PCA 2014: Muffins, cake and irony burgers - ElkY and Katchalov talk healthy living

Last year they were a great place to meet the players, learn a few things and save six bucks on a cup of coffee. So this year PokerStars has scheduled four more Team Pro Q & As, open to all and offering "Breakfast with the Pros", the first of which began in the PokerStars player lounge this morning.

I joined a good sized crowd who showed up for a complimentary breakfast of muffins, cream cakes and Danishes, as the talk began. The subject: "Health and Poker." The irony was not lost on anyone in line for the chocolate muffins, although few showed any reticence in taking plate loads of treats to the soft chairs in front of the stage.

coffee_and_cake_pca2014_qa.jpg
Few could help themselves

They'd come to hear Eugene Katchalov and Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier talk about their experience of losing weight and living healthily on the road. Both have lost up to 60 pounds in recent years, some from that fail safe "Prop Bet Diet" (the book of which will surely be featured on Oprah at some point), while the rest came from regular gym attendance and a few lifestyle changes.

Q and A host Lee Jones opened by making the point that five years ago such a discussion would not have taken place. In those days few players understood the benefits of a healthy body, at least understood but were unconvinced that it might help them at the table. Now it's a different poker world. As ElkY said, at the Super High roller event last year 30 per cent of the field were in the gym the morning it began.

lee_jones_pca2014_qa.jpg
Lee Jones introduces the Q and A

If we're honest, few of the people tucking into grease cakes and Irony burgers seemed convinced. But they listened anyway to what was a compelling theory - that success at the table can often depend on your health away from it.

While not wishing to suggest any Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, it's hard not to see the evidence for yourself. ElkY won the PCA Main Event in 2007 having lost 60 pounds of fat. "When you feel better it's easier to focus", he said, a sentiment echoed by Katchalov who has bracelets, WPT and PCA Super High Roller titles to his name.

katchalov_and_elky_pca2014_qa.jpg
Eugene Katchalov (left) and Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier

It didn't have to all be about deprivation either. Both enjoyed the occasional "cheat day", during which vast meals could be consumed guilt free, days which usually coincided with elimination from a major tournament.

Preparation though was intended to keep this to a minimum. For Katchalov that means getting up at 8.30am, having breakfast and then waiting 30 minutes for the digestion to do its work. Then he'll head to the gym for a workout lasting up to 90 minutes, before leaving himself time to unwind, relax, and prepare himself to play. By then he's usually full of energy.

It's a similar but not identical plan for Elky who also wakes up early. His day starts with meditation followed by a light breakfast. For ElkY long days at the poker table should be followed by plenty of sleep. But meditation is key.

"It clears the mind," he said, explaining how he uses a system that plays different music into your right and left ear, transporting you to somewhere between being asleep and awake---known colloquially to the rest of us as "work". All of which is intended to encourage better focus and more energy.

Elky admitted to taking things a little further, espousing the benefits of fasting, as eating can sometimes be a psychological thing. As he said this, momentary terror caused some of us to pause slightly before brushing the pastry crumbs from our trousers. There seemed no suggestion that this idea would take off, at least not among those balancing plates on their bellies, and Katchalov agreed that this might not suit everyone.

the_crowd_pca2014_qa.jpg

Standing room only (which is better for you) as ElkY and Katchalov took to the stage

Questions followed from the audience, like a motivational talk at a weight watchers meeting, only without the scales at the front for a public weigh in and some friendly encouragement. What to drink? (Green tea and water, rather than daiquiris and gin), how to wind down before sleep, and the benefits of protein bars, while Adrienne Rowsome was curious about whether they only drank alcohol on "Cheat Days".

It was a good way to start off the sessions that continue each morning for the next three days. Organisers did miss a trick by not supplying "before and after" pictures to be autographed, perhaps with ElkY wearing some oversized elasticated trousers, but guests showed their appreciation in the usual way.

There are more Team Pro Q & As to follow, with Vanessa Selbst, Isaac Haxton and David Williams up tomorrow to talk about "Game Play - swapping pieces and bankroll management". Guilt free treats will be served with coffee from just before 11am.


Follow hand-by-hand coverage of the Super High Roller event on the dedicated $100,000 Super High Roller page. Also watch the action live on EPT Live.

Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter.