Jonathan Little is a well known staple in the poker world. He won both the World Poker Tour’s Season VI Mirage Poker Showdown and Season VII Foxwoods World Poker Finals. He also won the World Poker Tour Season VI Player of the Year award. Aside from being a successful player, he is also a poker coach and poker author with numerous online training videos and books published. Little has been cashing consistently in poker tournaments since 2006. He currently had close to $7 million in live tournament earnings.
For starters, how did you end up in poker?
We never gambled around the house growing up, but I did play Rummy with my grandmother, and she always demolished me. I got into poker in college. I would play Magic: The Gathering with friends. And, one day after a Magic tournament, someone proposed that we play a poker tournament, for a $1 buy in. After a couple weeks of doing this and repeatedly losing, I realized there is skill to this.
I was very good at Magic: The Gathering and I was also good at chess. So, I knew that as long as you studied these games, perhaps there is a skill involved. So with poker, I bought all the books on the market and I started playing on Party Poker at 25/50 cent limit. That was about 13 years ago.
You dropped out of college to pursue poker. How did your parents react at the time?
My parents were always pretty supportive of me. When I decided to quit, I presented to them a lot of graphs that I had kept track of for my poker results. This was before the analytical programs that are out there now. I had a notebook and every day I would write down my results. Each page of the notebook was one week, and every week I had a tally. I was up every single week.
At the time, I was making about $20,000 a month which was ridiculous. Because I was going to college to find a job for $40,000 a year. [laughs] I was sort of in the right place at the right time. In fact, a lot of the poker players who are doing really well today have similar stories to mine in that they were going to college during the poker-boom.
Were there hardships when you first started poker?
When I first started playing sit-and-go’s, I started at 25/50 cent, but quickly moved up to $30/$60, giving me about a $15,000 bankroll then. But, I was an ignorant kid who wanted to play the highest level I could. And once I did, I bought a condo. Which is when I went on a downswing, because that’s always how it works. [laughs]
So, I decided to move back down to the $10 tournaments. My goal was to win 100 buy-ins at each level starting with the $10, $20, $30 games, and then on to $50, $100, $200 games. And, I did it. I went back down and studied a lot, and grinded back up.
Was it difficult moving down in stakes after having experienced the higher stakes?
I always do my best to play my best. I recognize my job is not to win money, but to win equity. For instance, I play a home game that I stream on Twitch on Mondays at 4PM ET, (you can sign up for it at JonathanLittlePoker.com/HomeGame) I play it as if I am playing the biggest buy-in tournament. I treat all poker games the same, for the most part.
Although, you certainly tend to be more in-the-zone when you play for significant stakes, and I recognize that. But, at the same time you have to always bring it every time you play, otherwise you might as well go home.
Not only do you write a bunch of poker books, but you also narrate them yourself for the audio book version on Audible. How long does that take you?
Well, one of my books, Excelling at No Limit Hold Emis about 500 pages long. Which took me about 40 hours to read it. I’m dedicated. [laughs] I’ve learned to read a lot better since I started reading all my books. [laughs]
What poker books did you read before writing your own?
I have read almost every poker book prior to about 2007. And, I still read the books that I think are going to be influential, or are influential today. I read a lot, and I watch a lot of training videos. I study. And, I think most people who are good at teaching are also good at studying. They are always trying to improve themselves.
What was your first book, and when did you publish it?
My first book came out in 2011 called Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker. I was approached by D&B Publishing to write a book because they liked my poker training videos I had on the internet. Fortunately, I had already written a bunch of in-depth articles of concepts that I would teach my students. Any time a student had a question, or any time I saw someone do something bad at the poker table, I would write an article about it. My first book ended up being about 700 pages, which was a little bit too long… [laughs] So, Secretsended up being three different volumes. Luckily, it was well received.
How did you get into poker coaching?
Me and a couple friends started a site called “Sit-And-Go Icons”, where we taught people how to beat sit-and-go tournaments. Which was a bad idea, because now sit-and-go’s are unbeatable. [laughs] But, I had always hired poker coaches any time I learned a new game or wanted to pick up some skills. It was part of my progression. If you want to get better, you study from people who are better than you. And, once you get there it feels good to pay it back.
Is there a downside to poker coaching? Similar to the unbeatable sit-and-go’s, can poker itself become unbeatable?
All games become more difficult over time. I do certainly think coaching has sped up that process. But in reality, a lot of the people I coach are reasonably good middle-stakes players. In general, I think the middle-stakes games have gotten significantly tougher. As a result, I do get hate-mail from disgruntled players. [laughs]
They used to win at the high-stakes, but those games got tougher so they moved to middle-stakes, and now those games are tougher mainly because they are not working hard to improve themselves. And whenever you don’t improve in a game that is getting more difficult, you will fall behind.
Do you think poker players today have an advantage with the wealth of poker knowledge at their fingertips as opposed to poker players who came up before the internet?
Players today have the advantage of having a lot more resources available, but at the same time the games are much more difficult. When I first started playing, you didn’t have to be that good. I was not great when I first started, I simply played tight and aggressive. Which is all it really required back then.
So you’re saying the poker field as a whole has gotten better as opposed to the entire field pre-internet?
Right, every player is significantly better than they are today. If you look at your average poker tournament today, maybe one of two players are kind of bad while everybody else is pretty good. We are living in an age where information is free to some extent. Colleges put out their courses for free. You can’t get the degree for free, but you can study it just as if you were in college. That is the age of the internet. You can empower yourself to learn whatever you want to learn, and I am happy to help people empower themselves.
It has to be rewarding to run into poker players who have reached success thanks to the help of your training videos.
It is very rewarding, and it happens all the time. I recognize that there are people who are driven and who want to succeed, yet they don’t quite know where to go to find the right information. They find me, they study what I put out, and it usually helps them do pretty well.
When you say you got into poker in the right place at the right time, is it too late to get into poker nowadays?
I think the games now are tougher to get into. Meaning, you need to have a better education base before you even attempt to start playing. When I started playing, all the games were soft and it was fine. But now, even the small stakes games, such as 25/50 cent online, are tough games. For that reason, you have to study way ahead of time. Or, start very small. A lot of people refuse to start with money they think is insignificant.
But, you’re practicing. There’s nothing wrong with practice. Practice as much as possible. Recognize that when you first start to learn poker, your job is to learn to be great at poker. In the beginning, don’t just try to win money. Try to win experience. So, start small with money that if you lose, the amount is irrelevant. Because if you want to use $500 and try to run it up with little or no skills, you are drawing dead.
You play online poker a lot. How do you trust it given all the scandals in the past?
I don’t worry about it because typically if there is a scandal, the site reimburses you. There was a cheating ring in the sit-and-go’s on Poker Stars, and they reimbursed a bunch of people. The Ultimate Bet issue was obviously the big one. They were clearly just a shady site. You have to be smart, and you have to play on the most reputable sites. I suggest to my students not to play on American sites.
How does your game change when you play poker on TV? Do the cameras affect your decision-making?
They did the first time I played a final table. I was consumed by the thought that my opponents were going to bluff me any time they had the opportunity. And, it led to me playing like an idiot. I have since learned that you just play normal. Don’t overthink. Just try to play great.
Don’t adjust your strategy just because other people are watching. Quite often, the people who do all the talking are the ones who do not know what they are talking about. If you embarrass yourself, who cares? It’s okay. You will embarrass yourself at times, get used to it.
Any funny or crazy story to share from your poker life thus far?
One funny story is I was in Biloxi, Mississippi playing a tournament, to go to a music festival in New Orleans afterward. I lost my money, but my friend had $20,000 on him and put it in his backpack, stored in the trunk of our car. We made it to the music festival, and parked that car on the street like everybody else.
We came back late that night after the festival to see that the trunk of the car was open. My iPod and sunglasses were stolen from the car, along with his computer. They stole his computer from his backpack—the backpack with the $20,000 in it. But, they left the backpack in the car…with his $20,000 was still in it. Sometimes you’re just lucky.
[moment of laughs]
Written by: DAVID GAVRI