Lee Davy sits down with Daniel Dvoress to get his thoughts on motivation, rationality, and much more.
At the back end of January, Dani Stern, Isaac Haxton, and Daniel Dvoress represented the PokerStars community when they sat down with the senior team at Amaya Gaming, to talk about the recent changes they had made to the VIP program.
Of the three, I didn’t know a lot about Dvoress, so I reached out to him to see if he would be up for answering a lot of personal questions? Fortunately, for fans of poker, he said yes.
Grab a cup of tea, sit down, and learn what goes on inside the mind of one of the games great poker players.
Can you start by giving me the elevator pitch on who Daniel Dvoress is and how you fell in love with poker?
“I fell in love with poker back in high school. My high school was a bit odd in that it was in a very affluent neighborhood, but about a quarter of the kids, myself included, were commuting from elsewhere because the school offered a French program. During my last year of school, I found out there was a daily game at lunch in the school cafeteria, which happened to involve some of the local kids that had (very relative) money to spare. I was naturally intrigued. Luckily my high school friends happened to be math nerds, so with their help, it didn’t take long for me to start making some lunch money.
“In university poker dwindled out of life for a bit as I initially thought I’d end up working in the psychology field. Unfortunately, over time, I started to become disappointed in the program. My disappointment coincided with the realization that I had a build-up of student loans. I finished my psychology program and began to play poker to take care of my loans while shifting my focus in school towards math. Very quickly I fell in love with poker again. I developed a genuine interest in the game, and was fascinated by how things learned through poker can be applied to other facets of life. Poker helped me develop rationality and got me to intuitively understand just how much luck and variance there is in all aspects of life – whether it be getting that job opportunity or meeting your significant other. Through poker, I’ve learned to embrace that.
“Outside of poker, I have several hobbies. In part, I live for the outdoors – fishing, hiking, survival camping, scuba diving, mountain biking – if it’s outside and active I’ll like it. I’ve also recently started getting into the EDM scene and picked up DJing – it lets me be expressive and creative when often poker doesn’t have that benefit.”
What desires or needs do you have in the world?
“Being constantly challenged, independence, and happiness.”
What problems do you find difficult to overcome in life?
“I sometimes find myself in a negative cycle where I’m beating myself up over something or the other. This can be surrounding motivation, a series of poor minor decisions, or something difficult that’s upcoming. The good thing is that the solution is often an extremely easy one – it’s the first step of implementation that’s hard. The bad thing is that the simplicity of the solution often perpetuates the cycle of negativity – because I get frustrated at myself since I begin to think that I should know better than to be in that state. I’ve gotten much better with this over time, but it’s still a work in progress.
“These hang-ups likely stem from being overly analytical, as well as having a strong intolerance towards irrationality. The latter is important because in-the-moment wants and desires are often irrational, so that gets the ball rolling for me being hard on myself about having those irrational thoughts in the first place.”
What keeps you awake at night?
“It tends to be the small things falling into two categories: me feeling that I’ve wronged someone, and me feeling afraid that I didn’t make (or won’t make) a rational/optimal decision (often having to do with some inconsequential thing). The bigger stuff hasn’t ever kept me awake at night because I’ve always felt that for me when it comes to larger issues rational decision making gets combined with more primal thought processes and everything sorts itself out. I should embrace the saying “don’t sweat the small stuff”.”
Describe your thoughts and feelings when considering the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels?
“Sadness with some anger mixed in. Not anger that’s directed at anyone, but the kind you feel when you are powerless in a bad situation that you can’t resolve.”
What do you value most in the world?
“Honestly, especially with one’s self.”
What do you fear?
“On a grand scale, that we won’t have a planet to live on a few decades from now. Or at least a world we would want to live on.
On a personal level, I can’t think of any large, constant fears. All the fears I have tend to be particular to a given situation.”
What motivates you?
“Motivation has always been a funny thing for me in that I’ve never had a huge thing or factor driving me. I often hear things like: “I want to make a million dollars”, or “want to be top 10 in the world at X,” or “want to achieve Y position at Z company and provide a stable future for my family”. All of those sound funny to me – not because they are bad or wrong, but because I just can’t relate to a mindset like that. I know external factors couldn’t motivate me. For me, motivation has always been about challenging myself to the max with whatever I’m doing, and being motivated for me is self-perpetuating: a habit. Of course, the problem with this is that during a rough patch there isn’t an external factor to help you out – the only thing you have to get yourself back on track is you.”
What are you unwilling to compromise on?
What do people tend to learn about you in the first hour of meeting you?
“Aside from that, I’m a poker player; people learn fairly quickly not to ask me a question that I can potentially turn open-ended unless they are prepared and have the desire for a long-winded answer. I tend to think and analyze a bit too much.”
What are the parts of your nature that take a little longer for people to work out?
“Often I tend to come on very strong and come off as harsh and blunt. Generally, if I speak about a topic I’ve thought about it in depth, so the way I say things surrounding that issue can be overly direct and intense, which can be off-putting to people. As a result, it takes a while for certain people to figure out that I don’t take myself very seriously, and that despite being opinionated I’m non-judgmental and empathetic.”
Family or friends?
“Both. I’ve always believed that your friends are the family that you get to choose, but family has a special place, and I feel that with family the threshold should be set higher for things like putting in the effort to maintain relationships, supporting each other, and forgiveness.”
When were you most disappointed in yourself?
“There isn’t/aren’t any big single events in my life that I’m disappointed with. I’ve made some bad decisions in the past, some with life-altering consequences (thankfully only affecting myself), but I don’t particularly regret them.
“I do find I’m disappointed with myself on a semi-regular basis, but it’s always with smaller things, and almost always because of some decision where I really should have known better and either didn’t trust myself or neglected to use the knowledge that was immediately available to me. One might argue that being aloof when it comes to big slip-ups, but giving yourself a hard time with the smaller stuff is irrational and not very useful, but I disagree. Certainly if your large slip-ups are systematic, that needs to be resolved. But I find focusing your efforts on improving higher frequency mistakes which can be corrected is a lot more useful. Now clearly there’s the implication that disappointment in yourself leads to improvement and resolution. That’s a bit of a leap and not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that if you structure it correctly and inject some positivity, being disappointed in yourself can be a very powerful motivational tool to make some great changes.”
What was the newest thing you have learned in life?
“Putting smaller things aside, something that I’ve come to realize over time is that people that are very successful at something, or are in important, high-up positions are not necessarily the most competent. This isn’t at all to take away from people who have had success – as achieving success on a big scale always requires hard work. But I used to think that if someone is the CEO of a large company, they are necessarily in the top .1% (figuratively) for that position. Or if I saw a coach behind the bench of an NHL team, I would think that are necessarily one of the world’s elites regarding hockey knowledge, and on top of that the top .1% of the population regarding interpersonal skills.
“As I’ve had more life experience I’ve come to realize that this is simply not true – while skill is a significant component in attaining success or obtaining a particular position, other factors such as luck and networking play a huge role. Earlier I talked about how things learned in poker transfer to other aspects of life, and this is a good example. As I’ve moved up the stakes, I began seeing that there isn’t a direct correlation between someone’s skill level and the stakes they play. Or another more broad poker example is that the best players are not necessarily making the most money. Understanding one industry deeply and intuitively helped me understand others that I was not familiar with, and helped me develop a more objective world view.
“On a related note, another thing that I used to think that I’ve learned not be true is that people who have gained success necessarily optimize everything. I used to think things like “professional athletes don’t drink a lot” and “pro poker players that play high rollers always make sure to get good sleep the night before.” Realizing that this isn’t true is important because it shows the way you can get an edge both in poker and in life.
“Thinking about the answer I gave, both points are more about eradicating false beliefs and biases, rather than learning something new, but I’d like to keep my answer. I’ve found that often getting rid of false knowledge is more useful than acquiring new knowledge.”
What is the single worst thing about living at this time in history?
“People are forgetting that we are social beings and living entirely behind their phones and computers. I was originally going to answer with the overwhelming rise of apathy, but having thought about it more the answer I gave is a very likely cause of said apathy (perhaps because living life from behind a screen distances a person from the real world), so I’m going with it.”
And the best?
“That one can learn about anything at will. People don’t appreciate this enough. At no other time in history has there been such easy access to so much information. There isn’t a single topic that one can’t explore in depth, for free, and satisfy the biggest desires for knowledge. Most people don’t take advantage of this. The lack of curiosity amongst people boggles my mind.”
If I gave you 10,000 hours to work on anything what would it be and why?
“I’d go to school and study philosophy and math as they apply to decision making. Then I’d give a go at writing a book on decision making or a related sub-topic that would be accessible to the layperson. I feel like rational decision making using math and philosophy seems alien, foreign and inaccessible to many people, and this would be a chance to change that, as well as give something back and hopefully improve the world.”
Give my 15-year old son some advice on life.
“1. Things are going to go wrong. There is no way to go through your teens without times where it seems like it’s the end of the world and everything is wrong. None of it will matter in a few years.
2. Listen to people with more experience than you.
3. Career wise, pursue what you love. If you are not internally motivated by something, you will not have results, regardless of how much money it makes, what prestige it carries, or how much others want you to do it.
4. Only a few things matter in life. Two of those things are your health and your social circle, including your family. Make both right.”