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Patrik Antonius: Hall Of Fame Nominee Talks About Legendary High-Stakes Career

“Probably 40 Days Where I Won Or Lost More Than A Million”

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Jun 30, 2021

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Throughout his two-decade career, Patrik Antonius has often received more attention for being poker’s most attractive player than he has for consistently crushing the highest-stakes in the world.

In December, however, the former Finnish model turned 40, making him eligible for the Poker Hall of Fame. Although he was not ultimately selected, he was honored as one of the final 10 nominees, with voters recognizing his prowess playing against some of the best competition around.

The man Doyle Brunson once acknowledged as one of his toughest competitors got his start online well before the poker boom, and was already sitting atop the cash game mountain by the time Chris Moneymaker sparked a poker revolution in 2003.

The former tennis standout broke through in the live arena with a win at the 2005 EPT Baden main event, but despite almost $12 million in career tournament earnings, Antonius has always considered himself a cash game player first and foremost, seeking out the biggest games both online and live.

In fact, he estimates that during his career, he’s had “probably 40 days” where he won or lost at least a million dollars. The wild swings included online poker’s largest ever pot, a $1.376 million win against Viktor ‘Isildur1’ Blom back in 2009. Antonius has been involved in four of the top 10 biggest online pots of all time overall, and also holds the record for largest pot played during High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark.

Antonius recently appeared on Card Player’s Poker Stories podcast to talk about the origin of his high-stakes career, record-breaking pots, and his new poker app First Land of Poker (FLOP). Highlights of the interview appear below. You can listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or any podcast app.

Poker Beginnings

Julio Rodriguez: So the story is that you started playing poker with friends at like 12 years old, but you weren’t really gravitating towards it yet.

Patrik Antonius: Yes, I had some older friends, and they would play for some really small money, like pennies. I started to play with them and we would play different kinds of card games. Like, there was this [version of] five-card stud with limit betting. Nobody knew anything.

If you had a really good day, you won like one dollar. But you have to play for a little bit of something to make card games more exciting. I played with them quite a bit, and then I started to play with my tennis friends. I was practicing a lot of tennis, and we had many days when we practiced twice a day, and we would play cards between the practices.

Then we got a bit addicted. All of us loved the game, so [we started] playing after practice. And then we would end up [getting together to] play when we didn’t even have any tournaments or matches.

JR: What about your first casino trip?

PA: My friend went to the casino and started to play there before me. I didn’t even know they had poker in the casino in Helsinki, it was really small then.

I went one day and I played the beginners event. If I convert the currency of Finnish marks to dollars, I think it was a buy-in of maybe 20 dollars…. and I won my first tournament.

JR: You weren’t considering poker as a job, but you were doing other things to keep busy. Is it true you were a model?

PA: I did a lot of things. My parents… we didn’t have [much] money. I grew up in a very poor family, which I think was really the best possible thing that could ever happen to me. I learned to work at a very young age, and work hard.

Sports were my biggest teacher. Everything I learned in sports, when it comes to the hard work, and the discipline, and the dedication, I transferred that to poker. The same mindset that nothing comes easy. You work hard and you will get there.

I started to deliver magazines when I was 11 years old. I would use the money, all the money that I earned, to buy tennis rackets and [other equipment]. I did some selling over the phone, like a telemarketer. And then I went door to door for companies selling magazines and stuff.

I was a good tennis player and when I had time, I was teaching some younger players, and I also started to work at the club where I was playing. I actually started working underage. I lied to the boss, saying that I was 15 instead of 14. I don’t know how they never checked my age, but I was running the whole tennis club when I was 14. There was nobody else. I was taking care of the course, stringing rackets, running the cafeteria, [manning] the cash [register]… everything.

The modeling thing was never a real job. I got a contract with the agency, and they would call me for a photo shoot that they would use in a magazine. That paid quite good money for me when I was comparing it to other jobs. I would have one day, three hours shooting, and that would pay the equivalent of working like five full days at the club. I did a few fashion shows, but they didn’t pay very much. One job was interesting. When I was 19, in the middle of winter, they wanted to shoot a sports catalog in Gran Canaria, which is an island near Africa. We flew there for a week, and it was like a holiday for me. But I quit when I was 19 when I started to make money with poker.

Turning Pro

JR: When did you start to take poker more seriously?

PA: Things really elevated in 1999 when I put $200 online. It was the first time in my life. I managed to run that money, in just two months, to $30,000.

I still didn’t know how to play, but I kind of figured out this overly aggressive style. I was literally trying to play every hand, raise every hand, bet every flop, and bet every turn. If players raised me back, I would give up. And I was winning like that.

I was kind of learning in the [opposite] way, playing every hand and then tightening up, instead of the other way around when you play tight and then [loosen up]. I learned poker in such a different way than anyone else. I never read a poker book, not even a couple pages. I never had anyone to teach me how to play. I just played and I analyzed myself and [got better.]

JR: Online poker was just getting started, but you were already playing the biggest games available.

PA: I pretty much played 12 hours a day for the next five years. I feel like I played more than anyone else, and I loved to play. It was not like I was ever forcing myself to do it. I went so fast from that year to the biggest games online in 2001. I went from 2002 to 2005 without ever having a losing month online.

Record-Breaking Pots

JR: Despite having an excellent tournament record, you’ve always been a cash game player. You famously have the record for winning the largest ever online pot, which was $1.376 million in a hand of PLO against Viktor Blom.

PA: Well, it was really a lot of gambling, big swings. I also had a lot of big losing days. I remember frequently recording days like minus or plus one million because the games were so big. ‘Isildur1’ really came to gamble, and I feel like anything could have happened with him. He wanted to play as big as possible, deep as possible, on as many tables as possible. And I was one of the guys that, I was lucky I had a really big bankroll, and I felt comfortable and confident with my game.

That [pot] was actually [part of] my biggest winning day online. I won over $3 million that day. It was an exciting time. Any day you could go online and you didn’t know if you were going to win a million or lose a million.

JR: If you had to estimate how many seven-figure days you have had in your career, in either direction, winning or losing, how many would you say?

PA: If I have to throw a number out of my head… I would say I had an almost equal amount of [seven-figure days] live. There’s probably 40 days where I have won or lost more than a million.

JR: So how do you handle a seven-figure loss? They say that winning never feels as good as losing feels bad.

PA: Yeah, that’s a very true statement, very accurate. It’s almost unfair how the winning [days] start to feel normal, like this is what is supposed to happen. So it doesn’t really feel special, but the losing feels really bad and it’s a challenge for everyone to handle.

If I had a bankroll of maybe $20 million, and I lost $1 million, that’s still a big chunk of it. Sometimes I could handle it better, sometimes worse, depending on how it happened. If I wasn’t happy with the way I played, it would take longer for me to accept what happened.

But I was young, and I was so driven. Nowadays, it’s so rare that you go to a big game and you dump a million. I’m not used to it right now. I would have a much tougher time handling it now than I did then.

JR: I think people would be surprised to hear that, because when they see you on TV, you’re so stoic. You also hold the records for the largest pot on High Stakes Poker, which was about $1 million against Sammy Farha, and Poker After Dark, which was about $600,000 against Tom Dwan. In both of those hands, the audience can’t see you sweating, or your heart beating out of your shirt.

PA: In general, I’m a very calm person. I don’t really get my emotions too attached to things. Maybe it helps that I’m Finnish. It takes a lot for me to get very excited about something.

Tournaments vs. Cash Games

JR: Between 2012 and 2017, you didn’t play a lot of tournaments. I mean, you still won a few million dollars and were successful in the spots that you played in Australia and Monte Carlo, but it was clear that you were traveling less for tournaments.

Then in 2018, before the pandemic, it seemed like you started to play a lot more. You won a High Roller in Rozvadov and made several more final tables, including a runner-up finish in the Super High Roller Bowl China for $3.15 million. Were you feeling like tournaments were a shift you had to make?

PA: That’s funny. Basically, all my tournament results are from 2005 and 2018. I pretty much quit playing tournaments in 2006. That’s when the cash games became so big that I just had no interest in tournaments anymore. I would play a few WSOP events here and there, but also skip the main event for multiple years. I just couldn’t get myself to the Rio, I was always in the cash games.

I just really didn’t have any motivation to play a five-day tournament. It would have been a stupid decision, money wise, for me to go and play a tournament for many days, when the cash games were so big that you could win the first prize from the tournament in one [cash] session.

In 2017, however, I played a couple of high rollers, and I [realized] these are fun events, and I saw there was good value. It was more interesting, and exciting.

Reflecting On His Legacy

JR: You turned 40 last December, which made you eligible for the Poker Hall of Fame. You were among the final 10 nominated before the honor went to Huck Seed. What are your thoughts on that?

PA: Well, it obviously makes me feel good that I got nominated. For me… like, I know who I am and I don’t need to be [recognized to know what I accomplished]. But to be in the Hall of Fame is going to feel good.

There’s a lot of players that deserve to be there. But the way we have the Poker Hall of Fame set up right now is that it goes to those people that were doing really good things for our community, for our industry, which is really nice. I like that.

I think I fit all the [criteria] regarding [my playing career], but I would really like to get in by also making a big impact in our community, in our industry, to elevate poker and increase the popularity of the game around the world. That’s what I’m hoping happens with First Land of Poker. If [I get in] that way, not just because I was crushing the game for so long and had some big results, I would feel really good about it.

Poker has given me basically everything I have ever dreamed of. Coming from Finland and not being able to travel because I had no money, now I’ve been everywhere around the world, I’ve met so many people, and gotten so much life experience.

And the game…. I still haven’t seen another game which has everything. It has the most perfect amount of luck that makes it such a great game. We have this dream in poker that anyone can come and win life-changing money. You just play one satellite, you get a ticket to the main event, you run good for five days, and boom, you can win a million or two.

You learn so much about yourself when you start playing poker, whether it’s with your wins, with your losses, the way you’re handling your emotions. You learn that players can be so different at the table compared to their character outside of the [game]. You can see the most conservative guy playing the craziest poker, or you can see the craziest guy playing the most conservative.

Then you learn all these body language tells. What is a sign of a weakness? What is a sign of strength? These very little things that you would maybe never in your life otherwise learn or experience. And the psychological part becomes very big in certain situations. It forces you to live in the present moment. Like right now, what is happening? You’re not thinking about anything else in your life other than the fact that your opponent went all in and you have to make a big decision.

It’s really the most amazing, fascinating game. And I could not say enough good things about the game of poker.

First Land Of Poker (FLOP)

JR: You mentioned FLOP, which is your latest poker project, an app for poker players to find games and connect with each other.

PA: Well, it’s much more than just an app. FLOP, or First Land of Poker, is a digital platform that combines three applications dedicated to the poker community. We have FLOP app, which is the mobile social poker application. It helps players all over the world to connect between each and interact, and the most important feature is helping poker players to find game information in real time and get a seat in their preferred poker room.

We have also FLOP PM, which is a web app that helps poker rooms to communicate with poker players in a smart way and guide traffic to their cardroom. And the last product is FLOP GTO, which is an e-learning application that helps poker players to improve their skills based on game theory optimal principles.

JR: What was it that made you take on this endeavor?

PA: I had been observing how modern technologies have changed a lot of industries such as finance, health, tourism, sport, gaming, etc. and I noticed that even though poker is a really popular game and the poker community is growing every day, I didn’t see any initiative to digitalize the social aspect of the game.

Nowadays, we see a lot of improvement when it comes to online poker, but for live poker nothing has been done to connect players through digitally, to help them get to a game in just a couple clicks. Our goal for this year is to get US poker rooms using Flop PM, and at the same time grow the FLOP app community through our live events and digital marketing. On the other side, as a tech company, we are committed to enhancing our products and bringing the most added value for both players and those running the rooms.

You can download the FLOP app for free today on either the Android Google Play store or Apple iOS. Learn more about FLOP PM at FirstLandofPoker.com. ♠

*Photo credit Rene Velli