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A Poker Life: Oliver Speidel

by Erik Fast |  Published: May 30, 2012


Oliver SpeidelOliver Speidel has had arguably the most impressive start to the 2012 poker tournament circuit or any player on the tour, cashing for more than $1.7 million so far and making five final tables in the first four months, including winning the prestigious 2012 Aussie Millions main event. As a result of his smashing success down under, the 26-year old pro is currently the outright leader in the 2012 Card Player Player of the Year race. Here is a look at how one of the hottest players in the world at the moment got his start in poker.

Finding His Game

Oliver was born in Melbourne, Australia to Swiss parents who had just recently emigrated from Switzerland. The family settled into the suburbs of Melbourne, where Oliver grew up as an avid basketball player. “I played semi seriously up until about age 19 when I accepted I wasn’t going to make the NBA,” Speidel laughingly admits.

Athletic pursuits weren’t the only interest for the young Speidel, who also spent much of his time playing chess and various video and computer games. Like many other of today’s young poker professionals, the tactical skills that developed on boards and computer screens truly blossomed when they found their way to the poker table.

“I can’t really remember how I got into poker for sure, but I believe the movie Rounders was probably the reason. Then I remember starting to mess around online on play money tables. I think I kind of fell in love with the strategic aspect of the game and eventually made the switch to real money and deposited $50 at first.”

Poker is a game that rewards experience, and building proficiency can often take time and money. Speidel did not get off to a winning start. “I lost a heap of deposits totaling maybe $500 dollars before I started to win.”

Studying For Risk Management

Soon after learning about the game, Speidel found himself completely obsessed with poker. He purchased a number of poker strategy books to get him started down the path towards profitability, but the real breakthrough came next. “I discovered online poker forums and started seriously studying sit-n-go strategy. I multitabled those at mid-stakes for a couple of years whilst studying at University.”

Speidel studied economics and finance in college, and afterwards was hired at a bank. All the while that he was studying he was putting similar skills to use on the felt in his spare time. The bank Speidel worked for decided that the task he was best suited for was risk management. The specialty seems fitting for someone who would become so skilled at risking his money in a game of strategy for a living.

After diligent practice and study, Speidel began to win more and more, and after only three months at the bank, he decided to quit to focus more on poker. “Working a traditional job is really tough after you have had a taste of the poker lifestyle and the freedom it gives you.”

He worked his way up from small stakes to mid-high stakes in online cash games, which he still plays as his bread-and-butter source of income to this day. “I was occasionally playing live or online tournaments on the side but online cash games were my main game and where I made most of my money. I haven’t had to redeposit online since then, more than five years now.”

A Red Hot January

The Aussie Millions Poker Championship is the largest poker event in the Asian-Pacific each year, with millions of dollars in prize money awarded each year. The event takes place at the Crown Melbourne, in Speidel’s own backyard. He had played events at the series before, but at the 2012 running he went on an incredible run that catapulted him to the forefront of the tournament poker scene.

He started his series off with a runner-up finish in a smaller $1,000 AUD buy-in no-limit hold’em shootout event, cashing for $25,479. Only three days later, he finished sixth in a $1,500 AUD event for another $16,472. “I was already really satisfied with my Aussie Millions after the first two final tables and would have been happy even had I busted out of the main event early. Well I didn’t bust out early… I still can’t believe my luck.”

Speidel not only didn’t bust early, he won the tournament, topping the 659-player field to earn $1.6 million AUD and the prestigious title. As a result, he found himself as one of the main early contenders in the 2012 Card Player Player of the Year race.

Taking The Lead

Speidel spent much of the early month’s just outside of the top spot in the rankings, before he took the lead outright with a sixth-place finish at the 2012 Australia New Zealand Poker Tour Sydney main event.

“I was very happy to final table Sydney. I think I have a pretty good grasp of how luck and randomness works, so I realize you have to be very lucky to make a final table of an event with 400 or more runners no matter how good you are at poker. I’m sure I could have played better but I don’t think I made any huge mistakes. It was a fun tournament and I really enjoyed my time in Sydney.”

Speidel extended his lead even further in April when he finished fourth in the Asian Poker Tour Philippines main event for another $37,000. This latest result brought his year-to-date earnings to $1,767,371 in total, with four final table finishes in his native Australia and one in Asia.

An Australian Player of the Year?

Since the inception of the award in 1997 every single Player of the Year recipient has been based in the United States, although many came from different nations originally. As an Australian in the mix primarily as a result of events held in his native country, Speidel may be a sign of the globalization of the tournament poker scene.

Much like in America, poker saw a gigantic increase in popularity in Australia in the early 2000s. In 1998, only 74 players put up a $1,000 buy-in for the Australian Poker Championships. The winner, Alex Horowitz, earned $25,900 from a $74,000 prize pool. Just a decade later, the Aussie Millions $10,000 AUD main event attracted 780 entrants, awarding $1.65 million from a massive $7.75 million prize pool.

“Poker in Australia got a boost (as did every other country really) from the Moneymaker win along with poker being shown on TV a lot more. Then we got a boost again with Joe Hachem’s WSOP win. Also Crown Casino does a great job running and promoting the Aussie Millions every year and that has helped a lot as well.”

Poker definitely seems to be on the rise in the region, with more and more large events available to players from tours like the Australia and New Zealand Poker Tour, the Asian Pacific Poker Tour, the Asian Poker Tour and huge series like the Aussie Millions.

Speidel plans on playing a number of events throughout the rest of the year, but primarily around Australia and Asia, but also some of the larger international events.

“I will probably play the WSOP main event as well as WSOP Europe. I’m not actively going after the player of the year, but if I were to win that it would be cool.”

The World Series of Poker recently announced the premiere of the WSOP Asian Pacific, a series of five bracelet events to take place at the Crown Melbourne in April, 2013. Perhaps Speidel will be in attendance as the first ever Australian winner of the Player of the Year award? ♠