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Getting rich on balance

People sometimes ask me about my career playing Starcraft, something I did very seriously for quite a while before becoming a full-time poker pro.

At the time I started it was only possible to be a full-time player in South Korea, and so I moved there when I was about 19 and played Starcraft professionally for five or six years. In truth there were only about 10 or 20 of us who were professional players at the time, and so the community was much smaller than is the case in poker and it was very easy to become totally immersed in it.

It was a great experience for me, and instilled in me a love for traveling and discovering new cultures, something I've been fortunate to be able to continue to do as a poker player. And in fact, as I've gotten older and maybe a little bit wiser, I've come to appreciate how being open to exploring new places and traveling can actually help a person greatly when it comes to poker.

There are a couple of reasons that have led me to this conclusion.

The first reason has to do with the way having some sort of non-poker interest can help provide much needed balance in the life of a full-time poker player.

Poker is a high variance game, especially if all you do is play live tournaments. You can put as much time as you want into the game, and obviously in the long run you'll likely improve. But the long run can be a long time, especially if your focus is primarily live tournaments. It's not uncommon to play five, ten, even twenty tournaments without cashing. You can easily find yourself in a downswing lasting six months or more in live poker. So it's especially good to have other things to help you keep focused and to help you feel good about yourself when things might not be going so well, poker-wise.

NEIL9918_PCA2013_Elky_Neil Stoddart.jpg

In fact, I have several non-poker pursuits that help give my life some balance. Working out at the gym with my friend Eugene Katchalov is one. And speaking of friends, I also have a lot of good friendships and frequently make an effort to enjoy others' company when I can.

Travel also helps give me balance. I love discovering new places, and playing the live poker tournament circuit gives me a lot of opportunities to see new things. The fact is, I'm a very curious guy! When going to a new tournament stop, I will try sometimes to arrive a few days early or leave a few days after it ends so I can visit and explore the cities. It's an amazing opportunity to see the world, and it gives a good break from playing nonstop.

It's good to have other things to help keep your mood and spirits up and to help you in your day-to-day life. You shouldn't lose track of the big picture, and in fact having some sort of perspective can help you appreciate poker even more. That's one thing traveling can do for you.

Secondly, traveling to new places can make you a better person. Being exposed to different cultures makes you better able to have a broader perspective and even a better understanding of your own culture and your own life. The more things you see, the more you have to draw on as you go forward living your life and learning from your experiences.

The connection to poker here is perhaps less obvious, but I think anyone who has played the game seriously can understand it. We often talk about how at the poker table the more things you see, the more information you have when making decisions while playing hands. Say you tend to focus more on betting patterns or tells or something. It's good also to keep your mind open and pay attention to everything else that happens at the table, too, as that information can help you better understand what your opponents are up to.

Life is the same way -- the more you experience, the more information you have going forward.

Poker can be your main focus, of course. It is certainly mine, and I love it. But whatever your primary passion might be, you shouldn't let it overwhelm everything else. Find balance and perspective in other activities and pursuits, and be willing to step outside your domain once in a while. Doing so will make your life richer... and perhaps also increase your chances of getting richer at the tables, too!

ElkY is a member of Team PokerStars Pro

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