Wednesday , July 20 , 2011
The CR Spotlight is an interview where we feature a member with a compelling story. From rags-to-riches successes to tales of triumphing in major events, the CR Spotlight provides a unique look at some of the people around our community.
CardRunners member Kurt Fraser sat down with Alex Huang to share his story.
How did you get introduced to the game of poker?
Much like the rest of the poker world, I was introduced to the game around the same 2002/2003 boom era. I spent a summer or two playing in home games with a group of friends from high school, which included none other than Green Plastic himself. As the story goes, Taylor got into playing online shortly after and started making a lot of money. As a result, it drew a lot of his friends to the online poker felt to see if they could even come close to replicating his success.
How has poker played a role in your life?
I’ll try not to rant too much on poker’s financial impact on my life, because I feel like success stories are a dime a dozen these days. But, it has definitely served as a major source of income for me since graduating college in 2008. I had majored in finance, and because of the economy, that status alone meant a bleak job market outlook. I think I interviewed and got turned down a good 15 times that year, before deciding that poker would be my new occupation. With that being said, I’m not sure I see myself playing poker full-time forever, but it has since been good to me, so for now, I will continue to roll with the punches.
Aside from an income standpoint, poker has, more recently, been an escape for me. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, and it progressed at a rapid pace, unfortunately taking her from us in early 2010. My grandfather also passed a few months later. These events really changed the way I value life and see the world. And while poker has taught me immeasurable discipline skills that translate to real life, no amount of emotional suppression can prepare you for taking life’s worst bad beat, the loss of a loved one. But, it has been poker that has helped keep me at bay, and kept my mind off painful thoughts. It has also helped to remind me that times of losing money cannot even compare to what it feels like to truly lose.
Did you feel your play or thoughts were clouded by all the other bad stuff happening away from the felt? How did you persevere?
As far as whether or not my decision making abilities were affected by everything that was going on off the felt, I would have to say fortunately not. Part of being a professional is about maintaining composure through disaster. However, I would say that it did keep me in a conservative mode. I put in a lot less hours because I just didn’t feel like playing or was attending to family things. I was also always afraid that if I went on a bad run, my emotions might get the best of me, so I was somewhat reluctant to take chances and shots at higher stakes. Looking back, I don’t regret those decisions. I still played enough to make money and live off of, but sometimes there are more important things in life than poker. So, when in doubt, you should always take a step back from the game.
Nowadays, I kind of have a more risk-seeking mindset. I almost feel as if some of life’s worst experiences make you really see how short life can be. So I would really recommend to anyone to take some chances that you can afford when you are young. It doesn’t mean being reckless; it just means you shouldn’t sell your potential short. Doing so can help you live a fulfilled life and launch you for the future, even if it means losing sometimes. The last year and a half has kind of gone that way for me. Last year I tried out for American Idol and played in my first major live tournament in years...at least the latter worked out for me, haha. So, now this year I am trying to play in a major live tournament every month, on average. It gets me out of the house, and it is always nice to be on vacation and at work at the same time.
Can you describe your Heartland Poker Tour Win?
Winning the Heartland Poker Tour in November was a very special moment for me. It is, no doubt, every poker player’s dream to be the last man standing in a major, televised tournament. But, what made it so special wasn’t the fact that it was a big payday, or that it was the first live tournament I had played in 3 years. It was, instead, the feeling of unity that I got from victory. It didn’t just seem like I won that day; it was my family and my friends who won as well. 2010 was, emotionally, the most difficult year to date for myself and for my family after the passing of my mom and grandfather earlier in the year. The tribute to them and to my family meant more to me than the prize or the glory that came from finishing first. I came into the final table of 6 with just 5% of the total chips in play, but I battled back and never gave up. It’s as if the moment told everyone that, through perseverance, “happy days do come again.” With so much bad luck, you hope and pray that there can only be good luck left. A few days later, my first nephew was born. It was truly a magical week.
What experience do you have in online play?
I started playing online poker in 2003, but my climb is somewhat different when compared to the typical online geek. Unfortunately, I was not one of the nosebleed sensations who turned their initial $50 deposit into millions and never looked back. I was just a recreational college sit and go player, but I was a break even player at best in terms of skill and a losing player when it came to managing a bankroll. I’d say I was a losing player for a good 2-3 years before finally deciding to take a year off from the game. I took that year to save up some money I could actually afford to lose, and I started thinking more about the game strategically. It was also around that time (2006-2007) that CardRunners became a popular force in the poker community. Since I already had a great deal of respect for Taylor’s game, I thought it was a great opportunity to get some extra insight. I began playing low stakes cash heads up on UltimateBet in 2007, and steadily moved to as high as 5-10NL and 10-25NL heads up within a year. After UB got rocked with scandals and Full Tilt and PokerStars started to become more popular, I switched sites in 2008. It was around then that games started to become a lot tougher, so the last few years I’ve found it more comfortable playing mid-stakes, such as 2-4/3-6 NL. In the wake of Black Friday, I have found myself transitioning to live cash and major live tournaments.
How has CardRunners impacted your development as a player?
CardRunners has had a tremendous impact on the way I think about the game. I know that most videos made nowadays input the commentary after a session is played, like through a replayer. However, I use to really enjoy watching some of the earlier “raw” live session videos where instructors had to essentially tell you their thought process in that moment and during the heat of the action. For some reason, I always felt like it was easier to connect emotionally to situations and decision-making because of this, even if doing commentary can be a slight distraction. But, it was Taylor who taught me about psychology, timing tells, and knowing what level your opponent is thinking on; Cole taught everyone about hand ranges and reverse implied odds; and for rarely flatting out of position preflop and everything else, there’s always Brian Townsend (half-joking of course). But really, CardRunners has been blessed to have talented instructors who can also explain what they are doing in a way that most players can relate to.
You mentioned that you don’t plan to play poker forever. Did you ever consider Black Friday as a possible moment to “get out”?
Much like every other poker player these last 2 months, I have put a great deal of thought behind the future of my poker career, amidst the online collapse of Black Friday.
I have thought about leaving poker and moving on to other things, as well as seeing this as a positive event for the near term. Although legislation is always a lengthy process, I will say that it is more foreseeable than not that online poker could become legalized within the next year or two. So, because of that, there is huge potential for making money if the playing field is reset. Of course this is still a big if and it is possible that it might not happen. Therefore, I have decided to put myself in a sort of 2 year time frame. I am going to turn to live poker, something I have never pursued full-time before. I am confident that I can excel in live, and that there may currently be more money in it than online due to the softer fields. With that being said, if 1-2 years from now there is no legalized online poker, and live poker isn’t going so hot, I will probably look elsewhere for work.
I’d be foolish not to ask you for a Green Plastic story. Can you share with the readers a good one?
A good Green Plastic story, ha. Well, I’m not sure I can think of a very elaborate one off the top of my head, but I got a few funny tidbits that poker players would definitely appreciate. It is to no surprise that Taylor has always surrounded himself in competitive environments; so much of what I know about him is through being on the same sports teams, as well as opposing ones throughout middle school and high school. I remember a bunch of friends prop betting a somewhat out-of-shape Taylor senior year of high school that he couldn’t run a 200 meter dash in under 30 seconds. It was a fairly popular proposition, because I remember a lot of people going out to the track after school to watch. Unfortunately, Taylor was victorious.