In autumn 2018, I was commissioned by the Guardian Long Read to write something about the super high roller poker scene. For numerous reasons, the article never made it to print, but what follows is a first draft. (The finished version would have been significantly shorter and, I am sure, better.) I’ve also included links to transcriptions of some of the source interviews with Adrian Mateos, Charlie Carrel, Daniel Negreanu, Dominik Nitsche, Erik Seidel, Fedor Holz, Jason Koon, Justin Bonomo, Stephen Chidwick and Winfred Yu.

To set the scene, this was not long after Bonomo had been on his incredible…


Interview date: October 27, 2018

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(Credit: Neil Stoddart/Rational Intellectual Holdings Ltd.)

Could you just run through your background in poker.
I was 16 years old and discovered poker on TV. I just loved it. I don’t remember if it was the EPT or something like that. I loved it so I opened my laptop and looked for some information about poker. I was watching all the videos I found on YouTube and I really liked it. So I started to play in really, really low with some friends. Five euro sit and goes or whatever. Then I started to study a lot. I…


Interview date: November, 2018

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(Credit: Neil Stoddart/Rational Intellectual Holdings Ltd.)

Is it still possible to climb the ranks in poker, up to the Super High Rollers?
It’s a lot rarer now than it used to be because poker has got a lot tougher. But it’s still definitely possible. I started with $15 in my PokerStars account and focused very very much on the lowest stakes possible, $1 buy-ins, $1.50 buy-ins, and used the time in parallel when I was doing my A-Levels, just used the time to learn poker instead of trying to make as much money as possible. Just trying to acquire…


Interview date: November, 2018

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(Credit: Neil Stoddart/Rational Intellectual Holdings Ltd.)

What prompted your tweet [of September 2017] when you said you weren’t “as good as these guys”?
In the last two years we’ve seen an advancement in technology across many domains, and poker is no different. Some of the new software programs and artificial intelligence have expedited learning curves for a lot of young players to the point that they’re playing a whole lot better. I wasn’t using any of these added tools to improve my game, so I found that the people who were using these tools…it’s like being a player who’s…


Interview date: November 2018

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(Credit: Rene Velli/Rational Intellectual Holdings Ltd.)

What’s the bullet-point list of steps to get to the $100K level?
If truth be told, when you play poker tournaments, you kind of start at the bottom. You work your way up. When you get good results you obviously have more money. When you have more money, you can play higher and to get to super high rollers you start to look at this and think, “Wow, these buy-ins are so much bigger.” Main events are €5,000 on the EPT and €2,000 on smaller tours so to make the step up to…


Interview (by phone): November 2018

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(Credit: Neil Stoddart/Rational Intellectual Holdings Ltd.)

In a nutshell, describe the changes of the past few years
The landscape has changed a lot because these kids spend a lot of time running stuff out on computers. They know specifically what to bet in many situations, what to do when they’re 30 blinds or 20 blinds or 40 blinds, how often to raise. It’s become much more of a science and less of an art. The last year or two you can see a significant difference.

Does this make them better?
Yeah. They’re extremely good players. They were good…


Interview (in Rozvadov): October 27, 2018

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(Credit: Carlos Monti/Rational Intellectual Holdings Ltd.)

What would be the chapter headings in the story of your life so far?
Over the last couple of years, people have been asking me what did you take away from it. What was the main learning? And the thing that I, in retrospect, for myself took away the most was really the decision-making aspects of it. Really being able to reflect very well, analyse my decisions, how I want it to be in the future. How I feel with it, the emotional side of it as well. I would say…


Interview (by phone): October 15, 2018

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(Credit: Neil Stoddart/Rational Intellectual Holdings Ltd.)

How has the super high roller world got to where it is?
What it comes down to is if there’s a market for it. If there’s a recreational player and they want to play for giant stakes…it’s centred around the recreational players. This market hasn’t been created by the nosebleed tournament players, it’s been created by the recreational player. And if there were a $10 million tournament next week and there were four recreational players who wanted to play, well, me and my crew would show up. We would accommodate that…


Interview (at WSOP-E in Rozvadov): October 27, 2020

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(Credit: Danny Maxwell/Rational Intellectual Holdings Ltd)

How did the super high roller poker scene start for you?
I think the high roller tournament scene started about six or seven years ago, when I first took my groups of Chinese businessmen, VIPs, to go the Aussie Millions to experience their first world class, real tournament. At that time I think the highest buy in around the world was probably $25,000 or $50,000. When we were there, they had $100,000 or $250,000, which was unheard of at that time. Everybody is seeing wealthy Chinese businessmen, and they…


Interview (by phone): November 21, 2018

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Credit: Neil Stoddart/Rational Intellectual Holdings Ltd.

How do you explain what happened to you this year?
It was a combination of factors. I’ve been working incredibly hard on my poker game, I’ve been studying with some of the best players in the world, and at the end of the day it was a lot of luck as well.

How do you go about studying?
Over my poker career, I’ve studied every single way that I could. First I read books, I found poker strategy forums, I met friends to talk strategy with, and also different pieces of…

Howard Swains

Journalist

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