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On Being (a) Professional Part III

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Oct 01, 2013


Gavin GriffinSo far in this series I’ve talked about things that I’ve gotten better at throughout my career as a professional poker player. Learning is a lifelong process and one of the hallmarks of being a professional, no matter what you are a professional in, is the constant struggle for improvement. I have often said that once I think this game has nothing left to teach me, I should probably quit, since it will be all downhill from there. Socrates said “the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” In the spirit of that quote, I’d like to discuss some things that I know I need to work on.

Mental game

My mental game is strong in some areas and weak in others and it’s a part of the game where I need to be constantly improving. One of my weakest points shows up often in tournaments. Tournament to tournament, I have a very healthy view of how the swings of poker manifest themselves. I understand that I will go through long dry stretches in tournaments and I will have some really good short-term success. The mental problem I have, though, is within each tournament. When things are going really well in the tournament, I start thinking about the final table and winning and what I’m going to do with any money I might win. I often lose sight of the fact that I’m far away from any of those things and the only thing that matters is my next decision. The opposite is also true. When things are going really poorly for a stretch but I haven’t busted out, I get down on myself and think about how poorly I’m running instead of how to make better decisions. My mindset is actually quite good when I’m not at either extreme, so I tend to do better in tournaments where I’m running pretty normally. It’s an interesting problem that I’ve tried many things to try to fix, but I’ve recently restarted reading Jared Tendler’s books, and I’m hoping that I can find some stuff in there to improve my mental game. I understand that a book isn’t an instant fix and that I’ll need to work hard to improve my game on a mental level, just as much as I need to work hard to improve my game at the table. Since most of the game is played out in our heads, it doesn’t make much sense that I haven’t been great about improving my mindset or giving myself tools with which to better myself as an emotional poker player.

Getting in better shape

When I was 22, bright eyed and bushy tailed, I was in pretty good shape. I didn’t have any of the extra weight I now carry around my midsection. I had tons of energy, and I had a sharpness of focus that was spectacular. I could play really long sessions and keep focused throughout without the aid of caffeine or the Internet. I didn’t have to check my phone every 15 minutes, listen to podcasts, or check Twitter. Of course, when I was 22, those things weren’t really a factor. iPods weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today, Twitter didn’t exist, and smartphones wouldn’t be on the horizon for another couple of years. In some ways, those things have been a blessing to me as a poker player. Poker can be a boring game and it’s good to have something to keep you entertained when you’re playing 10-to-12 hour sessions. You do, however, miss a little bit when you’re listening to music or reading a blog and you have to decide whether you’re missing too much by checking your phone or if you feel fine with that small lack of information.

One thing I know I can do to improve my focus and my energy while I’m playing is to work out more. I recently took up mountain biking and I really enjoy doing it. I get out for a one-hour ride about twice per week. Luckily, I live in an area that has great trails and I can keep myself interested for a long time exploring around my house. Unfortunately, though, with an eight-month old baby and a wife who works 40 hours a week in addition to my own poker career, it’s hard to get away more than those two hours per week that I try to do now. I’m absolutely certain that if I were to lose the 20 or so extra pounds that I’m carrying around, I would have more energy and more focus, both when I’m playing and when I’m at home with my son and my wife. It would improve my life in so many ways, but it’s something that I struggle with constantly. I try to avoid food that’s bad for me, not eat too many carbs, and work out as much as I can. I just have a problem with loving sweets and carbs so much, like every modern human, and with so little time I find myself eating unhealthy snacks. In addition to the unhealthy snacks, I eat many of my meals at the casino, which isn’t exactly a bastion of healthy cooking. I definitely need to eat more greens, less carbs, and smaller portions and it’s something I’m committed to doing both for my own sake and that of my family.

Like I’ve mentioned in this series of articles, I’ve learned many things as a professional poker player that can be helpful to others and I’m still learning. I will continue to try to improve as a husband, a father, a human being, and a poker player in that order because one of the things I’ve learned the most in my 10 years as a poker player is that, in the end, poker is just a game. Yes, it’s one that has afforded me many good things in life, but it’s really just a part of my life and a balanced approach is necessary in order to thrive in this world. I hope you have learned something from the things I’ve gone through in my poker career. Remember to always keep learning and that just like Jon Snow, you know nothing. ♠

Gavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG