This is the third of four parts in which Jason Somerville tells us his life story. In the previous parts you were able to read about Somerville’s goals and aspirations with his YouTube show ‘Run it Up,’ his childhood, being a karate teacher and starting to explore the options of being a professional poker player. In the third part Somerville continues on the latter, as he walks us through some of the most pivotal moments of his career.
Looking for Validation
Ever since Somerville started playing poker he’s been very meticulously keeping track of all his wins and losses. The youngster, who was playing underage at the time, had no expenses as he was living with his parents and every dollar earned was a dollar saved. Saved for his bankroll that is.
Somerville’s money from the early days stayed in play and that allowed him to build up a sizable bankroll. With an almost neurotic need to keep his statistics up to date and an obsession with the game like no other, Somerville proved to have a successful recipe in hand to make this into a worthy profession.
“It almost blows my mind that I was so neurotic with it,” Somerville said about the way he kept track of his results, “I don’t know how many journal entries I posted, but I believe it was something like over 4,000 individual sessions that I recorded. I recorded the duration, where I played, what it was that I played, what the buy in was, what the cash out was.”
Every single site Somerville played on would be recorded individually, charts were made and journal entries were written. For an outsider it might’ve looked like Somerville had gone crazy, but in order to become successful at something where the brightest young minds compete, you might have to just be that.
“It was very important to me to keep those stats accurate, because there were a lot of people that doubted me, especially when I first started. Who wouldn’t doubt this random 16 year-old kid playing a game trying to make money?” Somerville asked himself before continuing, “To me those stats were validation. Those stats were everything to me. It was proof that what I was doing was actually working, that I was actually right.”
Jason Somerville's total career online poker earnings up until February 2005 versus the hours played
For the first time in Somerville’s life he’d found a way to give his all in something he believed in. Somerville trusted he had what it took to be a professional, and the traditional path of completing his education and finding a stable job went out the window.
“It was the first time in my life that I was really able to say ‘No, this is what I want’ and to be right, and actually assert myself as an adult, and for the first time and say, ‘Look, this traditional classic paths of things, might work for other people but it’s not for me, what I’m doing is working for me and here’s the proof.’ The obsession that I had with poker carried on, strongly through the stats and without that I don’t know if I would have been able to do this as a career,” Somerville said.
“It’s one thing for me to say, ‘I’ve made $90,000 in the last year’, but then you can get a response like, ‘Alright kid that’s cool’, which I can counter with, ‘Alright, here’s a list of the 1,200 sessions that I’ve kept track of so that you can see every single dollar that has come in and out of my operation this year. You can see that I’ve put in 1,200 hours this year and these are my results. I’ve played all but three days in the last 300 days, so that’s my proof.’ That is empowering right there,” Somerville said as he caught his breath after passionately referring to this desire to prove himself when he first started.
Somerville's earnings per location, both live and online, back in the day
“That is validation that doesn’t come in many other ways. That only comes from hard work, commitment and trying to achieve that. To me those stats and those graphs were like the bible. They were the foundation of everything,” Somerville added.
“Even so I’m a neurotic note taker. I have a mini laptop I use for notes, I have two iPads, I have my phone and my computer, a waterproof note pad and waterproof paper for the shower as well,” Somerville said and he continued, “I hate losing ideas or potentially forgetting something that I will want to remember someday. It’s awesome to be able to go back and look through all of it and be like ‘Wow I did what? What day? I won how much doing this? I was playing 1-dollar sit and gos?’”
Looking Back on the Early Days
“Because I have all that information I can go back and see what my ROI was in $2 dollar tournaments that had more than a certain number of players in a given sample size. I used PokerCharts for all my tracking and I don’t know if anybody ever utilized that website as well as I did, because I used the graphs for all the blogs I wrote, for the videos I created and for my own career,” Somerville said.
“Looking back, the things that always surprised me the most, were that I’ve forgotten how bad I did in tournaments early on. I also forgot what a big percentage of my career I spent playing limit hold’em primarily. I really didn’t start winning money in tournaments until the one year I won a lot of money in tournaments. Before then I was really just bad and didn’t understand them at all.”
“I really made a lot of my money playing cash only the first few years. I had some really sick cash games graphs. I went back and I found that there was a site that I played on a lot back in the day where I had $800 dollars in the account, two weeks later I had spun that $800 dollars up to 50k. There were so many cool things on the graphs and it was really awesome to be able to look back and have all that information,” Somerville said.
It almost seemed like keeping statistics on every single session he played were a way to solely prove to the outside world that he was doing well. That validation, from the outside world, was something he vowed he did not need after falling ill with ulcerative colitis in the early days of his poker career. Somerville however explained that he did indeed needed validation for himself as well, because being able to win at poker was not a given back when he started.
“What I was undertaking was clearly not obvious to be successful. Even though keeping track of my operation also created a way for me to tell those around me that what I was doing was serious, and that what I was doing was working, but I was also able to validate that to myself.”
Somerville chuckled and added, almost in a way to mock his younger self, “Let’s be honest, quitting school or even considering quitting school, was not normal. Everything that I was doing was not normal.”
“There is a difference between being confident in yourself and being blind to the possibility of failure. I really wanted to make sure that what I was doing was viable, because at first I was also a little skittish about it. The day that I’ll never forget is the day that I drove from my parents’ house to the new house that I had bought, which was not that far from there. When I was leaving my parents’ house that day, my dad said to me ‘You’re basically on your own now, I can’t help you if this doesn’t go well’ because it was during the recession and the construction industry was doing nothing. I, for the majority of this journey, was pretty much left to myself. For me to really take this path I wanted to know for sure that I was a winner at what I was doing. I needed that to give me the confidence to make the rest of my moves in poker. Without it, it would have been like folly almost; it would have been just a guess.”
Making The Big Money
Somerville bought a house with some of his first big winnings and proved to everyone, including himself, that poker was the right thing. The time during which this happened was perfect, as the housing market’s bubble had not burst yet.
“They were giving out mortgages like they were cotton candy back then. I was somehow not only qualified for a mortgage but VIP qualified for a mortgage.”
While many people in the United States ended up getting into trouble over an expensive mortgage, Somerville didn’t. The poker pro never missed a payment and happily owned a home not too far from where he grew up. Somerville moved back into the town his parents moved from while he was in high school on a Wednesday, and that same Sunday he won the Full Tilt $500 for $200,000.
“At the time that was by far the biggest score in my life. It was a nice house-warming present to basically have a severe chunk of the house covered all of a sudden. That was awesome. I really liked that.”
Jason Somerville playing live during the early days of his career
Somerville didn’t slow down one bit and played serious stakes online over the course of the next few years. There’s even a video in which he describes the biggest pots he’s ever played, and he recalled some for this interview as well.
“My career path wasn’t like getting up to $100/$200, making 500k and then taking that 500k and then playing $10/$20 for the rest of my life. I’m pretty sure my net earning at $50/$100 and higher are fewer than six figures. I don’t think I’ve made a lot of money playing super high stakes or anything like that,” Somerville said.
“The vast majority of my poker earnings came from $25/$50 and below and tournaments both live and online. That being said, I never shied away from a challenge when I thought I had enough money to take a shot and could do it. I always had a very open mind set, as I either played and I won, which would be sweet, or I played and lost and I’d just take a step down and make more money some other time.”
“I never looked at it as a situation when I could really lose. I’ll never forget that first night I played $200/$400 no limit. I only had 100k to my name and I ended up sitting down with $20,000 or $25,000. ‘I’ll just sit down with a quarter of my entire net worth,’” Somerville paraphrased himself jokingly.
“I remember not even being that nervous, it was just so incredibly awesome to play $200/$400 like, ‘Yes I’ll min raise from the button for 800 dollars,’” Somerville laughed.
“It was so intoxicatingly awesome to me, the idea of being able to do that. Also, once you lose a huge hand at $200/$400, who cares if you lose 10k at $25/$50? I always felt like taking shots at higher stakes would make me tougher and stronger at lower stakes because I would just care less. If it ever worked out well, that would be awesome, I could just move up and play higher stakes.”
“I always figured was a totally fine experience, so my career is dotted with these shot takes and stabs at higher stakes. I was always like ‘Why not, what’s the worst thing that could happen?’ In this particular session of $200/$400, I remember I took Ivey’s or Antonius’s seat in a six-handed game.”
“The game seemed good. I won a little bit of money before a hand came up where I raised with ace-eight off suit, with the eight of spades, and got a caller from who I believe was the fish that I was there to hunt at the table. He was the small blind and I had raised from the button. It came nine-ten-jack all spades. So I flopped an open-ended-straight flush draw with the ace-high and I believe he checked, I bet and he raised. At that point in my poker career I thought like, ‘I got A high and open-ended straight flush draw, let’s run it’, I didn’t fold, even though I would never play the hand this way these days, but bear in mind that this was 2006 so whatever,” Somerville laughed.
“So I got it in and he had the king of spades and a nine. So he had a pair and a higher flush draw and he had the higher gut shot covered. I was basically dead to the off suit ace or seven, or the seven of spades. I held seven outs twice, which is not how you want to get $50,000 into the pot.”
“You want to get your first 25k in good and I’ll never forget that we both got our money in, the piles of chips were in from of both of us, and when Full Tilt took in the pot, it converted all the chips into basically to two purple 25k chips and a couple other chips after that.”
“I distinctly remember all of our money morphing into these two tiny chips that are obviously so valuable. The board bricks out and I ship this guy a 50k pot and I didn’t even quit at that point. I was like ‘Well, got to reload.’ I was so mad at myself. I guess I was tilted enough to reload and I think I lost that 8k too before quitting.”
“To this day that is the only day that I had trouble sleeping from losing, because I was pissed at myself for losing a third of my total money. But I eventually went to sleep determined,” Somerville said, as the big loss hadn’t discouraged him in the slightest.
“I took me a while to get over that, but I had trouble sleeping only the first night. I was determined to get back in there and not let this slow me down and to just grind the next day and that’s what I did. I’m sure I took no time off. I’ve never been a fan of taking time off. You can thank my dad for that one. I’ve been alive for 27 years; I think my dad has taken like 6 days off since I’ve been born. This is not how we do it over here in the Somerville household,” Somerville said in his usual chipper manner.
Following His Dad's Advice and Losing Big
Somerville’s dad however was also part of the biggest loss he’s ever had in his life.
“The biggest loss I’ve ever had in my life, I lost like $120,000 in a night, playing absurd games, like $400/$800 pineapple and some other crazy stuff. I lost that money in a 20-hour live session and called my dad, and this is maybe like three years ago, I called my dad and told him about it. I have always been honest with my parents about losses and while my dad always seems fine my mom reacts to it a bit differently.”
“I always tell my parents how much I win or lose, because honesty is great and my parents get a kick out of it anyway. I told my dad I lost money thinking he would be like ‘Oh wow that’s crazy, I’m sorry to hear that’, anything like that I was expecting to hear. Not my dad, he goes, ‘Oh well, what are you doing, get back in there!’
At that point I thought, ‘Oh wow, what does this mean? My dad believes in me, this confidence is so great. It’s so awesome that my dad is excited for me.’ With that confidence I went to sleep for like six hours, got back in the game and lost another $100,000. So thanks dad for that bit of encouragement that just cost me another 100k!” Somerville said jokingly.
“There have been so many great moments in my poker career, even these losing stories, I just love them, looking back I have quite a fondness for all these stories,” Somerville said.
It’s not all bad stories when it comes to Somerville’s shot-taking. This summer the ‘Run it UP’ chairman and president took a shot in a $100,000 tournament at the Bellagio and he managed to take home $1.3 million.
“I never was like a mass grinder, I just happened to always do well when I did play, at a certain point in my career. The obsession I had with playing a lot faded when I was around 23. That’s when I really started to not be that person anymore and became close to how I am now, and I just play the biggest things and whenever I want to play, I play. That only came into effect 3 or 4 years ago. Before that I was definitely a grinder and made most of my money just by identifying good spots, putting in the time and always working on my game and trying to outwit, and outthink my opponents.”
“Once I got into tournaments, I didn’t really need to do anything besides play tournaments because I was way ahead of the curve at the time. Especially at first, I was doing things that weren’t really standard at the time. I think I was one of the first people to really be aggressive with the min raising stuff pre-flop. Floating and calling in position were things I had taken from cash games, and that wasn’t really done in tournaments before at that point.”
Over the years Somerville has been successful in both tournaments and cash games, and he explained how that’s in part due to Daniel Negreanu’s mentorship. Somerville considers himself lucky to have Negreanu as his mentor, as he was able to pick up lots of things from him.
Focussing on Different Ventures
While many poker players need to constantly work on their game, play the game and grind the circuit, this is not the case for Somerville. When he works on his game, he works hard. When he plays the game, he’s fully focused, but whenever he’s not he manages to disconnect himself from that part of his life quite easily so it seems. The heyday of his poker-playing career, as a grinder, seems to be in the past but let this not be mistaken for an early retirement.
“If I really needed to make money, I would have to grind, I would have to play a lot, I would have to go overseas, play the circuit tremendously. In the last few years I’ve transitioned out of poker a little bit. I’ve transitioned more into ‘Run it up’, business and Ultimate Poker, because as much as I love poker, I still want to do other things. There’s so many aspects to life, there’s more to learn, and there’s more I want to try.”
“Let’s face it, the best poker players in the world are not really making tons of money. Obviously you can make a very strong living in poker but look at Phil Ivey, he is likely one of the people making the most money. You look at Jungleman, you look at all those guys. They’ve made like $10 million online, which is plenty of money but it’s hard to make three million a year in poker consistently. It’s even very hard to make a million a year consistently in poker. In business there are plenty of opportunities to look into, because if you compare that to the stock market for instance, how many people in the stock market make a million a year?”
“There are plenty of easier arenas to do battle in. Not that I’m looking for an easier arena mind you. But there are plenty of other arenas that are interesting to me, some that have higher ceilings to it, in business and investments and other kinds of things. My approach is to some degree part of my confidence, that no matter where I go I can land on my feet.”
“I know that I’ll work hard, I’m not afraid of working hard, I’m not afraid of having to start over, I’m not afraid of having no money, I’m not afraid of change or having to be in a new position or having to earn my way back up. Part of that comes from the confidence in knowing that I have been a winner and I was a winner for so long. Having the confidence in yourself definitely carries over into all parts of your life as well, because in the end all you can do is have confidence in your own decision making.”
Somerville, beyond anything, has confidence in his ability to do whatever he feels is worth his time and effort. That view he has on his life, even though it sounds straight forward, is unique and an asset that cannot be underestimated.
“I feel like I have a work ethic advantage over most of my contemporaries. That’s how I’ve always been raised and how I’ve always lived. To me, if I’m not working towards my goals then they are not any closer. I remember distinctly from the karate days that we had a saying that went as a teacher, that every day when a student came to class they were either one day closer to becoming a black belt or one day closer to quitting,” Somerville said, as that perspective on things really stuck in his head.
“That always really motivated me; let’s not sit around and do nothing today, let’s get out there, let’s play, let’s think, let’s work and let’s try to build the business. Let’s try to think about if there was somebody else right now gunning for ‘Run it up’, if there was somebody else out there who was going to be like, ‘You know what I can do that better than Jason’, what would they do? It drives me to try make what I’m doing better, better than what they’re doing. To anticipate what the next big thing will be, to anticipate what the fans want, what people want to see, what people want to have. I’ve applied that same thought process to basically everything in my life,” Somerville passionately explained.
The heyday of Somerville’s karate teaching days showed lots of similarities with his life as a professional poker player. When Somerville was climbing the ranks in poker he showed similar passion and dedication, and right now he’s showing those qualities during the improvement and development of ‘Run it up’. Somerville however also admits that during his downtime, when he’s not producing content or playing poker, he feels good doing absolutely nothing at all.
Somerville didn’t drink; he never went out, didn’t do drugs and spent his money wisely, if at all. He didn't have many friends during his most dedicated time to poker, as he really only spoke to the people he met through poker online.
“When I was living in Long Island I saw a handful of friends that I’ve had from the karate era. Almost none of my high school friends were still around, most of them had moved off of Long Island or had went to college or something. I basically just had my Internet friends for poker mostly and a handful of people that I knew locally and some family. None of that was enough to keep me from grinding almost every single day for years.”
“I would spend my downtime playing video games and that was it. That was basically my life back then. It doesn’t really sound as productive as these days. During Season 2 of ‘Run it UP’ my days are absolutely nuts. I’m waking up, trying to do a morning catch up with everybody that’s around here, trying to see what we have to accomplish today, what’s on the to-do list. Then getting whatever has to get done in the morning, I usually re-watch the video that we are putting out to refresh my memory as far as the hands that are going on, what I’m going to say for social media, what I’m going to say if I want to change the video title, making sure the annotations are right and the tags are all set right, making sure the Ultimate Poker blog is coordinated and ready to go.”
“Then putting the video out, getting the video released, I’m doing a lot of media stuff around the video, planning out for the future videos, doing a bunch of production, working with my artist, I do a lot of stuff. I think one of the coolest things about ‘Run it UP’ is all the amazing artwork that we have created, both the fans and on our side, I have a team of people, videographers, marketing people, a whole bunch of people I try to learn from or utilize in various ways. A whole bunch of meetings and conversations and decisions, I have the store orders going out, now we have the store up and loaded. It’s crazy. We have three white boards of lists around here of things that just have to get done these days. It’s really awesome. This is certainly the most productive I have ever been in my life, as far as true output, because I have such a great team here of people that are able to extend my bandwidth. It’s really awesome.”
“Back then, during my karate times, I had a little pond, these days I have a big appetite and a little pond I guess for right now. We’ll see how it works out. I’m loving it though, just like everything else. If I didn’t love ‘Run it up’ and if I didn’t love making videos and doing all this stuff, I wouldn’t be doing it.I wake up every single day since I've moved to Vegas and I'm excited and enthusiastic, I feel optimistic about the challenges that are to come in the day. Every single night that I go to sleep I always feel satisfied and usually exhausted. What more can you ask for than that for a life? I love how it’s going right now and I’m extraordinarily appreciative for all of it.”
Read the fourth and final part, when Somerville talks about the future of Run it UP, Run it UP live events, the situation surrounding Daniel Colman and his approach to poker media.