About

by Haseeb Qureshi

In a Nutshell

I first stumbled into poker when I was 16. I started with $50 and within a year, turned it into $100,000. A couple years later, I was a millionaire, considered at the age of 19 to be among the best No-limit Heads-up Texas Hold’em players in the world.

I taught poker players all over the world. I made instructional videos, wrote articles, traveled, and coached other poker pros.

In 2011, when I was twenty-one, I got entangled in what came to be known as the Girah Scandal, a big affair in the online poker world. In it I lied to the poker community, trying to protect myself and my friends. A little while later, I decided to retire from the game of poker for good. Since then, I haven’t played a hand of poker.

In 2012, I returned to the United States to look after my family and finish my education. I continued to write about poker, to coach poker players, and most importantly, to work on myself. I then published my first book, How to Be a Poker Player: The Philosophy of Poker. It became the #1 best-selling poker book on Amazon for about five months.

But despite that, I was unhappy. I felt burdened by poker—both by what I’d accomplished and by the mistakes I’d made. So I decided to start over. I donated all of my savings from my career as a poker player, almost $500,000. I gave some of it to charity, and the rest to my family. After all was said and done, I left myself with $10,000 with which to start anew.

In 2014, I made the decision to devote my life to Effective Altruism. I pledged to earn-to-give with my career, meaning that I would pursue a high-earning career so I could donate a substantial portion of my lifetime income to high-impact charities. This, now, has become my principal mission in life.

In 2015, I matriculated into App Academy, the most elite coding bootcamp in San Francisco, so that I could pursue a career in tech. I quickly rose to the top of my class, and after two months into the three-month bootcamp, I was asked to join the instructional team. Three months later, I was promoted to Director of Product. Now, I’m working at Airbnb while earning-to-give. I’m currently donating 33% of everything I make.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of my life.


Poker

The first hand of Texas Hold’em I ever played, I had no idea what I was doing. I was sixteen, and some friends had invited me to play a game of poker. I didn’t know what checking was, how betting rounds worked, or which hands beat what. I lost immediately. Frustrated by my naiveté, I decided to look up how poker worked. Soon, poker strategy captured my fascination. The more I read about it, the more it seemed there was a universe of complexity nestled inside this card game. I wanted to try my hand at it.

I started with $50 that I got for free from an online promotion—I had no money of my own to deposit—and painstakingly grinded my way up from 5-cent 10-cent games. I only played cash games and was relentlessly cautious with my bankroll. It was all I had. Before long, $50 became $200, became $2,000, and by the end of my first year, became over $100,000.

At 19, I’d become a heads-up NL and PLO specialist and started dominating high stakes. I began coaching poker players, teaching and producing videos for the leading poker instructional sites Deucescracked and Cardrunners, writing articles, and traveling. I was considered one of the strongest heads-up poker players in the world, got sponsored by Full Tilt Poker as a “Red Pro,” and did a a few other cool things along the way. One of my most widely publicized matches was when I took on and beat poker celebrity Gus Hansen at $100K buyin PLO games.

But despite my success, as the years went on, I gradually started to lose my passion for the game. I’d withdrawn from school to play poker full time, but I knew I didn’t want to play poker forever. In many ways, my relationship with poker was more of happenstance than choice. It wasn’t who I wanted to be. As I grew older, poker made me feel more isolated and unfulfilled. It made me unhappy. I came close to quitting a few times, but my friends always talked me out of it—when, after all, was I ever going to be able to make money like that again?

Despite my ambivalence, I continued playing on and off until 2011. Then, Black Friday hit, when the DOJ shut down the two major American online poker sites, and the U.S. online poker market went awry. Not long after, so did my life.


The Girah Scandal

My entanglement with the Girah Scandal began when, in 2010, I was contacted by a young Portuguese boy named José Macedo, who went by the name of “Girah.” He said he was a fan of mine, he had learned a lot from my teachings, and wanted some advice on his career. He was only 17, but he was already very successful. I found him surprisingly forthright, even naïve. I liked him. He soon befriended me, as he did many high stakes pros, and before long, I became his mentor.

He continually sought my advice and I supplied it. Eventually he asked me to become his manager and to back and coach him, alongside my friend Daniel Cates (a.k.a. Jungleman12). I’d never considered anything of the sort before, but I could not deny that José’s career was growing rapidly. People had started calling him the “Portuguese Poker Prodigy.” I had seen the poker world chew up and spit out many young superstars, and I didn’t want to see the same happen to José. I agreed, and set to helping him establish his career. I cared for him. I wanted him to succeed.

Then, one night in the August of 2011, everything changed. I learned that José had cheated his friends out of large sums of money. When I confronted him, he fled. I contacted the victims, explaining to them what happened, and then tried to protect José as best I could. I hoped that José could pay them back along with reparations, and that they’d refrain from telling the public about it and destroying his career. I thought I could protect him. But my plea backfired.

When news of the cheating came out, the poker community exploded with anger. And when the victims revealed that I had tried to protect José, that wrath turned on me. More and more information started to come out about just how much José had been deceiving everyone, including Daniel and me. Not wanting the extent of our relationship public, I lied to the community about my history with José. But those lies quickly dissolved, and the truth was discovered. Before long, I was reviled in the poker world—even more so than José himself.

I was dropped from my sponsorship. My career, which I had painstakingly built over five long years, was now in tatters. Although I could still make money, there seemed to be little else for me in the world of poker. Broken and heavy-hearted, I decided to leave the game for good.

I settled my affairs, said goodbye to my friends, and left my old life behind.

I was a poker player no more. Now, I was just a twenty one year-old kid.

The months that followed were scattered and bleak. I wandered from country to country. I wrote. I reflected on the person I’d become. I interrogated myself, blamed myself, forgave myself, and played out different versions of history in my mind. Mostly, I was alone.

I felt stranded. I hated myself. I didn’t know what should come next.


Starting Over

In the year that followed, I searched desperately for what I should do. I lived and worked on a farm, took a ten-day vow of silence, trained in meditation, finished my abandoned English/philosophy degree, volunteered teaching ESL to refugees, and wrote extensively.

In December 2013, I published my first book, How to Be a Poker Player: The Philosophy of Poker. It was the culmination of everything I’d learned in my career as a poker player. It was also the book that long ago, I promised myself I’d someday write. Surprisingly, it was a total success.

But I knew that I needed to put an end to that chapter of my life. It was time to start over.

I gave away all the money I made from poker. I donated $75,000 of cash to charity, and deeded my other assets to my parents, to go towards their retirement. I wanted a clean slate. Although my relationship with poker was always rocky, it wasn’t until then that I could really see how incredibly nurturing it was to me. I wanted to pay that kindness forward. And I wanted to prove to myself that I was truly better off for having done poker at all. Not for the money, but for what it taught me.

I continued to work for a year as a mind coach, training professional poker players, entrepeneurs, and daytraders on the mental and psychological skills I’d learned from mastering the highest levels of poker. I wanted to help others. And slowly and steadily, I was moving closer to the person I wanted to be.


Effective Altruism

So when, in 2014, I came across the writings of a little movement known as Effective Altruism, the course of my life was irrevocably changed.

The basic premise of Effective Altruism is this: that altruism is not as straightforward as most of us like to pretend it is. That charity is not about symbolic displays or feeling good, but rather about actually helping people as much as possible. And in order to be sure we’re really doing things that help, we must challenge our assumptions and be intellectually rigorous about what actually does good.

In short, Effective Altruism demands a scientific approach to charity. It also requires you to be willing to accept conclusions that are uncomfortable or unorthodox if the evidence or reasoning is strong enough. This is exactly what happened to me.

When I read the original argument posed by William MacAskill on why you should earn-to-give—that is, why you should take a high-paying career so you can donate the money to charity—I could not disagree. The logic seemed to me to be quite irrefutable. Uncomfortable and weird as it was, it was right. Indeed, as a privileged beneficiary of a first-world economy, if someone like me wouldn’t do it, who would? I decided then that this is what I should do with my life.

I made up my mind to earn-to-give, to devote my life to donating money to the best charities in the world. The only thing left… was how.


Earning-to-give

Heavily influenced by 80000 Hours, I decided that the best fit for my skillset would be to go into tech entrepreneurship. Given my appetite for and understanding of risk and uncertainty, my love of the Internet and technology, it seemed like a natural fit. I just had to find some way of breaking into the ecosystem.

I considered getting an MBA. But when I stumbled upon the world of coding bootcamps, I knew I’d found my path. People with no background at all had taken these bootcamps, learned how to code, and gotten hired at the top tech companies in the world. If I did this, I wouldn’t have to wait two years to finish a degree before I could earn-to-give. I could do it immediately. Most of all, it represented a new mountain to climb, fresh and white, towering over me.

The allure was irresistible. I applied in a flurry to every single bootcamp in San Francisco. My top choice was App Academy, one of the most selective coding schools in the world with a less than 5% acceptance rate, owing in large part to its tuition-free model. For two ecstatic weeks I did nothing but study the Ruby language, barely eating or leaving my room, so that I could pass my interviews.

My flurry of preparation paid off. I was accepted to App Academy. In April of 2015, I moved to San Francisco and matriculated into App Academy. The second career of my life was poised to begin.


App Academy

I worked my ass off to learn programming. I was routinely the last person to leave, working from 9AM to midnight or later, 7 days a week. I was voracious, and from my career in poker, I had already learned how to learn. My work paid off: despite my background, I quickly rose to the top of my class.

At the end of the first 8 weeks of the 12-week course, the founders whisked me into a room and asked me to join the instructional team. I accepted the offer. Two months after my excursion into tech, I had gotten my first job. I could now start earning-to-give.

I rose up quickly as an instructor. After gaining the confidence of the two founders, I was promoted three months later to Director of Product for App Academy. I was tasked not only with helping to write curriculum and teach the bootcamp (and the three-week algorithms curriculum), but also to work alongside the CEO to develop new products, establish partnerships, lead the revenue strategy, and grow App Academy.

That’s how my first year of earning-to-give came to a close. I donated 1/3rd of my pre-tax salary for 2015, which came to around 21k (I was salaried since June 2015). I intend to continue giving a third in 2016, and hopefully someday, pledge a third of the company that I will someday found.


Airbnb

Now I’m working as a software engineer at Airbnb. [More stories forthcoming…!]

So that’s what I’m about. Now you know me.

Outside of the aforementioned, I can be found reading, writing, meditating, training kickboxing, watching improv comedy, and picking up heavy things and putting them down. I still work as a mind coach on the side. I eat a paleo diet, which I think is mostly arbitrary, but I follow it anyway. I plan to become a vegetarian someday, but I don’t have the moral fortitude yet. I try to fast one full day a week. You can contact me here if you’re into that sort of thing.

-Haseeb

  • Hey,
    I just bought your book, recommended by a fellow limit holdem mid – high stakes player. really love the way you express things so clearly. Me, I am a heads up limit holdem specialist from germany and i am thinking about taking up NLHU. Do you have any tips for me? I just started watching your DC video series, enjoyable too! Any ideas on the adjustment from midstakes LHE HU to NLHU are welcome. Please maybe also check out my blog, it is all about learning and philosophy. I might have a student for you for mental coaching, i introduced him to your website today, lets see. Catch you later, Chris

  • I’m reading your book right now and finding the content very enjoyable and extremely helpful. I’ve been playing poker professionally for 7 years but these last few years have been a real struggle. What first became a great way to follow my passion, be flexible and travel turned into a nightmare of grueling punishment each day. Only this year have I been able to get a fresh start and gain new perspectives on the game. Your poker and life journey is very interesting to me, thank you for your contributions and I wish you well, Sincerely Darren

    • Hey Darren, thanks for the kind words! I’m happy to hear that you’ve gotten some value out of the book.

      Your struggle with poker and its vicissitudes is one that I know well. Many people go through it, and I want to assure you that it’s very normal to feel that and go through that experience. But that feeling and frustration is not a death sentence–you *can* find a way to love and enjoy poker again.

      I’d encourage you to read over the last chapter of the book, where I go into great detail about the life of poker. I think you may find it speaks to you. Let me know what you think when you get to it, and best of luck with your journey.

      Haseeb

  • I was surprised that I may have a similar background as you, but ended up doing AI and machine learning, rather than pure programming/software development.

    You have a very inspiring story. Good luck at airbnb!

  • Haseeb, I am 46 and I am impressed with your talent and your negotiating skills.
    If I had a small percentage of your confidence I could be financially better off today.
    “There is still light at the end of the tunnel.”

  • Haseeb,

    Amazing story! Thanks for sharing. I used to play a ton of poker too, and saw so many friends turn into poker junkies who then started betting HUGE based on their bankrolls. Then of course, most lost it all.

    How did Jose actually cheat other people? If you don’t pay me after losing a hand in poker, consequences will be had b/c the entire table won’t let you welch. And with technology, if you somehow don’t have cash or nobody spotting you, you can just digitally transfer money right there w/ Paypal, Venmo, etc.

    Awesome job donating so much to charity and starting over! Like a cleansing perhaps yeah? I’m based in SF as well and have been writing about personal finance, making money, startups, and all that good stuff since 2009.

    Perhaps our paths will cross one day. Best of luck at AirBnB. Now that’s a company I can easily see going to $50-100B market cap one day!

    Best,

    Sam

  • Quite interesting stuff you have going on! Quick question, what languages and scripts are on your resume? How did you get so good with the one you are “well-rounded” in?

    • Thanks Jack! Insofar as languages, my resume only included Ruby, JavaScript, and SQL (not including frameworks and other general technologies). I got good with Ruby just by using it a lot, delving into the standard library, and trying to build lots of different data structures and solve different problems with it. Reading other people’s code also helps.

      But honestly, as long as you’re using one of Python or Ruby (or a comparably powerful and concise scripting language), you don’t need to know that much of the language to perform well on the interview. It’s mostly just using it enough to be comfortable expressing whatever you’re thinking into code.

  • From being a poker person to being a programmer and the worshiping of earning to give , such an inspirational story !! Good Luck to you at Airbnb !

  • Your story is very interesting and inspirational, reading like a movie. I love that you’re working to help better mankind rather than solely to serve yourself (like most others on the hedonistic treadmill). Excited to see what your future has in store.

  • 21 Comments
    1. Hey,
      I just bought your book, recommended by a fellow limit holdem mid – high stakes player. really love the way you express things so clearly. Me, I am a heads up limit holdem specialist from germany and i am thinking about taking up NLHU. Do you have any tips for me? I just started watching your DC video series, enjoyable too! Any ideas on the adjustment from midstakes LHE HU to NLHU are welcome. Please maybe also check out my blog, it is all about learning and philosophy. I might have a student for you for mental coaching, i introduced him to your website today, lets see. Catch you later, Chris

    2. I’m reading your book right now and finding the content very enjoyable and extremely helpful. I’ve been playing poker professionally for 7 years but these last few years have been a real struggle. What first became a great way to follow my passion, be flexible and travel turned into a nightmare of grueling punishment each day. Only this year have I been able to get a fresh start and gain new perspectives on the game. Your poker and life journey is very interesting to me, thank you for your contributions and I wish you well, Sincerely Darren

      • Hey Darren, thanks for the kind words! I’m happy to hear that you’ve gotten some value out of the book.

        Your struggle with poker and its vicissitudes is one that I know well. Many people go through it, and I want to assure you that it’s very normal to feel that and go through that experience. But that feeling and frustration is not a death sentence–you *can* find a way to love and enjoy poker again.

        I’d encourage you to read over the last chapter of the book, where I go into great detail about the life of poker. I think you may find it speaks to you. Let me know what you think when you get to it, and best of luck with your journey.

        Haseeb

    3. I was surprised that I may have a similar background as you, but ended up doing AI and machine learning, rather than pure programming/software development.

      You have a very inspiring story. Good luck at airbnb!

    4. Haseeb, I am 46 and I am impressed with your talent and your negotiating skills.
      If I had a small percentage of your confidence I could be financially better off today.
      “There is still light at the end of the tunnel.”

    5. Haseeb,

      Amazing story! Thanks for sharing. I used to play a ton of poker too, and saw so many friends turn into poker junkies who then started betting HUGE based on their bankrolls. Then of course, most lost it all.

      How did Jose actually cheat other people? If you don’t pay me after losing a hand in poker, consequences will be had b/c the entire table won’t let you welch. And with technology, if you somehow don’t have cash or nobody spotting you, you can just digitally transfer money right there w/ Paypal, Venmo, etc.

      Awesome job donating so much to charity and starting over! Like a cleansing perhaps yeah? I’m based in SF as well and have been writing about personal finance, making money, startups, and all that good stuff since 2009.

      Perhaps our paths will cross one day. Best of luck at AirBnB. Now that’s a company I can easily see going to $50-100B market cap one day!

      Best,

      Sam

    6. Quite interesting stuff you have going on! Quick question, what languages and scripts are on your resume? How did you get so good with the one you are “well-rounded” in?

      • Thanks Jack! Insofar as languages, my resume only included Ruby, JavaScript, and SQL (not including frameworks and other general technologies). I got good with Ruby just by using it a lot, delving into the standard library, and trying to build lots of different data structures and solve different problems with it. Reading other people’s code also helps.

        But honestly, as long as you’re using one of Python or Ruby (or a comparably powerful and concise scripting language), you don’t need to know that much of the language to perform well on the interview. It’s mostly just using it enough to be comfortable expressing whatever you’re thinking into code.

    7. From being a poker person to being a programmer and the worshiping of earning to give , such an inspirational story !! Good Luck to you at Airbnb !

    8. Your story is very interesting and inspirational, reading like a movie. I love that you’re working to help better mankind rather than solely to serve yourself (like most others on the hedonistic treadmill). Excited to see what your future has in store.

    9. Very interesting read Haseeb. Most interesting part is the effectiveness you have demonstrated within a period of 1 year! I read your comment about python and ruby that having any one of them in your arsenal is good enough.

      I am not a programmer but every so often I feel an irresistible urge to learn one language thoroughly. I learnt basic Python online last month while doing a full time opto-mechanical design job. What would you recommend regarding the choice of programming language, the resources to improve the understanding and enhance the learning curve?

    10. Hi Haseeb, I’m Sunny and I read some of your website and it is quite entertaining. I’m getting in touch because (if you don’t mind)I need your help with App Academy admissions. I’m stuck on the third step, with some prep work and questions. I’m having difficulty finding the problems, literally, and therefore solving them. I already practiced coder byte and app academy practice challenges. But the latest challenge has provided me with testing code or something and this is stuff I have never seen until now. How can I prepare for this part of the admissions process? Any advice would greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    11. Hi! Quick question…is your book only for Poker players, or is it also applicable to someone who is not a Poker player?

      • Hi Lisa,

        It’s definitely centered around poker, but there’s a lot of insight that can be absorbed by a non poker player. The first two chapters are very technical, but the rest of the book is really about how to think more effectively, how to regulate your emotions, mindset, and how to optimize your learning.

    12. Greetings from the UK Haseed
      I have just finished your book which I’m pleased I chose the audio version. I must admit at first iI found it difficult to understand mainly because my background is in engineering and not in psychology. I have now listened to it three times and it’s starting to make sense and made me realise why I was losing so often at poker. I shall persevere with my quest and try and keep a balanced lifestyle also.
      Thank you so much and I wish you every success in the future.
      Kind regards
      Kelvin

    13. I’m currently looking into App Academy Myself. What are some resources that you used outside of the school that you have found to be helpful in improving your coding abilities/knowledge?

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