"Since deciding to turn pro in August 2008, Pawel has made more money than he did when he was teaching full time and has a lot more free time on his hands to enjoy life!"
For those who don't know you, give us a little background. How did you first start playing?
My friends and I would play penny stacks in graduate school and I found the game to be very stimulating. Another friend suggested playing online and that's when I started donking around. I had very little direction at first and am pretty sure I was a big loose/passive fish in the games. I stumbled upon Card Runners and was amazed to see winning players showing their cards and explaining their thoughts. It was great for me. I was playing 50NL at the time. This was in the fall of 2006, I think. I had no concept of a bankroll. I probably deposited $400 online and would play 100NL and 50NL as well as some sit-n-goes.
Once I immersed myself in my poker education things started clicking. I love helping people (which is why I went into teaching) and after my involvement in the low/micro stakes forum, I was asked to start making videos for Card Runners. Last year, in the fall of 2008, I decided to take a break from teaching high school (after 4 years) to pursue poker full time. My situation is a bit different from most of the online pros. I play much lower stakes, I'm older (turning 30 in November), and married. It's working out really well and it's been an amazing year. I mostly play 100NL and 200NL these days and it's enough to support us.
Tell us how do you balance poker and your family life?
It was really difficult at first because I have a personality which immerses itself in anything it wants to excel at. I think the key is to enjoy life and see poker as an element of it. The purpose of playing poker is having the freedom that it can provide you financially. If it starts taking over your life, then it stops serving that purpose and you need to reevaluate it. I also don't have ambitions of playing really high stakes so I play very much within my comfort zone. My swings aren't big and I make just enough to be content.
Do you feel most poker players should get an education? Something to fall back on?
I have mixed feelings on that subject. I think most people go to college without a clear idea of what they want to do. If you are playing poker and making good money, you can always go to college later. If you want the whole college experience, then go for it and balance the two. But the bottom line in my mind is that you can always go to school later and chances are you will have a much more clear direction if you do that.
Alright, you are known to crush the low and middle cash game limits. What advice can you give to beginners on bankroll management?
The biggest problem people run into with their bankroll is tilt. They don't stop when they should or play too high. There is the traditional 20 buy-in's per level rule. That if you drop below 20 buy-in's for a given level, you need to drop down to lower stakes. It's simple and if someone is disciplined enough to follow it, it's nearly impossible to go broke. It's very hard to go broke playing solid disciplined poker at the lower stakes. By disciplined poker I mean knowing where your edge at the table comes from, being aware of when it's gone, and then being able to stop playing (either at the table, or for the session if you are multi-tabling).
Do you feel joining a poker training site is a good start for beginners?
I think it's the single best investment you can make in your poker education. Card Runners even has an option that gives you access to their extensive video library for free if you play on Full Tilt. TrulyFreePokerTraining.com is a website with more details.
Is it better to grind 6-7 days of the week or bring your A+ game 2-3 days of the week?
Without a doubt, the 2nd option.
Not only better, but probably more profitable. If you are always playing your “A” game, then you are able to take in a lot more information and make a lot more money per hour when you play. Thus, your skill is improving and so is your bankroll at a much faster rate (per hour of play) than if you are playing 6-7 days per week. You are able to move up in stakes faster and thus make even more money. Plus, poker should be a pathway to freedom as I mentioned earlier. It should make your life more enjoyable. Anyone who has ever played six days per week for a few months realizes how incredibly difficult it is. You start hating poker and that's not a good thing.
We here you are a track and field and cross country coach. Has anything from coaching kids helped you in poker?
I coach both track and field and cross country. Working with the athletes just allows me to be more grounded and balanced which is hugely +EV for when I'm actually at the tables. The other think I can think of is just the mental aspects of it. I have a lot of talented runners who underachieve because they defeat themselves mentally. I would much rather have a good but not great runner that is consistent than a runner who is either great or blows up. I think the same can be said for long term winning poker players. You don't have to be the most brilliant poker mind. Be consistently good and your long term results take care of themselves.
OK, time for some "H2H" questions. What would an ideal day be for you if your not playing poker?
Wake up, go on a long run with my dog, come back and make breakfast for myself and Katy (my wife). Play some pick-up basketball or football with friends. My ideal day is in the fall. The weather is so nice. Go to a nice local restaurant with Katy and then see where things go from there. Read before going to sleep and sleep with nothing on my mind.
What is your favorite toy bought in the past year?
I love Legos! I got two pretty detailed sets for Christmas and really enjoyed working with them.
What are some of your favorite places to travel, and where is your dream vacation spot?
I love traveling in Europe due to its rich history. My dream vacation spot would probably be a bed and breakfast in a small town preferably in the mountains.
Northern Italy, Switzerland, or even Colorado or North Carolina.
Best movie you have seen in the past year?
I really enjoyed District 9 although I just saw it. I also watched Watchmen on DVD and enjoyed it. It seems like I haven't seen many movies recently now that I think about it. I mostly watch TV series like Dexter, The Wire, Rome, etc. I rent them and watch them. We got rid of our cable so whenever we watch anything it's rented (or the infrequent trip to the theatre).
What is the best poker book that you have read, or would recommend to people?
Elements of Poker, by Tommy Angelo and it's not even close.
For strategy, your best instructions have been from videos which capture the game flow and are specific to stakes/sites. But Elements of Poker focuses on making you a better poker player from the mental side. This is where I feel most players struggle and have the greatest gaps in their overall game. It's a really easy read and you are bound to come away a better player and person.
Lastly, What poker player (cash game) do you look up to most and why?
While I'm in awe of players like Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey, I don't really look up to them because we have almost nothing in common. I guess the player I look up to would be Dusty "Leatherass" Schmidt. He has played the lower stakes and has made a lot of money by practicing solid poker day in and day out. He is someone that I look at and can say "I think it can be done”. He has documented his struggles and his progress. He seems more real.
Pawel, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. We wish you the best of luck in the future.
For more Head to Head interviews be sure to check out our online poker section.