Last Sunday, Jonathan "apestyles" Van Fleet notched his first online tournament win of 2015 in a big way when he finished first in The Sunday Major on Full Tilt for $33,866. The impressive victory followed up a third-place finish in the PokerStars Double Vision Sunday Million for $102,959 on Dec. 21.
Originally from the U.S., Van Fleet moved to Vancouver, B.C. after Black Friday in order to continue his online poker career. In addition to more than $6.6 million in online tournament cashes according to PocketFives.com, Van Fleet is also one of the most active and popular poker coaches, and co-authored the three-volume book series Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time.
But it hasn't been all smooth sailing for Van Fleet. He battled alcoholism after Black Friday and even skipped the World Series of Poker in 2013 to check into rehab. It was a tough decision that has changed his life for the better.
PokerNews caught up with Van Fleet to chat about his recent success and the uphill battles he's faced in recent years.
PN: How does it feel to get your first win of the year in a big way in the Full Tilt Sunday Major?
JVF: I'm always grateful to win money on a Sunday in tournament poker and having all the chips after taking a tournament down is uniquely satisfying. But — and I know this is a boring answer — I try not to let my happiness get too tied up in tournament results. My goal is to be a zenbot — I try to avoid both the emotional highs and lows and just focus on making the best decisions I can and improving my game — at least that's the idea. I've been doing this professionally for 10 years and I think I would've lost it by now if I cared too much about things I can't control.
PN: How does this win compare to your huge third-place finish in the PokerStars Sunday Million in December?
JVF: Well, the Million score was three times bigger but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed after being one of three in the million, declining a chop, and then busting third behind the nittiest short stack ever. Second place would have been my biggest online score too. That's the fundamental problem with tournament poker though, pretty much everything but first place is unsatisfying in some way. After I watched the replay and realized I was happy with the majority of my plays I felt silly for complaining about a six-figure score. It was a huge way to end the year and a short break-even stretch. So yeah, all in all, life is good.
PN: Can you share with us a pivotal moment of the tournament? Was everything smooth sailing?
JVF: No way, it was a bumpy ride. I went from first out of six with a big chip lead to fourth out of four after making a few high-risk, borderline-spewy plays. I was putting ICM pressure on players because there was a player with 2.5 big blinds, but it backfired big-time. I had solid logic behind the plays I made, but in retrospect they were unnecessary and based on too little information. So I might've been a little chip drunk. Then I made a comeback after doubling up, running a big bluff, and getting paid off with . Then when I was heads-up, I flopped a flush vs. the nut flush draw, so pretty much a cooler. I do my best to play my A-game all of the time, but this tournament wasn't seamless and probably wasn't my best showing.
PN: Were there any thoughts about chopping the tournament?
JVF: I didn't really think about it for $33K, as I enjoy winning tournaments outright. I used to have a never chop attitude because I thought I was giving equity away. It was also kind of a macho-ego thing. Now I'll definitely chop if I'm offered a reasonable deal or if I think the skill difference is minimal. Also if the money is big I'll also be more likely to chop. From a logical perspective, I'm not going to register versus a reg[ular] in a rake-free $35K heads-up sit-and-go so why would I not chop for a $70K money difference? That was pointed out to me in a video I watched the other day and it made sense to me. That being said, I'm not a heads-up pro but I've studied heads-up more than most MTT regs and am actually in the middle of reading Will Tipton's book on heads-up poker so I'm generally just inclined to play it out for the glory and because I enjoy it.
PN: What’s it like living in Vancouver? Are there many other American poker refugees there?
JVF: Vancouver's a beautiful city and I love the people here. When I first visited I was with all poker people — I lived with Ryan Daut, Adam Levy, and Jason Koon at different points. I was on the same street as around 20 online pros at one point. Now I think most poker players moved elsewhere — mainly Mexico — because of the weather, how expensive it is, and Canadian immigration. Now the majority of my friends are non-poker players that I've met through different community service groups and recovery. It's refreshing going out to eat and not hearing about people's ace-king. I only have a couple of poker buddies out here now and they're Canadian. That being said, I may end up moving down to Playa if I can't figure out a way to renew my status.
PN: What are your goals for 2015?
JVF: Beat Zoom $500 starting at $100, be more mindful around what I eat, quit smoking, go on a 10-day silent meditation retreat, and keep working to solve poker and watch lots of videos. Mainly, just wake up and be the best, most authentic human being I can be each day.
PN: It has been awhile since you have been seen playing live tournaments. Are there any plans to get back in action in live tournaments?
JVF: Well, from June 2013 to August 2013 I decided to skip the WSOP for the first time ever. After Black Friday, my alcohol and drug usage got out of control. Also, when I was blasted out of my mind I did some degenerate and stupid things that put me in a bad spot financially and spiritually. So, instead of continuing to spiral out of control, I made the decision to go to rehab instead of play the WSOP. Luckily I had really supportive friends during that time period who made that possible. Shout out to Stephen Chidwick, Ryan Daut, Mark Herm, and Steve Gross for supporting me during that time period and helping me out emotionally and financially. There were a lot of other people who stood by me when I was in a bad place and believed in me too. People think poker players are fake and deceitful, but it's a bunch of bullshit. I've met some of the best friends I'll ever have through online poker.
Anyway, since I got out of treatment I've been focusing mainly on balance and have switched more to online play and coaching. I also volunteer a lot of my time at a treatment center during the week and was taking counselling courses — that also helped me stay in Canada. Since getting clean I've been running really hot online and am generally really happy with my life. Now that I'm back to doing well, I figure if it ain't broke don't fix it. Plus l find live poker pretty tedious and gruelling. I did play the WSOP Main Event last year and that was enough live poker for me.
PN: What’s next for you? Are there any new books in the hopper?
JVF: I'm not really sure what's next for me, I love it here but I have to find a way to stay legally. Otherwise I may head to Playa Del Carmen or somewhere else. You may even see me at some live events, as much as I just trashed live poker, I kind of miss it.
Unfortunately, there won't be any books in the future. There just isn't the same market for books in English as there was pre-Black Friday, plus it's more hassle than it's worth. I did enjoy the experience and challenge of co-writing the books and I'm happy with the way they turned out as well. In my opinion, they were the most up-to-date books on tournament poker you could find.
PN: We understand you also provide poker coaching. Can you run through with us how a typical session is and how a poker player looking for your services should go about doing so?
JVF: Thanks for asking. I do a lot of work off table and I now coach almost as much as I play. The typical session starts with a database review where I identify possible leaks and search further. I then try to focus on one or two concepts and illustrate them using different programs like CardrunnersEV, Holdemresources Calculator, Flopzilla, and GTOrangebuilder. Success depends on the person being coached because I also give homework and suggestions for next time. I find that this concept-based approach works a little better for understanding than hand history review, although I do both. I have a few other methods of coaching as well. I try to meet the student wherever they are at but I think in general I'm more beneficial to players who are already at least at an intermediate level.
Anyone who wants to contact me can do so by sending me a message on any of the poker forums or Twitter.