I went to high school in the United States and was a pretty good student through the end of ninth grade. However, once I discovered partying and girls during sophomore year, my grades plummeted significantly. I was so bored I basically slept through my classes and barely passed at the end of the term. In college I was even worse. I didn't even go to class because we weren't penalized for not showing up. The worst thing you could do was fail and pretty soon I was failing out of school. I found poker while I was in college and was soon convinced that I didn't need to continue with my studies to reach my goals. I was already making the kind of money not a lot of people can make. I didn't need art history. I didn't need math. I didn't need to understand how objects fall or how fast. None of it mattered to me anymore.
When I told my father I didn't want to go back to school, it spurned a massive fight. I pled my case that school no longer was useful for what I wanted to do in life and he obviously did not concur. In the end, I agreed to finish college because I only had a year left. After that, I was free to do whatever I wanted.
I graduated college and played poker professionally for the next five years. Everything went smoothly and I had a lot of success. But as everyone knows, the game is getting tougher all the time. It's no longer valid to justify a line by saying "Well, I did that because I felt he was bluffing." Or, "I felt like he had a hand." Playing by feel isn't good enough anymore. It's enough to get you to a certain point, but when you're playing expert on expert, you really need to know the true answer to the hand or at least as close as possible.
How do you figure that out? Well, you need to do some math.
For the last couple of years, the biggest winners online are guys like Ben "Sauce123" Sulsky and Ike Haxton. These guys have come out and said that math and game theory are the way to go when it comes to the future of poker. I thought, you know what? These guys are awesome. I'm going to listen to them. I'm going to pick up The Mathematics of Poker. I'm going to read it, and I'm going to become the Sauce of Asia. So I bought the book. And I read maybe ten pages before I was completely lost.
"Screw this," I thought. "I'm not reading any of this."
In that moment, I realized something. I wished I had paid attention back in those high school math classes I once believed to be so useless. As a poker player, the biggest part of my bottom line in the future will come from my technical game. And that aspect of my game needs to improve as the player pool gets better. In order to gain that edge, I came to terms with the fact that I needed to study math all over again. If you're anything like me and pretty much shut down during high school Calculus, you can imagine my pain.
Instead of looking for a tutor or enrolling in a local university, I found an incredible resource called Coursera. It's a website that offers college and post-grad level online classes offered by some of the most prestigious universities in the world. I spent a lot of time exploring the course offerings and found so many I wanted to take. Why couldn't I have been this eager to learn when I was actually in school? Back then I didn't think economics was useful, or game theory, or math. I didn't think anything was relevant except studying poker. Now I understand that all of this stuff matters.
This semester, I'm taking two business courses offered by the Wharton School, as well as my old nemesis, calculus. Instead of going to class like a zombie, I'm really focused, going through the lectures video by video and studying the reading materials like I was going to take the final exam tomorrow. Now that I understand how I will apply the material I'm learning in the real world, I'm so much more refreshed and motivated to actually retain this information. My parents couldn't believe it when I told them I was taking online classes. They were even more shocked when I revealed that I was seriously thinking about getting my MBA if I ever decided to take a break from poker.
Unless you improve upon your weaknesses, you'll never experience true growth. It's a cliché, but when it comes to poker, only the strong survive and I don't want to be left behind. That's why I'm putting in the hard work now. The things I'm learning now will not only elevate my poker game to a new level, but pay even bigger dividends in the future.
Raymond Wu is a member of Team PokerStars Pro.