh. If you raise and the whole table folds, show your aces. Trust me, I work with everybody — hardly anyone will use that to get a read off of you. Instead what’s going to happen with most folks is what psychologists call “anchoring.” Your range of unseen hands now will drift towards stronger holdings because the one they saw left such a powerful impression. They’re more likely to fold more to the casual player who constantly admits to having a hand. They’ll fold more to you than the kid who couldn’t bother to shave but has immaculate Beats headphones and a $120 hoodie wrapped around him.
Talk to people. Become friends. It hurts less to lose to a friend. Finding out about their background and country of origin will eventually help you peg reads on them.
Be open to learn from everyone. Let’s say here on Earth that there are 100 desirable skills needed to succeed in multi-table tournaments, and you possess 98 of them. The last two you need could be possessed by an elderly school teacher who plays for fun, but not by Patrik Antonius. I’ve learned some of my greatest plays from “beginners,” because they’re not afraid to do something that’s unpopular.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Not only is poker less fun that way, but it’s less profitable. Good luck to all of you.
This article is brought to you by MTT coach Alex "Assassinato" Fitzgerald. You've railed him live before. Now you can see every hand he played in this year's World Championship of Online Poker, with live commentary throughout, including for Alex's WCOOP 2nd Chance win. Click here for ordering details. Also available is Fitzgerald's video hand analysis series from last spring's SCOOP. If you would like to receive this highly-informative content as well, contact Assassinatocoaching@gmail.com for details.