Ryan the Lion

ryan the lion

As we know from being around poker players and the scene, the persona we see at the table is usually a trivial portion of our opponent’s full life, or occasionally, even a completely deceptive image. Professional poker player Ryan Schnabel, who can be seen in a tank top, tie, and heart-shaped sunglasses would seem to be baring it all, but as always, so much more is still to be found.

In fact, Ryan is a man of so many talents it is hard to say what he exactly is. A poker player? A fitness guru? A voice over actor? A chef? A life coach? A nutritionist? He seems to be a bit of all these.

Just looking at him lends credence to the idea that he might know something on that score. At the even  age of forty, Ryan is dauntingly healthy. Not only does do all crooks and corners of his body seem to be buffed and perfect, it would seem he has developed muscles other people don’t even know they have. His face, hair and beard are full, healthy, and almost suspiciously vigorous. Is he lying about his age? What’s going on?

In other words, to be around Ryan is to wonder, how the hell do you do it?

It’s going to sound silly but if you take care of the little things the big picture takes care of itself. You first have to DECIDE to do something.  Just DECIDE. Make up your mind that you are going to accomplish something. Look at goals from the macro perspective and then you can break down large goals into smaller ones which is where you iron out the detailed steps to take.  It all starts with your mindset – nothing can stop the man with the right one – nothing can help the man with the wrong one.

So what was your decision? What is it you are trying to accomplish?

On a macro scale I want to bridge the knowledge gap in health, fitness, diet, and nutrition. The education system in my opinion is a massive failure. The times have changed and the systems have not. Textbooks take years to update and information can be outdated overnight.  New information is constantly being published and made available. Going to the doctor is going to be a crapshoot. You really have no idea if you’re seeing someone who is world-class or bottom of the barrel. I also think there’s a real failure on the part of the government and healthcare system in the United States. The obesity rate is pushing 40%. Diabetes is near 10% and Alzheimer’s is increasing at an alarming rate due to people living longer lives.

I want to lead people to better poker results through a better life.  I’m making the case that by increasing (their) overall health people will improve their game (via increased duration of focus, increased memory recall, increased memory formation, decreased stress levels, more efficient sleep, etc) and it will have a positive compound effect on the rest of their lives.

Sounds very worthy. But you’re also a poker player and I met you as a poker player – how did all this come about? Tell us how your past led to where you are now.

I’ve been involved with gaming and competition to varying degrees starting at a very young age.  When I was 4 or 5 Santa dropped off an Atari 2600 and it was on from there. There was ColecoVision and IntelliVision with classics like Space Invaders, Frogger, and Night

The young lion, left, with gamers and girls at Quakecon99.

Stalker. Nintendo with the Mario and Zelda line, Genesis with Sonic and Altered Beast, SNES, Nintendo GameCube and N64, Playstation, Xbox, and everything along the way. Around the time of Sega Genesis I was already on to PC gaming. I basically grew up tinkering with PCs and building my own as the technology became available. There was no Circuit City or BestBuy back in the day. My stepfather and I would go to computer shows that you’d get a flyer for in the mail. I remember my first big purchase was a 245 megabyte Maxtor Hard Drive for $245. It was a good deal.

Many gamers in poker for sure.

I tend to hyper focus on activities and I’ve gone overboard with the gaming throughout my life. At one point I was ranked amongst the top in the world at a certain FPS (First Person Shooter) game (RIP bane). This was prior to the concept of competitive video gaming with prize money – which is now known as Esports. I also played the RTS type games like Warcraft and Starcraft but I was nowhere near as skilled at those games.  

And poker?

Eventually I came across Magic:The Gathering. I ended up playing on the ProTour for a little bit and got introduced to poker through that scene. From there I ended up playing online $1/$2 Limit (NL wasn’t played). Eventually I worked my way up to the highest spread games on Stars at the time which was $30/$60 Limit. Every once in a while a special $50/$100 game would run but you had to request support to create a table (which didn’t happen often).

I was lucky enough to have a few good people help me out along the way. One friend back in the day, LastChance, beat Hellmuth HU online in limit poker. I don’t even know how many hands they played – but my friend was apparently the Limit HU end boss on Paradise Poker back in the day – shout out to LastChance you’re the man you crazy mofo. I ended up making the transition from Limit Hold Em to NL Tournament Poker. I started with single table SNGs and then moved to MTTs. I won a few donkaments back in the day, mostly small stakes, some of them 5k+ player fields, and was on Stars Top 100 Yearly TLB for a year or two.  

I heard about the SuperNova Elite program that Stars had so I decided to make the jump from NL MTTs to NL cash. I ended up being 1 of about 150 SNEs in the world that year. There were probably 20-30 of us at the stakes I was playing. I 24 tabled $200NL cash and I remember that my goal was 10,000 hands a day. I was seeing anywhere from 800-1200 hands an hour. Some of the people who I played with on a regular basis have gone on to become the biggest names in poker – Jason Mercier and Krissy Bicknell being two of them.

So you’ve been around. What do you think of that time?

In retrospect I don’t think it was a very good idea and I would never recommend for anyone to do it. There were a lot of sacrifices that I had to make in order to make SNE. It wasn’t until years later that I would become cognizant of the sacrifices I unknowingly made – my social development and overall health. I’m somewhat embarrassed about some of my previous behaviors. I’d like to say I was young and stupid but now I’m just old and stupid. Let’s say I was young, full of myself, sleep deprived, nutritionally deprived, and at times an emotional wreck.

That’s a lot of people, to be fair to yourself.

In a sense I’m glad that life has hit me pretty hard since then – it’s given me a sense of perspective.  I certainly didn’t appreciate what I had. Things came too easily to me and I got arrogant. I spent money on far too many unnecessary things. These days I try to spend my money more on experiences.  

Expand on that.

I find it difficult to summarize the sum of my experiences that’s led to this point. I feel like with the information I have it’s time that I reach back and pull people forward with me. The best way that I can explain what I’m offering to people in a poker language would be the following.

The game of poker and the game of life are the same.

I think everyone should start off with a balanced strategy. Establish a baseline then move toward exploitation. I want to help people exploiting the mind and body for peak performance by optimizing the variables for success.

So what happened next?

Fast forward to Black Friday – I’m 24 tabling and suddenly online poker is shut down.  I had no idea what I was going to do moving forward.

With Holly at Millennium Park, Chicago.

At that point I had been I had been doing CrossFit (a core strength and conditioning program) for about a year. I’ve been involved with health, fitness, and sports in varying degrees my entire life with biometric readings spanning back over 25 years.

Prior to CrossFit I had roughly 20 years of weightlifting experience and playing sports (basketball, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, skiing, and tennis mostly).

So there is a connection between the big change in online poker and your present focus.

After Black Friday I threw every ounce of energy I had into CrossFit. I learned as much as I could about as many topics as I could (I tend to obsess and deep dive on topics). I already had a pretty extensive background in anatomy/physiology and biology due to studying weightlifting and being infatuated with a Biology major, Holly, for a large part of my time in college.

I was also fortunate enough to have two incredibly intelligent affiliate owner/coaches who happen to be really good PEOPLE. I learned a mind-blowing amount of information from them and from doing self-study. They remain very close friends of mine to this very day. Hi Bill and Jennie!

With fellow fitness instructor Bill performing another of Crossfit’s controversial exercises.

So you were learning – but now you are teaching.

I love learning and sharing so I made the transition from athlete to coach. This was certainly a stretch outside of my comfort zone. I was a CrossFit athlete and coach for roughly 6 years until I got rid of 99% of everything I owned and picked up and moved out of the US to pursue online poker once again. From there I made the transition to live poker.

Back up – you were out of the country! Tell us about that.

Leaving the U.S. to live overseas was an amazing learning experience. It’s tough to even know where to start with but I’ll do my best to capture the most relevant aspects of that experience. I had been working trivial jobs to make the ends meet for a while. Now when I say trivial jobs I took an entry level job working in a manufacturing plant in a bad town (where the level of education was high school for most) to help pay the bills. Prior to that I was at a Starbucks – a fucking Starbucks. These may not seem like trivial jobs to some people but I have a degree in Computer Engineering from one of the top programs in the country (if you can believe what U.S. News and World Report says) and I had extensive experience in corporate america as Project Manager in Research and Development at a Fortune 500 company where I was the youngest person with my title by decades. I’m a high energy driven person. To say I wasn’t utilizing my skills is an understatement.

I ended up getting a job as a Sewer Safety Inspector – which paid great given the requirements – but the hours were long it was about 3-4 hours of commuting every day on top of 8 hours of work (sometimes there was overtime). I was still actively coaching and working out this entire time. I had been away from poker for some time (I really needed the mental break) and I started watching the scene again.  

I watched as my peer group from the online days racked up millions of winnings, WSOP bracelets, EPT titles, etc. It was then that I made the decision that I’m capable of those achievements as well.

I made the decision to leave the U.S. to play online poker. My experience in life has been that once you decide on something with all of your being the universe will accommodate you. You may not get what you want in the way you expected it – but you’ll get it. Every single time I’ve decided to pursue something completely the universe has responded accordingly. In 2007 when I was working a corporate job as a Project Manager I wanted to quit to play poker full-time by July. As it turns out there were massive layoffs and I got what I wanted. Seven years later in 2014 I decided that I would dedicate myself to poker again. I was laid off from that Sewer Safety Inspector job late in October 2014.

I decided on moving to Costa Rica and ended up making a bunch of mistakes that I have thankfully learned from. Without getting into too much detail I (re)learned the importance of staying balanced. I was grinding long hours online (just like old times) in Costa Rica. I fell into the same pattern of before and my nutrition went down the tubes. I did my best with exercising but ultimately I established unhealthy habits again. I had no support system there and while I was winning playing poker I was pretty much miserable in the rest of my life. It really made me take a step back from everything and evaluate what’s important to me in life. The truth of the matter is no game has the power to make you happy or unhappy. That’s an internal choice. I started to evaluate all the times in my life when I felt lost, depressed, or extremely unhappy. I noticed that there were very clear patterns. Ultimately I decided it was unhealthy for me to stay in Costa Rica so I moved back to the US. There’s no amount of money that’s worth my health and happiness – and ultimately that’s my focus – being healthy and happy.

Now you begin to enter my sphere – live poker in the U.S.

Shortly after I made the transition to live I was lucky enough to meet and befriend Fausto Valdez on the felt and from there I received coaching from Christian Soto and eventually made my way to Solve For Why Academy in December of 2016. Under the guidance of Matt Berkey, Jordan Young, and Christian Soto I’ve been able to make incredible gains in both NL cash and tournament play. I’ve continued to be a student of the game with additional material in the form of courses and webinars from Solve For Why.

The mature lion: making a run at the 2018 Borgata Winter Open, event 2.

How did Solve for Why influence you?

I had been preparing myself for success for a long time but the real catalyst which I feel helped to push me further was surrounding myself with people who have similar goals (or bigger goals) than I do – in my case that meant linking up with Solve For Why and other poker players who took the game as seriously as I did.  

Every single time I spent time with either Berk or JY in Vegas I was inspired by how hard these guys were working. It really lit a fire under my ass – it made me realize that I was capable of more. I had been settling in areas of my life instead of growing and getting outside my comfort zone. I had resources, talents, and skills at my disposal that I wasn’t using (i.e. WASTING). I’ve made it a goal to do everything I can to maximize the resources at my disposal and use what knowledge and skills I have to help others.

Ah – your decision. How are you going to help others?

I’ve sifted through the information out there. I’ve done the legwork on the studies. I’ve often used myself as a guinea pig and implemented changes in my life (like the time I tried a polyphasic sleep cycle that involved sleeping 20 minutes every 4 hours around the clock).  I want to bridge the information gap. It’s tough to know what’s true and what’s bogus with all the information out there. Studies can be conducted and conclusions can be made that can be very misleading to the unstudied eye. Often times you can just look at who funded the study and what the result is. Think about who has to gain from said information. Look to poke holes in conclusions from there.

Coincidentally there are many parallels between health/fitness and poker – for one there is NO quality control for coaches. Sure you can have some sort of certification but my experience has been that a piece of paper is just that. A piece of paper. It doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about – it means you passed some test generally. I equate a Level 1 CrossFit Coaching certificate to a driver’s license. Lots of people have them and still plenty of people are REALLY bad at driving.

Why you? Everywhere I turn, someone is telling me they know everything about my health.

I’m simply a messenger – I don’t know everything about your health and I’ll be the first to tell you that. I’m an expert on my body and how it’ll react. With students I’ll only have information that they’re knowingly and willingly sharing with me.  

From Ryan’s social media, a personal highlight reel.

Everyone’s body is a little different – we all have things that make us different so I’m not trying to get everybody to follow the same plan. There are general guidelines but it’s completely customized to the individual’s needs. I can tell you what I’ve done (or what has worked for others) and listen to areas that you are looking to build or improve upon.

From there I can provide you with the science behind WHY I’d recommend that you do something and an action plan moving forward. I’ve been able to wade through the cesspool of information out there and separate fact from opinion. That way if a client chooses to they can read for themselves and understand the reasoning behind the actions. I want to help lead people to better lives. 

I’ve been around poker for 20 years with varying intensity and I’ve been involved with health and fitness for even longer. I can correlate the health and fitness information that is most beneficial to poker players as I’ve had to figure it out for myself!

How does this work? What can I expect from you?

I provide an initial free 10 minute consult to those who might have questions before the initial questionnaire. I’ll send you an electronic questionnaire which you’ll respond to. It’ll provide me with the most information possible so that a dialogue can begin about what your goals are and where you are at currently. From there we’ll have a 30 minute phone conversation. In that conversation we’ll have some dialogue back and forth about your answers. From there I’ll make recommendations with very explicit actions to take. I’ll summarize our conversation and send you an electronic final copy. After that point I’ll be available hourly for any follow-up.

So what do I do to get started? What’s the process? What’s next?

I can be contacted at rjs9352@gmail.com. I’ll shoot you back an email and we can go from there. I’m excited to help people on their journey. I’m also on Instagram, Twitter,  and YouTube.

Anything else?

My goal is to continue pushing my limits, getting outside of my comfort zone, to never stop learning, and lead others to a healthier lifestyle. I’ve been fortunate enough to be aligned with some good people in my life and I’ve been given many opportunities to learn and grow.

Good luck to you and those you help.

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