Shannon Shorr – How Black Friday brought him peace and happiness

Frontpage photo credit: $10,000 Six-Max No Limit Hold’em live reporting WSOP 2012.

If you were to combine Shannon Shorr’s live and online tournament earnings he easily smashes the $6.5-million mark. There are not many poker players that can say that. Shorr has won an FTOPS, Sunday 500, Sunday Mulligan, $1k Monday, multiple $109 Rebuys, plenty of big live side events and his biggest victory came in August of 2006 when he took down the Bellagio Cup for just shy of one-million dollars. 

All of the above sounds very impressive but Shorr doesn’t boast about it. The 27-year old from Birmingham, Alabama has done a lot of self-improvement since Black Friday and sees himself as a much better person right now. In this in-depth conversation he explains how money is no longer the decider of his happiness.

In order to prepare for this interview I spent quite some time reading your blog. One quote that stood out to me was, “Other bloggers will relate to how hard it is to write about oneself without coming across as self-important. That’s something I most certainly don’t intend to do.” Why is it important to you how other people view you and to not come across as being self-important.
It’s important to me because, I think a few years ago I was slightly arrogant. I’m 27 now but specifically during my early twenties for some reason I thought that poker put me above other people, or put me on a pedestal just because I was good at a poker game. That didn’t make much sense. I learned a lot from that and just in daily experiences I get tired of people talking about themselves. It’s one of the reasons I used to blog pretty frequently and now I do it pretty rarely. Mostly all I can talk about is myself and I just feel like people don’t generally want to hear you talk about yourself. I’d say that’s the main reason why I put that line in there.

So would you say you don’t like the Shannon Shorr from a few years ago?
I wouldn’t say that, because I had the potential to be a great person back then. I just wasn’t there, I hadn’t quite seen enough. My eyes hadn’t really been opened. But its all part of growing up I think. I think everybody goes through that but I’m a lot happier with where I am now.

You were also pointing out that you still have some bad habits you are trying to correct. What are some of the bad habits that you feel you have and how are you working on those?
I think I still waste a little too much time. That’s something that I’ve gotten much better at. Poker and wasting time kind of go hand in hand. I’ve been working on being really productive with my time and trying to constantly improve myself, which isn’t easy. It’s so easy to just kick back, relax, do nothing and turn on terrible TV. 

So how are you trying to fill the time and how have you come to the realization that you could do more with your time?
That awareness I think came from traveling, blogging and just talking to people. Being around intelligent people, seeing the world, seeing what their goals are, just inspired me to get out there and do more. I’ve also been spending a lot of time with family. Reading self-improvement books and watching documentaries on good stuff, is something that I really enjoy. I used to waste a lot of time watching sports. I’ve tried to cut that down a little bit but I love it so much. I’ve been trying to fill my time with productivity.

When you were younger you said that you did a lot of complaining and bemoaning your luck. Now you’ve come to terms with that fact that you’re actually a lot luckier than you think you are, especially when you put in perspective to some other people. Do you think that that mindset had an effect on your results and also maybe the way people viewed you as a person?
Absolutely. I know that it’s helped my poker even though my results have been just okay in the past two years. I’ve pretty much been playing live tournaments so you can’t take any of the results too seriously. But I definitely feel a lot more in the zone playing now and I expect good things to happen. Whereas in the past I was like, how am I going to get knocked out of the tournament this time? I like taking that positive approach. Everybody knows people’s twitter personalities and blogging personalities and there are even hash tags about people who are just completely negative. I was probably that way for a little bit but I definitely don’t think I’m that way now. 

For the longest time you were very quiet at the poker table. Is composure at the poker table something you have to maintain? Or do you need to know the people around you before you start opening up to them at the table? 
It’s a little bit of both of those actually. I know that things that I do that are different than how a lot of people operate. I try to totally isolate myself during a tournament. I’m not about mingling in groups and talking on breaks and stuff. I like to have a sort of laser focus on the table while I’m playing and then go outside by myself and think about my game plan for the next 90 minutes. This may or may not be the right way to go; I’m not judging anybody. It’s just how I do it. I think people thought I was standoffish just because of the fact that I’m so serious at the table. I’m not really chatting it up that often, but nowadays much more so. But yea I am aware that’s probably how people interpret me so that’s something I’m working on too. 

Is it also important for your quest of being that different person to be able to realize more so how people view you?
Yeah definitely, I’ve realized how the awareness keeps coming up. I realize that people don’t get to see that much of you. They are going to make a determination of how you are based on what they see. I’m trying to be smiling and positive in public as much as I can lately. I’d say in the beginning it was more of me almost making a point of not talking at the table. It’s a lot different now. If some topic comes up I’m glad to talk about it. That’s probably just part of growing up and becoming more confident. Back then I think that some of my thoughts about poker were just way off. I took it a little to seriously. 

Do you mean the poker life or the game? 
I’d say the life. When I look back, I thought that I was at war with everybody. I was playing poker and I figured that everyone was my opponent. I wouldn’t engage, like a pro sports stance. I would just get out there and compete and do my thing. I probably went about that wrong for four or five years. 

Does that come from being a sports enthusiast that you really wanted to relate to being a sports professional because you idolized those people?
I think so. I’m super competitive and I was an athlete for a long time. I love to compete at everything I do. I want to be near the top. That’s probably the main reason for it. 

Do you think that your current game in the state that it’s in, and with all the traveling that you’re doing, do you think that you will remain competitive enough on a higher level going forward?
I do because I think my focus kind of separates me apart. When I’m there I’ve been doing it long enough where I’ve got a feel of how to manipulate things at poker tournaments which is mainly what I’ve been spending my time doing. I’ll play online when I’m in Europe so I have a lot of tournaments under my belt. I’m capable of adapting. I’m not worried about not being able to compete. I haven’t really been investing the time into studying because I’ve been so focused on this balancing my life the last couple of years. That’s something I don’t regret in the slightest, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. If I really, really want to compete at the top level I know I’m going to have to dedicate more time to it. 

Do you think that being a live tournament grinder you can get away with traveling more and putting less time into studying the game, as opposed to an online cash gamer for instance? 
Absolutely yes, there are so many little small details that go into online cash and as far as tournaments, just the fact that the stacks are shallower less decisions come up. So it’s more about manipulating opponents and like picking spots. So that’s something that you don’t need to be like constantly practicing. You just sort of have the intuition for it.

A lot of the younger online grinders are mainly negative about live poker players. They disregard things like; tells, intuition and feel, like it doesn’t mean anything. Can you explain and point out how that does help you?
Well first I’ll say that I don’t necessarily consider myself a live grinder because I have such a big history as an online player too. That’s only a part of my game. But for players like that, when you hear guys dismiss intuition, I’d say it’s actually often quite wrong. For some of the new generation, and I consider myself a really mathematical player too, but for them it’s all math and then when they approach the live arena it’s like a lot of them are so close-minded about the idea that there’s different ways to beat poker tournaments. There are some really good players out there that have really good results, as I’ve said you can’t take results too seriously, but a guy like Andy Frankenberger isn’t the most fundamentally sound player. He trusts himself so much and is able to pull the trigger on plays and it just works. So you know there are different ways to beat live tournaments and I get sort of tired of everybody just hating on different ways of play. 

I want to read you a quote from your blog, ‘At the end of the year I looked at my Excel spreadsheet and, inexplicably, made a determination of my happiness based on just how red or just how black that figure was. It has been so nice to pull myself from that mindset and become a more well-rounded individual who has interests, passions and goals.” Isn’t this an easy thing to say for a successful 27-year old with a couple of digits on his bank account?
Absolutely. I wondered how that line would be interpreted because it is much easier to say that right now. I’ve been in the right place at the right time and things have worked out and I don’t have financial pressure. Back when I was getting started, it was a constant grind where you have to make money so you had to put in the time. Say I’m sitting here right now and it has been a break-even career up to this point, I don’t know if I’d be able to say that. That’s why I’m forever grateful for being in the right place at the right time and just having that freedom. If poker hadn’t gone so well I may not have had this freedom to go out and do different things. 

Of course money doesn’t buy happiness, but did it give you maybe the ways to get to happiness? 
Yeah, absolutely, specifically it facilitated the travel that I’ve been doing so that if nothing else it allowed me to do that. Where I may not have otherwise had the opportunity. 

You graduated college which is something a lot of those young kids from back then did not do, would it have been an easier step for you to get back into normal society or would it still have been almost impossible because you would always have in the back of your mind, the way you were living your life and how amazing that was?
It would have been tough. I think maybe three years ago, when I went back and finished, I kind of wanted to do that to prove to myself that I could, even if something ever happened I could make that adjustment and go work hard on something like that. I definitely think I could now when I get out of poker and I’m willing to work hard. The freedom for sure in poker does spoil you. A few years ago I remember talking about going back to school my boys were laughing at me like, “Ha ha, there’s no way you’re going to go back to school, what do you mean, after you’ve been traveling the world and stuff?” I like to think that I could have done it but it would have been tough.

You went to University of Alabama; a place filled with young kids that are under a certain pressure from the outside to get their degrees. You were successful, already doing well and you already had travelled. Did you put the pressure of succeeding on yourself, and how was it to be back in that world?
Yeah that was a really cool time for me. I remember being there in the classroom and my mind wandering about what I could be doing but also at the same time feeling so happy I was there completing it. I’ve been so fortunate, especially growing up in a place like Alabama where it’s really conservative, but to have amazing parents who aren’t conservative and are all about opening up your mind and trying things and taking chances. I’ve been so fortunate they’ve been supportive the whole way and they never pressured me to go back to school. So that was mainly I trying to do it. That was a big goal of mine, something I was happy to complete. 

Was it easy to connect with people or did you feel you were maybe a bit too distant from that normal world, as I like to call it?
It was sadly, and I wish I had my mindset about people now you know back when I was 22. Poker does change you, especially when you’re doing it nonstop. People are almost just kind of there, you know. Like when you’re playing against a bunch of opponents, especially people you don’t know, they just occupy a chair. That translates into life a little bit I guess. I’m glad I’ve pulled myself from that mindset as well. 

You’ve said it before, you’re from Birmingham, Alabama, in one of the Southern US states, and it doesn’t have a spotless record let’s say that. Do you think that being from a community like that, and even though you have very open-minded parents, do you think it was even more important for you to travel and go see places?
Yeah it was, not many people around here get out and do that honestly. That was something I was really excited about when I won that trip to Australia to start my career, which was like a world away. People couldn’t believe I was going to Australia, so that was cool. And then it happened quite accidentally that I got to do a lot more traveling just because of success and then the tournaments were hosted in other places so I was exposed to all those places.

Do you still have friends from Birmingham that you knew from before poker? 
I do, quite a few actually. A lot of people I went to high school with are still around here. Poker doesn’t really come up when I’m here, just hanging out with friends and family. It is kind of like a different world. 

Do they understand your poker life?
A little bit but I don’t think anyone ever quite understands how crazy it is what we do and things like variance for instance. When someone sits down and asks me, I try to explain it to them but they will never get a complete handle on what it is we’re doing. 

On the other hand it might be hard for you to understand what their life is like?

How important is money for you right now?
Honestly I can say it’s less important now than it ever has been. It’s funny how your priorities change, even compared to six or seven months ago. I was all about grinding and business type opportunities but I fell back out of that and did some more traveling. I did a lot more reading and now I’m much more about just being happy. Again, that’s easy to say because I have been fortunate and I’m financially okay right now. Right now it’s a lot more about being happy, or whatever that may be. 

In previous interviews you’ve always emphasized playing on your own dime. What’s the reason, besides getting to keep 100% of your winnings, to play like this opposed to finding a backer?
Especially the way live tournaments are right now the edges are just getting smaller and smaller. So you actually have to play really high stakes just to beat the expenses. I guess I could maybe negotiate a deal in which I get my expenses covered but mainly you would be playing for half the stakes just because you are backed. When you’re getting stuck it’s nice to not lose your own money but when you have to pay for expenses and have a good living on top of that I think it’s just really hard. I’ve always liked the idea of putting my own money on the line.

How do you view people who do view the path of playing backed?
I have no problem with that at all; I think it is a really good idea for a lot of people. I’m not saying my way is the correct way. It is all about bankroll management and I have a certain idea of if I would slip below a certain net worth I would stop playing on my own dime. I’ve also been lucky that for a long time I could just pad my bankroll while other people maybe have to grind it out just to cover living expenses. It’s a great idea for a lot of people to be backed and some don’t even have any other options.

Last summer you had two big scores all the way at the end. You said about that, “It was at this point that I realized that I had two tournaments left to get my summer (and career) back on track.” What did you mean by that, was your money running out and were you considering quitting poker?
The money wasn’t running out per se but it was a point where I had to consider getting backed. I was starting to get really annoyed because I was bricking tournaments for like a year and a half.

How much were you down at that point?
Probably like $300,000 straight. That’s tough and I was lucky that it was in a time where I was growing up a lot and wasn’t taking it too serious. I was still able to stay focused. I can say with confidence that I came every day during that period of time, ready to play. I really tried to bear down on those last couple of tournaments and fortunately things worked out. 

In that stretch does it hurt you to see that you’re near the top of events played at the WSOP with 42 and only one cash. Or is a personal thing and you don’t care how people view you?
It’s more of a motivator when people say that type of stuff. Not to mention the fact that anybody who understands variance knows that you can go one for 55 easily. In the 2011 World Series I went two for 42, I was one for 41 and then min-cashed the main event and another cash was like a min-cash for $2,500 or something. It just happens. It’s not like I was partying every night in Vegas and wasn’t coming to play. I was coming to play and it just happened. I hate to complain but I was running just miserably and things weren’t working out. It easily happens but it sucks for it to be on the grand stage when everybody is viewing it. It is what it is. I didn’t take any offense to anything that was said to me at all. 

If you didn’t have those two scores, would it have been really different or do you think you still could have sustained the lifestyle that you have right now?
I thought about that actually and wondered where I would have gone because I ended up taking a month off and going to Europe for about three months. Maybe I wouldn’t have made that complete Europe trip and played along the way. Eventually you have to keep an eye on it a little bit. It’s hard to envision but maybe I would have set up and played online for a while and grinded some money back. I’m glad it happened the way it did. 

Do you think that, if you needed to start from scratch right now, let’s say you didn’t have those victories and you would have gone down to below the point where you are comfortable of putting up that kind of money yourself, do you think you could have grinded it back starting lower and working your way back up?
I think I could have but it would have been really intimidating and just the idea of that is really disenchanting. One of the things I told myself is that if I ever had to go to the bottom and start back up I would choose a different profession for the experience of doing something different. It would have been tough for sure. 

Do 10,000 dollars still mean 10,000 dollars to you? 
It does. I am more in touch with money now than I ever have been. It hurts; it’s never easy busting out a 10k tournament. Often time you’re playing for bigger so you’ll just get immune to the swings, especially during World Series time when you’re playing a 2k, 3k, 5k everyday it starts to mean less and less. Otherwise, if you fly somewhere during the year and play a 10k it might hurt a bit more. Every time I lose that 10k I’m aware of it and it’s never easy but you can’t be going there playing scared for sure. 

Don’t you think that you need to set yourself free from what money means, or is that just something that comes back after the fact?
After the fact, I’m definitely not thinking while I’m playing, “Oh, I can’t call here because I would be out of a $10,000 event.” It’s more when I’m doing my accounting, then it’s never easy.

Are you someone who keeps track of their life in a very meticulous way with regards to travel, money and so on?
I really do. In fact, I have one tab on my spreadsheet that shows where every day was spent for that year. I was always meticulous with my poker record but not about what I was doing with my time. I think it has helped me immensely because it frees you up to do more stuff as a result of knowing how much time you have. I also like planning my poker trips way in advance. Having a set schedule is kind of foreign to most poker players but it’s something that really helped me out. 

So does that mean you set an alarm every morning now as opposed to just waking up whenever?
Today I overslept about three hours, but usually I do. It was hectic since I was traveling for about five weeks so I was trying to catch up on some sleep. Generally I set an alarm because I don’t want to sleep until 1:00 or 2:00 PM anymore. There is just too much living to be done; there is no reason to stay in bed all day.

When you’re not on a trip for poker and you get back home, are there certain things you have to work on like new business ventures for instance?
I’m just a poker player right now and I don’t have any business ventures at the moment. I definitely try to get into the gym every day that I’m back, see my family, read and do stuff like that. When you’re gone for five weeks stuff always piles up that you got to get done. 

Do you think living a healthy lifestyle is a part of your success?
I do and at least it has been about my all round improvement. It has left me so confident in anything I take part in. I’m able to get the most out of everything that I’m doing. I’m so glad that I found it because for the longest time I was just out of shape. This is one of the things that I’m really proud of, because I weighed around 235 pounds and now I’m on 185. That’s a decent drop and I see it as a big accomplishment.

In your blog you also referenced to meeting a group of young kids in Amsterdam and pointed out how different Europe is to the US. One of them said, “When you’re there, you’re there,” about not worrying what other people think of you. You said you’re still working hard to get there. Do you think that the culture in the US is maybe toe heavily based on what other people think of how you are and what you do?
Yes, it definitely is and in particular compared to Europe. In the time that I spent there I learned a lot about just living your life and not judging others. Recently I was in California as well and I felt like they are much more like that as well. There is not a whole lot of judging going on over there and I find that so attractive. For the longest time I was so caught up in that and it was always on my mind. Now it’s never on my mind and as a result I’m so much happier.

What advice could you give to poker players that are struggling with this; the fact the people around them might judge them easily because of what they do?
When you go about thing confidently other people’s opinions don’t really matter, that’s something I remember reading. That’s something that really hit home and when you what you’re doing is best for you, it doesn’t really matter what other people think. That was my approach and how I went about things. I just feel great and you put haters, as people call them, down a level because they don’t really deserve your time. That’s something I’ve dealt with for a long time and I took it way too seriously. I’m glad to have this mindset now that I can operate confidently and if people don’t like they don’t like it.

Earlier in the interview you said that you’re not into any other business ventures right now but you also said that’s it’s hard to fully recommit to poker. Does this mean you are on your way out?
I guess those were two hypocritical statements. I am a professional poker player but I have such a balance in life that it doesn’t feel like I’m playing full time. The online thing was a big letdown with not being able to play all the time. I don’t really feel like moving to Canada or Mexico so I just haven’t. Working very hard on myself as a person has left me with very little time to study the game. Maybe I’m on the way out but I still love playing poker. I love competing and I’m good at it, like I said in a blog even though it might sound arrogant. I have no reason to leave it right now and I think only time will tell. A new business venture which will take up like 80 hours a week will disrupt the balance and poker has always facilitated the freedom that I loved so much so I might as well stick with it for a little while. 

Is the hardest part about considering leaving poker and picking a different path in life the fact that you will be giving up on all that freedom?
I think so. People that I’ve talked to who were thinking about leaving were wrestling with that. It’s also the number one thing I wrestle with. Poker is not going to make you mega-mega rich if that’s what you’re looking for but you’re also not going to find many lines of work where you can do what we do and have all the freedom. 

Do you still set goals for yourself?
I do and I just completed a half marathon, which was a big goal of mine. That was a goal I set a long time ago and I was really glad to knock if off the list. The other day I was thinking, I need to set a new goal now. That’s really important and I should get something going in the next few months. 

But for poker you’re not really putting too much pressure on yourself and taking it as it comes?
Not really, I just try to go out and compete every day that I play. By the time the World Series comes around I will try to get into the zone a bit more. I would do that by reading and watching videos more so than I would otherwise. I’d like to be GPI number one but I’m also not going to play every tournament and I realize that’s a part of it. 

Is it hard for you now to related to young poker players because they might not be as personally evolved as you are?
Maybe a little bit but we’ll always have that common conversational topic of poker. I feel like the poker community is in a good place right now with a lot of positivity and optimism. I actually think it’s noticeably different than a few years ago. A lot of people are getting in good shape for instance. I’ve gotten to meet so many great people in poker over the last few years compared to my first years in which I missed out on those. I’m very optimistic about the future of poker. 

In retrospect do you think that Black Friday was a good thing to happen to your life?
Yes it really was. It just allowed me to get my mind off things. Literally up until that day poker had been such a huge part of my life and I would grind online almost every day. A figure was always in my head, how much am I up this month or how much am I down this month? When that went away it forced me to do new things. I remember sitting in my room and asking myself, “What are you going to do now?” And I Immediately decided to get in shape and stop worrying about poker all the time. It was kind of cool actually. 

So poker was basically running your life instead of you doing it when you wanted to?
It was for the most part. The little life that I had outside of poker was pretty one-dimensional. It’s like that for a lot of guys when online poker is just there at your fingertips. I was making some insane hours trying to make money. 

You’ve been in the poker business for about seven years, how would you draw up the next seven if you could?
I guess I would start off by winning the World Series Main Event this summer (laughing). Every day that I wake up nowadays I’m just looking for way to improve myself. If I was to draw up the next seven years I guess I would want some financial success just to keep complete freedom. I don’t know if it’s going to be poker or business in the next seven years but I just want to be able to enjoy my time and be around friends and family as much as possible. It was not an easy transition to the state that I’m in right now but I’m really happy that I made it. I wrote on my blog once that even when I had a lot of money I wasn’t happy; I was just going through the motions. I’d rather have half the net worth and be infinitely happier.

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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