Calvin Anderson: A conversation with one of the best all-around Tournament players in the World.

Calvin Anderson is well known in the poker community and is considered one of the best all-around Tournament players in the World.

Calvin Anderson - Photo WSOP
Calvin Anderson – Photo WSOP

This year, he almost captured his 2nd WSOP Bracelet in the $ 1,111 No Limit Hold’em Little One for One Drop. Instead he finished runner-up for $ 324,597. But it’s really at the online tables that he built the biggest part of his career.

According to PocketFives, Anderson has been named the World’s No. 1 Poker Player in Online Tournaments eight times. He has also captured a record of earning 7 SCOOP titles. His accumulated online tournament earnings have now reached a total of nearly $7M.

Gaelle Jaudon brings us this exclusive interview from Las Vegas.

Somuchpoker: It seems you’re a unique case in the poker world. You said you have never been backed or have never sold action, which is very unusual, especially with the variance in the tournament game. Why this decision and how do you handle it?

Calvin Anderson: One of the big reasons is that I know that I play differently with other people’s money. I want to take responsibility of my actions and I guess it’s a big theme in my own life – to be responsible for all the actions that I take. Everybody has that reality. That’s true no matter what. Whenever you’re doing good or bad, your life and who you are is represented by the actions you make. I never really enjoyed using other people’s money. I felt better having all the responsibility. It is a question of mindset, I guess.

Same thing with the coaching thing. I like to give free advice rather than being paid for it because I really want to keep my integrity. I started from the bottom. I started playing poker from a young age. I was more so reading people and understanding the odds, so I think I’m a really good educated guesser, like I’m really good at prop bets usually. I started really low and experienced all the stakes all the way up, which also explains why I’m good at coaching because I’ve been at every game on every level from the lower to most of the higher stakes. It never really called for that because as I was getting better. I was able to be higher and it built up with my bankroll. There was never a reason to sell action and I also had a lot of self-confidence, so it didn’t make sense for me to do it.

SMP: All the games are evolving quickly, how do you manage to stay at the best level in all those types of games?

C.A: Honestly, I actually don’t study that much but I would say there is a lot of things that I do better than a lot of other people, like being really focused in the moment, being able to read people etc… I really did play a lot and that’s how I learned.

Some people learn through studying a lot and reading books. But understanding yourself and realizing how you learn the best is better. The more experience I get, the better I become.

I can remember all the spots I played. Since I played so many games, like many heads ups, sit n’ gos, cash games, tournaments etc… the more experience you have in shorter handed the better off you typically are. I think I was really ahead of the curve from 2009 to 2014. And since 2014, in my opinion, my game stayed almost the same and I think other people are starting to catch up. So I’m actually working more on health, mindset and spirituality more than actual strategy of poker. For me it became less exciting and I think you have to follow your excitement so I stopped studying poker about 3 years ago. And currently, I’m not watching any poker content at all.

Somuchpoker: That was actually my next question. You evolved a lot through the last years and focused on having an healthy lifestyle. How was it so important for you in your career and how much do you think poker and health and mindset are related? 

C.AI’m vegan now. A big reason is that whenever you’re winning in anything you’re doing, you have to have a strong reason for doing it. You cannot succeed without knowing the reason why you’re doing it. You have to have a ”why”. If you go and play, why are you playing? If people are doing it for the wrong reasons, then the universe is not really going to reward them for that, I think.

For me playing poker and winning money has a strong meaning. And being vegan and not putting myself above any other animal and being selfless is better for the planet and for so many other reasons. On top of it, when we look at in on a health level, it gives you so much more mental clarity. Many dairy products cause inflammations, for example, and there is more and more research and proof about how meat is super bad for you. I think in like in a hundred years it will be really normal to be vegan and maybe even illegal to eat meat. It could be hard right now for people to believe it, but I have done a lot of research on it and it helped me to put myself in the right space so I can really be in the moment. When I look at the tournament I’m in right now, for example, there is that guy who is eating a massive hotdog. That is just so bad for your focus… mental clarity… it produces so much hormones and sugar and it’s messing with your head and your ability to think.

You just have to find the balance. Getting back to health, nature, sunlight, balancing all the chakras and clearing your mind is definitely the key. And especially here during WSOP, we are in the desert and dehydration is huge. That is where most of the sickness comes from and the main key is to stay as healthy as possible.

SMP: How different are you as a player now from 5 or 10 years ago? What changed?

C.AAt the beginning I was just very experimental. I took a lot of shots for a lot of money to do what I was trying to do and, as I was getting better and better, I just stopped experimenting and start going with my reads. When someone raised, at the beginning, I used to call because I wanted to know what they had and I expected to lose most of time. I didn’t really care because I was learning so much. When you experiment you raise a lot of hands and see how people react and, as time goes on and I find new skills, you start thinking “Ok I shouldn’t raise this hand or I shouldn’t play like that”. That was the big difference, some people play tighter and just raise some hands, where I chose to raise every single hand and then learned after not to do it all the time. So it’s kind of the opposite but I think being more aware and getting experience, in general, picking up on patterns and thinking about what you’re doing is a good way to learn.

I think a lot of people don’t take the time, at the end of the day, to think about their play, or even after the hand, asking “what did I do right or what did I do wrong”. People are too result oriented and if they win the hand they think it was the right play, and if they lost that, it was the wrong play, which is a real mistake. You have to step back and be the observer of the observer, taking some distance and being outside of that is the best way to do it. Being able to judge from an unbiased view point is an ability that very few people have.

SMP: Another interesting aspect in your career is that you choose not to play high and super high roller, when you actually have the bankroll and the ability to play them. Can you explain this choice?

C.AFor me there is quite a low ROI. The majority of people play for a very few percentage, sometimes like 5% and for a lot of people it’s more about the fame. And I have never really cared about that. It has never been my purpose of playing poker, I didn’t get backed. I played very low stakes for a long time. My graph of winning has been pretty slowly and steadily moving up. I never really played too big and it never really made sense to do it. It always made more sense to work on the skills set that I have versus medium level players or bad players. When you play a good player versus another good player there is just a small edge and I don’t see the reason to put a lot of money to try to create a small edge. For example, in this WSOP $1500 RAZZ tournament, let’s say I expect my ROI is 200% and when you break that down it makes 300K, and when you put yourself in a 100K tournament and if you win it, you maybe take 100K with the 5% that you have for the same amount of time. So why risk so much money with so much variance?

And I also don’t like having to sell to a lot of people and be in that kind of situation. It doesn’t make sense to me. Sometimes some high rollers are good to play but, in general, I don’t think it’s the smartest thing to do. I’d rather play more unexperienced people.

SMP: You’re considered to be one of the best players in the world. Alexandre Luneau told us in a french radio show that for him you were the best tournament player, do you have any pride about this and how do you manage to stay humble?

C.AObviously I really appreciate that and I think Alexandre is one of, if not the best, high stakes mixed games player in the world and I‘m sure that if he could put more time in tournaments he could do it too. But his skill set allows him to make more money at those levels. If he could put as much time and experience into tournaments as I did, he would be as good, or better, than me probably. But I have to say that I don’t consider myself to be the best tournament player. I would maybe consider myself as the most well-rounded or one of the most well-rounded because I just play on all the formats and I understand ICM.

I also have a lot of teaching experience, and I think that teaching gives you another level of understanding of the game that you can’t experience unless you do it.

I read that you retain 90% of information when you teach, but you only retain like 20% when you are learning, so I think it’s a very productive way to be better, as productive as all the experience I got by playing. Like I said, I take responsibility for everything that I do and I have played so much for so many years that it explains why I have a deep understanding of the game.

SMP: What are the goals you already accomplished and what are your new ones?

C.AEarlier in my career it was a prestigious goal of mine to be number one on pocket fives so I played pretty hard until I achieved that, but it’s not really a big deal to me anymore. I never really had goals in mind like winning a bracelet or a prestigious tournament like the other guys. For me it’s just about making money, enjoying the game, and being able to play and teach others. But even if I’m not a goal oriented person, I always try to do my best at whatever I’m doing. I’m not going into each tournament with expectations and dreams. It’s just about trying to play my best and be there in the moment. So I’ll say that my goal is just to be present in the moment, continue to work hard, study, teach and be open minded as much as I can. It’s more a daily goal and as long as you keep that mindset I think you are going to do great things. The results are just the product of that mentality, I would say.

Calvin Anderson - Cal42688 on PokerStars
Calvin Anderson – Cal42688 on PokerStars

SMP: As you said before, you focus more and more on health and meditation. Did it change your vision of the poker world? How do you feel about the fact that it’s a very selfish game?

C.ASure, veganism is very selfless, and in poker you also have to be selfish to be successful, so it’s a weird situation.

I read a book called “Give and Take” and it talks about the 3 categories of people- the givers, the takers, and the matchers and why our interactions with others hold the key to success. Your success is dependent on how you interact with each others. You have to be the observer of yourself, and through meditation it helps you to take yourself out of who you are and not being attached to outcomes and be proactive. It gives you better perspectives. The poker world can be pretty savage sometimes. And as far as food goes, it’s all about being lighter. I think, it’s a question of awareness, you have to be aware of what you eat. A lot of people eat bad after, before, or during tournaments and it doesn’t give them the ability to be able to feel energetic and focused. It actually takes energy instead of giving it. When you step back and look at the poker world, obviously, you realize how selfish it can be, but as you go through it, you just have to try to hold on to people who aren’t and spend more time with the good people.

SMP: A very interesting part of your character too is that you play a lot at gambling games like blackjack or roulette, which seems in opposition with your disciplined personality and lifestyle. How do you explain this and do you think you can have a real edge on those games?

C.A: Yeah, it’s true. Obviously I’m not perfect and I’m a gambler in a lot of ways. I think I don’t value money much, but If I can find an opportunity where I can make money or gamble I usually take it for stakes that are in my bankroll in general. I like playing roulette, blackjack or Texas Holdem Bonus, for example, and I know that for an average person who doesn’t usually play those games, it’s super minus EV to play. For me, a lot of times, the dealers are gonna make mistakes in your favor and, in certain games and in certain places, you can really find an edge. I’m not going to name places, but the dealers flash all cards or they pay you back when they’re not supposed to. They make a lot of mistakes and then when you also include the comps and the free rooms or food, it’s not a big negative to gamble some. So yes you can find an edge, but I definitely don’t recommend to play. I’m a special type of person, I still gamble but it’s also a question of paying attention, and I really don’t want to tell people that they can play and gamble. Some people play those games and they can beat the house, but it’s really a very low percentage.

SMP: Do you see yourself as a poker pro for a long time or you want to focus on other projects?

C.ALately I’ve been working on stuff like how the universe works and operates, and I’ve been listening to people like Mark Passio, Jonathan Amaret, or Sevan Bomar. I would say it’s those kind of people I look up too because I think they ask the right questions. There is a long list of spiritual teachers that understand the natural law and how our energy and the universe works. So I’m kind of working on that now and the key for me is to understand what it all means on a really deep level. So I’m not working on specific projects, I’m just really trying to invest a lot of time into myself, my health, my consciousness, etc.

As long as I do that I’ll find people that are enlightened and I’ll find good opportunities in the future. For me it’s not about having a specific goal and project, but more just to keep moving in the right direction and then knowing that good things will happen.

SMP: Who are the players you respect the most today?

C.A: I think there is a pretty big difference between my thoughts on this and most other peoples’ thoughts. I think everybody who can beat the game is a good player. I think that I also succeeded because I know what I’m good at and what I’m not. The understanding of that is a huge key. I actually respect Timex for what’s he’s doing with Pokershares. I think he’s really adding value to the poker community, as he’s approaching poker from a different angle and making things a little bit more balanced and more fair. I admire people who are trying to start poker sites and bringing people to the game and teaching as well. I think that what Doug Polk is doing is really good. He’s a really good entertainer and is teaching a lot of good knowledge.

If we are talking about just pure talent, obviously I would say players like Alex Luneau, or Matt Ashton. I respect a lot of the high stakes mixed games players because it takes such a good mind to learn all of the games. I just like people who try to hit poker from multiples angles and take poker in a different way than just grinding. I think there are so many lessons to take away from poker and it can be related to so many other things that it’s a bit selfish to just play poker and to only use your skills when you play. If you’re really smart I think it’s not fair to not share your talent and make the world a better place in your vision, no matter what your vision is. Those are the types of people I look up to.


Interview by Gaelle Jaudon. French version available on

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Gaelle Jaudon

Travelling and working in the poker industry for 8 years, Gaelle is working on a regular basis for different poker media in Europe and the US such as for the live reporting, club poker radio where she does live interview of poker personalities, somuchpoker and also as a freelance event manager for the WPT. Originally from Paris, she has a master degree in journalism and marketing.

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