Poker Legend Dusty Schmidt shares his story with us here at RTR

Posted on by RTR Dennis

Dusty Schmidt - Leatherass Pro Dusty ‘Leatherass’ Schmidt is an online poker legend. Having earned millions of dollars online and become one of the most feared players he has now moved into writing poker books to share his invaluable knowledge with the world. He has been as low as you can go, suffering a heart attached aged 23 and being forced to give up his PGA Golf career, but bounced back to become one of the most successful poker players of all time, including a 17 month winning streak! I.e. Not once having a losing month! Dusty is also a training coach for coaching site . We sat with Dusty to learn more…

1) Firstly, can you tell us a little about yourself, who you are, where you are from?

Well I’m from Whittier, CA (suburb of Los Angeles) and grew up dreaming of being a PGA tour player. I ended up becoming a poker pro of course, but my in my heart of hearts I am still a golfer, I suppose. I wish I was as good at golf as I am at poker!

2) You are famous in the online poker world for having played millions of hands and never once had a losing month. How is that possible? Do you put it down to hard work and tough grinding? Do you think there are others out there that have had similar success, i.e. playing high stakes and never losing (overall at end of a month)?

Well it’s mostly just a matter of maintaining discipline at the tables as well as a math problem. For years now I have enjoyed a very nice win rate at the tables and when you play as many hands as I have played each and every month, you more or less reach the long run (statistically anyway) by the end of the month. Certainly there is still a lot of variance month to month, but if you are always playing 100k+ hands a month and you historically have a solid win rate, you are a pretty big underdog to have a losing month.

I am not sure if there is anyone else out there who has enjoyed a longer month over month winning streak at the stakes I play, but I am sure there are a few out there who have enjoyed similar streaks at lower limits. I think most higher stakes players always have a few months here and there when they don’t play very much or maybe hit a bad patch and take some time off which is really the main reason why I have been able to do it and others haven’t.

3) Previous to playing poker we understand you were a successful golfer? Can you tell us about that and why you moved on to poker?

It was a pretty unlikely event that caused me to quit playing golf competitively. I was leading the money list on the Golden State Professional Golf Tour (a developmental tour) when I had a heart attack at the age of 23. That obviously put me out of commission for some time. It also had me pretty deflated about my prospects for a PGA career so I started to seriously consider other potential professions for the first time in my life. The costs (both actual and opportunity) of the heart attack were pretty big and I went life broke at the same time I was starting to learn poker during my spare time. So in an attempt to avoid eviction out of my apartment, I took my last $1,000 that I had to my name and put in online. I played 800 hours of poker in my first 2 months trying to clear as many bonuses as possible at low stakes limit Hold’em games. In a matter of 2 months I made enough money to pay my rent, build up a small bankroll and the rest you might say, is history.

4) We read that when you moved on to poker you only had a small amount of money to your name and it was really a make or break situation. Is that true? Also, do you feel any particular way towards your father not being especially helpful when you were potentially facing very hard times? How did that drive you to succeed?

My father has actually played the single most important role in my success in anything I have done. Unfortunately it wasn’t because he was such a great father. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was the lack of support and continually being told that I wasn’t good enough that has served as motivation for me for quite some time. Not many know this story but the real falling out I had with him revolved around my heart attack actually. Having a heart attack at 23 would generally be a time in which you might hope it brings family together. Unfortunately it turned out to be the thing that made me want to finally pull the trigger on distancing myself from him. The cliff notes version is that I badly needed to see a specialist since I had abysmal health insurance and the quality of doctors that I saw was quite poor. And when you are dealing with a 23 year old who just had a heart attack, it is obviously imperative that you see someone about it who has experience with such freak incidents. None of the cardiologists I was seeing knew anything about a 23 year old having a vasal spasm induced heart attack at that age. Now keep in mind, my father is not a poor man. I think of myself as having grown up relatively poor because what I personally given was on par with a lower middle class to poor family. But my family has historically been extraordinarily wealthy. So it was a confusing upbringing to say the least. But even though I knew that my father gave me very little my whole life, I was for some reason confident that with my life on the line, he would come up with the $15,000 in estimated costs to see a specialist. Unfortunately, not only did he refuse to spend a dime on me seeing a specialist, I was also working for him at the time and he refused to pay me for my time away from work telling me to my face, “If you want to sit your lazy ass at home all day and pretend like you can’t come into the office because of your heart attack, then I am not going to give you my hard earned money so you can do nothing.” He told me this less than 2 weeks after having a heart attack when I first asked him where my check was that was past due. To this day, he refuses to recognize how he did anything wrong.

So I guess you could say that I was pretty proud of myself to get away from all of that and make my own way in life. The fact that I have made millions is really just the icing on the cake. I really wanted nothing more than to simply not have to work for him and to make my own way and prove to him and myself that I was a little smarter than he thought. The fact that I am doing this interview right now and that people know who I am because of something I have accomplished is something I view entirely as a bonus in my life. Now, my main motivation is to work and save and make sure that if my kids ever need me, I will be sure to be right there. If they need to see a specialist, I want to make sure that money doesn’t play a role in whether or not my kids will see one.

5) When you began playing poker did you ever envisage that you would rise through the stakes and become one of the greatest grinders ever in terms of number of hands played?

I didn’t until late in 2006. I finally had enough of a bankroll by then where I could make the switch to no limit from limit and not worry if I didn’t make money right away. That freed me up to think about the game and really work on developing myself as a player. Once I could finally think about the game and not have to worry about playing 250+ hours a month at the tables, I started to think about the game in a much different- and much better-way. I specifically remember is April of 2007 after I started to bang out some pretty big months in the lower stakes games (I went 7 out of 9 months at 1/2nl making at least $30,000 a month in profit) that I felt I was ready to make a run at trying to become one of the best in the game. I of course have never become “the best” in the game, but I am definitely pleased with how things have turned out for me the past few years, no question.

6) What is it that keeps you motivated to continue grinding after already having had so much success and essentially being set for life?

Well, I don’t feel entirely comfortable that I am actually set for life. I have a very nice bankroll right now and I surely don’t have to work for a very long time if I don’t want to. But it kind of goes back to the question you asked earlier where I talked about my kids. I don’t ever want to be in a position where I can’t do something for them that I know is critical for them to have. So while I am sure I could stretch what I have and probably never have to work again, I guess because I grew up realizing how often money can get in the way of peoples lives and dreams, I know that right now the proverbial sun is shining and I can make a big income. So to walk away from that and potentially wish some day that I had worked harder so I could have done something for my kids, has me sufficiently scared to the point where I do currently feel like I have to play poker. And also, let’s not forget, poker IS a lot of fun and is very challenging. I enjoy what I do.

7) We’d like to commend you on your charity work last year too, the pay it forward program you participated in, helping some homeless people get back on their feet. Can you tell us about that experience and how it all turned out?

I have been doing some stuff here and there for charities since 2007. In 2009, after the birth of my daughter, Lennon, I became inspired to do something kinda of “out there” I thought her namesake, John Lennon, might do if he was a poker player rather than a musician. So I decided to play poker in the streets of Portland on my laptop for 5 days and donate what I made to a project I designed called the “Pay It Forward” project. While I am not opposed to donating to the general fund of a charity, I wanted this project to be different. So I decided that I would try and replicate the movie, “Pay It Forward” by donating money to 3 homeless individuals under the condition that they “Pay it Forward.” So in order to receive the funds, all they had to do was 3 nice things for someone else. This could be simply calling their mother and just letting her know how much they love them.

The project could not have gone better. I won $21,000 playing poker in those 5 days which meant that I could give $7,000 each to the 3 homeless families which would cover 6 months in an apartment, utilities, food and other basic essentials. I could not be more proud to say that all 3 individuals who received the money all have jobs, are self supporting and one of them has already worked their way up the ladder at their company receiving several promotions.

I got a chance to meet all 3 individuals as well as some of their family members and it was a very powerful experience to say the least. No one was quite sure what to say or how to act, but they were all very appreciative of receiving what they called a “2nd chance” and ALL took full advantage of it. I personally felt a little awkward because I didn’t want anyone to feel like they owed me anything or some feeling along those lines. I just wanted it to be a part of something powerful and do what I feel more people who have more money than they need should do from time to time. It is really rewarding and there is something special about driving around your hometown knowing that you played at least some role in 3 less families having to suffer through the bitter cold that so many homeless people suffer through every day.

8) What advice could you offer to other players who are feeling down on their luck, be in financially or emotionally? Do you have any special techniques you could share that can help people vault themselves from a rut?

I do actually, but unfortunately most of what I say would sound a lot like a tired old cliche’. So for whatever it’s worth, I would really encourage people to simply believe in themselves. Believe that there is really nothing separating you from your goals other than a whole lot of good old fashioned hard work. I went flat bust, was in awful health and there wasn’t a soul I was aware of who truly believed in me, but I never stopped believing in myself. I always had a belief that I would ultimately be successful at something and that something would pay off for me. It would have been really easy to give up. My brother has told me numerous times that he just doesn’t understand where I found the courage to battle through everything and choose my own path to try and achieve something. But it really was a belief system that I had in myself that caused me to basically never stop dreaming and never stop working towards those dreams.

9) We understand you are close a poker coach, Jared Tendler. Can you tell us about your experience working with him? How it came about and how it affected your game? Do you still work with him?

My relationship with Jared Tendler began on the golf course in the summer of 2007. I met him on a golf trip with some friends and learned that he was working with some top golfers on their mental games. I thought that was a cool job, but didn’t think much of it until later that summer when I was struggling with my mental game at the poker table. I always understood the power of the mental game having read several golf books on the subject. I thought about hiring one of the famous golf gurus to see if they could help me with my poker mental game, but then remembered meeting Jared and thought that I would give him a call and see if we could work something out.

It took a few sessions before Jared got his head around the concept of helping poker players, but he figured it our quite nicely and has gone on to becoming the leading authority in poker on the mental game, hands down. So it has really been a tremendous relationship, no question.

I do still work with him. In fact I worked with him just a couple of weeks ago and I felt we made some tremendous progress. I don’t work with him weekly like I did when I was first starting with him, but when we do work, it is tremendously effective. In fact, Jared also worked with me quite a bit with my golf game in the summer of 09′ when I got back into golf before ultimately running into some issues with the USGA.

10) In recent years you’ve also become a successful poker author, congratulations on that! Can you tell us about your books, their success and what’s the next project you’ll be working on? Do you intend to expand your publishing house and feature titles outside of the poker world?

First off, thanks! I do tremendously enjoy writing books. It never really crossed my mind until the middle of 2009 that I might want to write a book some day, but I am glad I figured that out because it is a lot of fun.

The success of Treat Your Poker Like A Business took me a little off guard. I just got to writing it and put it out into the world when I was done with it and sure it was exciting, but you don’t really expect that you are going to get thousands of messages from people who are so excited about their games as a result of what they read. I can honestly say I wasn’t prepared for that. I would have thought that if anything, there was a greater chance that I would put the book out into the world and people would think it was garbage. So, it was quite a special feeling to get messages from all over the world.

My most recent book, Don’t Listen To Phil Hellmuth, is a book I am even more proud of. I spent way more time on it (its almost twice as thick of a book) and it was way more difficult to write. So far the feedback we are getting is highly positive, but it is still early in the game to see what everyone is thinking about the book because we don’t have as many reviews in yet as the last book and it has only been in paperback for 6-7 weeks now, so we are still waiting for more feedback to truly understand how people feel about the book.

I do intend to put out more books into the world. So far we have published 5 books. We have the 2 I wrote, Way of the Poker Warrior by Paul Hoppe (who also co authored Don’t Listen To Phil Hellmuth) and 2 more that we did with reality TV stars. We did a book called the Man Code by Bachelor Pad winner David Good. We also did a book called The Young And The Thirsty which is a book about wine. I don’t think we intend to do too many books outside of poker anytime soon, but our long term plans include books of all kinds if all goes well.

11) Treat Poker Like a Business offers a lot of really valuable advice to up and coming and even to established players. Where did your work ethic come from? Also, did you ever face any times where you felt like taking greater risks and straying from your winning plan?

Thanks! I would definitely like to think Treat Your Poker Like A Business can be a great tool even for some of the best players in the world potentially. The book essentially aims to pass on what I have learned about how to maximize your profit as a poker player, whether that be for someone entering a career in poker or an established player looking to increase his or her bottom line.

My work ethic mostly came from the people I looked up to over my career(s) in golf and business. I noticed that a strong work ethic was the common denominator of nearly ALL successful individuals whether that be in business or sport. I do think how I was raised had something to do with it, but at the same time, I think it mostly just came naturally to me. Ever since I was a small kid, I always wanted to work really hard at one or two things. I guess mostly I just enjoy it, to be honest. It is fun to me to work hard at something. From time to time I go through lulls just like anyone else, but overall I stay pretty focused.

To get to your question about whether I have ever strayed from my plan and took on greater risks, the answer is pretty much no. I will dabble from time to time in some pretty big games, but I have never put myself in a position to lose a truly impactful amount of money.

12) Can you share with us any setbacks you faced during your poker career and what you did to overcome them? What do you think is the most important thing to do when facing a tough downswing?

The biggest set back I faced was early in my success actually. I really started crushing no limit holdem 1/2nl games towards the end of the summer in 2006. I was making $30,000 or more every month and things were really rocking and rolling. I then took some money out to buy a home and it was right at that time that the UIGEA passed AND a website called ripped me off a mid 5 figure sum. So here I was on top of the world having finally entered into some pretty sick amounts of money and then I got ripped off and afraid for my career in general but tied into a new home that I was unable to furnish at the time.

I made the best of it though early in 2007 and grinded out some decent money in tougher post UIGEA games and then of course went on a tear that began in May of 2007 and ended up having a 7 figure year at the tables when it was all said and done. So things can turn pretty quickly for better or worse in this world we live in.

The thing I focus on most in a downswing is improving my game. In fact, my aim is to do that every bit as much when I am on an upswing, but I know for nearly everyone, grinding hard on every component of your game during an upswing is not your first instinct.

13) We must commend you on your excellent bankroll management too. It seems you have no problem dropping in stakes if the situation demands it. Would you say that is a fair analysis? Also, how do you maintain focus when you move from playing $25/50 to playing $2/4?

Bankroll management is something I definitely pride myself on. You definitely won’t see me going broke at the tables ever really. If I ever go broke in life you can bet everything you have that it won’t be from something stupid at the tables.

As for keeping focus at a 2/4 game the same as a 25/50 game, I guess it comes down to taking pride in yourself and the decisions you make at the poker tables. I make my share of poor decisions, but it can happen just as easily at 2/4 as 25/50. My aim is to play every hand to the best of my abilities and the amount of money shouldn’t change that. And after all, a stack at 2/4 still is a lot of money in real life! So you can bet I am taking those pots seriously.

14) What other players in the poker world do you most admire or respect, and why?

The guys I look up to the most are those who I can learn from. So naturally I gravitate to watching the best players play. I think I learn a lot from Phil Galfond, Tom Dwan, Patrick Antonius and Phil Ivey. I take away bits and pieces of their games and implement them into my arsenal from time to time and it is very helpful.

15) Can you share with us a story about yourself that we’d be surprised to hear?

One thing that might make for a pretty funny image is when I was a little kid I used to idolize Payne Stewart who is a two time US Open Golf Champion. He was the only player on the PGA Tour who wore knickers when he played golf. So I used to play most of my tournaments one summer when I was 9 years old wearing knickers. I wanted to do it forever, but knickers are expensive and I only had one pair so eventually I started dressing normally on the golf course.

16) Last year you made a trip to the WSOP and played a fairly big schedule. Can we expect the same again this year? Also, do you think your chances have improved for this year, in terms of cashing large or even winning a bracelet?

I definitely intend to play a fairly full schedule again this year at the WSOP. I enjoyed my experience there last year, especially the amazingly good cash games.

This year I do think my chances have improved somewhat because I have a much better understanding of tournament play since I have been focusing on them on Sundays for some time now. Are my chances improved? Technically. But tournaments are mostly luck anyway if you are talking anything less than tens of thousands of trials, so sure they have improved, but marginally at best. I will happily take luck over improved skill in a tournament any day of the week.

17) For other young players getting started in the poker world now, what advice could you offer to them for rising through the stakes? What do you think is the most important thing for them to do in order to be successful?

The main thing to understand is that the low lying fruit in online poker has been picked. Sure, it can be a great job to have, but you’re not going to see people make the kinds of money they used to make at least until the legalities improve. So to all of the up and comers out there, unless you are one of the rare exceptions, don’t expect to make millions in short order like I was able to do at the cash game tables. Set more realistic expectations and just never stop working at it.

18) Can you tell us about your life outside of poker? E.g. Family, other interests etc? And do you think it’s important to always have a good balance of poker world and real world interests?

My life outside of poker is pretty fun. I take lots of vacations. I typically try and go on at least 7-10 trips on the year to either golf destinations with my friends like the one I went on 2 weeks ago to Pebble Beach. I like to go to Bandon Dunes a lot as well. I tend to go on a few trips a year with my wife as well. We went to New York this past year as well as the Dominican Republic. We try and take advantage of the fact that we are young and are in a great position to enjoy some of the fruits of our labor.

Day to day I stay pretty focused on my family and work. I don’t do a lot that entertains me specifically when I am at home. I mostly just work and spend time with my family. I try to get out on the golf course from time to time and hang out with friends here and there, but so many of my best friends live all around the country so most of the time I am spending with my friends are on trips we all take together.

19) What does the future hold for Dusty?

Well, first off I hope it holds a lot of living ahead of me. I do get concerned from time to time about my heart. I want to be around for a long time obviously, but I know from experience that life can’t be taken from granted.

Hopefully I can continue to have success in poker and get to play some more golf. I also hope that people remain interested in my books because I do enjoy writing them. As long as people are supporting that, I will write them. If ever people stop liking them, then I won’t of course.

Mainly I am most excited about watching my kids grow up and shaping them in a way that will give them the tools to be successful in life. I feel like I had to figure most things out the hard way growing up, so I am happy to be in a position where things can be a little easier for my kids. Right now I have a 16 month old girl and my wife is pregnant so we’re thinking 2 kids right now. That is sure to be a lot of fun!

20) Can you leave us with some words of wisdom for success in both poker and for life?

I think one of the more important things I have learned over time is that being a poker pro is a lot of work. It is frustrating almost daily and sometimes it can be lonely and depressing at times. But it can also be incredibly exciting and all of the benefits that come from being a poker pro vs. working a 9 to 5 can’t be undervalued. In the career of a poker pro, there are going to be times that you will wonder if this is really the best thing for you, and there will be times where you wonder if it is consuming you too much, which it has the potential to. But what I have found is that you need to be flexible with yourself. There will be times where it is a good idea to take a lot of time away from the game. And there will be times where it is a good idea to play poker for a month straight. The sooner you can recognize when those times are, the better off you will be. Figuring it out may not come naturally and it definitely takes some experience, but if you can be more in touch with yourself from within and not be afraid to listen to your mind or body, the sooner you will figure it out. And when you do, it will be very helpful to finding that balance that is going to be so important to a long and healthy career.

Thanks for having me!

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