This three-part series is not just your average read. In order to get a good grasp of who Martin Bradstreet is, we highly recommend you read the first two parts beforehand. Bookmark the pages, save the link or copy the text. This is something you want to take a minute to digest.
In the third and final part of this journey through the mind of Martin Bradstreet, featured character of poker documentary “Bet Raise Fold”, high stakes poker player, and front man of the band Alexei Martov, which is also his PokerStars username, we continue to discuss a wide variety of topics including his respect for players like Cole South and Ben Sulsky, and how one big poker dream in him remains- playing in Bobby's Room.
The second part of the interview ended with Bradstreet analyzing his happiness, and how he thinks music will play a vital part in staying young. This brought us to wonder if he perhaps thinks that other people settle for a certain life or lifestyle too easily, without challenging themselves.
“It’s hard to say, because I don’t profess to be the same as everyone else. For me it’s never enough, but it’s about the process of striving for something. It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun for me. That’s what gets me off, but other people are different,” Bradstreet started.
“I used to think that they weren’t and I would really think, “How are you not doing more, and how do you not wake up in the morning with that driven feeling?” I do understand now that some people differ from that, people have different aspirations. For me, I think I have a fair bit of vision. I see what I want. Five, ten, twenty years from now the details aren’t all there, but there’s a great deal of things that I can already see with clarity. For me, not trying to find a way to realize these visions would be very disappointing. The process and journey of realizing these visions provide me with a lot of satisfaction. Being able to get a band on stage and play music was something I wanted to do for a very long time and now that the vision inhabits it's own reality. It’s pretty much the most fun thing I can do. It’s not just about the journey though that's important- but developing a space and aptitude to express yourself in something, that is very satisfying”, Bradstreet said.
After a moment to think, Bradstreet continued on about how some people might not have the same visions, but that he is willing to reach out. The problem people might have with reaching that goal could be the fact that they would have to fail a couple of times first.
“I can’t pass judgment on how someone is spending their time, unless I know where they want to get. If someone told me they wanted to go “in this place,” and they were kind of stuck in “this situation,” then obviously they need a plan. You need a plan if you want to make sure you can get to B from A. If you’re happy just to be chilling in A that’s fine, but if you really care about having B as a part of your life as well as A, you have to work out a way to get there. On your way to get there you'll probably fail a bunch of times and have to adapt your plan, but that's just reality,” Bradstreet said.
“Failing sucks. It’s a fine line with that. You have to strongly not give a fuck when you start putting your stuff out there. For instance, so many people would try to subtly hint to me that maybe I shouldn't be the person singing in our band, but I bet in 10 years they'll be saying that it must be so nice to be born with a naturally good singing voice. It sucks that people shoot you down when you’re trying something new. They say, “Why don’t you do the old thing, you were really good at that. I don’t get it.” It’s even harder from people who care about you, who think they are being helpful. In that case you need to switch on that kind of distanced poker mentality. Someone might say for example, “You’re really good at piano, why don’t you focus on that?” Bradstreet said with a passion in his voice. “I don’t even have an answer for that, because I want to do the other thing as well!” Bradstreet yelled in excitement. It’s like, “You’re good at breathing, why don’t you just focus on that?”
"Sometimes it can really feel hurtful when someone tells you not to do the thing you spent a lot of time on trying to do. Part of me is almost like, “Well I’ll show you!” when someone says something like that. You use that to motivate yourself even more, turn the kind of sad victim mentality into a kind of anger at some invisible foe that may not even really exist," Bradstreet said.
In the previous parts Bradstreet spoke about achieving goals and moving on to new things after achieving them, but for some reason music does not fit into that category.
“The thing for me is that I knew I wanted to do the music thing from when I was seven years old. I saw a girl called Naomi Gordon play Green Sleeves in my music class and I just knew right away, “I’m going to play piano.” I went home and tried to get my parents to buy me a piano, or a keyboard. They wouldn’t initially, they thought it might be a phase as my friend Tom had just started too- they probably figured if he did that I thought I had to or something. But they did sign me up for lessons with a friends mum and my mum made me a paper keyboard to practice on. I practiced on that for a couple of weeks and then they realized I was serious enough so bought a 66 key digital one, I think. Eventually we did get a piano though, which was nice. All through High School I practiced, usually around two to three hours a day, trying to get to the level for concert pianist stuff. But the pathway just wasn't there; you don't find concert pianists coming out of small country towns that start at 7 years old with some friends mum. We did try to escalate things at one stage but it just wasn't the right background. That said it was great that it didn't unfold that way, I think that playing classical piano for a living would be a pretty lonely life.
Music has really been the only constant in my life. When I moved somewhere new I used the piano at a University by just sneaking into a music room or something. When I’m staying at a hotel I usually try to find their piano, usually a grand piano is sitting in a hallway somewhere near a conference room. You can find some pretty good ones at the Ritz like this. At the Ritz or something and people tend to not stop you playing even if you technically shouldn't be, provided you have some competence.
For me it’s clear that this is what I should be doing. Every time I see some old guy that's reinforced, because music is something you could be doing when you're 80,” Bradstreet said. A lot of 80-year olds are just sitting around watching movies, eating cookies and stuff like that. Not all of them of course, but music definitely seems like a good thing to have in your old age” Bradstreet said.
“When I was in Japan I remember there was this guy, he must’ve been 70 years old, at a jam session in Tokyo. I was like, “Man, this guy gets life.” He was waling, and that at the age of 70!” His life has not gone worse since he was 21, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve swapped over from poker to music. Even though I was living, sort of the, high life. My life is harder now, but I know that this is the thing. I was one of the few people in life that got dealt pocket aces pre flop- I know what 'my thing is'. I’ve known this for a long time, and that means I’ve already put in a couple thousand hours into it. So for me music is not a “ticking off the box,” thing. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro would be such a goal, but not music. I want to build my life in a way that music is the dominant factor, not only now but always.
It almost seems like Bradstreet dislikes his poker life, but he clarifies that poker is still a very important factor in his life.
“I still love poker and the money is obviously important, because I don’t have much income with music at this stage. I’ve got three options financially right now. I can keep living the lifestyle that I live, focusing on music and not play poker. In that case it would be very depressing to look at my checking account dwindle constantly. I could also downsize my quality of life and live a more ascetic life. Clearly the third option, playing high stakes poker, traveling the world, going into a cave to work like crazy on music whenever I can is the best. Finding a couple months here and there to immerse myself in poker to stay at the top, or maybe one level below, that seems a lot more badass to me.
Poker is still important, but Bradstreet explains how he’s a little more wary at the moment.
“Because I don’t want to box myself in financially, I haven't just jumped into $100/$200 games when I feel like. I can’t afford to lose and be happy-go-lucky about it on those stakes anymore I think. I have commitments, and I have a ton of different projects that take time to build. When you play poker, time is essentially the same as money. I don't want to be boxed in to losing 6 months of time when I need it most because I played too high at an inopportune moment. That said, I played the last three days and I’m pretty excited to jump back into the high stakes games. It just takes me a little time to take the rust off,” Bradstreet said.
Many poker players claim that if they don’t play for a day they’ll regress, so to say. In the grand scheme of things you will always keep a base, but if you want to beat the highest stakes there is a lot more to it.
Bradstreet takes the road of less variance a little more these days, and he continues on to analyze what the difference is between the good players and the very good players. In the example he talks about Cole South (HSDB profile) and Ben Sulsky (HSDB profile), two players he has a lot of respect for.
“Good players like Cole are one step ahead and that’s huge. It’s like the first movers advantage with a business. The guy who starts realizing something is working really well starts milking it straight away, and then everyone else starts doing it a little while later. That way everyone gets a little bit of the pie with the first mover getting the most, but then it becomes standard and it will no longer be an edge. In the past something like re-raising aggressively pre flop in PLO against loose buttons didn’t feel like something that would make you tons of money, but if the button opens loose you can three-bet with all kinds of hands. Someone like LuckyGump did that and looked retarded for ages and then people started jumping on that bandwagon and doing it in an even more effective way. If you play poker all the time you get that “first mover,” thing a lot more. By playing all the time you pick up on that stuff automatically, and that’s one reason it’s important to play a lot- the game is constantly evolving, you want to be one of the people evolving it, not one of the people working out what you're missing,” Bradstreet said.
“Ben (Sulsky or Sauce123), for instance, plays everything and he’s still got the mentality most poker players started with when they got good. Most of them lost that somewhere along the line and that obviously changed their perspective. Ben plays poker for the love of poker, not for the love of money. He actually lives a very moderate lifestyle. It's pretty cool. My band stayed with him on the way to record in Chicago and they were like, “Wow, Ben is such a grounded and easy going guy, he reads a lot of Dostoevsky, really chilled out, nice girlfriend”. I was just like, “You know he’s considered as one of the most viciously aggressive, most difficult to play, poker players in the world.” “Really?” They did not see that at all. He just doesn’t care about the whole money aspect of it, as long as he’s comfortable and in high stakes action, and can play poker in the style he wants to play, which is typically extremely aggressively. Since he just wants to play, that means he has a huge advantage in terms of improving- he's just played so many hands against the best players in the world. It's pretty hard to get that skill analyzing spots against weaker players- tough players really make you think about every spot since every spot is important at that level- you can't just muck around in 20% of the pots and try stuff out or make suboptimal plays when you feel like it. They won't make those mistakes. And since you're playing all the obvious spots the same as each other, that's where they'll beat you. Playing people at the top really helps you sink or swim. When there is money on the line, you are heavily motivated to learn to swim.
For example I’ve spent a ton of time playing against Isildur, thousands and thousands of hands, but Ben has played way more! Isildur is like a roommate to him, but so is Jungleman, and pretty much every other top level player who will play him. All the best poker minds, the area where people don’t have an edge on each other, love playing poker, and Ben spent tons of time playing those guys heads up. Secondly, he’s done it at No Limit and PLO and maintained his skill at both games. I think he’s one of the only people that have done that. Isildur has too at this point, and I guess Jungleman also has. I guess those three guys are all pretty nuts. And they could improve like that because they just loved the game. They didn't spend their time cashing in grinding, they just kept improving because they aren't bound to their love of eating at Nobu. Eventually everyone gets a taste for that though. That’s the eternal struggle between comfort and passion.
Martin rocking out on the piano with his band
“Another aspect of where the difference is visible between someone who’s good, and someone who’s amazing is the flow thing. Being in the zone is very important and when I’m playing well, I get into that state as well. Those are the main things, and having huge amounts of experience playing against the best players. You can’t play Isildur every day and not get way, way better. You spend a lot of time thinking about complex poker situations, because they will put you in spots you haven’t been in before. You can tell when someone like that is talking to you about a poker hand when they come up with conclusions. Sometimes you start to see, “Wait, he didn’t just come up with that by accident, there’s a lot of thinking behind the thought process that went into that decision. He didn’t just make that play to muck around.” Isildur doesn’t just think, “Let me just muck around here on the turn and bluff,” he did that with a reason. Usually if you're productive you start thinking about how your range interacts with theirs in that situation, and once you do that, if you're feeling productive, it's down the rabbit hole with the game theory," Bradstreet said.
We almost forget that Bradstreet plays and has played the biggest stakes as well, and we asked him to rank himself against those top-notch players.
“It’s really hard to say when you’re not playing those games all the time. It’s really easy to think, when you see someone in a high stakes game, that they are very good. You need to get dealt hands with people in order to see what the difference is. If I’m in a poker game with Ben he’ll make me think a lot, but at this point there’s not anyone at the table who can do that and make me feel like I’m getting owned. There’s just no play that someone can start making where I’ll be like, “Oh what do I do??? AAAAAAH” if you know what I mean. On the other hand it would be very hard for me to figure out how to make any money playing against him, because I’m certainly not putting him in impossible spots. I’m certainly not stealing too many of his blinds, and he’s also not calling my three-bet pre flop and then just check folding to my bet on the flop or something like that. People like that just make those types of mistakes. It’s really hard to judge how good people are until you play against them. It all comes back to the flow state, because once you start playing with them you will naturally find these things, and pick up all this stuff that you can’t analyze. I don’t know what my edge on some players is, but if I play 10,000 hands against them I’ll start noticing things," Bradstreet said.
Playing against the best players in the world, on the toughest network, almost seems like it must hurt your hourly wage. We suggested that Bradstreet should perhaps consider playing on other networks to generate an easier income, but he quickly declined.
“I just really hate the other software. Cole South actually summed this up in the most eloquent way I’ve heard. He said, “If you’re not playing a ton it’s really hard to detilt yourself from five different types of poker software.” All the idiosyncrasies of each different type of software make it so that it’s always on the front of your mind. Getting in the zone on iPoker for instance is really hard and I find it stressful. I did play on different networks and when I first moved to Canada I played just on iPoker. I played on it all the time, and it was great. It’s just all about playing a lot on one network,”
“About bum hunting, I always feel like I need to keep moving forward in life stuff. If you had to get from A to B and there were two ways; one way is to stand there and you get teleported after standing there for 30 minutes and the other way is to walk there in 30 minutes, I would prefer the latter. When I’m not playing poker I don’t make any money, but when you’re bum hunting you’re basically just sitting there getting paid to do doing nothing. I want to spend my time learning, not waiting”.
This brings us to the final topic, the future. Bradstreet responds to the question what his future will look like, and how poker and music will still go hand in hand.
“One thing I feel like I haven’t gotten out of poker is playing in the big game. I feel like I need to earn a few hundred K specifically to take a shot at Bobby’s Room. Just because I’ve never done that, it’s on my mind. I just want to take a couple hundred k and go to Vegas one year just to play in that room, that high. I never cared about winning a bracelet or something, for me that doesn't really play into the mythology I bought into when I started playing poker. But I definitely want to get into that room. Ben did it, and he thought it was great and encouraged me to do it. Five years from now hopefully I will have done that. In order to do that it requires a huge amount of poker playing beforehand, so it’s hard to say when that’s possible. When I’m starting to run good, that would put me in the state of mind where I want to be the best at it again. Or the best I could be, for that matter, because I never professed to have ever been the best at it,” Bradstreet said.
In terms of playing poker in the future, while playing music, I mean, I think it'll still work out. One of my friends Steve Albini still fits poker around his insanely prolific musical output, I think he's recorded at least 1000 albums at this point which really blows my mind, so I think I should be able to. I feel like staying somewhere just below the top level gives you a way of connecting with people that are poker friends as well. It’s deeper than if you didn’t have poker. Let’s say for instance you and your buddy are really good at chess. You’d be buddies anyway, but let’s say you both keep chess up your whole life. When you’re hanging out at the age of 60 you’re going to get a lot of mileage out of having an experience together within the game. You’re going to be able to talk about it, and that’s a cool thing. So with my poker friends the thing we connect over is poker. That’s the thing we’re really good at, and talking about that gives us a lot more mileage than talking about the weather,” Bradstreet said.
“Five years from now I’d like to be touring with my band non-stop and recording at least an album every year. I’ve also got this plan to build this Mecca in NY, maybe Queens or something, a place to record our own music in the future, run this thing we do in Montreal called “The Sunday Service”, an event dedicated to southern cooking and extended jazz, funk, blues and gospel jam sessions, that has been great. It'd be great to have a space that you could use as a performance venue that you had complete control over since that would let you do so much more amazing stuff- think of what the Cirque de Soleil can do on their home turf versus even the biggest bands, for example.
The band, Alexei Martov with Bradstreet in the center holding the guitar
“Things are going great and I know this story is going to get a lot more epic and probably somewhat stranger, but sometimes it feels like I am banging my head against the wall. Doing a lot of things at the same time is a tricky balance. You need to keep a lot of plates spinning at the same time these days, but you also need to be able to zone in and fully focus on one project at a time in order to knock it out of the park. Hopefully I can keep doing that with high stakes poker as I keep working on the myriad of other things that I want to be involved in,” Bradstreet closed out with.
From what we've seen, Bradstreet has been knocking it out of the park with regards to poker. Only time will tell if he’ll reach similar heights with music…