Brian Tate spent his childhood years excelling at Magic: The Gathering before a fellow player introduced him to poker, and changed the course of his life. The Michigan-native was just 17 when he started playing online, depositing with his parent’s credit card, but after a few false starts he was up and running.
Although he had plans to go to medical school, an impromptu trip with his roommate led to a spur-of-the-moment decision to move to Arizona. He spent a few years moving up to the biggest limits he could find locally, before relocating to Santa Monica for high-stakes games at the Commerce Casino. It wasn’t long after that he was playing the biggest limits in the world in Bobby’s Room at Bellagio in Las Vegas.
But after reaching the pinnacle of live high-stakes poker, competing with poker legends with limits as big as $1,500-$3,000, Tate shocked everyone by walking away from the game. Despite his success, the highly-respected grinder instead decided to pursue a different passion entirely – breakfast.
In the three years since transitioning away from poker, Tate has grown his company, Oats Overnight, into the leader in its space with eight figures in annual revenue. Card Player caught up with the 32-year-old to talk about how his time in poker prepared him for life as the CEO of his own company.
Card Player: It seems like you jumped into the mid-stakes limit games early on without much of a bankroll, and quickly made your way to the biggest games you could find. Can you talk about the risks you were taking during this time? Should poker players be taking risks early in their career to get to the top?
Brian Tate: I started out playing micro stakes online with a small amount of savings from Magic: The Gathering tournaments. In the seven years prior to Black Friday, I slowly moved up from 50¢-$1 limit to $30-$60 limit holdem, where the games were much tougher. After Black Friday, I found myself in Arizona playing at Casino AZ. They spread great games from $20-$40 to $75-$150, and I began playing the $20-$40 and $40-$80 games regularly.
Live poker is much different than online. I was getting in fewer hands per hour, but the edge was significantly higher, greatly reducing my variance. This allowed me to take more shots, so I quickly began playing the $75-$150 and then started to learn mixed games.
As I continued to improve in more games, I began making trips to Commerce Casino in Los Angeles to take shots at $200-$400. My first $200-$400 session was 2-7 triple draw, and I lost $40,000. I was devastated, but optimistic that I would be an overall winner in this game. My first four trips to Commerce were a net loss, yet I moved to L.A. full time for my fifth. With a lot of hard work both on the table and off, I continued to grow my bankroll and eventually landed in Vegas playing the $1,000-$2,000 mix in Bobby’s Room.
I was always very mindful of risk, while being realistic about my expected win-rate in each game. It is important to know that the best game in the room is often not the biggest one. Pick your spots carefully and don’t find yourself chasing losses in games outside of your comfort zone. When building your bankroll, game selection is key. Often times, one bad player leaving the game will drastically change your expected win (or loss) rate.
CP: How quickly did you acclimate to playing in Bobby’s Room? Any nerves when first facing off against Doyle and company? Can you talk about the biggest pot you ever played?
BT: By the time I got to Bobby’s Room, I was very comfortable dealing the stress of high dollar swings. I was the “new kid,” so everyone was very excited to play with me. Admittedly, I was a pretty big loser in some games in the mix that I was still learning, but I was a massive winner in the others.
They would initially cater somewhat to my preferred mix, but that didn’t last forever. After one session, Doyle tweeted, “Yep, we played Brian Tate says today. We will know better next time. #DoyleSez.” These guys are all very unique and entertaining people. It was a great experience getting to know them over the years.
The biggest pot I ever played was actually at Aria, in a game with Jean Robert Bellande, Bobby Baldwin, and a few other high-stakes players. It was $300-$600-$1200 no-limit, and I found myself defending the straddle with 5 3 in a massive five-way pot. The flop came J 4 2, and I got my $250,000 stack in with the open-ended straight flush draw against JRB’s set of jacks.
I am very friendly with JRB, and we decided to run it three times to reduce variance in this $600,000 pot. I somehow lost all three! I was typically a limit player, so this pot was many times bigger than pots I’ve previously played in the past. I smiled, said, ‘nice hand,’ and put another $100,000 on the table.
CP: Obviously, you still have plenty of poker left to play, but what would you consider the highlight or highlights of your professional playing days? Any favorite stories?
BT: I’ve never been a tournament player and never won a bracelet, but my first World Series of Poker final table was my most memorable poker experience. It was great to play on that stage because I absolutely love the pressure.
My favorite poker story, without a doubt, came from a late night $1,000-$2,000 game with Doyle and David Benyamine. It was way past the time Doyle would typically leave the game, but he said he would stay if we all agreed to take a shot of tequila every half hour. Living in Vegas at that time, my tolerance was a lot higher than it is now. It was a very funny and profitable few hours of play.
Starting a mix with
TexDolly</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/BellagioPoker?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">BellagioPoker anyone else coming?? pic.twitter.com/BWZmKjV7r1
— Brian Tate (@grpoker) December 8, 2013
CP: How much do you miss your days of high-stakes action, and how often do you get to play these days?
BT: I miss playing a lot and only get to play a few tournaments at the WSOP each year. The lifestyle of a CEO is night-and-day different than a high-stakes poker player. I decided early on that I would not attempt to do both. That said, I absolutely love what we are building at Oats Overnight. We are changing the breakfast game completely and improving the morning routines of hundreds of thousands of people in the US. This feeling of accomplishment is constant reassurance that this path is the right choice for me.
CP: Some of our more callous readers might accuse you of stepping away from the game because you went broke or decided the games were too tough. Did the success of Oats Overnight force you out of poker, or did poker post-Black Friday force you into Oats Overnight?
BT: While I understand those assumptions, I quit at the peak of my career. My last full year was actually my biggest winning year ever. Choosing to focus on my business full time simply felt right. The opportunity was clear to me from the very start and I was ready for the transition.
CP: You mentioned your impulsive decision to move to Arizona and then Los Angeles. Were you as impulsive when it came to your business idea? Can you tell the story about how you came up with Oats Overnight?
BT: Oats Overnight started in my kitchen. I was making homemade overnight oats nightly to supplement my fitness routine and make it to early morning poker games, without the need to cook or stop at a drive thru.
I am not a big grocery shopper, so would always run out of ingredients. This led me to look for a prepackaged version, which did not exist at the time. I did the research, and found that there were hundreds of thousands of monthly searches for overnight oats recipes with no products currently available. I knew it had to stand out, so began formulating a unique overnight oat shake that did not require a spoon. We build the proteins from the ground up for many different delicious flavors, like Maple Pancakes and Blueberry Cobbler. The market instantly responded positively to this unique creation.
In three short years, Oats Overnight has become one of the best-selling breakfast products in the US. We lead the rapidly growing overnight oats space, with “Amazon’s Choice” in the overall category. I used my poker bankroll and savings to bootstrap this to date, but we have been in discussion with leading investment firms who are interested in joining us on this journey. Revenue has grown 200 percent year over year, with current annual revenue in the eight figures.
CP: Are there any poker skills that have come in handy in the business world?
BT: Much like poker, being an entrepreneur requires a lot of unique analytical and emotional skills. You are constantly put in positions to make significant decisions, and time is not always available. It is important to keep a cool, rational mind through it all. I manage the digital ads on Facebook and Instagram, and it sometimes feels a bit like online poker. Knowing when to press edges and cut losses is key while working with a set budget.
Maintaining a work and life balance is also important. In poker, there is always a game somewhere. It is easy to get caught up playing consistent 20+ hour sessions while losing track of your health. In business, you could always be doing something to improve your company. Maintaining a high-output schedule while leaving time to recharge with things you love is necessary. I’ve continuously worked to improve this balance during my 12 years of poker. Oats Overnight is an extension of that for which I am well prepared.
Where business differs from poker is the team setting. Poker is very independent. You control the work you put in off the table, the hours you play, and the decisions you make. Business, however, requires a collection of intelligent minds to get the job done. At the start of Oats Overnight, I micromanaged in a way that wasn’t beneficial to the company. Since then, I’ve brought many talented people onto the team and learned to trust their judgement, ultimately moving the company forward in a big way. Success in business requires this team mentality.
CP: All-time tournament earnings leader Bryn Kenney says he wants to keep grinding and try to get to $250 million. The no. 2 all-time player, Justin Bonomo, says he is going to play much less poker, and focus on other investments. Who is right and why? Should poker players be actively looking for other places to invest their money other than the poker table, or is that realistically the best shot they have at financial success?
BT: I respect both of these players and strongly believe that there is no right answer here. Everyone is motivated by different goals and passions. Many poker players I knew were looking for a “next step,” but didn’t know where to start. The opportunities outside of poker are endless.
I would encourage every successful poker player to examine what truly makes them happy. If you can’t see yourself at the tables in 10 years, look for an industry that you love to make a difference in. I assure you, if you’re consistently beating the poker games at any limit, the transition will be easier than you think.