Believe and you shall achieve!

The BetOnDrew Spotlight looks to draw focus to poker players’ lifestyles, attitudes, opinions, and accomplishments. Thanks to everyone whoBODspotlightFinal shares their story with the poker community, and we hope that your stories continue to grow! Feel free to email betondrew@gmail.com if you or a friend you know deserves to have some spotlight.

This story hits close to home here at BetOnDrew.com and we are about to tell you why… but 1st we want to ask you some things.  Have you ever planted a flower and watched it grow and bloom into something you couldn’t take your eyes off?  Have you ever taught your child how to properly swing a baseball bat and then watched them hit home run after home run?  Have you ever given a friend or close family member that heartfelt advice they needed and then watched them grow into the person they never thought they could be?  Well, if you can relate to these questions in any way, then you’ll understand why this story is so special.

His name is Gilbert, and he plays online as “pgt4jc“.  He is currently ranked 50th in the pocketfives.com tournament rankings for the US.  He has been a student of @DrewPeacoq8‘s for a couple of years now and pretty much since their 1st coaching session these 2 have been in touch regularly, and become close friends.  So when someone this close to you goes off and does what most coaches can only hope for all their students to do, and has a month where they play 236 tourneys, have 90 cashGTb4TheRunes for over $31,000 (including 42 Final tables, 23 top 3 finishes, and 11 wins), and profit $16,000 for an awesome ROI of over 100% – you feel incredibly proud, happy, and just smile because you were able to share this moment with them.  You might think, “Well if I was playing all the time, I might be able to do that too.”  Well perhaps, and we hope for everyone to accomplish great things in poker, but poker isn’t Gilbert’s full-time job… being a Pastor is.  The picture to the left is Gilbert’s Sharkscope stats and graph PRIOR to his awesome run, so you can put things into perspective.  We were fortunate enough to pick Gilbert’s brain and gain some insight as to how he was able to accomplish what he has, and how he continues to be successful in all aspects of his life.  Enjoy and thanks to Gilbert for sharing his story with the poker community, and thanks to you for taking the time to read.

1 – Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got your start in poker?

First, thanks for doing this interview.  As for poker, my entire family loves card games and so I learned it in some form at an early age.  During my teens years I played a lot of dealers choice type games but as for Texas Hold’em, I can thank Facebook for that.

In late 2006, Facebook began allowing people other than college students to create an account.  I did and quickly found that Zynga had a poker game with play money.  If I remember right they credited you with $10000 in play money.  Within 2-3 weeks I had run that up to like 1.3 million, so I was bored.  It was then that a church friend of mine’s mom said, “Well you should play on PokerStars”.  I had never even heard of them at that point but signed up for an account and was playing their play money games.  About a month or so after signing up, I got an e-mail from PokerStars saying, “We’ve credited your account with 2 real dollars”.  I thought, “Ok let’s see what we can do with that”.  The rest as they say is history.  I ran that $2 up to a few thousand.  Once Black Friday hit I began playing other sites, each time with 1 initial deposit of $100 and have run it up from there.  I think that’s one of my favorite achievements as a player…I’ve never actually invested any of my own money…it all grew out of that original $2!

2 – As we’ve already spoiled, poker isn’t your full-time job and being a Pastor is.  For those who aren’t familiar, can you explain what being a Pastor is/is like?  What’s your favorite part about being a Pastor?

My responsibilities as a pastor have been different from church to church but what I’m doing now is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  God called my wife Lisa and I to leave a pretty big church 5 years ago to move to Harrisburg, PA to start a brand new church from scratch (www.ExponentialChurch.tv ) .  So I end up doing a little bit of everything but the primary thing I try to do is help people find their way to Jesus and then help them grow in a relationship with Him.  A large part of my week is in preparing the message I’ll be sharing so that hopefully I can inspire people that God is not against you, He’s actually for you! Yeah maybe you’ve messed up , but He wants to forgive you. He wants a relationship with you. And He wants to give you a fresh start and help you in maximizing the gifts He’s given you so that you can make a difference in the world.  My favorite part of being a pastor is related to what I just said…I love to figure out creative ways to take the bible, which for many people is boring and dull ,and help it to come alive so they see the relevancy of it for their daily lives.

GTp5sRanks3 – What drives you to play poker and find the time to continue to improve your game? 

My drive to play originally was as a way to relax.  Being a pastor means I deal with a lot of heavy issues that are going on in people’s lives and sometimes I deal with literal matters of life and death.  So the game originally was just that…a game…where I could take my mind off all that.

Then it shifted when we moved to Harrisburg as a way to meet people.  Instead of joining the Chamber of Commerce or a civic organization, I instead found a free league that plays multiple times in the area per week.

It was at one of these free games that I found  out about some of the larger US facing sites still available and so I started playing online again a bit more. So between the 2 live games and my online play, I was once again motivated to continue improving.  I am someone who is naturally driven to read, study and learn so poker was no different than anything else.  As I started doing more of that the money from my online play really started to increase.  That in turn  has allowed Lisa to not have to work, so she can pursue some of her dreams that aren’t necessarily income producing.  So there is some financial motivation there now as well to continue growing and improving.

4 – Is it difficult to balance your time between poker and being a Pastor?  Any advice for other players who might be trying to balance a full-time career/passion alongside their poker dreams?

Personally I don’t have a problem with balancing the two.  Being a pastor is not what I do, it is who I am.  So even when I’m playing I’m still keeping in mind that I’m a pastor and I’m a representative for Jesus.

As for the time commitment, my work for the church comes first, if I have time to play poker great.  Thankfully all the big tourney’s I like to play are late in the evening.  So a typical day sees me start church work between 8-9am then work until 5-6pm or later if a meeting is needed.  I then typically sometime between 7-9pm start my online grind which can last until 2-3am depending on how deep I go in tourney’s.

My advice would be that putting food on the table and spending time with your family and friends has to be way more important to you than a game of cards.  Keep putting their needs first before your own and in your spare time if you have some time to play then great.  If you happen to get good and can make some money…great again.  If you always put people first, I think the balance will naturally come.

5 – Do you feel like your faith in God has helped you to be a better poker player?  If yes, how so.

I’ll answer that yes and no.  No in the sense that God could not care less about who wins or loses a game of cards or any other gaming or sporting event for that matter.

I’ll answer yes however in that my relationship with Jesus has given me a peace and self-control that I didn’t naturally have before I became a Christian in my early 20’s.  So bad beats don’t really bother me too bad.  Oh sure in the initial moment I think, “Are you kidding me” and I know how much people love to hear bad beat stories so I’ll occasionally tell one.  😉   But I don’t carry the hand with me too much further than the initial moment after it happens.  So that level of calmness and self-control in not wanting to “get back” at that person keeps me level-headed and able to play each hand to the best of my ability.  For that I fully give God the credit because I know that naturally I’m a bit of a hot-head.

6 – So this recent run, where do we start? 🙂  How does it feel to put a month like this under your poker belt?

I think the easiest thing to do would be open up a thesaurus and look up every synonym for the word fantastic!

7 – How do you think you were able to accomplish such an awesome feat?  Do you think there is a formula for success to continue to set yourself up for these types of months?

A lot of study, hard work and practice…oh and it helps to run good as well.  I think it’s funny when people think that poker is purely a game of luck and call it gambling.  If that were the case, you wouldn’t see the same people, year after year, myself included dominating.  Are there elements of luck involved…sure…but the skill factor is by far, over time, the greatest indicator of the results you see.  And gaining that skill means discipline to study and practice just like you would in chess or golf.

As for a formula, yes I believe there is one.  It has been said that chess is a game of correct decision making under conditions of certainty.  In other words, you can see not only your own pieces but your opponents pieces as well.  The person that can make the best decisions based on what they see will win. Gilbert at the tables

Poker on the other hand is a game of correct decision making under conditions of uncertainty.  In other words, while you know your 2 cards and can see the cards on the board, you don’t know what your opponents have or what cards may come yet on the flop, turn or river.  From a strategy standpoint, this makes poker way harder of a game than what chess is.  However, it’s still about making the best decision with the information you have.  This is why hand reading is such an important element to add to your game if it’s not there already.  If I know what you have but you don’t know what I have, obviously I will be able to make better decisions than you will.  So the formula is this…make the best decision you can not just from hand to hand, but on every street of every hand.  If you’ll do that, long-term you will have more success than people who are just clicking buttons.

8 – Did you make any drastic changes in your game that you think helped?

I think heading into that month I began polarizing my 3-bet range a bit more.  I was obviously still 3-betting my big hands in the right spots but when it came to my more marginal hands that perhaps in the past I would just flat with, I instead switched into a mindset of either this is a fold or 3-bet and took calling almost completely out of the equation.  What I found was that doing this was cheaper than a call and then floating a flop Cbet. Also pre if I got 4-bet it was an easy fold or an easy 5-bet if I knew someone was getting out of line.  However, what I discovered was, I was getting more 3-bets through than I thought I could and even if I got flatted, I was doing it with hands that still had some implied value so there was always the chance of hitting the flop at least hard enough to win with a Cbet and possible 2nd barrel on the turn.  Moral of the story, I was picking up a bunch of extra chips earlier in tournaments which allowed me to sustain possible bad beats later in tournaments, which in turn allowed me to have the chips to keep making deep run after deep run.

9 – We understand that you were extremely sick just prior to you going on this run.  Did that somehow come into play or is it just a weird coincidence?  We are happy to know you overcame the sickness and staring it in the face put up your best poker month yet – says a lot about you.

I’ve thought about that and I’m not quite sure.  In May I had a great month but knew I was going to be in Costa Rica for a few weeks celebrating Lisa and I’s 20th wedding anniversary so I was a bit concerned about how to keep the momentum going once I got back.  So it was suggested to me that I should just do some reading and studying while I was gone and hopefully that would keep the momentum going once we arrived back home in mid June.  However, while in Costa Rica I contracted some sort of bacteria/virus that literally had me sick in bed for over 3 weeks. I was so sick not only was I not playing, but I didn’t even feel well enough to read.

The last week of June I started playing again but was only single tabling…even then though the amount of thought and concentration wore me out.  When July rolled around I still wasn’t feeling 100% so I was still only playing 1-3 tourney’s at a time.  It was the first Sunday of the month that I finished 3rd in the Merge Sunday Major for $8880.  If I remember right that was the only table I played that day.  So was playing less tables than normal helpful?  That’s what I thought at first.  But then as my health improved I went back to my normal 4-6 tables at a time and continued to crush through the rest of the month.  So I’m guessing it was just a coincidence.

10 – Was there ever an “AHA” moment in your poker career that you felt took your game to the next level? 

I’d say when I started watching DrewPeacoq8’s videos on player types, it changed my thinking.  I was so impressed with them that I contacted him about coaching.  John was able to help me understand our cards really don’t matter but knowing how to hand read is and that essentially all players can be broken into 6 different styles of play.  Once you understand how those styles like to play their cards, there are perfect counter strategies to each of them.  I was already a winning player before that but wow once all that sunk in, my game really skyrocketed.

11 – You also play live poker and have regular success in the games you play correct?  Do you prefer online or live poker?  When playing live do you make adjustments to your game?

Yes I play some live games.  2 nights a week I go play my free league game but that’s more for the social aspect.  I turn the aggressiveness level back to almost 0 as compared to online and limp more hands in a night there than I sometimes do in an entire month online.  So to me that’s fun to go splash around with a group of people that have become my friends and win enough in restaurant gift certificates that I haven’t paid for a meal at that place for years.

As for real live tourney’s, I play only when I have the time (rarely) and if it’s a big series someone is running.  It’s funny, I live only about 10 minutes from a casino but hardly ever go there to play.  My reasoning is simple and explains why I like online better than live.

Last November for his birthday, my friend Claude wanted a bunch of us from our free game to go up to the casino and play a real tournament together.  So we went up and played the $60 buy-in event.  I ended up winning for just over $700.  Now a week before that I had won the Merge Nightly $33 for $2700.  So the more I thought about it, I was like wait a second…I invested ½ the amount yet made 4 times more by playing online…and I didn’t have to go anywhere, can play multiple tables, see way more hands per hour, have my fridge I can walk to anytime I want, can watch TV with Lisa as I play and oh yeah…play in just my boxers if I so choose.  So yeah…that was when it really cemented for me that playing live wasn’t really worth it from a life and monetary ROI stand point.

As for adjustments in live tourney’s, I play way tighter at the beginning to get a good read on other people’s styles and start putting together my game plan.  Also since the skill level is typically much weaker live than online, I adjust my bet sizing a bit bigger to discourage having multiple callers which you see so often live.

12 – What’s the best advice you can give other players looking to accomplish great things in their poker playing career?

That’s easy, good bankroll management.  Even though poker is mainly a game of skill, the cards won’t always run good for you.  Bad beats are going to happen.  Downswings are going to happen.  So having a good bankroll management system that you stick to is key.  If not, you’ll start chasing losses and perhaps start using money that is not just entertainment dollars anymore.  If that’s you, please stop…no game is worth losing your car, house, spouse, kids, etc over.  So again use only your entertainment dollars but even then do it wisely.

If I gave you a single die and told you I’d give you $10 every time it came up 1-5 but you had to pay me $20 every time it came up a 6, it wouldn’t take you long to figure out that’s a really good deal and you’d want to play with me as much as possible. Let’s say you had $5000.  The mistake would be to say that you want to wager all $5000 on one single roll of the die.  What if that was the 1 time in 6 that a 6 came up?  You’d be out the entire 5k.  Instead, you’d be better off betting say $50 at a time.  Yeah sure a 6 may come up 2 or even 3 times in a row but you wouldn’t mind because you know long term, you’re going to make out.

Poker is the same way.  At the very best you may cash in 20-30% of your tournaments.  So it’s important that you spread out your money over a lot of tournaments so that a couple of bad beats won’t doom your bankroll.  Personally I stick to a 50 buy-in rule.  By that I mean, if you have $500 in your account, the max buy-in you’d be able to play is a $10 tournament.  This will allow, if you have the right skills as well, for variance to run its course and you still have money left over.  If you play bad or run bad and that $500 become $300 then you need to drop down to $6 max buy-ins.

If you run it up to $1500, now you can move up to $30.  However even in that be careful.  I see it all the time where someone gets on a good run and binks a big tournament.  They automatically think, “Oh now I can play with the big boys”.  So they begin playing bigger tourney’s but because their skill level doesn’t yet match their bankroll, they lose it all back. So yes, maybe your bankroll will allow it, but until you prove that you can consistently beat the games at whatever level you’re at, then stay there until you do.  Oh sure on occasion you may take a shot in a single tourney but for the most part, beat the games your at first then move up to the next level.

13 – You are truly an inspiration.  When you think about your Pastor and poker life, are there inspirations that pop into your mind that you believe have helped mold you into the person you are today? 

I have been truly blessed in the businesses that I’ve owned, in my ministry life and in my poker life to have been surrounded by some of the best and brightest minds in their respective fields. The names are too numerous to count but I will say this, I have become who I am today Gilbert HPO 2015because of the people I’ve chosen to surround myself with.  So if you want to be a better poker player, surround yourself with players way better than you.  Want to be a better husband or wife…find people who have great marriages and hang with them.  Want to do better in your career…hang with people who are successful in their career.  Tired of being broke?  Then stop taking financial advice from your friends who are broke and start hanging with people who are responsible with their money.  I think you see my point…you become more like those you spend time with.  Oh and as an FYI, that’s why I spend every morning for at least a little bit of time hanging with God and reading His Word.  I want to become more like Him.  Am I perfect?  No, but spending time with Him shows me the best path for my life and helps me in my day-to-day decisions.

14 –  Anything else you’d like to share with us that we haven’t covered?

I’m sort of surprised you didn’t ask since it’s usually a question many people want to know and that is, “What in the world is a pastor doing playing poker?  Isn’t that sinful?  Is Jesus really happy with that?”  And you know that’s a great question and something I’ve had to wrestle with through the years.  When I first became a Christian, my default answer was no I shouldn’t be doing it…so I didn’t….for many years.  Then one day Lisa and I were sitting in a movie theater watching a movie with our large bucket of popcorn , 2 large sodas and I’m sure some Mike & Ikes when it hit me.  We just spent over $30 on this and call it entertainment, but yet if someone wants to put $5 up for a poker tournament, I’d call that sin.  This led me to dig deeper into what does the bible really say about gambling.  The answer was…not much…at least not much directly.  As Christians, we are called to be good financial managers of the resources that God has entrusted to us.  So my conclusion was this…if you can play poker out of dollars you would normally use for entertainment then fine.  No one thinks twice about a Christian playing a round of golf, spending money on their flower bed because that’s their hobby or 100’s of other sports and hobbies I could name.  For me poker happens to be my “sport/hobby” of choice.

However, as far a gambling stuff goes, poker is the only thing I do…even with my entertainment dollars.  The reason is simple.  All the other casino games, whether it be slots, blackjack, roulette, etc is you against the house.  Oh and spoiler alert…the house always wins.  They don’t build those big multi-billion dollar casinos because the average Joe goes home a winner.  No over time you will lose.

Poker however is you against other players.  In that way it is more like a round of golf.  You individually play to the best of your ability while at the same time, try to beat the players around you.  At some point someone in the round may even get a lucky break or two which means that the best player may not win that particular round but over time, the best players will consistently outperform those of lesser skill levels.  So I love that poker allows me to have an avenue to channel my competitive side while at the same time exercising my brain.

One final thought on the whole pastor playing poker thing.  As you read the bible you’ll notice Jesus spending time with both those who had faith in God and then those far from Him.  The mistake I made in the past and see so often in pastors/Christians today is that we tend to hang out with nothing but other Christians. One of my favorite Christian authors has said, “To reach people nobody else is reaching, we need to be willing to go to places and do things nobody else is willing to do”.  I hate to be stereotypical, but let’s face it, most poker players aren’t exactly followers of Jesus and going to church every Sunday.  I see in players so often a lot of hurt, addictions, playing because they think the money will make them happy, broken marriages and broken dreams. So as I said earlier, I’m striving to be more like Jesus and share His message of love and hope and forgiveness with those hurting and broken.  So I think Jesus would hang out with poker players so I choose to do the same.  That doesn’t make me better than other people it just means that I’m there in their moment of pain to try to help in whatever way I can.  Does that get misunderstood by other pastors and Christians from time to time…sure…but the amount of people I’ve been able to help and counsel has been far worth the criticism I’ve received.

If you’re reading this and need help, need prayer or have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can reach me at gilbert@exponentialchurch.tv, gilbert@gilbertthurston.com or @YourPokerPastor

15 – Any shout outs you’d like to make, or motivational interview exit quotes?

First, I ‘d like to thank my sponsor Heads Up Poker Gear, who signed me to a deal last November.  They have great apparel and other stuff. Check out their site at www.HUPGPoker.comUse code GILBERTHUPG for 10% off.

Next, I want to thank the 3 guys who have helped and coached me the most the past few years.  DrewPeacoq8 (John Gonzalez), Gags30 (Mike Gagliano) and TheAssassinato (Alex Fitzgerald).  Each of the these guys have their own unique style of coaching but yet all of them provided exactly what I needed when I needed it. I especially want to thank John who has become a great friend and was the inspiration behind my July run.

Third, a shout-out to Vince and all that gang at YP and the Varsity Poker League.

Finally and most importantly a shout out to my wife Lisa.  She is super supportive and loves to watch me play as we watch TV together in the evening…although anything more than 4 tourney’s at a time stresses her out since I’m playing on my laptop and it’s a bunch of windows to keep track of.  We are very fortunate to be able to spend all day every day together and we love each other more and more as each year passes by.  She is so awesome and I pray that all marriages could be as wonderful as ours.

As for an exit quote, one of my favorites is, “Be careful of who you become in the pursuit of what you want”.  Life is not about you becoming a top-ranked poker player.  It’s not about getting the raise, bonus, promotion, house, car, kids onto the right soccer team or the myriad of other things we so often pursue with our lives.  Many people “sell-out” who they are to get these things and then once they have them…they’re not satisfied.  So they chase after the next bigger, better, shinier thing thinking that if I can just get “it”, then I’ll be satisfied.  The problem is, “it” can break, “it” can get stolen, “it” can wear out, “it” will no longer be trendy…”it” never satisfies.  So again, “Be careful of who you become in the pursuit of what your want”.  To me life isn’t so much about doing as it is about becoming.  And my goal is to become more like Jesus and Jesus summed up the goal essentially with these words, “Love God and Love People”.   That’s what I’m pursuing…I hope and pray it becomes your pursuit as well.

Thanks again to the BetOnDrew community for having me for this interview.  Again please let me know how I may serve you in poker or in life!

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We hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as we did.  So much solid and unique insight.  We hope all of you can find the value in these words and take your life and poker game to the next level!

Cheers!

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