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Bilzerian’s Bluff Busted

20 January 2017 | Ross Jones

Dan Bilzerian lives larger than life.

He is a self-made internet celebrity. His Instagram account showcases his “aspirational” lifestyle. It hits all the so-called “macho” tropes. Dan poses with guns. Dan poses with semi-naked (sometimes, just naked) women, all of whom seem to be surgically enhanced. Dan gambles thousands, hundreds of thousands. Dan poses next to yachts. Supercars. Casinos. Famous faces. Dan Bilzerian knows all things. And all things know Dan Bilzerian.

It’s a manliness as imagined by a [slightly slow] 14-year-old boy raised on a diet of video games, Budweiser commercials and Sylvester Stallone movies.

How did Dan do this? How did he become this enigmatic, cool, sometime movie star, full-time professional playboy?

Well, Dan’s story goes that he’s a really, really good poker player, who turned a modest sum into mega-millions. I mean, Jesus, even Dan’s backstory is dripping in cool. 

Only, did he?

Dan rarely plays online. His results are not tracked by any of the nets tracking sites (though that’s not unusual for high-stakes players) and he doesn’t have any significant cashes in any of the game’s big events. Well, none that would fund the lifestyle that he so openly lives.

This week, Doug Polk (a high-profile professional poker player) claimed that Dan is not a good enough player to have made his money in the game. The game of poker is one with which I have a lot of experience, and while I’m not a fan of Polk per se (for various reasons) he’s a talented player with a great knowledge of the game. He runs the training site Upswing Poker, of which I was formerly a member, and helped plug a lot of leaks (losses) in my own game. In his recent video on game theory, Polk watched a live stream of Bilzerian playing no-limit, heads-up Texas hold-em (the hardest of poker’s various incarnations). He labelled Bilzerian a “fish”. For those of you unacquainted with the game’s terminology, poker players are divided between fish and sharks. A fish is someone who loses money due to poor strategy. A shark wins due to the fish’s poor play.

I watched the stream of Dan playing heads-up. And I can honestly say that I can’t imagine anyone playing the way Dan plays enjoying long-term success. To give you a short and sweet breakdown, he seems to lack the ability to take into account optimal bet-sizing (both pre and post-flop), match his bet-sizing to his hand strength, lacks the ability to take a convincing line in most of his post-flop play, and seems unable to identify his opponents’ range and possible holdings in any given situation. Now, these things are hard to do, and hard to do well when there are huge sums of money in play. But they’re essential to a player’s long-term profit. And Dan just doesn’t have the moves.

So, how did he make his money?

Well, his father was a well-to-do businessman in the ‘80s who was eventually tried for a series of white-collar crimes and ordered to pay millions in fines. Much of which he never paid.

I’m sure Dan likes to believe that his money came from his exceptional ability on poker’s felt, but watching him play, I saw standard mistakes that high-stakes players just don’t make. And also, saying you made millions playing poker sounds much cooler than saying you inherited your father’s ill-gotten gains.