Wednesday, May 17, 2017

TILT TILT TILT TILT TILT! - a snippet from my poker journal

The mental game of poker is by far the most important concept to master in poker. Poker is an extremely competitive game about making difficult decisions under unfavorable circumstances. Nobody can play their A game 100% of the time, but the goal is to be able to do so as often as possible. In order to do that, we must not let outside factors affect our mental state because we want to keep it as simple as possible. This guide will teach you how to maintain your optimal competitive mind state in order to play the most profitable poker as often as possible.


Pre Game - Identifying Optimal Mental State
When you are going to play poker, you should think about how you prepare for a sports match or music recital. It is “go time” and you need to be mentally prepared to handle everything. Everybody is different and you need to find out what state works for you.


Some players need to pump themselves up to be ready to handle the mental battle. Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks for example is always amped up. On the other hand, Kobe Bryant displays more of a mode I like to call the silent killer. He is calm, but also alert and ready to destroy you with his superior decision making. I take more of the Kobe approach. I’ve found that this mode has been the most successful for me in poker as well as tennis because when I get too amped I play too aggressive and become bluff happy, giving away easy points in tennis and making -ev bluffs.


Having a pre game guide is very helpful. I have this readily in hand to remind myself that the mental game is over half the battle. Granted, you are not always able to be in the perfect conditions, it is crucial to be flexible and adaptable to your surroundings. Many athletes have rituals such as specific meals or warm up techniques. It’s not about being superstitious here, but more about consistency and rhythm. Perfect practice and perfect preparation makes perfect.


The final part of feeling mentally fit is being physically fit. You can’t be playing poker all of the time, and staying in shape should definitely be your top priority. Poker is about the long run. Trust me, it’s much easier to put in volume when you’re in shape than when you are fat.  


To me, these are the key things you are trying to reinforce when preparing to play poker.
  1. Nobody deserves anything. You are not always going to get positive feedback in poker. You can do everything right and still lose. Focus on the decision, not the result. THIS IS VERY HARD
  2. Constantly being aware of your opponent’s tendencies and perceived mind state while continuously reinforcing your own. Being aware of your own mind state is crucial so we know when we should quit or take a break.
  3. Working out your bankroll/stop loss. During the game, you should not be thinking about the money or your results. If losing in this game will cause you to not be able to pay the rent you are playing too high and will not be able to make proper decisions. You’re going to be wrong sometimes and must be able to withstand the variance of a failed bluff or incorrect river call.
  4. Physical Fitness - staying in shape is crucial for long grueling sessions and general life balance


In Game - Managing Tilt
Tilt is generally caused by a reaction to a result of a hand, series of hands, or other outside distractions such as but not limited to other players at the table, significant others, chat boxes, or sports games you are watching. To me, the cause of the tilt doesn’t matter. Identifying it is nice, but what you really want to do is focus all your energy on resetting yourself to your optimal mind state and do whatever it takes to keep yourself there.


Types of Tilt
  • Losing Tilt
This is the tilt caused by losing a hand to a bad beat or a series of hands. Losing a series of hands to the same opponent can be frustrating. We must be able to overcome this mental detriment and continue to make the best decisions. Instead of loathing and obsessing about your misfortune, you need to use it to regain your optimal mindset. Remeber. Nobody deserves anything. Confidence is great in poker, but entitlement can be catastrophic as it will cause us to not objectively think about each hand. Cards are blind and nobody can control what comes. Beyond that, entitlement will also cause you more tilt because nobody can win all the time. Being humble in that regard will help you handle the downswings as well as play better through them.


  • Winning Tilt
Most people are familiar with the losing form of tilt, but many neglect that they also tilt when they win. For me, this is more of an issue than losing tilt. When I lose, I am determined to make the best decisions and make back my losses. However, when I win, sometimes you can become too confident, optimistic, and bluff happy. You think everything you do will work and every draw you have will hit. This is an extremely dangerous way to think as it may cause you to make many -ev speculative plays.


  • Distraction Tilt/Life Tilt
This is the form of tilt that is completely unrelated to poker that may affect your game. This can be a variety of things such as having a rough day at work, your favorite team losing, your significant other being a handful, etc. Realizing that real life situations affect your game is crucial. Only you can determine if you are fit to play based on these circumstances. However, for me if I am sad or mad about something, I try not to play unless I do not think that losing will affect me or I get myself into the state where I am just focused about poker. Sometimes poker is therapeutic. EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT. Awareness is key.  


Solutions to tilt
Before we get into anything about solutions, I want to emphasize the importance of awareness of your mental state. Your friends or opponents may feel that you are unfit to play, but only you can leave the table or computer. It’s on you to know when to quit.


The first thing we need to understand is that tilt is internal. Yes, external factors have caused us to feel emotional distress. Focus on the things that you can control and your reaction to external causes is something you can control. For example, Phil Hellmuth will constantly scream and shout after losing a bad hand. For many amateurs this is a ridiculous sign of tilt and a sure sign that you should target him. Phil may be a little different though because while he does get tilted, he generally has it together and it may be an act. He IS a world class player. On the other hand, a different Phil has a different approach. Have you ever seen Phil Ivey bemoan his bad luck after a hand. Imagine how that makes you feel when you see a player take a horrendous beat and not give a flying f*ck… It’s extremely intimidating.


Now let me get into the solution. I equate Phil Hellmuth’s antics to slamming your racquet on the ground in tennis. My coach once told me that if he ever saw me slamming my racquet I’d better break it. You must be thinking… WHAT? Well his logic is this: If you control yourself you don't get the satisfaction of relieving that negative energy because you are compromising with your angry self on what you actually want to do - which is to break that racquet. Obviously, if every time I got angry I broke my racquet that would be quite an expensive way to deal with your tilt. We are human, sometimes we need to do something that is destructive to become productive. However, we can also channel that destructive energy. When I’m at home, I give out a loud yell or do a bunch of pushups, box the air, or jump around. For me, physical activity as a punishment is a great way to stay in shape. Whatever you do, make sure you let out all of your negative energy. Do not half throw your racquet. Slam it through the ground and release that tension. figuratively.


Post Game - Rest, Review, Reset
An important part that is often overlooked is the post game. After a long session it’s difficult to do a great review. It’s ok to take some time after but you should definitely go through hands or situations that you had tough spots with. I strongly encourage you to be using software such as holdem manager or poker tracker. It makes the review process so much easier as you can easily share hands and retrieve hand histories. If you need to you can have a notepad out to take whatever notes you want during the session.


Sit down and actually do the math on some of the plays you made in your session. Understanding the math has allowed me to be way more confident in sticky situations.

Well, that's it for now. Sorry for the long post. I hope you enjoyed a snippet from my poker journal that I wrote in 2014.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

#100happydays4ktc complete!

First off, happy Mother's Day! It was unplanned but quite fitting for a mama's boy like me that my #100happydays4ktc challenge ends today. I'm stoked to have completed it without cheating :)

Reasons for doing the challenge:
1. I wanted to try to love myself more and be happier. 
2. I wanted the 10x10 grid with all the pics for my wall. 
3. I'm an attention seeking person.

Things I've learned from the challenge
1. I had to actively seek things that would make me happy on a regular basis even if I was doing my normal routine.
2. It makes you plan ahead with people and do more fun activities with people you like. 
3. People (family + friends), food, music, and sports make me happy. 
4. It's definitely made me more expressive and energetic. 
5. Even if you have a bad day you're forced to remind yourself about things that make you happy. This has raised my baseline level of happiness. 
6. You get a sense for who actually likes you. 

Overall, I'm thrilled that I completed this challenge. I posted more on ig than I would have liked. Everyone had enough ktc for 100 days including ktc. 

If anyone is considering doing the challenge my suggestion is do it, but do it for yourself.

Check out my 100 happy days challenge at #100happydays4ktc. My ig is kenthecow and I like having it private cuz a good looking dude like me gets tons of creepers. Jk. Back to your regular scheduled programming. 

Happy Mother's Day! 
ktc 🐮



Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What I learned from teaching tennis

1. Being a good player doesn’t translate to being a good coach. The crucial part is being able to communicate, explain, and transfer your skill sets to someone else. Sometimes, being too gifted and talented works to your disadvantage because when certain aspects come easy for you, it will be hard to understand why your student doesn’t get it as quickly as you do. For the record, I excelled at tennis because of extreme hard work, superior coaching, and financially and spiritually supportive parents. The stroke that is commonly the most difficult to teach is the serve. I’ve learned that you really have to take this shot step by step. Start from the service line, go piece by piece and gradually get your student to graduate to the baseline. You need to get them the right form first. It’s very difficult for a beginner to start off hitting serves from the baseline. The distance is too great for a first timer. You have to start SLOW and not try to solve everything in a day.

2. Things may get ugly, but you have to let it be ugly before it gets better. To me, this is the reason students who are really trying to become great should take private lessons. In a group setting, it’s very difficult to get individual time on a stroke you are particularly bad at for multiple reasons. First, when you miss the ball a ton, it’s difficult for the other students to get any practice in because you give other students no rhythm. Second, unless you are the most confident student ever, you probably don’t want to be missing over and over again in front of your peers. However, the only way to improve is repetition. I’d much rather be messing up in a one on one situation and get that individual attention for the fastest improvement.

3. Speak slow and make sure your student understands exactly what you are getting at. Ask them specific questions and to reiterate what you said. I have a tendency to speak very quickly and that’s not conducive to transferring knowledge to someone. Speaking slow is a sign of power. When you speak slowly, you want the person to understand. I know for a fact that teaching tennis has greatly improved my confidence in public speaking.

4. I have a huge ego. My students recently told me I have a large, joking ego. I’m not sure what to say about that because it’s true. I wear my emotions on my sleeve and when I am certain in something, I exude confidence. I do try to keep a fun atmosphere in practice because working hard at something you love should be fun! Of course, to get what you want, you will have to do things that you don’t want to do such as conditioning, practice serves, and lifting weights. However, you can always try to have a positive attitude. I am concerned because I hope that my ego doesn’t get into the way of my teaching or hurt any of my student’s feelings. I am blunt. It’s my job to point out what you’re doing wrong because knowing the problem is the first step in fixing it! I could work on giving more positive reinforcement to my students and let them know they are doing great.

5. Coaching would have made me such a better player. In practice as a player, you are only focused on yourself. What stroke am I trying to work on today? It’s definitely much more physically exhausting. It is not as mentally exhausting but also showed me that I could have been more aware on the court. Now that I’m coaching, I better be on my best mental game so I can catch every nuance and every mistake I see a student make. I analyze each one of my students’ games closely to determine what I feel like they need to work on. Every student is different and has different strengths and weaknesses. While scouting opponents in tournaments is similar in the analysis, the thought process is different. As a player, I’m just looking to see how I can exploit an opponent’s weakness. As a coach, I identify the weakness and determine what the best strategy is to fix that weakness.

6. I love coaching. It’s fun because I feel very confident in what I’m teaching. I enjoy coming up with new drills for each student because making someone better at something is the most fulfilling feeling. I used to think that I would only enjoy teaching the very best, highest ranked students, but I really don’t care. I’d much rather teach someone who really wants to learn and tries their hardest when they are with me. In fact, snobby students of any ranking can go eat dirt because I want nothing to do with you. I put in a lot of effort to my students and I expect the same from them. Effort and attitude is everything. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

7. Coaching is about chemistry. I encourage my students to try different coaches. Some coaching styles work better for specific students. Some coaches are also special at teaching specific strokes! I’ve learned so much from all the coaches I’ve had. At the same time, I think that it’s best that a player sticks to 1 or 2 (maybe 3) coaches consistently for continuity. Building that player-coach relationship is also so critical to growth. Growing up, I went through quite a few coaching changes but mostly stuck to 2 main coaches. While losing students is sad, I don’t want to be someone’s coach if they think there is someone better for them out there. I would be doing them a disservice. Jealous coaches stem from insecurity. I’m happy to help whoever wants to be taught by me.

If you're interested in lessons from me please contact me at coachkenkao@gmail.com and leave your phone number! My requirements are that you want to learn and will give me your best effort.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

How poker makes me a better tennis player

I wanted to share something from my personal journal about how the poker mindset helps me be a better tennis player.

Last edited 1/23/2014


There are many skills I learned in poker I wish I had learned in competitive tennis.


1. Caring about the result too much will stunt your growth.


Having success in the under 10 and 12s can sometimes stunt the growth of a tennis player. At those stages, generally the more mentally focused player who can make fewer mistakes and take care of the ball will win a ton of matches. However, in the long run, without developing a more offensive game, it’s extremely difficult to excel at higher levels. Players often refuse to alter parts of their game or strategies for long-term development in favor of short-term success. This was definitely my biggest weakness in tennis because I feared and detested losing so much. At the same time, this also helped develop my competitive edge.


In poker, you can play the hand perfectly right and still lose…quite often. My greatest weakness in tennis carried over to poker. I would obsess over my results, constantly checking my exact dollar progress during every session or recounting my chips. What I really should have been doing was focusing on what the right play to make was and how to exploit my opponent’s weaknesses. It took me a long time to figure out that each individual hand didn’t really matter that much. It’s about playing the percentages and making the right decision time and time again to be a winner in the long run. In poker, making the best decision is the execution, while in tennis you also have to worry about the physical execution. With a better mental state, you give yourself the best opportunity to execute.


2. Poker teaches you to be humble and how to handle failure.
Rafael Nadal comes to mind. While having millions of dollars, Nadal carries his own bags and plays like he is broke. His humility is what makes him so dangerous and his effort level is always amazing. It’s also how he always keeps improving. It’s hard to improve when you already think you’re the greatest. But if you’re not improving, you’re falling behind the competition. It’s not hard to see why Rafa’s attitude has translated to his quick growth as a poker player as well. On the other hand, being guilty of being a cocky, spoiled tennis player growing up, poker really taught me how to be humble out of necessity and I wish I had learned this attitude earlier.


You’re not always going to have positive feedback in poker. Being a poker player means that you are going to have losing days and downswings. Complaining about a bad beat is similar to a boxer complaining about getting punched. What you need to be doing is manage your bankroll and play enough volume to withstand the variance. There’s a delicate balance between confidence and arrogance. To clarify, I think it’s obviously good to be confident in your abilities, but you have to remember that nobody deserves anything. The worst player can get lucky at any time and take your stack. Stay humble and alert!


3. Poker taught me to observe and identify what my optimal state to compete is.
Before each session, I pre-game by making sure I’m in the right mindset for poker. It’s about rituals, rhythm, and balance. What do I have to do to put myself into the best mindset to win? For me, there are a few things that ideally need to happen before I play a session.
1. I need to feel physically fit. This is more important than I ever thought. Being physically fit allows me to play long hours during the tournament season and focus mentally. It really just translates to better overall performance. For tennis, my coach preached that you should never lose a match on fitness because that just means you’re not training hard enough. There’s a certain confidence you feel when you know you can outlast your opponent.
2. I deal with my nerves. Sometimes I still get a little nervous before poker sessions. It’s important to realize that it’s natural and okay to be nervous. In fact, it just shows that you care. Do what you need to do to calm yourself down and transmute that nervous energy into productive, focused energy. Have a pre-game playlist to listen to or a pre-game checklist. I have mine posted on my wall in front of my desk and had a checklist in my racquet bag. I also take my PPP if I need it (pre-poker poop). I went to the bathroom before every single tennis match and I found that it would always relieve my nerves.  


In poker you have to be more adaptable. You need to be ready at any moment’s notice because you never know when a game is going to run. In tennis, you know what time you are going to play and can schedule your day accordingly. My tennis ritual was very consistent and allowed me to feel a sense of security. I would eat either a turkey sandwich or a bagel 1.5 hours before my match and then warm up for 30-40 minutes. Then I would go to the restroom and check in 20-30 minutes before my match and listen to music on my headphones and walk around near the check in desk until my name was called.  


Everyone is different, so you must take note of how you feel and find out what is optimal for you. Ask yourself the right questions. For instance, do you need to be alone or is socializing before a match good for you? How long do you need to warm up for? I know for me, limited social interaction was preferred and that I perform optimally when I am in more of a “silent killer” mode. It’s that quiet confidence you feel when you don’t doubt what you’re doing but don’t feel any need to brag about it. It’s about staying present. The only thing on your mind is being alert and handling business as usual.


4. Being honest with your weaknesses and working on improving them.
Being honest in poker is crucial to development. Do the math to find out if you were right or not. If you are not honest in your play and just attribute your losses to bad luck when in fact you are making the wrong decision then you will have to find a new profession soon.


My biggest regret in tennis? Not hitting more practice serves. At the time, I was immature and didn’t want to work on it because it was boring. Looking back, now I would kill to be able to hit 30 minutes of serves a day. Sometimes in order to get to what you want, you need to do things that you don’t necessarily want to do. Do it before it’s too late or regret it like me.


5. Focusing on the things you can control.
In poker, you can manipulate your opponents to perform certain actions, but you certainly cannot control that unlucky river card nor can you put a gun to your opponent’s head to make him fold. Poker can be a cruel game with mean people. People will try to swindle you into giving them more information. How will you handle yourself then? Will you keep your calm, not give anything away and keep your class or will you complain and lose your cool?
Similarly, think about how this translates to tennis. How do you handle things when your opponent is cheating or zoning? Do you panic and complain, or do you find a solution? If you give up that mental focus, then you are reacting the way your opponent wants. You should continue to think about what you’re going to do to counter your opponent’s play and adapt accordingly. Make life difficult for your opponents!

Poker teaches you how to make decisions and this easily applies to tennis. You know in your heart what the right play is. This not only includes on court training and tactical decisions, but off court mental preparation as well. The sacrifices you make such as coming home earlier to rest from your Friday hangouts and eating a healthy diet will pay off in the long run. All you can do is be honest and try your best. Once you realize that that’s all you can do, just keep focusing on how to improve yourself and cancel out the noise.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Play the Percentages

I won a lot of matches with my efficiency. I didn’t make many mistakes, got to a lot of balls, and never ever gave up. I punished you by forcing you to make more mistakes than me. My coaches stressed physical fitness and I definitely outworked so many people with superior preparation. What’s really interesting is that I feel like the way I approached tennis is very much my personality. I’m chill for the most part, flexible and ready to attack a problem in the most effective, efficient ways. Yet, I’m pretty defensive and stubborn, often afraid to make a bold new move and be looked upon as brash and offensive. I was afraid to make mistakes because I cared too deeply about my results rather than making the right play. This key mental flaw was something that hindered me in my tennis development and was something that I didn’t learn to master until playing poker.

Poker is about forcing your opponents to make a mistake. Everyone is dealt the same number of winners and losers in the long run, so it’s all about how you play those winners to maximize your value, and how you minimize your losses. Essentially, there are two ways to win a hand – to have the best hand, or to bluff. Because poker is so math based, each decision you make can be analyzed algebraically. Based on the hand range you perceive your opponent to have you can come up with what your expected value (EV) in a given hand is.  (I just wanted to note here that this is an imperfect art as poker is a game of imperfect information. The key is to become as accurate as you can with the EV calculations with the information that you have). With this value, you can find out how different ways you play a hand affect your EV and you can come up with the optimal strategy. This is where it all clicked for me. When I first started playing poker, I didn’t always make the optimal bluff or the marginal call because I was afraid to be wrong. When I started analyzing my game I realized I was leaking a lot of money because of these fundamental errors.

Essentially, I was too results oriented in poker as well. My downfall in tennis is also my biggest leak in poker. I started to realize how mad I would get when I didn’t bluff on the river and my opponent showed down a pathetic hand that beat mine and would have folded to a bluff. Bluffs do not work every time, but they also do not have to work every time. If you bet $50 into $100 on a bluff your play only has to work greater than 1/3 of the time for it to be profitable.

I can make a very relevant analogy to tennis. One of my biggest weaknesses was that I wasn’t aggressive enough on some of the short balls I would get in tennis. I should of thought of this in terms of percentages. If I hit a consistent shot back, I will make the shot nearly 100% of the time, but will only have a 55% chance to win the point. However, if I take an aggressive swing, I may win the point instantly 40% of the time, 40% of the time I will win 75% of the time since I am in a winning aggressive position, and I will out right miss and lose the point 20% of the time. In this example I would win the point 70% of the time with an aggressive swing and 55% of the time with a consistent swing. I definitely didn’t see it this way because I was too focused on the 20% of the time that I would miss. Not only did I cheat myself out of percentages in these matches, but I also wasn’t able to develop as complete a game as I would have liked which would have benefitted me more in the long run. I looked to correct this mental flaw and feel like I got a second chance through poker.

Humans are dependent on positive feedback and incentives. In poker, when you make the right play and lose, a correct mindset would to be content with your play. Conversely, when you make the wrong play and win, you should be upset for having been outplayed. This is unnatural. When I make the best play and lose, I remind myself that I made the right play and try to stay on an even keel. If you are off it, it’s time to take a break. Otherwise, move on and play the next hand. When I make the wrong play and win…god damnit I am ecstatic lol. Poker because of this, is a mind f*ck. You are constantly at a battle of managing your expectations and emotions. Tennis is not as mental as poker, but also shares a lot of the same fundamental strategies. A point does not define the match. Yes, there are important points, but just like hands of poker it is all about making the right play in the long run. You want to win the match, not just one point. By truly understanding this concept, it’s easier to have no regrets and feel like you’ve done what you can to give yourself the best opportunity to win a match. And that is all we can do… control what we do and give ourselves the best chance to win.