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Jens Kyllönen: Online's High-Stakes PLO Elite Swarm Around Phil Ivey

Finnish PLO Star Says Action Drying Up, So He's Getting A Finance Degree


In the first ever $1 million buy-in at the World Series of Poker in 2012, Finnish high-stakes PLO specialist Jens Kyllönen famously had 100 percent of his own action. He didn’t cash in the tournament, but the event further solidified his status as one of the game’s most fearless players.

Fast forward four years and Kyllönen is back at the WSOP and still looking for his first bracelet. As of the early evening on Friday in Las Vegas, Kyllönen had a healthy stack with just 10 remaining in the $25,000 PLO event. Everyone was eyeing the first-place prize of $1,127,035.

On the PokerStars platform, Kyllönen has one of the sickest PLO cash game graphs of all time. He has rarely went on a downswing since early 2011 and is up $4.97 million lifetime, according to tracking data from HighstakesDB. It took him roughly 630,000 hands to win that amount. He was a slight winner from his play on Full Tilt Poker, a poker platform that recently closed.

Kyllönen has remained at the top of the online game during a time when the action continues to evaporate and the edges that the top players have over each other becomes smaller and smaller. According to Kyllönen, Phil Ivey, who was once the most successful online poker player in history in terms of winnings, is now a player who games form around. Ivey isn’t really a fish, but he’s definitely an action player who isn’t among the top 20 PLO players anymore, he said. Ivey lost $3.7 million online in 2015, according to the tracking.

Card Player had a chance to speak to Kyllönen about the state of high-stakes PLO cash games and how his poker game has changed over time.

Brian Pempus: How are you feeling in this $25,000 PLO tournament and how does it compare to PLO cash games?

Jens Kyllönen: I am feeling very good. I had a sick run today. I have been hitting flops. I only play the highest stakes online, so I would say this is a softer field. There are people here who probably aren’t used to playing as much PLO. And also, there are a few other things to consider. People at this stage play a bit too tight preflop.

BP: Given your experience playing high-stakes PLO, do you think you feel more comfortable playing pots out of position than some others at the table?

JK: For sure. I feel very comfortable. Over the last six years I have just been playing high-stakes PLO. That’s all I know. I like this situation.

BP: How have the online games been this year?

JK: There hasn’t been much [action] at all. Last year we got some games. But this year it has been very slow. There’s been just a few players who have come to play every once in awhile, for like three-hour sessions, and that’s it.

BP: Is it especially tough for you to get action these days?

JK: Well, I wouldn’t say that. Everyone nowadays sort of waits to have an edge. So, there has to be some action player for the games to run.

BP: What impact did the PokerStars changes to rake and the VIP rewards program have on the high-stakes games?

JK: Obviously it’s going to have a negative effect. Same for me. I have been grinding some $10-$20 as well, but without the rake back and as tough as the games are I sometimes almost don’t feel like playing it.

BP: Who are some of the toughest opponents you have online these days?

JK: Let me think. So, it’s like [Ben Sulsky], “Cobus83” and “BERRI SWEET”, but there a lot more. I think there are probably like 20 players who are really good nowadays at PLO.

BP: How has your PLO game changed over time?

JK: You have to adapt, because every year people get better. You have to stay with the progress or you’ll have to quit. I’ve definitely improved a ton over the past few years.

BP: How much time do you put in away from the tables reviewing hands?

JK: Too late, way too little. I’m too lazy with that nowadays. It would be very important to do that because most of my opponents are doing that, and that’s not good for me.

BP: Can you talk about some of the guys who aren’t playing as much PLO as they once did. Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan don’t play much anymore, for example.

JK: Yeah, durrrr hasn’t played for ages. Phil Ivey came and played some PLO last year. That’s why the games ran. Not that he’s bad, but every time a new player comes it’s going to spark some action.

BP: So Ivey is kind of behind the evolution of high-stakes PLO?

JK: Yeah, for sure he’s behind the top online players nowadays.

BP: Is it surprising to see some of these guys stop playing?

JK: No, that’s how it’s going to go. I think in a few years a lot of other players are going to drop out as well. It’s only going to get tougher from year to year.

BP: What has allowed you to be at the top of the game for so long?

JK: I’m not sure. I am pretty naturally talented. I have all the right attributes to be a good poker player. I think natural talent has been the biggest thing.

BP: Scandinavian players still seem to have that hyper-aggressive image. Do you get people playing back at you a lot in live tournaments or people calling you down light?

JK: Naw, I think in this tournament it’s big enough that nobody is going to have those simple ideas. They are going to pay attention and play. I was expecting there to be a lot more players I know in this tournament. There are a lot of unknowns for me. Obviously they are probably known players to others, but if I don’t know them they probably aren’t at the top of the PLO game. So this was a very good looking tournament for me.

BP: A few years ago before the $1 million buy-in at the WSOP you said you were up $1 million in the cash games on the year and you were going to use all that profit for the buy-in. Do you still have the same mentality about poker and your bankroll?

JK: (Laughs) No, not really. Nowadays the games are getting so small that if you lose $500,000 it might take you a year or two to win it back. It used to be like $200,000 swings in a day. The swings used to be bigger.

BP: Have you thought about stepping back from high-stakes PLO and doing something else?

JK: Yeah, for sure. Last year I actually started studying finance. I am studying for a finance major, but it’s five years so we’ll see if I can do it. I think I can because the games are getting so dry.