Friday, April 9, 2010

Dusty "Leatherass" Schmidt

If you don't know who Leatherass is, then chances are you don't spend a lot of time around poker forums. Basically, he's a poker player who started out heavily multitabling the small stakes games and then moved up the ladder, heavily multitabling, and is now heavily multitabling the 5/10 and 10/20 NLHE games. He was, up until recently, a StoxPoker coach and is now producing videos for DragTheBar. What can be said about him?

If you read about him on forums, the answer is apparently "anything." I think he's been called just about everything a poker player can reasonably be called (although I couldn't say if he's ever been accused of cheating, but I'm sure it's been implied somewhere), and while a lot of people seem to appreciate what he does, his overall online image is, as is usually the case on the internet, drowned in negative sentiments. If you don't have something mean to say, keep it to yourself.

He apparently ticks people off, for whatever reason. Usually something along the lines of being a bumhunting ratholing shortstacker. I won't deal with those accusations here, though, because this post isn't in defense of his character, or an attempt to add new insults of my own. Instead I want to put in writing a couple of thoughts, disconnected and somewhat random as they are, and try to piece together an idea of how Leatherass works that is starting to take shape in my head.


He recently (well, by traditional standards, anyway - in the self-contained world that is the Internet, it was ages ago) published a book, Treat Your Poker Like A Business, which I ordered the eVersion of when it became available and read it. My overall impression of the book? Good. Probably even Very Good. Not enough people think about their poker career the way, for instance, a corporate manager would. If I may flaunt an old article series I wrote for CardsChat, I touched on some of the same ideas in what I called 8 Poker Lessons. What stood out from his book, however, wasn't the lessons he was trying to teach me, but a more nuanced picture of Dusty, the person. I had half-heartedly followed his career and his thoughts through the StoxPoker blog, I had watched some of his videos and I had occasionally followed a little of the drama often surrounding him on various forums, so I thought I had some idea of what he was like. Reading his book cemented that idea.

All serious poker players are, it's said, in it for the money. That's all that matters. Old (by the new standards) books by Sklansky et al make this point over and over again. It's not about prestige, not about pride, it's about money. Dusty is the personification of Sklansky's ideal. He will buy in short when the fish at the table is short-stacked (this is why his antagonists call him a shortstacker) and he will only sit at tables where he knows there's a big fish (bumhunter). Et cetera. He plays an insane amount of hands every year, because that's how he makes the most money. Not necessarily the most money per hand played (although he doesn't fare too badly by that standard either), but the most money at the end of the month.

In watching some of his videos after having read his book, an idea started to form about how his overall philosophy of making the most money influences how he plays. I've never actually seen him make this case himself explicitly, but I have reasons to believe it's true nonetheless: If faced with a decision in a hand where the easy decision will yield a clear profit, he's taking it. Alternative lines that may potentially be better are discarded if they're doubtful to work out properly.

This seems like a no-brainer at some level, and completely backwards at another level. The no-brainer part is because it's obviously good to take the easy profit if you're not sure that the "tricky" line is better. Why not just take the money? Well, because it's not always enough for a play to be profitable for it to be good enough. Case in point, open-shoving aces 100bb deep is quite obviously a winning play - but it's a terrible waste of money. And that's the "completely backwards" part: Any play that is by definition not maximally profitable is burning money. Why would Dusty willingly burn money when making money is precisely what he's aiming to achieve?

Obviously I don't think Dusty is intentionally taking a less profitable line in a hand. But I think you have to view some of his actions in a larger perspective: He's often playing 15 tables. When faced with a decision, any decision, he's not just looking to make money in that particular hand, but to maximize earnings across all tables at that particular time. Taking a less-than-optimal line on one table may well make him more money overall if it means freeing up a second of time he can spend on an even trickier decision elsewhere - or even add another table. I think this is a key part to Dusty's success (and he's been called a lot of things, but I don't think anyone will even begin to argue that he's not successful): His ability to repeat profitable decisions over and over and over again for a million hands each year. Even if some of them are less than optimal, he wins that back by playing more tables, more hands, more hours than others.


This, I think, is what keeps him from the nosebleeds, where every possible edge in each hand needs to be maximally exploited. But he doesn't need the nosebleeds to make a million bucks playing poker. His is a different recipe for success, and it's certainly viewed as un-sexy by a lot of people. I don't think that's a bad thing, necessarily. Though, and I'm back to flogging an old horse of a pet-peeve of mine here, a good case can be built that his style of play may certainly not suit everybody. I'm personally convinced that 95% of all people who play 10+ tables would make more money if they just tried to play solid poker on fewer tables and stopped viewing bonuses and rakeback as their salary for grinding out a break-even month. But, alas, I've said that before, and I'm certainly convinced that it's not true in Dusty's case. Forever the grinder.


Danny said...

Great post - I have come across this charachter Leatherass before and I really like your analysis - its spot on.

donnie said...

nice article. slightly different perspective- true everyone seems to have a bad word to say about leatherass.