Really pleased to bring you a great interview with poker pro and online poker legend Alexander “Assassinato” Fitzgerald. He talks about his battles to overcome his daemons and how it has affected his life. His is a really compelling and inspiring story. Enjoy the read.
1. Who are you and what you do?
I am a professional poker player. I run a consulting company for professional poker players. We currently have 300+ clients.
I have been in this business since I was 18-years-old. I’m recognized as one of the better educators and writers within my field. My work is widely published and I have a number of speaking engagements each month. I’ve visited 40 different countries and lived in three different continents. I’ve been on television on four different continents. I’ve earned $3,000,000 in my lifetime from poker tournaments. Four times in my life I have made over $100,000 in one day.
2. When did you first begin experimenting?
I was always an addict. Video games, reading, Coca-cola, if I wanted it I had to have it. I was a really sped up kid who liked to be engaged. School bored me to tears. I stayed up all night listening to metal CDs, watching anime, and playing video games. To get over the sleep deprivation I drank four Cokes a day.
When a doctor prescribed me Adderall things really changed. I was a pretty chubby kid who never could focus or shut his mouth. Over night, I was getting much skinnier and I wasn’t talking as much. I didn’t need to sleep. Once I got addicted to going to poker games the drug really helped me out. I never was sleeping. When I couldn’t get enough Adderall I’d settle for street amphetamines.
It felt good at first. Really good. Eventually I got paranoid and started really mistreating people. I overused it. Entire conversations and larger life events…I have a hard time remembering. For my 18th birthday I stayed up for 49 hours straight. I played cards all night, went to high school, read comic books in the library, and played all night again. I just never wanted to sleep.
3. When did you realise you had a problem?
My girlfriend at the time told me I went psychotic. I’d berate her for four hours about something I imagined. My friends asked if I had cancer because I’d lost so much weight so quickly. When I had to get off the drug to go on a commercial fishing trip my mind felt like it was splitting.
4. Did your substance issues affect your poker career?
I gave up Adderall before I really started doing well with poker. The weed, the opiates, the drinking, the cough medicine, everything else really hurt my career. I have really close to nothing from all the money I made.
There’s these special tournaments that happen once a week online. As many as 5,000 people can enter one. You might make the final 18 and get an opportunity to win $100,000+ in them once or twice a year, if you’re a good player. I probably had 15 different times I was in the final 18 with the chip lead and I didn’t even make the final table, or I made the final table and blew it there. I was just too stoned. I wanted to beat everyone in every single hand.
For a long time I’d get sober for the live events, but eventually I even gave that up. I’d misread my hand and just literally give thousands of dollars to my opponents. I’d make ridiculous plays nobody could justify. I became a large underachiever
5. What made you change your habits and get sober?
I went from a mansion with a private beach to a dump studio apartment in a downtown Central American city with rats running through it. I couldn’t go 20 minutes without getting stoned. I never could remember anything. I couldn’t beat 50 NL – that’s where the absolute beginners play.
I prayed to God one night, not wanting to give up. I trashed everything I had the next day. Just hundreds of dollars of stuff, I threw it right into this literal river of shit. I felt so free.
6. What did you do to get sober and how difficult was it?
I didn’t do anything traditional, as stupid as that was. I occupied myself. I started running 10-15 miles a day and doing 250 push-ups. I threw myself into my work. I went to a neurologist who got me on some anti-psychotics which have pretty much saved my life.
It was extremely hard. I relapsed frequently. I’d just drink a bottle of whisky all by myself. Christ was really there for me though. Every time I tried to get back into drugs or alcohol it was terrible. I’d get so sick. Eventually, I never wanted to do it again. I’d feel like vomiting even thinking of drinking. I’d get paranoid just thinking about smoking weed again. I don’t have an official sober date, but it’s been over a year.
7. Are you involved in any sobriety programmes?
It’s really hard for me in Costa Rica because there’s no English-speaking Alcoholics Anonymous, MA, or NA. Well, there might be one somewhere, but if there is I never found it. I can’t believe people could have a free AA in their community and not use it. Getting sober by yourself is terrible. You feel like your life is ending. You feel like you’ll never feel good again. That year where I couldn’t string a sentence together because I wasn’t high and I didn’t have a support group. It would have been so helpful to be around other people who were going through the same thing, or to speak to a doctor.
Fortunately, I did have my fiance who is the toughest and smartest lady I’ve ever met. She was always there for me when I felt like I couldn’t do it. Her family and my family never doubted me either. They just gave me the most unconditional love in the world. Once I put some time together sober I couldn’t dream of going back. After all they’d done for me it was inconceivable to put them through the process again.
8. Has being sober helped you personally or professionally?
It’s night and day. I was at war with the world when I was high all the time. Now I feel so grateful for every day. It took a good six months to get back to feeling normal, but I’ve cherished it every day since it’s been back. I feel so much more energetic. I’m so blessed to have the business I have. I’m so fortunate to work with the people I work with.
9. What advice would you give to someone who may have addiction issues?
If you have to do it every day or you will feel terrible, then you are not in control. Don’t be ashamed of it. Fight it. 9 out of 10 people I know who got sober and stayed that way went to AA, NA, or MA. They got a sponsor. They worked the steps.
Drop the friends who are pushing this crap on you, because that’s not who you are anymore. If you feel like you can’t handle it go outside for a walk. If you like to run, run. When that sweat is dripping off your face and your getting those deep breaths in you will feel free. Listen to Stic Man’s album “The Workout.”
You only get what you earn. It’s supposed to hurt.
10. Do you see any pattern between your success as a poker player and your level of sobriety?
It’s not even close. I said I needed a drugs to be fearless, when really that was always within myself. My six most winning days in poker came when I was completely sober.
11. What goals do you have for the future?
Get married to my beautiful fiance, build a home, read more books, and deepen my relationship with Jesus Christ.
12. If you could do it all again, would you do anything differently?
It’s a double-edged sword. I wish I’d saved all the money I’d made and built a house for my mother, but I wouldn’t have the inner peace I have now if I hadn’t gone through that hell. I wish I saved enough for my sister’s education and my mother’s retirement, but I’ll take care of that in time. I’m glad I made my mistakes and got all of that out of my system.
13. What is your favourite poker hand?
10-3 offsuit. I like making something out of nothing.
Alexander “Assassinato” Fitzgerald has amassed $3,000,000+ in tournament earnings alone. He is the most requested private MTT coach in the world. He currently resides in his suburban home in Costa Rica with his fiancé and poodle.
Alex can be reached for affordable private lessons at Assassinatocoaching@gmail.com. Alex is also an instructor at PocketFives Training and writes regular strategy articles for PokerHeadRush.com. To follow him check out his Twitter @TheAssassinato and his Facebook at Facebook.com/Assassinato.