The cameras were off, the game had just broken, and as far as the viewers of Hustler Casino Live knew on that September night, high-stakes cash game star Andy Stacks booked a healthy win of more than $70K.
But not everything is always as it seems. All of Stacks’ profit turned to dust in a short-handed after-hours session that left the fan-favorite nosebleed pro, once again, trying to wrap his mind around another swingy session that he has been working through for the past few months.
In short, Stacks was going through it. And, in that moment, rather than hold it in, he let it out.
“The tweet was really just my human side coming out a little bit,” Stacks said. “I just feel like I was a little bit emotional…and I found myself just wanting to share that a little bit. I feel like a lot of people could also empathize with that and could feel what I was saying. The tweet was kind of to let everybody know that, at the end of the day, I’m human just like everybody else.”
Stacks has a good grasp on his public persona. It’s one of a cash game crusher, with an unflappable demeanor, impervious to the highs and lows of the game that affect his peers. A pro’s pro who is able to make a living playing at the highest stakes among shot-taking recs while navigating the insanity of HCL’s character casting. And it’s safe to say that’s what the camera captures. But underneath, Stacks’ full-time professional exterior, he admits he’s fighting the same mental battle that all serious poker players go through.
“I’m just like everybody else. At the end of the day, when I don’t get the results that I want, the frustrations build,” the 40-year-old Stack said speaking from his home in Los Angeles. “Sometimes it’s better to just recognize that and to accept that, and to really feel, be okay with feeling the frustration, and maybe just take a break. That was the inspiration for putting that out [in the post] because I think that a lot of people get this impression of me that on the table I’m super composed. I don’t get tilted and everything like that.”
Stacks has recently just completed one of those aforementioned breaks, traveling to Asia to bask in the culture and work on some future business ideas. At the same time, he was getting his mind right and preparing to come back to the business of being one of the most popular players on the most popular poker streams in the industry.
“…I guess what I’m trying to say is that, right now, at this point in my life, I’m trying to find a place where I’m okay with who I am.”
“The mental part of it…is the thing that I would say I’m still struggling with the most,” Stacks said. “Which is kind of ironic since we were talking about the subject of looking like I’m very composed at all times. But actually, probably one of the weakest points of my poker game, is the mental part.
“As surprising as it sounds, I know it doesn’t always show at the table, but internally, it’s something that I’ve been battling for ages. Basically, ever since I started playing poker. And I think a lot of it is still just acceptance of who I am as a person. I know it gets a little bit deep when I put it that way, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that, right now, at this point in my life, I’m trying to find a place where I’m okay with who I am…accepting my flaws.”
The work on his mental game isn’t a new pursuit, Stacks has been at it for the better part of 20 years. He calls his poker origin story “very generic” and something you’ve likely heard before: Stacks, a 20-year-old in school at the time, gets introduced to the game just after Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 World Series of Poker victory. He started playing home games with friends and quickly “became completely obsessed.”
Trips to the L.A. card rooms with friends turned into solo outings where he spent all his time cutting his teeth in low-stakes Limit Hold’em games to build up a bankroll. It would be years before he transitioned to NLHE and took his first shot at stepping up in stakes, but he lights up as he remembers it vividly – like it was last week.
“I remember the first time I went from $2/$5 to $5/$10, and just remembering how nervous I was. I remember feeling like this is probably not the most responsible thing for me to do. And it was actually such a risk for me,” he said. “The jump to $10/$20 was pretty quick for me, and maybe a little bit too quick to be responsible for a player that’s being responsible for the bankroll. I think I was probably a little bit overzealous and wanted to play higher and faster. I wanted to continue that rush. I got lucky, and I ran pretty well in that time period and was able to excel once I started playing $10/$20.
“Eventually I started playing $25/$50. I mean, this was in an era where it was different to today, where public games were everywhere, and I was playing at the Commerce Casino, which was basically the capital of poker in LA at the time.”
Stacks became a fixture of the L.A. poker scene long before he met Ryan Feldman on the set of the recently rebranded Live At The Bike. Feldman, co-founder and director of Hustler Casino Live, always felt like Stacks was the kind of player that would excel in front of audiences.
“[Stacks] was known as the action player who was scary to play against and people feared him But he was action and people enjoyed playing with him and he’s kind of always been known that way,” Feldman recalls.
“Andy has definitely gotten a lot better at poker over the years,” Feldman continued. “When I first started playing with him and watching him play, he did a lot of funky things. He kind of would create his own strategy, his own system for how to play. He was always against the grain.
“Back in the day [Stacks] would tilt a lot when he was losing and once he started losing a couple of hands, he would just start playing crazy and playing every hand,” Feldman said. “I think that he’s evolved in that as well where he’s more zen now and he doesn’t tilt and play crazy as much when he is losing, he kind of keeps his composure and remains solid.”
“…most of my peers are my competitors, and so I don’t want to give them an insight into my thought process because they can use that against me on the table.”
Stacks admits that while he studies now, he’s not deep into solver work. After his livestreamed sessions, he goes over all of his hands, looking for leaks to make sure he maintains his edge. He says keeping ahead of his competition remains a challenge for him but ultimately he feels it all comes back to the mental game being the cornerstone of his longevity and the improvement in that area vital to his future success.
“Because I don’t really have that many peers where I can talk to about overall time, most of my peers are my competitors, and so I don’t want to give them an insight into my thought process because they can use that against me on the table. And so what I ended up doing, I found what worked, is really journaling about my thought process of that session to myself, and trying to understand myself better. I think that helps, just putting that out there on paper, and it also releases a lot of tension that is in your brain, that naturally comes from frustration from playing.
“I think in this 20-year journey for me, the mental part has always been, like I said, the part that holds me back, and whether that just means I go on tilt early on and then the rest of my session I’m playing my C game and I’m doing all these things technically that I know are wrong. Or I’m chasing. Or just simply learning how to be humble, not letting my ego take over when I’m losing, that’s just a challenge for me, and just playing in the right mindset…and also just not having a victim mentality.”
If it weren’t enough to wrap your mind around the highs and lows of six-figure swings, Stacks is doing it in front of an audience of thousands. As a featured player on HCL, every check, raise, and fold is on the record. His starting hands, betting frequencies, and overall strategies are there for his opponents to study as well. But just as he’s had to adjust his poker game, he’s had to adapt as a personality in that bright HCL spotlight.
“I’ve had to basically learn how to have way thicker skin, because you receive just endless criticism on stream, no matter what you do,” he said. “If you’re playing a solid, sound strategy, people are going to say you’re playing too tight. If you’re playing too loose and trying to provide “action” for the stream and be good for [the show], people are going to say you’re just too loose and you’re giving money away.
“And so it’s like you just have to learn how to just accept all the criticism and just take it up for what it is, and not hating on it because it’s valid. People have feedback and they’re going to put it out there, and whether they’re coming from a place of jealousy or hatred, it is what it is, and it’s out there.”
When he talks about criticism from the “chat pros”, Stacks takes it how you might think – all in stride. It’s another part of his continued evolution, the process of becoming a personality that connects with people and players.
“I think part of being a pro on screen now is realizing that you’re more of an entertainer than a grinder now. You’re almost like an actor on the stream. Not saying that you have to be fake. By all means, be authentic and as real as you can be, and as yourself, be yourself. But on top of that, adding some entertainment value, whether if it’s not in your speech play or your conversational skills, social skills, it’s in your actual play. Taking more chances and things like that, because that’s what people want to see, and you’ve got to give that to people if you’re given a chance to shine on stream. And I think it’s totally fair.”
The poker personality that Stacks has spent 20 years working on is paying off. While not always seen on stream, Stacks has turned his experience into influence. A growing YouTube channel, additional content creation, and coaching with an emphasis on the Asian market have turned Stacks, for many, into a trusted ambassador for players outside of the U.S.
Looking ahead to the future Stacks says that while he’ll “always be in poker” he’s opening the door to other opportunities. In the meantime, he’ll continue to work on his game and, more importantly, himself.
“One other idea that I think is crucial right now in my success, is just learning to practice gratitude. As funny as it sounds, like all this zen-type stuff, but I really believe in it. I think just being gracious that I’m still around after 20 years, I think, throughout the years I’ve seen so many players have just come and go. I’m talking about not even financially, but just have passed away from just poor lifestyle choices, whether it’s drugs or things like that, or just yeah, completely gone broke…guys that I’ve used to look up to, completely just gone.
“I think just remembering that, that the journey that I’ve come along this way, and just being gracious for that, practicing gratitude, and no matter what happens, like hey, I’m still here and I still have the opportunity, and finding joy in that, rather than feeling like such a grind all the time. I think that’s really important.”