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Lawyers Doing Interesting Things: Professional Poker Player

October 27, 2011

Jamie Kerstetter

The practice of law, particularly litigation, can look a lot like the game of poker.  After all, dealing with opponents, recursive reasoning and calculated risks are all part of either game.  Many law student and lawyers are also amateur poker players, and some get really good at it. One such dual threat is Philadelphia-area tax, trusts and estates attorney Jamie Kerstetter, a 2007 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School who has worked at a couple of local firms, but now stacks chips full-time.  Jamie was most recently on ESPN, finishing in the money in the 42nd World Series of Poker (WSOP).  Read on to learn how to step your game up and maybe even one day trade in your redwells for red chips.

Tell us how you went from lawyer to professional poker player.

When I got laid off from big law after 1 1/2 years, the market was so terrible that I needed to find another way to make money. The Borgata Winter Open had just started and I jumped into a few sit and gos. I ran really well and cashed in all three that I played that day. I was so excited about the prospect of playing poker in my “time between jobs” that I went to Borders and bought everything I could find about Texas Hold ‘Em.  I read 6 or 7 books, and probably saved myself
thousands of dollars that way. I’ll practice law again someday, but I’m enjoying this lifestyle for now.

What books would you recommend for poker neophytes?

Harrington on Hold ‘Em is a great start for multi-table tournament poker (useful for beginner and intermediate players), Collin Moshman’s (a friend of mine) sit and go book is a staple for people wanting to learn SNG strategy including push/fold ranges and some math behind it all, and Dan Harrington’s cash game books are great for intermediate players.

For really new players, I think it’s best to play a little bit first, either with friends or in the smallest casino game they can find. Concepts that I was learning from Harrington’s books sunk in much more quickly because I was applying the new skills I was learning every time I played.

Do you play just Hold ‘Em, or any of the other, similar games (Omaha, etc)?

I play mostly Hold ‘Em with the occasional PLO session in the mix so I don’t get bored.

What’s your poker playing style?

In cash games, I play relatively tight. If you’re in a huge pot with me, you’re probably drawing dead. In tournaments, I’m way more loose-aggressive. I’m trying to win every chip in the room and I’m not going to blind myself down waiting for the perfect hand in the perfect situation.

How do you pick when and where you’ll play? Do you have a schedule?

I try to play when the fewest “grinders” are playing. That means I have to put in hours on weekends and nights when people show up after their regular jobs to blow off some steam. It’s no fun playing against guys who are tight and careful, and not willing to gamble it up.

What’s an average workday for you like?

On an average workday, I’m finding the loosest $2/$5 or $5/$10 no limit game I can find, buying in for $1k or $2k and playing for anywhere from 4-10 hours, depending on what the action is like. If I’m in a great game, I’ll play until it breaks, until the fish in the game goes broke, or I’m way too tired to make good decisions anymore.

Tournaments are a different story. They sometimes run 12 or more hours at a time and last several days straight. When you see some of the obvious mistakes people make at the end of big tournaments, you realize mental endurance can play as big of a part as luck in tournaments.

Besides the obvious differences, how is the game different when played online versus in-person?

I think the live game is just a more complete type of poker. You aren’t just clicking buttons, calculating math and bouncing from table to table with different unknown opponents. You are reading body language, listening to opponents talk about tons of different things to get a feel for how risk-averse they are, how much the stakes you are playing affect them, how good or bad they are running that day. You can get tons of info in a live game that you just can’t get when
you’re playing several tables online.  Both types of poker require a similar skill set for success, but live poker favors the player with social skills while online poker favors the player with a
mathematical/logical brain.

What behavior annoys you most at the poker table?

So much to choose from!  Bad manners. . .  people who talk down to dealers, waitresses, and other players. People who are always “teaching” other people how to play.

So stereotypical, but what’s your best “bad beat” story?

My worst bad beat mathematically was in a Caesars World Series of Poker Circuit $1k event. It was all in on a 999 board. I had 66 vs. 33. The board came 3, 3.  I got one-outted in the turn and then again in the river. It’s a frustrating reality of the game I love – it’s rarely fair in the short-term.

 A lot of law students have seen “Rounders,” where Matt Damon drops out of law school to go to the World Series of Poker.  Is any of that film accurate?

I love that movie, despite some totally unrealistic parts. A couple of the hand histories in that movie are… A bit suspect. But the portrayal of underground poker clubs with huge amounts of money flying around and shady characters is pretty close to what I’ve witnessed. However, no matter how smart you are, you could never wander into the Judges’ game and tell what every player has with just a cursory glance at the table. That’s just ridiculous.

Similarly, poker is really popular among lawyers. Why do you think that is?

It’s very popular among smart, competitive, social people. . . who have expendable income. That describes a good portion of my lawyer-friends.

Poker’s been seen as a generally male industry traditionally – not  unlike law – have you  found any challenges making your way in either industry as a woman?

When I first started out playing, I felt out of place and got intimidated easily by the comments of males who didn’t approve of my presence at the table.  I used to get rattled easily and go on tilt, or have my night ruined by some dolt’s stupid remarks. That just doesn’t happen anymore. I’ve become a much more self-confident person and don’t let people throw me off my game. I think this carries over into “real life” as well, and will be a nice asset to bring to the male-dominated legal world someday.

What similarities (if any) are there between lawyering and poker playing?

Not that many, thankfully.

What advice would you have for the casual weekend poker playing attorney?

If I were still just playing for fun, I’d hit up a weekend tourney instead of playing cash. It’s so much fun to try to win a daily tourney, and you can drink and have fun without having to risk so much money.

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