Steve Pavilanis, an experienced high stakes poker player in his early 30's who hails from the Midwest, is the author of A Life Less Anxious, which deals with how to better handle anxiety and stress. Steve kindly took some time to share his experience and expertise regarding what poker players can do to improve their game, starting with improving their body and mind.
Steve considers himself a normal guy who's always been very outgoing and adventurous. He enjoys challenges and competition. He stays busy with many hobbies and interests including writing and speaking, poker, golf, home brewing, website management, travel and improvisational comedy. He holds a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma and has a full time job in Information Technology for a large bank. As for poker, he's been hooked since watching the 2003 World Series on ESPN, and has been an avid players since.
Steve's book, A Life Less Anxious, provides guidance for people who are having trouble with excessive stress and anxiety and don't know how to relax or find balance in their life. Steve explains that "Poker can certainly be looked at as a microcosm of life. If you are upset and not thinking clearly, your emotions will guide your decisions and reactions. This can get you into all sorts of trouble, especially at a poker table. When the worst player at the table hits a two-outer and takes your entire stack, most players get extremely upset and go on tilt. They may normally be a very calculated player, but because they've let their emotions get the best of them, they start playing too aggressively, make bad calls, and may even try to single out the player that put the bad beat on them in hopes of revenge. They make bad plays that they never would have made had they been thinking clearly and logically."
He continues "Applying the various relaxation techniques and life changes that I discuss in my book can help anyone learn how to relax, quiet their mind, and think more clearly. This can have a wonderfully positive effect in all areas of your life, including your poker game. If you are able to keep your emotions in check and think logically before acting, you'll be much better off in life as well as at the poker table."
Steve feels that developing a healthy mindset is vital to your success in all areas of life. Regardless of what level player you are, learning how to be more positive in your outlook and less reactive with your emotions will help your game immensely. Steve has found the best results come from workouts that incorporate strength training (lifting weights, Pilate's, etc.), cardiovascular training (running, cycling, etc.), and lots of flexibility work (yoga, stretching, etc.). The most important thing is that you are physically exerting yourself in some way nearly every day. If you've never worked out regularly, tag along with someone who does, or join a gym and get a personal trainer.
When asked about life balance, Steve explains "Reaching a healthy balance is very important to your quality of life regardless of your occupation or hobbies. To maintain balance between poker and your personal life I think you need to set limits on how much time you spend playing per week and stick to it. It takes discipline but will help you from feeling burned out."
As for handling bad beats and running poorly at the poker tables, Steve suggests "If you get tilted badly, you need to walk away and gather yourself. In the very least sit out from all of your tables and leave the room, and go outside and get some fresh air if possible. It's also very helpful to get rid of your frustration physically by doing some push ups or squats, or even jogging around the block a few times before returning to your tables. If you're just can't seem to get the bad beats out of your head, quit for the day. Don't return to the tables until you're thinking clearly and not emotionally, even if it takes several days. When it comes to tilt having the proper perspective can help. When I'm running bad, I make it a point to only look at my stats for say the past few months instead of only the past few losing sessions. This helps me to see the overall winning trend of my graph and understand that my current downswing is very minor when compared to the big picture of my overall graph."
Steve asserts that "The mind and body have a symbiotic relationship, and taking care of one will always help the other. Proper diet and regular exercise will do wonders for your psyche." He has applied many of his own techniques to positive affect in his life. He says "I am much more well-balanced both physically and mentally these days, and have a much easier time keeping things in the proper perspective. Even when I keep losing set-over-set I am able to maintain a positive mindset and understand that it's just variance. In the big picture I'm still doing all I can to win and such things will even themselves out in the long run. Not only am I having more fun playing poker these days, my win rate has also improved as I've learned to keep my emotions in check."
We've noticed an increase in the number of professional players using outside assistance from spiritual and mental health coaches to improve their games (e.g. Andy Black often travels to events with his spiritual partner, Dusty Schmidt offers huge praise to his mental coach Jared Tendler, Phil Galfond and numerous Deuces Cracked pros rave about Tommy Angelo). Do you think we will continue to see an increase in players looking to gain edges from these areas? Presumably the clearer a mind can be, (e.g. from meditation, spirituality, yoga etc) the better the player will become as it becomes easier to focus and control their emotions? Steve answers "I think because such high profile players have shown through their results the effectiveness of such practices that many other players will follow suit. You nailed it - if you can clear your mind of distractions it's much easier to focus and make better decisions, which translates into a lot more money at the poker table." The advent and popularity of poker retreats and seminars dealing with the importance of being level headed and not just talented at the poker table.
Steve boils down his advice simply "First off, slow down. Life isn't a race or a contest, it's meant to be enjoyed. Be sure to take time to pursue those things you love to do with passion, and continually strive to give something back to the world. Secondly "spend just as much time learning to clear your mind and control your emotions as you do developing and studying your game. If you can keep your head clear and avoid going on tilt, you'll already be light years ahead of most players."
As for Steve's plans for 2010, "I always make it a point to set goals for myself. I think it's important to have something measurable to strive for as it keeps you on track and focused. I have many specific goals for my anxiety book and website and hope to reach and help as many people as possible.
As for poker goals, I cashed out a sizable online bankroll last summer to focus on finishing up my book. Now that the book is done I plan on playing a lot more poker this year and have recently made a small deposit online. I love learning new games and I am making Omaha my new project for 2010, grinding up from the micros to learn the game properly. While I have a bankroll mark I'd like to hit, my overall goal is to make enough to pay for my honeymoon in Europe this fall."
Steve's final piece of advice is to consider positive mantras that give you a good perspective on poker, "Whatever makes you remember the big picture of grinding it out and accepting variance. Maybe "Big picture, big picture…" or "Long run, long run…"
Before Steve headed off, he answered our final four fun questions we ask our interviewees.
What is your favorite fun poker phrase/slang/acronym?
"Monkeytilt! I always get a kick out of that word and use it as often as possible in our home game."
If the poker industry disappeared completely, what other career would you most like to attempt?
"Well currently my poker income is supplemental as I do have a full time job in Information Technology with a large bank in Chicago. However, I love to write and am headed down a new path with the publishing of my anxiety book, which is very exciting. Besides that, getting into comedy would be a lot of fun, as would pursuing my home brewing hobby further and opening my own brewpub."
If you were on death row, what would be your last meal?
"Whew… that's tough as I am certainly a foodie. I'd have to say a perfectly cooked rib eye with king crab legs and Belgian-style fries, washed down with a nice big California Cab, supplemented with some great craft beers of course!"
When your poker career is over, what would you most like to be remembered for?
"That I was a student of the game, fun to play with, and that I gave something back to the poker community."