Interview: Kristen Bicknell
Hometown: St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada
Resides: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Best Known For: Grinding
This week, one of the hardest working people in poker, Kristen Bicknell, talked to us about her career 24-tabling full ring no-limit hold'em games. There may not be more than just a few people who play more hands of poker than Kristen does over the course of the year. She also maintains a poker blog.
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PokerTips.org: You are known for your immense dedication to grinding online cash games. Tell us, what stakes do you typically play, how many tables do you play at once, and approximately how many hands do you play per day on average?
Bicknell: I play $0.50/$1.00 and $1.00/$2.00 full ring NLHE. I play 24 tables at once and on average I play about 8,000 hands a day.
How did you first get into poker?
While sitting around bored one night when I was attending university, some roommates suggested we play. I had no idea what Texas Holdem was, but I was willing to try. I instantly fell in love with the complexity and competitiveness of the game. My boyfriend and I played heads-up that night until about 10am and since then I don't think I've gone more than a week without playing. I started studying various poker books, playing in all the local games that I could find (cash games and tournaments) and then eventually found online poker and played mtts and heads up sit and go's.
What led you to deciding to grind poker full-time?
Like most poker players, once I started getting good results it became harder and harder to drag myself to class. I was at Carleton University studying criminology, and quickly learnt that the last kind of job I would ever want would be in the criminology field. So here I am!
Can you give us an idea of what a typical day is like for you?
A typical day at home would be pretty normal (and boring). I do a lot of cooking, grocery shopping and walking my dog (when the weather is nice) in between my poker sessions.
With as much volume as you put in playing no-limit hold'em are you able to make just about any decision really fast by now, or are there still some situations that bring you pause?
At this point, I can make decisions fairly quickly. Once in a while a spot will come up where I end up using a lot of my time bank, but it's not often. I think a mistake that I make, as well as other people who put in a mass amount of volume, is that I get in an auto-pilot mode where I avoid tough situations, and end up playing so straightforward that my game isn't evolving. I have to constantly remind myself to take a few more seconds to make the best decision, instead of the 'fast' decision.
How has the poker landscape changed for you after Black Friday?
Immediately after Black Friday, I felt like the games were softer. Now, that many American grinders have relocated and are back at the tables, I feel like they're a bit tougher than before Black Friday because all the better players relocated, and all of the losing players didn't.
When you're able to get some time away from the daily grind, what do you enjoy doing?
When I get some time away, I love doing anything outdoors, I like to travel, and I love sports and exercising. A huge passion of mine is stock car racing. My parents own a business that builds race cars and my dad races them himself. I grew up around racing, and more than a hobby, it's a lifestyle. I don't live near the race tracks my dad races at anymore, but when I did, that is where I would be every Friday and Saturday night, or whenever and wherever he was racing. I used to race go-karts as a kid, and always had a fantasy about racing professionally.
What do your friends and family make of your almost otherworldly capacity for grinding poker?
Hmm. Good question. I think that my family and friends who don't play themselves don't really understand or appreciate the amount of effort that I put into poker, because they see it as more of a game not a profession, and they don't really understand the amount of hands and tables I play. They think it's neat that I break the typical poker player stereotype, and are impressed with the success I have had. My friends, who do play poker, admire my work ethic and disciple, because they understand the amount of work I put in.
Is your goal that of a "rakeback grinder" who basically seeks to break-even and profit from the bonuses they get for grinding so much?
Yes, I'm a proud 'rakeback pro'. The truth is, with the amount of rakeback you can earn by reaching top VIP tiers, you can actually be a losing player at the tables and profit more than a winning player who plays a small amount of hands and never achieves a high rake back rate. Many people don't understand this, but at $0.50-$1, many players are making $100k a year by just breaking even at the tables and achieving top VIP status. People think that because you are a losing player on PokerTableRatings, that you're a really bad player, but they don't understand that you're sacrificing the ability to maintain a high win rate, to actually win more money. Many people can make more money with a slightly losing win rate and playing a ton of tables and hands, then if they had a positive win rate but played significantly less hands. There are very few people who can put in enough volume to achieve top VIP status while maintaining a high win rate, but obviously that is always the goal.
How beatable does $1-$2 no-limit seem to be these days?
I think $1-$2 is definitely beatable if you work hard enough, but the overall skill level that you find at $1-$2 is quite high, and the win rates of the top winners each year at $1/$2 are a much lower than you will find at other limits.
Finally, what tips would you have for anyone who would like to develop the ability to grind an immense number of tables simultaneously?
I think it's important to step up the number of tables that you play slowly. First you need to get very familiar with all your hud stats (you must play with a hud). Along with writing actual notes on opponents, use a color coding system for your player notes so that you can make good decisions as quickly as you can. Make sure you're well aware of the game flow of whichever game your playing before you begin to mass multi-table. Always stay calm and collected, and if you feel overwhelmed or rushed, take a break and come back with a few less tables than you were previously playing.