16 Things I'd Tell Younger Me Before I Tried to Become a Poker Pro

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There was a time when playing poker for us was akin to a heroin addict watching the blood bloom in the barrel.

“Imagine if we could do this forever?”

It was a question posed by a man in my local home game known as Terry ‘The Run' Welsh. It was 5 am. Most of us had to go to work in a few hours time.

None of us wanted to leave. I was sitting in my work's van, tears falling out of my eyes. I hated my job. I wanted to quit. I couldn't pull the trigger. 

Eventually, I found courage in the shape of my wife. I quit. I was given six months gardening leave and a year's pay.

“Imagine if we could do this forever?”

Seven words that felt like a mad scientist had scooped the brain out of my skull and kept prodding it with a cotton bud. I had to give it a shot. You only live once, right?

I failed. I’m glad. But if I could go back and do it all again, this is what I would do differently.

niall farrell
Farrell: Poker attracts a type.

1. Research

I didn’t think things through. Speaking recently to European Poker Tour (EPT) Main Event champ, Niall Farrell, he said this to me:

It {poker} attracts young guys who can't be assed doing anything but want to make a lot of money at the same time."

Ok, so I wasn’t young. But there was still a part of me that was trying to find the path of least resistance. And I thought poker was it.

I should have done further research on how to become a master. Swedish psychologist, Dr K. Anders Ericsson believes it takes something like 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master something.

Would I have continued with the goal had I understood this theory? I had no idea what it took to be successful in the game.

I should have spoken to a pro poker player to understand the challenges I was about to face.

2. Passion

Had I done the research I would have found the difference between ‘liking something' and ‘passion.'

When you watch the Kid Poker documentary on Netflix, you see ‘passion.' I have never felt that way about poker in my life.

How can you be successful without it?

Negreanu 249429042 long
Do you have a growth mindset?

3. Mindset

In her groundbreaking book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck says this:

"Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It's about seeing things in a new way.

 

"When people change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework.

 

"Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort, and mutual support."

I don’t think I ever moved away from the judge-and-be-judged framework. Even today I struggle to make a growth mindset a natural part of my being.

The one thing that stands out amongst the professional poker players that I have spent time with is their undeterred belief in their ability to make it.

It's stubborn. It's often ridiculous. However, I believe it's critical if you want to become a pro poker player.

I never thought like this. Doubt consumed me. I never had a ‘when I make it' attitude. The whole thing felt fake and too good to be true.

I never grabbed the thing by its big, fat, hairy balls.

Jason Mercier
Find a mentor. Fast.

4. Time

My bankroll and fears gave me a single year to succeed. That's not enough time.

5. Mentor

I would have found a mentor much earlier on in my journey and followed his or her lead religiously.

I'm not just talking about their game but their emotional well-being and habits away from the felt.

Even when I started working in the poker industry as a writer I never grasped the opportunity to climb under the wing of the celebrated and the celestial.

Finding someone who has already trodden the path that awaits you is critical in life, not just poker. I still can’t believe I missed this one.

6. Find a Tribe

Look around. Who surrounds you?

It's an important question because so many great thought leaders believe you become those people you are surrounded by.

Players
Who surrounds you?

My poker tribe was a group of lovely lads who met once a week to play in a local home game.

We were railwaymen, drug dealers, scrapyard owners, factory workers and men who took rubbish away from your garden.

How was I ever going to become a professional?

7. Game Selection

I continued to play online cash games, despite getting murdered, because it was physically easier. I was a bum.

A smarter man would have stuck with the live cash games. I kept a profit-and-loss report. I knew that's where I was earning the most money.

Yet I kept on returning to the virtual tables like some helpless drug addict.

There was also a fabulous opportunity to learn the mixed games to a high degree. Dealers Choice was thriving in my community and nobody was conducting any extracurricular learning.

All the education came at the table. I had an opportunity to carve out such an edge for myself, and I didn't take it.

Winner and wife!
Without your family, you're lost.

8. The Wife

I didn’t get full buy-in from my wife. Sure, she allowed me to take my shot. But I never felt fully supported, and who can blame her?

I went from one of the steadiest careers you will find in the UK, with a full pension and life insurance, to a career as a poker player.

She never understood poker. To her, all I was doing was spending my time playing a video game. At the same time she was going to work, cleaning the house, making food and taking care of our son.

Going back to the 10,000 hours rule, how can you spend this much time pursuing something without the backing of your family?

A few years later the divorce papers stated the irreconcilable differences came about because I spent hours playing poker in my bedroom.

9. Bankroll Management

When I won, I would give a lot of the money to my wife to buy things. It was guilt money. When I lost, I gave her nothing but silence and moodiness.

Jason Koon
You better eat right, too.

I was always playing with scared money. I had a year to make it work. I only had a £10,000 bankroll.

When the losses make you angry -- and I mean mad -- then you know you are playing with scared money. It's time to walk away.

I needed to earn enough to maintain a bankroll, pay the bills, and have a life and I couldn't do it.

10. Mindfulness

Today, I meditate twice a day. I do yoga. I stretch. I breathe. All of these daily practices have reduced my anger.

I was once an active volcano. Today, I am dormant.

My game would have improved immeasurably had I paid more attention to my mental state than my technical state.

11. Exercise

I was a bum. I spent all of my time sitting in chairs playing poker.

Pro? More like an amateur. I did no exercise and therefore I was getting through games on pure adrenaline. It wasn’t enough.

Phil Galfond IMG 4184
You are not Phil Galfond.

12. Diet

Although I had quit drinking by this point my diet was terrible. I was eating fast food takeaway meals all of the time.

I had an addiction to sugar. If you add these problems to the lack of exercise, there was no way I could be a professional in ‘anything.'

It's not until you change your diet and exercise that you use your reserves of energy. You didn't even know they were there.

13. Online Training Videos

If I could go back in time I wouldn't watch online training videos. 

I firmly believe that watching Phil Galfond playing online cash games screwed my game. I didn't even understand the fundamentals and there I was trying to be Phil Galfond.

When I bluffed, they caught me. When I had it, they folded.

I felt like a young lad in charge of a warship armed with nuclear weapons and each time I pressed the trigger I blew something up.

14. Fold

Why, oh why, didn't someone teach me to fold when I began?

Phil Ivey and the best bluffs
Yeah, those bluffs ...

15. Bluffing

I would tell myself to stop bluffing. I was great at reviewing my game. One of my biggest leaks was bluffing away stack after stack.

It was the critical area for leakage, and yet I couldn't mop it up.

I realize that never bluffing makes you extremely one-dimensional but I would have had a much stronger chance of making it had I just bet for value and folded when I didn’t have it.

I could have always learned to incorporate bluffs into my game at a later date.

16. God

I would have started believing in God and prayed for some early run good. I started my professional journey in terrible fashion.

Each year, when I come to the World Series of Poker (WSOP), the same happens. I lose so much to start with that by the time I start winning I've either run out of money, come away with a small loss, or break even.

I believe this goes back to Carol Dweck and her views on mindset. I believe our thoughts are critical, and I used to think I was a loser. And lose I would. 

Not Everyone is Born with Wings

My experience taught me a few things.  Firstly, I didn't love poker nearly as much as I thought I did. Today, I don't even play the game.

Philipp Gruissem2013 WSOP EuropeEV0725K NLH High RollerFinal TableGiron8JG3343
Think hard.

Until the teachings of Raising for Effective Giving (REG) I would have had actual concerns over the value of my choice.

I was so frightened about everything and it stemmed from responsibility. I had a wife, a child and a mortgage. I also had debt.

I should have used the money to pay my debt and focused on searching for life purpose. Had I been single and living with my Mum then perhaps things could have been different.

Not everyone is born with wings. 

Like everything in life you (a) need to get lucky early on, (b) have an incredible passion for your dream, and, (c) have enough time, patience and grit to make mistakes, learn from them and grow. 

I didn't stand a chance. And that's why I am sitting here, writing this.

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