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I Wish I Knew Then, What I Know Now Top Poker Pros Tristan Wade And Matt Waxman Share Their Thoughts

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Dec 14, 2022


The Pros: Tristan Wade and Matt Waxman

Tristan Wade is a professional poker player, coach, writer, and businessman residing in Las Vegas. He has amassed over $4 million in tournament earnings, including a World Series of Poker bracelet from the shootout event at the 2011 Europe series, and a WSOP Circuit main event title at the Palm Beach Kennel Club in 2014. The Florida native creates content for and also offers private training through his business, Be on the lookout for his upcoming book based on poker fundamentals being released in 2023. Connect with Tristan through his website or 
@TristanCre8ive on social media.

Matt Waxman has over $4.3 million in live tournament cashes. He’s won numerous major titles throughout his career including the WPT Grand Prix de Paris at the Aviation Club in 2011, a WSOP bracelet from 2013, and the 2018 WPT Tournament of Champions. His recent focus has shifted towards entrepreneurship by creating an online platform where players compete for free and get ranked by an algorithm. They can win prizes and perhaps even qualify for a spot in a professional poker league where they join teams and face off against each other in a unique, patented format. Check out the details at Follow Matt on Twitter @matthew_waxman. 

Craig Tapscott: If you could look back to when you started playing poker, what would be a few things you wish you had done differently and why?

Tristan Wade: Early on in my poker career I was a very quick learner and ingested as much information as was available at the time. This was great because I could leapfrog most of the people playing in the same games or at the stakes with me. The only problem with this approach was that it was based more on logic and psychology, rather than rooted in the deep fundamentals that exist in no-limit hold’em. Combinations of hands, pot odds, and range exploration are just some of the things that can make or break your decision-making in any given hand. The fundamentals give you a complete understanding of the array of hands an opponent will get to the river with, and pot odds (along with assumptions on the range) usually give a clear answer as to what you should do in the final decision point.

The second thing I would have done differently was avoid backing. I was doing very well on my own playing online mid-stakes MTTs/cash and live cash games. After befriending a well-known poker pro, I was offered an opportunity for backing. I thought it would be a good thing for me to move up in stakes. I was successful, but I was playing the toughest opponents on the planet. The opportunities were there, but they also came with steeper falls, bigger losses, makeup, and expectations. I wonder what would have happened had I stayed on my own. No regrets though, as those early experiences made me who I am today.

The third thing I would have done differently is put more time into cash games rather than MTTs. In the beginning I always loved playing cash because it provided freedom and flexibility. The atmosphere was more comfortable, fun, friendly, and enjoyable. When it comes to MTTs, they are a mixed bag. Navigating a huge field is difficult. You have to avoid being destroyed by a cooler or running a big bluff that is looked up. There is usually only one chance to perform and so much pressure. I love the end goal of winning, and being the last remaining survivor among many.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always good for building a bankroll or making money. The upside of MTTs is you can win a lot of money in a short span, but you can also lose a lot too. The variance is out of this world and can be much more controlled through playing cash. Plainly speaking, cash games are a more comfortable lifestyle, whereas MTTs are made for masochists. You have to enjoy and appreciate the pain to get knocked down in tournaments then sign up for the next one.

Matt Waxman: First, I would take more chances and force myself to play more. Getting older comes with additional responsibilities, which require more prudent (and often boring) life choices – you have a lot more to lose, so you can’t risk as much. But you truly have a tremendous amount of freedom if you’re a professional poker player in your twenties with a decent bankroll, so it’s well worth taking advantage of that opportunity.

I’ve always performed my best in poker when it was fun for me, so when I wasn’t feeling it, I just wouldn’t play. But after realizing how quickly the average field sizes have improved at the game, I regret not playing more back when my edge was a lot more significant than the average player.

Second, consider cash games versus tournaments. I got into poker by watching the first season of the WPT on the travel channel every Wednesday night. I’d stay up late watching Gus Hansen and Phil Ivey play in those high-pressure situations with huge prize pools on the line. The ability to win a title along with so much money at once from tournaments was so exciting to me and I wanted to do the same. But now I realize the most successful people in poker are more skilled interpersonally with networking and managing those connections as opposed to actually being the absolute best at the game itself.

Poker is more about finding your edges and consistently pressing them. The best way to do that is to have a consistent game with “fun” players instead of constantly battling the warriors in these high-stakes tournaments. I also struggle with the predatory nature of seeing the same people every day and trying to take their money. Because you have to juggle a certain ruthlessness inside while smiling and staying friendly with the guys paying for your living, and I’m honestly not sure if I could manage that. Besides, tournaments are a lot more fun. But if your goal in poker is to accumulate wealth, I think that’s best done by playing in big, private cash games.

Third, make sure you travel and experience the world. Maybe even live in another country for a while. I’ve been a lot better than most of my friends in prioritizing the chance to discover a new place instead of playing poker. I’d usually explore whichever area was hosting a tournament series. Nonetheless, I’d double down even more on the ability to experience some culture over locking myself away in a card room. A juicy tournament series is a good justification to take a “work trip” and go to a new place.

Craig Tapscott: What have you learned regarding bankroll management compared to when you first started the game?

Tristan Wade: I believe I’ve had pretty good bankroll management throughout my career. I understood that it takes money to make money, however, I never was willing to risk it all. This is crucial when it comes to managing your capital.

With that said, it’s okay to risk a decent portion of your bankroll, say 10-15 percent at one time, if you are willing to grind it back over the long term. I don’t advocate this strategy often, because those numbers are pretty high when dealing with great variance, but there are times it can be a good investment and a healthy “shot.” Your money might all disappear one day and you’ll be looking around for whatever scraps are left. The risk it all or bust strategy is usually one that ends in ruin.

I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is not being organized with their expenses and results while tracking their performance. We have to be honest with ourselves. If you don’t know what you’re spending money on, how much money you’re spending, then you are operating in the dark without a flashlight.

Matt Waxman: I didn’t have any real breakthrough poker success until I became more aware of my bankroll. In my early twenties, I was in for way too much of my bankroll a few times. Twice in WPT main events (Tunica and Commerce) and once for my first time playing the WSOP main event. I learned a lot during this period.

In Tunica, I had a ridiculously tough day one table. I had just turned 21 and it was my first WPT ever. I ended up busting the tournament relatively close to the bubble, which hurt because it was a $10,000 buy-in, and being stuck in Mississippi without a dollar to your name ranks up there with some of my worst poker experiences. 

For the [Los Angeles Poker Classic at Commerce] I was short of the main event buy-in, so I put my last $8,000 on a $20-$40 table at the Commerce the night before. I doubled up with quad eights and then won a nice pot with aces, and then folded for one to two hours until the guy I doubled up off of left the game. I played cash at Commerce a lot at the time and didn’t want to be thought of as some hit ‘n-run scumbag. 
The next morning, I registered for the main event with a lot of excitement and absolute certainty that I was going to win the tournament. And before the first break, I managed to bluff off 90 percent of my chips. I had to play the rest of the day with under 20 big blinds but somehow found a bag only to take a rough beat to bust early day two. So be very mindful of how much of your roll you are risking at any given time.

Craig Tapscott: How has your approach to studying the game changed since you first began playing?

Tristan Wade: Things have changed drastically since I first started playing. There was hardly any technology surrounding the studying aspect of the game. Back then, I would review my hands, read literature, and constantly think through spots and situations on my own, and sometimes amongst friends. I would try to understand what people were doing and why they were doing it, then figure out my counters to that. It was very primitive.

Now I can use computer simulators to study so many different spots. Preflop, post-flop, final table, whatever. The beauty in this is that they don’t always give me the appropriate answer, but it helps me understand the game at a deeper level through the outputs I receive. I’m not searching for answers per se, I’m looking for insight.

Since there are so many changing variables and infinite possibilities, given your opponents and what they decide to do, I don’t know if we will ever solve this game. Nonetheless, there is a plethora of information out there to take in and help shape your game now that wasn’t there before. And another thing I remind myself of is that I know nothing. Even though I believe I am a seasoned, experienced, and knowledgeable pro. I have so much to learn still. Never lose your wonder if you want to be great. At anything.

Matt Waxman: My poker career started as sort of a trial by fire. I’d buy into cash games and tournaments over and over again, stare some people in the face and act accordingly. I think I put way too much emphasis on live tells when I was starting out. One of the best adjustments I’ve made as a professional is to rely on live tells to push my close decisions one way or the other instead of basing my entire thought process and strategy around a live tell that I may think I’ve picked up.

The best resources for improving were talking strategy with your friends. I think a lot of young players learned the game through posting on [forums], but that was never really my style. The best thing I had going for me when I started was simply being obsessed with poker. I think a lot of pros have this in common. When I was done playing all day, I’d still be driven to rethink every spot in my head and consider the value of different ways of playing each hand. And I’m grateful to have learned in this type of way because it’s given me a unique style, which I hope is harder for my opponents to predict.

Today, I would say that my approach to learning the game is the complete opposite. I’m not chasing poker success anymore and the strategic components of the game don’t occupy my mind anymore when I’m off the felt. I’ve begun teaching a few students lately, and despite earning some modest wages for the service, it’s also motivated me to learn and relearn a lot of strategies to teach them, which I believe has in return made me play better at the tables. ♠

*Some photos courtesy of WPT