Kristy Arnett: Zen and the Art of Surviving a Tough First Year in Professional Poker

Kristy Arnett: Zen and the Art of Surviving a Tough First Year in Professional Poker

Lee Davy sits down with Kristy Arnett to talk about her first year as a professional poker player, her work with Brian Rast at Zen Poker Mentoring and a whole lot of insight into what makes this amazing young woman tick.

Kristy Arnett and I met working for PokerNews. Our time together was short and sweet, but she always made her mark. She looked great; she spoke a lot of sense, and she was fun. I always left her presence wearing a smile.

Kristy Arnett: Zen and the Art of Surviving a Tough First Year in Professional PokerShe is driven, purposeful and ambitious. But she is also loving, caring and feels the compulsion for contribution and growth.

When she left PokerNews, to become a professional poker player, I voiced my opinion that she would make a great ambassador for an online poker site. I still maintain that view.

A few days ago, she hosted, and acted in the role of coach, in the inaugural Zen Poker Mentoring event alongside Brian Rast, Vanessa Rousso and some dude that can make you think you are a chicken for the day.

If you keep that sort of company, you are not going to go far wrong.

Zen Poker Mentoring – how did you get involved?

“Brian Rast and Ace McFarlane organized the event. They had previously worked together at the WSOP Academies. They approached me because of my interest in health and fitness. Taking care of your body is a passion of mine. I feel good when I learn that more people are taking it seriously.”

What was the first event like? How was you feeling?

“Ace asked me to do the introduction for the event. He told me to talk about anything for 45-minutes. I remember thinking, ‘This guy either has complete faith in me, or has no idea how long 45-minutes really is?’

“I was a little nervous, but soon settled. I got talking about the role of ego in the game. You hear a lot of pros saying there is no room for ego in the game, but what does that actually mean? So we got into that. We also worked on some breathing techniques that people could use to get into the moment. I had never experienced anything like it. It was really cool, but also nerve wracking.

“Before this experience I had never even been to an academy. I now understand why they are so popular. You get to sit down at a poker table and play with a professional. They can then see all of the cards, upturned, and talk through the thought processes of everyone seated at the table. It’s a cool way to learn.”

Why has it taken so long for people to wake up to the importance of lifestyle in terms of creating an edge in poker?

“I think it may have something to do with the general lifestyle of poker players. Only in the last few years have poker players started to understand the importance of health and fitness. I think this is line with the societal view on the same subject.

“With the games getting tougher, people are more open to any sort of way to get an edge. When the games were easy, what’s the worth of focusing on health and fitness, to get that edge, if just focusing on hand reading ability will double your win rate?”

Poker is very tribal. Is it now cool to be healthy?

“I think as soon as someone makes a lifestyle change. Not only will their poker game improve – their life will. Once you get a taste of what that’s like – it really helps.”

It’s been nearly a year now since you decided to give pro poker a shot. How has it been?

“It’s been very up and down. It’s been pretty crazy. I realize that when I quit my job I wasn’t thoroughly prepared. I didn’t have a great plan. I had no real direction. At the time I didn’t realize that. Looking back now I recognize that. I wouldn’t recommend the path I took. I had faith that I would figure it out though. In February, I had the best month I have ever had playing cash games.

“I have worked really hard. Especially on my game away from the table. Zen Poker Mentoring came at the perfect time. I have been doing work with Aaron Steinberg, who is a poker coach and relationship coach. After WPT Borgata – the first WPT I played – I was feeling sad, embarrassed and ashamed. I had a session with him at the beginning of February about some of the things in my game that I was doing over and over again, even though I knew better. We started talking about my poker game and before you know it I was talking about my Mum and life when I was younger. It all has to do with poker. Life and poker are so closely related.”

Did you feel enormous pressure to be chosen as a WPT Ones to Watch so early in your professional career?

“Yes, definitely. When they initially approached me, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be playing cash games or tournaments. But my overall vision was to play some WPT events, put myself out there and be a good ambassador for poker.

“I thought the two things could go hand in hand; be an ambassador for a site and be a WPT One’s to Watch. Unfortunately, there is no sponsorship money out there. It’s tough playing on your own dime. Hardly anybody is doing it these days. The costs are so high, especially if you are traveling on the circuit. But it’s the dream. There are these huge tournaments with lots of top players. I’m struggling with it right now. WPT Bay 101 is coming up but I’m not sure if I’m playing? I can sell action, but I’m not comfortable selling pieces unless I am 100% sure of my game.”

How difficult has it been financially?

“I found myself laughing the other day when I was at The Borgata. I drink a lot of water and every little bottle of water was a dollar. Then somewhere else in the casino I was paying $4 for a bottle. I kept muttering to myself about the cost when I suddenly realized that I was Allen Kessler. I suddenly got it. He has made a living in this game for years. He knows how the system works. I bet he knows the most cost effective way to get water at the Borgata.”

What do you want to do with your life? Is poker a way to get you to where you want to be, or is poker where you want to be?

“Poker is a huge passion of mine. I’ve really enjoyed throwing myself into it this year. The work is never done in the life of a poker student. But I do feel like I have a different calling. There is a different purpose for me. I feel it when I am teaching and helping people reach their goals in health and fitness.

“Aaron Steinberg has helped me in so many ways, not just poker. My trajectory of life has changed. I have never had a better Christmas. I have just experienced my best poker month. This is not a coincidence. I want to teach people to break free from the prisons of their own mind and body. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I’m working on it. It sounds super hippy but I just want to continue doing what feels right.”

Being in the media you would have gotten used to all the stories and opinions regarding the way women are treated, and portrayed in poker, what has it been like on the other side of the rail?

“I play in San Diego. Most of the time I am the only woman at the table. But when I travel to play there are always plenty of women in the games. It’s become less shocking. There aren’t as many generic ‘there’s a girl at the table’ type comments any more. Our female ambassadors are really representing us well: Maria Ho, Vanessa Selbst, Vanessa Rousso, Liv Boeree are incredibly strong women icons in the game. That has really helped.

“There are also advantages to being a woman. Maybe if I was a male reporter I wouldn’t have gotten so much attention when I switched from my role in the media to one as a player, so I think there are advantages in that way.”

What makes a woman hot for you?

“Aesthetically…someone who is healthy; has glowing hair; glowing skin, takes care of themselves and carries a beautiful smile. One thing that I really find truly beautiful in a woman is a sense of confidence and security. I think women either do that or they don’t. When they do I find it very beautiful.”

What makes a man hot for you?

“My type is talk, dark and handsome. Aside from that, cockiness bordering on confidence is really attractive. My least attractive quality is a man who acts like a little baby.”

What are your fears in life?

“One of my biggest fears is living an unremarkable life. Growing up I have always had these ideas that to be someone that matters you need to accomplish a lot. I don’t think that’s true anymore. It’s not the way I want to live my life. I want to live my life leaving the world a better place than if I wasn’t here. Even if it’s just a little bit.

“The paradigm I grew into was based on success. I don’t connect with that anymore. I spend a lot of time, through meditation, fighting this battle that if I don’t accomplish all these things today I am not worthy, or not good enough. I worry too much that I have not done enough. It’s exhausting at times.”

What has more of influence on your life perspective: your upbringing or your experiences?

“It’s a combination of both, but I never realized how much we are the sum of our childhood experiences until this year. I have read that our ideas, paradigms and ways of coping with emotions are set by the time we are seven. That’s why if you see couples fighting in the street it’s almost like they’re a couple of seven-year-old kids. It’s interesting. I definitely think that plays the biggest part of whom I am.

“I had a Tiger Mom. She is from Korea and she is the biggest Tiger Mom ever. I grew up thinking achievement was the only way to receive love. That’s why I am so driven.”

What life event most changed your perspective of the world?

“In Dec of last year I went through the hardest time of my life. That experience was totally life changing. It was the first time I had gone through anything that was hard. I had never experienced death, or heartbreak, and it totally changed the way I viewed the world. It also changed my understanding of my strength and endurance to get through the tough times.

“These life experiences give us an opportunity to find out who we are. We have choices. We can be a victim or be in control of our lives. We can choose to be in control and move forward and rise up in times of distress. If you choose to think positively, in any situation, you can’t help but grow.”