Martin Bradstreet Talk, Thinks and Explains Part 2

The first part of this three-part interview series can be found right here. 

It was loud and clear what Martin Bradstreet had to say last week, but he was far from done. This Australian born Canadian, who resides in the picturesque city of Montreal, continues telling his story this week about life as a poker player. Poker players tend to form opinions about how the world views them, but Bradstreet willingly takes it to another level. This week Bradstreet discusses his role in the Bet Raise Fold movie, and how they did not show much of his own personality. Bradstreet is okay with that, and he explains why. 

“I’ve got a lot of hats, I guess,” Bradstreet said as he started thinking about his own personality.

After a short pause Bradstreet started on the Bet Raise Fold movie and how his persona in that movie doesn’t really reflect who he is in real life.

“It’s funny listening to people talk about the Bet Raise Fold footage. They say, “This Martin guy seems like a nice guy, pretty solid, friendly and put together,” and I’m like, “Wow!” because that sounds so odd to me. If you watch it, and I’ve watched Bet Raise Fold, my answers related to poker, in that context, seem pretty well thought out. It’s just that Ryan (Firpo, the director) doesn’t let me babble on and on about some crazy thought I’ve had. It was a lot of specific stuff he wanted to talk about, and that’s usually related to poker, something that I have pretty good answers on. That guy, the one in the movie, seems very together in that context. Where the other thing is much closer to the truth,” Bradstreet said.

“In life, how good you are at something tends to be related to how well you line up with your personal vision at that thing. I’m 85% as good a poker player as I can be, so when I play poker there’s this kind of aloofness that it doesn’t really matter what I do because it will always work somewhat. I will cut off any disastrous things pretty quickly and I have a pretty good idea of what could go wrong. I’ve been broke, played too high, played drunk, grinded out lower levels, played huge amounts of hands, coached, made videos and that gives me a very good idea of what goes on in the poker world and community for that matter. If I do have a poker hand where I want advice on there are 20 other people I can contact who can help me out. In music I’m probably at 30% of lining up to where I can get too. When I get on stage and when I’m stressed about things there’s a lot of energy related to me sailing a ship into the night. I kind of know that it’s headed in the right direction, but I have no idea what to do. I’m increasingly getting better at figuring out what works, what doesn’t and where I’m going. I think that it is kind of a different person in terms of that aspect. That’s because I have so much less experience on the performance side.

Bradstreet’s character in the Bet Raise Fold movie seemed to have life figured out. We can’t get around the fact that the movie was more about the Danielle Anderson heartbreak and the Tony Dunst career move.

“I’m presented very well in that movie,” Bradstreet said after a pause.

“I seem like I have all the answers to everything. That’s obviously not the case. Within the small confines of playing online poker, at a medium stakes level, I can give good answers. When you’re making a film about me in preparation for a heads up match against Isildur for millions of dollars, I’m not going to give you the most put together interviews. And if you, for instance, interview me after a session I’ll sound like I’m a little bit lost. Within the confines of the content that’s discussed in Bet Raise Fold, it’s pretty clear to see that Ryan’s shown how there’s people playing poker that are totally on top of it. Both Tony and Danielle have reasons for being in poker but there’s also negatives associated with that. There’s a lot of stress and they’re still trying to find where they sit in the world. I have a very good idea of where I sit in the poker world. There’s no inner search for me and I don’t need to do soul searching,” Bradstreet said.

””Am I a grinder? Do I want to do TV poker? Maybe I should do this?” those are not things I have to think about. I feel very at ease within that context. Especially when you fit in that I’m Canadian as well and how Black Friday did in fact influence Danielle’s life. It’s dynamics, like in music where the loud part sounds louder if there’s also a soft part. I think Danielle’s story is more heartbreaking when you contrast it to someone who’s in Canada, just grinding away. When you look at the things that are going on, there’s one person who’s happy as Larry the cow, while the other is getting crushed because they have to provide for their family but can’t. I think that was really smart of Ryan to do it in that way,” Bradstreet said complimenting Firpo for the excellent job he did with creating contrast in the movie.

A trailer from the Bet Raise Fold movie with Martin Bradstreet on the piano

If you take Dunst and Anderson out of the story and replace them with two random people, people that you don’t know, it becomes a very different story all of a sudden. Bradstreet gives his take on being dependent on money as a poker professional, and how it’s not a good career move for most.

“I don’t think you should be a professional poker player if you are dependent on it to that level. It’s really hard to say though, because it depends on what your options are. I used to always say that you should never be a poker player unless you make way more money than you would if you had a normal job. You can’t play poker for $40,000 a year, that’s stupid amounts of stress. It can be ridiculous doing that because of the variance and you need to make a fair bit more than you spend in order to be comfortable doing that. If you don’t do that, you’re going to have so much stress and you’re going to take your job not only home, but also to the gym, to parties and you’re not going to be able to leave it alone. It’s tough for me to say what Tony or Danielle should be doing. Maybe they will have to get staked, and some people think that if you need to get staked, you shouldn’t play poker. But who knows, what are your alternatives? Life’s not meant to be easy, just like playing pro poker isn’t easy. I would’ve approached that situation by moving to Canada, but that’s easier as I don’t live in the Midwest and I don’t have a family. I have a lot less commitments in that way. I don’t think Black Friday would’ve mentally crushed me, I’m pretty resolution oriented. I don’t find a lot of value in tilt, and stuff like that,” Bradstreet said.

This raised the question, is playing poker still a good idea if you have aspirations to be a professional?

“What I say is not going to matter for the people who are playing poker, but I would say, don’t play poker. The people that ignore that advice are probably the right people that should. At this point in time it’s so unlikely that you are the person that should be playing poker. I’ve had a great run with poker right, and I don’t think poker will be around forever. Personally I think it will be killed by botting. The games are extremely tough now, so if you jump in now it will take you a very long time to reach a high level. Everything worked out pretty well for me, I spent a lot of time to make that happen, but I was also very lucky. Still, I’m 28 with absolutely no work experience, no education and no resume. I can’t do anything, if you know what I mean. I’m lucky to have a broad range of life experiences, and interact with a wide diversity of people from all over the world, from monks in Thailand to rich bankers. I have pretty good people skills at this point and I’ve experienced a lot which makes me believe that I can do the “self employed thing” quite well. I think I can start a random business and make it work by using the things that I’ve learnt over the years. I am now though, completely depended on being outside of the system, unless I go back to school, get a job and start a career. That said, I couldn’t become a banker anymore if I wanted to because I would not be able to start before the age of 35 with no prior work experience, so that’s not going to work.

We decided to go a little hypothetical. Let’s say you would’ve finished your University degree, political science and a minor in Chinese, and started a career at the usual age. Now let’s compare that person that you could’ve become with yourself right now. Who do you think would be the more knowledgeable person?

“This person that I am right now is way better. There’s two major facets related to that. The first is the broad range of life experiences that I’ve used poker for as an opportunity to gain. I know that’s automatically implied, but I know plenty of rich people that don’t do anything. I’ve used my time to do a lot of things that are difficult but rewarding. I’ve trained for a triathlon, I’ve been basically anywhere but for Africa and South America, I’ve interacted with a lot of different people in a lot of different fields and I’ve just met a lot of people. All of that matters, but the biggest thing is that I’ve managed to become world class at something. That process carries on into everything. There’s a whole mindset you need to have in order to get to a level where everyone is really good, and then get to the next level past that. That’s not an easy thing to do because you’re plateauing all the time, you have to play people that are way better than you, but also players that you think you are way better than, that just shit all over you.”

“I notice it in music now, it’s like I’m stepping up the stakes. It’s not disheartening or bad; I’m just trying to take every step with the optimal stride length. I feel that getting good at poker has given me that skill. If I would’ve grinded 20 tables of $2/$4 the whole time I feel like that wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere. To get back to the comparison, I’m not sure what the other thing would’ve gotten me. I tend to be someone who uses their personal time to do stuff that’s very rewarding and requires a lot of concentration. Even if you have a high-pressure job, you’re still not getting a lot of responsibility to always be doing something that’s difficult. Whereas, I can always find something to do that’s hard. I can practice music now and do something that’s very mentally engaging, or write music, play poker or train for running. All those things require my absolute concentration.

We brought up that people in the current day society might settle for what they have instead of striving for more. Bradstreet has an interesting take on settling, and how it’s not going to be something for him.

“Settling can be pretty alluring. In 2011 I had a huge year in poker, in 2012 I didn’t do too well and I lost a small amount by the end of the year. In 2013 I’m playing a bit more again, but I didn’t start the year great. In the last year and a half I’ve played maybe a quarter of what I’ve played in the year before that. What I’m doing now, rather then to keep playing when I got the golden watch, so to speak, I stepped into a field that’s hard for me. I have way more stress now, I have sleepless nights, and I feel lost all the time, because I just have to figure out a way to do what I want to do. I’m not willing to accept that I can’t do it. There’s a huge amount of stress related to that, but it’s also what I consider to be the stuff that good living is made off. For me, the comfort lies to you. It tells you that it’s the good thing, but the more comforting I find things the less rewarding I think they are. I can go to nice dinners, drink and play poker a lot and that would be fairly enjoyable, but not very rewarding.

The question on how the Aussie ended up going from the Down Under, to one of the biggest and coldest countries in the world, still remained unanswered until this point. It felt like Bradstreet pictured his young life as a man looking to take on the world, and the pace of his words took off as he recollected what happened.

“From the age of 21 or 22 I decided that I wanted to be a musician in a pretty big way. I had the dream to play at big festivals and decided this, one morning after I had been playing poker all night. I was watching a festival movie and realized, “That’s what I want to do”. The next day I started to play guitar, but in Perth, where I lived at that time, I could not get anything going. I was hanging out with a hipster-y group of people and there were some bands, but I just wasn’t falling into any social circles with musicians easily. I always felt like an outsider, which is funny because I’m kind of shunned by outsiders. I didn’t have that sweet indie credibility,” Bradstreet laughed.

“So I decided to move to Melbourne and spent the next three years trying to find people to play in a band with. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t find anyone. I guess it’s just kind of hard to go to music venues and pitch to musicians that they should be your buddy. I met a few people during those years, but there was a difference in skill level or something else that did not work out. I attended a ton of shows during those years, but eventually I realized that I needed to move. I just couldn’t find what I was looking for in Melbourne. Maybe moving was not going to do anything and is it just me, but I still felt like I had to in order to try figuring that out,” Bradstreet said, as his aspirations in music forced him to leave him home country.

“I moved to Canada to go snowboarding at Whistler with the intention to do a whole season there. It didn’t snow the whole time I was there so I moved to Vancouver, and snowboarded only on the weekends. Vancouver is not really a big music city, but I did buy a piano while I was there. I was still trying to make the music thing happen, but it fell back again as I was playing a ton of poker at that time. Music turned into more of a hobby when I played $25/$50. I was making more and more money, so it was hard to stay focused on the music thing while that was going on. Because I still hadn’t found that music thing I was looking for, I decided to move to Montreal, and that’s where I found all of it. I’m not moving anymore now,” Bradstreet said, as he paused. 

“There’s a very active scene with a lot of different bands and musicians, and if I wanted to play music with someone I could call them right now. That’s kind of what I’ve always been looking for,” Bradstreet said.

“About the Canada thing; it really has to be Canada or America for me. I can’t live anywhere else. My mom’s Canadian though, so I have two passports,” as Bradstreet confesses that his big dream still lies back home in Australia.

“My dream is to play at Big Day Out in Perth, it’s the first festival I’ve ever been to. It’s going to be tough and expensive to take the whole band and all our gear there from Montreal,” Bradstreet said.

A little research online showed us that from Montreal to Perth it takes at least 36 hours, and that’s just flight time and layovers. So buckle up if you ever plan on making that journey.

Bradstreet’s band, AlexeiMartov, makes a lot of noise. Genres in music are created to give people a better idea of what could be similar to their liking.

“For me the genre is secondary to whatever I feel like playing. If you want to tie poker into it, the game kind of makes you a bit robotic as to how you deal with emotions. If you’re playing poker well, you’ll be very distanced from your emotions. At this point, to me, it comes automatically and I feel very distanced from my emotional state while playing. If I lose a hand it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t bother me at all. It should, and something is going on in my brain that stops it from bothering me. I’m aware that losing money is bad. I think that some of that gets carried over into every day life, and in interactions with people and it makes it easy just to be distanced. Getting angry about something feels suboptimal, because what would there be to gain from being angry? That’s a good thing, but it’s also a bad thing because you have no emotional release. For me, one of the big things with music is, playing, freaking out on stage and going mental. That’s what gives me that emotional release. I’m super focused and in the zone when I’m on stage, and 95% of the time I have no idea what I’m doing. What I’m doing is not the same as what I explained earlier about being in the zone with poker, it’s the exact opposite. It’s equally connected to that flow feeling, but in a constant outpouring of expression. It’s a tone, a sense or a feeling that’s very hard to express with words for someone who’s used to being distant from the emotional aspect of every day communication. It feels like there’s all this emotion stored up from poker and it needs a context to be expressed within. On the upcoming album though, there might even be some songs that are actually pleasing to listen to, besides songs that you’ll only listen to when you’re in a state of mind to burn down a police station.

This almost makes it seem like poker is extremely bad for someone’s long-term emotional state, and Bradstreet shares his take on this.

“I was just in Tokyo and everyone there is so polite. They are so careful to express themselves in a way that ensures that someone else doesn’t get hurt. You don’t break any eggs to make the omelet, so to speak. For me it’s like walking around on eggshells when I’m there, and that feeling builds up inside you to primal scream levels. That makes me think of this Louis CK episode in which he has to go through airport security. You can see he’s being good about it, but bit by bit you can see him getting more and more frustrated. The tilt will just build up inside you, and you need to have some sort of outlet. At least that’s how it works for me, but I know that there are also people who like the more Zen approach to things. I just need to let it all out sometimes.”

After an epic three second scream Bradstreet quiets down, breathes for a second and carries on.

“I don’t think I’ll ever have a midlife crisis. I think that a lot of people will when they decide to turn the volume on, as they had been watching the movie of life without sound on for all those years,” Bradstreet added.

The final part of this series will come out on Thursday as Bradstreet gives us even more insight into his life. His future comes into play; the direction his band is headed and how he thinks poker will still be in his life for quite a while. 

Remko Rinkema

Remko Rinkema has covered the biggest poker tournaments in the world since 2008, including many WSOP, EPT, Aussie Millions, APPT, MCOP and Unibet Open events. As an in-depth interview and story enthusiast he tries to do things a little differently. Besides the usual writings Rinkema grabs every chance to appear on podcasts, live streams and in the occasional video.

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