Ashton Griffin Talks Candidly about Poker, Values and Life

Published on 25 September 2013 by Pokerlistings 2004
High-stakes poker pro Ashton Griffin has had an epic journey, from a few years as a losing player all the way up to playing in the biggest games in the world. He's the biggest winner ever online in heads-up PLO and he's undertaken some of the most incredible prop bets of all time, including running 70 miles in under 24 hours. In this candid interview Griffin discusses the ride and what he's learned about life.
My name is Ashton Griffin, I'm 24 and I've been playing poker for 10 years. I grew up in Florida, started playing online when I was 14, and I didn't start winning until I was 18. I transitioned from no-limit hold 'em to PLO around 18 or 19, and was one of the biggest winners ever in Pot Limit Omaha online.

When I was younger I had horrible bankroll management, and I would lose 80% of my net worth very frequently. I would estimate that I've lost over half my net worth maybe 30 different days in poker. When I was younger playing poker, I felt like winning and losing money really wasn't an issue. The amount of money I won was a number and not something I could convert to actual value or convert to improving my overall life.

So poker was easy for me to go up through the ranks because I was so detached from the actual value of money, and I had no fear at the tables. Whenever I have time to think about where I am in my life I always tell myself that no matter what happens, you are one of the luckiest people in the world. I'm not saying that has anything to do with me being great. It means that I'm fortunate in life. I'm blessed. Spiritually, I feel like I'm just lucky to have great opportunities and to be free. It's something that I take for granted at times and that other people take for granted. Being free and having the ability to do whatever you want and to think freely and go places and do things that are... and being open, I feel like that makes you lucky from the get go.

When I won a lot of money at a young age, my select few of friends would know and my family would know, but it wasn't something that I talked about with a lot of people outside of the blog I had. So it was hard for me to learn what a million dollars could buy me or learn how to better pave my future financially and be more secure.

When I was 14 I started wrestling and I've done it for 10 years now. I think wrestling was one of the biggest factors for me being successful at poker. Mentally, I was tough at the tables, and the discipline I got through wrestling really converted well over to poker as far as putting in the hours and dedicating myself to something. I felt like both wrestling and poker went hand and hand. When I needed a break from one thing, it was always there.

In wrestling, you'll often find yourself hitting rock bottom; losing at the end of the year, falling short. There's always someone better than you. I found that emotionally the hardest hits I've ever taken were the losses I've had in wrestling. The practices I've had in wrestling where you go in for two hours a day and you commit yourself 100% and the love that you share with your teammates, day in and day out, was a big stepping stone for my growth. It also taught me how to deal with people, deal with my teammates who were often times struggling and/or they were also winning. Sharing that experience with them was something I'll never forget.

In poker, you can structure your friends however you want. If you feel like you can find happiness through your friends winning, then you should be more concerned with being there through thick and thin, and experiencing the lows with them as well. As far as superficiality is concerned, I think it's up to the person to pick and choose the friends they interact with. I find myself with a lot of acquaintances in poker, but very few of those acquaintances I would consider true friends. The true friends I have, I know them very well and they would be friends with me no matter if I had zero dollars or won the million dollar One Drop.

My true friends in poker are Sam Feinberg, Jimmie Guinther, Aaron Jones, Andrew Lichtenberger and several other people who love me at any cost and are always open to talk about anything and are some of the best people I've ever met in my life; in wrestling and in the 24 years I've been alive. The reasons why I've been successful as of recently at 10-20, some 25-50, and a lot of 5-10 is that I'm betting smaller on the river with my bluffs because I can rep a thin value hand. I find that people fold the river at a very high rate. The reason that I'm winning right now is because I'm bluffing the river successfully. In earlier years, it would be me running really well at 200-400 when the games were much different. They were more loose, pre-flop. You could short stack the game so you were getting a lot of dead money in the pot. My win rate during that time period when I could short stack 200-400 was really well. You can never forget how important running good is. It's the key defining factor in Omaha where the variance is so big.

In 2011, when I did 70 miles in 24 hours, I was really confident that I was going to win because of my experiences in wrestling. In high school, I ran cross country and track. I ran a 4:55 mile my freshman year of high school. I had a good background in running. What led me to believe that I could run such a distance was the wrestling I've done. My body has never gotten to the point where I've given out or my knees have just made it to the point where I couldn't move. Although I never ran a long distance prior to that -- the maximum I've ran before that was maybe 20 miles -- I felt like I was 95% to win going into the run, which is why I offered him 3 to 1.

I was scared to lose, but I felt like there was no other outcome besides me winning. It wasn't a thought that ran through my head at all times. It was me being relaxed and remaining cool and getting the job done. Those were the things that ran through my head during the run.

The mindset I have with poker that has made me successful is being open minded, being humble and really studying the hands after I'm done with my session. Finding the spots where people are doing things wrong and exploiting that in the future and maybe finding the spots where I'm doing too much of something or betting too big when I'm bluffing. If you can get away with a smaller amount, it's always better to bluff with a smaller amount. Although you may be a winning poker player, there's always room for improvement.

Poker is a very complex game and there are a lot of options and a lot of branches of options that you go through throughout a hand. You're also processing information about hands that are being played or have been played; tens of thousands of hands. Being able to intake all that information in and give your best guess is something that can only be learned through trial and error. Putting in the hands and practicing and practicing over.

Also you're doing it a lot of the times at 68 tables. Having a sharp brain and a brain that is made for intaking a lot of information and making good guesses is something that people would call talent and I guess you could only be born with it to be good at poker. It still requires a lot of effort away from the table even if you do have that talent.

I've had a few talks about the running bet with some people and the bottom line is I regret making such a large bet with someone I was friendly with, and it was a mistake on both of our parts; something I would not do again. I hope that Haseeb is finding his path and has found happiness in whatever he is doing nowadays. I'm not sure what he's doing, but I don't hold any resentment towards him. I realize he thought that I was going to fail and either get injured or be really hurt, but it is what it is and it's something that I'm going to learn from to not do again and to just keep an even keel and maintain the peace with friends.

Ten years after I started poker, I find myself feeling the need to provide for my family -- my sisters and my mom, dad, and step-dad. My immediate family is the biggest motivation I have right now. I also feel that I'm going to have kids and a wife at some point in the future, and providing for them is going to be the number one priority as well. Knowing that is a lot of people to take care of and I have the ability to make a lot of money at poker, it really motivates me to get the job done and do it while it's still profitable and while there's still a lot of money to be made. I know that it might not be available in 5 years, 10 years, 2 years, 3 years, who knows? Whether the games are dominated by robots or it's illegal in every country. I just don't know, so I put in the work while it's available to me.