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Table Talk: Toby Lewis

by Erik Fast |  Published: Jun 06, 2018

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Nobody had a hotter start to 2018 than Toby Lewis. The 28-year-old poker pro from South Hampton, England kicked things off by topping a record field of 800 entries in the Aussie Millions main event, emerging victorious with the title and the top prize of $1,156,205. Just less than a month later Lewis finished second in the World Poker Tour L.A. Poker Classic main event for another $600,630. As a result of the two huge scores Lewis shot toward the top of the Card Player Player of the Year standings. He held the lead for several months, and currently sits in third place on the leaderboard. Card Player recently caught up with Lewis to learn more about his fantastic beginning to the year.

Card Player: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into poker and decided to go pro?

Toby Lewis: Yeah, I just saw it on TV when I was a kid and we started playing home games in the evening after we’d finish playing golf or school when I was like 16 or 17. And then when I turned 18 I was able to go down to the casino in South Hampton and started playing poker and loved it. So I mean I didn’t win or anything to start with, but I really enjoyed the game, the strategy and just went from there. It sort of became a more serious thing fairly fast, but without me sort of knowing it was serious. And then when I won the European Poker Tour Vilamoura in 2010 and that was obviously a huge thing. I’d already been playing for a couple of years by that point, but just sort of very gradually building my roll playing cash games and then playing some online tournaments here and there and some small live MTTs in the U.K., but nothing nearly as big as something like an EPT.

CP: What is your approach to being a professional player? Do you primarily play cash games in-between and just pick and choose which tournament series you’re going to go to, or play some online tournaments as well?

Toby Lewis at the 2012 WSOPTL: Definitely the first five years it was ‘wherever, whenever.’ It’s calmed down a little bit since then. I’ve played a little bit less over the last few years, done more studying, and pick and choose where to go a little bit more. I generally just play tournaments these days. I don’t find cash games that enjoyable and going after big scores is kind of more exciting.

CP: Speaking of big scores, the two largest cashes of your career came basically just over a month apart early in 2018. What do you attribute your great results this year to?

TL: Well, it’s definitely partly variance for sure. You and I both know that poker is a skill game, but you also need a lot of luck and for everything to go your way to actually win tournaments. It’s not easy, if it was I would have done it a lot more times in the last seven and a half years, after winning Vilamoura. At the end of 2017 I started working on my game. I realized I needed to study harder and just work out some better strategies that are more current for 2018, rather than utilizing tactics I used in 2012. My focus has been excellent as well this year. No social media, no phone at the table and just trying to focus for those hours I’m playing poker, because I’m playing less often, so the hours I do play I want to make sure I’m giving 100 percent of my effort.

CP: You made the final table of the Aussie Millions as the chip leader. By the time you got four handed, you had 16 million out of 24 million chips in play. That’s a great situation to be in, with the other players incentivized to be cautious. Did it also put a lot of pressure on you to really take advantage and come away with the win?

TL: Looking back on it now, I’m lucky that I was so focused I didn’t actually think about that. I was just so intent on trying to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes and try to realize all the equity I had been given with all those chips. I really didn’t have much time to feel pressure in that situation, because the action was so fast, I didn’t really have the opportunity. I was very fortunate with four left as well that the recreational player, Chul Park, was in second place and then I had the other two pros who were in third and fourth and they understood ICM very well so that catapulted me into an extremely good situation that I know how to deal with those situations, from playing so much online poker. I’m glad I played all those $20 freezeouts and have experience getting short-handed in those tournaments, you learn how to really apply pressure as the chip leader.

CP: In the final hand you got it in with your opponent drawing dead. As they dealt the river, what were your thoughts? Was it just overwhelming?

TL: Yeah, I mean it was at the time. It took me a little while afterwards for it to all sink in. But, yeah, like I said my focus was just on making sure I got it done, because those situations don’t happen very often. I’ve had plenty of like thirds, and fourths, and fifths, seventh and twelfth, but I just haven’t had big major wins since Vilamoura. I’m not superstitious or anything, but it felt like all the stars were aligning at the right time.

Toby Lewis at the 2018 LAPCCP: Just about a month later you came into the final table at the LAPC as the chip leader again. Having just come off a major win did you feel like it freed you up to just play your best? Or do you still feel the same pressure in that moment despite having just taken down a huge event?

TL: I think with experience, I’ve played so many years now, that situation has come up like I have been deep in $10,000 tournaments with 27 left quite a few times now, so it definitely gets easier with more experience. But also, like you said, with add to that, that I literally just won a big tournament that gave me a lot of confidence. But also my other opponents at the table obviously knew that I had won, so I think that they were a little more… I don’t want to say fearful, but they were more aware that this guy just won a tournament so he can do it again, so I think that gave me a boost in that respect as well.

CP: As a result of your two big scores you have become one of the top contenders in the 2018 Card Player Player of the Year race. What are your thoughts on POY races, and would it be something that you might chase?

TL: I mean it is cool, but it also is only April so you know there is a lot of poker to be played and a lot of points to be won. I didn’t even know I was top of that list until a couple of days ago when someone messaged me saying so. It’s a nice achievement for now, but if it gets to like October and November and I’m still at the top then yeah maybe I’ll play a few more events to have a chance of winning it then.

CP: Has cashing for more than $1.7 million in the last few months changed your approach to poker or even your lifestyle?

TL: I have even more freedom than I had before, but I was always like pretty careful with my bankroll and I’ve been pretty fortunate that I’ve won a good amount. I’ve never been backed. I worked hard and also bought some action that went pretty well, so I’ve been fairly comfortable for a while now. These recent scores didn’t really change my day-to-day, they just gave me more freedom for the future.