The path to success is often different for everyone, whether it is because of time, circumstance, or choice. For some the path is easier, while for others the path can be much, much harder. However, for those that do endure the harder path, they are often more appreciative of the success that they attain in life. Alexander “Assassinato” Fitzgerald falls into that category. Fitzgerald is only twenty, and has traveled the world and seen more countries than men twice his age. However, the path to his point in life has been far from a bed of roses, as it’s taken a great deal of work, focus, and perseverance. However, with countless deep runs in live tournaments all over the world, and numerous big time final tables online, he’s afforded himself one of the most precious things in the world: freedom. He’s had numerous solid finishes online, hitting it big in some of the toughest tournaments online, such as the $100 rebuy, $200 rebuy, and Nightly Hundred Grand on Poker Stars. Live, he’s had a recent deep run in the Irish Poker Open, as well as a 13th place finish in the first ever APPT event in Manila, and an 11th place finish at the recent LAPT event in Rio, taking a brutal beat to bust. At just twenty, Alexander is an up and coming player, and will be one to watch for in the future.
David Thorne: First things first, what’s your poker story? How’d you get your start?
Alexander Fitzgerald: I was sixteen years old and a pretty aimless teenager. At the time I was just playing in little high school metal bands and not really taking high school seriously. I was sitting around a bunch of people with the drummer in my band and they were playing poker. I asked if I could play. They said sure and I didn’t have any money but they all played on credit anyway. For whatever reason early on I got that you waited for a hand and just bet it. And then I made money. At the time I was really poor, moreso than most kids. My father had stopped supporting my family financially at that time because he couldn’t trust my mother with money given some habits she had developed and has since left thankfully. So the money really made me like it. I also didn’t have many friends growing up, didn’t have many friends at the time. I was a pretty weird kid, kind of chubby with a high-pitched voice, and ADD, so I talked a lot. I wasn’t exactly loved.
But, people in that game liked me, thought I was funny. That attracted me. I got obsessed, because that is just my personality. Before that it was boxing, video games, whatever I got into I had to know about, and do a lot of. So I started playing in a home game with some older kids who were nice enough to invite me. I was really lucky at first and made some money. I remember being so excited over thirty dollars. I would blow it on stupid things like manga (Japanese comics) or renting movies. Eventually my friends and I got too into it and we argued while we played. And the guy’s mother decided she didn’t like what we were doing, so I started having home games at my house. My mom, who was just kind of glad I even had friends, I was such a socially awkward kid, let me have games whenever I wanted, as late as I wanted, as many people as possible. I really got into that.
Eventually I got closer with one guy who came to our games. His dad let him open a Full Tilt account in his name. In doing so, my friend did one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me, whether he realizes it or not. When he wasn’t playing, he let me play on his account, as long as I could keep the records. So my friend would get done playing, and I would log on. I didn’t sleep much during this, because I was so fascinated. My main frustration with poker in the past was, no matter how many books I read, or how many poker shows I watched (which was all of them at the time), I could not find poker games ever. Now I could play whenever I wanted. The only catch was I had to keep money in the account, so I was really careful with my bankroll from the start. My friend loaned me fifty dollars, but I made it that night, and paid him back online. So, I can say I never deposited.
I read the poker magazines at that time, and an article with Edward Moncada came out. I saw his World Series of Poker final table, and he described how he lived wherever he wanted, and just played poker for a living. That seemed like the greatest thing in the world to me. He detailed the best players online, and worked in conjunction with pocketfives.com. I went there, and Fox was a prominent writer there at the time, and he wrote a great article on bankroll management. I decided to stick to his guidelines for bankroll management. I was terrible when I started online, I wanted to play every pot but I didn’t know how to play a flop. But, through trial and error I learned. I went from the $5 SNGs, to the $10s, $20s. I played .05/.10 NL on the side. Eventually I started taking shots at $5 MTT’s. On one of them, I made the final table, and came in fourth for a couple hundred.
That helped me out a lot, but around that time, things started getting very bad in my household. My mother was going through some problems, and she has gotten better now, and bless her heart because she did try her best. However, she had gotten pretty abusive towards me, and I still didn’t have many friends in high school. Aside from being weird, I grew up in a pretty well off part of Washington State. I was the only kid who didn’t have plans after high school, and I felt like a loser. My high school sweetheart moved to Egypt, and she was supposed to come back in a year. So I was just dealing with a lot of these things at once, and poker became the escape. I would do little else but come home from school and play poker, especially when I got my own account. I had a free period at the beginning of the day, and I did all my homework then. I played poker the rest of the time. Eventually, things between my mother and I got very bad, so I decided to leave my house. I had money online, but I was still pretty broke. I had just turned eighteen and was trying to pay rent, but I was fortunate enough to have my friend’s family take me in. I lived in this garage type place, and it would get 100 degrees in there sometimes. Again, I just played poker all the time. Eventually, I took third in a $10 tournament online.
I went to Alaska then, to be a commercial fisherman. I made about $7,000 in six weeks when I was supposed to make $2,000. The whole time I was in Alaska, I had slept with my girlfriend’s picture above my bed. I hadn’t been with another girl all year, my senior year of high school, didn’t party or anything. She was supposed to be coming home from Egypt, and was supposed to pick me up from the airport when I came back. She told me she wasn’t coming home, and that she knew the whole year prior that she wasn’t coming home. She played me, so when I came home from Alaska; I was the only one at the gate who didn’t have someone waiting for them out of my whole crew. For some reason, that kind of loneliness and hurt put something in me, some anger. I got home, and this girl I had a crush on throughout high school needed a roommate. I went to Wal Mart at 3 AM and bought everything for my new apartment. I moved to Seattle and got a job as a security guard. My first month in security, I made $1200; while online I made $7,000. So I decided to put a couple grand away, and try to become a professional. I was sick of working eight hours, then playing for eight hours. I figured I could get my job back if I wanted. The first couple of months were rough because I realized I sucked. The games got tougher. So I studied more and eventually started beating the turbo SNG’s for a good ROI.
I moved out of that girl’s place because we weren’t doing well. With my own apartment, and a girl not nagging me, I got really sick. I played all hours of the day. My apartment was a piece of shit, and I couldn’t even see the sky from its only real window. It was just another apartment. I had one room for the television, the couch, and the computer, all jammed together. I discovered the $20/180s on Poker Stars, and played them all day everyday. I branched out to other tournaments and had some results. I continued playing, while not studying as much, I just figured it out. I moved up as my bankroll grew, eventually went to college on my own dime. I met a girl, and started taking a few more days off. I moved to one of the nicest complexes in Seattle, traveled the world, won the $200 rebuy on Poker Stars, the $100 rebuy, and final tabled a bunch of others. I switched to cash recently, and am doing well there. And now I’m here talking to you.
DT: Wow, that’s quite a story. What are your goals for poker, where do you see yourself, as you’ll be turning 21 soon?
Alexander Fitzgerald: My hope is that in the next couple years I will establish myself as a cash game player. I really do not have the patience for MTT’s anymore, and I really want a life outside of poker. The best MTT’ers do very well financially but I get depressed very easily, and grinding for six days a week is just not what I want to do anymore. I’d like to be a 5/10 NL regular within the year and also still playing many of the live tournaments, and hopefully win one of them, although it is very difficult given the variance in MTT’s and I am not going to beat myself up if it doesn’t happen. I enjoy playing the nightly tournaments while I am grinding but I cannot play twelve hours a day anymore.
DT: What’s your average poker day like? How many hours a week do you play?
Alexander Fitzgerald: I go back and forth between playing all the time and not playing at all. When I am in Seattle I will wake up, go for a jog, lift some weights, although not enough, get something to eat, and then I will play for usually about 6-10 hours. Sometimes to get over the monotony I hang out with my friends who are also professional poker players. I usually play the bigger MTT’s and a couple cash games, and then turn off the cash games as the MTT’s get more intense. When I bust out of everything I just 12-table cash, listen to my music, chill out. When I am really working hard I do about sixty hours a week, but often I will just fly somewhere and probably play maybe 10 hours a week, and just cash.
DT: You’ve experienced plenty of highs and lows in the past year in tournaments, with your numerous final tables in tourneys like the 200r, 100r, and Nightly Hundred Grand, along your deep runs in live tournaments, just falling short. With that said, what is it about tournaments that tend to polarize a player’s feeling toward them? What makes you still play them, despite the heartbreaking nature of them?
Alexander Fitzgerald: I would say that a lot of people, whether they like to admit it or not, play tournaments simply for the feeling of being at the top of the mountain at the end of the day. There is so much more money in cash games. That being said, I think a lot of people either love or hate tournaments because of the ridiculous amount of variance involved. I do not care who you are if we change 10 hands in any tournament player’s year we can almost certainly cut his results in half. It is that factor that drives anyone crazy. Everybody will win roughly half of their coinflips over their lifetime, but maybe 10 coinflips, suck-outs, or what have you might determine whether your ROI in live events is negative or positive by a wide margin over a five-year period. I continue to play them because I am in a financial agreement where it is no longer my own money in them, so it is a freeroll for me. They are the best chances you can have to turn a little amount of money into a lot. Furthermore, there are few things in my life that make me feel as alive as playing a large final table. Having finished 11th and 13th in two larger (live) Poker Stars events, my biggest regret first was of course not getting a chance at the big money, but a close second was how fun and intense it is to play with great players for so much money. That is pressure. That is intensity. That is where we separate the men from the boys, the ladies from the girls. That is what I live for.
DT: What’s the worst downswing you’ve encountered in playing poker, thus far? How did you deal with it?
Alexander Fitzgerald: The worst downswing I’ve ever had was last fall. I do not want to say a number, but it was a very significant portion of my roll. A large part of the reason for the downswing was my own immaturity. Instead of taking a well needed break and re-evaluating, moving down, discussing things with my poker friends, I just kept playing the biggest tournaments non-stop and heads-up cash. Eventually I ran through more than half of my bankroll and I finally decided to figure out what was going wrong. I decided to move into cash games because when you look at professional horse bettors, stock traders, or anyone else’s job that involves gambling they diversify their bets between the long shots and the steady money. When I was just playing tournaments I lacked that bread and butter game. Tournaments are so variance-ridden, I know of very successful players who have gone through $100,000 downswings. Having a game you can play on the side that is more consistent, like SNG’s or cash games, will really help you. I also re-evaluated my game and found some errors I was making late in MTTs, and after I did that I won a $100 MTT and took 2nd in a $100 rebuy within a 24 hour period. I just was so worn down I wasn’t even realizing how bad I was playing. If I had taken breaks and been honest with myself, and moved down, I could have avoided the whole mess.
DT: You sound like you’ve matured a lot since then as a poker player. How do you feel your mindset and game have changed over time, and where do you feel you’re at in your journey as a poker player right now?
Alexander Fitzgerald: When I was eighteen and started playing for a living I had no real idea what kind of swings you could go through, nor did I possess the emotional maturity to handle it. Over the years I think I have gotten better at accepting things as they come and trying to be calm during the lows and modest during the highs. I have also come to realize that winning a big tournament is a very special thing, and that I shouldn’t get down on myself if it doesn’t work out. I’d also like to think I’ve grown an appreciation for the fact that there is life outside of poker. Instead of just staying in my apartment all day addicted like I used to do I have traveled a lot, met a lot of people, and tried to expand my mind. I think I still have a lot to learn as far as the game goes, especially in cash games, but I would like to think I have laid the groundwork for success with a strong emotional and mental framework.
DT: Everyone has a certain hand that they remember, that sticks out in their head as one of their favorite or best hands, whether it be a great call or fold. This hand just stands out from the rest. What is that hand for you? What is your most memorable hand?
Alexander Fitzgerald: I want to tell you about when I was sixteen and in a home game I called a guy down with one pair on a scary board, and how at that point it kind of hit me that I could be a professional poker player, but to be honest with you every player remembers their biggest beat, and when you asked that question I thought of one hand in particular. Without going into too much detail Alex Brenes and what seemed like a thousand of his friends were cheering for a seven on the river, for 2nd place chips with 10 left in LAPT Rio De Janeiro. I had called him preflop with A-Q when he had A-7, and he had only three outs on the river. Since my name on Stars is Portuguese many of the locals took a liking to me there, so they were cheering for the queen; when the seven hit there was a brief pause and then the whole room seemed to collapse with Alex Brenes freaking out and jumping with his friends. It was the most numb I had ever felt in my life after a poker hand. They counted the chips a couple times and finally figured out I was out.
DT: How did you deal with that beat? You’ve gone deep in many live tournaments in the last year, including the APPT Manila last year, the Irish Poker Open this year, and the LAPT Rio, and have fallen just short. How have you dealt with this? Do you think it’s hurt your game, or empowered you?
Alexander Fitzgerald: I think it has been good for me, actually. Many guys my age are fortunate to win a big tournament early, and then they develop unrealistic expectations, and do not use the money wisely. Of course, I would love to have those issues with them, but I think I have a more realistic view of what a life in tournament poker entails because my first couple years weren’t all strawberries and champagne. I have learned to appreciate the fact that I was lucky to be in those exotic countries taking those beats, instead of serving in Iraq so I could get some kind of education, working as a security guard still, or what have you. Having to focus on the positive when you are faced with disappointment I believe makes you a stronger person, and I would like to think it has made me stronger.
DT: You seem to be very self-aware. What do you feel are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
Alexander Fitzgerald: I appreciate you saying that. I think my greatest asset as a poker player is being honest with myself, and that gives me an ability to improve my game where others might not. If you can appreciate someone’s game then you can learn from them. If you arrogantly dismiss them as lucky you will learn nothing. I also think I have a lot more perseverance in me than many. I am stubborn as hell; you cannot tell me I cannot do something, because that only motivates me more. Unfortunately, I have kind of needed that, because I think one of my weaknesses as a player is I am slower to pick things up than many pros. I never looked at the game and just got it right away. I got certain things, yes, but my poker development has been a much more belabored process than it is for many players who also share my success. I might need to see something twenty times to understand it while another pro might need to see it once. My other fault is that I am just a lazy individual when I want to be, and other players have much more in terms of work ethic. I don’t see the point of living life only to play poker. I love to play, sure, but when I go to these live events oftentimes my friends do not even leave the hotel. That is insane to me. So many people grow up wanting to see these places you are privileged to travel to and you are just going to stare at a laptop the entire time you are there, and do what you do the rest of the year? That being said, those players will often be better than me because they are more devoted and put in more hands, and they deserve the financial success they come into.
DT: How long do you want to play poker for? Where do you ultimately see yourself going with poker as it pertains to your life?
Alexander Fitzgerald: I really do not know the answer to that question. I certainly enjoy poker now but I do not relish it like I did when I was younger. There are many times when the game is quite monotonous. That being said I still enjoy learning about the game and having something to work on every day. It is not like other jobs where you simply learn your task and repeat it every day, you get to keep learning and developing as a poker player and there is a financial reward to it if you do it well. I do not know how long I will play. I enjoy writing immensely, and to tell you the truth when I moved to Seattle my first goal was to become a writer, poker just took off very quickly, actually paid the bills, and satisfied my ADD. My dream is still to be a published novelist, and change some young person’s life by giving them a different perspective on the world through my writing, in the way that my favorite writers have affected me. I think poker will always be part of my life somehow but if in the future I could branch out towards writing or maybe doing some volunteer work I would be satisfied. I would also like to travel some more too. Perhaps be a travel writer. I don’t really know. Poker goes a long way towards killing your attention span. The only thing I know for sure is I could never do anything I didn’t truly enjoy anymore, which is kind of sad, because I don’t think I could ever take a college class I didn’t truly enjoy without it being excruciating now.
DT: What do you want out of the game, in the long run? What about the game is most important to you? Money, fame, freedom, or a combination?
Alexander Fitzgerald: I like the money because it gives me freedom. That is the most important thing to me. It depresses me how many people in my country (U.S.A.) just work all the time, make little time for their families, and get to do little for themselves. Our culture breeds materialism to properly numb people to the fact they are working more than they should be. As if a nice car or house is going to mend your soul.
I am really into history and one of the things I find interesting is that in many times of economic and societal wealth in the past, say Rome for example, there was a large surge in intellectualism, what we call the Renaissance period. In America we frown upon intellectualism and seem to have cultivated this love for the burdensome life. You watch TV and the constant themes are work is killing me; I hate my wife, etc. Our country has gradually progressed into a system that continues to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. To suggest anything different is to be unpatriotic. If you say you wish we had a better healthcare system then you’re a socialist who is going to kill everyone. If you say you think we need more vacation time like parts of Europe than you are unrealistic. If you say we need to stop putting so much money into hopeless illegal wars and properly fund our school system so that half of 20-year-olds are not buried in student loans by the time they graduate then you are not supporting the war, the troops, your country.
To escape from all of that with a job like poker is what I enjoy most. I do not have to come home every night convincing myself that my hard work is going to pay off one day, when the truth is much of my career will be guided by how much my boss likes me. I do not have to scrape by anymore. I do not have to work fifty hours a week with no benefits just so I can feed myself and keep a roof over my head anymore. I have the time and financial means to travel, meet new people, experience new cultures, read, and enjoy life. I am happy now for the first time in my life. I was clinically depressed years ago, and instead of taking medication and numbing myself I tried to improve my diet, and improve my life, and it has worked. As long as I can have this life that allows me to do what I love I could care less about the rest. I want to put my sister through college, my Mom in a home, and after that I just want enough money to support myself and to do what I love.
DT: Favorite movie?
Alexander Fitzgerald: Fight Club.
DT: Favorite song?
Alexander Fitzgerald: “Meet Me At The Bottom” by Longwave.
DT: Favorite book?
Alexander Fitzgerald: 1984.
DT: Favorite beer?
Alexander Fitzgerald: Tsingtao. I used to have a 40 oz. of that at every final table back in the day.
DT: Favorite band?
Alexander Fitzgerald: Raunchy. Their whole focus is living life to the fullest, drinking, and meeting girls. I love them.
DT: Your favorite place to be in the world?
Alexander Fitzgerald: Seoul, South Korea. Craziest parties and the hottest girls, and you can do anything at any hour. It is truly the sprawling metropolis I dreamed of when I was younger, reading all the time. The big, dirty, beautiful city.
DT: Thank you very much for your time Alex. Good luck in the future.
Alexander Fitzgerald: No problem, peace.