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The Return Of Patrik Antonius

Finland's Leading Poker Pro On How He Bounced Back From A $2 Million Downswing


Patrik AntoniusAs 2010 was approaching its end, Patrik Antonius was finally getting the upper hand on his losing streak. He changed course thanks to a diligent, session of 3,000 hands.

“From the point of view of your game, it is good to lose every now and again,” reasoned Antonius. “For some people though this can be bad, if the losses have an effect, not only on your bankroll, but on your self-esteem as well. For me, my losing streak meant that I started to concentrate on my game twice as hard.”

In 2009 Antonius won over $9 million in the Full Tilt Poker high stakes games making him the biggest winner online by a huge margin. In the last four years, Antonius has won almost $11 million from the tables at FTP. To put this in context he has won three times as much as Ilari “Ziigmund” Sahamies, but only a half of what Phil Ivey, the all time winnings scoreboard leader at Full Tilt Poker, in the same period.

But 2010 did not start off going to plan for Antonius. Perhaps it was a matter of some kind of winner’s hangover, but Patrik lost nearly $2 million in January alone.

After the catastrophic beginning of the year the light at the end of the tunnel grew dimmer still as the losses continued all the way to the end of March. Before the streak was over, Antonius’ bankroll showed a staggering $3.6 million downswing.

“During my losing streak I broke all my previous records by losing 10 days and 12 sessions in a row,” Antonius recalls of his poor start to 2010.
By the end of March he was running good again. The change was so dramatic that by the middle of April he had wiped out all his losses and was winning again.

“Because of the bad start in January my will to win got really high. I simply didn’t want to lose anymore. I started to concentrate on the game twice as hard as before and soon the wins started to feel better.”

Antonius says that in today’s high stakes games you don’t see players anymore who make profit day by day as steady as a freight train. He also states that he himself only encountered three unprofitable months. And all the money lost during those months was almost immediately obtained back with interest. He makes a comparison between the disastrous beginning of the year and a period in April when he won on 15 days out of 16.
“In practice in modern high stakes games most players seem to have an equal amount of profitable and unprofitable days. This means, that to remain on the profitable side, the winnings on the good days must be higher than the losses on bad ones.”

The top pro remains faithful to himself however when assessing his winning and losing streaks. He is not ready to place everything on the variance that is part of poker but looks for reasons — both good and bad — in himself.
“When I had a losing session I must have played worse than usual on those days,” he observes.

Self-Taught Master
People know Patrik Antonius to be an honest man, but through interviews and televised games they’ve also come to know a confident and determined man, who has obtained his status among the elite of cash game players by hard work both live and online.
“I’d like to use this opportunity to address the claim, which has been made about me in various different situations, that I was taught to play poker by Jennifer Harman and Marcel Luske. I’ve never said this to any media and no one has ever taught me how to play,” he states emphatically.

While speaking of learning processes, he emphasises the hours spent working on his game — the learning has not happened only while playing but also while analysing and studying the sessions afterwards. However in big cash games he considers the best learning opportunity to be during the action.

“When playing at the levels I play, you can’t afford to lose concentration even for a second. You must constantly observe the table, the players and the decisions they make and compare them to what has happened on previous hands,” he notes.
The self-taught master of poker says that he has never studied poker skills from literature or TV.

“Everything I know about poker, I’ve learned myself. In live games I look at the moves of other players very carefully. I follow a player who has recently bluffed. I take notice of his actions and try to think about everything that went on in that hand, what has he done differently than when he has had a completed hand.”

Constant vigilance requires patience and strength. Even though Antonius enjoys live games tremendously he has found they tax you in a different way than online sessions.

“Playing live is really tough because you must have the stamina to maintain concentration all the time. After a long live session I’m usually completely spent,” he laughs.

It comes as a bit of a surprise when Antonius remarks that the high-stakes limit games bring some relaxing change of pace to the strenuous sessions of no-limit and pot-limit games. He says that the limit games always flow with a certain rhythm in which it only takes seconds to make your decision.

“The difference in limit games is that you just keep throwing chips to the pot and you play every hand against a certain opponent always the same way. In limit games no one takes 20 seconds to make their decision. Instead when it comes your turn, you just check, raise or fold quite straight forwardly. You place your opponents on certain hand ranges by what kind of feeling you get from the speed of their actions and their style of play,” he explains.

Patrik and RolandOne-Hit Wonders Come And Go
When talking about the world of poker, Antonius confesses that he hardly follows poker media at all. Even though he broke into public consciousness as a skillful tournament player and his live tournament earnings are close to $3 million, he does not know who the big names in the live and online tournament worlds are at the moment.

“I’m dedicated to my career as a poker player. I follow and study my opponents really carefully and I also play a lot. All of that is quite a lot of work and I simply don’t have time to keep myself updated with who is successful in which tournament. Therefore I only know well the players I play with. For example in the EPT final in Monte Carlo this spring I played in two tables in which I knew no one,” he says.

During his eight-year career in poker Antonius has seen a huge amount of one-hit wonders but only a small number of players have come to high-stakes games and stay.

“I’ve learned the laws of the poker world well and I can nowadays analyse quite accurately which players are only going to have a quick stop at high stakes. What these players have in common is that they first manage to get good results and they play well while they are on their winning streaks, but when the downswing inevitably starts, they will lose everything,” he claims confidently.

For some players this cycle of losing is fateful and they haven’t been able to raise a million dollars ever again, unlike Antonius. But those who are able to will return to the games twice as strong as before.

“The second time they come to the tables as more mature players. After their losses they’ve grinded a new bankroll and are going to try again. Brian Townsend is a good example of this. He lost everything once, but because he is a talented player, he learned from his mistakes and even though Brian hasn’t had a great year so far, he is still a great player,” praises Antonius.

He considers the biggest weakness amongst the new talented players to be their habit of overly trusting their own ability once they are on a roll and the profits keep piling up. In the back of the mind of every player should be the reminder that even the best of players will, at some point of their career, come face-to-face with a losing streak and that is the moment when the real players are separated from the one-hit wonders.

“When all is going well and the player wins a lot of money, he will start to make more and more courageous calls. They might be bad calls but they might be timed right. It is important to realise, that you can play poker incredibly badly and still win, as long as the cards are favorable. These players then, more often than not, cannot handle it when the downswing begins. Their game becomes weak and when playing with these stakes it doesn’t take a lot for the player to lose everything,” he warns.

Antonius rubbishes the claim that the difference in skill between a player who regularly beats $25/$50 Omaha and a player who just manages to get by in $200/$400 Omaha, is not that great.
“A lot of people say that, but then why won’t these players sit down and play with us? I think that the levels of skill in poker are vast. If this wasn’t the case, then why don’t these players try out their skills in high stakes? After all, there shouldn’t be any risk in it for them,” he suggests.

TV Poker, No Thanks
Everyone who has seen Patrik Antonius playing live or on television knows that he is one of the least expressive players out there. The same goes for a lot of his opponents. But despite their long careers and tons of experience you can always find some minute tells and hints from the faces of top players.

“You can get reads from a surprisingly large number of players once you’ve observed their actions at the table enough. You can even get reads from Phil Ivey, but let’s just say that you can pretty much tell from every single player to a greater or lesser extent if they have a good hand in a certain situation. Durrrr and David Benyamine are really hard to read,” he points out.

“Giving and obtaining reads is based on a lot of factors. One of these is whether the player is playing tired or rested. The more rested you are at the table the more you can concentrate on everything important that is going on. I myself don’t take reads from speech or facial expressions as much as from the body language. It is the one thing you cannot fake,” he asserts.

Even though Antonius has not sought help from literature or other players while honing his skills, has he taken advantage of the situation and spied on his opponents through televised poker programs?

“The latest High Stakes Poker was the first poker show I watched. Previously I’ve been so lazy that I haven’t checked them out even though they would give me extra, free information,” he admits.

Patrik and Michael MizrachiHe is not certain however that watching poker programs would bring only benefits to a high stakes player such as himself. Players like Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan are so skillful, that they might even use the information revealed by the shows to their advantage,” he muses.

“Those guys can adjust their game by what they believe you think you know about their game. If they know that I’ve watched certain episodes of High Stakes Poker, they might use the things I’ve picked up about their game against me. They might for example change their value-bet ranges and other parts of their game.

“Therefore watching poker shows is not so essential in my profession. The most important thing is, that you are fully concentrated while playing. You can’t afford to fall asleep at the table,” he says.

In the summer of 2010 Antonius and his wife had their second daughter. Mila, the firstborn of the family, which lives half the year in Monte Carlo and half in Las Vegas, is now three-years-old.

“I’ve worked a lot lately and because of that I’ve had to travel a lot and be away from my family. In the future I’m going to spend more time with them. My children haven’t changed the way I play. Attack is still the best defence.