Jonathan Little Interview – Poker Journey and The Best Live Games Tips
Hey Jonathan, thanks for taking the time to do this interview and share your story. I am sure many players would love to hear how it all started, what you learned, and where you are heading next, so let’s start from the beginning.
Can you share your story of when did you start playing poker and how you progressed through the games and various formats?
Jonathan Little: I started playing poker in 2003 after a Magic: the Gathering tournament. One of my friends proposed we play a $1 buy-in tournament, which I promptly lost. We did this every week for a few months, and I eventually realized that like Magic and chess, poker is a skill game where the better player wins more often than not.
So, I bought a few books on poker, studied them, put $50 onto PartyPoker, and then started grinding the micro stakes limit-hold’em games.
What was the turning point when you decided to play poker more seriously?
Jonathan Little: I learned from the books to always keep a large bankroll because poker has a lot of variance, so after winning a bit initially, I always kept at least 300 big bets for limit hold’em. I was disciplined and eventually worked my way up from $.25/$.50 up to $30/$60.
After a while, I moved over to $200 buy-in sit n’ go’s and played them for the next three years, turning my initial $50 deposit into over $300,000 without any substantial risks. When I turned 21, I started playing live high buy-in tournaments on a regular basis.
Players often have different motivations to devote time to studying and improving in poker, what was yours? What inspired you to chase the poker dream?
Jonathan Little: I always strive to be the best I can be. That is it. I enjoy playing games, and the idea of being able to make significant money from a game excited me.
You have impressive live results along with two WPT titles, so I would love to ask a couple of questions dedicated to live games. Can you firstly share what do you think is the main difference between live and online settings?
Jonathan Little: The players online are much better than the players live for many reasons. This means that you have to play a more fundamentally sound strategy online, whereas you can more easily get well out of line to maximally exploit your live opponents.
This allows you to have a much higher win rate live compared to online.
The only problem is that you do not get to play nearly as many hands per hour.
I also wanted to ask about the GTO. While there is no way to win online without having a good understanding of this concept, how that applies in live games, and how is it different from an online counterpart?
Jonathan Little: GTO applies the same in both games. There is one default GTO strategy that you should actively adjust from in order to take advantage of whatever your opponents do incorrectly.
You will usually have a much better idea of what your opponent does incorrectly live compared to online.
Can you share a couple of exploitative tips to counter lower stakes players? Any specific population tendencies you can notice in today’s games?
Jonathan Little: Most small stakes players play in a relatively straightforward manner. They raise with their best-made hands, call with their marginal made hands and draws, and fold their junk.
So, when they raise you, you should fold your non-nut made hands and draws that are not getting the right price to call.
Also, small stakes players essentially never bluff raise the river, so if they raise you on the river, you should fold almost everything.
What would be your best tips for anyone looking to play more live games or even try it for the first time?
Jonathan Little: Don’t be afraid! Get in there and put in a lot of time at the table. Just be sure you study a lot before you play so you have an edge and keep a proper bankroll.
Do you take notes when playing live or use poker apps? Many players are confused if this could actually be beneficial or is just a waste of time. What is your intake on the subject?
Jonathan Little: I use a generic note app on my phone, although I have used paper and pen in the past. I am mostly concerned with my own actions so I can study difficult spots I encounter away from the table.
As for taking notes on my opponents, I keep another file in my note app that lists all my opponents’ names and the specific reads I have on them. When I get to the table, I open that, navigate to my particular opponents, and then adjust accordingly. I discuss how I take notes in this article.
I also want to discuss variance in live games. Since you play way fewer hands, it can take more time to see that win rate kicking in and lead to extended stretches of breaking even or even losing. So it can be an extra catalyst for tilting, how did you counter that over the years, and do you have any advice for newer players?
Jonathan Little: Make a point to understand the game you are voluainterly playing. Realize that you are going to go on long downswings (in terms of time, not hands) and that it should be expected.
Why would you be tilty if you know something is likely to happen?
Once you understand and accept what is possible, you will not be unhappy when it happens.
What is the biggest downswing you ever had in regards to % of your roll, and how important is bankroll management in live games?
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Jonathan Little: Bankroll management is very important.
I have never had a significant downswing in terms of my entire bankroll because I never take unjustified risks. My biggest downswing has only been about 30% of my bankroll.
Minimizing the risk of ruin is important to me (compared to maximizing my potential win rate) because going broke would be a disaster.
Do you do something differently when on a downswing? Maybe play less/more or something else that helps you? How do you deal with emotions in these situations?
Jonathan Little: I tend to study more when I am on a downswing because, presumably, when you are losing, you are playing poorly or are playing in games that are too difficult for you to beat.
I tend to assume that it is my fault when I am losing, not that I am getting unlucky.
Obviously, it is essential to see how and why you are losing. If you are actually just getting unlucky, then why would you change your strategy? Variance is part of the game. Learn to embrace it.
How do you recover after a long and hard session? Any specific hobbies or activities that help you clear the head and move on with everything else?
Jonathan Little: I am a seasoned veteran at this point in my career. I can play decently well for long periods of time for many days in a row if that is what is required of me.
That said, I enjoy working out, reading books, and generally relaxing when I finish playing a long session.
Since you are not just a poker player, but also an author, coach and even have your training site, I want to discuss the learning process, because you seem to have a lot of experience in this field. Did you have any poker coaches throughout your career?
Jonathan Little: I have had many coaches throughout my career. I have always learned from the experience of others.
Any time I learn a new game or format, I make a point to hire a coach because they are able to quickly and efficiently point me in the right direction, so I do not waste my time learning things that are not accurate or do not matter.
How did you decide to start with coaching, writing books, and helping other players? Was that a sudden decision or something that was growing inside your head for a long time?
Jonathan Little: As you learn more and more, you eventually know more than most other players, especially novices. Since so many people were willing to help me, it seems only natural to help those who are wanting to learn. I have always been willing to help those who want to better their lives through poker.
You produce a lot of high-quality videos on YouTube, have written many poker books, and own a training site. How do you manage to find time to make all of this happen?
Jonathan Little: When I am home, which is about three weeks each month now due to having two young sons, I make a point to work whenever my wife is at work, which is about nine hours each day. It turns out you can get a whole lot done if you work hard for nine hours each day!
Let’s talk more about PokerCoaching.com, how you decided to come up with a complete platform, and what is unique about it?
Jonathan Little: I realized a long time ago that most training sites simply provide videos by strong players and hope their students will learn from watching. I know that I do not learn especially well from watching, but instead by getting immediate feedback and discussing difficult spots with my coach.
So, PokerCoaching.com features over 700 interactive quizzes that test your skills and immediately tell you where you can improve.
It also features an in-depth monthly challenge that puts you in a difficult spot and asks you how to play each part of your range on each betting round. Finally, I have a team of world-class professionals who host live webinars and present classes on topics chosen by the students to ensure their specific questions are answered.
I liked that you made the site very engaging, with plenty of quizzes and homework so that players can actually improve, not just skim over the content. Do you think it actually helps learn, or is it more like a fun part?
Jonathan Little: It certainly does. You will learn a lot more by doing something than by passively observing.
Who can get the most benefit from your site?
Jonathan Little: Anyone who wants to take their skills to the next level will benefit because I have content ranging from somewhat basic to an incredibly high-level.
That said, most of my students play small and medium stakes and are working toward the point where they can make $50 per hour ($100,000 per year) from poker. So far, many have been successful in reaching that goal.
How have you studied poker 5 years ago, and how that changed up to this day?
Jonathan Little: I personally study poker in essentially the same way today as I did in the past. Whenever I have a question, I ask one of my world-class peers for advice, and they usually have the answer.
However, I realize that most players do not have my resources, which is why I made PokerCoaching.com, which gives the members access to some of the best players in the world.
What is the most effective way to learn poker strategy and continuously improve?
Jonathan Little: I suggest frequently and consistently getting immediate feedback from players who are beating the games you play in, which is exactly what I provide at my training site.
How much time do you think players should devote to studying and playing? Do you think there is some kind of ratio you should follow and how that changes over the years?
Jonathan Little: When you are new to anything, or if you are not good at something, you should spend a ton of time studying. As your skills improve and you become able to win consistently, you can start studying less.
Do you think everyone can become a good poker player and beat today’s games?
Jonathan Little: While I do not think everyone can beat the highest stakes, most people can beat small or medium stakes and make a reasonable amount of money.
Thanks a lot for sharing your intake about learning, and not let's move to the last part and discuss what's coming next. Where do you see poker going in the future? And how can this effect online and live games?
Jonathan Little: I have lots of thoughts on the future of poker. I recently released an article discussing them!
What do you think is the most important for attracting more recreational players and keeping the games?
Jonathan Little: Recreational players trade money for a good experience (and professionals trade time for money). So, it is up to the players and the poker sites to provide the recreational players with a good experience.
I am not sure exactly what recreational players are looking for, but I imagine they want to play games where they have a chance to win with lots of added bonuses for continuing to play.
That said, I am not a poker room operator, so I don’t know. It is important to know what you know and what you don’t know.
What are the biggest lessons you learned from poker over the years that now helps you in other fields?
Jonathan Little: I have learned that it is essential to know what I know and what I don’t know!
While being good at poker can make you a lot of money from poker, it does not ensure you will be good at other things.
Many poker players have lost a ton of money or time by overestimating their skills in areas besides poker. I have learned not to make that mistake.
Would you do something differently if you had to start it all over again?
Jonathan Little: I would have played even more than I did when I was young, and the games were amazingly soft. While I put in solid 12 hour days every day for 12 years, I would have put in even more.
Where do you see yourself in the future? It is all poker, baby, or you have something else in mind?
Jonathan Little: I tend to live in the present. While I am actively working to ensure I do not have to worry too much about money, I like to remain open-minded and go wherever life takes me.
I imagine I will remain in poker for the rest of my life, but only time will tell.