One of the best parts of travelling is all the people you meet. Long-term travellers, generally speaking, tend to be very interesting and unique people. It takes a special kind of person to abandon a traditional lifestyle for a life on the road. Unique people also tend to have some out of the ordinary ways of making money online and off. Today’s interview is with poker expert Nathan Williams, once a full-time online poker player, Nathan now earns a significant portion of his income from selling a single poker ebook focusing on low stakes poker. Nathan also surprised me with the fact that my favourite digital nomad city, Chiang Mai, is also a hub for online poker players. Before you rush to quit your job to play poker full-time, you should read this interview first.
Please tell us about yourself?
I was born and raised in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. As a kid all I cared about was sports. All of them really but hockey in particular being that I am Canadian and all. That sport requires a lot of money and dedication on the part of the parents though. I didn’t really have that so my sports dreams slowly faded away by my late teens. I was 18, had just graduated high school, and was working 9-5 bagging groceries in a supermarket. I had never really cared much for school but I saw it as a way out of that meaningless job. I fell in love with history, philosophy and literature in particular. Anything that was abstract and challenged me. Anything that had no applicability to a real world job basically as I found out when I graduated several years later.
I went through some trying times in my personal life right around that time as well and quickly lost focus. I couldn’t really see myself going down the standard liberal arts degree career path anyways; teacher, lawyer or government. I had always wanted something more. I wanted to do something exceptional or different at least from everybody else. And I really wanted to work for myself above all. Around a year after I graduated, and after drifting through a couple more meaningless jobs, a friend introduced us to this new game called “Texas Hold’em” at a party in late 2004. We each put in $5. I had no clue what I was doing but I got lucky and won. Easy money right? I found online poker the next day. I will talk about my poker career some more in a bit.
Please tell us about your travels?
Right now I am in Cha-Am, Thailand which is a quiet beach town on the Gulf of Thailand two hours south of Bangkok. I would like to say that I am some worldly traveler but really I am not. I finally made the decision to hop on a plane a little less than a year ago (one way ticket to Bangkok) and have totally fallen in love with this country. I have traveled through and lived in many parts of it and I guess I haven’t found a real reason to leave it yet. I definitely have aspirations of traveling to many other places in Asia and around the world though.
How do you like Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai is where I have stayed the longest in Thailand. In my limited worldly experience I would have to say that I have never seen a more perfectly liveable place. A decent sized city at around one million and a great mix of the new and old. From the weather, the food, the people, the low cost of living and the culture it is simply an amazing place to be. I think you summed it up very well in a recent article here on Jetsetcitizen. There is a vibe and an energy in Chiang Mai that is just unmatched anywhere. And it is the digital nomad capital of the world so there are tons of internet professionals who call it home and love it there.
Please tell us about your website?
My website started out as basically a personal blog. In fact I wrote it for several years with hardly any readers at all just as a way to track my poker progress and keep myself motivated with goals and such. It was only when my name became popular in the online poker world and I revealed who I was that it started gaining some traffic. I have since turned it into more of an educational site where I post articles to help beginners struggling to find their way in the game. It is also the hub for everything that I do now on the teaching side of the game from the ebook (in English, Spanish and Russian), my coaching, my forum and more.
How do you make money?
I will start with my poker career. I started out playing online poker with fake chips (offered by nearly every card room on the internet and far more popular than real money games). The thing with these virtual chips is that the card room gives you a certain amount each day no matter how many times you lose them all. Therefore, there is literally nothing on the line at all and people play like complete lunatics. I quickly learned that if I just played tight (play better hands than everyone else) that I would win. And I did. I just played for fun for quite awhile and amassed millions of these worthless chips on multiple card rooms.
Then I found out that they weren’t so worthless after all. I guess anything in life has a value right? If you had a big enough quantity of these fake chips, which I did, then there were people willing to give you real money for them. I remember trading about 5 million of them for $60. I soon dived into the lowest stakes real money games playing for 2 or 5 dollars at a time. I felt like I was playing with the house’s chips because I had essentially just been given this money for free. To this day I have never deposited money into any online card room. I have made everything off of that original $60.
I quickly progressed through the stakes, again just employing my “play tight” strategy which was good enough to crush the incredibly soft games of 2005-2008, and before long I was playing the $100 and $200 buyin games and making far more per hour than in my day job. It was another worthless job and I figured that I had nothing to lose so I quit in early 2007 to essentially become a professional poker player. I loved the idea of working for myself and setting my own schedule but I quickly learned that I didn’t have anywhere near the discipline at the time to manage it properly. The money was just too easy in those days in online poker and I thought it would be that way forever. I was wrong.
The games started getting more difficult for a variety of reasons and my bankroll dwindled primarily due to lack of play. I spent the next several years 24 tabling the lowest stakes again (the max number of tables allowed at the card room that I played at) but still earning enough to make a living, albeit a very meager one. As bizarre as it may sound, I am not really a gambler at heart at all. Part of me didn’t want to play those higher stakes games anymore because I would have to endure some losing days or even weeks whereas I would basically never lose in the lower stakes games because the competition was so bad. I was ridiculed thoroughly for it especially when a website began publishing the results of online poker players around 2009. I had the highest winrates and overall winnings in history at the lowest stakes of online poker and now everybody knew about it. I became somewhat of a freak show for some and a hero to others.
It was around this time that I slowly got into teaching the game. I never thought that anybody would want to hear what I had to say. I didn’t think that I was anything special at all. All I did was beat up on some of the worst players in the world for very small amounts of money. These games were so ridiculously easy to me that I thought that anybody should be able to print money playing them. But I was wrong again. I sent out a bunch of emails inquiring about becoming a paid instructor to all of the biggest membership based poker training sites on the internet and to my dismay I received interest from all of them. I started blogging a lot more, I started offering private coaching and then finally in late 2011 I decided to write an ebook as well. The book is essentially a strategy guide for success at the lowest stakes of No Limit Hold’em cash games based off of my own experience and success playing over 6 million hands.
Why do you think your ebook is so successful?
Well firstly, I had no idea if it was going to be successful or not. It actually only took me about a month to write it even though it is a full length book. The words just poured out like it was nothing because I had spent so many years doing what I was talking about almost in my sleep. The editing was very painful but I am a perfectionist and had to do it all myself. Still, I had invested a lot of time into this thing and I only had the vague promise from about a dozen regular commenters on my blog that they would buy it. Sales quickly took off however and surpassed what I had hoped to make on it lifetime within a couple of months.
I think that there is no question that a big part of the success of my ebook has been because of my results in the games (the fact that I can put ‘biggest winner ever’ as the subtitle). And also my name recognition within the online poker world as well. I also had, and continue to have, a small but consistent amount of traffic coming to my website. And a good chunk of it is organic with people searching my name in Google or through longtail results due to articles that I have written.
So I definitely had a big head start over your random ebook author. However, what primarily continues to drive the sales of my book to this day are forum and word of mouth recommendations. I have received countless emails and pm’s from people thanking me for having turned their results around and remarking about the simplicity of the language, advice and the flow of the book. I am a big believer in quality over quantity and I think that this has also played a large role in the success of it. No matter what product or service you create if it exudes real quality and solves problems for people then they will help spread the word for you. And that kind of marketing is by far the most effective in my opinion. Best of all, it costs you nothing.
How do you market your ebook?
I did the vast majority of the marketing for my ebook in the first couple months after it’s release. This mostly involved emailing every influential poker blogger that I could think of and offering them a free copy in exchange for a review. I also contacted all the major poker news sites with the same offer and received some huge temporary traffic spikes from a couple of stories that were done (see here andhere for example). And I also offered to send it to several influential posters on poker forums as I knew that they would be the main driver of long term sales.
I am not much of a social media expert but I set up the requisite Facebook and Twitter pages. And I also made a few videos trying to promote it on Youtube as well. I briefly set up an affiliate program but it did not prove to be too successful so I scrapped it. I may look into that again in the future though. I do not sell my ebook on Amazon. I only sell it on my website.
How did you learn to be a good poker player?
When I first started out there really were no decent learning materials out there. Today you have tons of forums, video training sites, personal coaching, books and more. So I basically just learned on my own. I think perhaps I had some natural inclination for the game. It requires a lot of patience, discipline, emotional control and logical reasoning. I am pretty good in all of these areas.
Can you provide some basic advice or strategies for beginners?
I would say that anyone can learn the game to some extent but the vast majority of people will not have success. I have heard statistics stating that as little as 10% or 15% of people actually win in the long term after the rake. And probably as little as 5% are able to turn it into a solid income. Common mistakes that beginners make are playing too many hands especially when out of position, playing too passively overall, tilting too much when things don’t go their way and playing stakes too high for their skill level and/or bankroll.
It would be difficult for me to say anything of any real substance here in the limited space but I believe that the foundation of success in poker will always lie in a TAG (tight and aggressive) style of play. That is, be fairly selective in what hands you decide to play but also understand the importance of position and aggression.
Is it possible to earn a good living as a professional poker player?
It is possible to earn a good living as a professional poker player even in the fairly tough online games in 2013. With that said, as I stated before, this game is only going to be really profitable for a very small percentage of people. I don’t want to discourage anyone who has dreams in this game but I want to be realistic as well. Keep your day job or get your degree and play the game on the side. If you find that you have been consistently having success for a long period of time, then and only then should you consider changing it from a hobby and into a job.
I hear Chiang Mai is a big hub for online poker players, why is that?
Chiang Mai is indeed very popular with online poker players. There is a large community there and in many other places in Thailand as well. Regarding Chiang Mai’s popularity in particular it is probably for many of the same reasons that so many other internet professionals flock there. Beautiful weather, low cost of living, easy going lifestyle and on and on. As regards to poker players specifically though there has also been somewhat of an exodus to many places all over the world among American professional players since their government decided to make it almost impossible for them to play online even though the game is not illegal there.
What’s next for you?
I don’t like to plan too far ahead into the future but what is next for me right now is living the quiet life here in Cha-Am for awhile and completing my second book (also poker related). After that I am not really sure. I certainly plan to travel a lot more. Business wise I want to move into areas outside of the online poker world more but definitely still on the internet.