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When I Was A Donk with Dan Shak

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Dec 05, 2018


Dan ShakIn this series, Card Player asks top pros to rewind back to their humble beginnings and provide insights regarding the mistakes, leaks, and deficiencies that they had to overcome in order to improve their games.

Dan Shak has spent the last 14 years playing live tournament poker, racking up more than $9.9 million in earnings and a handful of high roller titles along the way. Although he considers himself to be semi-retired, the former hedge fund manager often plays poker with his laptop nearby, ready for a last-minute trade or a once-over during the break.

Shak’s biggest score came in 2010, when he won the AUD$100,000 buy-in super high roller at the Aussie Millions for $1.2 million. He has also finished runner-up in the $100,000 super high roller at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, earning $846,700 in 2012 and $1,178,980 in 2014. He also won a $25,000 high roller at the 2017 WSOP Europe. Most recently, he banked $305,000 for third place in a high roller at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open.

Here, Shak talks about dropping down in stakes when his mindset isn’t quite right.

“I don’t have to go back too far unfortunately. It feels like I’ve gone from playing well to playing like a donk lately. After a few big bubbles, I think I’m still feeling the residual effects of that. You know, you feel like you’re not going to win a flip, or the bad beat is coming. When you have that mindset, it’s tough to play good poker. So I decided to take a little bit of a break from the high rollers, and step back until I feel like I have the right mindset to play in them again.”

“Poker, especially tournament poker, is a lot of hot and cold stretches. I’ve had my fair share of hot stretches where I’m cashing in everything I play, and I’ve had a lot of stretches when I couldn’t even make it past the third or fourth level.”

“I’ve actually been using some hypnosis techniques and getting into meditating. It doesn’t change the cards, obviously, but it can change your mindset so you’re not thinking so negatively all the time.”

“I just played in [an event] where I got it in with pocket eights, and was called by a guy with pocket threes. Now, before the cards had even run out, my mindset was that I was already going to lose. I was a 4:1 favorite, and should have been excited about my likely double up, but instead I was anticipating the bad beat.”

“I think every poker player goes through a time like that, when they feel like they are going to lose no matter how big of a favorite they are when the money goes in. My strategy is just to dial down the buy-ins until I’m in a more positive mindset. I’ll take a beat, and just move onto the next tournament, until I feel like I’ve shaken out all of that mental funk. Because that kind of thinking, even though it won’t change the outcome of the hand, it will affect subtle things about how you play.” ♠