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Ben Heath: "Having a Genuine Love for the Game is Pretty Underrated"
It’s only a matter of time before Ben "1Don'tStop1" Heath is taking down huge poker tournaments just for fun.
With a European Poker Tour (EPT) side event victory, a World Series of Poker (WSOP) final table appearance, multiple cashes in €25,000 High Roller Events and a friend like Charlie Carrel in his corner, the young British grinder has been building an impressive list of results over the past couple years.
He's a player who has put the time in off the table to fine-tune his game to its sharpest points and he firmly believes the most effective way to get to the top is to learn from someone already there.
I agree. Ben Heath, teach us everything you know.
Lee Davy: If you were advising a beginner on how to learn about the game, what form of learning would you encourage them to pick up and why?
Ben Heath: Things are very different now to how they used to be and I think this is a part of the game most people get wrong -- where to start.
I think the main aim for people now should be learning how to think about the game rather than how to play in specific scenarios.
So I'd advise getting coaching from someone who's already where you want to be or finding a good group of people to talk hands with and improve together.
LD: What are the most important values for a professional poker player and why?
BH: I think having a genuine love for the game is pretty underrated. The people who just get into it for the money struggle to reach and stay at the top.
The top players put in so many hours of thinking, talking, playing, etc. and it's hard to maintain that for some external aim (i.e. money).
If what drives you is just the desire to learn and improve at a game you love it's much more likely you'll continue to work at the levels needed.
Other than that I'd say discipline. I see a lot of players gambling in other casino games, or playing above their bankroll and going broke. It's pretty hard not to get swept up in it all sometimes.
LD: What do you see when you look at the poker world today?
BH: I see a lot of people who are making a lot of money from what is, compared to a lot of jobs, not much work (I'm not saying there aren't poker players who work very hard).
People seem to keep complaining at the moment that poker isn't what it used to be and that they wish they'd played more hours ‘back in the day'.
I think it could very well be the same situation five years from now, so I'd like to avoid being in that situation and am trying to put in as much time learning and playing as I can.
LD: What games would you advise a beginner to play and why?
BH: Honestly, I think this would change from person to person depending on what they want from the game. I think any games can be a good way to start as long as you go about it the right way.
The main thing I would say, though, is to stick to one game for a while until you're very confident at it before branching out into other areas.
LD: What bankroll tips would you give to a beginner?
BH: I disagree with the conventional ideas about bankroll management pretty often.
At the start when one is learning the game, I admit they should probably be sticking to the standard guidelines of say 100 buy-ins for their game.
However, there will be situations when people should take more risks, even as little as 20 buy-ins maybe for a tournament, depending on the game and your situation outside of poker.
LD: What scheduling tips would you give to a beginner?
BH: I'd advise people starting out to play relatively short sessions, maybe 3-4 hours, with 1-2 hours of studying and reviewing after the game.
I always see the same mistake from beginners; they just want to play and forget how much learning needs to go into being one of the best at such a competitive game.
There should always be time for learning that should be treated with the same respect as playing.
LD: What were the three biggest mistakes you made when you started?
BH: My biggest mistake at the beginning was trying to do everything by myself.
I'm not as naturally talented at the game as many of the top players I've played with, and it wasn't until I learned how to think about the game from others and worked incredibly hard that things started to click.
Another, I guess, would be fear. I was terrified of losing money early on in my career, and when I did, I would be annoyed for days.
To climb the ladder and become one of the best you must be aware of the money at stake, but be completely indifferent towards winning or losing money and just focus on making the right decisions.
The last one, and the one I most struggle with still today, is time management. As poker players have flexibility it's very easy to slack off and find yourself only playing 20-30 hours per week when we could be playing 50-60.
It's a problem many poker players struggle with, and I think that the top pros are usually the ones who have made the right choices with their time at every stage of their career.
LD: I know you credit a lot of your success to your relationship with Charlie Carrel. Can you explain to a beginner the ways in which a partnership like yours helps advance your learning, and share a few insights into how you both learn?
BH: Although I would like to think it is now much closer to a partnership, when we met it was a teacher/student dynamic.
For anyone who is struggling to advance in the game I cannot emphasize enough how helpful it is to live with someone who is already where you want to be.
Whenever we are travelling together we are constantly talking about hands and thinking of better ways to play them.
Having someone to do this with is the best way to learn in my opinion, and definitely how I spend most of my studying time.
Charlie also spends a lot of time on his own thinking about hands and is always coming back to me with new approaches to the same spots.
LD: What is your biggest strength at the poker table?
BH: My biggest strength on the table is the work I do away from the table. I've put a lot of hours into a lot of the maths in spots that I think other people often overlook, which I know pays off a lot at the table.
I wrote my dissertation on the game theory involved in some solvable poker situations, with a separate piece on bankroll management. Some of the concepts I went into depth in during that time I find very helpful even now.
LD: If you had 10,000 hours to work on anything what would it be and why?
BH: At the moment, it would be the psychology behind different situations which come up at the table.
It's just so interesting to see how people approach certain spots, and how they respond to even small changes in the way people play against them, or even how someone speaks to them or dresses.
The vast majority of players have very little idea about their own thought patterns, and I think the things we do at the table can affect these habits a huge amount.
Knowing how certain people will respond to these changes would be a massive advantage in controlling the outcome of the game.