Editor’s Note: Over the last seven years, professional poker player and coach Jordan Young has accumulated more than $5.5 million in online tournament earnings. Among his many online highlights was once winning both the Full Tilt Poker Sunday Brawl and the $750,000 Guarantee in the same day (in 2010).
Young has also accumulated numerous live scores over the years, including most recently winning the Mid-States Poker Tour DeepStack Extravaganza Main Event in February where he topped a 695-entry field including outlasting fellow online phenom Ankush Mandavia heads-up.
Recently Young partnered with fellow pros Matt Berkey and Christian Soto to help create the Solve for Why Academy poker training site. He recently sat down with poker coach and author Dr. Tricia Cardner to talk about his journey as a player and person over recent years, as well as to talk about how working specifically on improve his mental game has proven key to his success.
PokerNews: What initially drew you to poker and how did you get good at it?
Jordan Young: What drew me to poker was that I liked the idea that I was going to be solely responsible for all of the decisions that needed to be made. I like how you have to hold yourself accountable in order to be successful. You are responsible for every action you take whether it's on the felt or off — you are completely responsible.
When I was about nine I picked up golf, and I think that poker is a lot like golf in the sense that no one is going to hit the shot for you. When you hit a bad shot, you have to go and find it and recover quickly. In poker, no one is going to play your hand for you. All of the pressure rests on your shoulders. No one is going to get your chips back for you when you make a bad play or a bad decision. That's why I think I like poker so much — it originally started with my love for golf.
When did you know you could be one of the elite?
From the time I started playing poker, I knew that I had the raw talent to be really good at it. When I started out playing online, I would easily pick up new gimmicks and they would just work. I would find new little things to do that other players weren't doing. For example, I started three-betting a really small size from the small blind and then I'd c-bet the flop because it just looks so strong when people three-bet from the small blind. So, I just started doing it all of the time and it just kept working.
It's the little intricacies in online poker that can set you apart and put you miles ahead of everyone else in the field. I am very fortunate to be someone who is very creative at the table, so I was able to find things that worked before the rest of the player field did.
Back in the day, the only way I knew how to become better was by putting in a lot of volume. I would literally wake up and play for 10-14 hours every single day and I did this for two years. Looking back, it was a very fun time in my life while it was happening, but the overall effect it had on my social growth was tremendously negative and I don't recommend it to anyone!
You've had some very dramatic ups and downs over the years. Can you reflect on some of the most important lessons you've learned through this journey?
From the time I started up until about two years ago, my career could be best characterized as a roller coaster ride every day. I've gone from having six-figure scores to going broke far too many times! The monetary swings were one thing, but the ups and downs emotionally were much more substantial.
One of the biggest emotional swings happened when I had to move away from my family for three-and-a-half years post-Black Friday. That really changed who I was as a person and it also made me realize how close I was to my family when I was living in Michigan.
The most significant negative result of that move was when I succumbed to an addiction to painkillers. Over the course of two years I became seriously addicted. It started off small but quite quickly escalated into a serious problem. It got to the point where I would wake up and have to take several pills just to start the day. During my online sessions, I would take 10-12 more.
This obviously was both very dangerous and expensive. I estimate that I spent roughly $50,000 on pills over the course of those two years. When I coupled this addiction with being away from my family and friends (along with being in a significant amount of makeup), it seemed like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
In late 2012, I was extremely fortunate to meet a special woman and she became the catalyst for me confronting my addiction. I was living in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico at the time and we really hit it off. We were ready to start a relationship, but my addiction was a major hang-up. While she cared for me a great deal, she understandably refused to be in a relationship with someone who had such a severe addiction. I truly feel lucky that she came into my life when she did because I was on a serious path of self-destruction that could have led to an unthinkable outcome.
I went home to Michigan and quit cold turkey, which I actually don't advise. I felt like I was going to die for several days. I now know that I should have sought treatment and I'm lucky that the withdrawal process didn't kill me! That was five years ago and, with the exception of one brief relapse, I have been clean ever since. Without her, though, I don't know if that would have ever happened.
When did you come to realize that improving your mental game was going to be critical to your success?
I knew that the mental game was going to be critical to my success for the last six or seven years, but I just started taking action on improving it over the past two years.
I used to meditate a lot when I lived in Mexico and I could just tell that the impact it had on my happiness was quite extraordinary. At the time, though, I didn't realize that there is so much more to the mental game than just your immediate happiness.
What aspects of the mental game have you worked on the most and how do you think this work has contributed to your recent successes?
The aspects of the mental game that I have worked on most recently had a lot to do with self-sabotage and not falling back into that old cycle as I mentioned above. I'm now treating my life and my career much more seriously and thoughtfully. Instead of just going with the flow and seeing what happens, I have a plan.
No matter what you do, you can't make someone elite in this game unless they have the desire to put every ounce of their being into accomplishing that goal.
The work we have done has helped me become transparent in all aspects of my life. This is key because it relieves a lot of the stress that comes from trying to keep secrets from those closest to you. I wasn't keeping any significant secrets, but it's the little ones that add up. The secrets I was keeping weren't particularly negative or damaging to anyone, but they were just easier for me not to address in order to avoid any type of confrontation, so I simply chose to keep them to myself. But there is a cost that comes with this.
I've found that being completely transparent with the close people around me has alleviated that stress and made our relationships even stronger.
Some people believe that beginning players don't need to worry about the mental side of the game. What are your thoughts on this?
I think that players need to be addressing their mental game as well as the mechanics and fundamentals side-by-side when they first start out in this game. There are just so many mental hurdles to overcome if you want to play poker for a living. Instead of addressing them when they hit you out of left field, you are much better off planning for the worst case scenario.
If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
I don't know that I would have that much to say! My early 20s were some of the best years of my life because I made some of the biggest mistakes of my life. I was really stressed, but I did whatever I wanted whenever I wanted at whatever time I wanted. Sometimes looking back, I'm a little bit jealous of how carefree I was able to be [then].
I have little to no regrets, except for maybe trying to turn $100,000 into $1,000,000 far too quickly. Yeah, that's the advice I would give — to practice bankroll management.
What's the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you (and who gave it to you)?
The best piece of advice I've ever gotten from anyone was from my mom and she shared it with me many years ago. This advice really does correlate with so many aspects of my life. She told me that to accomplish the things that I wanted to accomplish, I must want to do it for myself. Whether it was becoming an elite poker player or wanting to kick my drug addiction, it wasn't going to happen unless I really wanted it for myself. Someone with a drug addiction will never quit unless it is on their own terms. You simply can't force someone to quit unless they want to. You can't force someone to be confident in themselves unless they have the desire to become confident in themselves.
The same holds true for poker. No matter what you do, you can't make someone elite in this game unless they have the desire to put every ounce of their being into accomplishing that goal.
Many of the people that you came up in the game playing against are no longer in the game. To what do you attribute your longevity?
I don't think it's because I have more raw talent than they did. I think it has a lot more to do with my love for the game compared to most people. I'm an all-or-nothing guy and my friends can attest to that as it's both a blessing and a curse. When I love something, I love it to the fullest and I simply refuse to give up on it. That's how poker is for me — I love the game so much that there's just nothing that could happen that will make it so I won't excel.
As I said, though, it's a blessing and a curse as I'm all in on one thing and the rest of my priorities take a a back seat to my number one priority at that particular time. Currently I am coaching five people as well as playing 20-30 hours a week while also attempting to maintain all of my social relationships.
This is all in addition to my biggest priority which is the work I'm doing with the Solve for Why Academy.... There could be less play, which is what I love most, and more work, but I don't see that as a bad thing because of my long-term goals. I want to stay in poker for the long haul, so working hard now away from the table on the company will provide an avenue for revenue for myself which will allow me to maintain longevity in this game.
What has been your proudest achievement so far in poker?
My proudest achievement in poker has nothing to do with the tournament scores that I'm probably most known for. Yes, I won a bunch of money — often in a single day — and that's something that you just simply can't achieve in nearly any other arena. But my proudest moments have taken place over the past 18-24 months.
I was beating $2/$5 live cash, but I wasn't beating it for enough to make a living. It's nearly impossible to beat a game that small for enough money to make a living. I've worked my way to where I am very confident that I am a winning $10/$20 player now and it only took 18-24 of the most difficult months of my career.
That's what I'm most proud of — the progress I've made over the past 18-24 months. I know that I couldn't have done any of it without help from Matt Berkey and the Solve for Why Academy. I will say that the business we have started deserves all of the credit when it comes from taking me from $2/$5 to high-stakes cash games.
What is the dream for Jordan Young going forward? How would you like for your career to evolve?
Moving forward there is no dream for myself — it is simply a reality now. Every day when I wake up, I'm living the dream. I know that you hear people say that, but often these same folks have to go to work for someone else for a set amount of hours and then they go home and they have these other things that they have to do. Well, guess what? I don't have to do anything ever if I don't want to!
Yes, I will be letting some people down if I don't do certain things, but I'll never get fired from poker, and I'll never lose my stream of income because poker will always be there. Right now, I'm living the dream, and I'm not going to let that go!
I see my career evolving steadily after I shoot out of this cannon. I think that within the near term I'm going to go from where I am right now to becoming one of the best in the world in cash games.
The strategy development I'm doing with Matt Berkey is a strategy that I'm so confident in that I don't care what others think of my game. We're developing something that the poker world for the most part has never seen. There are even some good players who I know and respect who are sometimes dumbfounded by the strategy and see it as illogical. I'm fine with that because I'm that confident that this is the right way. Besides, I'm racking up great results with it and I'm not even close to being done yet!
Dr. Tricia Cardner is the author of Peak Poker Performance (with Jonathan Little), available in paperback, audio and e-book formats via Amazon. Take her free online course Rev Up Your Poker Success, a step-by-step guide to designing your best year ever. And for more from Dr. Cardner, visit her website and follow her on Twitter @DrTriciaCardner.
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