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Daniel Dvoress Breaks Out In 2019 With $8.5 Million In Tournament Earnings

Canadian Poker Pro Discusses His Rise To The Top Of The Game

by Erik Fast |  Published: Jan 15, 2020


Daniel Dvoress is one of the highest earning poker players of the year, having cashed for more than $8.5 million. The 31-year-old pro is having his best season ever on the tournament circuit, with 11 final-table finishes and two titles won along the way. More than half of his lifetime live earnings of $15.6 million have been secured over the past 12 months. Dvoress now sits in fifth place on Canada’s all-time money list, and 40th on the global tournament earnings leaderboard.

Despite more than a decade playing the game, the Toronto-resident came from an online cash game background and only recorded his first live tournament result just over six years ago. Since then, he has managed to fight his way up to the highest stakes tournaments in the world, where he has recently thrived. Dvoress’ three largest live tournament scores have all come in recent months, with the biggest being his win in the first-ever $250,000 buy-in Super High Roller Bowl Bahamas for $4,080,000. It was his first title run in a marquee live event.

Card Player recently caught up with Dvoress to discuss how he discovered poker, his rise up the stakes, how he came to be a regular on the international super high roller scene, and much more.

Card Player: When did you first start to play poker, and how did you find the game?

Daniel Dvoress: I started playing in high school. Some friends had a game at lunch in the cafeteria, and a friend who already knew how to play introduced me to it. That’s where I learned how to play, and then I started dabbling online as well as playing in an underground game in Toronto.

CP: What about the game piqued your interest?

DD: The math aspect of it. I used to be really into math contests in high school, and a lot of the questions on those were probability and combinatorics based. So, it just felt great to be able to apply something that is often thought of as dry and purely academic to real life. And of course, being able to make money. My parents immigrated to Canada from Russia and started from scratch when I was eight, so at the time we didn’t have a lot and there was a lot of appeal to trying to make money.

CP: Do you think you have any particular skills or personality traits that helped you excel at poker?

DD: I’ve always been a mathematical person and have an intuitive feel for probabilities, so I can visualize and compute poker things efficiently. But I’m definitely not a math wizard by any means, and I think most of my success in poker can be attributed to hard work, patience, and to a certain extent taking pleasure in doing repetitive things with small incremental gains. I think those traits are more a result of my upbringing rather than innate.

CP: What lead to you taking the game more seriously and eventually going pro?

DD: It’s something that happened naturally. I started to put a lot more time into poker and there’s no point of spending a lot of time on something if you’re not serious about it. At [the University of Toronto], I needed to find a way to pay for school so I started to play more and slowly move up stakes. Gradually, it became apparent that I could make more from poker than going the traditional route, so after third year I decided to go full time.

CP: Was the decision supported by your family and friends, or was the move hard for them to understand?

DD: My family was definitely not on board, at least not at first. At first, I played in secret, because gambling was a no-no for my parents. They weren’t too happy when they found out, but as I continued to do well they gradually became more supportive. Still, I think they thought, or maybe hoped that poker was just something temporary or a phase, and that I’d just go the traditional route of graduating university and getting a job. Academics were very important to my parents, and they are pretty old school with traditional values. Or at least were then. Nowadays, I think my family has come around.

CP: When you decided to go pro, what games and stakes were you playing?

DD: At first, I was playing almost exclusively online, mainly mid to high stakes cash games. $5-$10 was my bread and butter and I would occasionally take shots at $10-$20 and $25-$50. Eventually those became my regular stakes, and I began to add in some high stakes sit-n-go’s. Tournaments and live poker came much later in my career.

CP: Early on in your career, did you have certain goals to aim for in terms of stakes you’d eventually play, or did the progression up the ranks happen more organically?

DD: I never had aspirations to play a specific limit or buy ins of tournaments. I figured that if I just focused on the process that good things would eventually happen. That approach is a bit of a double-edged sword because without specific goals or aspirations and big picture sort of thinking it can be hard to get motivated and it’s easy for things to get stagnant.

With sports, for example, setting specific goals of the level you want to achieve is clearly good – it keeps you motivated, and if you fall short you’ve still improved while trying.

With poker, results-oriented goals can be a lot more counterproductive. You can be doing everything right, but not get to where you want to be as a result of a bad run. And the opposite is true as well – you can run hot and get to certain limits quickly, perhaps without deserving to, and then it inevitably all comes crashing down.

So, I was always wary of setting goals like that, and moved up the ranks slowly and tediously, being very careful not to play in games where I didn’t have an edge. As I was moving up the limits, poker was changing on a global scale as well, and becoming tougher. When I was first playing $1-$2 cash in very soft games, having a 20 buy-in bankroll seemed sufficient. By the time I got to $5-$10 in 2010 or so, I didn’t feel comfortable playing in any game I didn’t have 75 or so buy-ins for. These days I’d want at least 100 buy-ins.

CP: How did the transition to playing high roller and super high roller events happen?

DD: I started traveling the circuit and playing main events and small buy-in side events, and made friends in the process. I didn’t really know much about the high rollers then back then, and was pretty clueless when it came to things like selling action for tournaments.

I believe what happened was that Stephen Chidwick had asked me if I was going to play the high roller at the next European Poker Tour stop, and I must have answered something along the lines of ‘What? I can’t play a 25k!’ He said something like ‘You can just sell for it, that shouldn’t be a problem.’ So, I got in touch with some backers, and sure enough, selling my action wasn’t a problem. I wasn’t really known on the live circuit at that time, but I was already fairly well known online for both cash and high stakes sit-n-go’s.

CP: Can you tell me about the experience of playing your first high roller?

DD: My first high roller was a $25k in Malta in 2015. It was a little more stressful as it was my first time selling action for a live event, and there is definitely an additional responsibility that you feel when playing with someone else’s money rather than your own. If you make a mistake for just your own money, you kind of shrug it off and move on. But when you sell action, mistakes cost someone else money and on top of that you might lose a backer. At the same time though, I knew that my backer wanted my action for a reason, and even though it was my first time selling I felt that there was already mutual trust, so the pressure wasn’t overwhelming.

CP: After that, was making the transition to six-figure buy-in events relatively smooth?

DD: By the time I played my first $100,000 buy-in I had already somewhat established myself in both live and online high rollers, so being able to sell action happened organically with a combination of pros approaching me wanting pieces, as well as me being able to easily sell to previous backers. The world of high-stakes tournaments is a fairly small and tight-knit group, everyone has a general idea of everyone else’s skill level, so a lot of the action selling just happens by itself because people want good players’ action.

I think my background in high stakes online cash games and sit-n-go’s really helped with making the transition. At the time that I was making my way into high rollers, tournaments were still really soft, but the cash games and sit-n-go’s that I was accustomed to playing in were considered very tough. As a result, I was used to a very cutthroat, ultra-competitive environment. The transition would have been much more difficult if I was just working my way up from mid-stakes tournaments, because at that time it took a lot less to win at low and mid-stakes MTTs, and being thrown into the super competitive world of super high rollers would have been a hard adjustment.

CP: Do you think that the average poker fan has any notions about the high roller scene that are inaccurate?

DD: The average fan definitely puts in way too much weight into results. The sample sizes for live high rollers is very small, and by the time you even begin to approach a decent sample the game environment would have changed. This leads to people forming very polarized opinions about players. More along that note, people underestimate how small the edges are between the best regulars, and how close the top players are in skill. People like to create rankings and like a clear definition of who is best, second best and so on, but the reality of it is that a lot of the top players are extremely good to the point that their expected values in a certain tournament are very close to each other.

CP: 2019 has been a huge year for you. What would you attribute the breakout to?

DD: While I think that in 2019 I peaked in terms of poker skill, both in an absolute sense and relative to the opposition, the reality is that my results this year are largely due to variance. The other component to having so many large scores this year is that there seems to be more and more high rollers super high rollers running, so there is just more opportunity.

CP: Have there been any breakthroughs in improving your game recently, or has it been more steady improvement?

DD: There haven’t been any specific breakthroughs or ah-ha moments. In recent years it has been more about small refinements and slow, steady, continuous improvement to my game. If I had to pick one area I have improved at the most it would be ICM (Independent Chip Model) and final table play, which is largely attributed to getting in a lot of volume online since there has been a surge in high-stakes online tournaments recently.

CP: Could you tell me a bit about how being focused on the high roller scene and facing the same group of players so often impacts your preparation for playing?

DD: Constantly playing against the same players is one of the things that I find very appealing about the high roller environment. I have a few students who play mid-stakes tournaments with large player pools, and quite often the topic of conversation is population reads or tendencies – basically trying to find exploits against the average player in the field. In the super high roller environment, there is no such thing as population tendencies, because every hand you play is against a specific opponent with a specific style and tendencies, and a bunch of history between you two specifically, as you’ve played thousands of hands against each other.

So, when training and preparing for these events, aside from just working on your own game there is also the element of keeping tabs on everyone else’s game as well. Watching streams is imperative, and there is this beautiful element of integrating the theoretical side of poker with the more artistic and memory side of things. Another interesting thing about high rollers is that the fields tend to be polarized. The weaker regulars tend to get weeded out pretty quickly, resulting in a group of elite players, with some recreational players mixed in. This leads to some very interesting table dynamics, and makes being fluid with your strategies very valuable since it’s so important to be able to play hands in completely different ways depending on who you’re up against.

CP: Can you tell me what it means to you to have won a massive, marquee event like the Super High Roller Bowl Bahamas?

DD: I don’t think it’s something you can put into words. I’m obviously extremely happy and feel very fortunate. I haven’t won a live tournament before, yet have been playing them for years, so there was the additional element of getting the monkey off my back.

CP: You’re now fifth on Canada’s all-time money list, and just outside the top 20 in Card Player’s Player of the Year race. Do those secondary measures of success carry meaning for you?

DD: I don’t follow a lot of those things too closely. The all-time money list is fun to look at, and I’m friends with the guys I’m close with, but there’s not much there other than friendly competition.

CP: What are your goals as a player in the next few years? Do you envision poker being your only career?

DD: My goals for the next few years is to keep doing what I’m doing and put in a lot of volume. After a few years I’ll want to settle down, so I feel like the window of opportunity is quite narrow. And aside from my personal plans, I feel like poker, at least in its current form is only going to be around for so long. As much as I’d like poker to be my only career, it seems unlikely that that’s feasible. If poker stops being lucrative and/or AI takes over and poker becomes obsolete, I’ll move on to other things.

CP: Will the current availability of high roller tournaments maintain or even increase, in your opinion?

DD: The high roller environment, oddly enough, seems pretty stable. At the end of the day, people like playing poker, and some people that like playing poker have been extremely successful in other fields and like playing poker for a lot of money against the best players in the world. As long as that’s the case, there is going to be a market for high rollers. I think there is a bit of a misconception that people who play in high rollers recreationally do so because they think they have an edge and are a favorite, so naturally people think that once the recreational players find out they are not favorites they will quit and games will dry up. However, players who play the high rollers recreationally tend to be smart and successful people, and are by no means being tricked into playing. They know what they are up against, they just want to play against the best players and for a lot of money.

CP: Do you have any other goals or pursuits outside of poker that you are focused on moving forward?

DD: I’ve played around with the idea of writing a non-poker-related book, though that’s definitely not anything I expect to finish in the next few years. In the next few years my goals include settling down and potentially start a family. I’m heavily into being outdoors – hiking, hunting, fishing, photography, conservation. The past few years poker has been taking up a lot of my time, and I’ve spent just a few weeks a year doing those things. I’d like to gradually start moving my life more in that direction. When I move on from poker, I’d want to have a business that relates to my other passions.

My health and fitness are also going to be my top priority over the next few years. As we do this interview, this is the unhealthiest I’ve been, due to how hard I’ve been going, poker wise. Over the next few years I’d like to start shifting the balance the other way. I realize most of these things aren’t some grandiose goals, but I tend to focus more on the process and on making small improvements every day. ♠