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Capture The Flag: Dan Bilzerian

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Jan 22, 2014


High-stakes poker player Dan Bilzerian needs little introduction. The venture capitalist and actor has become a well-known figure within the poker community thanks to his social media persona, buying pieces of the game’s best players, as well as for his claims of winning millions in private cash games.

Bilzerian’s “playboy” lifestyle was recently covered by The Daily Mail. The British tabloid newspaper reported that he has a net worth of around $100 million. Bilzerian is the son of Paul Bilzerian, who was known as a “corporate takeover specialist.” Business runs in his family.

Card Player had the chance to speak to Bilzerian about his poker background and the cash games.

Brian Pempus: Can you talk about your poker background?

Dan Bilzerian: When I was in college, my brother taught me how to play. He would fleece me out of the money I was getting from the military. When I got out of the military, I think it was $4,000 a month. I was playing him and then played some live games, you know like a $100 buy-in. Then I was playing online a little bit, and that was pretty much it. I got up to $5-$10 online. It was bad news initially because I was pissing away a lot of money. It kind of ruined some of my college experience. The first semester I banged 14 hot chicks had a 4.0 GPA. Everything was good and then I started playing this stupid game. The end of my sophomore year I was broke and wasn’t going out and partying. I turned it around though.

BP: You figured out a way to make it work?

DB: Yeah, after I went broke I sold some of my guns and that was the turning point. I had to gain some discipline. I was playing like such a lunatic. After I had lost all my money I started to play a little more conservatively, but everyone still thought I was completely out of my mind. One time I saw someone else’s computer and the notes he had on me said to never fold against me; he is terrible and sucks, whatever. So, I decided to change it up and when I had good hands I’d get paid off. I was one of the first guys to play loose-aggressive, and that’s the kind of the style that everyone has adopted now. I just didn’t have the self-control to go with it back then. It ended up proving to be one of the most effective styles.

BP: Did you read any books or use any other sources to improve?

DB: Yeah, the first one I read was Doyle Brunson’s Super System. You know, when I started playing there wasn’t really online training sites. There wasn’t nearly enough information out there. The good players played ABC and the bad players called too much. There weren’t any super aggressive players. It was just a different game. So you just played tight-aggressive and it worked. You could have some leaks in your game and not get slaughtered. Now, if you go online and aren’t playing super well you are going to get massacred. Your opponents will exploit every mistake you make.

BP: Are you pretty confident with your game these days?

DB: I mean; I am alright. I am not nearly as good as all these online guys. I play in private games with business guys and celebrities. They are playing for fun. I don’t play with pros. I am not even close to one of the best players.

BP: When you play with those types of people is it kind of expected that you have to give action?

DB: I just always play like that. I can’t help myself. My game has always been high variance; that’s just the way it is. I can’t sit there and nit it up. I don’t have it in me (laughs).

BP: Can you provide some details on that $10.8 million session you tweeted about?

DB: No, I can’t tell you too much. It was $5,000-$10,000 no-limit. That’s about all I can tell you.

BP: Was it the biggest you’ve ever played? Can you tell us that?

DB: No, I’ve played $10,000-$25,000 [no-limit], which is probably the biggest…I mean, maybe there have been bigger games than that, but I’ve never heard of it.

BP: Does it get your blood pumping when you play stakes that big?

DB: I don’t know, man (laughs). It is kind of crazy. I was playing against this guy one time and he was refusing to bet anything other than cars or planes. Whatever he said…he was like, “I bet a Mercedes.” A Mercedes was $100,000, a Ferrari was $300,000 and a Bugatti was $1 million. Those were his bets. He refused to bet anything that wasn’t some kind of object. It kind of f—ked with my head a little bit. It actually worked for him, because it was kind of a mind f—k. You don’t really think about bets in those terms, but the guy was refusing to say anything other than tangible assets. You have no choice but to let the realization of what you are actually playing for sink in a little bit.
BP: Have you ever played in a game where you could put more money onto the table in the middle of a hand like we see sometimes in Hollywood movies?

DB: No, that’s the movies man (laughing). You can’t do that even in the games I play in. But I play with guys who play “open,” meaning they’re always covering you no matter how much. It’s interesting.

BP: Is it pretty surreal to be playing this big when you were playing really small not too many years ago?

DB: Yeah, there is nothing normal about winning or losing $10 million in a single night. It is crazy no matter how much money you have, especially when you start giving to charity and you realize how many people you could help out with that kind of money. Even if you had $1 billion, $10 million is a lot.

BP: Switching gears here: Can you talk about the beard petting at the main event final table? Did you expect having your beard stroked by a girl to blow up and get all the attention it did?

DB: No (laughs), that was not my thought at all. I was just hoping Jay [Farber] got first place, and I’d get the $1.7 million (laughs). That’s all I gave a shit about. You know…she’s a sweet girl. She just likes to scratch my head and pet my beard. I wasn’t going to tell her to stop.

BP: Are you and Jay pretty good friends?

DB: Yeah, I’ve known Jay for awhile. Obviously if he had got me $1.7 million we’d be better friends (laughs). I mean, I don’t associate with people because they have money or whatever. But I try not to associate with people who don’t have a lot of money because I feel they are always looking for something…Unless I have been friends with someone for a long time, I am not looking to make any new poor friends. [Jay] did well in the main event, so he can afford to do fun shit and hang out.

BP: What do you think of the poker community as a whole?

DB: Well, it’s kind of a degenerate group. I mean, people who play poker professionally; it kind of takes a special type of person to do that. You have to be able to take a real kick in the nuts, and your life is stressful all the time. It is really hard to be a professional poker player and not go broke. The problem is that when they are winning, they feel like they are going to continue winning at the same rate and when they are losing they want to win their money back. Also, once you play big it’s really hard to drop down in stakes. Let’s say your bankroll is $1 million and you go play a game with a buy-in of $100,000. If you lose two or three buy-ins…there are a lot of guys who have done that. Now they lost a third of their net worth, or a fifth or whatever it is, and now it’s really difficult for them to go back and grind at smaller games because they are chasing that loss. And just because they have $1 million doesn’t mean they have $1 million to play with. They should be budgeting for whatever expenses they have. But they don’t do that and that’s why professional poker players go broke. If you look at Tom Dwan, he went broke; Phil Ivey just went broke. All these really talented guys who made a bunch of money end up pissing it all away. There is not a long list of professional poker players who don’t go broke. It’s crazy.

BP: Do you plan on playing the $1 million buy-in next year at the World Series of Poker?

DB: Probably not. I am not really a big tournament guy. I’ll probably put a bunch of players in there like I did last year. When I play, I play against regular guys, I don’t play against pros. I don’t even really enjoy playing poker that much anymore, to be honest. So, if there is a tournament and I can take a piece of one of the best players in the world, I am just going to do that (laughs). It makes more sense.

BP: I’m not asking for names, but do you think it is fair to say that poker is popular among Hollywood celebrities, Wall Street guys, and so on?

DB: Yes, definitely. Tons of celebrities, athletes, etcetera, play poker. It has blown up. They just play private games though, and they don’t go into casinos. It is a very small group of these people who play the stakes that I like to play, though. It’s rare and there aren’t many celebrities who are willing to put $1 million down at a table and shoot it off. I think I know everyone who plays those stakes. ♠