A number of poker players will tell you that a healthy, balanced diet improves their performance at the tables by leaps and bounds. Eat greasy pizza, a fatty cheeseburger, or a big old hunk of chocolate cake and your ability to call, raise, fold, and read other players effectively will likely go downhill. Eat a grease-free, balanced meal before playing poker and you might find yourself winning the next big tournament you play.
Sweden’s Jonatan ‘Pot4teUS’ Hellman takes the mantra “you are what you eat” to heart. On the felt, he has $3 million in lifetime online tournament winnings and has shot up all the way to #4 in the PocketFives Rankings. He’s about to break $2 million in winnings on PokerStars under the handle ‘TanTanSWE‘ and makes it a point to master the art of cooking so he can perform at a high level in the poker world.
“I cook everything,” the Swede said. “In the summer, it’s a lot of barbecue stuff, but I like to try out new things all the time.”
Hellman’s parents divorced when he was 12 years old. His mother was primarily the family’s chef, so when he stayed with his father, Hellman began to assume the role.
“It wasn’t really given who was supposed to do the cooking since dad was used to mom always being in the kitchen,” Hellman said. “So, I started helping out with simple stuff and got better and better at it. I think the breaking point for being a good cook is when you don’t need recipes anymore and you get that fundamental feeling of what flavors work with what. That is when it becomes fun to cook. You take a look in the fridge and randomly improvise to make a nice meal. The feeling when your food gets appreciated by others is truly amazing.”
His ability to cook an array of foods has led to an uptick in results online. Take Sundays, when Hellman usually begins grinding at 4:00 PM, just before the dinner bell rings.
“I need a hearty, filling meal with a lot of slow carbs that’s going to give me energy for a lot of hours,” he said of what food he usually cooks on poker’s biggest tournament day. “It’s hard to find the time during the grind to eat something serious, so I think it’s important to have a good meal before. Swedish meatballs with potatoes, cream sauce, and lingonberry jam is probably my go-to Sunday grind meal.”
It’s no wonder that by eating a variety of healthy foods, he’s been able to dominate the online poker world. Hellman made the top three of the PokerStars Super Tuesday twice last year for $100,000 total. He also took third in a SCOOP $2,100 No Limit Hold’em event earlier this year for $157,000, his largest career score. His gold medals have come in tournaments like the Saturday Super-Knockout, partypoker $200,000 Guarantee, and PokerStars Big $162.
“I usually play badly when I’m hungry or am low on energy,” he said. “Food also makes me happy. On Sundays, it’s nice to have time for a nice meal with the soon-to-be wife since I’m going to be at the computer for 12 hours and only get to talk to her during breaks.”
Some of his favorite dishes to cook include pasta on grind days and the Christmas turkey, the latter of which takes countless hours to prepare but is well worth the wait. But, despite his aptitude for being able to produce high-quality food, he has no intentions of becoming a full-time chef any time soon.
And who can blame him?
“I thought about working professionally as a chef, but realized it’s too stressful and the hours are not good,” he said.
Besides, cooking for fun still allows him to produce dishes like his signature fillet of lamb with red wine reduction, potato gratin topped with goat cheese, and a cherry tomato/basil salad. “I love lamb,” he said, “and everyone who has tasted that dish goes crazy.”
Hellman is getting married on July 23 and his matrimony will likely make the residents of his home town of Lillhagen pretty giddy. Consequently, he’s not in Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker Main Event.
Staying at home prepping for his wedding, which he’s definitely not self-catering, has also allowed him to play in a mostly shark-free pool. In fact, he has four wins already in July, raising his career total to 83. With more mouth-watering food hitting his belly, the sky seems to be the limit for the Swedish grinder from here.