Inside the Life of a Poker Pro: Rihards Dobelis

Inside the Life of a Poker Pro: Rihards Dobelis

Poker can be many things to many different people.  For some it’s a hobby, for others it’s a passion and a way of life.  For those with the skills, di

Poker can be many things to many different people.  For some it’s a hobby, for others it’s a passion and a way of life.  For those with the skills, discipline and experience to make it work, poker can be a profession.  However, playing poker professionally can look a lot different from the glamourized TV version.  It’s not all about six-figure scores and flashy self-promotion.   The ‘Phil Hellmuth’s’ and ‘Gus Hansen’s’ of the world are more image than substance.   In fact, the vast majority of professional poker players are people who you will never see on a television screen.  They don’t have publicists or personal branding, instead they quietly and consistently earn a decent living month to month like any other working person.  Poker pros come in all shapes and sizes, their monthly income can vary month to month and player to player.  Some earn huge amounts of money and others earn an income similar to the working class.  In this series we will take a deeper look inside the day to day lives of true poker professionals of all types.

Rihards Dobelis is a professional online poker grinder living in Scotland.  He plays mostly mid stakes multi-table tournaments on a variety of different online sites.  Recently, I was lucky enough to get a glimpse into his day to day work life.


What’s a typical day like for you?
Nothing fancy really. Get up, take a shower, have breakfast, get on my bike and go to gym. Then I spend some time with my wife, get some poker studying done and get grinding.

How many hours per day do you play?
Varies really, on normal days it may be 8-10 hours and on Sundays it gets more because… you know… its Sunday.

How many sessions do you play in a week?
I normallly play 5-6 days in a week. Because you need to have at least a day per week to take a day off of poker so that you avoid burning out.

How many tables do you play at once?
On normal days I usually get to 8-10 tables and on Sundays it is on average 12 tables.

What kind of atmosphere do you like while playing? Do you listen to music? How do you stay alert? Any specific rituals while playing or preparing to start a session?

It is really mood-dependent. I sometimes like to play in complete silence, sometimes I might put on some music (some rock/metal, or some epic trailer music). I don’t really have any special rituals; however, I do some hand analysis pre-sessions to warm-up my brain.

At what point did you realize you were good enough to make a profit?

Somewhere around October last year, although I wasn’t making that huge of a profit but I was still making some decent progress. But this year in March I realised that I am capable of much more because my results were getting better and better each month due to some qualitative coaching.

Can you remember any specific changes you made to your style of play which allowed you to make the leap from amateur to pro?
A lot of changes to be honest. I used to be very loose pre-flop and pot control a lot post-flop. This is pretty bad in general if you are looking to make a living of this game. The main changes that really helped me to improve my results were; started to defend more out of the big blind against min raises and play when appropriate, stopped flatting* too much to 3bets**, started to open slightly tighter overall because the only positions you can consider opening very wide are really CO, BTN and SB, and I also stopped pot controlling***.


**’3bets’= re-raises

***’pot controlling’ refers to the practice of trying to keep the pot small when you have a good but not great hand

What is the biggest factor related to poker success outside of actual in-game strategy?
Bankroll management is really the key to success. Even a really bad player can make a profit in this game as long he/she follows proper BRM strategy. I am a bankroll nit, so I rather am over rolled for my stakes than under rolled as that way you have less pressure. You should play games that you can afford to lose. Game selection is also very important, playing on smaller networks and smaller field MTTs will increase your income, therefore if you want to make a living then you should stop (or play less) on PokerStars. It is much easier to win an MTT that has 200-400 runners than the usual 2k+ on Stars. Besides the smaller networks have much better structures than PokerStars and pay-outs are also better. Having a HUD is also a huge advantage and a necessity to make money. Not that you cannot play without it, but it definitely helps if you are multi-tabling and it is also a great tool to improve your game. Have a balance in life, do not be just poker oriented. Get outside, sign up for gym, go to knitting classes… anything really that can take your thoughts away from poker once in a while.

How much time do you spend studying and working on your game?
Usually I spend at least 1 hour studying on the days when I play. In some cases I can study 2 or 3 hours in a day. But I like to have this routine where I study at least 1 hour a day, this really helps to stay focused and up-to-date with the games.

What are your personal interests outside of poker?
I like to get to the gym quite often, lift some heavy weights. I hate cardio though, but I get to do that while I cycle to the gym on my bike.

Can you share a favorite moment or two in your life as a poker player?

Quite recently I had a deep run in a big tournament where I managed to finish 3rd for $14k in prize money. This is the biggest score I have had so far in single tournament and also this was the biggest final table I have had.

What would you be doing for a living if poker weren’t an option?

Not sure really, most likely something IT related as I have Bachelor’s degree and I am going to study Masters this year as well.

What do you love about being a pro poker player?

The freedom that this game gives is incredible. You get to pick what hours to play, when to play. You are your own boss. You can also go on holiday and still work, and make money. That is pretty much what I did this summer, went on a 3 months holiday and was still playing online and making money. Also in the UK poker is tax free, definitely loving that.

What do you dislike about being a pro poker player?

The variance is horrible. You get those moments when you might be down $2k for the month and you have to figure out why is it like that, otherwise you will be able to pay the bills.

Have you had any trouble getting your family or friends to understand what you do?
I think every poker player goes through this during their career. I am not exception. When I was starting to learn the game and tell people around me that I want poker to be my profession, they would say that I am nuts and that I will fail, so I should get a ‘normal job’. My parents still don’t understand it and don’t take it seriously, but my wife and her family have come to acceptance as I have managed to finally get to that point where I can comfortably make money out of this game.

(Psssst! We’re on YouTube – see, what we do there).