When you’ve won and lost and lived as much over the years as ACR pro Jon Van Fleet - aka ‘Apestyles’ - has, you are almost guaranteed to be good interview material.
We caught up with the larger-than-life online crusher to find out what makes him tick, how he made it back from the brink of disaster, and who the biggest whale on the ACR team is!
Q: How did you become a poker pro?
I always felt like life was too short to not be doing what I love. In the beginning, my dream was to do something with music but I realized that I wasn’t very talented at it. Then poker kind of fell into my lap.
When I quit drinking when I was 20 for a few years I decided I needed hobby. So I pursued chess for a few years. It was my real passion but I knew I couldn’t make money at it without being one of the best. Then I started playing $5 poker games with friends. I was terrible and my friends made fun of me. That motivated me even more, and because of chess I knew how to study. So, I bought a ton of poker books and threw myself into the game.
I was lucky enough to start during the Moneymaker-boom so the games were popping off everywhere and I was also fortunate enough to meet some other pros that taught me how to approach the game like a professional.
Q: How did you end up as an ACR sponsored pro?
To be honest, I thought we were a great fit. I had a big American audience that remembered me from back in the day when I started streaming, I love the night schedule, and the action reminds me of the old days. I wrote them up a long-winded proposal and they just said “yup, we want you, message you next week.”
Q: What are the best and worst things about being a poker pro?
The best things for me about being a poker pro are the freedom and the ability to do something I enjoy for a living.
The worst things about being a poker pro are dealing with misconceptions people have about poker and not being viewed as a legitimate profession. It’s especially problematic when dealing with banks or trying to get mortgages even with good credit. Overall though, it’s a good life.
Q: You can play online from any country in the world…which one do you choose?
I chose Vancouver because it’s a beautiful place and with amazing people. Well, also because I got into too much trouble last time I was in Mexico and Costa Rica. If I move again - as much as I love it here - I will move somewhere with a bit more sun.
Q: Which players do you look up to/rate highly among modern-day pros?
I’ve always thought Stephen Chidwick is the best, he was always blowing my mind even when not many people knew who he was. As far as who I hate playing against… Probably Ike and Addamo win for having the knack to put me in tough spots.
Q: Who do you want to beat heads-up for the ACR Venom crown?
Jon Pardy. Because he’s a whale and he needs the $ 😉
Q: The most useful tip for any aspiring poker pro is…?
Enjoy the wins, but be wise financially, you don’t know when the next big score is going to be. Use your downswings as fuel for studying your game more and improving.
Q: You have to choose an ACR team-mate to take on the world (at anything)…who gets the buddy role?
Jon Pardy because he just seems like a fun dude to get into trouble with.
Biggest achievement, biggest failure and biggest goal?
Biggest Achievement = quitting drinking and hard drugs for 8 years
Biggest Failure = The many times in which I’ve epically punted money
Biggest Goal = Ultimately to improve the lives of the people I love.
Q: Describe what the game of poker means to you in three words…
Competition, Freedom, Intensity
Q: What do your non-poker playing friends think your life is like?
In the beginning, they often believe I play in dimly lit, cigar smoke-filled, back rooms with mafia bosses and big stacks of cash. I clear that up pretty quickly and let them know I’m basically a gamer nerd.
Q: You’ve had some pretty crazy years in the past. Do you ever get used to the massive swings and the peaks and troughs of being poker pro?
Yea, I’ve managed to kind of kill the part of me that cares too much about the things in poker I can’t control. After losing 300-400k in a day in the $25k buy-ins not much can frazzle me unless I make a big mistake.
Q: If you could recommend one life lesson you’ve learned related to poker, what would it be?
I think poker in a way is pure capitalism so there are a lot of analogies in business and life you can make. However, in general, my poor decision in poker have been when I act too fast. Act slowly and with intention.
Q: At what level/stakes do you think GTO-based learning should start to play a role?
I believe GTO as the base point is the starting point for all learning, then we exploit from there. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to teach a beginner PIOsolver, the majority of my teaching is extracting general heuristics from my work with solvers and making it digestible to someone with less experience.
Q: What is your plan for after poker? Is there ever really an ‘after poker’ for pros?
Pushing 20 years in the game I think there is no after poker for me. I think of that as a good thing. I love that I’ve been able to play a game I love for a living for as long as I have. And I love that it keeps me sharp and continuously learning. There are plenty of things other than poker that I want to do but I don’t see myself not playing ever.
You can find Jon at the ACR tables under his legendary nickname ‘apestyles’ but don’t be surprised if the man who has won more than $17million adds your scalp to his belt!