Last week news broke that an Estonian guy was doing very very well in a wealthy poker tournament over the Bahamas Islands, in the Caribbean sea.
When I heard the name the reaction was quite simple: I know this guy!
We have been defending together the colours of FC PokkeriProd, a lower league's football club founded by professional poker players a (hence the name) and football lovers. Madis is one of the founders and the proud Captain. He plays as central defender and probably remembers the clash with Tammeka in the Estonian Cup in 2011 as the worst moment as a centreback: 24-0 for the Tartu guys coached by Marko Kristal, the record of Levadia-Soccernet equalled.
FC Pokkeriprod entered history from the backdoor.
However we talk to Madis about how he became a professional poker player, where this came from and why not, what are the connections with football.
He reveals us also the near furure of FC PokkeriProd.
Madis, first of all congratulations for being the most succesful poker player Estonia has ever seen.
However, you are also a football player.
We don’t know much about poker here but we know about football.
If you could draw a comparison for us between poker and football, how would you explain how poker tactics work with football words/metaphor?
Thank you but I’m not the most successful poker player Estonia has ever seen. I sold or swapped a bit over half my action to the PCA so I get to keep a bit under half of the winnings plus even if I got to keep all of it there are still some players that have earned more in poker than I have in Estonia. I wouldn’t consider the result of a 1 week tournament to be a too big thing, anybody can run good for one week, I guess tournament players get undeservedly too much media attention compared to players of other formats. By the way, I don’t consider myself to be among 10 best players in Estonia.
I haven’t thought much about the similarities between the two fields but there are definetly a lot of them. For example you have to be fit for both as a week long live tournament can be very exhausting like football. You have to be mentally strong to keep your composure or even strive under pressure, which can be difficult at times when things don’t go your way - referee is a c*nt for instance (laughs - A.P.).
Also I think there is quite a bit of luck involved in both, weaker side winning from last minute goal etc, that’s why I joke when we lose with FC PokkeriProd that football is actually the game of luck and should be played in casinos.
In football, you need to train daily to reach the perfect form and improved skills. How a poker player does train to reach that? What is ‘perfect form’ and what ‘improved skills’ are in poker?
Actually I consider football training to be important part of my training for poker as well, it helps to endure long sessions, gives energy. You have to keep your life balanced, do sports. There are other areas like working on your mental game, I’m sure it is in professional football as well: there are some techniques or even trained professionals with bigger teams to help do teams well in bigger games or keep routine away.
Sports psychology is quite similar between different sports.
Of course there are more mathematical and game theoretical aspects of poker that don’t relate to football like odds, ranges, how to react to those ranges, how to exploit opponents the most while not being exploited yourself etc. .
Many people stayed up to watch your games on live streaming. Did you feel like, ‘hey, I am representing my country not just myself’? Did you feel any pressure coming from that? How did you cope?
I was actually glad there were people watching, it was good, gave energy, didn’t allow me to do stupid things on television that I may sometimes do otherwise (laughs - A.P.). Had to think things more through.
At the PCA tournament in Bahamas you qualified 4th, happy with the result? What could have gone better in your opinion?
All things, considered the result exceeded my expectations a lot.
Even though before the final table, when I was a chipleader, I could have hoped for a bit more, I’m still pleased as I was already ill the day before the final table, which turned out to be a short one. However in the final table the illness kicked really in and I was very tired already by the time there was four left: we had to be near playing are area 12 o’clock, game started half past one and it was a bit before midnight at that time, poker can take long time sometimes. So yeah, I have to be better prepared to play in very well ventilated conditions when outside temperature is hot (Madis got sick due to the high level of air conditioning at the PCA venue - A.P.). Also I will continue to improve my poker game to be able to make so high places more.
Can you tell us how your passion for poker was born and at which point of your life you decided to become professional? What was the episode that convinced you to do so?
After quitting university I got into investing, did pretty well during the boom years of 2006-2008 but I also went bust due to inexperience with the marketcrash. One of my colleagues at that time played poker a bit so I took a look at it. At some point I understood that one can make pretty good money with it; that my limited skillset with decent simple math skills was pretty well suited for poker; that I was way better able to come out of debts with poker than with a regular job in a complicated job market situation as the one in 2009-10 when unemployment was really high and I didn’t have too good outlook in job market.
So I decided to give poker a try and work hard at it.
You are the defending Estonian poker champion, which is the next big tournament are you going to take part into? What are the plans for your career?
I will participate next in the EPT Vienna tournament series in the second half of march with main focus on the €5k main event and €1k Estrellas poker tour main event which will become pretty popular it seems.
As for longer term plans I don’t really have them too exact as there are a lot of uncertainties. The bigger live events’ buy ins are quite high, in order to keep circling the live tour I will have to keep working pretty hard on my game and play a lot online to be able to afford it. I am pretty motivated at the moment to keep up the work for that direction. Then again I won’t be too disappointed if I won’t be able to keep it up or will run - cardwise - really bad as I’ve already had my 15 minutes of fame. Longer term I’d like to have enough savings by the age of 40 that I could keep playing the game just for fun. That also will require a lot of work to save up but the PCA event helped a lot.
You play in Estonian amateur football club FC Pokkerprod (FC PokerPro’s) which was founded by other professional poker players (including you) and simple football lovers. You have also been the captain of the team.
Do you think there might be any positive reflections on the club following your successful results?
I was among the founders but I gave away the captain stripe during 2012 season, I haven’t been the captain since.
I don’t know if there would be any positive results for FC Pokkeriprod because of my results and probably we will never know because the club will transform this starting season into a second team of a second league team (FC PokkeriProd will become the second team of TLÜ FC - A.P.). The poker boom is fading, we never had any bigger sponsors for the team, only our forum supported us with approximately 5% of our budget.
Nobody wanted to support a bunch of cardaddicts. It’s possible that the situation might have changed with my result but we can’t take this gamble just 10 days before registration deadline. Our high monthly fees made us not too good option for new players, with current small number of players and no sponsor we had a big hole in our budget and it was likely we would have player troubles in the summer as well so we couldn’t go on on our own. The club will still maintain a high level of autonomy, connection to poker community, our doors remain open to poker players and poker will still be a game that binds us.
Teammates at Pokkeriprod (me included) have already started a banter about the possibility you might invest part of the money you won in the club. What can you tell us?
(Laughs - A.P.) Well, the club does need investments but I don’t see that my investing would help ease the situation. A few hundred euros wouldn’t change anything and I don’t really want to invest like €3-4k needed to keep our team independent.
I’m not that rich, by the way. As mentioned, I’m giving over half of the winnings away and I want to save up for buying an apartment at some point, put something away for future live tournaments that have a pretty high buy-in and also just save up so I can retire earlier.
My poker bankroll is like a carpenter’s tools, I need money to play poker, if I spend it away it’s like a carpenter sells his hammer and is then unable to play. While it seems like a big sum what I won there I’m actually not yet in the middle class, can’t even afford to buy my own place.
Many famous former football players have taken part into poker challenges or have been testimonials for their advertisement campaigns (like Ronaldo Nazario Da Lima with Poker Stars). Have you watched any of those challenges? Which former footballer is in your opinion the best poker player?
I haven’t followed these campaigns much as these have been purely promotional and mostly former sportstars haven’t worked too hard and been successful in poker. Of football players Gerard Pique of FC Barcelona has cashed some events of EPT Barcelona during last years so I’d consider him the best pro footballer currently in poker. Teddy Sheringham has had even better results several years ago so he is also decent.
Pokkeriprod are preparing the season 2014. It will be the 4th season of the club. What is your wish for next season?
As we have a pretty short bench at the moment I hope we will be able to get our team together before the season and give a good battle in the middle or even top half of the league and that we would have fun doing it. Not losing touch with our teams roots and origin will also be a goal for me.
Last season the club ended midtable, do you think promotion to III.league is realistic?
We were contenders for promotion places the whole season last year, we only fell behind in the end. This year will be hard to keep that up as some of our key players are not playing this season for several reasons. Still if we manage to get some good additions, maybe from the main team and if we manage to melt that into a working team, anything is possible. Too early to tell much more than that.
FC Pokkeriprod do not have a sponsor any longer. What would you tell to potential sponsor to invite him to invest in the club?
Sadly no pokkeriprod any more.
But I’d say that poker is a profession like any other, it’s a fun game that brings people together, there are very few people that are actually addicted to poker in bad way!
Hopefully I managed to bring some good publicity to poker and I would be willing to appear in FC Pokkeriprod shirt in some live tournaments with sponsor logos visible, including EPTs - I would have actually played in the shirt for the whole duration of the final table, if I weren’t ill, it was so cold there I managed to show it only in the end.
What do you think about ‘Rumori di Spogliatoio’, a web media that talks about Estonian football in English since a year already?
It’s good that there are news now about Estonian football understandable to people who don’t understand Estonian. Good luck with that and I hope people will follow.
Thank you from ‘Rumori di Spogliatoio’ and good luck for your future challenges both in poker and in football…obviously, see you at the training camp!
My pleasure and see you too!