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Thew Good to Be True

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Feb 01, 2008

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In this issue, it's my pleasure to interview the UK's tournament trailblazer, family man, recent European Poker Tour Baden winner, and all-round nice guy Julian Thew. It must be said that catching up with him on the circuit involves some luck, as he's most likely to be found, iPod on, stacking someone else's chips, or vanishing ninja-like after a bust-out, or diving straight into a cash game, glass of wine in hand. Respected by the poker community - from Keith "The Camel" Hawkins, who was instrumental in his early sponsorship, to his temporarily disgruntled opponents, whose stacks disappear after some imaginative play or other - Thew has finished 2007 in impressive style. Taking down the Plymouth leg of the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour (and almost £60,000) in October was just the warm-up to his victory over 281 other runners in the Baden EPT event. With the dollar being what it stands at now, that pretty much counted as a $1 million payday and cemented his place as one of the UK's leading players.

One of his avatars might feature the yo-yo for which his playing style was named, but don't let that fool you; these days, he maintains that his super loose-aggressive style has been honed and calmed somewhat, and with another season with William Hill on his shirt ahead of him, he will have every chance to prove it around the UK and Europe in the coming months. Here's what he had to say on this, his beginnings as a poker pro, and what exactly goes into the perfect tournament Man-bag.

Jen Mason: Your playing style has earned you the nickname "Yo-Yo" - which is very descriptive of your chip stack's often bumpy rise to the top in many tournaments. Can you pin down what it is about your style that led to this?

Julian Thew: The Yo-Yo nick was very apt a couple of years back when my stack would regularly go on the biggest of roller-coaster rides. I was very loose-aggressive, made moves left, right and centre, and rarely passed to a reraise if I had the other guy covered. I've toned it down a lot since then, and the transition to tight-aggressive is now almost complete; I suspect the perception of an "at-it" player has stuck for good, though.

JM: You are feared at the table and fairly relentless once you have a stack, and yet seem in person to be a laid-back and friendly person. Are you secretly seething with competitiveness or do you find that these two sides aren't really at odds with each other?

JT: Yes, I'm very competitive and it suits me to just be myself at the table. Everyone is different, of course, and I think it's just a case of finding out what you are comfortable with. I project a pretty laid-back table image, and that seems to work for me.

JM: Winning the EPT in Baden must have been a high point of 2007. How long have you been playing on the European circuit? You've made the final table in several events; how close previously did you come to a title? Any memorable near misses?

JT: Winning an EPT is, without doubt, the highlight of my poker career. I'd been dipping my toe into the European circuit events since my first visit to the Master Classics in Amsterdam in 2001, and had made a handful of main-event final tables, with some decent cashes but no wins.

The most painful and embarrassing memory occurred in the 2006 Copenhagen EPT; two tables out, I pretty much murdered my healthy stack to the eventual winner, Mads Andersen, in a reraised preflop pot, calling all in with 9-8 suited on a Q-10-6 flop. A clash had been building, and unfortunately he had reverse position, meaning he got the chips in first with his 10-5. All of the cameras swept in before the last two cards were dealt; no one could believe that call; I could get pretty stubborn in those days …

JM: What is your favourite stop on the UK and international circuit, and why?

JT: I always enjoy playing in Dublin, as that's where I started playing. Amsterdam is always a fixture on my calendar, and obviously there are several great spots on the EPT circuit. I'm also looking forward to getting a regular seat at my new local, Rob Young's Dusk Till Dawn.

JM: Young online players are starting to dominate the tournament scene; what do you make of their play and do you consider yourself cyber-trained or solely a live player? Have established players had to change their game because of this?

JT: I'm a live player and one who has definitely struggled to make the transition to profitable online play; they are chalk and cheese, and fortunately for me, barring the odd commitment to William Hill, I don't need to boot up that often. Hold'em tends to be played a lot faster these days, and I reckon that is, in part, due to the influx of Internet-bred young bucks wanting to make their mark on the live scene. Whereas a few years back a young kid showing up at the table would be warmly welcomed by all, these days it pays to be wary.

JM: Let's go back to the beginning; a little Beagle [Snoopy!] told me that you used to frequent Gala Nottingham with him and a certain Tony "Tikay" Kendall. Was this a good learning environment? How did you get started playing poker, and when? What did you do beforehand?

JT: I actually started playing live in Dublin's very cosy Jackpot Club in 1999, I think. I'd relocated back to Dublin for an 18-month contract (I was a freelance structural draughtsman) and spent most Saturday nights over at the brother's house, slowly learning the ropes in his home game. Six months on, and they all thought I was nuts, venturing out to a live venue, but once there, the mix of characters, the competitiveness of it all, and the desire to learn and improve was all a huge, beckoning draw for me. I was hooked immediately. As soon as I moved back to Nottingham, I discovered that there was a hotbed of poker activity in the Midlands, and whilst initially I was rationed to two nights of poker a week, I made a point of getting to as many different venues as possible. Wednesdays were the best: I used to knock off work at noon and head down to the afternoon £10 rebuy at the Rainbow in Birmingham, then straight on up to Walsall for the evening £20 rebuy. Happy memories.

JM: Could you make a living off the £20 rebuy?

JT: I used to (laughing), but something must have changed, as in recent years I'm definitely a donator when I drop down to those levels (sighing).

JM: You seem to manage the unusual feat of balancing family life with being an itinerant player; is this difficult?

JT: No, not difficult now. Getting sponsorship in 2004 kind of validated the way my career my going. For sure, there was a period of transition, but I'm a pretty sensible guy, and whilst we'd always been comfortable financially, we never had much in the way of savings, and poker has changed that for us. I'm probably away four or five days every fortnight, which means I'm at home, for the other nine or 10. That's a better work/home life balance than I could ever have achieved as a nine-to-fiver.

JM: You are sponsored by William Hill and have been for a while. How did this come about and how much of a difference does it make to you to have sponsorship? Does playing poker these days feel like work or do you still enjoy it all the time?

JT: I'll be starting my fourth season with William Hill in 2008. Landing that deal really was a case of right place, right time. Keith "The Camel" Hawkins had done some writing for the William Hill website and cited me as one of the up-and-coming new players. That and the fact that I had just made the finals in the Dublin EPT alongside Xuyen "Bad Girl" Pham were the two main ingredients. Despite cracking her kings with my queens two tables out at that event, we hit it off and she, along with Steve Vladar, put a word in for me and I got the call the following week from Phil Quayle, the then poker boss.

JM: What is your favourite type of cash game? Are you the sort of player who needs a break after busting out of an event, or do you sit right down in whatever seat is available?

JT: No-limit, comfortable stakes, 5-5 max. I normally try not to mix them, and ideally would like to set aside a night a week to concentrate on my cash play. When away from home, though, I have been known to jump into a game following an early exit.

JM: At the risk of national stereotyping, would you rather play a table full of UK players, Americans, or Scandinavians?

JT: I'll take UK players, please, as they're what I know the best. I'm a recognised face now on the UK circuit, so I guess the plus of playing against other nationalities is that I can once again fly under the radar.

JM: I credit you with helping to introduce the Man-bag to the poker player's list of suitable accessories. What do you have to have with you when heading into a casino?

JT: Thank you very much. My handbag typically contains an iPod, headphones, scarf, rakeback cards, diary/pen combo, some chewy, a packet of Werther's Originals, a battery-powered fan, and some lippy.