Interview: Philip Hilm
Playing heads-up no-limit hold'em for high stakes isn't for the weak. Succeeding at this type of game requires a tremendous amount of poker talent, as well as the ability to sustain huge swings. If you ever find yourself playing $10-$20 no-limit hold'em, you certainly do not want to see Philip Hilm across the table. This week, Hilm sits down with us to discuss how he is able to beat these types of games, and he also gives us a few general poker tips.
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PokerTips.org: When did you start playing poker?
Philip Hilm: Between October and December 2003, I was demonstrating and selling coffee machines in supermarkets. It was a lousy job, but I needed the money to buy Christmas presents. Around that time a friend of mine, who had been a professional backgammon player for 4 or 5 years, started playing poker and introduced it to me. I decided to give it a real shot, so I studied and practiced intensely. After one month I was making 3 times the money playing poker in the evening, than I did at my job. The decision was easy, and I never looked back.
pt.o: What handle do you go by online? Why that name?
Hilm: My online handle is 'hotntot'. I thought it sounded good, and I've used it since I started playing.
pt.o: What poker games do you generally play live and online (what stakes and locations)?
Hilm: Full Tilt Poker is where I play and mostly heads-up. That way I can play more hands, make more decisions and thereby magnify any edge I might have. My regular game is $10-$20 NL Hold'em, but if the action is good (for instance if Mike Matusow or Layne Flack is playing), I'll play even the highest limits.
pt.o: Why is the action better when Mike Matusow or Layne Flack is playing?
Hilm: Mike Matusow and Layne Flack are great tournament players. But tournaments and cash games are two different disciplines. A great cash game player is not automatically a good tournament player and vice versa.
pt.o: Do you prefer online or live? Why?
Hilm: I play tournaments live, and I play to win. It's great to meet the other players and hang out. There is also a social side to poker. But at the end of the day, I want to be number one. I played the WSOP twice without any major achievements. My best results are 4th in the EPT in Copenhagen and 1st in the WCP in Barcelona.
My daily game is online though for several reasons. It is almost impossible to find a live heads-up game. And when playing live, I see maybe 40 hands per hour. Online I get around 200 hands heads-up. If I play 3 tables at a time, it's a total of 600 hands per hour. That's approximately 15 times faster than a live game. This evens out the swings and outweighs any advantage I might have from tells in a live game.
pt.o: What is your favorite online poker room? Why?
Hilm: There is a good combination of heads-up cash games, with players actually playing those games, and a great interface on Full Tilt Poker. Now if only the software was a little bit faster the site would be perfect.
pt.o: What are the most common mistakes that players make in the games that you play?
The most important aspect of heads-up poker is adapting to your opponent. Most players only know how to play one style and can't really change gears.
pt.o: How do you capitalize on these mistakes?
Hilm: Once I identify a players style, I find a counterstrategy and punish his mistakes. Let's say a player is very loose/passive. In that case I will tighten up a little bit, put more focus on highcards and bet huge, even overbet to punish him calling with 3rd pair. Now if a guy is too tight/aggressive, I will loosen up a bit, focus more on suited connectors and take smaller stabs at a lot of pots. Effectively stealing more pots, while always trying to flop or turn a monster and take his stack, when he takes a stand with top pair. Some players completely crack, when you take them off their game this way.
pt.o: What is poker to you? A job, a side job, or a hobby?
Hilm: Poker is both my job and my hobby. It takes discipline to derive your sole income from poker. But the benefits are fantastic. I work when I want, and where I want. On top of that I make loads of money, and really enjoy what I do.
pt.o: How much money do you average a month playing poker?
Hilm: I made $50,000 the first year I played poker. It was a lot of money to me then. Today the same amount is easily an up- or downswing for one month.
pt.o: How often do you see people that you think are playing above their bankroll or skill level?
Hilm: Almost every day. But people play with different motives and for different reasons. Not everyone plays for a living. I meet a lot of hit-and-run players who like to take shots. They usually buy in short and either bust or double a few times and leave. They're definitely not pros, and if I played like that, I would be unemployed very fast. But most of them are having fun, while still having a realistic shot at hitting gold, and that's what matters.
pt.o: Are you interested in tournament play? Why or why not?
Hilm: I've had good results on the internet playing tournaments. I've won the Party Poker Sunday tournament with a first prize of more than 100K and some smaller tourneys as well. But nowadays I prefer to play tournaments live. I really enjoy the social side of live tournaments and I'm going to win a bracelet ;)
pt.o: What tips can you provide to an intermediate player looking to improve his game to the next level?
Hilm: On the technical side, practice playing heads-up cash games. Try to really focus on your own and your opponent's playing styles. Improving your skills in that area will improve your overall game tremendously.
On the psychological side, try to welcome bad beats. The existence of bad beats is the only reason poor players keep playing - when they win a big pot, their illusion of being a good player is kept alive. I make money because a lot of people play poorly. So bad beats are actually the main reason I make money. It's a lot easier to play solid poker when you appreciate the inevitable bad beats.