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Dan Shak: “Stock Trading Prepared Me for Poker”

Fifty-five-year-old American Dan Shak is right at home at the final table of a super roller or making multi-million dollar business deals.

After a short absence from high roller tournaments Shak returned to Barcelona to play a hat-trick of events including the main, the high roller and the super high roller.

We caught up with Shak to talk about reasonable investments for successful poker players, the future of PokerStars in the US and why poker is his golf.

Poker as Test of Skill

PL: They say the hedge fund you once managed and traded was worth more than $800 million. You don’t play poker for money, do you?

DS: I’ve never possessed that amount of money but it's a typical misconception in the media.

But poker is indeed a hobby for me and always has been. I enjoy playing poker and I enjoy a Main Event as much as I enjoy a side event or playing with my family for no money.

PL: But then what is the biggest motivation?

Dan Shak

DS: The test of skill.

PL: And you never connected poker with business?

DS: I do it all the time. They are almost exactly the same thing. Poker is an extension of what I do professionally.

It is probably not a good idea to have poker as a hobby because the idea of a hobby is to be something completely different to your work.

But trading also prepared me for poker. There are good days and bad days in trading too and that prepares me for the ups and downs in poker.

PL: Do poker players ask you for advice on how they should invest their money in a business?

DS: They do but to be honest I can’t advise poker players as a businessman. What I can tell them is to maintain their bankroll.

If they have a big score they should invest part of that money. But if they only have a certain amount of money available they should keep it available for a longer downswing in poker.

If you are interested in poker then invest the money in poker. If you have bigger scores, buy yourself a home. That’s pretty much it.

In trading I try to maintain as much cash as I can to mentally survive the downswings and feel comfortable during tough times.

PL: Phil Ivey is a good friend of yours. Did he ever ask you where to invest?

DS: Believe it or not but people don’t ask me too much. I am not a financial advisor. And most of the players know by now how I feel about that.

The only thing I would say is: Use your skills and invest your money in something you are good at, instead of putting money in a business you don't undertand.

I can tell you from my experience that it is tough when you’re in real business and poker is your hobby. It means you can’t really play as long as you want and that’s really painful.

PL: And if I would be a recreational player who won half a million and didn’t know what to do with it?

Phil Ivey
One of Dan Shak's buddies: Phil Ivey.

DS: Right now I would rather have the money in cash than in the stock market because I think the US stock market is highly overvalued.

PL: A lot of pro poker players go broke. Did you ever go broke in your business life?

DS: Fortunately I didn’t but I came close once. If you keep up some business principles — for example to stop buying if you are in a bad position and the market is against you — it is difficult to go broke.

PL: If you watched the stock of Amaya Gaming, the company that bought PokerStars, then you would have seen the shares skyrocket. What do you think about that?

DS: People aren’t betting on the stock. They are betting that the new owner will get access to the US market.

I personally think there are some back-door agreements where the states or at least one state will let Pokerstars in. And I think I’m not the only one of that opinion.

PL: When you are here in Barcelona can you really cut yourself off the trading business?

DS: I keep poker strictly a hobby. I don’t want to talk about business in these two weeks, heck, I don’t even want talk about poker in these two weeks.

I want to play and have fun. It is for me what golf is for others. I am more interested in people and real life when I’m here than in business and poker. I want this to be a social pleasure.

PL: How do you prepare for such a big event?

DS: I was in California and in Hawaii for two weeks each. After the five long weeks in Las Vegas for the WSOP I needed some recovery time.

I knew that I could play three big tournaments and I had to prepare myself for maybe 10 or 11 straight days of playing.

I am not the youngest player anymore and I need time to prepare and rest before the event starts.

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