When interviewing a poker player of Dani Stern’s stature, you almost assume he’s all about talking strategy, his recent accomplishments and goals. In an hour-long conversation Stern proved us the opposite, as the 27-year old with $1.7 million in career live tournament earnings and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash game profits spoke about much more than just the game of poker.
Today in Part 1 of this three-part series Stern talks about his recent tournament poker success, the TwoPlusTwo community and 2 Months 2 Million. Recently Stern moved to Mexico to continue playing online poker after spending a few years up in the cold North: Toronto, Ontario.
“This year was a great World Series for me and I did very well in it. I was disappointed not to win when I was three-handed for the $25,000 6-max bracelet. That’s something you are upset with on the day of, and then later you’re happy with that result. Tournament poker is especially brutal, gut wrenching and stressful. The high you get when you go super deep in a tournament is incredible and it was just so much fun to be in that tournament. It’s such a rush and very exciting as you go down from being six, five and four to playing three-handed,” Stern said.
“Also, playing with Phil Galfond is a different kind of experience. The way he plays is just unlike the competition against any other tournament player. He’s on such a different level, he’s good but the things he does are on a wildly different level. It was such a constant mental struggle to keep up exactly with what his strategy was and why he was doing certain things. It really challenges conventional wisdom about tournaments, the things he was doing. I think late in tournaments, during final tables, you encounter some of the most complicated poker questions you can have. This is because you’re thinking about so many different aspects like ICM and reversed ICM for instance. The latter comes into play when you’re playing against someone like Phil, who could give a fuck about ICM,” Stern said as he went into things a little deeper with regards to Galfond’s game.
“He keeps getting into these situations where he’s just running over people and he keeps putting people in situations where you have to make calls you don’t really want to make. There is so much going on in that situation and then when you bust, all of that is over. There’s just nothing after you bust, and part of the reason you are so heart broken is because the fun and excitement of the challenge is over,” Stern said.
“You get rewarded so infrequently, like finishing top five in a big tournament, that you feel like you should get it done. A lot of times you it’s not in your control, depending who you’re playing against and how the cards go. You have to play your best and sit there and run good,” Stern said.
Stern joined the TwoPlusTwo poker community in 2004 under the handle Ansky. In total, up until today, Ansky has 17,221 posts on the biggest poker forum in the world.
“I joined TwoPlusTwo in my last year in high school and my poker playing up to that point was home games with my friends during lunch breaks. I was kind of late getting into poker in my senior year, as many of my friends in high school had already been playing for a year when I started. I learned the rules and I liked the game, but I was completely clueless. I tried to learn by watching the guy who was considered the best player in our game. At some point I realized I needed to move out of that circle to get better, and I took a pretty sensible approach. There were people out there that were better than me, so I needed to get better myself. That’s how I found 2+2, by browsing the Internet for a place to learn how to get better at poker,” Stern said.
“At first I was mostly just reading, and every now and then I would post. That was right around the time I bought my first poker book, “Playing Poker Like The Pros, by Phil Hellmuth,” Stern said.
It’s interesting to hear Stern say that Hellmuth’s book jump-started his poker career. During one of the Big Game episodes Stern clashed with Hellmuth in a big pot, but at that point he was not intimidated by big name pros anymore.
“I definitely got a rise out it when I first started playing high stakes with the big pros in 2007 and 2008. It excited me, the fact that a couple years ago I was playing micro stakes and now I’m at the World Series playing with Negreanu, Ivey and Hellmuth. Now I’m just a poker player, that’s who I am. I think I take it for granted now, that I’m playing with all those guys. I’m not a newcomer anymore.”
We also asked if Stern ever brought up to Hellmuth, that he started playing poker more seriously after buying his book.
“I can’t remember if I ever mentioned it to him, but maybe I did in passage. It’s kind of strange too, playing with him. He has different moods and sometimes he’s very conversational, receptive and wants to hear what you have to say, and in other times he’s just in a box and he won’t interact with anyone. So you have to catch him at the right moment in order to start a conversation with him.”
The TwoPlusTwo community has always been a great place for Stern to talk strategy as he was climbing the ranks, but things have changed a lot since he reached the top.
“My posting has definitely died down since I started playing high stakes. I hardly post on there anymore. I definitely posted a lot back in the day. It was a much more open community obviously back in the day. There was more of a “free exchange of information” attitude. It was much less cutthroat than it is now. There are several reasons for that, one of them is that there is too much money being made in poker coaching and training to give it away for free."
"Also, the game is so much tougher now, the environment is so much more competitive and people do not want to give any information away. I still read 2+2 all the time, but mostly it’s for gossip and bullshit stuff. When there’s an interesting strategy conversation going on, I will definitely read it though. I’m not sure if low stakes still has an information community, but at least on 2+2 the first thing that went away was the serious high stakes strategy discussions. Everybody pretty much stopped posting any significant strategy advice because the environment became too tough. People just realized that it didn’t make sense to post that kind of stuff anymore,” Stern said.
“Emil Patel, Brian Roberts, FoxwoodsFiends, Jason Strasser… all those guys were pretty influential to me. I still talk strategy with them nowadays; because I tried to find players I respected the most and become friends with them. With most of those people I’m still really good friends,” Stern added about having friends in poker who play similar stakes.
Those guys are basically the core of the 2 Months 2 Million crew, the show where Stern ended up replacing Ariel “FoxwoodsFiends” Schneller. Do you think that show was published at the right time and was it created because you guys were living this lush lifestyle?
“Ideally I think the show would’ve aired in 2007 or 2008, not in 2009. When it aired, the poker boom was already slowing down a little bit, because a few years earlier it was way more so about the ‘baller’ lifestyle. The idea for 2 Months 2 Million came from Jay Rosenkrantz. He thought of it in 2006 of 2007 and it took about three years before it finally came together. I guess that’s just a product of the TV industry, and it shows how hard it is to get a show made, especially when you don’t have any experience at that,” Stern said.
The War Room on the 2 Months 2 Million set.
“I’m mostly happy with the product, but I think it could’ve been better in a lot of ways. I think I would’ve preferred it if it was a little bit less like a cheesy reality show, and more like a documentary style. The production wanted it to be a fast paced reality show, so that’s what it became and we had no control over that. I haven’t sat down and watched it through since a few months after it came out. When it first came out, I watched every week and every episode multiple times,” Stern said about the show that brought fame from poker fans.
In the 2M2MM broadcasts we saw Stern smash up watermelons and tilt extensively, but in a previous interview he was quoted saying that tilt is not a big part of his game. We wondered if this was a product of the TV production.
“I don’t want to say I was forced to do anything, but the producers are watching us on TV the entire time. So I get stacked in a bad beat and I don’t react at all. They were like, “You just lost a big pot, you should say something,” as they try to rile you up a little bit. They were suggesting I go to the tilt room to smash some watermelons, but I didn’t want that because it’s not who I am. I’m not a baby; I don’t go smashing things up if I lose money at poker. That’s what they are looking for though, so they convince you to do that. In the beginning of the show I would have never agreed to it, but as time went on we realized that it would help the show if we acted out a little more. So for the sake of the cameras being there, we decided to get a bit more entertaining,” Stern explained about how the TV show was made.
“When I’m playing at home I never smash watermelons or start screaming at my PC, in the worst case scenario I might hit my mouse a little. When I get really tilted, I just stop playing. Everybody loved that line though, when I screamed, “Who’s this fat panda motherfucker that keeps winning all my money?!” at that Full Tilt avatar. I just came up with that, it wasn’t a line that was fed to me, and I just embraced the rage they were trying to get out of me," Stern said.
Make sure to tune back in on Sunday when we publish Part 2 of this three-part series. In Part 2 Stern reflects on some of the answers he gave in "The Well" on TwoPlusTwo back in 2006. The poker pro also gives us an insight into how hard it is to reach the top and how much harder it has become throughout the years.
You can follow Dani Stern on Twitter by clicking this link.