Interview With Lex Veldhuis3 years ago
What you've been up to recently?
This past year I've been grinding Supernova Elite and I've been dealing with a lot of stuff since my grandma passed away.
I'm sorry to hear that.
It's ok, she was 94. She had a long beautiful life, but I had to take care of a bunch of stuff, help my father with organizing the funeral, and sorting all of her possessions which took me a couple of months. Because of that, I didn't play at the start of last year and I had to catch up in the second half. I got myself in a bind with grinding Elite. It's funny, actually. The first time I went for Supernova Elite I started to grind for that purpose in July. Next time I just did nothing for half a year and I had to make up for those six-months again. I was hoping to do it right this time, but the unfortunate event I mentioned above made it impossible. The last three months of 2015 consisted of pretty much only poker. I've been resting and getting in shape throughout January, I'm feeling very good right now and I slowly started picking up poker again.
I assume that you're still playing PLO?
Yes I do and I'm pretty sure that unless a new form of poker that I like comes along it's basically " PLO do or die" for me at this point. If I suddenly stop enjoying PLO I might move out to something else, but right now I'm absolutely in love with the game.
What's the state of PLO games right now? Are they getting tougher?
I think they are getting tougher, but there's also a lot of new people still migrating to PLO. Sometimes I feel like the games are getting tougher because some of my opponents study harder than I do. There are some guys that were fairly easy to beat back in the day but they've improved a lot and it's something I'm looking to do myself. Last year I studied a lot more than in previous years but because of the elite grind, it was still only about 10% of my total time invested in the game. Ideally, I'd like to divide my time into about 70% of play and 30% of studying the game.
What motivates you to keep playing poker?
Sometimes I feel like poker doesn't challenge me enough but it's not true, In reality, I just don't challenge myself enough. If you approach poker from a different point of view, you try to study the game and figure out the bad spots in your strategy then you're constantly challenging yourself. That's why it's so important not to play too many tables on a constant autopilot because you miss a lot of stuff and you don't notice specific spots. Studying more and talking to people who are better than me helps me realize how much I can still improve. I used to think that studying poker was really boring, but nowadays I'm constantly surprised by how effective it is at boosting my motivation.
Do you think that the skills you've gained at the poker table affect the rest of your life?
Yes I do think so. I'm involved in some other businesses right now where I deal with the strategic management and I can definitely tell that poker gives you a better understanding of how your decisions will affect other people. You understand the psyche of a human being better. Poker is also a huge asset in my social life. I'm able to deduce a lot of information from certain situations, I tend to be more rational when I have an argument with someone, it's easier to step back and look at the entire situation. I used to be far more emotional and make decisions that were too harsh. I think it's safe to say that I've learned a lot of stuff from poker in the last 10 years that I might need 30 or 40 years to learn in other walks of life.
Do you have any regrets associated with playing poker? If you could go back in time would you choose something different this time around?
No I wouldn't but it's a very good question. Sometimes I feel like I made a bunch of stupid decisions along the way when it comes to money or education, but it all lead me to the place I'm in now and because of that I'd do it all over again.
As an advanced player, how do you go about learning and staying on top of the game?
I often try to analyze the game from the point of view of my opponents and figure out where I should be putting more pressure and in which spots I feel like my opponents are putting pressure on me. I try to figure out which part of my game is the weakest and I look for specific examples of hands that I can improve upon. I also talk with my friends and ask them for their opinions. A big part of studying poker is making yourself aware of the spots that you need to work on and play them smarter than you did before. For example, if you realize you check/fold a lot after you check the flop, every time you're holding a strong hand you should consider checking the flop with it to counteract that and avoid the situation when you are very easy to exploit. You often don't even have to crunch the exact numbers when you study. Just by making yourself aware of your weaknesses you can make more informed decisions in problematic spots. The other big part of studying is to be open to what other players are doing. Back when I used to play live cash games in Vegas most players would play fairly weak-tight, especially in deep stack situations and I took advantage of that by putting a lot of pressure on people and isolating myself in spots with weaker opponents. Often, instead of learning from that, people would just call me an over-aggro trash and continue doing what they were doing. If you see something that's strange, you should be able to take a step back and consider if it's good or not instead of automatically dismissing it just because it differs from what you're doing. It still happens to me. Sometimes when I see a strange play I think "WTF was that?" and automatically assume that my opponent is a fish, but this happens less and less often and nowadays. I try to learn from my opponents and think about implementing parts of their strategy in my own game.
How important staying in shape is for a poker player?
It's important because it helps you think clearly. It's totally fine to not enjoy lifting weights, but every player should try to stay active, do yoga, or meditate. It's so easy to play your B game if you're hungry, tired, or hung-over. I think it's possible to make money if you're not in shape, but it's hard to progress at a fast rate.
Do you have a specific routine?
On a typical day I'll wake up around 7:15 am, eat, go to the gym by 8:15 am, work out for about an hour, eat again, and take a cold shower. Then I meditate for about 10 minutes. I'd like to increase that but I tend to space out if I meditate for too long. If some task is bothering me during my meditation I usually deal with it immediately after. After that I start my poker preparation by reading through all of my notes, going over the weak areas of my game like I described above and reminding myself what kind of solutions I thought up for them. Then I analyze the hands from the previous day which can take up to one hour. After that, I'm ready to start playing (with a short break every hour for stretching). It sounds like a lot and when I used to hear about people following similar routines 6-8 years ago, I thought it was dumb because that person could be spending an additional 4 hours playing poker and printing money. Unfortunately, poker is in a different state right now and you can't get away with stuff like that. Most serious players nowadays follow a well-organized routine and you have to be on the same physical and mental level if you want to compete with them.
Aside from meditation do you do something specific when it comes to your mental game?
Meditation is a big part of it. Last year I started to use a supplement that's boosting my concentration called Cheqio and it has been really helpful because of my ADHD. When I'm sitting in front of the computer my mind tends to wander around I'm making autopilot decisions etc. and Cheqio helped to remedy that.
Interesting. Can you tell us more about this supplement?
It's a herbal supplement that helps you stay calm and focused. The people behind it approached me and asked if I wanted to test it. I was hesitant at first because I tried other concentration supplements in the past and nothing really worked for me (some of them also had negative side-effects), but I knew one of the guys from the company and I agreed. I tested Cheqio for about two months starting in February 2015 and I was really blown away by the results. I became really enthusiastic about it and they asked me if I want to be their ambassador for poker. Cheqio really made me feel like I was playing poker again for the first time. It improved my focus tremendously so I asked if I could be a part of the company. We had many productive brainstorm sessions and given how well this product worked for me I'm very excited about it.
What's your view on the recent PokerStars VIP club changes?
Some changes I can see the merit to. I don't agree with timing it that late in the year. I haven't been very vocal to the outside since I feel like you're kinda losing the credibility in internal discussions when you do that. I've been talking a lot to people at PokerStars and other pros like Daniel Negreanu and it looks like the company really has the long-term health of the poker ecosystem in mind. It's in everybody's best interest that poker keeps running. It's good for the players, it's good for PokerStars, it's good for everybody involved. `Some things will work, some things won't and it's just a puzzle we have to solve.
Some players seem to think that PokerStars was motivated by corporate greed. Given your close relationship with the company, do you really think they have the health of poker ecosystem in mind?
I really think that's the case. PokerStars has big plans for investing money in bringing new players to the game. They can't really announce all of their projects at once for a number of reasons like the fact that there are other competing poker rooms on the market.
You've mentioned your Supernova Elite status before. Aren't you disappointed that PokerStars decided to suddenly devalue your huge time investment?
Yeah, of course. As a player that affected me too. However, I was already elite. It hit the guys grinding SNE for the first time the hardest. I'd rather keep my status but at the same time, I was alway very vocal about the fact that the game should be tailored to recreational players. In the case of live tournaments for example, if the entries go down because people who own businesses can't just take five days off we should make the structure faster no matter what the pros think. Other tournaments with slower structures would be better for promoting skill. Going back to VIP changes, ideally, I would have liked to see them implemented in January 2017, but if this is going to help the ecosystem I'm all for it. I think people are going to have to give up short-term profit for the game to survive.
What about Alex Millar and Ike Haxton leaving PokerStars Team Online?
I respect them for standing for their opinion and it takes courage to follow through with action.
Is poker dying?
I don't think it's dying, but it's drying out more and more rapidly. Some tournament scenes are actually flourishing, but if you look at cash games alone they are in a poor state, especially with all of the seating scripts and stuff like that. Everyone is hunting for prey and it's impossible to step into a casual poker game. I know that it would be naive to assume that the games could still stay casual after so many years with so much money involved, but some pros should get that 'shaving the wool' is more effective in the long run than simply 'slaughtering the animal'. I guess you can't blame people for taking the opportunity to make a lot of money short term (especially if they're less skilled and don't have any other option)... but I do, because I'd rather see a healthy poker economy. Sometimes it really feels like poker is in a sad state and for years, every major development seemed to be tailored to pro players. I've always been against that trend and I hope it will change from now on.
So it's basically the case of prisoner's dilemma where being egotistical is optimal in the short run, but we should be thinking about the long-run?
Yes and the problem is that there will always be people eager to take the shortcut. Because of that, I hope poker rooms will make seating scripts and stuff like that impossible to use and that's the direction that PokerStars is heading.
What could potentially boost the popularity of poker?
One of the great recent developments is streaming poker via Twitch.tv. I think that gamers and people who spend a lot of time online are a perfect target audience when it comes to poker. Twitch is like this new, cool, and interesting way of introducing more people to poker.
Don't you think that the free education offered by twitch can be detrimental to poker?
Yes it's a downside but not every stream has to be educational. Look at ChicagoJoeyand his podcast for example. Some people are just having fun with poker, Other streams are educational in nature and it's like this new kind of a coaching video that can be detrimental to poker, but it doesn't have to be. Many Twitch.tv viewers are absolute beginners and the small amount of poker knowledge might make it more likely that they will pursue poker because it will make them more confident. If poker on Twitch becomes about studying GTO with advanced players it can be bad for poker but I don't think it's likely.
Who's a better poker ambassador Neymar or Daniel Negreanu?
I think Daniel is the best poker ambassador simple because of how much he's involved with the game. Neymarcould do huge things for the game because of his reach but he dedicates the vast majority of his time to playing football. It's great to have sports stars and other people from respective disciplines endorsing poker, but Daniel is dedicating so much time to the game that it's hard to pick someone else as the best poker ambassador.
Do you think poker needs ambassadors?
I don't think we need more poker players in this role. We should pursue people from other branches. It's a very logical evolution. Winning a poker tournament is not that big of a deal anymore. People are winning big tournaments like every other week and tournament winners don't have nearly as much of a pull that they used to. Of course, if someone is a consistent winner and a great poker personality it's good to reward that, but poker players can't really reach potential customers outside of the poker world. Everyone know that you can make money playing poker and we don't need another success story to prove that. What we need is famous people from other branches who can help legitimize poker even further and pull more people in. A good example of that is a dutch Olympic medalist Fatima Moreira de Melo. My grandma always thought that I was addicted to gambling but as soon as Fatima joined PokerStars it was a clear sign that poker isn't so bad after all.
What do you think about the recent Antonio Esfandiari incident during PCA?
It's pretty obvious that I don't like the guy, but if I have to be honest, I think people reacted way to harsh. Of course, it's kinda obscene to pee in a bottle at a live poker table, but he wasn't exposing himself, he tried to cover himself and the prop-bet backstory made some sense so I think that the backlash was a bit too big. Of course, he should be disqualified, but if you look at his apology it sounds like he killed someone which obviously wasn't the case.
You don't think similar incidents can affect poker negatively?
I just don't think it's that big of a deal. I'm also glad Antonio donated money to charity to show that there was no bad intent in all of this.
Have you seen the Justin Bonomo's blog post about sexism in poker?
Yes. I agree with the fact that there is a lot of sexism in poker and we should address this issue. I do believe that men are more intrigued by the game of poker and we won't ever reach the situation where the player pool is divided equally, but I do believe that some women decide against playing poker because of the male players' behavior. Some guys are really terrible when it comes to stuff like that. If there's a girl at a poker table there's like 99.9% chance that at least two guys will hit on her and that has to be really annoying. It's even worse than being in a club or something like that. There are also patronizing statements like 'are you sure you can handle a game of this level girl'. That's really messed up and I hope it changes. I guess the one good thing is that guys like that play worse against women because they underestimate them.
Any interesting books/movies/tv shows you've read or seen recently?
I've been catching up on some old shows with my girlfriend like 24, Sons of Anarchy, and Narcos. The usual. I don't have this gem of a show that no-one knows about.
No. I think it's too much of a coincidence that Melisandre arrives at Castle Black right around Jon's death. I don't think his story arc is complete either. I think Jon Snow will be very important for the story since he's most likely a Targaryen.
I know you're a huge fan of the show and books so let's go with another question for the GoT nerds. Will Cleganebowl happen?
I think it will! I believe that the Hound is still alive and with the hate he still has for his brother... I want something to happen there!
What are your plans for 2016?
With the current state of the game I will focus more on getting a lot better at the game and take my volume down a little bit. I might even try to play lower limits than usual to further strengthen my fundamentals. Also I will spend a lot of time doing work for Cheqio. I'm learning a lot about business and market approach and it's a possible future for me outside of poker.
Thank you for the interview!
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