Blogger extraordinaire, cash game hero and the UK’s funniest player: say hello to David Nicholson ‘Lil Dave’
Described by Jesse May as the ‘best thing on the internet’, David Nicholson’s blog Lil Dave’s Life (lildaveslife.blogspot.com) is fast becoming a must-read for poker players and comedy lovers. Each month, upwards of 16,000 people follow the young Yorkshireman through tales of two-day Vegas benders, crushing high-stakes PLO and top-level poker strategy, all told with his witty and unflinching style.
With his spiky hair, small frame, babyface and ever-ready smile, he looks harmless enough. But this is a 22-year-old who has taken the world by its horns, winning and losing ungodly sums and celebrating in the laps of strippers the world over. And luckily he’s just as funny in person as he is in print.
As we take the short elevator ride up to his one-bedroom flat in the centre of Leeds, he’s already got me in stitches telling me a story about partying in Vegas. ‘On my first trip, I had a big spin-up on my own in the MGM when I was very drunk. We’d been on a night out, and I decided that instead of going home I’d go to MGM in a limo with 11 girls. I tried to persuade them to come back later for a Jacuzzi party, but failed.
‘I had about $2k, spun it down to $120 and it dawned on me that if I lost that I wouldn’t have enough to get a taxi home. So I let it ride and span it back up to $8k, continued to party and came home with very little of it.’
Winning is easy
Like many, Nicholson’s exposure to poker came during his school days, when £5 sit-and-gos at his friends’ houses were as high-roller as it got. That gave him a taste for the game, and after ploughing his way through the local casinos, he forged friendships with fellow UK grinders Jamie Sykes and Ash Mason.
Suddenly Nicholson was moving through the gears online, specialising in heads-up cash before ‘beating PLO’. It’s a time he remembers well, and you would too if it was ‘impossible to lose’.
‘I probably won 50 out of 60 days, which is obscene for PLO. It was easy,’ he says in a Yorkshire accented quick tempo sentence. ‘Before you’ve ever experienced losing, you don’t see it as a potential outcome. You just play, and play, and play with no fear. My mentality was, if I play $2/$4 instead of $1/$2 then I’ll win double.’No prizes for guessing what happened next.
A downswing was on the horizon and that initial confidence was all but eradicated in the face of a dented bankroll and bruised pride. And while Nicholson is keen to keep figures to himself (his mum might read this), the familiar smile is nowhere to be seen as he remembers losing everything.
‘I got told that one site was particularly soft, so I deposited a sizable amount and spun it up pretty quickly. And I was going to withdraw it, but decided I’d play some $100/$100 and $50/$100. I lost all of it. My head started going a bit, and then I lost my roll on Full Tilt taking shots at $25/$50. Before I knew it, I’d lost 70-80% of my bankroll.’ And out of the fires of a ‘brutal downswing’ came Lil Dave’s Life.
‘On a whim’ back in September 2010, Nicholson bashed together his first blog and at first it wasn’t exactly a must-read. ‘My attitude was bad back then, that’s why the blog wasn’t very popular,’ he admits. ‘I didn’t really understand poker as well as I do now, and I don’t mean the playing of the cards. That’s just 20% of what playing poker for a living is all about. The rest is about how you handle yourself, and the way you compose your brain. Poker’s all about frame of mind. How you behave is so important.’
Vegas or bust
Sitting in the living room of Nicholson’s stark, white-walled flat in the centre of Leeds, there’s nothing about the scene that says he’s actually cracked this poker lark. He doesn’t own a floor-to-ceiling TV or expensive dining table. In the corner, a single two-seater sofa is all that offers any comfort. It almost feels unlived in. But the barren nature of his home tells its own story: it’s the flat of someone who travels. A lot.
And as Nicholson eases in to the interview, stories of Vegas excess begin to emerge, one hilarious snapshot after another. Since May last year, he’s spent just over four months in Sin City, and it’s during his time there that his blog has really gathered interest. Month after month, people tuned in to see what Lil Dave and his cast of all-star extras had been up to. There was the time Jake Cody beat Gus Hansen in the $25k Heads-Up ‘in the fashion of a wealthy oil baron brushing an irritating leaf off the shoulder of his new satin suit’. Or the time one unlucky grinder had to wear a chicken costume for a night on the Strip.
‘I’ve spent more time in Vegas than I have in Leeds,’ he says of the past year. ‘It should have been daunting, but I got too carried away and drunk too quickly to notice. Vegas is one of those places where it’s going to get you eventually. You just have to embrace it. Last summer it got me immediately. I was a sitting target. The lights, the nights out, it was all too much. I didn’t stand a chance.
‘I delayed my flight for a week so I could stay out there for my birthday. It was the best night out I’ve ever had. We went to Coyote Ugly bar in New York New York and a few more budget and banter places. That’s the best night you can have by far out there. That’s my tip. You don’t have to get a $7k table at Sorrento to have a good time. Although I have done that as well. More times than is healthy for liver or bank account.’
In one amazing ‘two-day’ bender last summer, Nicholson went out for a celebratory dinner after a big win at the $5/$10 tables with Stuart Rutter and a few friends. Bad idea. 50 hours, two hotel suites, several clubs and plenty of alcohol later, he stumbled back home to finally lay his head on a pillow.
‘I was in the Mandalay Bay at five in the morning, having been out for about 40 hours,’ he explains. ‘I had nothing on me, except for a $25 Caesars Palace chip which they let me swap and instead of getting in a taxi I put it on 17 at the roulette table. That came in for $1k and I couldn’t find the exit so I just got another room for the night.’
As he tells the story, he has to stop every five seconds to muffle a laugh. Even then, I’m not so sure we’re getting the full X-rated version of events. Apparently ‘just the right amount of degeneracy’ is what keeps his blog readers interested. And anyway, his auntie reads it, so being ‘selective’ is the name of the game.
Paying the bills
As Nicholson flows from anecdote to anecdote, it’s easy to forget why he went out to Vegas in the first place. Outside of blogging, Nicholson is a formidable cash game player. He became a regular at the $50/$100 PLO tables during last summer’s stateside sabbatical, playing against‘ gambling types’ who just want action. ‘They’re usually the most gracious,’ he adds. ‘They’re almost certainly going to lose their money, but they’re gentlemen.’
But while friends the likes of Jake Cody, Matt Perrins and JP Kelly have gone on to snatch the limelight recently, Nicholson has followed a very different path. As the saying goes, he’s getting it quietly, eschewing high-profile tournaments in favour of private home games and big-limit cash.
And for anyone who’s ever met Nicholson, it’s easy to see why he’s doing so well. His lovable nature makes him the perfect live player; someone to keep your morale high while taking your money hand over fist.
‘You get invited, and you have to meet a lot of criteria. They’re built for peoples’ entertainment, and people want to play with those who are fun. But in theory they’re the most profitable to play in. But they’re so much fun. No one takes it too seriously. You don’t get people in headphones or hoodies. And even if I didn’t have the finances to play in these games, I would. I enjoy them much more than any other form of poker.
‘I’ve always got abigger thrill out of live poker than on the internet,’ he tells me. ‘Live poker is just so much more exciting. I grew into the game that way, rather than the internet, so I came at the game from a slightly different angle. The great thing about poker is that it stimulates so many parts of you. There’s the mental side, the statistical side, meeting people, that’s what I find most interesting. Trying to figure out why a player is at the table and in a pot is the best part of the game for me.’
Above all else, he attributes his current success to a ‘big shift in attitude’. And as he thumbs through a copy of Tommy Angelo’s Elements of Poker on the dining table, his influences are clear to see. ‘If you spend your time complaining then you’ll just make yourself miserable,’ he says, paraphrasing Angelo’s poker classic. ‘There’s no reason I shouldn’t be happy. I’m not homeless and I’m extremely lucky to have found something that I love doing. Money aside, when you love what you’re doing, you don’t wake up and think, oh f♣♥♠ it’s today I can’t wait for it to end.
‘You can’t go round thinking you run worse than other people or the other way round. Plus low morale is extremely bad for business.’
For Nicholson, morale has never been higher. He’s a leading poker coach at The Firm (thefirmpoker.com), there’s another trip to Vegas booked for February and after a deep run at WPT Dublin in January, he may even be moving onto poker’s big time live circuit. But when I ask him about tournaments and the next step in his career, his mind is elsewhere. He’s already back in Vegas. So why is it such a spiritual home for Lil Dave after just one visit? Easy. Vegas is a ‘fantasy land… anything’s possible’.
‘If you can afford to pay for it you can have anything you want,’ he adds, smile beaming. ‘If you wanted to spend $10k on an orgy in the penthouse suite of the MGM, you could. If you wanted to hire a midget to follow you round, you could. It’s anything goes. It’s limitless. But you have to be prepared before you go. Sort your money out, sort your head out and get everything arranged. If there’s a little bit of weakness in your plans, Vegas will punish you for it.’
As for the blog, he’s less sure of where things are heading. People have suggested it could lead to commercial opportunities, and having 16,000 fans is a big selling point when touting for possible sponsorship, if he chooses to go down that route.
But for now Lil Dave is just happy taking things as they come. He enjoys writing, loves being able to ‘vent’ when he chooses to, and admits to thinking about blogging every time he finds himself in an unexpected situation. Plus, if poker goes ‘tits up’, he’s got a plan to see him through.
‘I’ve got Google AdSense on my blog and that makes me about £3 a month,’ he jokes. ‘I’ve got about £17 built up. Every little helps. When times are hard, I’ll have my affiliate money from the blog to fall back on.’
In the meantime, Lil Dave’s Life will continue to provide a chuckle for all those who are lucky enough to stumble across it. And who knows? There might even be a change of setting in the near future.
‘I’ve had thoughts of the Macau cash games,’ he says. ‘But the politics around getting into the games are really tough. If I was a little less white it might help.’ One thing’s for sure, if Lil Dave can make it to the Orient, that will be a blog worth reading.
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