The hosts of the Mechanics of Poker podcast paid close attention to Russia's top regs. A recent guest was Viktor "Enlight" Kudinov.
In 2.5 hours, he talked about how he climbed from the lowest rungs of the poker ladder to the maximum online limits. "Enlight" is a frequent visitor to the GipsyTeam home page, and many of the stories from this interview are already familiar to our readers from past publications.
That's why we've only translated the highlights from the Mechanics of Poker podcast, focusing on recent developments in Viktor's career that haven't been discussed in our interviews yet.
2020 NL1k+ played 1M hands in 2020
The whole year can be described in one day. I woke up, had a quick breakfast, and played a small four-hour session. Spent some time with my wife and kid and played another 8-10 hour session. Every day I played for at least 10 hours. For the whole year there was only one pause for 10 days, the rest of the time I played without days off. Hands are dissected before going to bed after each session. My brain was too excited, and I still could not fall asleep immediately. Now it's funny to think about it, but I got so carried away that I ignored the pain in my neck for four months. Every morning I woke up with pain, which in a couple of hours passed to my head. I did nothing at all, only occasionally taking painkillers. Only six months later I realized how stupid it was and went to the doctor. I had an MRI, and everything ended with a full check in Moscow. There I was diagnosed with the so-called latent depression. This is when it manifests itself through physical pain, and not through emotions.
With this grueling grind, I had two goals. The first is to test what I am capable of and find out my limit. Second – we then thought about moving to another country. But in the end, we decided to stay in Russia and build a dream house. Recent events have shown that this was a big mistake. But I'm not interested in building a house and then grinding up to NL5k and enjoying life. My goal is to play against the strongest opponents at the highest stakes. And for this, you need a big bankroll, this was also one of the driving forces of my challenge. I admit that this was one of the reasons for my burnout.
I ended the year with a rate of 3.9bb/100 and an EV of 5bb/100. Due to the fact that I played all the expensive stakes – NL40k, 100k, and 200k – the shortfall was more than a million. This put additional pressure on me. But I didn’t have the feeling that I was somehow very unlucky, I just realized that because of such a shortage, I missed some opportunities.
2021, when Victor lost $500k in the first half
I felt the first signs of burnout in September 2020 and hardly played until November. Gradually my passion for the game returned and by the end of the year I was again playing a lot. Then I decided that in 2021 I would again play less, focus more on crypto and spend more time with my family. But because of the downswing, I said to myself “No, I still have to break them” and started playing even more than in 2020. It's all about the ego.
The whole year was spent in streaks. At first, I lost a lot due to a downswing, then I won back everything thanks to an upswing. Everyone loves to rate players, but I am sure that the only way to accurately determine the level of a player is at the time of a hard downswing. Anyone will be able to play well when he gets at least average EV. Many players prefer to play more during upswings. And for me, on the contrary, it has always been a way to deal with downswings – I started playing and working even more. It's unlikely to be very helpful. For emotional peace of mind, it's better to play when it suits you. But my driving force in poker has always been anger, and it’s already difficult for me to change myself, and I don’t really want to.
In the summer of 2021, my action was 80-90% exclusively for regwars, in which I won a lot. After that, I decided to re-focus on crypto and travel. I went to Disneyland with my family, played a couple of tournaments in Vegas, and an expensive series in Cyprus. The bankroll and confidence were at their peak at the time, but from September to May 2022, I practically did not play. Poker is now in such a state that even after a long pause, one month is enough to return to good shape. It's not that the game is solved, it's just that it hardly changes. But even during the break, I continued to analyze the hands of the regulars, I was wondering what they came up with while I was resting. I watched streams, studied hands, and waited until I saw some new tricks, after which I would say to myself: “I need to urgently return, otherwise I won’t be able to catch up.”
During the period when I did not play, I was completely absorbed by crypto. Every day I absorbed new information and began to communicate with people who understand the topic. It seemed that he found himself a new occupation, into which he plunged head first like a man possessed. But six months later, he returned to poker anyway. During this time, I realized that making money and the hope of changing the world for the better is all good, but crypto could not occupy and captivate my brain to the same extent as poker.
Now I'm fully focused on the game again. Perhaps in the future, I will mix, and in some periods switch to crypto. But for now, poker remains my main activity. I just got bored with crypto, there is no such problem with poker. In each session, I have new questions, situations constantly arise that I want to study in depth. My love for the game intensified after I played live events and got to know some of the high-stakes regs personally. I saw how smart they are, now it's even more interesting for me to compete with them online. Curiously, most of them are younger than me. Among high-stakes regulars, I am probably one of the oldest players, and I started playing poker later than most of my opponents. Many of them have been playing for over 10 years. It also gives me motivation.
On the support of his wife
She doesn't know poker at all. A couple of years ago, I won an EPT event in Sochi, and it was the first broadcast she had seen since we met. Then she realized that in poker I'm kind of a celebrity. In difficult periods, I have thoughts that I am letting my loved ones down. I come to my wife and tell her how much I have lost, and she replies: “So what, you will win back anyway.” She is always absolutely calm and believes in me much more than I do myself. I am confident that I can overcome any difficulties. And this is better than any words of support. At first, I even got a little angry with her. I came to complain to her: “I lost a lot of money, and we are building a house. So what now? Everything is lost". And she quite calmly answered: “What is the problem? Do you doubt your abilities? If not, then why are you angry?"
On strategy restructuring when climbing high stakes
I spent 500 hours on theory. I analyzed various situations in the solver in great detail. Often I specially selected exotic spots that are never found in practice – extremely narrow and strange ranges. I was wondering how the solver reacts to such changes.
Lately, I've been focusing on analyzing the hands of my opponents. When I see errors in my opponent's game, I check in the solver how I can exploit them. But here it is important not to forget at the same time to check how your exploits will work against the GTO. This will allow us to assess the shortcomings of the new strategy. It cannot be ruled out that our exploits will cause more damage if they fail, so sometimes it is better not to change anything at all.
I take the same approach when parsing the hands of opponents. I study not only their frequencies but also showdowns, general strategy, and so on. It helps me understand how they think. If I notice that an opponent folds to 3-bets 5% more often than the solver, this does not mean that you need to start 3-betting wider immediately. Don't underestimate your opponents. You can write them off as idiots, but you cannot allow yourself to believe it. I was convinced of this from my own experience in 2017 when I just moved up to NL5k and immediately lost a lot there. We played with Munez and I noticed a couple of showdowns – and there are not many of them. I thought he would overfold a bit against me. But in the next two sessions, he opened quite light, and I realized something was wrong here.
You always need to keep in mind how deeply your opponent has studied your game. We can call correctly in most situations, but in some rare situations, we will overfold. Your opponents will notice it right away. The theory has a lot of levels, so it is very important to study not only the general concept of the game of opponents but also how they play with each other and specifically against you. All this affects their strategy and statistics. This is another factor that attracts me to poker. There are many more questions like this.
About the current trends of the fields
Thanks to solvers, players learned how to call correctly. This has led to many people not bluffing enough in certain situations. Players choose completely different spots to attack. No one is tight, everyone supports the same bluff frequencies but uses them completely differently. This leads to some imbalance, but it cannot even be exploited, since the brain simply does not have time to follow everything. But, if you want to play better than the field, you will have to study each opponent. If you look at the overall statistics, you might get the impression that everyone plays the same way. But each reg has its own tricks. It's very interesting to find them.
What separates NL1k-5k regs from the top high-stakes regs
The first is discipline. The ability to maintain shape for a long time. If we talk about purely poker moments – this is understanding the ranges. Players who do not play the highest stakes are slower in counting hands and do not understand equity implementation well enough. To call, they only need to know that the opponent often bluffs, and they do not always understand the EV of a particular action. This often results in their bluff catcher not being good enough against a range.
But now there are a lot of very good players in the NL500-1k. There is a huge difference between the young players of these stakes and the regs who have been stuck there for a long time and cannot rise above. Young players often play better, they just lack the bankroll and experience. Often it is a matter of psychology. But for most, it's only a matter of time before they play higher.
Character traits that helped Viktor become successful
For me, poker has always been just another game. I battle in higher stakes easily, I'm not afraid to look stupid, I'm quick to spot my shortcomings, and the process doesn't stress me out. Once, on my own birthday, I gave myself $20k to play Regwars for NL10k. Sat at the table with Linus, Stefan, and Pokerkluka. I ended up with zero, but I sat down at the table with the mindset that I would leave this money there. For me, this is a common occurrence, I concentrate on the game itself, and the result is not so important. Unsuccessful shots also do not affect my confidence in any way, after them I do not tear my hair out.
I don't dwell on problems and try not to take bad events too painfully. But I also am not the kind of person who is happy with everything and looks at everything positively. Sad things happen, I can't influence that in any way. The main thing is to remain a good person, to really look at things and continue to do what you like.
Another important reason why I love poker so much is that you can limit your interactions to only those you like. Don't try to please your boss. We choose our circle of friends. I love people, but only as long as I don't have to interact with them.
Pros and cons of playing poker
The negative ones are, of course, the swing of emotions. After 2020, when I was grinding around the clock, it was very difficult for me to feel happy. In general, I was satisfied with my life, but I stopped enjoying the little things. This changed after the trip to Disneyland. We went to one show there, and all the spectators closely followed the performance, but I watched my son's reaction. At that moment, I felt truly happy again, and after that, I began to feel emotions again.
Positive – time control. We manage it ourselves, we can build our schedule as we see fit. This is manifested even in such trifles as reading books. If something interests me, I can quit the game for a couple of days and completely immerse myself in reading. In a normal job, I wouldn't be able to afford it. Everyone needs to take some time for themselves. Many people are too fixated on productivity and self-development, they try to spend all the time usefully. In my opinion, this is a big mistake. Sometimes you just need to lie on the couch and do nothing, and for you, it will be the most useful thing you can do at the moment.
On his future in poker
Due to the move, I haven't played much lately, I'll catch up soon. Now there is a very interesting situation online. There are several groups within which the players work together and everyone has a different strategy. The Dutch band is Kevin Paquet, Pokerkluka, and Brian. Austrian – Darrell, Linus, and Makeboifin. Two Russian teams – Aurora, Munez and Stefan, Ospiel, and me. There are also Spaniards – Nacho and DavyJones. So my brain will soon have enough food for thought. I also plan to visit the next Triton series if it takes place in Asia.
In difficult periods, I always concentrate on work, and now the whole world seems to be difficult. I try to limit myself from the news, almost all of it is negative. Focus on family, friends, and work.
I would like to advise young players, first of all, to enjoy the game. Negative emotions can also become a formidable weapon, anger can be turned into productivity. But if you manage to feed on positive emotions, you can stay in the game much longer.
At high stakes, many survive due to negative emotions. But for a happy life, it is not at all necessary to become a high roller. If you are stuck at some limit, this does not mean at all that your career is over at this point. The main goal is to ensure a happy life.