Last July, Germany’s Hossein Ensan outlasted Italy’s Dario Sammartino and Canada’s Alex Livingston to win the WSOP Main Event.
The 55-year-old, who was born in Iran but moved to Germany 30 years ago, became the oldest world poker champion since Noel Furlong and the 2nd German champion after Pius Heinz.
Gaelle Jaudon is bringing us this exclusive interview.
Somuchpoker: Winning the Main is obviously an incredible feeling. How did you feel when the river fell and you knew you were the new champion? Was that the best day of your life?
Hossein Ensan: Yeah, I think it was a queen of clubs on the river, and when I saw that card I felt relieved of all the different emotions I had been through during the last days—excitement, stress, happiness—it was everything at the same time; it was over, I was done, free. There is nothing really to explain that exact moment. After two weeks of focus and tension, there is no word to describe that feeling. It’s way too big and strong to be explained.
SMP: You were the favorite heading into the final table, with almost a third of the chips in play. How did you work to keep your head and stay focused?
H.E: I was second in chips on day 6 and chip leader on day 7, so I was in that position from day 7 to day 10, the final day. My strength in poker is when I play deep stack, so I really had space during those days to play my best game, to play out of position and apply pressure. I also have the experience. I’ve played poker since 2002 and experienced many final tables and deep runs in days 5 and 6 in big tournaments. I think that experience really helped me in that moment. Dario was the other very experienced player at the final table, and I’ve always had a lot of respect for his play. I could see that the other players were excited by that moment and that I could use that excitement to my advantage.
SMP: You’ve been playing hold’em since 2002 and have said that “Experience is more important than books.” In which aspects of the game do you think experience was the key to your success, rather than technical knowledge?
H.E: Experience in live tournaments is very different from online experience. You make mistakes, and you learn from them. You analyze your work, and you go to the next tournament with that new experience. I’ve already seen all of those situations that we had and those hands. I’ve already been in those situations many times. That long experience helped me a lot in the Main Event, because it is not only about your cards, your position, and the table; there is so much more that you can’t watch with a magnifying glass.
SMP: You were already far from being a beginner in poker when you won. With already 2.6 million in live earnings, including a WSOPC ring, the victory of the EPT Main Event in Prague in 2015, a high roller, and two other EPT final tables, it seems that you have nothing to prove anymore.
H.E: My biggest prior score was in 2014 after a deal at three left in EPT Barcelona for € 652,667. That score changed my life and my career. It gave me the bankroll to take chances in big tournaments. I’ve always been careful to not take risks and practice good bankroll management. I always choose the tournaments with a very good and deep structure and play every tournament like a Main Event, seriously. You need some good runs in tournaments, and I got sixth in the EPT Malta Main Event in 2015 and finally won the EPT Main Event in Prague a few months later. That was very big for me, and I took a one-year break after that—no poker at all. I returned to EPT Prague one year later to defend my title. Now I’m here, and I won the WSOP main event, so…it’s awesome.
SMP: What goals do you have for your career now?
H.E: Poker is my passion. I’ve always had a lot of passion for this game. I love the thrill of the game, and it’s part of my normal life now. I would say 35% of my soul and my body are for poker, so I just want to continue trying to win, no matter the buy-in. I want to make more final tables and always be satisfied with my plays. I’ve always travelled to tournaments and EPT events not only to try to make money, but also just to enjoy and play this game that I love.
SMP: Interesting fact: You’re also the oldest person to win the WSOP Main Event since 61-year-old Noel Furlong in 1999, and you started playing professionally late, around 40 years old. So, what do you want to say to the common idea that young people have a greater ability to succeed in poker and in the Main?
H.E: Yeah, I started really playing poker in 2002, when I was around 39 years old, but I’d known the ABCs of poker since playing five card draw when I was a kid. My favorite game is Texas No-Limit because of the deep structure, but when you know poker you can always improve in different games–no-limit, limit, open face, etc. I will never say poker is only good for young people, no. I would say the most important thing is a good memory. You need to remember every hand and situation you’ve played before if you want to improve. Poker is absolutely about experience. If you can remember how you played a hand five years ago, you’re building your experience and your skills.
SMP: You have a very different path than most professional players. You moved to Germany from Iran at 25 years old, and you worked as a painter before your poker career. Did you even think at that time that you would one day become a professional player and win major events? Was it somewhere in your head?
H.E: Right, I moved to Germany when I was 25 years old and went to the University of Munster, which is still where I live now with my wife and my daughter. I was studying civil engineering, but I never actually finished my studies! I worked in a restaurant. I was a taxi driver on the weekends too. I did many small jobs even if they weren’t my dream jobs. You have to work to pay the bills! But I was always looking for alternatives for a better life, and I started my own company in 2002. I wanted to play more poker, and I needed to have more stable revenue, so I bought three taxis and managed a small business. It allowed me to play in some tournaments and work on my game. I was only playing small buy-ins (around $500), like 4 or 5 times a month, and I thought I was quite good at that game. I managed to reach many final tables, and in 2009 I played a $1,500 for the first time. 2010 was a very good year for me. I won a bunch of small tournaments with around $20K for first prize. Then, 2011 was a key year for me. I won a tournament with $28K and a Porsche for first prize. I sold the car for $74K and my company for $75K, and I started playing poker with a bankroll of only $200K. I really wanted to try the life of a professional player and manage my bankroll correctly to play bigger events, because I was convinced that I was good at the game. That’s what I did until 2014, when I played my best game (and definitely had some good luck) to reach the top 3 in the EPT Barcelona for like $650K. That score changed my life, and now here I am! Before that, I really had a normal life and did many jobs, but poker was always on my mind. I had been thinking about how I could play the game professionally for a long time.
SMP: And when was the first time you went to play the Main Event in Las Vegas?
H.E: I first came to Las Vegas to play the Main Event in 2016. It was my dream. I was in very deep on day 3. I was in the top 20 for a long time, and then I made a terrible mistake that cost me all of my chips. For three years after that, I worked on my game a lot so that I would not make a mistake like that again and so that I could regain my confidence. I worked on every aspect of the game until this year, 2019.
SMP: Do you go back to Iran sometimes? How is life there?
H.E: Yes, Iran is my home, and Germany also, obviously. I go back to Iran around three times a year. I have a big family there and many friends. It’s a beautiful country. For sure, the political situation inside and outside of the country can be a problem, and people can’t enjoy their lives 100% there. But, I really want to say that Iran is a very nice country. I love the people, I love my country, and I love the food in Iran. They have delicious food!
SMP: What do people think about poker and your success?
H.E: My family is very proud of me. They are really proud that I became the world champion. It’s not about the money—even if, obviously, $10 million is awesome—but they are really happy about the title. Becoming a world champion is not something you do every day. I’m very famous in Iran now.
SMP: We saw you playing high rollers in Rozvadov. You finished 3rd in the 25k Platinum for €251,837. It seems that you didn’t play in those type of events before, is that a new challenge for you, what does it mean for you?
H.E: It depends. If I feel I’m in a good mindset and have the right mentality to play high rollers, I will. Otherwise, I won’t play that type of tournament. For example, I recently finished in 28th place in the EPT Prague Main Event, and there was the 10K High Roller right after, and I chose not to play because the mentality wasn’t there. In Rozvadov, the tournament was looking really good, and I had a strong mentality, so I thought why not and took the 3rd place. So that’s a good challenge, yes, and I can sometimes try 25K or 50K events if I feel good, but not always. It’s not really a goal because, as I said, I like very deep structure, like in the Main Event, with one-hour blinds, and most high rollers are not like that.
SMP: If I’m not wrong, you don’t have a Twitter account, and you created an Instagram profile right before the final table, when most players today are really active on social media and share a lot about their life and career. What’s your vision of the role of social media, and what do you want to share with people, or not share?
H.E: Yeah, I won’t say I don’t like social media, but I just don’t use it; it’s not my thing. I had a Facebook account until 2015. When I won the EPT Prague, I received a lot of messages and friend invitations that were asking me for things. It was too much for me, and I ended up deactivating my profile. Since then, I haven’t reopened it. Concerning Instagram, I saw some profiles that people created during the main event, but it’s not me. I made a real Instagram account recently, but I only kept it like three weeks and realized it was too much for me! I want to keep 65% of my time for my friends and my family, people who have nothing to do with poker, and all the social media take too much of that time, so I can’t. I still like social media, but when it’s too much, it’s too much.
SMP: Has anything changed for you when you show up to poker events now? How do you handle the people and the media attention?
H.E: Many people knew me before because I won an EPT, but now, being a world champion, it really is much more attention. There are always interviews, people who want to take a picture with me and come to talk to me, etc. So, I try to handle everything the best I can. To be a world champion is great, but it’s also not easy. I think you have to represent the game and do all those things. You become a poker ambassador, and it’s a responsibility.
SMP: It was a European duel for the Main Event, as you beat Dario Sammartino head’s up. Many people were touched by the fair play and the sympathy between you two. Dario was even comforted by your rail after the final hand, which was a really nice image for poker. Did you create a special bond?
H.E: Yeah, Dario and I were friends was way before the Main Event, and the fun story is that when I arrived in Vegas on June 26th, I was so tired that I went straight to my hotel and slept from 5pm to 11pm. I was wondering what I could do when I woke up and it was late, so I decided to go to the Rio to see who was there and find some friends, and the person I saw was Dario. He was playing in the last two tables of the 50K mixed games championship and stood up from his chair to say hi to me. We had a little chat, he asked when I arrived, I wished him good luck, etc. It’s cool that I ended up heads up with the first player I talked to in Vegas. I’ve known Dario for around 4 years. We’ve always enjoyed hanging out together, and we’ve always been very respectful to each other. I think the poker industry needs final tables like that because this game is a gentlemen’s game. I think we have to be gentleman with each other to win a tournament, and you have to give a good show with nice manners. This business needs those kinds of images, and I’ll always try my best to represent poker in the best way. It’s important to me to be a good ambassador because I love the game.
SMP: Have you been approached by any poker rooms? Is that something that interests you?
H.E: Not really. I had offers from some poker websites, but I was really busy after my victory, with all the interviews, the swapping, the money wires, etc., so I had no time to really think about that. Maybe in 2020; I don’t know yet.
SMP: What are your next projects—in poker and in life?
H.E: Now, it’s Christmas time and the New Year, so I just want to spend time with my family, my daughter and my wife, and then I’ll start 2020 with three plans. I’ll go to Nottingham for the partypoker, Monaco for the EPT Monte Carlo, and then prepare the best I can to defend my title at the next WSOP. I only focus on poker now. I don’t have other projects; this is my job. I worked enough in the past, so enough is enough! Now I try to work on my game and do fitness, meditation, etc. to be in a good mental state.