Peter Hallberg
World Backgammon Champion 2004

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August 2011

From hobby player to full time pro, part 2

Aug 17th by Peter Hallberg

Only try to control controllable things...

Continued from 'From hobby player to full time pro'.

This blog will focus on the changes I have made gradually through the last couple of month, in the quest for achieving the needed skills, for having poker as my only source of income.

Physical fitness
There's a reason why most, if not all, top players in skill games are fit. If not, you simply don't have the energy to do all the hard work needed for reaching the top and staying there. Time and again I have been told that I had to get in better shape, to be able to hold my focus for more hours when playing. Increased stamina is also needed to get through more poker training.

I'm a 1.75 m tall guy and at the beginning of May I weighed 92.9 kg. That's a BMI of over 30 which puts me just over the line for obesity. A normal weighing person has a BMI between 18.5 and 25. My weight loss goals are first to reach 85 kg (BMI=27.8) and then 80 kg (BMI=26.1).

Generally I'm not good at letting bad habits go and my diet along with my exercise levels are indeed two bad habits. To prioritize exercise higher I decided to count it as working hours equal to analyzing hands and watching training videos. This way it doesn't feel like a waste of poker/work time when I spend time working out. It is simply a prerequisite for being able to do the work needed to succeed.

I started out very slowly with going for small walks and short rides on my bike. Then I step by step added more time and now I start each day with a 30 min program on my training bike and on top of that I never take the bus or train anymore when I go somewhere in Copenhagen.

Besides that I changed my diet to, what can be considered, a normal healthy diet which is a huge step away from what I ate before. I don't put too much thought into this because it would be too hard for me living like a diet health freak.

At the time of writing I weigh 85.5 kg (BMI=27.9). That means I lost 7.4 kg since May 1st and I'm really proud of that! There are no indications that I won't hit 80 kg within the next three month time.

By removing most of the bad carbs from my diet I don't experience highs and lows in concentration during a session and on top of that my increased stamina have made it possible to almost double the length of a session. What is even more impressive is that I, during that time, is able to play twice as many hands an hour due to higher focus.

Mental robustness
After carefully reading Jared Tendlers book 'The Mental Game of Poker' I realized a lot of things about tilt. He reframes tilt as everything you do that puts you off your A-game - basically everything that makes you perform less than optimal. That's a clever way to look at it. Simplified there are three steps in getting rid of tilt. First you have to identify your tilt areas. Second you have to understand the reason behind each particular type of tilt to be able 'inject logic'. That is a way to convincing yourself that your reasons for tilting is unjustified. The last step is to remind yourself of those reasons when you feel the tilt is coming while playing. This ongoing process will ultimately leave you tilt-less.

Very often I have done suboptimal things that I would not have attributed tilt. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Stopping a session to 'book a winner'.

  • Changing my overall game strategy to minimize the variance.

  • Not playing out of fear of losing when I have had a lucky streak.

  • Spending huge amount of energy on controlling my tilt while playing.

  • Felt very angry after a huge suckout from a fish.

  • Wishing there were no variance in poker.

And the list goes on.

Jared uses many good examples of why it's irrational to think and feel the way that makes us tilted. Here is how I injected logic in a couple of them.

Example 1: No variance in poker
I'm sure most of us at times have been wishing there were no variance in poker because we (the sharks) then would win them all, right? The problem is that then poker would be like chess. It would be very clear who the best players were and impossible to get any action. We simply need variance to keep the games running. Then we have the players that overestimate their skill level (that includes most of us) and we have all the players that accept they are losers in the long run but hope for a lucky break, short term. Then of course we have the players that don't care at all, but we would have them no matter what. The conclusion is clear - we want variance!

Example 2: Not playing out of fear of losing when I have had a lucky streak
I've just won the last 6 allin preflop coinflips. I know that it has to end and I will lose some of it back but they can't get my money if I don't play (haha). The problem is that I'm in fact holding on to some of their money and I know it. I just don't want to accept it. It's much more clear when we lose to a fish. We know that he is just holding our money - he might not realize it - but we know! When we accept this fact we are ready to sit back in and should we lose some of our winnings, it's okay. We understand why it's happening.

Another interesting idea I got from Tommy Angelo is that streaks don't exist. A streak is something you construct in your mind. Often we think of a streak in terms of last time things turned around. But how far back should we look. What happened yesterday, no matter how sick it was (within your normal game), has basically no effect on your results looking a year back. What Tommy suggests is that the only thing that exist is the hands you are playing right now. It's is here and now you can affect things and make a difference. Focus on making the best decisions right now and don't worry about what happened or what is about to happen.

This leads me to the last major point I have room for in this blog. Playing good poker is all about using your potential to the fullest. Most of the time potential and energy is the same. Let's say you play a session where you struggled a lot with tilt. You won the tilt-battle and the tilt never showed up in your game - great, right? The problem is that you spent a lot of energy on fighting yourself when you should have focused that energy towards fighting your opponent. This result is, that you might not have stepped backwards, but you didn't step forward either, even though you actually had the resources to.

It all comes down to using all your energy to make the best possible decisions in the hand you are currently playing. That's the way of a winning poker player.

While reading Jereds book there are a lot of assignments you can do and I did them all. I identified all the tilt-areas I had and injected logic into each one of them. When I got tilted over something in the game I would look at my notes to see why this particular thing shouldn't bother me and it worked amazingly! At the moment I feel more or less tiltless but I also understand that tilt is a dynamic thing and if I stop working continuously on it soon I'll revert back to a tilt-monkey again.

On the most general level I simply enjoy more playing poker than before. I'm happy with what I'm doing and the general laziness state, I'm know to fall into, are kept at bay. Of the last 58 days I've taken only two days completely off.

The extra focus and energy I acquired and freed up, has been put to good use. Before all this I was playing 3 tables simultaneously at a rate of about 275 hands per hour. A typical session lasted for about an hour. Now I play 6 tables simultaneously for about 550 hands per hour and a typical session last for about 90 minutes. That's an improvement I would have thought impossible if you had asked me two month ago.

And much much more
This is just some of the things I've done to optimize my transition to a full time poker pro and I'm sure many more will be implemented when I realize they exist.

The theme for my next blog will be 'getting ready for optimal performance'. Read about how I warm up and how I cool down after a session and much more.


:: Backgammon ::

* Dansk Bg Forbund (DK) 

* eXtreme Gammon

* Bg World Championship

* DBgF on Facebook (DK)


:: Poker ::

* Pokernyhederne (DK)

* (DK)

* Texaspoker (DK)

* PokerHistory


:: Chess ::

* Dansk Skak Union (DK)

* ChessBomb

* K41 (DK)

* ChessTempo