Done by Gaelle Jaudon in partnership with https://www.clubpoker.net/
Jon Van Fleet or otherwise known as “apestyles” has been around the online poker scene for more than a decade and has grown to be an iconic character in the poker industry. While his lifetime record of over $15 million in online tournament cashes is certainly an impressive feat, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the American pro. Hailed to be one of the greatest MTT players online, Van Fleet reestablished his life in Vancouver, Canada after Black Friday hit to continue pursuing his online poker career. It was right before this time when Van Fleet battled the likes of addiction and depression affecting much of his overall state and almost completely derailing his path to success.
In his interview with Somuchpoker’s Gaelle Jaudon in partnership with ClubPoker.net, Van Fleet takes us back to a few notable moments throughout his journey as well as his current status in line with the game. Now active in the coaching business and social media, Van Fleet shares with his fans a few thoughts on the modern changes of online poker and how he himself adapts to these.
Somuchpoker: Thank you for being with us! You have been crushing online poker for quite a long time now, you even referred to yourself as the grandpa of the poker world in an interview with Elliot Roe. Since the early 2000’s -which seems forever for online poker history, you have already been playing the biggest online MTTs. A longevity like that, especially in the highest stakes, is very much rare. What do you think kept you at the top level all those years?
JVF: Yes, since 2005 to be exact. I think initially I got lucky I met the right people who helped me elevate my game to the next level. I was merely at the right place, at the right time. I honestly, also made some really stupid decisions financially outside of poker which left me remaining hungry inspite of my early successes. I actually had to fight to come back from being buried in debt, which in my opinion might have been part of it. Those two things, as well as the ability and drive to study and work hard to continuously improve my game I believe kept me at the top.
SMP: What would you consider the worst spew you ever made?
JVF: Currently, I don’t drink anymore but there was this one night when I used to drink a lot. I got blackout drunk and went on to play ‘sauce123’ at stakes $100/$200. That night, I busted my whole $80k roll on my poker account which was really a lot to me at that moment. The next morning, I woke up and I didn’t remember anything. I thought I was hacked and started contacting the site but after looking at my poker tracker, I saw that I called off like $40k with bottom pair. I couldn’t believe it, I just went right back to bed. That was pretty hard to come back from.
I actually researched breath analyzer for computers, something that requires you to blow into it first for the computer to work but they don’t really have that yet in the market! Could be a good idea though.
SMP: You recently said on your Twitter, “2008 and 2016 were the losing years. Since 2005, all of my years have been six-figure years, even the losing ones”, which is pretty impressive.
JVF: Well yes, it was just the truth to be honest. Most of my years playing online poker I made more than $100k in tournaments but the few years that I lost, I lost really big too! It’s just the way it goes with poker.
SMP: How do you handle today as a “poker grandpa”, the different emotional states of poker life versus 10-15 years ago?
JVF: From my streams in my Twitch channel, apestylespoker, one thing viewers would often comment is that I don’t really react. I somehow managed to separate money and gameplay in my mind. All I really care about is making the right decisions. I do tilt when I make bad decisions and end up getting upset with myself. Obviously when it comes to the money, I am happier and get a bit excited when I win but overall, I have cut the highs and the lows out because if I don’t otherwise, I get crazy. You can’t get too excited or too down about results all the time especially when playing poker.
SMP: You worked on your mindset with Elliot Roe, is that right? Can you share a few thoughts on that?
JVF: Yes, Elliot has been a great supporter and has helped me a lot along the years. Back in the day, I used to be known as a battler on the tables a lot. I probably still am a little bit like that but for example, if someone reraised me I would get mad. I would think they were trying to bully me in which I would retaliate and fight back.
Occasionally, that could be good in some ways but when I did a session of hypnotism with Elliot, he brought me back to the time when I was picked on as a kid and fought back against those bullies. I realized that the pattern of reacting to aggression with the same aggression has been embedded in my personality since I was 8 years old. At the end of the session, Elliot told me “Do you really want an 8 year old you playing poker?” and it really hit me. That reminder helped me detach from the emotional side of poker and become more of a zen robot, which is what I want to be when I play.
SMP: Pokerlisting made a documentary about you entitled How a World-Class Poker Pro Beat Addiction to Win Millions relating how Black Friday made an impact on you and how you ended up struggling with addiction and depression, playing six-figure HU SNGs with no sleep and eventually, sent to rehab. It seems you don’t have difficulties talking about these issues. Was it important to you as well to talk about the dark side of poker life?
JVF: It wasn’t so much about representing the dark side of poker although inherently, there is really one. It was more about me being okay with myself and my whole personal story and how that timeline of events may be of help to someone else. I’ve learned that in recovery. I have done a lot of work through meditation and service work that allowed me to be open and vulnerable to things like that. It was scary in a sense, but I mostly received positive reactions to it from my viewers so that was cool.
SMP: Probably, many pros that had a lot of success early on can relate to your story and the problem of isolation poker life can cause. Do you think there can be a real issue with depression at the top level of the game or maybe it was simply in the past and the new generation has learned from other’s mistakes?
JVF: I have to admit that at the super top level, I really feel there are a lot of robotic personalities. I consider myself more emotional than the average poker player especially in this tier of the poker industry. I don’t mean this in any way to be rude, but most of the players on the top level are somewhere on the autism spectrum which I think is because they are really separate from emotions and think in terms of logic but at the middle and lower levels, I’m sure a lot of people are struggling – either being stuck in a lot of makeup or living in their parents’ basement and so on. It is really easy to go broke and to have bad habits but on the other hand, it is also possible to structure your life in order to create positive habits. Well, I’m not really sure if poker can actually be really healthy but it can be a pretty great job for sure if you put some structure into it.
SMP: For you today, is what we call “Happiness EV” more important than making money?
JVF: Oh that’s close… Yes, but I do enjoy playing poker too, making money and being able to provide. So my answer is yes, happiness is more important than money but I am also quite happy to have this job, especially during trying times. I am grateful to still be able to gain income despite staying at home. At the moment, we are in a semi-lockdown in Vancouver and although almost everything is open, we are advised to remain at home which I am mainly doing for now.
SMP: How was it possible for you to get back on your feet after what you have been through and return back to the highest games? Just two years ago, you won the partypoker $5k for over $1 million and up until now, crushing the $25k buy-ins on GGPoker too.
JVF: It is definitely not what I expected. Actually, my friends urged me to seek treatment at the Orchard on Bowen Island. My mom likewise helped me out and I stayed there for roughly three months. I really focused on looking at my approach to life, my recovery, etc… and that has been truly a catalyst for change. When I left treatment, I just wanted to make sure that I never blew up again like that. I was badly in debt that time and I didn’t know if I would ever be able to make it back but somehow, I knew that the only I could was to attempt and make sure that this would never happen again.
I only really focused on recovery for a while when money and opportunities just started coming in. I eventually ventured into coaching wherein demand continued to increase and since then, everything has gotten better and better. Now that I recently started my Twitch channel, I am doing way better than I initially expected to. I had around 500 viewers my first session after just three videos, the number went up to 5,000. It’s crazy!
SMP: When you look back on your career, what do you think are the accomplishments you are most proud of?
JVF: Two things, it’s a tie. First is co-writing the three books – Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time with Jon ‘Pearljammer’ Turner and Eric ‘Rizen’ Lynch and second, helping other people become winning players. Helping other people make poker for a living makes me especially happy.
SMP: You’re getting more involved with the poker community since a few years, you do a lot of coaching aside from your Twitch channel and you’re quite active on Twitter as well. What do you enjoy in that and what’s your main approach to the coaching work?
JVF: Yes, for the first time I did 5 days in a row of Twitch and it was exhausting! It was however, really cool because I ran deep in the EPT Online Main Event. I busted at the final table and had more than 5,000 viewers at some point, which was amazing. Initially, hosting in Twitch was not my idea. I was convinced to do it by BBZ’s Jordan Drummond. I didn’t really want to do it in the beginning but now, I enjoy it and it’s way more fun than I thought.
About the coaching, I think what makes my style kind of unique is firstly, I have access to knowledge I don’t think everyone has and also that I am good at meeting people where they’re at. I feel that when somebody is out, I try to meet them at their level so they can take that step up. When I first started coaching, I realized that sometimes I would unavoidably talk over people’s head and be more advanced which clearly does not help anybody. Those are the two things that make me believe I am fairly good at coaching.
SMP: Do you have specific goals for your Twitch channel or do you just go with the flow?
JVF: I actually do have specific goals. I am currently promoting a bundle that I made which is sort of a classroom-style video. It comprises 11 hours of video content for $100 and it basically summarizes most of what I know postflop. There is some very advanced stuff in there as well and is readily available on bbzpoker.com. What I didn’t expect is that I really enjoy having everyone rooting for me and being part of this poker community, which undeniably makes it more enjoyable for sure!
SMP: That’s quite affordable for 11 hours of content.
JVF: Yes, the reason it’s cheap is because I made a lot of those videos over the last year and a half or so. Some of them are from 2018 but they are still 100% relevant in today’s games and also, I just wanted to give the community good value. I don’t want people complaining and so far, no one has. I think it can really help a lot of people’s gameplays. We also offer daily seminars with other BBZ coaches so we definitely have a lot of stuff going!
SMP: The players now are way more educated than before in order to stay ahead of the game. How do you choose your games at present in comparison to back when you were playing 10 years ago?
JVF: Oh 10 years ago, whatever was biggest I played, now, whatever is biggest I still play! Although, there are some tournaments that I think have no value so I choose not to play those events but if I do see some recreational players, then I might still play. I definitely do game select but I mostly look at the lobbies to see who has registered.
SMP: With the impact of the Coronavirus and the lack of live events everywhere, all the poker sites have shifted their events online with big series popping up here and there. Some players have even begun to say that it has been too much now and the market is saturated with too many big events. Did this change anything for you?
JVF: The thing is, when you play $10k events and above, you are playing against a combination of the best players in the world with only one or two recreational players most of the time, meaning there are always very tough games. Once in a while, when I open a lobby for example, on partypoker and I look at the names, every single person in the tournament has made millions in poker and there is really no one that’s easy to play. Even if some of them are not that great, I still think sometimes it’s not interesting enough to play a $10k buy-in tournament for. So yes, I definitely do skip some events that I don’t think have any sort of value but I will never call that bumhunting because you still have to battle against very very good players. When I think the field is just too tough, I would usually avoid them or… I would hop in at the last minute and gamble! Even then, it’s not totally a gamble because in some tournaments, if you register last minute, you get an EV boost from the field being missing. When already 60% of the field or more is missing, you don’t necessarily need that much of an edge to register anymore. Obviously, it feels weird registering a $10k tournament with only 10 big blinds left but there is actually some math that suggests it can be good to opt for that strategy. So my reasoning is not just gamble for gamble, even if it does feel like a gamble sometimes. On some structures in some sites, it can be really good because it allows you to register really close to the money and can sometimes add around 20/30% equity. It is also good to pay attention to that.
SMP: Since the Fedor Kruse case, the poker rooms have started a war against Real-Time Assistance and GTO solver programmes. GGPoker suddenly banned a lot of players including you, which they also received some backlash for it. Some people said it was leading to unfair and biased decisions against regular pros, what is your opinion regarding the banned players controversy? Is that like a poker witch hunt?
JVF: Yes, I have been banned from GGPoker even though I never used real-time assistance and with any due process, without even informing me what they have against me. They did however, give me my money back and I do believe they have the right to choose who they wish to play on their site or not. Honestly, it did seem that only winning players got booted off. I don’t know any losing player that has been banned.
Recently, I have also been under investigation by PokerStars, probably because of GGPoker. It is ongoing but I am absolutely 100% confident that I will be cleared because there is nothing I have done in violation of their terms and conditions. I am excited for that actually. Another reason was that I am associated with a site called GTOTrainer.com which shows on my Twitch after a session. I do have a program on my computer that is meant to prevent me from using the site while I am playing. GTOTrainer has a lot of different solvers that you can look up to for almost every situation postflop and we actually, work really hard to prevent cheating. In order to use the site, you must first download a program that doesn’t allow you to have other poker sites open and has a delay to make sure people cannot use it in real-time. I can’t stand cheaters and I have great respect for people who study their game to get better which is why GTOTrainer is meant to be used as a great study tool alone.
After all of that, I just realized that I have to be vigilant about what I have open on my computer because I teach poker and I have some documents that I really need to close while I am playing, regardless if I’m not using them. The poker sites have really good detectors which is great. I am glad that these sites have securities but it does suck to be accused when you technically work hard and don’t do anything wrong.
SMP: What is your best poker memory?
JVF: This is going to be stupid but… probably the best I ever felt from winning money was the first time I won like $2,000 from a $20 tournament. At that time, I never had that kind of money in my life. I never had more than $1,000 in my name and I remember that I was so excited! I felt rich and I couldn’t sleep that night, I was way too excited.
My other best memory I would say was when I won $1 million on partypoker but that just seemed so much money to me that I had some mixed feelings. I felt really good, don’t get me wrong, but because I had a few problems with addiction and everything, I also thought “oh that’s a lot of money for you to burn into the ground if you want…” So, I just didn’t touch it for a while!
SMP: Last question, what are your goals in poker now? Do you want to prove something or do you still have something to prove?
JVF: I feel that I have proven that I can compete at the top stakes but overall, I’m just always trying to get better and eventually, be the best. I always wanted to be the best and that motivates me. Concerning businesses and other poker-related things, I am trying to help BBZ take over and I am at the same time, trying to help Jordan with his goals too. We are going to see what happens from there.