Chris “Fox” Wallace has been around poker for longer than many new players have known how to calculate pot odds, but he’s not a household name in the poker world.
Perhaps it is because he doesn’t travel the world to exotic destinations to play poker. He’d rather play close to home, so as not to be far from his wife and dogs.
It could be due to his lack of a presence in the High Roller tournaments or every World Poker Tour event on the schedule. Instead, he uses smart bankroll management, something he has taught since his early days in the game, and invests in other projects, such as a new poker training site currently in development.
Nevertheless, it’s time to get to know Wallace. He has $780K in live tournament earnings, though cash games are his bread and butter, both online before Black Friday and live cash games since that time. He has written a highly acclaimed book entitled “No Limits: The Fundamentals of No Limit Hold’em” with co-author and friend Adam Stemple. He has written columns for magazines from Poker Pro to Bluff, and taught the game to hundreds of players on various sites like Poker X Factor. Long-known as one of the top poker coaches in the game, Wallace is embracing his time in the spotlight.
That spotlight shone the brightest thus far when he won the 2014 WSOP $10K HORSE event in Las Vegas. Not only did he defeat players like Calvin Anderson, Bruno Fitoussi, Bill Chen, Max Pescatori, Richard Ashby, and Randy Ohel at the final table, but he took home $507,614 and a shiny gold bracelet in the process.
We talked to him a few days after his victory.
CardsChat (CC): In order for people to get to know you, tell us a little about your beginnings in poker.
Chris “Fox” Wallace: I used to play blackjack for part of my living for years. Counting cards is the hardest job I’ve ever had, and I drove a cab in Detroit, so I’ve had bad jobs, but counting cards was worse. With a $50,000 bankroll, I made $13 an hour, and I’ve gotten thrown out of the places I’ve worked.
In addition to doing other things, I turn all my hobbies into jobs and ruin them. That’s just what I’ve done my whole life. When I got thrown out of one of the casinos, the man who is now my friend and co-author, Adam Stemple, told me he had never been thrown out of a casino for being too good at poker. At the time, I needed to do something.
Three or four months before that, I discovered I had an allergy, a very acute sensitivity to exotic hardwoods, which was what I worked with building guitars. When they discovered what it was that almost killed me three times in a month, the allergist told me to go to the shop wearing a mask and clean out my tools. I had to stop working there or I’d be dead in a month. So that career was just instantly over.
When Adam brought up poker, I asked if I could make a living doing that, and he said I had the right tools already, being comfortable with money and cards playing blackjack, even though they’re completely different games.
He brought me a couple of poker books the next day, and I devoured them. Six months later, I quit the job I was working at the time and went to work at the poker tables.
I didn’t have a lot of expenses at the time. I quit my job earlier than I would ever recommend that anyone else do it, but I had PartyPoker at the time, and people don’t have that now.
When I did it, I was playing $30 SNGs on PartyPoker for a living and beating the crap out of them.
CC: So you were mostly a cash game player at the time?
Fox: Yes. I really liked tournaments, but the lack of consistency and the lack of having a big chunk of time to play them kept me away. When I played cash games online, I could stop anytime I wanted, go play ball with the dogs in the backyard, or go out to dinner with my wife. In tournaments online, you’re playing six or eight and have to commit so much time, and with cash games I didn’t have to do that. I liked tournaments but hadn’t been serious about them until fairly recently.
I’ve always played some small tournaments in Minnesota because there’s a $100 cap on bets there in cash games, and the good games are far away from home. The games are really strong there, so there’s not much money to be made, whereas the tournaments have unlimited buy-in sizes. I’ve been playing more.
CC: And the live games took precedence after Black Friday, I assume?
Black Friday completely devastated me. Not only did I lose almost 90 percent of my net worth in one day, but I lost the way I made that money.
I had $10,000 or $15,000 tied up, which would have been a perfectly fine bankroll, but not in the live cash games.
I hit the road. I played a lot of tournament series, though I played cash a lot at those casinos, too. I’d drive to Hammond, Indiana, once a month and play for four or five days, and I hit other places as well. I played some tournaments, but not enough to rack up numbers at that point.
CC: Did you consider moving to Canada?
Fox: No, I considered moving to Costa Rica. Canada is cold; I get enough cold in Minnesota. My wife and I have had enough and are considering moving to Las Vegas in a year or two. But I considered Costa Rica at the time, because I knew some of the people running Poker Refugees. We have two big dogs, though, and it would’ve been a big endeavor to move that far. We both loved Costa Rica, so the decision was close, but we decided against it.
CC: At what point in your poker life did you decide to start teaching?
Fox: Fairly early. I started writing a blog on PocketFives not long after I started playing for a living. I saw that some pros were writing blogs, and they were playing the biggest games at the time. I wanted to write from the point of view of a smaller grinder, and I did it every couple of days, so the blog got pretty popular.
That was my start in writing, but it also gave me the opportunity to quantify everything I was doing as I moved up in skill and stakes.
I started teaching about eight or nine years ago. I first worked for Real Poker Training, the first real site of its kind, and then I worked for Poker X Factor for a while. We then started our own site at GrinderU-dot-com, which is something we’re going to be revamping over the next month or two. We have 40 coaches who have joined us already, interested in being part of it and contributing to it.
CC: What makes you a good poker coach?
Fox: Part of being a good coach is that I’ve quantified everything as I’ve done it. When someone asks me why I do something, I have an answer. I didn’t learn it in an instinctual way; I learned from spreadsheets, building my own breakdowns of No Limit Hold’em. That’s why I wrote the book.
I had so much information, like 80,000 words, so I gave it to my business partner [Adam Stemple], and he made it into a book. I gave him a bunch of parts, and he built a car.
Also, I studied some teaching. My mom was a teacher, and I asked her questions and learned about education, how people learn, and I’m fascinated by that process. It definitely requires an interest in teaching. Not every player can teach.
CC: Looking at your Hendon Mob results, you mostly bought into smaller buy-in tournaments before this summer, events from $200 or $300 to $1K or $1,500 events at the World Series. But this year, you came to the WSOP with the intention to play $10K events. It looks as if you made a big jump.
Fox: I have played some $10K events in the past. Before Black Friday, I bought myself into a few and cashed in, I think, one WPT. But it is a jump this summer. I’ve played the $10K HORSE at the WSOP in the past, maybe twice, but I didn’t cash.
CC: Did you have more confidence this year?
Fox: Confidence isn’t a problem in mixed games for me. Occasionally, it has been in bigger No Limit games, because I haven’t proven to myself that I can beat them. But the last three years on Full Tilt, I was playing as high as $200/$400 mixed games online and beating the Red Pros. It was how I made my living. Of the top five people who I’ve won the most from in my PokerTracker database, four of them were big-name Red Pros from Full Tilt. So it wasn’t a confidence issue with mixed games; it was an issue of whether or not I wanted to raise the money and whether or not other people had faith in me to invest that much.
The people I sold a lot of action to last year made a lot of money, though, so I knew they would buy a big chunk. I proposed a $50K package and contacted them to gauge interest, and they told me they’d take some, and if I didn’t sell out, they’d take the rest. That was a huge help to know that they had faith in me. As soon as I put it out there, I sold out $40,000 of it in three days, and the rest trickled in in little bits.
That felt good to know people had that kind of faith in me. I don’t want to be out begging for money. I don’t have a problem with people who do that, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
CC: So, you win this $10K HORSE tournament. What struck me was that so many people were happy for you, and your blog post thanking the people who made it possible was full of gratitude. A lot of players don’t take the time to publicly do that, rather they pay backers and head right into the next tournament they can jump into. It seems like you took the time to soak it all in.
Fox: I try hard to be that way. The best thing about this win is that so many people are happy for me. It’s really great. Hundreds of people in Minnesota stayed up until 5:00 in the morning watching online, and I woke up in the morning to hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts. That’s a great feeling. Even today, five or six days later, a player from Minnesota who’s not on social med just called me on my way here to say that he heard I won something.
People coming up to me and saying that it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy and that I deserved it, that was weird. As much as I try to be nice to everybody and work hard, I don’t feel like I deserve to win against 200 of the toughest players in the world. Nobody deserves to win a tournament.
CC: But did you feel as if it was a type of validation after so many years of working on your game?
Fox: I do feel that. It proves I can play with those people. The structure is too good and the field is too tough to win if you’re not good. It makes me feel really good as a mixed game player. It wasn’t as if I didn’t think I was a good player. I guess I feel that it validates me to other people, not to myself. But I’m glad that other people can see that I have what it takes.
CC: When you were playing at the final table, were there times that you experienced highs and lows, like “I’ve got this!” or “Uh-oh!”
Fox: I never felt stressed or worried. I never won a pot and felt like I could win the whole thing, but I was confident the whole time. When we moved to the final table, I knew I was playing great. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to make mistakes. I might get outplayed, and things might not go my way, but I wasn’t going to do anything stupid. The tournament was too important. Once you have that, you don’t have to be stressed. Just play well and let things sort themselves out.
It wasn’t stressful until we got heads-up and all the money went in. Then my heart was racing.
CC: You seem to have a fondness for the small tours, like your partnership with Running Aces. Is this win going to change any of that?
Fox: I don’t know if this win will change anything, actually. I don’t know what will come from this. I go where the value is. I don’t always play the biggest game in the room; if it looks tough, I’ll go to the table where it looks like I can make the most money.
Yesterday, there was a $50/$100 Stud-8 game and a $20/$40 Razz game, and the Razz looked better, so I played it. As for tours, there is a lot of value in some of those smaller tours. I’m working a little with PocketFives right now to help them with their live events, like the upcoming low buy-in one at the end of July at the Borgata. I’ll see what happens from there.
CC: Are you working with Matt Stout and the Charity Series of Poker?
Fox: I’m not part of it, but I’m very eager to help. I’m going to help promote it and do anything possible to get the word out. I am going to play the event [July 6 at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas], and I’m going to find a way to give away pieces of myself on Twitter and Facebook. I told them if there’s any way I can donate something to the auction, I wanted to contribute. For instance, I’m going to put up the Monster 24K DJ gold headphones I got with my WSOP bracelet.
CC: Your wife is pretty supportive, and you’re pretty open to talking about her support.
Fox: She’s great, which makes life so much easier. She’s a photographer, running her own studio and renting out space to other photographers. She’s looking into how to move that business to Las Vegas, which is a good town for her line of work, especially compared to Minnesota.
CC: Does she ever come to your tournaments? What does she know about your poker life?
Fox: I think she’s been at a tournament once. I went to Iowa to work with a couple of poker students who wanted to buy a whole day of lessons and buy me into a $50 tournament afterward. It sounded like fun, and my wife thought so, too. She came with us, and we played that $50 tournament, and I crushed it. When I got to heads-up, there was zero chance that the other guy would win the tournament, and he seemed to know it. I felt like I was bullying someone; it didn’t seem fair. My wife watched the whole thing, and after I won the $800 or something, she said, “That’s amazing! I didn’t know what you did for a living. It seems kind of cruel.” I told her that I normally don’t have it that easy and beat up other players. It’s hard work. That was the first thing she’d really seen, though. She has seen me play cash games online, though.
She likes poker. When I met her, she already had a poker-themed bathroom in her basement. But she doesn’t really play or know a lot about strategy. She’s just super supportive and believes in me more than I do most of the time.
CC: Did she watch the $10K HORSE online?
Fox: Yes, and I think it’s the first time she’s ever done that. She spent about 12 hours on her iPad and then texting and talking to family and friends.
Last spring, I hit the final table of a tournament in Minnesota with the chip lead, and first place was $45K, I think. I called her and told her I’d be late because it was already near midnight. She said, “I hope you win it! I’m going to bed.” She just isn’t stressed about it. She believes in me so much. She believes that I’m good at poker and I’ll be okay. When I don’t think everything will be fine, she still does.
People who have significant others who aren’t supportive like that must have it really hard. I can’t imagine trying to play for a living without my wife.
CC: Lastly, I read that you are working on a novel and already published a short story. Tell me a little about your writing.
Fox: I write a column for Bluff every month. I’ve also written quite a few different things. The short story that’s online is a cyber-punk kind of thing. It came to me one night, and it turned into a great exercise in Kindle publishing.
I have two novels that I’m part-way through and haven’t had time to finish. I might take a month off after this and finish one of them. One of them is an action book about a vigilante in Detroit, where I lived for a while. The other is about a special education kid in northern Minnesota who plays football, which was inspired by my mom being a special ed teacher. That’s the one I’d be proud if my grandmother read it, a real piece of literature. They’re both fun, though.
Editor’s Note: Cardschat.com reporter Jennifer Newell is on site in Las Vegas, and will be offering daily news recaps throughout World Series of Poker 2014. Check back here daily for a detailed accounting of events, exclusive interviews, and anything of interest regarding WSOP.