Mike Gorodinsky’s View on Contribution, Gambling and The Future of Online Poker

Mike Gorodinsky’s View on Contribution, Gambling and The Future of Online Poker

Lee Davy sits down with the 2015 World Series of Poker Player of the Year to ascertain his views on a broad range of subjects including contribution, gambling, and the future of online poker.

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As the 2015 World Series of Poker (WSOP), Player of the Year (POY) Mike Gorodinsky will forever be a part of poker’s legacy. This interview should have taken place in Vegas, but after Mike told me that he had very few chips and would likely bust the Main Event he went on to finish in 87th place.

It was only his second cash of the series a year after winning two bracelets. I find out that’s because he spent most of his time in Bobby’s Room playing mixed games with the likes of Doyle Brunson, Jennifer Harman, and David Oppenheim.

In this interview we yap about his beginnings in poker, learning from the best, his views on the future of online poker, and a whole lot more. What follows is an abridged version of the full audio, and I strongly suggest that’s where you spend your time.

How did you get into poker?

“I honestly don’t have a distinct memory of playing poker with my parents or anything when I was younger. I think it started when I was watching the ESPN broadcasts during the Moneymaker run. My group of friends in High School started playing, and it grew from there.”

Was there ever life before poker?

“My life before poker was a typical adolescent teen life. Poker was always a part of my existence during college.”

What were your aspirations back then?

Mike Gorodinsky’s View on Contribution, Gambling and The Future of Online Poker“I always wanted to become a teacher, perhaps at High School or Elementary school level. Poker has sidetracked that a little bit. I have spent so much time in poker at this point I would like to keep playing and see how far up the food chain I could go.”

At what point do you feel you will be able to leave poker?

“I don’t have a professional benchmark goal. There’s a set monetary amount that when I hit it, I would stop playing as extensively as I do now. I don’t know what that limit it. I believe I will recognise it when I reach it. At the moment I am having fun playing in all the games.”

What is the primary motivation for you? Is it money or love of the game?

“Both, mostly the latter, especially, the last year before going to Vegas I spent a lot of time playing online in some tough games. I was knowingly taking slightly the worse of it in some lineups just for the opportunity of getting better, learning, and mimicking the better players. I like playing with the best.”

You said in an email exchange that early doors you often ended up in games where you was a dog, talk about that mindset.

“At times I was doing it unknowingly and just not properly evaluating the games I was playing in. Sometimes when I am playing comparably lower stakes, it’s worthwhile to learn. I will be making money long term, losing in the smaller game because I will be winning bigger live and it turns into a better hourly. I like poker, and it’s interesting for me to learn a game by playing with better players.”

Mimicking is a good strategy for beginners right?

“It’s a good stepping stone. The reality is that not everyone has the time, energy, or skillset to figure out the game organically. A good alternative is to watch the greatest players, figure out their lines, and incorporate them into your play.”

Who are the players who have affected your game the most?

“I have never watched a lot of training videos. I plotted my own course when I was younger. In the last year, I have modelled my short handed game on Alex Kostritsyn, especially in the Stud Games.”

Who are your inspirations in life?

“I know it’s a cliche, but my parents are a big inspiration for me. They are first generation immigrants to the States, and they have sacrificed so much so my brother and I can have a comfortable life. Poker is an easy life; I don’t take it for granted, but I am grateful that my parents set this up for me.”

Where are they from?

“I was born in Russia. My mother is Ukrainian. My Dad is from Russia. He moved to Israel in the late 80s. He got a position in a university but there was also a Jewish persecution at the time, and we have a Jewish last name, and so my Mum, brother and I followed to Israel then eventually to America.”

Do you remember that period of your life?

“My first memories of Israel are going to preschool, talking Russian to the locals and eating a lot of bananas.”

Do you still speak Russian?

“I do. I always leave Vegas with my Russian so much better because there are a lot of Russians who play high stakes, and I choose to speak to them in Russian because it’s good training for me.”

When I think of those countries the word ‘tough’ comes to mind, how did those cultures help shape who you are?

“I have had a cushy life in the States. I am organically American. I had my whole childhood here. But I am acutely aware of how much harder it was for my parents. When I get down about poker, my gratitude always helps me deal with the emotion. It’s easy to get back to a tranquil place by thinking like that.”

What is your view on poker and gambling in general?

“My general philosophy in life is that people should have the ability to think and act for themselves. I have been lucky in the sense that I moved up the stakes quickly when I was younger and have played the nosebleeds ever since. I never feel sorry busting a pro player. For the recreational players who lose significant sums at the High Stakes, it’s easier to swallow because they are very successful and wealthy people who are comfortable losing the money. They treat poker as a recreational pursuit.

“I am grateful I don’t play $2/$5 and $5/$10 where you may have people playing with money they can’t afford to lose. I guess ignorance is bliss for me. I’m unsure how I would deal with it playing at that level day to day, but I have a feeling I would find it more draining.”

So how did the cash game grinder reach the pinnacle of the tournament world?

“Last summer was a blast. Going on a massive tournament rush was great. Playing for a lot of money at the end of a tournament where all the tension is the pinnacle of poker. There is a part of my ego that wants to say I worked hard and trained every day, but it was a random bump of variance that went my way. I was playing well; I was in a good relationship at the time and my girlfriend at the time was out there. I was happy and fulfilled in other areas of my life. For the poker part, the cards came together; I was playing well, and it all worked out for me.”

Talk to me about your 2016 WSOP experience.

“The plan was to go into it, fire off the first few events, if I did well, play tournaments and see if I could go back to back. If not I would play cash. I bubbled the first few $10ks and the games in Bobby’s Room were great. I played a ton of hours playing High Stakes Mixed Cash. I would sign up for the $10ks with 2-5 hours left on Day 1 where the structure is fast, and you can only play a few hands. I bumped up the variance for the tournaments and played a lot of hours in the cash. I ran a little bad, didn’t play great in the tournaments, and that’s representative of my lack of results.”

What was that Main Event run like?

“It was fun. I ran so hot during the Main it was crazy. It was a blast. I had fun tables, and the amount of international media buzz in that tournament was unique and its good to be a part of. I think the next day after I busted would have been the first real hectic media crazy day, maybe someday in the future, I will get to play through that too.”

What’s your view on the future of online poker?

“Online poker is doomed in my eyes and has been for years. It’s good that the sites are catering for the recreational players, but it’s too late. The landscape is so damaged now I don’t think there is anything they can do about it. There are too many game theory optimal programs, bots; that create too big an edge for the pro over the recreational player. It’s too big a task for a site to fix this and make it a welcome environment for a random person to play recreationally. It’s too competitive right now.”

I bring up the recent expose from themadbotter on 2+2 and ask Mike for his view on the opinion of the bot expert. Particularly, when the expert said he didn’t believe his actions were cheating because he had to update his bot continually to ensure it kept ahead of the curve and that he didn’t see what he was doing as any different from online poker players who use game optimal theory programs, HUDs, etc.

“As a general statement, it’s hard to disagree with that. What I will say is a bot takes away the human element which is cheating. One of the most important aspects of playing poker professionally is having good self-discipline, and knowing when to quit, and having a bot takes that out of the game. It’s not in line with the high honoured tradition of poker. However, the main point is valid. Having always to tweak the bot is not that different to people using these high-level analytical programs to help them with their play.”

We talk about the current political state in America and the ridiculousness of Donald Trump running for President. I ask Mike how it feels to be an American today?

“I feel good. I am very lucky to be a citizen here. As far as the political process goes. It’s not great. Hillary {Clinton} is not my ideal candidate but I think {Donald} Trump is a real threat to world stability, so I don’t believe that it’s a difficult choice for me to make this political season. A lot of the complaints about Hilary are unfounded and are based on a lifetime of systematic opposition to her. I think she is an excellent political candidate; she has been involved in politics all of her life and Trump is an unhinged clown that somehow got to this point and is now a scary option for a world leader.”

I ask him what he sees when he thinks about the state of the world?

“I very actively steer clear of the media in the States being it’s overwhelmingly negative. Sometimes I can’t hurdle away from it. My thoughts are best described as overall optimistic. I think that Trump’s popularity is more a by-product of the media than actual popular opinion which hopefully resonates with the popular vote, but I could be wrong.”

So what next for the 2015 WSOP POY?

“There was a point in my life when I volunteered quite a bit but have lost that part of my life since I have been in San Diego. For the last 5-6 years, I have been living a life based on my personal happiness where I surf and go rock climbing a lot. Some community outreach is on my short list, and doing things that make me happy like surfing and rock climbing.”

I ask him what his view is on REG and the rational, logical approach to giving in comparison with Daniel Negreanu’s view on making an emotional connection when giving?

“I think I have a unique perspective on this one. I think donating a large percentage of your income when you are young isn’t the best way to do it. Assuming poverty and hunger are going to be issues throughout your life, you are better served to use your capital when you are younger and work hard and make as much as possible in your youth and contribute more when older, because I think your earning potential is better when you are younger. I don’t do a lot of outreach now for instance, but I do plan to do so in the future.”

And something tells me he will have a lot to spread around.