At 18 years of age, Henrik Tollefsen decided to take a chance on poker, grinded his way online, won a seat to his first big live tournament scene, and today, he is gunning for the GPI POY top ranked spot in Norway.
SMP–When did you start playing poker?
Henrik -I started playing just after I turned 18, in 2005. I randomly saw, in the biggest newspaper in Norway, that an 18 year old won the EPT for a lot of money. There was also poker being televised. So I decided to try it out for free online, found a few friends in school who played, then our group grew.
SMP-Was poker accessible where you lived and were the laws lenient?
HT-I mostly started playing online, play money and freerolls, then I grinded my way up from there. There were also some local poker clubs, semi-underground, very safe and secure, 20-50 player tournaments, but not legal in Norway. They won’t do anything to you as a player but the organizers do get in trouble if they get caught. My friend and I would go there around once or twice a week. But we also played home games.
SMP-Were these games going on before you started learning how to play?
HT– Actually no, they started after. I was already playing online and home games. Once they opened, we tried them out. Pretty small buy-ins, around US$50-US$100. All tournaments and sit n gos, no cash games available.
SMP-How about online? Were you playing tournaments or cash games?
HT-I was only playing tournaments. Starting small and then using my winnings to play in the bigger tournaments.
SMP-When did you branch out of the online scene and play outside of Norway?
HT -For the first 2 1/2 -3 years I only played online and at the poker clubs. Then I started grinding in the cash games for a year or two. I didn’t make a lot of money but enough for a side income to my studying. I was still in the university but I wasn’t very focused on it once I started playing poker. Poker took a lot of my time.
In 2008, there was a friend who said there were satellites in PokerStars to APPT Sydney with a very big overlay. So I figured I’d give it a try. I ended up winning it, a full package with airfare, main event, hotel, and pocket money. Because it was during exams, I ended up going alone, my friends were all studying. I went there, stayed for ten days. I decided to play a side event before the main, a US$2200 6-max, which was a pretty large buy-in but I was doing well online and I play mostly six max so I figured give it a try. I ended up doing quite well, I finished 5th, and won around US$20K. Then I played the Main Event but I didn’t do well, I didn’t make any money there but it was still a good start to my international live career.
A couple of months after, I went to Portugal with some friends, and I final-tabled a very small side event. I went back to playing online for a few months, then I played my first Norwegian championship. It was for Norwegians only but held outside of Norway due to the legalities. There were 469 players and I ended up winning it so it was an extremely good start to my live tournament career. It was a pretty big score, around US$80K-US$90K.
SMP-Was that when you decided to turn pro?
HT -Well being pro is relative. I was already making a good amount of money, more than I would at a normal job. I was thinking of going back to school, try to do both again coz I was getting tired of poker everyday and I was having a bad run, so I did both. Then I went to the WSOP in 2010, I did really well. I got 5th in one event with around 4,000 players, and then I ran deep in the Main Event. So I fell in my studies again and just dropped school altogether. I may still go back one day, but we’ll see.
SMP-Through the years, did you play in other big events?
HT-My friends and I we usually played the WSOP and some events in Europe like the EPT but the main thing was to play online.
SMP- What brought you to The Asian circuit?
HT-At first it was just on vacation, I didn’t play any poker in the Philippines but I liked Macau so I came back shortly after. I finally moved to Macau in 2013. That year I spent 9 months in Macau, I only played live tournaments, then I won my first APT. I liked the events a lot, and became a regular at the PokerStars Macau.
SMP-Are you based in Asia now?
HT-Not really. I am playing in different places now. I am trying to win player of the year in Norway. I’ve had such a good start so I figured, I may as well try. It’s a really close race. There’s Kai Paulsen, and Felix Stephensen, so it’s gonna be a tough race. There are some tough contenders for sure. There is no money in it but it would be good to say you were number 1 in your country for a year. So this year I am pretty much focusing on playing as many tournaments as possible wherever I am. Usually like in the APT, I just play the Main Event, the High Rollers, and maybe the biggest side events, but I never play the big volume with small buy-ins. Last week I played in the small turbo events for the first time, but it is all just so I can increase in points. It is a little bit different this year because of that. I will try to play as many tournaments as possible, whatever the buy-in, get as many cashes and points. I’m grinding out the tournaments hard. There’s more profitable events for sure but it’s fun doing that as well. It’s kind of a new challenge.
SMP-So no more online poker for you?
HT – Rarely. Pretty much only live tournaments. Nothing is more fun in poker than being deep in a live tournament. Maybe nothing is as boring as the first hour in the live tournament but as you go through the stages and get close to the final table, it’s a really good feeling. You don’t find that if you are playing in a cash game.
SMP-With this new focus and poker events happening all the time, when do you find time to take a break?
HT – Well, it was pretty bad for the race in May coz I was a bit tired. I traveled non-stop . I hadn’t been in one place for more than three weeks consecutively this year until the end of May. So I went back to Norway, I spent almost the whole summer there, I had a 7-week break. Now I am pretty rested and I was supposed to do the WSOP but I didn’t feel motivated so I skipped it. It was my first summer in Norway since 2008. It was nice to be back and not think much of poker.
SMP-What’s your highest ranking so far?
HT-I think I’ve gotten third but not sure on second.
SMP-What’s your next stop?
HT-I will head to Norway after the APPT, spend a couple of days, go to Barcelona for the EPT, to Macau, then straight to Manila. I’m not sure after that, probably a lot of other tournaments. If any of my competitors win an EPT, then I may give up. I’d have to win a massive tournament or several big tournaments.
SMP-Who are your poker mentors?
HT-We are a big group of friends that have had a decent amount of success in Europe, Norway, online, and in Asia. We help each other out, discuss hands, situations we face. I travel a lot with Markus Garberg, he’s been running well. Mikal Blomlie too, Kai Paulsen, and my roommate, and several other close friends we really discuss things together for many years. And since moving to Asia, there are several others like Bryan Huang, Thomas Ward, and many others.
Q-Besides the immediate poker goal of winning player of the year, any other goals?
HT-Just to be a better poker player. I would like to win the massive events like an EPT and WSOP Main Event but you need a lot of luck with so many people now.
GPI POY 2016 – Norway (23/08/16)
|#779||#1||Felix Vincent Stephensen||933.77 pts|
|#1055||#2||Kai Danilo Paulsen||827.90 pts|
|#1387||#3||Henrik Tollefsen||734.43 pts|
|#1621||#4||Endre Sagstuen||685.92 pt|