Fedor Holz On Why His Future Will be Away From Poker

Fedor Holz On Why His Future Will be Away From Poker

Lee Davy talks to the Global Poker Index World Number 1, Fedor Holz, about the ingredients for his success, what he values in life, and why his future will not include as much poker.

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When I was 22-years of age I had only just learned to drive, was earning £1,500 per month, and I moved through life on auto-pilot.

At the same age, Fedor Holz is the Global Poker Index (GPI) World Number 1. In the four years, he has played poker professionally, he has won millions online, including the World Championships of Online Poker (WCOOP) Main Event, and over $18.4m playing live tournaments making him the ninth most successful, in terms of money won, in the history of the game.

Fedor Holz On Why His Future Will be Away From Poker
[Image from Fedor Holz’ Instagram Account]
No matter what happens next, the name of Fedor Holz will always be remembered in the annals of poker history. But what happens next? Does Holz go on to become a true legend of the game? Does he learn different types of games and win more and more World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets? Will we one day see him inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame?

His answers to those questions may surprise you.

What follows is an abridged version of the full audio.

It’s September 2012, and you are playing heads-up against Tomas Petru in a €500 buy-in live event in King’s Casino. What was your life like back then?

“It was very different. It’s even hard to think back. I was living in a big house, in a small room, sharing with a lot of others guys. I had just quit studying. I didn’t have much money, definitely less than €1,000. It was interesting.”

Were you living with poker players?

“At that time I had played poker for a year. They weren’t poker players, just normal people going to uni.”

What were you studying and why did you stop?

“I studied informatics, and stopped because a mixture of things. I wasn’t determined, and I realised I wasn’t as good as it as I would have liked to be, and that was frustrating.”

When you quit, what was the plan?

“There was no plan. That was the problem, and my family had a problem with it. They were worried. I was doing what I wanted at the moment. At that moment I liked poker, and I put all my time into it.”

Were you being pressurised to be a certain way when you were younger?

“The pressure I had came from good school results I had in the beginning. People had this image that I had to be excellent at everything I was doing. I could never exceed expectations. It made it very frustrating at times.”

I first saw you playing at WPT Baden in 2013 where you finished 10th. What had changed in the preceding year?

“Everything. 2012 was the year where I didn’t run well online. I didn’t know where to go, and the event in Rozvadov was where I got a little money, and I had to decide what I wanted to do. I travelled the world and visited South Africa, Asia and Europe and started playing more. I moved to Vienna; cut off a lot of things that were dragging me down and I exploded. I was super happy, I had great people around me, more poker input, and Baden was one of my first good live deep runs. It was the start.”

Who were your key influencers during 2013?

“A group of people I am still very close with today. We call ourselves TGK, which is a mixture of some of our names. They know me from when I had nothing. Most of them play high stakes online or have quit and been successful in life. It’s interesting to see the exchange of information, skills and knowledge. It keeps us all ahead of the curve, and it makes me happy.”

How did you fall amongst the TGK crew?

“This gravitation is natural. I am like a sponge. I am not an inventor. These guys are smarter than me in a lot of areas, particular when it comes to creating something. What brings us all together is we all have something special to bring to the group. My part in it is bouncing certain ideas, and being very comprehensive in lots of different areas. I grasp things very quickly. But I won’t be the guy leading the discovery and finding new things. I think that’s why people like to talk to me. They become smarter and more efficient. This is how our group works so well. We bounce ideas around, and we get to a point much quicker than we would working on our own.”

Are you a follower of a leader?

“In that respect, I think we are all equal. I wouldn’t call myself a follower. We enjoy being around each other and learning from each other.”

There is an enormous power of getting a group of top minds together and learning in this way.

“I believe this power is everywhere, and I want to take it into another arena. I feel I can have even more impact elsewhere. There is more valuable information out there and I want to collect it and use it.”

What are some of the things you think about?

“The thing I have to think about the most is education. Not in the typical sense but in lots of different ways. Learning about life, not in school. When you want to learn something, it’s very inefficient how we go about it. Unless there is someone within your circle who can teach you, then you can get lost. I am surprised how little interest people have in learning hundreds of useful things.”

Are you talking about changing our school education system?

“I am talking about everything. There are no limitations. The system we have today for learning things is terrible. I had to go out there and intensely look for these people. There is very little in the form of communities or platforms for this, and this is an area I can contribute towards.”

How would you approach learning if a child dropped on your lap?

“I think this is exactly where a lot of people are just very different, and it depends on how you grew up. I would try and soak up as much information as I could. I don’t see that drive in everyone. I would start with my Mum, explore on the Internet, read books, talk to friends and combine that information to get the best possible outcome.”

What were some of the things you had to learn to adapt to when moving up in stakes?

“It was very exciting. How do I keep balance? I had to understand that it was just a game. The only question that matters is whether you belong there or not? I was questioning myself all the time, and I found the answer every time, and that’s important. Once you answer that question deep within there is no issue to play – it’s just another tournament.”

What were the key milestones that accelerated your development?

“2013 was the most important year. I got my mental state set up to be successful, and I got the results at the right time to help create a great social environment. I also had enough funds to experience so many things at the same time like playing live, staking people, playing for myself – if you do these things right and invest the time you can learn so much in so many areas at the same time. That’s what set me up.”

What were you doing to improve your mental state?

“That’s where I did a bit of my own thing. I started with mental coaches in 2014 maybe? You will not find comparable money for value if you play High Stakes or are ambitious – that’s my opinion. It’s an outstanding way to sort your thoughts and point you in the right direction. 5, 10, 20% more in line with what you want to achieve and where you want to go. Sometimes I would just talk to them about what I had been doing in the past week, and they would ask the right questions. It’s not about having a lot of sessions. It’s the constant reminder that you have someone in your life teaching you to ask questions.”

Were you seeing mental coaches before you developed issues to get ahead of the curve, or were problems starting to emerge?

“I think I saw it more like an enhancement. I was always looking for different improvement areas. I was trying out different chairs, and different mouses. All of these things where perhaps people don’t care about I knew they would add up. How do I get rid of tilt? How do I improve the way I play online tournaments? I was always striving to find the best possible set-up and outcome, and I am certain this helped quite a lot.”

Who were the mental coaches?

“The first person I worked with I would call a friend now. It was Thomas Quaade. He had this amazing take on things and was super refreshing. You can feel he is a balanced and honest, sincere person, and that rubs off on you. He shows you that this is the life you could be living. I chose to be like him. That 10% can be critical in the most important moments. The other person I worked with and did hypnosis work was Elliot Roe. I am very grateful for their help and support.”

What were the stories that were causing you problems that these guys helped you overcome?

“I was questioning myself a lot. There is a thin line between reflection on how you acted in the past and questioning yourself to an amount where it has an adverse impact on you. Nowadays it’s got intense as I was asking whether I was doing the right thing still and Elliot has helped me with that.”

What do you mean by that last statement?

“Do I spend my time on the right things whether that’s poker or anything else in life? It’s a very important question for me.”

Were you ever at a final table pinching yourself and asking whether you were worthy to be there?

“I don’t think that was ever a real question. It was more of a feeling, maybe is this guy better than me? It was one of the reasons I worked so hard. I had to put in everything to finding out where I was. For that, I had to analyse every opponent and work very hard on my game. I wanted to be up there and better than others. It’s good that putting more effort in means I can see where I am worse or better than my competition. It gives you a certain confidence and balance and calmness that makes me play a lot better.”

Are you hard on yourself?

“Extremely, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. You just have to keep it in line so it doesn’t hurt you. I have always wanted to go to the limit and beyond. I want to find out how far I can go? It’s so much better to get there once and realise you can’t handle it because you feel more comfortable taking one step back. Maybe a year later the thing that made you struggle before will be in your comfort zone, and you can try again to achieve greater things.”

 Does the self-improvement get tiring?

“Yes, it’s draining. I am super burned out now. As soon as I busted the Main I knew I was done. I have these phases a lot. It’s very exhausting mentally. You have to keep going without showing weakness. It takes a lot of time, and I am not even close to knowing myself well enough to understand how much internal energy I have to figure out when the best time is to take a break.”

This morning I interviewed James Akenhead. We talked about the many millions he won by the time he was 25. He said he was not mature enough to deal with that much money at that age. You are even younger. How are you managing it?

“This is where my development has been good for me. The first time I had to deal with these things was in 2013 when I made quite a lot of money online. You make money through staking, people steal from you, you start investing in things. All these things I did on a smaller scale helped me gain experience. I have a lot of good people giving me advice. Now I have more money I won’t make costly mistakes because I have already made them at a smaller level. I know how I want to invest my money, and how to proceed.”

How does financial freedom affect your motivation?

“Society clearly teaches us the wrong value system. Money is overvalued, and freedom has very little to do with money. We always think that money is connected to how we feel but it’s a very short-term feeling and what I have learned through coaching, and giving back to people, I realised that this is the only thing that gives me joy. That’s why poker is not the thing I want to pursue. It only takes. It’s very selfish. There is no lasting place for it in my life to do this for a living.”

How do you want to give back to the world?

“That’s exactly what I want to think about when I get home. I haven’t done much in that regard. I think when you are young you are just selfish through nature – or most people are. There are great exceptions that inspire me. I think of Chewy {Andrew Lichtenberger} and whenever I see him, I get this positive feeling that there is a lesson he is teaching me at that moment. That there is something more than money and winning and success. There is something else. I always think of that. People can’t dislike this, and that’s why everyone loves Chewy. He impersonates this feeling and thought, and I want to integrate this more into my life. I want it to be less about money and more about having a positive impact.”

When you look around and stare at your competitors at the highest stakes, what makes them so great?

“Emotional disconnection. It’s interesting. I am not even sure it’s the best character trait. But stockbrokers, poker players, the best, they have this ability to go out of their body and see things from a third perspective. One moment you are joking and smiling and then you play a hand, and everything else is gone. I think that’s what most of the successful poker players have.”

You were so emotional when you spoke at the GPL Draft Day, where did that come from?

“I can’t describe it. Normally I am composed. As a child, I was emotional and took things personally, but over the past three years, I have had to get used to people giving me shit. I only care about the comments from people I value.

“I was composed beforehand. I went on stage, and I don’t know what happened. I was shaking and got very emotional. I felt like I gave such a weird speech because I couldn’t find the words to describe how I felt. On paper, it was just a league, but it felt like this one moment all my success in poker came together, and that felt very real at that time, and I won’t forget that moment for quite some time.”

Does detachment from emotion give you problems in relationships? Are you sometimes robotic?

“I am not robotic at all. It’s control over emotions that you gain. It distinguishes you very strongly from other people. There is very little time in life where you train this. So we have this huge advantage because we have been training for thousands of hours not to tilt, don’t think about the results. They do not matter. I can’t imagine another job where you have to divorce yourself from the results so much. We may only get one positive result in a month. All the rest of the time it’s grind, grind, grind. It’s very interesting how cold it makes you in certain moments. It’s also a reason why I want to quit poker. I don’t want to develop myself more in this way. I don’t want to be more distant and defensive about things. Doing something else in another area may bring back this childish, naive joy about a lot of things.”

What do you need to achieve before you quit?

“First of all, people may misinterpret quitting poker. I will still be on the circuit. I will play Barcelona, Aussie Millions, maybe a short Macau trip, and maybe a short Vegas trip next year, and Monte Carlo. The thing is, this freedom of just saying no I don’t want to play for the next four months is important. I have not had that before. In the past four years, I have taken two vacations off. There has been no relaxing, orientation. I had this goal, and I always set new goals until I got where I am.”

It seems like you want to learn about life, and you can’t do that if you are playing poker all of the time.

“That’s pretty much a good summary.”