Meet Our Instructors
"There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing people who you’ve taught becoming successful. Just being able to be a part of that is a big honor, because it’s something I wish I could have had when I was learning. So being able to do that for other people is something I take great pride in."
- Played over 2 million hands of poker
- World Series of Poker Circuit Champion
- WPT Director of Training and Curriculum
If you take a Boot Camp from top online poker pro and WPT Boot Camp Director of Training Nick “Nicky Numbers” Brancato, sooner or later you’ll hear him share his favorite saying. “Playing poker is fun,” he’ll say, adding quickly, “but it’s a lot more fun when you win!”
And in fact, Nick has enjoyed his share of poker victories, including winning a WSOP Circuit Champion’s ring, a successful career as a high-stakes cash pro, and doing live commentary for World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker events. But as he’ll be the first to tell you, his most important experience at the poker table was actually an early loss.
This loss occurred right at the beginning of Nick’s poker career—in fact, during his first two weeks playing poker. Purely for fun, Nick—then a successful Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer—deposited $200 into an online account. He promptly proceeded to lose half of it.
Working His Way Up
Ironically, that early loss inspired Nick to become one of the game’s most skillful players. Disgusted with himself for underestimating how complex poker really was, Nick went right over to his local bookstore and bought out the shelf of poker books. Then he set himself to mastering the game.
“Before I played another hand, I read every single book I could find. If it said, ‘hold’em’ I bought it,” Nick says. “Then I started at the lowest level I could find, which was $5 sit & goes. At that level, just reading those books was enough to make me an immediate winner.”
Using a strict bankroll management system, Nick slowly worked his way up. Then he started playing two tables…then three…then four. Eventually, he was playing multiple sites and eight-tabling $200 sit & goes, the highest stakes available at the time.
“At that point, I had hit the ceiling of what I could achieve playing sit & goes,” Nick says. “Then I realized that with cash games, the ceiling on what I could win was much, much higher.”
Many players have an ego issue about dropping stakes. That wasn’t Nick’s style. Because he knew that there was a significant difference between the primarily short-stacked play of a sit & go and the deep stacks of cash games, he went all the way down to the lowest level cash games he could find: ten cent/twenty-five cent. To make sure he was still playing the short-stack game he understood, he bought in short—for just the $5 minimum allowed.
“I went from the top of sit & goes to the bottom of cash games,” he explains. “Then I gradually played deeper and deeper—buying in for $10, then $15, then $20—until I finally learned how to play deep-stack poker and bought in for the maximum.”
Once again, Nick worked his way up to the biggest online games available at the time, eventually 8-tabling $5-$10 no-limit. In the process, he developed an approach to poker that was both deeply nuanced and thoroughly systematic. Using spreadsheet software and statistical analysis tools like Poker Tracker and Poker Stove, he delved deeply into the game, with the goal of solving as much of it as was humanly possible.
For years, he played diligently, scrutinizing the millions of hands he played and analyzing tens of millions of hands played by the most successful online players in the world. He searched for patterns and examined strategies, identifying exactly what worked and what didn’t for virtually every no-limit hold’em situation imaginable. This tremendous commitment to studying the game allowed Nick to make much of his play automatic, which freed up his attention to think multiple moves ahead and focus on more complex decisions. The result was a uniquely integrated approach to poker built on a solid statistical foundation and allowing for the highest possible level of strategic thinking.
The Student Becomes the Teacher
Step by step, Nick had transformed himself from the rank amateur who had lost more than half his bankroll into a very successful high-stakes online player. In fact, Nick was making so much money playing poker that he had to reconsider his day job.
“I was making a bunch of money playing online poker, but I wasn’t really sure how sustainable it was,” Nick says. So he left his high-paying job as a network engineer to become a high school teacher. “I figured I’d only have to work 6 hours a day teaching and it would give me some guaranteed salary and medical benefits while I figured out if I could just play poker full-time,” he recalls. In the process Nick also got his Master’s degree in education.
Eventually, Nick was making so much money playing online that, as he says, “It was ridiculous to go into work at all.” Nick had become a professional poker player who could now spend all his time focused on the game he loved.
To his surprise, though, Nick discovered that he also missed teaching. He found himself wondering if there wasn’t some way to combine his two loves: teaching and poker.
Nick was especially interested in poker education because he himself had been self-taught in a way that few beginning players would ever be able to match. To become a top high-stakes player, Nick had relied upon poker books, online forums, data-mining, spreadsheets, and statistical analysis tools. He knew that most people could not have used those learning aids the way he did because the learning curve is so steep.
“A lot of the poker books I read were great,” Nick says, “but I had a computer science and math background, so I found them more accessible than most people would.” As for statistical analysis tools, “Anyone can use them, but a lot of people need help getting started.” And with online forums, “There’s no one in charge. So it’s hard to know who to trust unless you are very familiar with that world. There’s a huge barrier to entry.”
Nick had also found his own poker education a somewhat lonely experience. “I didn’t know anyone who took the game anywhere near as seriously as I did,” he says. “I was just alone, trying to figure out how to take my game to the next level. It’s very hard to improve that way. The best way to improve is with a group of other people who take the game as seriously as you do. You get a synergistic effect among all the people who are constantly trying to improve, asking each other questions and sharing their knowledge.”
All of these experiences got Nick thinking about what poker education might be. He imagined a place where everyone was serious about improving their game, a place where dedicated students could get reliable answers from experts they could trust. Then he discovered WPT Boot Camp.
A New Vision for Poker Education
As a teacher at WPT Boot Camp, Nick finally found the community of poker players he had been seeking for so long. He loved teaching there—and he soon found himself working with other teachers to expand the school’s curriculum.
First he developed a two-day cash camp with a groundbreaking method. Instead of just telling people how to play particular hands, he outlined a situation-based approach to the game.
“The best way to teach poker isn’t telling people, ‘Play these hands in this way,’” Nick explains. “Instead, people need to understand what questions they should be asking themselves in particular situations so they can arrive at the best play. It’s not about the hands you’re dealt, it’s about the situations in which you’re dealt them.”
Then Nick went on to develop higher-level classes, creating a one-day lab, an advanced cash camp, and an advanced tournament camp.
“In the beginning, WPT Boot Camp was a place where you could go to immediately jump-start your game,” Nick says. “But after that, where do you go? How do you keep improving? My goal was to set up a model for continuing poker education, so that no matter where you were in your development as a player, there would always be someplace you could go to learn more and to get your questions answered.”
Finally, Nick developed the WPT Boot Camp online training site, where poker students at all levels could enroll in a wide variety of online courses and webinars, as well as participate in forums and study groups, and become part of an online poker community.
“I didn’t want people to have to learn alone in the way I had to, which was so hard,” Nick says. “I wanted to create an environment where someone’s always there to help you. Where we could all learn together. I wanted to create a community where people can achieve whatever they want to achieve in poker. If you want to become a professional poker player, we can help you. If you’re already a pro and you want to improve your win rate or work on the mental aspects of the game or on some other element to push every small edge, you can do that. If you want to be dangerous in your home game, we can help you get there. Or if you want to play recreationally, we’ll give you what you need to have a good shot to win in any game you might play.”
Ultimately, Nick says, “We’re here to help people to identify their poker goals. Then we’ll guide you to a position where, as long as you’re willing to learn and to put in the time, you should be able to achieve those goals.”
Inspiring Colleagues, Students, and Pros
Nick has gone on to create a poker life that includes playing, teaching, and helping others to teach. In all three roles, he inspires respect and appreciation from his fellow pros.
“If I have a question about the way I played a hand, and I have to go to someone, it’s Nick,” says Poker Hall of Famer Linda Johnson. “He’s my go-to guy for answers.”
Linda’s fellow Hall of Famer Mike Sexton admires Nick as well. “Nick is not one of the most well-known names—unless you’re an insider in the industry,” Mike says. “What he’s done with teaching and the level he’s taken it to and the respect he has from other pros and from his students is second to none.”
WSOP bracelet winner and two-time WPT champion Hoyt Corkins is typically succinct. “I wouldn’t mind taking a piece of Nick in a tournament,” he drawls.
Top online tournament pro Eric “Rizen” Lynch, winner of the PokerStars Sunday Million, says that teaching with Nick has significantly improved his game. “One of the things that Nick is really good at is taking insights from the poker table and turning them into poker rules,” Eric explains. “Following Nick’s guidelines has allowed my play to be a lot more consistent and has probably kept me from making at least some mistakes.”
Nick’s students have also benefited from following Nick’s approach to poker. Many have become successful full-time cash or tournament pros. His students have final-tabled the WSOP Main Event and other WSOP bracelet events, taken down WPT tournaments and WSOP Circuit events, and won several “Triple Crowns,” an online award given to those who win three major online tournaments in a single week.
“The only thing I love more than playing poker is teaching poker,” Nick says.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing people who you’ve taught becoming successful. Just being able to be a part of that is a big honor, because it’s something I wish I could have had when I was learning. So being able to do that for other people is something I take great pride in.”
Nick’s latest achievement in poker education is doing expert commentary and analysis for WPT and WSOP broadcasts. Coming full circle, he did commentary at a WPT Main Event final table where one of Nick’s own students was playing.
Currently, Nick is Director of Training and Curriculum for WPT Boot Camp. He continues to develop new courses and strives to create a strong community of live and online faculty. “There are a lot of great poker players out there,” Nick says. “But there are not many great players who are also great teachers. Being able to share your expertise is really a special gift.” Nick’s goal is to help the WPT Boot Camp faculty “share their knowledge—to take complex topics and make them easy to understand.”
Nick works hard at everything he does—but he also has a great time talking, thinking, and playing poker. And he’s still one of the top players in the game. “Like I said, playing poker is fun,” Nick says. Then he grins and adds quickly, “But it’s a lot more fun when you win!”