Patrik Antonius has been a staple in the poker industry for over the past decade and a half, be it his presence in high stakes television or his regular appearance on tournament news headlines. In this exclusive interview with Somuchpoker, the Finnish pro takes us through his personal thoughts on the evolution of modern poker, personal poker career missions, and his present focus in life.
Interview by Gaelle Jaudon
Somuchpoker: Last year, you were nominated for the Poker Hall of Fame. What did it feel to be part of that list among other prestigious members of the community? What does this mean to you?
Patrik Antonius: Well, it’s just a nomination. Obviously, it feels good that people give credit to what I have accomplished in my career, and I think I’ll be there one day, but it’s not going to be before a while. I still have a long way to go! It would be too early now. I think I’ll still be around for a long and play the highest games for a long time also.
SMP: At the beginning of the summer, you finished second in the WPT HU challenge in Cabo against Phil Ivey. Even if it was a hybrid type of tournament between live and online, I guess it was still nice to travel again to a live event.
PA: Oh yeah, that felt like a live event because my opponents were in the same room, playing on a computer, so you could still feel the energy of the other players. It was very well organized, and it was a great experience. It was fun to play and obviously nice to go far.
SMP: During that event, you also played against the new generation of high stakes poker players. You beat Stefan Burakov, who is considered as one of the top players today, as you were, too, when you started. What did you think about playing against that new generation of top online players?
PA: That was actually the most interesting match for me. Lots of things happened that day, and I almost lost that match. First of all, he was more than 3 hours late to play. I was ready and waiting, but I started getting tired and went to my room for a nap, and then I got a call that he was awake. He was in Thailand, I think. So when I came back to play, I was really out of it, and I was playing really bad the first half of the match. I was tilting, and I couldn’t believe the way I played some hands. Then I got lucky to win a couple of hands, and I was really happy with the way I played the second half and especially the deciding match. It was really interesting to play someone who is really confident and has so much success and who played more HU than me because I haven’t played HU for so long. I haven’t been battling any big online games for a while, and he was a tougher opponent. I always like the challenge, and I would love to have more matches like this, actually. But what I really have to say is that it’s nice to see all those players who are considered now as the best online. They’re really not playing GTO style. Poker hasn’t changed, and they’re playing really exploitatively. They’re getting you out of your comfort zone, and they don’t always know what to do, so it’s actually good news for the poker world. Poker hasn’t really changed much when it comes to the fundamentals of how we play.
SMP: To follow up on what you just said about the game, a lot of new concepts and tools appeared in the last 10/15 years. The poker world, especially online, has changed a lot with things like poker trackers, the GTO approach, which is all over the place now. You always said you were against those kinds of things and wanted to play with your abilities only. Did your opinion about that evolve?
PA: I still think the same. Every player is different, and you need to know yourself well, your strengths, and your weaknesses. I know mine, and I’ve been very open about it – like I haven’t studied so much regarding the tournament situation with 10,15, 20 big blinds. For me, there is not so much you can do, and this is where the GTO is the most helpful tool. I used it a lot for heads up regarding these 10 to 30 bb situations. But when you play deep stacks, then poker gets much more complex, and you always have to play based on the player because they’re all different. But I would say it’s really hard to have everything in one player, like an amazing feeling when it comes to the game, the ability to handle the pressure of big money, and having all the GTO knowledge. It’s always a combination where you’re strong in some aspects and weaker in others.
Now a lot of players come with an excellent background in mathematics, they studied the game a lot, but they lack the feel. They make bad decisions because they’re not very experienced in live poker and with human behavior. They’re having a harder time putting players in the category of what level of thinking the player is going through, what is their comfort zone, and how to make quick decisions. They are stuck too much, I think, with their fundamentals and their mathematical approach to the game. So it’s interesting to see we’re living in this change of generation and poker.
SMP: You created FLOP, First Land of Poker, in 2018, which is a digital solution for the poker community and to connect the people. What pushed you to create an app for the community, and what is your goal with it?
PA: Yeah, we launched FLOP in 2019, which is a digital platform for the poker community, and what we want is to connect players together who are in the same location and want to play similar games and to give them the easiest access possible to the games in licensed poker rooms. Basically, we have built two tools – FLOP PM, which is something the poker rooms can use; it’s connected to our application and free for all the players. With the geolocation, the poker rooms can see all the players around and their games preferences, so they will be able to create more games and reach the players. Everyone is connected in this way. We want to help poker rooms to create games and maximize their revenue, and at the same time, we want to offer the best service possible to the players. For me, the most time-consuming thing has been to find the right games without a lot of hustle, without waiting, without calling, driving one hour to the casino to see there is no games, players showing up at different times, etc., and the main idea when we create FLOP was to find a solution to that. It’s like a dream to many players to have a game confirmed and be able to relax before going to play. It’s a huge time saver. I believe with all those services we are to provide, we can make poker more popular and help the community to grow. We also have a social media app, so people can share about their hands, and in the future, we will have very intelligent algorithms that we’re developing to be able to suggest the right players for you to play with and to create better games for everyone. We are really developing a lot of tools.
SMP: How are you working with the poker rooms? What’s the process?
PA: It’s a partnership between us and the poker room. Once the room starts using us, they get access to our whole database of players. It’s kind of a marketing tool for them. For example, they will be able to see there are 200 players in a perimeter of 50 kilometers and the type of game they want to play, so it helps them to decide what type of table to open, and they can contact the players. It’s a really easy tool for them, and the poker rooms can have a free trial.
SMP: You’ve been in poker for a long time now and saw the poker community evolving, so what, in your opinion, is still missing in the poker industry? What should the industry really focus on today?
PA: Yeah, I have my personal opinions. I think we’re lacking a couple of things. We’re lacking innovation in the generation. We’ve been doing the same things for a very long time, and we’re lacking a little bit of the entertainment part. I think poker can be really entertaining if you manage to make it in the right way to create a good show. Obviously, for tournaments, it’s a bit more difficult because when you film a final table, players don’t know each other usually and play for life-changing money and don’t want to talk. It’s a bit challenging for the commentators sometimes, and the game has also slowed down, which is not helping. So there are some challenges. I’ve been talking a bit about this shot clock, especially on the high rollers. We started seeing some problems with very slow play when players use the 30-second every time before acting. I think it’s getting a bit better now because a lot of people were against that. I think it’s not good for poker, and we need to keep the game fun and entertaining for everyone. As long as we don’t improve some rules, there will always be some players to abuse the rules. For example, this hoodie problem we have sometimes with players who completely hide themselves at the table. I’m thinking of the image of poker we’re giving out. If you allow someone to take a hoodie up to his nose and then a hat on and even sunglasses, you don’t even see the person at all. If everyone would do that, what poker rooms with 300, 500 players would look like? And I also think this is also part of live reads that you shouldn’t be allowed to cover. We have to draw a line somewhere. I think you can wear whatever you want but don’t cover your face and your neck fully. Some people cover themselves almost completely where there is an all-in sometimes, and I think there should be some rules about it – this and the fact that we should keep the pace of the play smooth.
SMP: It’s something we talked a lot about recently. It’s also difficult for poker entertainment to find a new way of showing poker. It’s a big challenge to reinvent the poker shows and maybe get closer to what the gaming industry is doing to reach a bigger audience. You’ve been part of every possible show in the past 10 years, so you may have some ideas about that.
PA: I might have some good news, but I’m not allowed to talk about it yet! I’ve had a few meetings lately, and there are people who are working a lot on this. I hope we’ll see some more mainstream content of poker soon and some very entertaining games. There is a good chance that we’ll have more entertaining games soon. When it comes to tournament poker, it’s different, but it’s fine the way it is now. I think poker is growing so much right now, we have more players now than ever, and I feel we deserve to be more mainstream, to be more on the main channels. But there is a good chance this will change soon, and hopefully, I’ll be part of it!
SMP: You were talking about live poker and rules that have to be improved. Before the Covid crisis, you started your own poker tour, the PAPC with a lot of different tournaments. How is that project going on now that the live tournament is restarting?
PA: For the near future, there is not going to be another PAPC tour, at least for now. The goal, for now, is just to partner sometimes with some brands or organizers and throw an event together. In the one we did in Tallin, we organized everything by ourselves. We just wanted to make a fun event, invite fun players, have a cool players party, etc. Our goal with that is more about the social aspect, have people come to have fun and meet other players. With my brand, we had the chance to experiment with new things, like a new shot clock that was very extreme. As I said, the 30-second clock is way too long for a normal decision, so what we did was we gave players 10 seconds only before the flop, which can be really fast when there’s a 3-bet or 4-bet, and then they had 20 seconds after the flop for the rest of the hand. On the river, they could have 30 seconds because it’s a bigger decision, and there’s more money on the pot. Players had 15 timebanks they could use in one day, which is enough, to have a very smooth pace of play, just normal, I would say. When they had a tougher decision to make, they could use the timebank, but at least normal decisions are not taking too long for nothing. It was a good experience, even if I was the one who had the most difficulties with it, I ran out of timebanks and had to make really fast decisions. It was really successful, and all the players said they loved it. Basically, you actually play more hands, so the structure also feels way deeper, and it makes the game more fun.
SMP: As you said, you want to help bring more fun to the game, which is something that has been lost a bit through the years. You participated in almost every cash game show possible. What’s the one you really loved the most and why?
PA: I think it would be High Stakes. It has actually been my favorite show to watch. I don’t really know what has been the favorite for me to play. Because when you play, it’s more about who you play with that makes a fun game. But I had lots of very fun games. I had one table with Sammy Farha and Jamie Gold, for example, for half a million buy-in. That was a pretty crazy table to play. Also, Guy Laliberté was there – Doyle Brunson, David Benyamine – we had a lot of fun. I also always love to play in Australia. I always had good memories there, and Poker After Dark. It’s hard to point out exactly which games were the best. I always love to play. Now the very big games are a little bit more rare.
SMP: Back in the days, it looked like Vegas was the place to find the big games, but today where would you say you find the best high stakes games in the world? For example, you posted a video on Twitter around a year ago, where you were on a boat on your way to play a private game on a mega-yacht in the bay of Monaco. Do you find those types of games often?
PA: When I have a chance to play, I never say no. I always love to play. And I love to play smaller games too. It doesn’t have to be nosebleeds games. It’s just if it’s the right place with the right people. Good games really happen all around the world. I played very good games in India, even Dubai also has a lot of potentials. There’s a lot of rumors that they’re gonna give licenses for poker rooms, and that might become a really big place for poker in the future. You never know where you’re going to find a good place to play, it’s really everywhere, but Vegas has the most regular games for me for what comes to high stakes. You just go to the casinos, and there’s big-bet mix or the Bobby’s room. Vegas is still a great place, and I think the WSOP this year is going to be really fun. Vegas is completely back to normal, all the casinos are completely full, and that’s a good sign.
SMP: When you play in the nosebleeds for a long time, you really have to face big ups and downs. It can be a real roller coaster. What helped you handle that kind of environment and lifestyle, as it can be really stressful for the mind and also the body?
PA: Yeah, that is true. It’s really not easy for a lot of players. I think you can get used to it the more you play. When you have a very big loss, you feel bad emotionally, but the more you have to endure those big losses, you will be able to handle them better! But it sucks when you always feel worse after big losses instead of big wins. It’s a strong feeling when you lose, and when you win, it feels like normal! Everybody is different, but for me, sports have helped me so much. It’s a big lifestyle for me. I train pretty much every day. It keeps me grounded, and it keeps me feeling good. Sports help you to handle your emotions better, your focus, everything. If you live a healthy lifestyle, with good sleep, training, nutrition, you’re feeling better, then it’s easier to handle your life. You play better at poker because you make better decisions, you’re feeling good, you’re happier. But if you feel bad, tired, you just end up making wrong decisions. Poker is actually so much about managing yourself and preparing yourself to play. You can control what you’re doing outside of poker to give yourself the best chance to play your A-game. So it’s all about what you do outside of poker. Don’t play when you feel bad and have other things in mind.
SMP: Did you ever go through a very hard time in your career and thought about quitting?
PA: Oh, I had many difficult periods in my career, but I never thought about quitting. When you play poker long enough and a lot, you will have really long losing streaks, and they’re really going to test your mind. No matter who you are, it will happen. You can run bad many months and every day. You can get so unlucky for so long that you would not think it is possible until it happens. And when you play big games, and those losing streaks happen, that’s when you’re going to find out how good of a poker player you are and how strong you are mentally. You’re getting such wrong data in your head that it’s going to mess you up because you’re losing hands you’re not supposed to lose – again and again. You might make a lot of good bluffs, but people just call making bad calls. Lots of things can go wrong for so long, and you have to really understand how you are winning and how you are losing. Lots of players don’t recover from those kinds of periods, and the key is that you start to play a little bit smaller, and things will start to get back to normal. I’ve been there, and my mind has been influenced by the really bad streaks of poker, but I never lacked one thing that is really important in poker, it’s my self-confidence. You need to be confident in yourself in poker and believe in yourself. You need to be completely honest with yourself always and your skills and weaknesses. There are many ways to improve. That’s something that has always been really strong with me and helped me a lot.
SMP: When you turn back and look at yourself now versus 10/15 years ago, what really changed? What are the things you improved or that you got rid of?
PA: I don’t know exactly what changed in my poker game. It’s more like I have changed as a person. I got older, I know myself better now, and I know even more what I like and what works better for me. I think something that changed a little bit regarding poker is that I do more kinds of reality checks on myself. I used to play big games every day for many hours, and sometimes, for some reason, like for a bad sleep and anything, I started to feel bad and then had big losing streaks. I didn’t see it coming at that time, but today I’m more aware of that, maybe I’m more in the present moment, I’m more prepared, alert about what’s happening for me right now, so it’s also good for the game. But otherwise, not much has changed, honestly. Also, I haven’t played as much as before. There wasn’t so much to play, I was in Monaco during the pandemic, and all these online tournaments in the middle of the night are not really for me! I would like to get back to the live games and play much more!
SMP: About the life of a live high stakes cash game player, I remember an interview we had a few years ago with Jennifer Hartman where she said she really loves and will always love that game but that at the same time, she didn’t wish her kids to play poker because it’s also a very tough and stressful life and takes too much on yourself. As a father, is it something you can relate to and understand?
PA: Yes, I can relate to it. But I think it’s with everything. You can pick any job, and if you don’t know how to handle it and deal with your stress, you’ll have issues. It’s all about handling yourself. But I understand because I see a lot of players who can’t handle money, can’t manage themselves. It’s just not for them. It’s hard to see for yourself, obviously, but sometimes you have to realize this is not a life for you. It can also be the best lifestyle for you if you know how to handle yourself and the ups and downs, you can have all the freedom to travel and play what you want, and it can be a dream life. All the emotional aspects that come with that life are hard – like tournaments can be really emotional, it’s really fun to compete like this, and there is no other game than poker where you can go through an insane rush, win a satellite for a couple of dollars, travel to play a big tournament and win a life-changing sum of money. There are also a lot of downsides to the poker lifestyle, but we are all different, we deal with it all differently, and this is the challenge and the beauty of life. Anyone should be allowed to do whatever they want to do with their life as long as you’re not hurting anyone, right? I’m a supporter of poker, but I also understand that some people have problems with gambling and playing money for a living. But all I can say is that we have the most amazing game!
SMP: Today, what are the games you love the most to play? What are the funniest games?
PA: Yeah, this changes from time to time, depending on my mood. Sometimes, I like the live NLH Holdem, the big cash games, but most of the time, I would say PLO would be my favorite game, the four cards PLO. You can play more hands than in Holdem, and it’s an entertaining game. Sometimes, I play mixed games, which may not be the best format for me, but I really enjoy playing when the game is changing. And in mixed games, everyone has their own kind of strong and weak games, and you’re adjusting constantly based on the players because they would play much more tighter in the games they don’t feel comfortable with, and then they might play overly aggressive on the ones they’re really good at. So it’s always different. There are many nice things about playing mixed games. But regarding big-bets games, No Limit and PLO are more for me. I like when you can have bigger decisions and make good calls. I think it’s a more skillful form of poker.
SMP: You said in another interview that life is a learning experience and that you always have to keep improving and learning, so today is being an entrepreneur with FLOP a new chapter in new life. What do you want to focus the most on now?
PA: Yeah, it’s been a new chapter for me. First Land of Poker is very important to me. We’re doing something with the goal of making poker more popular, helping all the players, creating something good for everyone. I hope we’ll be able to achieve our goals, and my life goes around this now. I’m still trying to play at the same time, and I also have my family life, so it’s a bit tough to balance it sometimes, especially when you’re travelling a lot, it’s a challenge. Sometimes you have to work more, sometimes less, but I think, with the pandemic, I kind of had a long rest. I had more like a normal life, as you can say. But I think it’s very important for anyone to always keep learning something and improving what you’re doing. It’s my way of thinking, but I think once you stop being interested in new things, that’s when you’re going to start going the wrong way, and then the grave is there! Our brain is all that we have, and if we keep exercising our brain and keep a young and fresh mind, we’re going to be healthy and live a nice long life!