We speak to BBZ Poker’s newest coach Eugene ‘Northpaw’ Kwak about giving up a career in medicine to pursue creativity, overcoming imposter syndrome, and why he’s the perfect coach for beginner players.
In 2018, Eugene Kwak was studying at the Max Rady College of Medicine. His life path was pretty clear.
But today, when we speak to Kwak at his home in Winnipeg, he hasn’t just returned from a shift at a hospital. Instead, he’s just finished a group study session with several well-known poker players.
In just three years, the 28-year-old (known online as ‘Northpaw’) has gone from having no dreams of playing poker professionally to rising through the BBZ system and becoming the newest addition to BBZ Poker’s coaching team.
“[Medicine] just felt like an arena where I wasn’t really able to express any sort of creativity,” he says. “I didn’t really feel that if I put in extra work it would pay off.”
Unhappy with the rigidity of his schedule (“everyone at my school was basically miserable,”) Kwak decided to take a year of absence to reassess what he wanted to do with his life.
“I was thinking about what other skills I had and what other fields I was interested in,” he says. “I was pretty interested in finance and computer science but I didn’t really have backgrounds in either.”
One thing he did have a background in was beating his local $1/$2 cash game, but the idea of playing poker professionally wasn’t on his radar at all. “It wasn’t until I hit a dead-end in med school that I even gave it a shot,” he says. “I just wanted more flexibility in my schedule and some sort of creativity.”
Potentially playing poker for a living really hit home when Kwak was watching some Twitch streamers. “I thought some seemed pretty casual,” he says. “I didn’t think there were levels between me and them in terms of intelligence or aptitude, so I felt it was fairly worthwhile to give poker a shot.”
After some time spent grinding live cash, Kwak began to turn his attention to multi-table tournaments (MTTs). “It became really clear to me that MTTs had the most complexity even though a lot of the weaker players are found in them,” he says.
Fascinated by the dense game trees found in tournament strategy, Kwak bought one of the most popular training courses at the time. “It was essentially a two-year-old course at that point and there were a lot of generalities,” he says. “It seemed similar to what I imagine poker training material was like in 2014 before solvers. It wasn’t cutting edge.”
Still, he used it for six months or so with some success and an average buy-in (ABI) of $5-$10. But his trajectory really picked up when he began to watch a brand new Twitch streamer who went by the name Jordan ‘bigbluffzinc’ Drummond.
“I ended up being lucky enough to be hanging out in the Twitch poker community when Jordan started,” says Kwak. By watching BBZ on Twitch, he realized there was so much more to poker than he thought.
“You could tell there was a thought process far more calculated than the one I had going on,” he says. “I was really interested in trying to bridge the gap between me and him. I’ve now been trying for two and a half years but it’s still a pretty big gap.”
Keen to learn more from BBZ, but hampered by a student bankroll not big enough at the time to afford BBZ’s Daily Seminars, Kwak instead successfully applied for Coaching for Profit.
A six-month upswing was followed by a poor stretch, yet Kwak was pleased to be branching out in terms of how much he knew. He even volunteered to help BBZ and Jon ‘apestyles’ Van Fleet run Simple 3-Way sims.
“For a while, I felt like I was trying to move on to more advanced topics too quickly without getting the fundamentals down,” he says.
Once he nailed them down, however, the results started coming. Kwak enjoyed several big wins on GGPoker and would occasionally coach other members of the BBZ community, primarily focusing on his knowledge of Simple 3-Way. He now has an average ABI of $70.
Then recently, something completely unexpected happened: BBZ–the guy Kwak had been chasing since he decided to pursue poker seriously–got in touch and asked him if he’d be interested in coaching for BBZ Poker.
“I was pretty taken aback, to be honest,” says Kwak. “I remember almost floating a little bit that day. It’s funny because there was a lot of talk about impostor syndrome amongst my classmates at med school, yet I never felt that way. But when I got the coaching offer, immediately the imposter syndrome was really strong. I feel like I’ve underachieved results-wise and so I have a lot of enthusiasm for teaching the fundamentals while bettering my game.”
As someone who came up through the BBZ system, Kwak remembers the first Seminar sessions he attended and how out of his league he felt. “I remember having difficulty getting up to speed,” he says. “It can feel demoralizing to not know the answers.
“It just shows how important the community aspect is for learning. Very early on when I attended my first one or two, I had a lot of anxiety. When I got something wrong I thought there would be some judgement from other attendees, but it’s all paranoia. It’s a problem that exists in our heads.”
These experiences make Kwak the perfect coach for beginners. He’s been there. He’s done it. He’s given wrong answers but left with the right ones. If you’re a relatively new player he can help you rise through the system too.
“I’ve intentionally set out to make content that’s more beginner-friendly than some other BBZ coaches,” he says. “In my Seminars, I like to keep people’s comments anonymous as it makes the experience of submitting answers easier and less painful.”
Kwak uses memory palace techniques and step-by-step drills to help aspiring players progress, starting with in-position strategy before moving to big blind defends and so on. This way, you can build up your game and integrate each piece.
“Nobody is perfect. Even in times when I make mistakes, It’s an opportunity for me to show my thought process and find out how I arrived at the wrong answer,” he says. “From the feedback I’ve had, that’s immensely helpful for people. I have to show myself self-compassion so that the Seminar attendees can feel OK when they’re wrong. Everyone is on the same team and we’re all going to benefit from mistakes.
“No matter how great you get at any spot in MTTs, there’s always going to be a few details you’ve missed.”