Meet Our Instructors
"In both poker and life, any one thing can go wrong and the short-term results are often based on luck. But if you continue to diligently make good decisions over and over again, you’re going to win in the long run.”
- More than $2 million in tournament winnings
- World Series of Poker bracelet winner
- Venetian Deep Stacks Main Event Champion
When asked why he likes playing poker, top tournament and cash pro Nick Binger grins. “I get to play a game for a living!” he says. “That’s pretty amazing in and of itself.”
Nick never expected to make a living playing games. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in chemistry and then took off for a two-year journey through Europe, supporting himself by teaching English. Seeking a way to supplement his teaching income as he traveled, Nick began to look for a flexible part-time job, preferably something that could be done online from a laptop anywhere in Europe.
Nick’s brother Michael was already a successful online poker pro. He suggested that Nick take up poker, and typically, Nick studied up on the game before ever playing a hand. From a $50 online bankroll, he quickly went to successfully multi-tabling cash games, first in limit hold’em and then in no-limit. By late 2006 he started playing tournaments, and by early 2007, he was on the circuit, where he has earned a reputation as one of the most consistent live players in the game.
From Deep Stacks Champion to WSOP Bracelet Winner
One of Nick’s biggest tournament wins came in 2009, at the $5000 Main Event of the Venetian Deep Stacks Extravaganza. “This win meant a lot to me because I felt like I really put it all together and played correctly from start to finish,” he says. “I had the confidence to play very aggressively at the final table and felt in control the whole time. Finally winning the whole thing at 4 a.m. after playing all day was probably the most satisfying moment of my career up to that point.”
But the biggest success Nick has had so far is the one that means the most to him: winning a bracelet at the 2011 World Series of Poker.
“When I won, I was just more in shock than anything else,” he says. “I’d worked so hard to get there and I finally got there."
“I was just extremely happy. When it finally kicked in, it was just this huge sense of satisfaction and relief and contentment with working hard at something and actually seeing the results."
“So often the results are a couple steps removed from your efforts in poker. In the long term they’re not, but in the short term in poker, especially tournaments, you can work hard at something and not see the results right away."
“During that series, though, I knew that I had worked really hard and I’d had the right attitude. So to actually win a bracelet after all that work was just hugely satisfying.”
The Pain of Losing vs. the Joy of Winning
Nick never forgets that poker is a game—a game he loves to play. But he’s also always mindful that successful poker at his level requires an enormous amount of concentration, stamina, and just plain hard work.
Nick’s willingness to work hard and to withstand disappointment is what has given him his reputation as a steady, focused player who brings discipline and clear thinking to every moment of his game. Some tournament players are known for their volatile personalities and flamboyant displays of emotion. That’s not Nick Binger. Warm, casual, and ready to crack a joke away from the table, his persona at the table is almost steely in its intensity, conveying a calm, logical state of concentration in which emotion has no place.
Even after winning one of poker’s highest accolades—his gold bracelet—Nick is struck by what a demanding and even painful game poker can be.
“There’s a natural asymmetry to your reaction to results in tournament poker,” he says. “The extent of the highs does not match the extent of the lows. That's because you have plenty of negative results all the time when you play tournaments. Even the best players don’t cash 85 percent of the time, so it’s just normal to lose. Big cashes can even be disappointing if you didn't win the event, and winning live events is rare. When you do win an event it’s an amazing feeling because it stands out from all the losses. But sometimes, rather than be happy that you won, you’re just relieved that you didn’t lose!”
Nick has thought a lot about why he’s so attracted to what at times can be such a frustrating game. “Some people would say, ‘Well, why do you keep playing if you don’t feel like there’s substantial emotional reward for it?’ And part of it is just the challenge of it, the love of trying to tackle this thing that works just the opposite of how you think it should. It’s a way to better yourself—trying to keep your emotional balance in the face of the variance of results.”
As a consequence, Nick says, he learned to focus less on his wins and losses than on the satisfaction of playing well. “How I feel about my results has less to do with whether or not I cashed or won, and more to do with how I played. I feel good about playing when I play my A-game and make correct decisions, I feel bad when I make mistakes, regardless of the outcome."
“What I enjoy the most is the satisfaction of keeping at something and succeeding, rather than the success itself,” he says. “The bracelet in itself is great, but it doesn’t really mean much to me outside of the context of the struggle to get there and everything that came before it.”
Looking for that Light-Bulb Moment
As much as Nick loves playing poker, he also loves teaching.
“First, teaching makes me a better poker player,” he says. “Being able to explain what you know generally deepens your knowledge. Going through the process of being able to explain something in depth improves your game dramatically.”
Nick’s other reward from teaching, he says, is the pleasure of working with people. “I like seeing their ‘Aha!’ moments, when the light-bulb goes off because of something I said, or because I’ve presented something in a way it was never done before,” he says. “The style of teaching I enjoy the most is when I can have a dialogue with the students.”
He believes that dialogue helps students learn more thoroughly: “When I can have students explain why they do something, it’s a lot easier to guide them in the right direction.”
Nick finds teaching especially rewarding because it gives him a chance to share the game he loves. “I love the way that math and psychology interact,” he says. “And I love the fact that poker is a skill game with variance, meaning that the best players are going to win in the long run, but in the short term, not necessarily. So there’s a lot of room for people to think they’re great and for egos to flourish and then all of a sudden they crash back down to reality. There’s a lot of human drama in poker!”
What Nick likes best about poker, though, is the mental and psychological approach needed to succeed at it. In both poker and life, he says, “any one thing can go wrong and the short-term results are often based on luck. But if you continue to diligently make good decisions over and over again, you’re going to win in the long run.”