In a recent article I listed my 6 top picks for poker podcasts that will transform your game. One of the easiest decisions when writing that piece was including The Smart Poker Study Podcast. The host of that podcast, Sky Matsuhashi, has an enthusiasm and love for poker that is infectious. He also has a knowledge base that makes his podcast a true gift to anyone trying to improve their game. Sky has been a real inspiration to me as I’ve designed and implemented my own study program and I hope you find him an inspiration as well. Enjoy my interview with Sky Matsuhashi.
Please introduce yourself to the readers. Where are you from? Where do you currently reside? Married? Family?
My name is Sky Matsuhashi and I live in Fresno California. I’ve been married now for 11 years and we have two boys ages 9 and 7.
How did you get started in poker? What limits and games do you play and where?
I started playing poker in family home games. We would get together and play SNG’s on the weekends, often putting in 4-5 per night. They were small $5 bi Limit HE games. I had a lot of fun and enjoyed these bi-weekly games, so I decided to try out one of our local cardrooms here in Fresno. At the time they only had limit games (back in 2002) here in Fresno, so I started playing $2/4 limit. I played that for a while, but didn’t practice any kind of bankroll management. I would just take the money that I made as a server and play a couple sessions a week. Eventually I started playing $3/6, $4/8 and occasionally $6/12. That’s the highest level of limit HE I ever played. I would try the occasional tourney as well, but didn’t ever do good in those. Eventually I found online poker and stuck with that, playing NLHE.
It seems like a lot of players get hooked on poker after having a big win or some early run good to draw them into them game. But it doesn’t appear to have been that kind of story with you. Can you talk about your early struggles at PokerStars and Ultimate when you first began playing? What kept you going? Why not just move on to some other hobby?
The struggles I had at PokerStars and Ultimate were just the normal struggles of someone getting into online poker and not understanding that the LIVE vs online levels weren’t the same. I didn’t know enough to know I was way outmatched. I didn’t even know there was coaching at the time. I knew there were books, but not training sites or forums or training videos even.
I guess what kept me going was the enjoyment I always got from the game. It’s exhilarating trying to win money off of other people. I’ve never been a big fan of gambling against the house, but against other people makes it feel like a competition and motivates me to play and try hard.
Do you play live? If so, where? If not, why not?
I don’t often play LIVE. With a family I always feel a little guilty leaving to play poker. I’ll leave for the occasional tournament, but not LIVE cash games. I prefer playing online even though I’m in the US and it’s not regulated.
Do you play in any of the major live tournaments, like say the WSOP? If so, how have those experiences been?
I’ve gone to the WSOP for the last 4 summers, and I plan to do so again. While I’m there I just play tourneys and SNG’s. I love the atmosphere at the WSOP. This coming summer will be the first time I’ll go and treat it like a networking event and put my name out there and try to meet everyone I can.
Other than that, I don’t travel at all for poker.
How do you feel about the current state of US online poker? Is making a living as a US online player realistic or even safe? What would you recommend to someone contacting you looking to make a living as a professional poker player – live, online, some combination? A different career altogether?
I’m not a fan at all of the state of online poker. Just the whole American attitude towards gambling in general really irks me. Who’s the government to say what we can/can’t do with our money? State lotteries are legal and we can blow all our money on that, why can’t we gamble with our money in any way we want? Also, the fact that we’re taxed on our winnings sucks. We gamble with after tax money, it shouldn’t be considered income when we win.
But, having said that, it is possible to make a living playing online poker in the US. There are some sites that pay out very well like Bovada (now Ignition) and ACR pay out very quickly and they have levels of play where a pro can make decent profits. It’s not as easy as it used to be, but it’s still possible to be a pro online player in the US.
Your best bet to make a living playing poker in the US is to be a LIVE player, whether MTT’s or cash.
I’m a fan of using online poker as a hobby and a source of additional income in the US. Also, it’s great for building your skills for LIVE play. Every LIVE pro should play online at least to test plays and to build a database of hands where you can dissect strategies and see what’s effective vs different players.
Do you think poker innovations like HUDs are helping or hurting the game? Are they keeping new or casual players away from online games as they fear their lack of expertise with these tools gives their opponents a significant advantage?
It’s possible that they cause some players to leave the game b/c they feel like it’s unfair and they’re being taken advantage of. But, it’s something that everyone has access to, so it’s not unfair at all. I don’t think it causes people to not try online poker in the first place.
If someone fears something b/c of their lack of experience with it, well, that’s just life. If you want to do it, you’ll get over your fear and just do it. Skydiving, horseback riding, white water rafting are all fear inducing to those who have never done it before. But people get over their fear and just attempt it. If they like it, they’ll continue.
Online poker is the same way. Some will try and like, others will try and hate.
On your podcast and website, you are frequently focused on how to study and practice poker. What are your personal study habits? How often do you study? What forms does it take? Do you utilize training sites?
Currently I’m studying one hour or more per day. My study takes many forms:
- Reviewing my own hand histories in PT4.
- Watching videos (either my game tape or a training video)
- Reading articles or books
- Skype study sessions
- Coaching sessions with my students and pre-session prep
No matter what I’m studying, though, I take copious notes and I use my notes when planning my podcasts or videos.
Also, I study one topic per week. Currently I’m studying bluff and semi-bluff 3bets. Last week was value 3bets in preparation for episode 105. Next week I’ll study defending vs 3bets in preparation for episode 108/109 (whichever episode it ends up being). And if I’m reading a book, I’ll spend one full week on each chapter of the book.
I’m currently not subscribed to any training site, but I’ve been a member of TPE and Cardrunners in the past. They’re great, but I’m not so into watching videos from others any more so I ended the subscriptions.
What is your ratio of study to play? What ratio would you recommend to your listeners? How has your own ratio changed over time?
When I started poker it was all play with no time devoted off the felt. It gradually increased over time.
Now, my goal is 2 hours of play a day and one hour of study, so I spend 33% of my poker time studying. But, it can often be longer especially if I’ve already studied my hour for the day, but I’ve got a session with a student that day. I’m a firm believer in teaching to improve your own understanding and skills in poker, so I consider my coaching time as well as my prep time to be study time. As I study my student’s game, I’m dissecting and putting critical thought into their poker game which helps to decide upon and crystallize my own thoughts on a topic.
What is the most common leak/mistake you find in your listeners?
The biggest leak is not having good pre-flop hand selection. Often when I see hand histories they’ll be playing hands that are very difficult to play post-flop. Good pre-flop hand decisions make the rest of the hand easier to play. Putting thought off the tables to what hands you’ll generally play in each position will go a long way to making anyone a better poker player.
Do you use a coach yourself (or used one in the past)? If so, mental or strategy or both?
Not exactly coaches, but mentors I’ve had. Mainly for strategy. Would like to get mental coaching someday, but I got a lot from Tendler’s The Mental Game of Poker.
Mentors can be a lot like having a coach. They provide knowledge from their experience and they share it with you in a less informal way.
But, someday I’ll get coaching.
What poker software, such as Flopzilla, do you use regularly or encourage your listeners to use?
Compared to live, how important do you believe mindset is to successful online play?
I think mindset is just as important as any other skill in poker. It’s just as important for online as it is LIVE play. I don’t see a difference at all regarding the mental game between those two disciplines.
Do you have a morning or evening routine that you practice regularly?
I meditate every evening, although I’m just getting back into it after a little break from it. I didn’t purposely break from it, but I just started to drift away but I’m finding my way back to it again. My meditation is normally from 5-10 minutes.
I also have a warm-up routine where I’ll look over my current study notes and the skills I want to focus on for the session. I’ll assess how well I’m feeling before I begin the session, and I set an informal goal for hands or hours before I start the session. Often the goal is 1.5 hours or 600 hands, but sometimes if I’m feeling really good and ready I’ll target higher numbers.
Do you exercise or eat as a means of improving your poker?
I exercise and eat healthy, but not with the goal of improving my poker. It’s more for the goal of improving every aspect of my life, and poker is one of those. If I quit poker, I think I’d still live and do the day to day stuff I do now b/c it’s who I am, not b/c I’m a poker player.
How much of your study time is dedicated to the mental game compared to strategy? Are you satisfied with that ratio?
I only study the mental game when I feel I need it. I think the mental game is all about not letting the ups and downs, the suckouts and the bad beats get to you and affect your game. When they do, it’s time to work on the mental game again.
To this end, there’ve been times when I find myself tilting way too much and that can be in the form of spewing off my stack, going for revenge against players, getting angry and quitting my sessions too early, or anything else that is prolonged non-A-game play. When this happens, I dive back into my mental game by reading passages from TMGP and doing more meditation and constantly reminding myself that this is why poker is profitable. If there were no downs, there would be no ups.
Which players do you admire or hope to emulate?
I admire Phil Galfond and Splitsuit and Jason Somerville. I’d be happy if I could be half as aggressive as Galfond is, half as good a coach as Splitsuit, and if I could be half as energetic and charismatic as Somerville.
What are your long term goals in poker? Do you see yourself still playing poker professionally five or ten years from now?
I plan on playing and coaching for the foreseeable future. I want to continue making money as a player but I want to become a popular poker coach. Other goals in the coming year is to finish my first book and create a course around it. Beyond that I’ve got plans for other books and courses, as well as continuing the podcast as long as I continue to enjoy it.
As far as stakes go, I want to be playing consistently at 200NL by the end of 2017. I also want to play in the Main this year, but I’m not making a goal of it just yet. But if I don‘t play in it this year, I’ll play in it next year for sure (2018).
How has your playing poker affected your family’s life? Does anybody else in your family play? Will you encourage your children to play when they are older?
Poker has been very positive for my family. I make a decent amount of profit from it, so that makes them happy. It’s also lead to this business which has been great as well. I’ve taught my boys hold’em, 5 card draw and 7 card stud. We play occasionally, and when they get older I’ll be fine with them playing for real money. I don’t think they have a degenerate gene, so I’m not concerned with them gambling away their money (at least not yet, knock on wood).
Talk a little about your podcast and what your experience with it has been.
The podcast has been a game changer for me. Putting myself out there at first was difficult, but now it’s just another thing I do. The podcast has put me in touch with so many great people I prolly would’ve never met, and it’s lead to some decent financial benefits as well. My influence and reach is far greater than it ever would’ve been without the podcast.
What has surprised you about hosting a poker podcast? What have been the major challenges? What have been the major benefits?
I can’t think of anything that’s surprised me. I’ve been a longtime fan of podcasts and it’s ended up being what I expected it would be. But, the biggest challenge is getting the episodes completed on a timely basis and I’ve been far less than perfect in that regards. Time management skills are something I’ve lacked forever but I’m working on them.
The biggest benefit is the fact that people see me now as an authority in poker and they come to me with questions and listen to what I have to say.
Has the opportunity cost been significant? Running a podcast and website is incredibly time consuming, time that could have been spent studying or playing. Have the benefits of the podcast outweighed these costs?
Yes, I think the cost of time is outweighed by the benefits. Now, I think the profits I could’ve made from just playing poker would’ve been much more than what I’ve made through the podcast and coaching, but I’m playing the long-game right now. Building my brand and authority will lead to poker profits in more ways than just playing. Trading my time to build the business is totally worth it.
What are your goals for the podcast? Where do you see it going in the next few years?
I think the podcast will continue to grow and will be the number one way people find out about me. The only real goal with the podcast is that I grow my episode download numbers week over week. The podcast is a means to the end. I know that in itself it won’t make me successful, but it will lead people to me and what I do with them after they find me is what will lead me to my success.
I’ll continue it as long as I enjoy it and it’s helping me to grow my brand.
Rapid Fire Questions
Favorite TV show?
Current: The Walking Dead
Favorite music genre or song?
Rock and Roll and Alternative
Favorite poker book?
The Course [by Ed Miller]
Favorite non-poker book?
Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabrielle Rodriguez
Favorite thing to do when not playing poker?
Going places and experiencing new things with my kids. Whether it’s a movie or a long trip, seeing/doing new things is a blast.
“Control what you can control, maggot, and let everything else taking a flying fuck at you. And if you must go down, go down with your guns blazing.” – Cort, from Stephen King’s Wizard & Glass
What’s the best way for people interested in hearing more about you or the podcast to get in touch with you?
The best way to get in touch is via email to Sky@SmartPokerStudy.com. Also, visit the website at http://www.smartpokerstudy.com. Also, subscribe in iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/smart-poker-study-podcast/id1071620152?mt=2
Any upcoming podcasts or webinars my readers might be interested in?
The current series of podcasts I’m doing are about 3betting, and it started on episode 104 which can be downloaded and listened to here: http://www.smartpokerstudy.com/pod104
I do have a webinar coming up called ‘Opponent Destruction’ on November 29th at 6:00pm PST. You can learn more at http://www.smartpokerstudy.com/opponentdestructionwebinar
My thanks to Sky for such a great interview. Make sure to check out his podcast and upcoming webinar! They’re both sure to be great. Also leave any comments below and if you like the interview and want to be first to receive new ones as they come out, be sure to subscribe to the blog by entering your email address in the subscription box to the right. Thanks for reading!