Meet The Upswing Poker Pros
Gary Blackwood -"GazzyB123"
Hello Upswing Poker! My name is Gary Blackwood. You may know me from my commentary on the Doug Polk vs Daniel Negreanu heads-up match, which was a lot of fun.
Now that I'm officially a coach for the Upswing Lab, I want to share how I got started in poker, how I moved up the stakes, and my general strategic approach so you know what to expect from my training content.
I first started playing poker on Zynga Poker, the free Facebook app. There was a girl; when I was 19, I really liked her and she asked me to dump chips to her so she could play bigger games.
Then I started playing with friends for penny stakes. I hated it at first; then I grew to quite like it. I started learning a little bit more about the strategy. I was an amateur player for a couple of years.
Then in 2014, I decided to quit my job and have a go at playing poker full time. I had $1,500 and played 50NL, and I thank the Lord every day that I didn't go bust. I deserved to go bust for being so stupid -- I had $1,500 to my name!
It's remarkable that I didn't completely go bust and am still standing somehow.
In terms of connections, I formed a Skype group very early with players who back then were far better than I was. I managed to learn so much from the game from these guys.
The kids won't know, but we had this thing called rakeback back then. I used to live off my rakeback from PokerStars. My aim was to break even at the tables, and make like $2,000-$2,500 a month from rakeback.
I now play up to $5/$10/$20 on some sites.
How I Broke Out of the Rakeback Grinder Life
It's kind of weird; a lot of people go from 100NL Zoom to 200NL Zoom to 500NL Zoom. My poker journey doesn't really go like that. I was a small winner at 100NL Zoom, then sort of went off the beaten path. I played on some other sites, some apps and other games.
I beat the games elsewhere and developed a roll substantial enough for 500NL Zoom, which I decided to play for streaming purposes. (People really like to watch 500NL on Twitch.) I was a small loser in the beginning because 500 Zoom is very tough, but I'm proud to beat that game for a small win-rate now.
I only play on PokerStars when I'm streaming. If I'm able to beat it, that's great. If I can do it while playing four tables on stream, that's even better. Trying to entertain people and tell them Jonathan Little blackjack stories while you're trying to play four tables of the toughest game in the world is pretty tough!
Grinding Live Poker in the USA
I ran deep in a heads-up tournament at the L.A. Poker Classic in 2019. It had a really cool structure; it was a best-of-three and I think I came in fourth place. But the way I went out really sucked.
There were four of us left; there were two regs and me, and this American biker guy in his 50s. With all due respect, he was a recreational player and I was delighted to draw him in the semifinal.
It was a best of three match. He annihilated me in the first heat, then I beat him in the second heat. So the winner of the next heat goes through to the final. We got it in with 9-7 offsuit versus his 9-7 suited, on like 8-5-6 with two clubs.
He ended up making a straight flush versus my straight, and he was like, "Let's go! Straight flush baby! In the finals! Yeah!"
I had to sit there like I can't believe I just lost to this guy. There was $30k up top, this fucking American biker guy is like screaming about making a straight flush. It was so fucking tilting.
(Editors Note: American biker guy goes on to lose in the tournament finals).
There was a period for about two to three years where I was spending six months in America and six months in the UK. I would split my time between L.A. and Vegas, but it was amazing. It was such an incredible time.
I'd be grinding the Commerce like every day. For those that don't know, the Commerce is an absolute zoo of a casino to play poker in. Anything goes, there are fights on a daily basis. But it's amazing, it's totally worth it. It's just an incredible place to play poker.
Transitioning to the Solver Era
A lot of my poker friends were using solvers, but I was so reluctant to use one myself. I was happy maintaining my one big blind win rate in soft games.
I bought PioSolver, but I just never fucking used it until a critical light bulb moment. I can't remember what the exact spot was, but I ran a particular hand I played in the solver and I came away from it thinking "oh shit, I'm completely butchering this spot." And then I eventually realized that I was actually butchering every spot, which made it very obvious that solver work was the way to go.
Put simply, solvers really help. Studying with them can massively increase your win-rate. But you also have to interpret them correctly.
My Approach to Coaching, Solver Work, and Poker in General
I try to advise people to do the solver work, but don't replicate the solver. That will likely lead to disaster. Take it from the guy that went from never using the solver to trying to replicate the solver at every opportunity. My win-rate went from being a small winner to just losing constantly because I was trying to play this drastically new system.
But then I changed my approach.
A lot of people don't realize that the solver plays against the solver, which matters a lot in how you should interpret the outputs.
A perfect example: suppose you 3-bet in the small blind versus the button. You c-bet the flop with a flush draw on a two-heart flop, then turn a flush on a third heart.
The solver will check there very often, even with a flush, because the in-position player is supposed to go ballistic and bet the turn with a wide range. But most players won't do that, especially if you play in passive games (which is the vast majority of poker games).
I'll see people mix in these "solver-approved" checks in these really passive games. I always say something like "what are you doing, why are you playing so passively? Exploitatively, instead of replicating the solver and checking here, you should bet much wider than the solver is telling you to do, because your opponent isn't going to bluff as much as the solver would."
So, use the solver as a guide, but don't do everything that it tells you to do. In theory the solver's plays will be higher EV, but in reality, if your opponent has fewer bluffs and loves to call, the higher-EV option is to bet.
I want to bring my own style to the table in the Upswing Lab. I want that style to be a very simplified, yet effective list of strategies that Upswing members can add to their own game.
While there is a fundamental GTO foundation to what I teach, there's a lot of exploitative stuff going on as well (as far as when to replicate the solver and when not to replicate the solver). I want to help you better learn how to play against recreationals, as well as against regulars.
But, again, my focus is to teach you how to play a consistent, simplified strategy that's massively profitable in this day and age. A strategy that can be replicated whether you're playing 2NL or 200NL.