One of 5 articles that appear in Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt’s book.
Dusty is the ultimate grinder, and he’s constantly asked how he can possibly play so much poker. (Over 1 million hands a year and 7 million in the past four years). Some see his as a freakish talent, like some sideshow act at a carnival; others want to be taught.
Ask Dusty to explain it and you’ll get half an answer — not because he’s holding back. He just doesn’t know entirely how he does it. Dusty is like top performers in other sports who have tremendous ability, but lack the full picture of what makes them so.
If you want to grind like he does, it’s not enough to understand what Dusty can do now. You need to know what got him here. It didn’t just happen; it was something on which he worked day after day.
Grinding is a skill reserved for those willing to do the work. It isn’t something that Dusty, nor anyone else was born with. It was learned. Here are some characteristics you’ll find in grinders:
- Dedication. Few realize that Dusty’s ability to grind out monster poker sessions was borne from his days in golf. Hitting thousands of golf balls a day requires the same level of dedication that poker does, only he’s been doing it since age 8. Dedication requires consistency, especially when things get hard. Whether you’re running great or terribly; whether you’re tilted and can’t focus, confused and full of doubt, or moving up and feeling the heat, dedication means plowing through day after day no matter what comes your way.
- Drive. Dusty was willing to work his “leather ass” off because he had dreams of being great. Whether in golf or poker, when he put his mind to something, he wanted to succeed at the highest level. Drive like that lead him to grind like few others. You don’t need to shoot that high to grind, but you damn well better be driven by what you want.
- Endurance. Grinding requires mental endurance comparable to the physical endurance needed for running a marathon. It’s important to look at developing mental endurance in much the same way that you would do it physically. When Dusty burst into poker, he already had the mental muscle for marathon sessions. Too often players think grinding is easy, expect too much, and burn out quickly. If you expect too much too soon, your mind will crash just as your body would if you tried to run 26.2 miles when you comfortably could run only 5.Instead, think about building your mental muscle steadily from what you can do, not what you should be able to do. So if it’s easy to play a 90 minute session, then increase it by 10-15 minutes. Once 100 minutes becomes easy add another 15.Repeat.The word ‘grind’ makes it sound like something that’s hard. It isn’t for Dusty and that’s the point. Grinding is easy once you get there.
- Pushing yourself. Building mental muscle means you have to push yourself through times when you’re tired, tilted, distracted, or for whatever reason having a tough time. Few realize these times are where the learning to grind happens. Quitting is easy. Learning to grind is hard. Push yourself like a coach would to get over the hump, and then grinding gets easy.
- Getting rest. To run farther you need bigger muscles, to grind longer you need more neurons (the brain’s muscles). Muscles and neurons grow bigger when resting, not when training. If you want a bigger brain, you need to train. Then you need rest.Rest means taking time away from poker and getting proper sleep. And after days where you really push yourself, get even more rest. Your brain needs it.
- Being automatic. Of all the decisions Dusty makes at the table, less than 3 percent require thought. With 7 million hands to work from, there are few situations that challenge him. Most are automatic.Decisions that require thought use mental energy. Dusty grinds hands easily because he’s like an energy-efficient light bulb, using just a fraction of the energy that most other players do. He can play longer, play more tables, play more hands without nearly the energy that it takes you to.Making your decisions automatic without playing 7 million hands is complex. Two easy ways to get there: 1) Continually be focused on eliminating easy mistakes; 2) Review hard decisions. They have a lot to teach you.
- Removing mental mistakes. Issues like tilt, anxiety, focus, motivation, etc, can be pushed aside to grind, but only for a short time. Aside from the havoc they create in your game, they are colossal wastes of energy. If you want to play massive amounts of hands, they have to be gone.