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A Poker Life With Chris Bjorin

by Ryan Lucchesi |  Published: Feb 18, 2011

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Chris Bjorin has led a poker life in every sense of the phrase. He is a player who has had long-term success playing poker as a career. In the way that you might call a novelist prolific or an old ballplayer a grizzled veteran, you would refer to Bjorin as a career grinder. He has seen it all, as he was one of the first to travel consistently from England to play in major poker tournaments in the United States.
The Marathon Man
Bjorin has 10 pages of tournament results on the CardPlayer.com database (only a handful of players have more pages of results than that; Phil Hellmuth, for example, has 11 pages). In those pages, you will find $4,364,177 in lifetime tournament earnings and two World Series of Poker gold bracelets. He has won 14 tournaments and cashed 203 times across the decades of his poker career.
“I played all my life, but didn’t start playing all of those American games until the late ’80s,” said Bjorin when asked about his lifelong love affair with the game of poker. (His first tournament cash on record came in 1989.) He also related that even though he started playing the game of poker a long time ago, his parents were opposed to the profession as a career when he started playing back in his native Sweden. “I was very young; my father didn’t allow me to play poker, so I didn’t play with my family. I always played poker somewhere where my father wasn’t [laughing].”
Bjorin played poker and bet on sports a lot when he was young, and eventually moved to London to better accommodate his main ways of earning a living. “I moved to London just over 20 years ago, but I had played a lot before I moved. I bet sports and played poker in Sweden,” he said.
He spent a short time as a wine merchant, but year after year, poker and sports betting have provided him with his bread and butter. “Sports betting takes up all the rest of my time. I bet different sports 12 months of the year. The National Hockey League and golf are the two biggest games that I bet on,” said Bjorin.
He now talks about the London poker scene as if it’s his home, and he has cultivated a circle of friends in the city where he has chosen to become a regular in the cash games at the Victoria Grosvenor Casino. “You don’t want to be by yourself when you’re out playing poker. You need friends you can socialize with, dine with, and be able to play a pot with and forget about the results after the game is over,” he said.
The Traveling Man in a New Age of the Game
Bjorin has won untold sums of money playing in cash games and through sports betting during his career, and he would like to keep it that way, for a few reasons, but modesty is the chief reason. One area in which his winnings are a matter of public record is career tournament earnings. He has won just half a million of his career tournament earnings of more than $4 million in his home country, and is one of the European pioneers in U.S. events, joining players like Thor Hansen and Marcel Luske as the first Europeans to consistently play the U.S. tournament circuit.
“I play in the World Series, that’s the main thing,” said Bjorin. “I go to America maybe three other times during the year, and play in whatever events we have in London. At other times, I play in cash games here in London. Lately, it has been mixed games, but before that, it was pot-limit Omaha.” Even though Bjorin makes it to the United States just a few times a year, he makes those trips across “the pond” count. He is sixth on the all-time WSOP cash list, with 58 cashes since 1991. He also has made two dozen final tables at the WSOP.
If you look at a graph of Bjorin’s tournament career, the expected peaks and valleys are present, as they are for all poker players. But just like the line of a stock exchange graph, overall, it is always growing. In fact, he has experienced a bit of a renaissance in the last few years. The reason is twofold. First, there are more mixed-game events to choose from on the tournament circuit these days, and Bjorin feasts on them. Second, there are also more events at home in London, and as the sports-betting side of Bjorin would be apt to tell you, the winning percentage of a team is better at home. His best year came in 2008, when he won $532,161, but he has won more than $430,000 in each of the last four years in tournament play.
He prefers mixed games and cash games over tournaments, and says that thanks to his roots in learning the game, he does well in another brand of poker that has caught on lately. “Pot-limit Omaha was the first game for me,” said Bjorin.
Another big change has brought new money into the game and enabled Bjorin to achieve great results late in his career. “Internet poker is the biggest change. You didn’t see many poker players under 30 years old when I started playing poker; now, 80 percent of the players are under 30 years old. That’s a big difference. There are pluses and minuses to that, but there is more money in poker now, which is good,” he said.
The increased popularity of the game has forced him to play a lot more no-limit hold’em. “I played a little bit of hold’em when it first got popular, but mainly in tournaments, not cash games. I still have a lot to learn about no-limit hold’em,” said Bjorin.
You might say that someone who cashed 14 times in the past year in no-limit hold’em events is getting a grasp of the game, but it is his appreciation of the journey and learning process in poker that has given him staying power in the game. “That is probably my best strength,” said Bjorin.
He is sure to be around for many more years, and if he is, he could challenge Men Nguyen and Phil Hellmuth for the most WSOP cashes of all time at some point. You will be able to find him in the major tournaments around the world, but look for a player who is rather quiet, not outspoken. He is the Englishman from Sweden who is always polite at the table, and consistently successful. ♠