Cy Watson Interview
This is part of this interview series:
Cardschat Interviews - Online US Poker Players Who Have Re-located
Cylus Watson, originally from New Hampshire, began playing poker in high school with friends but quickly saw that some study of game skills could increase his equity. From games for entertainment to a career, Watson had a knack for poker and making a living at it. With friend Ben Sulsky, they motivated each other and continued to improve their games together. Playing as "Cylusballin" online at PokerStars and Full Tilt, Cy accumulated winnings that now surpass the $600K mark, and his live tournament earnings were boosted by some success, though none bigger than his 2012 WSOP Main Event deep run that garnered nearly $300K for his 22nd place finish. Online poker, however, is where his passion remains.
CardsChat (CC): When did you move from the US?
Cy Watson (CW): I made the decision and decided to go really quickly. I was living up in Northern California with seven guys in a big house; I rented a room. A friend of mine was moving to live with me in California, and we both wanted to move into a nice place, but his budget was about $500 a month, and that is impossible in California. I was randomly looking on Two Plus Two and saw that some guy was renting a place in Mexico for about $400 a month, right on the beach. My friend was adventurous, so I asked if he wanted to go live in Mexico for a while. He said yes, and we decided to do it.
I started looking at the WCOOP (World Championship of Online Poker on PokerStars) schedule and saw that the Main Event was that coming Sunday. This was on a Tuesday, so we packed up the car and drove down. This was after last year's World Series of Poker when I was in Vegas and then returned to California. I wanted to keep playing poker but not live in Vegas, and there are some decent games in California but not enough. So we thought about the idea to go to Mexico on a Tuesday, drove down on Thursday, and I was back online by Saturday. And I was there until a few weeks before this World Series.
CC: To where did you move and why?
CW: Rosarito was the most convenient and cheapest out of the options. Toronto or anywhere in Canada, like Vancouver, looked nice, but they're more expensive, and that's not what my roommate and I were looking for at the time.
CC: Was it a difficult decision?
CW: I was living in California and working at a casino as a prop player, and I had some friends there, but I had only been there for six months or so before that World Series. When I went back there, I had friends, but I wasn't rooted down there.
CC: How much online poker do you play on a given day?
CW: I play tournaments, so once I start a day, I'm locked in for a minimum of six hours and maximum of 14 hours on a Sunday. I probably play fewer days a week than most people, averaging about four days a week of tournaments. But like on a Sunday, I'd start at 8:00 in the morning and play until I bust my last tournament, which can be about 9:00 or 10:00 at night.
CC: What games (tournaments and/or cash) and stakes do you play?
CW: I play $20 rebuys up to all of the Sunday majors. I wouldn't play the $1000 Super Tuesday on PokerStars or the $1K Monday on Full Tilt, but I would play the $5K WCOOP. I'd play the big buy-ins during big series, but my backer didn't want me to play those on a regular basis. I play mostly cash games in Vegas, but online, I mostly play tournaments. I played like 75,000 hands of $1/$2 and $2/$4 Pot Limit Omaha on PokerStars to learn Omaha, and I broke even. It's good to break even in those games with such a high rake, so that was impressive, but I found it really hard to learn. Hold'em is what I've been playing for 10 years. It takes a really long time to get good at these games, and I'm just not there with Omaha.
CC: Do you practice or study in any way to improve your game?
CW: I'm constantly learning more things because the game is so complicated. There are so many different outcomes and ways of betting, so many little tricks you can use. I'm living with two really good poker players right now in Vegas, and we were talking about hands. They were talking about the most optimal game theory play, and that's a part of my game that doesn't exist yet. I'm sure I do some stuff accidentally correctly, but it doesn't factor into my thinking yet. It's a part of my game that I'm excited to learn because they beat the game at the highest stakes.
There's a constant battle between playing a lot of poker because you need the experience and there's so much variance. If you're not playing enough hours, you're going to have a losing year. But I decided after listening to my friends talk that I'm going to read a book on game theory, and I'm going to read the Mathematics of Poker by Bill Chen. I tried reading it a few years ago, and it went right over my head, but I need to sit down and hammer that stuff into my head. I wish I could play and learn at the same time, but you have to take time off to study. It cuts into your hourly rate, but in the long run, it's going to be best for your game because you'll move up and make more money.
CC: How do you cope with swings?
CW: Not very well (laughs). It's an internal struggle for me. Sometimes I get crap from my friends for being physically emotional, but that's not very often. Maybe once a week, I'll get up and throw my cup against the wall and occasionally blow up, but it's more internal where I beat myself for losing. Right now, I'm on the biggest tournament downswing I've ever been on in my life. It's in the six figures. When you're winning and mess up a couple hands, you think that those are the hands that you need to work on. But when you're losing, you ignore all of the hands you play well and beat yourself up for the bad hands. It's one of the weaker parts of my game, dealing with downswings.
It helps to have people around me to talk hands out with. I'm not going to go home and get a hug from my roommate when I have a bad day in poker, but we can talk. One of my roommates just gave me a pep talk about a week ago, telling me it will turn around. But the best thing is to go home and talk about a hand that happened that day. Most of the time, if you're above a certain skill level, players will agree on how to play a hand. It's nice and makes you feel better about decisions you've made.
CC: Do you miss your life in the US?
CW: Yes, very much so. I don't think I'd go back to Rosarito for more than a couple months at a time. I really liked it for the first few months I was there. I'm kind of an adventurous person, and it was a new thing. All of the bad things about Mexico just seemed quirky, but after a few months when it's your everyday life, you just want some good meat or go to a good gym or drive on a good road without feeling like you could get killed. You want to feel safe walking down the street. I never felt particularly unsafe, but it's always in the back of my mind… I adopted a dog out there, and I had to drive way into the hills to get him. There was a horse carcass in the middle of the road that we had to drive around. So, it is stuff like that that makes me want to go back to the US. I don't want horse carcasses to be a part of my daily life (laughs).
I know how to speak enough Spanish to get by in Mexico, but I didn't try too hard to learn the language. I think if I totally immersed myself, my skills would be better. I tried to avoid it, though, which wasn't the best way to go about it. Living with a bunch of Americans, the only time I needed the language was when I went out to a store, and most of the workers there speak English anyway.
When I went to Mexico, I wasn't going just to play poker. My roommate and I were trying to develop an iPhone app, something I could use to eventually get out of poker. I'm never going to stop playing, but playing for a living sucks sometimes.
The thing is, you're always on a downswing or an upswing, and the former feels so much worse, and the latter feels like you're just coming out of a downswing. A poker player's salary is not a salary but a range. This year, I might play 40 hours a week and know what my approximate win-rate is, and I'm going to make between $20K and $120K. I'm pulling numbers out of my ass, but luck determines that number.
My roommate right now is Ben Sulsky, who plays giant games, and it's even more brutal for him because a losing year loses all of that money. If he loses a million dollars this year, that's what he loses. But if he wins a million next year, he gets to keep like $600K of it because of taxes. It can be a brutal game because of taxes, rake, and the upswings and downswings.
CC: What would you say to others who are considering a move for online poker?
CW: It's way easier than you think. I did the entire move in a week. When I went down to Rosarito, I met a guy named Miguel, a really great realtor. He showed me four or five apartments, I told him which one I wanted, he showed me what I needed to do for PokerStars and sent it in for me, and I was back online in a couple days. Getting into Mexico is like a toll booth, not a big customs thing. It's super easy to get there and back. Also, be really comfortable that you're a poker pro before you make the move. Don't be some guy who saved $5K and wants to go see if he can play poker for a living.
Actually, I'll amend that advice. If you want to do that, go for it. There are plenty of people I met in Mexico who were low-stakes grinder who were just living cheap on the beach, playing poker, and having the time of their lives. It was really fun for them. But those who went on big downswings had to move away. Have a comfortable amount of money to live on.
-Interview by Jennifer Newell