Have you ever wondered what it would take for you to quit your job and play poker for a living instead? Of course you have – we all have. But the reality of going pro might be very different to how you imagine. We decided to investigate this by speaking to a player who has done exactly that very recently.
Andy Wool is a British poker professional and goes by the online moniker of ‘dawhiteninja’. A year ago, he was approached by Patrick Leonard, who saw Wool playing $20 MTTS (multi-table tournaments) and saw his potential. Convincing him to quit his job and go pro, Wool was then thrust into the world of playing online poker not for a money-making hobby on the side but his living. With two young boys and a devoted wife relying on his income, how did Wool get on?
This week, he came 6th in a $530-entry PokerStars Blowout Series for $150,000 in what was a life-changing moment in his poker career. We started our chat with Andy asking what it felt like and turn such a moderate buy-in into a six-figure result of that magnitude.
“It was literally a dream run, which sounds a bit weird considering I finished in 6th place!” Wool says. “What might come as a bit of a surprise is yes, it was a hugely exciting run and one that I’ll never forget – including some incredibly fortunate river cards – but it also came with a lot of other emotions that I was trying my best to handle. I was trying not to get too far in front of myself or too dependent on a “This is it” moment or any kind of ‘it’s now or never’ mentality.”
“Just remember the feeling I had when I woke to the kids chatting this morning.”
Wool did a singularly cool thing on the final day in our eyes. He wrote a letter to his future self to read when the tournament finished for him. He went into the final day in the middle of the pack with 16 players left, with $20,000 locked up. Here’s what he wrote to himself.
“As I wake this morning I just wanted to write this to remind myself, something I can read when its finished, that tonight will NOT define me. I’ve had a couple of opportunities similar to this and always before I thought they were pivotal in my poker career and even life. They were not. And today is no different. I have been so blessed to sun run to this spot and I’m thankful to have gotten a min cash let alone the 20k I’m locked. If I bust in the first hand or in 2nd place, no doubt there will be some feeling of ‘what if’ but to future Andy, just remember the feeling I had when I woke to the kids chatting this morning, and how this will have little to no impact on my life or poker career, win lose or draw. Good luck and let’s get it done.”
Surprisingly to himself, Wool was calm throughout play. He took the opportunity to record his thoughts while he played so that he could go back and analyse not just his play, but his reactions to what went on at the felt.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sweating on a couple of occasions, but I actually recorded all the hands I played in tournament so I’ll be able to go back and hear my thought process and reactions to some of the run outs I never jumped out of my seat or got over excited. Staying calm and analytical was a focus. After I busted, on top of the jubilation and excitement of winning came a huge sense of relief. I’ve dedicated so much of my life towards poker over the last two years and have suffered the largest downswing of career with no end in sight due to the fact I’d dropped down stakes as the games began to dry up post lockdown poker boom. To have a big score like this meant that the sheer number of hours and hardship I put in had all been worth it. Trusting in the process really did end up making it all worthwhile.”
“I still have a mortgage and bills to pay like I did before turning pro.”
We’ll come back to that process in a minute for anyone reading this who is looking for some ways to go from hopeful to profitable and onto professional like Wool. We asked him if it was life-changing money, but it turns out that it has done more for his mindset than materially.
“I wouldn’t call this ‘life-changing’ money – believe it or not. If I would have won (the top prize was worth $808,000) then that would have changed things. But as it stands, I still have a mortgage and bills to pay like I did before turning pro. It takes huge pressure off to grind out profit on a relatively consistent basis, and it’s almost impossible to do in the MTTs. A good friend of mine has always told me that it’s important to celebrate success, however, so the last couple of days I’ve been on cloud nine and had a bottle of champagne or two with the wife!”
After all the work, it’s a just reward. We came to Wool’s success via this tweet from stable boss Patrick Leonard, who was the man who backed Wool to succeed -literally. Here’s how Leonard broke the happy news.
While obviously happy to get such an offer to quit work and ‘go pro’, like anyone who works consistently in the world of bills, payslips and paying 20% tax, it was still a very big decision, especially with a family to consider. How tough a call was it for Wool?
“Without Patrick, I simply would not be writing to you now. I’d still be in my job in marketing grinding $20 MTTs trying to figure out a way to beat the games.” Says Wool, clearly emotional about the gratitude he feels towards his fellow pro and mentor. “What Patrick did, I mean I really do struggle for the words, he gave me (and a couple of friends) his world class guidance, experience and strategy to become the best poker players we could become. It was an opportunity I knew was very special and one I had to jump into with both feet.”
It’s clear that Patrick Leonard isn’t only a mentor to Wool, but an inspirational friend too, someone he feels blessed to have around.
“The guy is literally one of the best in the wsorld.” says Wool, perhaps for the first time really telling us a lot about the man who is a mystery to any poker fans. “He down-plays [his influence] and credits a lot of his success to others, but I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with him and I’m not just saying this; his work ethic and outlook on life is inspiring. Couple this with his superb ability to explain the ‘why’ and the fact he has coached and staked hundreds of the best up-and-coming players through his stable BitB Staking and I doubt there is a quicker or better way to learn poker than through his guidance.”
Wool has always believed that with Leonard’s guidance, it would be hard for him to fail, because the man known as ‘Pads’ has done it all before.
“To describe every step of the process would take too long but he taught me the importance of habits, routines and focusing on the process. The importance of how you think about the game and the spots. The importance of game selection, and of volume – essentially to play a lot! He also showed me how to study and improve. And all this filtered into creating the best version of myself as a poker player. In the first year working with Pads, I ended up reading more books than in the whole of my life before I met him. Pads made me believe that talent wasn’t an issue, that if I wanted it bad enough, I could start beating the games and become a professional poker player. He removed limiting mental beliefs and gave me the opportunity to step into thewWorld I now live in.”
A glowing tribute if ever there was one. Despite Leonard’s passionate backing, Wool’s decision to quit full-time work was a very, very tough one.
“I have two young boys who are five and six years old and a wife and a family home with a mortgage. Quitting a 10-year career in marketing, where I was managing a team of 14 wasn’t something I could take lightly.”
“It started to give me belief that I was understood the game a bit more.”
Over numerous conversations with his wife, Wool managed to convince his better half that he could make the leap – with Patrick’s help. Any reluctance at that stage was respected by Leonard, who was cautious in telling Wool what to do – he had to make the decision for himself. Eventually, Wool decided to go for it, and day by day, worked with Leonard. He noticed an immediate impact to this game.
“For the first time, could start to see my edge. I was noticing mistakes that other players and regulars where making and it started to give me belief that I was understood the game a bit more. Coupling that with a few good early results such as final tabling the Sunday Million, Sunday Warm-Up and SCOOP, I knew that if I wasn’t ‘all-in’ [on turning pro], I’d regret it for the rest of my days.”
It’s clearly worked out so far, but it didn’t come without hiccups along the way. One of the biggest things to deal with was not making money every day he was at work.
“The biggest adaptation you have to make though is simply learning to lose.” says Wool, deadly serious about what he dealt with. “You get punched in the face at poker in over 80% of the sessions you play, so for anyone looking in without the understanding of how the game works, it can seem crazy you can make money from MTT’s and even crazier that you can play it for a living.”
“Every day, I would come down and be like, ‘I lost again…’ and again, and again… it became a bit of a joke.”
One adjustment that WooI had to make was a deeply personal one and didn’t involve his own mindset at all, but that of his good lady wife.
“I had to ask the wife to stop asking me ‘did you win last night?’ the morning after a session. Instead, I asked if she’d ask me ‘how did the session go? or ‘did you play well?’ Every day, I would come down and be like, ‘I lost again…’ and again, and again… it became a bit of a joke. The question being asked ended up being ‘how much did you lose last night, then?’ But actually, it was having a negative impact on how I viewed my game, and myself.”
Did Wool miss the ‘pay packet’ lifestyle he had before at any stage and how had he adapted what he does with his money?
“I have responsibilities, so I made sure I had put some of my bankroll away for living expenses and I actually ‘paid’ myself out of this account monthly to cover all my bills, as if I was still employed. That way, whatever I won at poker was a bonus. I’m not sure this is the best way to structure it, but I felt this was best for me. In terms of money management and mindset in relation to ‘results’ it was best for me, but I’m wondering whether I should approach it as less of a ‘ticking time bomb’ of my living expenses reducing and therefore must ‘find a win’ – that’s a pretty pressurised mindset! As you can tell, I’m still very much learning all this myself.”
“When I started work, it was ‘game time’, free from distractions and family life – just completely separate.”
Wool may have a lot to learn, but the foundations are clearly strong, and equally as importantly, humble. Lockdown impacted a lot of people in terms of sending them home from their office jobs to work from their bedrooms or studies, but Woold had already made the move to ‘go pro’.
“It was perfect timing.” He says. “I began reading books to learn about successful people and elite performance. A book by Carl Newport called Deep Work meant I was already set up with a home office. When I started work, it was ‘game time’, free from distractions and family life, just completely separate. I did this all before lockdown, so the routines that many of us have today and the isolation many have now adapted to were already my routine. A lot of advice that has come out during lockdown I found out pretty quickly as a pro before Coronavirus had even been discovered. Exercise, regular breaks, routines, habits, meditation/mental well-being are all very important.”
“I realised that my health, family and freedom is what I value most.”
We wondered how much of a winning score like this is converted into ‘real life’ money and how much the pro decides needs to stay in the bankroll.
“A few years ago, I would have bought a really expensive watch or something. I’m not about to go out and treat myself to a new car or wardrobe… that sounds like I’m pretty boring now I hear myself say it! But I realized that the happiness those things would give me are short lived and actually my health, family and freedom is what I value most. The first thing I actually did when I became pro was to trade my top of range Mercedes-Benz for a 10-year-old Ford Focus. I call it the ‘The Freedom-mobile’. I joke in my Twitter bio that I’m chasing short term happiness, but that’s there as an ironic reminder to myself that actually none of these material things really matter.”
While Mrs Wool may well persuade her husband to moderate their property with an extension quite a portion of the money will help The Wools not be stressed about finances, something many in such uncertain times don’t have the luxury of. That’s a value far and above mere currency.
Obviously, this would have been a fantastic poker result for anyone, but for a professional it’s vital. How this might change the path of Andy Wool is one of the most interesting aspects of the victory to us.
“I’m naturally a very ambitious person, setting high standards and lofty goals,” he admits. “Reaching the top of the game and playing in the highest staked MTTs has always been the end goal. Something ‘Pads’ [Patrick Leonard] instilled into me is that longevity and consistency is so important within the MTT world. This win cements that I’ll be around for a good while longer. Of course it means I’ll get to enter higher buy-in tournaments but this is just a function of edge and bankroll. I wouldn’t enter a high roller if I didn’t think I was winning.”
“I’m in no rush to reach the top, I have so much still to learn.”
The process is actually a very methodical one for Wool, with the modest, well-spoken pro making use of a variety of variables such as average ROI (return on investment) in the given MTT, the number of players in said MTT and the buy-in. All those numbers go into a formula and that contributes to whether he plays and offers a percentage for sale to backers, too.
“I’ll continue to work on my game every day and increase my knowledge whilst grinding my regular daily schedule and continue to take the occasional shot in the higher buy-ins when good opportunities present themselves, such like this Blowout Series tournament or other main events. I’m in no rush to reach the top, I have so much still to learn and becoming accustomed to $100,000 downswings requires improved mental fortitude and a bigger bankroll. Slow and steady wins the race. We’ll get there, in time.”
Wool’s meticulous nature extends to everything in his life and he passionately believes that ‘How you do something is how you do everything.’ That could extend to mowing his lawn, processing a hand of poker or his set-up in the home office he used to win $150,000 just the other night.
For this devoted family man, above his computer screens depicting the hundreds of hands he’ll play during any evening are the most precious of reminders for inspiration should he ever need it – his Grandad’s war medals. They are preciously framed with this single sentence quoted above them:
‘The secret of happiness is freedom, the secret of freedom is courage.’
You can watch Andy Wool’s triumphant run come to a glorious end in the final table replay of his PokerStars Blowout event right here, as under 15 big blinds go into the middle with queen-ten suited and march into cowboys.
This article is a reprint from CalvinAyre.com. To view the original story and comment, click here.