The Evolutionary Tale of Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt

English naturalist Charles Robert Darwin was responsible for establishing that all forms of life descended over time from common ancestry. This process was named natural selection. Darwin’s theories and evidence were published in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species. His theories were groundbreaking and sparked off international debate. With the publication of the book Darwin was essentially heading for confrontation with the might of religion. The Church of England opposed the book and it’s theories for example. Darwin began a journey on 27th December 1831, upon the HMS Beagle. This journey lasted five years and during this journey the seed for On the Origin of Species was planted.

One of Darwin’s famous quotes was:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

At the age of eight a young boy called Dusty Schmidt decided that the game of golf was going to release him from a life that didn’t feel right to him. This was not a decision based on natural talent but a sheer determination to work harder at the game than anyone else. When Schmidt became a teenager he was being spoken of as the next big thing – his hard work was paying off. Then at the age of 23 just when his life started to feel right he suffered a heart attack. He was told that he could never play golf again. What was he going to do next? His seemingly natural evolutionary path had been cruelly blocked. Then one day, more by luck than judgment, he found poker and just like the eight years old boy he once was he decided to become the best in the business by working harder than anyone else.

In 2007, Dusty Schmidt burst onto the world poker scene when, in just eight months, he achieved Pokerstars’ Supernova Elite status. He posted, what has now become a legendary graph, proclaiming to have the world’s highest win rate in both 5/10 NL and 10/20 NL. There is no argument that during 2007 and 2008 the phenom known, as Leatherass was one of the strongest of the species that was surviving on the poker savannah.

Schmidt, just like Darwin, has been on his own journey for the past five years. Darwin sailed the oceans of the world and one of his loves in life was the study of marine life. Schmidt sailed the oceans of the online poker world and also had a penchant for seeking out the odd fish or two. During the past five years Schmidt has evolved. He is living proof of Darwin’s theory of evolution. From ape to man read from Brunson to Schmidt. I am not likening the great Doyle Brunson to an ape, far from it; instead I am using Brunson as the example of the common ancestor of which Schmidt has been spawned.

Schmidt is the new breed of the poker evolutionary chain. Not Isildur, Dwan, Antonius or Ivey but Schmidt. Schmidt is the one who is proving that he is not only one of the strongest of the species but he is also very adaptable to change. As the five year voyage comes to an end Schmidt has transformed himself from a poker player to a poker playing entrepreneur. He acknowledges that the games are getting tougher; and on the poker savannah – lions can devour lions. Instead of waiting around to get eaten, in some chivalrous show of power, Schmidt has branched out into other areas of the poker world. He has realised that to hold all of his eggs in one basket is not a very sound strategy in today’s very tough poker world. To do this he has had to maintain strategies and philosophies that fly in the face of modern popular poker belief – much the same way that Darwin played heads up with the Church of England. You won’t see Schmidt putting his millions on the line in a game of PLO against the ruler of middle earth – it just isn’t in his business plan.

As the good ship Schmidt pulls into port, not for the last time, but to take on some much needed provisions, I grab the captains log and have a good read. Card player columnist, Dragthebar Lead Instructor, Pokerstars Team Online Pro, author of Treat Your Poker Like a Business, part owner of Imagine Media, creator of the 10th Green, founder of the House of Cards project, poker commentator and now author of Don’t Listen to Phil Hellmuth.

The title of Schmidt’s latest slice of poker pie is controversial to say the least. Hellmuth has won more bracelets than anyone else on the planet and is currently ranked 4th in the all time money list and Schmidt is telling us not to listen to him – or is he?

“I was having a couple of drinks, with a few buddies at the WSOP, and we were talking about all the terrible clichés and advice that we had heard on the tables. It was at this time that I got the idea to write a book about all of these misguided things that people think. So Paul Hoppe and I got through the book and we were thinking of a title. We noticed that Phil Hellmuth‘s clichés dominated the list so we gave him the cover.”

Is it just a coincidence that one of the most famous poker names in the history of the game found his way onto the cover of the book? Did Hellmuth’s clichés give him pride of place on the front cover or was it simply good business savvy? Using Hellmuth’s name to sell more copies of a book that is not about Hellmuth – sounds brilliant.

“The reality is that while I may not have 11 bracelets I think I have a pretty good understanding of the cash games. I have proven myself over the years and feel like I can be someone who can coach people. I would like to be viewed as someone who understands these concepts and is someone that people look up to for some advice. At the end of the day I am not trying to pick on Phil as much as people believe. I thought of all people Phil would probably be able to take it and think that secretly he probably loves this type of stuff. The approach we are going after is Phil is synonymous with the old school and this game of poker has evolved so quickly that I cannot even believe it. I am sitting here at the end of my session studying like crazy and trying to keep up with all the plays, because if you don’t you are toast, because everyone is getting so much better all of the time. A lot of people are bogged down and are not able to take the jump and look at the game of poker through a different lens, which is what we are trying to do in the book. People are so bogged down with all the old clichés that they have always been taught and so that is the aim of the book. To go into all of that stuff but coming from the perspective of the new school.”

The book itself is a cash game poker strategy book and I wouldn’t buy a cash game strategy book written by Phil Hellmuth. So is it a fair comparison to debate Hellmuth’s outdated cash game advice?

“I get exactly where you are coming from, but on the other hand I am a big TV cash game junkie, and I have seen all of those games and Phil has been on those cash games as much as just about anyone. I have repeatedly heard from Phil himself that, quote on quote, he is the best NLHE player in the world by far. While Phil has certainly had his share of success in tournaments – and that is where he has built his reputation – I am not sure Phil sees it that way. I think Phil thinks he is pretty good at cash games.”

Schmidt has only ever met Hellmuth on one previous occasion. What is going to happen when the pair next find themselves on opposite sides of the felt or opposite each other on Dancing with the Stars?

“On Dancing with the Stars he might have an edge on me but at the poker table I would happily welcome Phil’s action if he wanted to go down that road.”

The book title is quite misleading because the actual clichés that Schmidt refers to are just starting points for a strategic discussion led by Schmidt and co author Paul Hoppe. This book is a poker strategy book and a bloody good one at that. What range of player does Schmidt feel the book is aimed at?

“I think we have nailed it. A recent reviewer wrote that they felt that if you were an absolute beginner then this book would not be for you and if you were a high stakes poker player this wouldn’t be for you either. This was pretty much the way I was hoping the book would be viewed. 99% of poker players that take the game somewhat seriously are not beginners and they are not high stakes players so that means it is for everyone who wants to improve their poker game. Not just cash games but also tournament players. Those guys play a lot of deep stack poker for a number of hours and I feel this book should serve people really well for that stage of tournament play.”

So which part of the book did Schmidt enjoy writing the most?

“My favourite part was to do the 25 hands section. We went over 25 pretty interesting hands that I had played on Pokerstars during my sessions. We went through the analysis and all that. I think that is a fun way to learn. I have always liked getting the analysis of complex hands from people I was trying to learn from.”

So if Schmidt is not going to listen to Phil Hellmuth, who is he going to listen to?

“I love watching the cash games on TV because you can see their whole cards. The guys I am going to look for are Antonius, Ivey or Dwan. I think Viffer has a good game, I may not necessarily want to emulate his style, but I can pick up some parts of his game that I think are very strong. Phil Galfond and Krantz are another two I admire. I think it is very useful to keep on top of the evolution of poker.”

In 2010, Schmidt’s hard work both on and off the tables paid dividends when he was rewarded with a slot on the roster of Pokerstars Team Online.

“I couldn’t have been more ecstatic when they offered be the invitation to be part of their team. If you are a ball player you want to play for the Yankees and that is the way I feel. To be given the chance to represent Pokerstars, and to make that my exclusive home to play poker, is something I couldn’t be more thrilled to do.”

It is not easy to gain a sponsorship deal these days and this is why I believe that poker players like Schmidt, those who have evolved at a steady rate, are more likely to make it. Schmidt is not simply a poker player. Schmidt is a business entity. He is his own brand. He has realised that cash games are not as profitable as they once were and has branched out into different areas of the game and brought multiple streams of income into his coffers. As a result of this entrepreneurial style he grabbed the attention of the world’s biggest online site.

“Well I would be inclined to think that it played a part. I am not Daniel Negreanu or anything like that where I am going to be driving a bunch of new people their way. I just don’t have that kind of name. I got the invitation just after my first book Treat Your Poker Like a Business took off and everyone liked it. I like to think that I can represent them in ways that maybe a 20-22 year old may find more challenging.”

You may or may not agree with our claim that the poker entrepreneur is the result of poker evolution and that Schmidt is one of the animals at the top of the food chain. What is indisputable is his ability to adapt to change in an environment that is changing all of the time. It is this trait that will ensure he stays just ahead of the chasing pack. The title of his latest book suggests that you do not listen to Phil Hellmuth. We suggest that you listen to Dusty Schmidt.

This article first appeared in Poker Pro Europe Magazine