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Online Cash Games Explode on Full Tilt Poker

Swedish Unknown Triggers Huge Action and Million-Dollar Pots at Nosebleed Stakes

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Jan 08, 2010


Full Tilt Team
Poker’s largest prize is claimed each year at the World Series of Poker. With each helpful turn card or disastrous river, fortunes can be won or lost in a matter of seconds. But millions of dollars also change hands each day on Full Tilt Poker, which has become the epicenter of the largest cash games in the world. Each day, players sit down with six-figure stacks to compete in perhaps the most ultra-aggressive, interesting matches. The entire catalog of high-stakes action is readily available to anyone willing to log on and fire up a few virtual tables.

It doesn’t take long to get caught up in all of the action as the pots quickly swell to the size of jumbo mortgages. While $500-$1,000 games have become the norm at tables such as the “Thundurrrrdome” and “Ivey Heaven,” they’re a far cry from online poker’s original high-stakes showdowns that took place just a few years ago.

Full Tilt Poker was still in the planning stages in the days following Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP win, and poker fans everywhere had to settle for a maximum of $50-$100 no-limit hold’em on sites such as PokerStars, PartyPoker, and UltimateBet if they wanted to watch quality competition at the highest level. But when Full Tilt Poker launched in June 2004, it brought with it a reputation of being an online cardroom for the pros.

This November, online poker experienced its first million-dollar pot, and interest in these games has never been higher. In the past couple of years, records have been set and broken, and somewhere down the line, the pot sizes rivaled and perhaps surpassed those of the famed Bobby’s Room at Bellagio, which players such as Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, and Barry Greenstein called home.

Fame Comes to Those Who Play

These days, anybody with a modest million-dollar bankroll and a death wish can become an instant online-poker celebrity. In 2005, there were only a few players, such as Prahlad “Spirit Rock” Friedman and Taylor “Green Plastic” Caby, who garnered most of the attention as young guns finding their way in the relatively new world of high-stakes online poker.

As one of the true pioneers, Caby found the early days lacking in overall talent. “There were a lot less regulars in the game,” he said. “There was a small handful of guys who were pretty successful in the $25-$50 and $50-$100 games, which were the biggest at that time. But the rest of the action came from donators or players who weren’t quite ready to move up yet.”

Once Full Tilt Poker became the pros’ choice for high-stakes cash games, the focus shifted to newcomers such as Tom “durrrr” Dwan, David “Raptor” Benefield, Phil “OMGclayaiken” Galfond, and the Dang brothers, Di “urindanger” and Hac “trex313.”
Isildur1andBTownsend Hand
Despite having very limited tournament results or even being old enough to order a beer, these relative unknowns were still able to garner fame and, perhaps, infamy in the poker world, thanks to their complete disregard for money in games that required a six-figure buy-in. Without any hesitation, they quickly took on some of poker’s elite players — like Gus Hansen, David Benyamine, and even Phil Ivey — who had easily made the transition to their laptops, as well, foregoing the one-hand-at-a-time limitations of a brick-and-mortar casino.

Galfond acknowledged that most people would have trouble grasping the concept of these games. “I think there’s a very big difference between poker players and other people,” he said. “People who are not poker players just can’t fully understand what we do, even if they are very bright. I would have no problem telling a random, full-time, $1-$2 no-limit player that I lost $800,000 the other day, but I wouldn’t ever tell that to a regular person, whether he knew me extremely well or not at all.”

Once the news of these multimillionaire kids spread, it wasn’t long before they had developed cult-like followings. Those with short shelf lives and a high risk of ruin have come and gone, but it was Dwan who truly reached superstar status by defeating the very best at a consistent rate over the course of four years. While other grinders were “bum-hunting,” or looking for an easy mark, Dwan had no qualms about taking money from the cream of the crop in various disciplines, such as pot-limit Omaha as well as no-limit hold’em. Starting in September of 2008, he went on a rush, winning an estimated $8 million and putting himself in good company with other winners such as Matt “HossTBF” Hawrilenko, Ozzy “Ozzy87” Sheikh, Isaac “luvtheWNBA” Haxton, and Sami “LarsLuzak” Kelopuro.

After four years of play, Dwan was on top of the poker world, but it was still surprising to hear of his multiple nominations for the Poker Hall of Fame. It was true that the Hall had a history of honoring longtime cash-game players, long before the days when tournament poker took over, but to consider a 23-year-old was a true testament to his influence on the surging popularity of online cash games. Although the Hall decided to pass, the mere fact that he was nominated speaks volumes about the direction that poker is headed in the coming years.

Isildur1 Takes on Team Full Tilt

Thanks to his overwhelming popularity, Dwan was added to Team Full Tilt in early November. It was around that time that a player from Sweden, playing under the name “Isildur1,” began challenging members of Team Full Tilt to play monstrous heads-up sessions, winning and losing millions at a time. It is estimated that a total of $30 million has changed hands since he began his challenge, but that number is certain to rise as the matches continue.

Over the course of three weeks, Isildur1 beat down Dwan and others to the tune of $6 million. It was a quick rise to prominence, but it was even more impressive considering the fact that he started off his campaign with a $1 million loss.

Almost immediately, speculation on the unknown’s identity began to pour in. The high-stakes online world is a small community, and due to the sheer amount of cash in play, most players are easily identifiable and known to each other. But none of the regulars in the game had any idea who this brash Swede was. The most popular rumor, which has yet to be confirmed, is that the unknown player is 19 years old and still lives at home with his parents.

It wasn’t until he faced off against Phil Ivey and Patrik Antonius that the Swede began to show that he is human after all. Perhaps a bit overconfident, Isildur1 took on the two pros simultaneously across eight different tables. The epic matchups were some of the best popcorn moments thus far, with more than $5 million spread out across the tables. By the end of the session, Isildur1 had given back more than half of his winnings.

It was Antonius who was the biggest beneficiary, and in the process of a multimillion-dollar swing, he won the largest pot in online poker history, more than $1.35 million, which came about innocently enough in a pot-limit Omaha hand.

Isildur1 raised to $3,000 from the small blind, and Antonius reraised to $9,000. Isildur1 reraised to $27,000, and Antonius five-bet to $81,000. Isildur1 made the call, and the two players saw a flop of 5Club Suit 4Spade Suit 2Heart Suit. Antonius continued with a bet of $93,000, and Isildur1 raised to $435,000, committing himself to the pot. Antonius put him all in for his last $162,474. Isildur1 made the call, and the showdown commenced.

Antonius showed the AHeart Suit KHeart Suit KSpade Suit 3Spade Suit for the flopped wheel and two backdoor-flush draws, but Isildur1 was drawing very live with his 9Spade Suit 8Heart Suit 7Diamond Suit 6Diamond Suit wrap. According to the Omaha Odds Calculator, the pot would go to Antonius 54.5 percent of the time, and Isildur1 would come out on top 45.5 percent of the time. Fate was on the Finn’s side, as the turn and river were the 5Heart Suit and 9Club Suit, and the wheel held up, sending Antonius the pot.

Antonius credited his high-stakes prowess to the smaller limits of 2005. “A long time ago, the best players online had to play pretty small, because the biggest games dealt were $30-$60 and $50-$100 limit hold’em,” he said. “It enabled me to play against the very best. I played just because I wanted to learn how they beat me. Then, suddenly, I started to beat them. I had learned how they played. It was a cheap lesson as far as I was concerned. Nowadays, if you want to play against the best players, you have to play $1,000-$2,000. That makes it a more expensive education.”

The carnage continued as Isildur1 took on Ilari “Ziigmund” Sahamies and Brian “sbrugby” Townsend. Although both Sahamies and Townsend ended up with larger amounts on their cashier’s page, Isildur1 sustained the downswing by continuing to pummel Dwan. The cycle continued, with Dwan’s money going to others as Isildur1 acted as the middle man, but then Antonius changed the dynamics with a $4 million losing streak of his own.

Although Galfond has stayed away from the volatile games thus far, he did offer his 2 cents worth on the matter. “Not many people can handle a style like Tom’s at the nosebleed limits with stacks that deep for very long,” he said. “You have to remain on your A-game constantly or risk getting completely picked apart. Isildur has shown that he can stay on his A-game for many hours, across six tables, without much sleep. It’s something that I don’t think I could do.”

Dwan has taken the worst of it so far, but he doesn’t believe there is a big difference between his and his opponents’ skill sets. “Right now, at the highest stakes, no one has an understanding of no-limit hold’em or pot-limit Omaha that is very much above anyone else’s, meaning the best player and the next nine-best players can play together. You just need to adapt to your opponents,” he stated.

The Future is Here

Pending legislation aside, most players don’t anticipate these games ending anytime soon. “The future is online,” said Caby. “I think at the end of the day, you can’t ignore that the games are more accessible, you can play more than one table at a time, and you get a more diverse player pool from all over the world.”

The Isildur1 story is far from over. The cast of characters will keep changing as players come and go.

By the time this story goes to print, the scoreboard undoubtedly will have changed. Winners will have become losers, and vice versa. The whole thing will once again be turned on its head, but Isildur1 has shown that anyone with the guts to challenge the best can be a catalyst for high-stakes poker activity. Luckily for us, our couches serve as front-row seats to all of the action that lies just a few mouse clicks away. Spade Suit

The Cast of Characters

The past two months have seen massive fortunes won and lost by a revolving cast of high-stakes sickos. Here’s a closer look at the main participants in this roller-coaster ride of action.

Largest Pot Won: $1,127,954.50
Largest Pot Lost: $1,356,947

We don’t know much about Isildur1, other than he is from Sweden and likes to play for as high as the other players will allow. Win or lose, he clamors for more action, whether that means upping the blinds or adding another table to the mix.

His opponents have categorized him as aggressive, but not to the point of ruin. Many are impressed with his ability to stay focused on numerous tables for hours at a time, against the best that the poker world has to offer. What could be a recipe for disaster to others seems to be Isildur1’s comfort zone.
Tom Dwan
Tom “durrrr” Dwan
Largest Pot Won: $658,567
Largest Pot Lost: $719,941

Dwan wasn’t the first online cash-game superstar, but he certainly made the most of his notoriety when it came. He began playing at the age of 17, and built his bankroll in $5 sit-and-gos. After switching to cash games, he never looked back, as he continued to move up in stakes until there was nothing on any site that he couldn’t afford to play.

His take-on-all-comers attitude resulted in the “Durrrr Challenge,” in which he is currently playing a 50,000-hand match against Patrik Antonius. His knack for attracting an audience led to a Full Tilt deal, and he is now a member of its team of pros.

Patrik Antonius
Largest Pot Won: $1,356,947
Largest Pot Lost: $815,975
Patrik Antonius
Antonius is a heads-up cash-game specialist who began to turn heads on the tournament circuit in 2005, thanks to his success on the World Poker Tour. The former model turned poker pro then went on to become a sensation on the European Poker Tour. Before long, he was competing in the biggest cash games in the world.

Always one to head where the action is, Antonius quickly found himself playing as high as he could on Full Tilt Poker, mainly pot-limit Omaha. As one of the biggest winners online, he was a natural choice to join Team Full Tilt.

Phil Ivey
Largest Pot Won: $832,939.50
Largest Pot Lost: $1,127,955.50
Phil Ivey
Ivey is considered by many to be one of the world’s best poker players. With seven World Series of Poker bracelets, nearly $12 million in tournament earnings, and an appearance at the WSOP main-event final table this year, Ivey has quite the poker resume.

But the amount that he has won in tournaments pales in comparison to the amount that he wagers and wins online. Proving that he can play with anyone, anywhere, in any game, Ivey quickly made a seamless transition from Bobby’s Room to Full Tilt Poker, where he is currently a team member. It’s rumored that Ivey is up close to $5 million in cash games alone in 2009.

Ilari “Ziigmund” Sahamies
Largest Pot Won: $708,987
Largest Pot Lost: $559,980
Ilari Sahamies
Like Antonius, Sahamies is a Finnish poker legend. Despite a modest $400,000 in tournament earnings, Sahamies made a name for himself by climbing the cash-game ranks after deciding to take a break from his first love — billiards.

It wasn’t long before the trash-talking pro was beating both no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha games for big numbers. His success was so apparent that he was crowned the Online Player of the Year at the Scandinavian Poker Awards in 2008.

Brian “sbrugby” Townsend
Largest Pot Won: $431,191
Largest Pot Lost: $549,988

Townsend worked his way up the online ranks via low-stakes limit hold’em games, and through hard work and dedication, he became one of the best cash-game players online. The former UC Santa Barbara student increased his notoriety when he decided to forego most of the 2007 World Series of Poker in order to play a series of high-stakes heads-up matches against Sam Farha at Bellagio.

Although he admittedly has trouble concentrating on something as small as a $10,000 tournament, he has had some tournament success and deep finishes. When he’s not taking on players at the nosebleed stakes, Townsend spends his time teaching players at a popular instructional site. Spade Suit