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The Finnish Hihhuli Takes on the World

Patrik Antonius discusses his titles, his approach to the game, and his goals for the future

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: Mar 01, 2006


I first saw Patrik Antonius in action in September 2005. I was reporting on the final table at the European Poker Tour Barcelona (EPT) event, and Patrik was one of the finalists. When I polled some of the spectators, a large percentage of them expected this young man from Helsinki to win it – despite the fact that Gus Hansen was one of his opponents. As it turned out, neither Gus nor Patrik won the event; the trophy went to the popular Frenchman Jan Boubli. But just three weeks later, Patrik won his first major brick-and-mortar casino tournament title. After being crowned Scandinavian poker champion, Patrik took the main event at the EPT Baden tournament for a €288,180 first prize. In an excellent display of poker, he outplayed everyone at his table with a game that consisted of a strong right arm, great rhythm, calmness, and an almost Zen-like approach. Throughout the tournament, Patrik did not let himself be affected by either adversity or good fortune, and I found that quite remarkable for a 24-year-old – especially with so much money and fame at stake. His nickname is Hihhuli – the Finnish word for a guy who is always bragging and fooling around, and who consistently does stupid things – yet he is essentially a good guy. Save for the good-guy bit, his table manner couldn't be further from this; there is a real dignity to the way he plays.

Rolf Slotboom: Patrik, when doing research for this story, I came across a reliable source who marked you as one of the biggest online winners. Is this correct?

Patrik Antonius:
Well, yes – I have been doing really well lately. I often play heads up in no-limit, $200-$400 blinds, and I have crushed those games so far. The money doesn't mean that much to me, or rather, I should say that I try not to let the money affect me.

In games as big as the ones you mention, you must be facing some of the toughest names in online poker on a regular basis – people like Prahlad Friedman.

That's true. I am often at the same table with people like Prahlad, Tore Lagerborg, and Eric Sagström. I have a lot of respect for Prahlad, but I have won a lot of money against him. Ram Vaswani also likes to play heads up; he's someone who experiences lots of swings and – despite his talent – is a rather good opponent for me. Obviously, there is also Dustin Woolf (Neverwin), who plays limit hold'em a lot. These are some of the best players, but I like to play with all of them. They're so aggressive, and this leads to bigger pots and more action. Now, if you're a good player yourself, this means you can win more.

However, the bigger the games, the harder it is to keep them going on a regular basis. Because you are playing against good and highly experienced players, you have to stay in top form at all times. For this reason, I don't multitable as often as most people do. When I'm in a very big game, I usually restrict myself to just one table, or two tables at most, for the simple reason that in these tough games, most plays you make are based on your opponents rather than on the quality of your cards – so you have to stay 100 percent focused to maintain your edge. Also, because these games are often shorthanded, you don't have to wait hours for a good hand or situation. Instead, you'll get involved in loads of hands. Up against top players, it requires lots of concentration to come out on top, mostly by taking advantage of your opponents' specific tendencies and weaknesses.

Speaking of strengths and weaknesses – what are yours?

I think my main strength is the quality of my reads, especially on the people who are used to playing online and then turn to playing live. I don't think I have lots of clear weaknesses or leaks, but I do know that I am not that experienced yet. Somewhat strangely, I used to have some physical problems because of a back injury I had from playing tennis, which caused me some difficulties at the poker tables – especially when I was playing live. Fortunately, the problem has recently been solved, so I'm in good physical condition again and am certain that this has helped my poker game tremendously.

You seem to have made a massive step forward in recent months. You have booked some great results in EPT events, for instance, where you finished third in Barcelona and then won in Baden. When I saw you play for the first time in Barcelona, I didn't think too highly of the way you played; you seemed quite predictable. But then I watched you play in Baden and I was very impressed. You seemed extremely focused, you played with a smooth rhythm, and despite your aggressive play, your opponents respected you a lot and gave you credit for a hand once you got involved. Yet, based on common sense and pure mathematics, it was quite clear that you could not have had great hands on all of those occasions. Can you provide your own view on how you played in both of those events?

PA: I wasn't pleased with the way I played in Barcelona. My game was good until the final table, but, once there, I made at least two clear mistakes. The first one was against Gus Hansen. Early on, I didn't reraise him on the river with a small full house, thinking I would get action only if I was beat. In retrospect, this was a mistake. This was even clearer when I got to see his hand. With a flop of J-J-7, we both had been slow-playing, as Gus had a third jack and wanted to trap me – while I had flopped sevens full and wanted to trap him. So, as it turned out, Gus had a strong but second-best hand, and I should have made more money than I did. My second mistake was showing the table a successful bluff. That was stupid, because what I wanted was respect, and afterward I got called all the time by the eventual winner of the event, Jan Boubli. I lost three out of three pots against him. I may have been a bit off my game simply because this was my first televised final.

I am extremely proud of my win in Baden, if only because I came in more than five hours late on the first day! A website had listed an incorrect starting time: It said the first day would start at 7 p.m., but it actually started much earlier than that. Worse still, I found this out while I was in Aruba! I looked at the structure and calculated that even if I came in a few hours late, I would still have about 7,000 left out of my initial 10,000 starting stack. As it turned out, I had to begin with just 5,000. I played my best poker of the event on both the first and third days, when I won not because I had good cards, I didn't, but because I played them well.

You're right that I like to have an image of someone who knows what he's doing. This gives me two clear advantages. First, and probably most importantly, my opponents just don't want to mess with me, and this enables me to bluff a bit more and make moves with marginal hands. Second, because my opponents respect me, their response to my bets and raises is usually quite reliable, meaning that I can read them better, so it's easier to make the correct decisions. Even though I like my solid image, I think Gus Hansen's image is even better. He is always dancing around, and is involved in so many pots with sometimes crummy cards, so people just can't find the proper way to play him, simply because they don't understand what he's doing.

RS: Where do you want to go from here? What are your goals for the future?

PA: Well, I have just bought a house in Vegas, so I plan on spending lots of time there. I have never been a big fan of traveling, so I have decided to go to Vegas and let the tournaments come to me rather than having to travel around from town to town. While I'm known as Hihhuli, frankly I'm just a laid-back guy who works hard to lead a good and prosperous life. I hope that in Vegas I will be able to play in more, and bigger, games.

Right now, I am single, and obviously it is hard for a woman to cope with my lifestyle – although you just never know when someone may drop by. As for the money, well, it would be easy to lose sense of its worth, because in one day I can win or lose more than my parents may make in a few years. Some players just can't handle these kinds of swings – especially not the upswings – but I hope I can.

RS: Do you have some final piece of advice for the readers?

Don't ever loan people money to play poker with. I have helped friends with loans on more than one occasion, and I can tell you that it's bad for both of you. If you have to borrow money just to stay in action, there is just no way you can ever feel comfortable enough to play your best game. And the person who has been trying to be helpful – well, he will probably just get a headache wondering whether he will see his money again.