Ognian Mikov: Hi Ned, thank you for accepting our invitation for speaking with us for all the readers of Ultimate Poker Coaching.
Recently you scored quite a nice win during the SCOOP series finishing 2nd on Sunday Warm-Up for $85,000+. And for those of you who don’t know this is actually not your best achievement when it comes to Sunday Warm Up-s. You also have a WCOOP win for $66,000+ in 2012.
For this recent huge success in a while, let’s first start our poker interview with a few general questions, to introduce you to our audience.
Q: Tell me first how long have you been playing poker for and how many years professionally?
A: First time I heard that poker is not pure gambling but more like a game of skills was in 2005. I read some books, start playing from time to time for “play money” and micro stakes. However, it was just a hobby at this point. In 2009 (I think) a local casino in my city opened a poker room and I consider that year as the real beginning. I did a lot of mistakes from the very beginning, so I am not sure that I was already a true professional, but considering the fact that I have no other job and I do it for a living – we can say it was the beginning.
Q: Did you have any other jobs prior to poker, was there a moment when you were both playing poker and working a regular 9-to-5 job. And if it was not poker, do you think you’d still be working this?
A: I worked as a casino dealer for 2 years. Also, I am a mechanical engineer and after my graduation, I worked 2 years that job. When they opened the casino I was still working a 9-to-5 job for the last 2 months and I was playing every evening at the local casino. I had a 1-year plan in my mind – to quit that job and apply for a job as an assistant in the university. The plan was created even before I started winning at poker. So I quit but then I didn’t get that “dream” job and poker became my only activity. I am not sure if it wasn’t poker what I was going to do right now. But I know for sure that poker gives me the freedom that no other job I worked before gave me.
Q: When do you realize you want to become a professional poker player?
A: It wasn’t a single moment. In the beginning, I liked the freedom, the fact that I have no boss, and the fact that I can earn more by playing poker than any regular job. After years I realized that I like that kind of challenge and enjoy traveling as well. Then I start to appreciate that poker brings out my talents and I can apply them in a very profitable way. Also, I like that poker challenges me in many ways and I develop myself as a person and human being, not just a poker player.
Q: The best piece of advice you can give to someone just starting with the game?
A: Imagine that question – the best piece of advice you give to a newborn who will live many years in front of him. It’s a long journey, be ready to learn, be patient, don’t stay at one place but keep going, don’t give up. Is that good enough?
Ognian Mikov: It’s perfect!
Q: What’s your preferred format?
A: I like multi-table tournaments
Q: What is the single area you pay most attention to when it comes to improving in poker? I mean do you spend most of your time focusing on the mental side of the game, analyzing post-flop actions, or concentrating on hands from the late stages of the tournaments etc?
A: The single most important area for me is the mental game.
Q: Was there a moment when you were considering quitting the game? How did you overcome this period?
A: I had a few periods that I consider quitting. During them, I took a vacation and decided that I will think after that. I was really lucky because when I was back to playing I started winning right from the very first day. And I didn’t give myself a chance even to think about it.
Q: Do you have close friends from the poker community? What about outside it?
A: I have some close friends from the poker community. Most of the time I spend playing or learning poker so it is easier to stay in touch with these people. But life is not poker and I try to have friends outside the game, too. There are fun and nice people and I always love to spend time with them.
Q: Did money change you? If yes, in what way?
A: Money gives me more freedom and I can have more choices now. They changed me in a way that I dream of other stuff now. I am the same person. I can say that success changed me in a way that I am confident that whenever I do the right things – I get the right results. So I am not changed in a way to become more ignorant, but to become more confident in putting goals, follow the right steps, and be disciplined.
Q: We all know the biggest issue with MTTs is their variance. What do you do after a big hit, do you buy something expensive, or do you invest some of your money in properties, cars, etc? Or just try higher stakes than you usually play?
A: To buy something expensive is one of the most stupid things you can do. (Exception – if you plan it in advance). Imagine you work 9-5 jobs but get paid not every week or every month but once a year. Then you work one year, they pay you and you spend all the money on….. something expensive. If you are paid every week you will never buy this thing but if you are paid once a year you will. Unless it is planned – it is not wise. So I have a plan on how to spend my cash income, how much to be for a bankroll increase. Investment, the standard of living, and vacations are part of the plan.
Q: How did your parents react first when you told them about how you are going to make a living? From what I’ve spoken with other players it was not until one big hit when their families accepted poker as a real profession.
A: As I said before – I was still working and I didn’t decide for sure that I will play poker for a living. Anyway, I started to win from the very beginning. My parents didn’t understand the game, risk, swings so they support me in a way that it is my choice. They didn’t stop me but they didn’t know how to support me in tough times as well.
Q: What are the main ways you developed your game during the years. Did you take any poker lessons from professional players? What do you think can someone become a really successful player without personal or another type of coaching?
A: I read books and I also took a few lessons from different coaches. I learn something valuable from anyone. In any area, if you do the work and follow the right steps you can reach your maximum potential as fast as possible. The coach is the right person to tell you what the right steps are. You are the one who will do the work. If you are smart enough and talented you can become good without a coach. But with a good coach, it is faster and you avoid mistakes.
Q: Have you developed a specific routine- for example before starting your session, to spend some time analyzing previous hands and situations, to exercise?
A: The easiest routine I developed so far is for sport. I go to fitness, yoga, swimming, and massages, and every day I have one of those activities. I tried to make a routine to work on my game every day but some days I am too tired and my brain needs a rest. Another routine I am happy with is based on Jared Tendler’s suggestion – warm up before the game. Then notes, venting, questions to myself during the game. And finally, cool down after that. I try to work on my mental game also whenever I detect leaks.
Q: Now one trivial but important question- how much of poker is luck. I know that you play mostly mtts and there the variance is bigger than cash games, but still what is your opinion on the subject?
A: When you play one hand or one tournament luck is a really big factor. When you play many hands and many tournaments for a few years luck is not that big factor at all.
Q: Let’s get back to the SCOOP Sunday Warm-Up tournament success, was there a special feeling, or just the regular day-in-the-office-scoop-day?
A: It was regular scoop Sunday. The special moment was day 2. I was already deep in MTT and I made a very wise mental warm-up. And now when I reread it I am proud with myself that I condense so much wisdom remind myself about my weakness and put myself in a perfect state of mind.
Q: I know you have already won Sunday Warm-Up a few years ago what’s was the biggest difference this time?
A: A few years ago Warm-Up win was after an upswing – a series of wins. I was super confident and I play to make the right decisions only. Here – I had a lot of deep runs before that tournament but not a single big score. I was in a downswing. I knew I need to focus on my decisions only and not to care about the result but the pressure was big. So a few years ago – there was no pressure at all, now –it was really though , but I did my best to overcome it.
Q: When was your last 5-figures win before that 2nd place?
A: I won a $44 Bounty Builder one year ago.
Q: How was the field of the tournament? Did the fact that it was not a regular Sunday Warm Up but a SCOOP event made more weak players (players from satellites) sign up?
A: There were more players than other Sunday tournaments so for sure there were more non-professionals. But the tournament was deep and in the end, mainly good players survived. There were a lot of winning players when we were deep, but I ended up running very well.
Q: On the other hand, who was the player/players who gave you most headache during the tournament?
A: I didn’t remember anyone that gave me any headaches. I don’t mean I outplayed everyone- I mean – I played my game, I tried to adjust right and that’s it.
Q: Did you have a plan before the start of the final table, any reads on the players? Were you happy with your seat?
A: Nazza was most tough from the final table and we were exactly across each other so I consider that as a good seat. I had ideas about how to play against some of the players. I had no plan – just to play good poker and be focused.
Q: Do you often play tournaments outside your home country? What do you enjoy most during these trips?
A: I play from time to time in my county, in Romania, and in Barcelona. I love travelling and friends that we are together.
Q: If you could play heads up against anyone in the world, who would that be. And who you don’t want to play against at any cost?
A: No preferences. I am not the best heads-up player but if I happen to face a tough player – I will play and I will do my best.
Q: What’s your biggest dream when it comes to poker? (Let’s see whether it will be the same as what most poker players dream for [including me] – winning WSOP ME)
A: I don’t have dreams. I have goals. My goal is to win at least a specific amount and then I have some other plans but it is too early to share them.
Q: For how long do you see yourself playing poker? Or let’s put it this way- if you reach a point when you are financially independent do you plan to continue playing the same volume. Or are you going to play just for fun?
A: I spent years and a lot of hours, nerves, I collect a lot of knowledge and create strategies (or learned). It will be stupid to quit after hitting some score. I will keep playing. On the other hand, if it happens to have millions – I am not going to grind $20 MTT’s every day. I will play less and I will pick up some more challenging tournaments.
Q: What do you think of the game at the moment compared to when you started playing more seriously? What’s the future of online and live poker according to you?
A: The game becomes tougher and tougher. But tournaments attract a lot of hobby players, who don’t play professionally. It is fun and the future is good. They create high rollers for the best players, so they have other tournaments to play, and all other players have regular tournaments for them without interacting. It is like small stacks, live games, and so on – on low levels, there always will be easy and profitable games but not good enough for ambitious players.
Q: What do you think of Doug Polk? Do you have a player you admire most from the poker community?
A: Doug Polk is a very good player and a very smart person. He has a great strategy and explains it very well. He is a great learner also. I heard that he was very arrogant before and now looks like such a nice guy. I like him very much.
Ognian Mikov: Thanks a lot for your time, Ned. Great answers! Good luck at the poker tables and let the river be with you!!!