Martin Bradstreet Thinks, Talks and Explains Poker and Music

Scheduling an interview with Martin Bradstreet was somewhat of an international affair. His good friend and Bet Raise Fold producer Jay Rosenkrantz mentioned that Bradstreet was in Tokyo with his girlfriend.

A few days later we caught Bradstreet on Skype and he said, “I’m in New York City right now, but we can do the interview when I’m back home in Montreal next week.” The days passed and at 11AM on a Tuesday Bradstreet popped up online, ready to go for an interview session that turned into a discussion about a huge variety of topics.

This week we bring you part one in a series with the man who was one of the main characters in the highly acclaimed poker documentary Bet Raise Fold. Bradstreet was the sole Canadian ingredient in the film, as most of it focused on the heartbreak Danielle “Moongirl” Andersen went through and how Tony Dunst charmed himself from being an online poker pro to TV host.

Bradstreet started out his poker career as a No Limit Hold’em cashgame player, but for a while now he’s been solely focused on playing Pot Limit Omaha. On PokerStars the Australian born Canadian plays under the handle “alexeimartov” and on Full Tilt Poker he goes by MagicNinja.

An avid player of both the guitar and piano, he invests even more time of his time playing music than he does playing the game that brought him the freedom he currently enjoys. His band AlexeiMartov is set to record their first LP “Neural Awakening” in October with Steve Albini, also an avid poker player and the man behind the desk on albums such as Nirvana’s “In Utero” and Robert Plant and Jimmy Paige’s “Walking into Clarksdale”, following up the groups debut EP “Scent of a Wolf” which was recorded in just 2 days by Albini.

After an introduction we asked him what the life of a poker playing musician looks like, as there are not many cases like his.

“There are a few factors that I have introduced to my life to create structure. It’s pretty hard to have structure as a poker player. The two things I do are poker and music, and neither of those things have any structure in them. I tend to do better when I have some sort of structure and I think most people do.”

Bradstreet talks in long, winding sentences and hardly seems to breath, as he carries on about his daily routine.

“I wake up early and sing quite a lot, some classical stuff and practice jazz piano. At this moment we’re getting ready to record a full-length album in October, rehearsing every day from 8:30 until 11:00 PM.”

“The rest of the time I try to fill up with working on material for the album, playing poker and training for half a marathon with my girlfriend. I try to fit all of that in there, and usually I end up running around midnight,” Bradstreet said.

Bradstreet was born in Australia but lives in Canada nowadays, in pursue of a career in music. The city where he lives, Montreal, offers some challenges for the running aspirations he and his girlfriend have. Luckily for him running is much more than just exercise.

“Montreal is a nice place to run around in, but all the good runs are uphill. I like that a lot, but running uphill is a totally different and not the way to train for a marathon. For me, the main reason to do exercises is to stay in shape for singing and for general mental clarity. Running takes a while, and isn’t that enjoyable really, but I don’t tend to be the most Zen person on earth. I have the scatterbrain mentality and noticed that I have a more distanced feel towards things when I’ve been running a lot. Running to me is like meditation, you do it for a long time and you have to be able to turn off the scatterbrain because otherwise it’s just torture. If you can’t get into some sort of groove running for an hour and a half is just brutal. I just noticed it; I was grinding today after running five miles yesterday. I woke up and starting playing six tables without having all the usual chatter going on in my head.”

“Should I stop the session?”

“I should’ve lost this hand.”

“Those are some of the things that go through my head, so I’m much more chill after running,” Bradstreet said.

It’s almost like Bradstreet tries to say that he needs to condition his body for his mind to be at ease. Knowing yourself is an important thing when it comes to poker, playing in a band and wanting to achieve something in sports, and the online grinder has found a very visual way to focus during his training.

“A lot of times when I’m running and it gets harder I find myself counting to 100. I visualize the numbers popping up and that’s how I get into the groove. I’ll be like, one-two-three-three-two-three-two-three-four,” Bradstreet said almost singing the numbers in a rhythm.

“I’ll see the four, five six pop up into my head as giant colored numbers. That’s how I maintain focus, I visualize in my head and I also use breathing to get in that mantra-y state. Once I get into that state I find that it’s like a kind of meditation.”

Meditation is not something Bradstreet does frequently, but he does have an interesting theory on why meditation can be helpful, or explain how the poker brain should work to achieve an optimal result.

“Sometimes I try meditating once a day for two weeks straight, but that’s actually a state in which you don’t do anything. It’s about the process and being able to lapse into a state where you’re completely aware of what’s going on around you, without paying attention to any specific things. If you walked past someone and a minute later your friend asked, “What was the color of the dress the lady was wearing?” you’d know without having thought about it if you were in a state of awareness.” Bradstreet said as he geared his analysis towards the game of poker.

“I’ve talked a lot to Ben Sulsky about this, and you can connect this with what I just said, he tries to never think when he’s playing poker,” Bradstreet started.

“He literally doesn’t think thoughts. That’s what he considers to be the most desirable state to play poker, you don’t get in your brain’s way, and you just flow. All the studying that you do happens before and after the session,” he added about high stakes poker player Ben ‘sauce123’ Sulsky.

When you’re switching off your brain it almost sounds like the autopilot gets switched on, but Bradstreet has an explanation for this phenomenon.

“I think it feels the same as auto pilot, and I’ve thought about this a lot. In a sense it’s the same, but there are just some negative condemnations with one way of auto-piloting. Sometimes when you’re auto-piloting you are not aware and not with it. In that case, maybe because you’re tired, you might as well be playing with a starting hand chart. In the other way of auto-piloting you perceive everything that’s going on around you like you are very aware. You can just feel that in the state of your mind when you’re playing. Sometimes when you’re auto-piloting you keep playing and have the urge to open up Facebook, but you don’t because you want to make money. In the other state you’re with it, and very much aware. It’s almost like if there was a fly in the room you could just grab it out of the air with chopsticks,” Bradstreet jokingly said.

“If you have to think in English, or Dutch for instance, that’s not the optimal way to think about a poker hand. I think about it a bit like I think about music. When you’re improvising and think, “I’m going to play this lick now,” you just immediately mess it up. The thing that should be going on in your head is, “Tuduludududlulu,” Bradstreet breaks out into singing a short jazzy sounding rhythm, “because thinking in words is too slow if the piece is fast. In that case you want to think in the musical language. The advantage is that you don’t want your brain to perceive only using your vocabulary that knows how to explain poker hands. You know more than you can explain in words.

Bradstreet keeps linking music and poker as he continues to elaborate on how people learn and express themselves.

“Someone like John Coltrane was insanely good on the saxophone. There’s been no way he’d ever think about something related to music theory while he’s playing. You might say he’s a feel player, but he knows everything there is to know about the mechanics and theory in the genre that he plays in.  He just mastered all that stuff and doesn’t have to think about it. It would be stupid for him to use his brain to think about that, it’s way better for him to just get into that state of mind. I guess it’s like this with everything; you practice the technique and the theory, and once you’ve reached a high level you develop the ability to let that knowledge work for you,” Bradstreet said.

“There are actually very good feel-based poker players that have learned the game by playing an insane amount of hands. When I played Starcraft, and I got really good at Starcraft, I never thought about strategy. I don’t recall ever thinking about strategy, but I just played loads and loads of Starcraft. While I was doing that my brain just worked out counters to things. When you keep touching the hot stove you’ll eventually figure out that you get burnt when you touch a hot stove.”

Bradstreet immediately took it to the next level and compared Coltrane, in a way, to some of the best poker players, “I think that when you are someone like Phil Ivey or Isildur you get to that level primarily by playing a ton of poker. But if you’re a feel based player that never really analyzes their game or studies game theory you have to be one in 100 to begin with, to have the type of mentality, intelligence, and perception to be that guy. On top of that you need to play such a stupid amount of poker just to get into that weird situation 1,000 times. I think that’s why Isildur is so good at bluffing in unusual spots. He probably hasn’t sat there doing the math, but he has literally tried to bluff in that spot 500 times. So he has a pretty good sample size that says, “this unusual bluff works and that one doesn’t”.

“I don’t presume to know what every individual person thinks about, because poker teaches you that each person thinks different, even if the difference is very subtle. Someone like Isildur, I imagine he has a lot of sleepless nights thinking about poker hands. You would say someone like him is very intuitive, but a lot of times intuition comes from not being able to sleep because you’re thinking about how complex variables interact with each other.”

Photo: BetRaiseFold. Martin Bradstreet playing online poker in Montreal.

“I think that someone like Isildur is very good at taking data that’s not solid, using a bunch of 70% reads and maybe 20 different micro reads to get a different perception that you might not notice, if you are just looking for a definitive answer to how someone plays. I don’t know if being able to express your thoughts is necessarily a matter of spending a lot of time thinking about them. It’s also tough because he spends a lot of time playing poker, he’s pretty isolated, much less so now but definitely very much so in the past, he started playing poker at a very young age and English is not his first language. So it’s hard for me to say what these Swedes that live in caves talk about when they are hanging out with each other. For instance, do you think Ilari is talking, and breaking down, game theory shit with Patrik? I don’t know, but maybe?” Bradstreet wandered off into the depths about what makes some of these nosebleed regulars the best in the world.

That raised a question as we started to get curious as to what Bradstreet’s view is on himself as a poker player and how he reached the top.

“I’ve always been very connected to people, but I’ve kind of been by myself if you compare it to the share-house-poker-think-tank group of people. But I have been very well connected with two groups of people. I’ve always been close with the Cardrunners guys, Cole South, Brian Hastings, Taylor Caby, Brian Townsend; that group of people. I used to talk about poker hands with them a lot when I started playing PLO. And then there’s 2 Months 2 Million guys like Emil, Jay Rosenkrantz and Dani Stern. I’ve never felt fully included in both of those groups in the sense that I didn’t have the common bond that they had with, either working for Cardrunners or living together though.”

Out of the poker world those are the people I spent a lot of time talking to, and now that’s more about non-poker stuff. I consider them my friends in the industry, but also out of it. I talk to Jay Rosenkrantz pretty much every day, mostly about our creative endeavors, and Cole South pretty frequently too,” Bradstreet said as he dropped the names of some of the most successful online poker players the world has ever seen.

“Even though I say that, I haven’t really felt like an outsider, I imagine everyone that is good at poker feels somewhat isolated and/or introverted, it’s such a common character trait in players to be inwardly thinking. Even now, whenever I go to Toronto, I’ll meet up with Ben Sulsky and we’ll end up talking a little poker at some point. It’s way more casual, but if you look at the thinking it’s probably at a higher level. We won’t be like, let’s analyze this hand because that would be something we would do in the past and go, “Let’s get really good at poker and talk about it!” Now we’ll be having a beer and talk about life, and sometimes a poker hand comes up and we end up talking about that for half an hour. I don’t spend that much time talking about poker anymore, so it’s pretty fruitful to see how the game has evolved. I’m particularly impressed with the level of thinking these days that goes into No Limit Hold’em hands, because I’ve been out of that world for a couple of years now,” the PLO player added.

This always makes us think that knowing a lot of top professionals is the only way to reach the top. Bradstreet however quickly explained that he made it all by himself, and was a big winner before he even met one of the names stated above.

“I didn’t get anywhere based on knowing anyone good. The people that I talked poker with were more people I was monologueing to when I starting playing in college. There were a few more people that were mildly interested in poker that I talked to, but I was just completely obsessed. I needed an outlet to talk about my evolving poker mind. I got to $3/$6 and maybe $5/$10 without ever talking to anyone that I would say was a better player. I was beating $3/$6, dropped out of University because I had around $40,000 saved, and my whole dream had been to go backpacking around the world for a year or two. I initially had in mind to do two years with $10,000 and it ended up being around a year and a half. When I got to Germany I met this other poker player, who wasn’t playing the same stakes, but was totally fine with me crashing on his couch. He just liked being around someone who played, and I was playing $10/$20 around that point. I started to have other poker players in my circle while I was traveling around the world. When I was playing $10/$25 heads up against Spiritrock in Internet cafes I realized that I needed to move into a house and treat this like I wanted to be the best in the world at it.” Bradstreet said to close the first part out with.

There is much more to come from Martin Bradstreet as he further elaborates on his poker playing lifestyle, his move to Canada and the formation of his band. Bradstreet will also talk in depth about the Bet Raise Fold movie, and in case you haven’t watched it you can do so here. Follow Martin on Twitter right here and let both him and us know what you think about it in our new forum

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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