Summary of The Setup by Dan Bilzerian

  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023


That month playing in Vegas refined Dan’s style. Instead of being super-aggressive, he learned to be patient.

He started winning online and traveled where there were poker tournaments.

He never played them though. Too much competition.

He looked for cash games instead. He wanted to be perceived as rich and bad, so he could play against other rich and bad players – and get their money.

He eventually met Nick Cassavetes (movie director) who invited him to play at his house, and from there he started meeting other people.

About his success, Bilzerian had this to say:

” The poker books and self-help courses will never tell you this, but the first step toward succeeding at anything—from poker to attracting women to life in general—depends on finding a way to cram the most experience into the shortest period of time. That might seem obvious, but I looked at the average live poker player and did some simple math. Playing in a home or casino game, live players see, on average, around twenty hands an hour and usually sit for a ten-hour stretch. That works out to seeing around two hundred hands per day. I would play ten online tables at once, seeing around one hundred hands per hour at each table. So, by playing fourteen hours a day, I looked at roughly fourteen thousand hands each day. It wasn’t long before I’d seen more hands online than what even the most obsessive live players saw in a lifetime.

He quit university during his fourth year and played poker full-time.

He’d go to New York, LA, and Vegas.

He’d pay everyone in the casino to get a seat at the table with the rich bad guys.

He met lawyer and Harvard professor Tom Goldstein and musician John Dolmayan and eventually joined Molly’s games, which enabled him to meet more people.

It was around that time he got a heart attack after snorting coke, taking viagra, snowboarding, and partying for three days.

While any rational person would slow down their lifestyle after such an event, Dan doubled down.

He moved to Vegas in 2009 so he could play full-time.

In Vegas, everybody hustled to make money in one way or another, and girls monetized the time they were spending with guys.

Dan never wanted to have anything to do with that, so instead of paying girls to spend time with him, he paid them to do fun stuff, like drinking 10 shots in 10 minutes.

That made girls qualify themselves to him. He was perceived as the one with the power in the relationship, so he’d often bring them home.

Around that time, he met the famous Antonio Esfandiari, a world-winner poker player.

Dan observed how rich people wanted to play with him and girls wanted to be with him. He was the constant focus of attention because he was famous.

Dan decided he wanted to leverage fame too.

Ford VS Ferrari

After dating a playboy playmate and spending one night in prison for pursuing, armed, someone that had cheated him in a card game, Dan was offered a bet by his friend Tom Goldstein.

Tom had just purchased a new Ferrari and bet Dan he’d drive it faster than his Cobra.

They bet $300k and other behavioral incentives. If he lost, Dan couldn’t masturbate for a month. If Tom lost, he had to get high with Dan (Tom had never smoked weed).

Dan hired a driving coach, and Tom sought his own advice.

On the day of the race, fans from the car and poker world came to see who’d win, and Dan won.

Tom smoked with Dan that same night but didn’t feel anything so he left.

30 minutes later, he called Dan. He was high and had abandoned his car in the middle of the Boulevard in Vegas.

Dan went to get him at the Bellagio poker room and lent him money so that he could play, with the Ferrari as collateral.

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In April 2011, the Feds shut down the online poker world.

Molly’s game stopped too due to one of the players having operated a giant Ponzi scheme.

Everyone that had earned money from him was sued.

Nick Cassavetes told Dan he had to pay the settlement in which he was himself so that Dan could come back to the games he organized.

Dan had lost a lot of money that year, and it had been a tough time, so he paid.

It was around that time that Dan realized that party promoters were preventing him and everyone else from getting laid with girls in nightclubs.

Here’s why.

Promoters made money when people came and spent it at parties.

To attract them, they would line up hot girls in clubs and somehow get them not to have sex with anyone so the guys would keep on coming back, hoping to get laid.

Dan changed that.

He paid promoters $1000 for each girl they would introduce him to and that he’d have sex with.

Suddenly, promoters had a vested interest in Dan having sex.

This is how he met three models he took to a party in San Diego.

When he arrived, he noticed how nice the house was, although it had very little furniture.

The guy that was renting it got it for $6k instead of the traditional $80k/month it would go for.

Dan offered to split the cost of the rent and furnish the place entirely.

The guy agreed, and just like that, Dan was back in San Diego, looking much richer than he was.

The house would enable him to get more girls and get into better poker games with richer people.

First Trips and Sam

Dan spent his days playing poker and his nights partying.

Anywhere he’d go, he’d call promoters to line up girls for him and would subsequently invite them to trips.

That’s how he ended up going to Cabo with Nick Cassavetes and nine other girls.

It was around that time he created his Instagram account.

He figured that jealousy and FOMO worked well with girls. He saw social media as a tool to let every girl on the planet know what he was up to without texting them, hence without showing interest.

Dan had become a regular player at Nick Cassavetes’ game where he met Sam Magid.

I have never really figured out who that guy was, and Dan neither. All we know is that he was extremely rich, and managed to repeatedly break the law but was never bothered by it.

Sam and Dan became friends. They would often play together. Dan beat Sam every time and the sums were astronomical. Up to $300 000 per game.

Sam was a drug addict and never wanted to stop playing. They’d play all night long together.

While Sam would settle his debt with cash at the beginning, it became harder and harder to get paid, so Dan offered him to play at the casino instead if Sam wired one million in advance.

Sam agreed.

That day, Dan lost $700k, then got $300k back.

Later, Sam challenged him again and Dan won $750k.

He was tired, addicted, and stressed, but he couldn’t get out.

There were no other ways to make as much money as fast.

Raising the Stakes

Dan eventually met Clarence, a hedge-fund manager. The book makes it explicit that Clarence is a fake name.

So, who is Clarence?

Clarence is Bill Perkins, a hedge-fund manager from Texas. The book gives it away easily. We know that Clarence is from Texas, and that he wrote a book about dying with zero money. Bill Perkins happens to be from Texas, and to have written Die with Zero, a book about dying with no money. We also know Clarence is Black (like Bill Perkins) and finally, everyone knows that Perkins is Dan’s best friend since it’s all over Instagram.

One day, Dan lost a million playing poker, so Bill, which was present, told him to change profession.

Dan wanted out too, so Perkins got him into acting.

He first played in Olympus Has Fallen, then played in Lone Survivor into which he had also invested money.

Later, billionaire Alec Gores, who followed Dan’s Instagram, offered Dan to play against him. Alec was famous for playing super high hands, and rumors had that he had beaten billionaire Andy Beal for $700 million.

Dan, who still seemed richer than he actually was, met Alec in his $50 million mansions and was directly intimated.

Alec proposed to play for $1 to $5 million, but Dan offered $500k instead.

That night, he made $1.6 million, then $2.5 million on another occasion.

Alec and Dan became friends and played often together.

One night, Dan earned $7.7 million.

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Dan liked LA. He rent-splitted a house there and hosted poker games. That gave him access to more players.

He hired hot girls to serve drinks and give massages.

These girls were making so much money in tips that soon, every girl wanted to work for Dan.

The more Dan played, the more that enabled him to meet more people and make more money.

He started sponsoring professional poker players that didn’t have enough money for certain tournaments and made money off their winnings.

He eventually got tired of poker again and got a role in Nick Cassavetes’ movie The other woman with Cameron Diaz.

It ended up being a disaster.

Later, he got another role in The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington.

It was better and Denzel even complimented Dan on his acting. This was huge for him since he was a fan.

Dan went back to playing poker with Alec Gores and it was so stressful he did recurrent trips to relax, always inviting more girls. By that stage, he no longer needed any promoters.

He was rich, his Instagram was growing, and he was making so much money he decided to donate to various philanthropic organizations, and to his grandma.

He bought a plane, more cars, and then wondered what to do next.


Dan had seen how his rich friends reacted to famous people. While people asked him for one or two pics once in a while, it wasn’t crazy.

He was extremely well-known in some circles, but a nobody to the rest of society.

Now, he wanted to be famous. Really famous.

In his own words:

“I saw how the women at my pool parties behaved whenever a celebrity entered the property. Fame was access. It was validation. It was power. And it had the added bonus of compelling women to fuck me with less effort on my part. Fame was a whole setup in and of itself, and the only thing I didn’t really have.”

So he hired a camera guy to document his life on Instagram.

There was only one rule he had to follow: honesty.

Dan didn’t want to look fake, and he didn’t want to rehearse. He wanted to be 100% authentic. The take was good, or gone forever.

His Instagram quickly blew up.

Steve Aoki, whom he had met years earlier, invited him to watch one of his concerts from backstage. At the end of the show, Steve called Dan to say hi to the crowd.

Dan went stood there, not knowing what to do.

Some people were passing each other a canoe, so Steve told Dan to jump on it.

He did, and that’s the story of the famous canoe photo.

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One day, Hustler called. They wanted to make a photoshoot with Dan and two pornstars playing poker.

They came to Dan’s house and tried different poses, none of which suited. One of them got the idea to throw one of the girls into the swimming pool from the rooftop of the house.

They did, and the girl hurt herself when falling into the water.

This incident got Dan international press coverage which got him more international IG followers.

Later, he was invited to the Cannes Film Festival and hung out with every living star in the world.

He observed what worldwide fame was like, the power it had on people and women, and vouched to reach that level.

He bought a house in Vegas and started throwing parties.

By that time, his Instagram was big enough so that girls would both send him nudes and messages to hang out with him.

He started being invited to the most prestigious gatherings with A-list celebrities and billionaires.

In his own words, he started getting paid to do stuff he’d do for free, such as hosting parties.

Clubs paid $75k and lined up models for him to be present. Girls walked up to him telling him straight they wanted to f*ck him.

Months earlier, he had had sex with a girl without saying a single word.

Meanwhile, he was still hosting poker games and made around $80k a night in tips.

His fame was at such a peak that stars asked him to hang out too, among which were Wiz Khalifa, Miley Cyrus, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

One day, Dan went to a desert to blow up a truck stacked with explosives.

A couple of days later, the police arrested him at the LA airport.

While none of this had been illegal, the government wanted to take him down. He pleaded guilty and paid a $250k fine.

“When the government goes after you, the prosecutor cares about winning, not about right and wrong.”

Later, he got offered another role in a Bruce Willis movie called Extraction.

Then he went back home and threw another party.

Each party had to be bigger than the former.

And each was.

There were ever more girls, the guest list was ever more exclusive, and girls were lining up to have sex with Dan like if they were at the dentist.

At some point, Dan stumbled upon what appeared to be Vin Diesel getting a blowjob in his closet at the same time as he did.

That party was so wild it took two days to clean the house.

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Fame Brain

Dan had a president’s schedule. Anywhere he went, people wanted to hang out with him, from politicians, to models, to celebrities.

Dan used this to have sex with any girl he wanted.

Bill Perkins called this the “fame brain”.

The idea is that the more people are eager to meet you, the more people that don’t know you are eager to meet you too. It’s basically pre-selection.

If you enter a bar with five models around you, the other girls will want to meet you.

They will think “if that guy has five incredibly beautiful girls around him, then he must be high value. So, I want to meet him.”

That’s how Dan got sex with every girl he met, including famous models with boyfriends and husbands.

Later, Dan went to meet billionaire Tim Headington. That guy was insane.

He’d pay people to do random, stuff. He once threw $200k of poker chips into a pool and told the girls the chips would be theirs only if they’d strip to go get them.

He once went to a nightclub, bought 150 bottles of Dom Perignon, then left.

Dan assisted to Tim’s wife’s birthday in Vegas. Tim had hired a bunch of Navy Seals to skydive to the rooftop they were at. Dan was bewildered

Shortly after, Todd Philips, whom Dan had met years earlier, offered him to have a short scene in War Dogs. After the shooting, Dan threw yet another party.


Dan ended up stranded in Montenegro after flying with Tom Goldstein and his client, which happened to be a wanted man.

Bill Perkins contacted him. He was in Italy. So Dan went to join him and they partied together.

Bill had a yacht, but the yacht wasn’t big enough for all of the girls Dan had brought so they had to rent another one.

They spent the day getting high, eating, and f*cking.

One day, Bill Perkins challenged Dan to cycle from Vega to LA in less than 48 hours for $600k.

Dan accepted and Lance Armstrong offered to help. During their training, Dan questioned him about which drugs were best to take, but Lance didn’t answer any of his questions.

After 6 weeks of preparation, Dan cycled the whole thing in 36 hours.

The preparation he had undergone got him off parties, poker, and sex for a while.

He realized he was much happier like that.

He sold his LA house and went on a European trip with girls.

At some point, he decided he needed more guy time, so he invited a bunch of US army veterans to party and shoot guns with him.

Making others happy satisfied him much more than making himself happy.

This led him to fly to Houston when Catrina hit, and do other charitable activities.

All leading up to November 2016.

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Testing the Limits

Weed became legal in November 2016.

Dan had definitely stopped playing poker and wanted to set up a business in that area.

So he created Ignite.

He bought a Vegas house for $25 million then leased the famous LA mansion for $2.4 million per year.

It was game time.

His parties had been ridiculously great so far.

Yet, people had seen nothing yet.

The housewarming party had 485 girls and 40 guys.

Three months later, Dan’s dad Paul arranged for him and his family to get an Armenian passport.

Paul had renounced his US citizenship and had acquired the St-Kitts and Nevis nationality. The country being rather small, he also got an Armenian passport (the Bilzerian were originally Armenians).

So Dan flew to Yerevan to get his documents.

After meeting with bureaucrats, the army had subsequently scheduled a gun firing day.

They offered Dan the chance to shoot a rocket into the side of a mountain…without disclosing it was a disputed territory with Azerbaidjan.

The next day, Baku had issued an international warrant for Dan’s arrest.

Meanwhile, Dan had flown to Thailand to meet Bill Perkins and party together.

They had sex with girls, ate, and played fruit ninja on the beach with real fruits.

Too Much

Dan understood that more did not always mean better.

As he was traveling with 18 girls in Antigua, he realized he had brought too many of them.

The girls had created some sort of hierarchy among themselves based on how many had the most IG followers. As a result, they were all fighting to be on Dan’s IG page.

It was such a mess that to cool things down, he set up the page @ignitemodels so the girls could be featured there.

But he was tired. Everyone constantly demanded his attention. So he took some mushrooms and paddled to the sea, alone.

That day, he learned a lesson. But he wasn’t yet ready to apply it.

Later on, he went back to Europe and charted a giant yacht for a trip in Italy with girls on it.

Once again, there were too many girls, too many options, and no fun.

Dan realized he wasn’t happy.

Every time he reached a summit, he’d directly look toward reaching the next one.

He never ever stopped to enjoy the moment.

He did everything he could to build the Ignite brand, but it had become too much and he was losing his soul in the process. In his own words:

People think money can buy happiness, but it can only buy pleasure. Those are very different things. Happiness comes from doing things you love (…) happiness is a state of mind, not something that you need to feed, and it can last a lifetime if you keep your mind right. Pleasure, on the other hand, needs to be fed. It comes from hedonism, sex, money, partying, and self-indulgence. It is addictive and functions exactly like a drug. You get an intense high that quickly flees. The more you do it, the more you need to do it to get that same high—and after a while, you don’t even get high anymore. But you have to do it just to not feel like shit. I had fully maxed out these highs for so long I couldn’t feel pleasure anymore, let alone happiness. The latest Ferrari I bought didn’t even give me pleasure for twenty-four hours. I had fucked so many women I was numb to it. I used to feel like I accomplished something when these things happened but not anymore. Having objectives like money, pussy, and power will never lead to happiness. Because no matter how much you have, you always want more. It’s like trying to fill a black hole. You can’t fill a black hole. These things are infinite and endless traps. (…) I had so much more fun shrooming, surfing, and hiking with my friends in Hawaii than I had on this vacation. I’ve found the things I have enjoyed the most in my life didn’t cost much money.

The book eventually ends with Dan throwing his last Halloween party in October 2019, in the Ignite house.

1600 girls were present.

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There are many things we didn’t talk about. Many charitable donations, the Vegas shooting, many trips and parties where girls went crazy over Dan, and more.

However, I wanted to summarize the book, not rewrite it.

I hope I did it justice.

Obviously, The Setup won’t win any literary prize, but the story is so wild that if you are not someone who believes in the power of taking action, it may as well radically change your mindset – and your life.

I am a pretty big believer in myself and my purpose. And yet, this book showed me how small my goals were compared to the possibilities.

Overall, The Setup had a similar effect on me than Neil Strauss’ The Game had (Strauss which, of course, helped Dan edit the book).

It showed me a world I did not know existed, a world beyond anything I thought was possible.

As you can see, I highly recommend The Setup.

It’s a lot of fun and super instructive.

While a bit too long sometimes, Dan Bilzerian takes the time to show you where he failed, where he was scared, how he felt, and how he reacted in the face of adversity.

I was surprised to find out he applied so many self-help principles.

The first one is the growth mindset.

Dan never stops. He always wants more, always goes for bigger.

From playing poker with $100 or $200, to playing for millions.

From one girl, to thousands of girls.

Dan always has a purpose in mind, and he is always striving to get it.

As a result, he is always growing.

He’s the real-life version of Think and Grow Rich.

Of course, not everything is perfect.

I wish he addressed other controversies, such as the fact that the Ignite Mansion was paid for with investor money, and so were the parties.

Or that the company almost went bankrupt and that this is why he had to leave the Mansion in 2020.

Or the failed Youtube channel. Or the failed company Green Axis.

But he doesn’t. He finishes his book on a high note.

Who can blame him?

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