Simon ‘amatay’ Jones and Cos ‘GreekStein’ Paparestis gave up the 9-to-5 to live the dream of playing poker in Thailand. Here’s their story
Ever wish you could just leave it all behind? Forget the daily grind, the gas bills and month after month of British weather. Why not live the good life in some far flung country, a place where the sun never sets and a pint costs less than a Mars Bar? We’ve all thought about it. But for Poker Encore bloggers Simon ‘amatay’ Jones and Cos ‘GreekStein’ Paparestis, wishing wasn’t good enough. Instead they ditched the day jobs, upped sticks and moved to Thailand to live as online pros.
‘I got sick of being in London and everyone being stressed and everything being expensive,’ says Paparestis from his Phuket base. ‘Here I do what I want and because everything’s so cheap you have such freedom,’ he adds.
‘To me, being a poker player is all about doing stuff like this,’ adds Jones from a busy bar in Cambodia a few days later. ‘There must be countless players out there who are socially inept, sat alone in their bedroom doing nothing but grinding day after day. They might be a million times better than me, but they’re not living a very good life in my opinion.’
But if you’re thinking these guys are just another pair of life’s high rollers, off seeing the world with bulging pockets, you’d be wrong. They’re not grinding the nosebleeds. They’re not Triple Crown winners. They’re just two Londoners with passports. ‘I wouldn’t call myself a professional poker player, even if the game does fund my lifestyle,’ Jones tells me. ‘I’m not one of those players who plays a set amount of hands. I just look at my bank balance, and if it drops below a certain level then I just start grinding again.’
The Thai Life
Six months ago, the duo set off from London to set up base in Thailand’s capital. And although they’ve parted ways in recent weeks, with Jones off to Cambodia to do the ‘tourist thing’ while Paparestis stays behind in Phuket to grind, they both remember how easy it was to change their daily routine. With the help of a few pro mates and a Facebook group known as the Phuketeers, they found a house in Thailand, a UK landlord, a semi-reliable internet connection and that was that. No fuss, no hassle, just two one-way tickets to Thailand and a Visa. Sound simple? Well, it was. There’s a big poker community in Thailand, which has helped the boys.
‘It’s awesome,’ says Paparestis. They organise nights out, we play football twice a week, as well as volleyball, basketball and have poker seminars and house parties. It made the decision to come out here a bit easier.’
‘I came out with a laptop, bought a £80 monitor and logged on,’ adds Jones. ‘We chose our “grindhouse” because it has one of the best internet connections on the island, and we haven’t had many problems. It’s so easy to get set up.’
They quickly adapted to local customs, and aside from the odd argument and Paparestis’ fear of local wildlife, they instantly clicked with their new lifestyle. In fact, the only difficulties they’ve run into was as two grown men sharing a house.
‘The villa we’re in has a real family ethos and they wanted to keep it that way,’ Paparestis says, noticeably hesitating. ‘They were really reluctant to let two guys have the villas so we had to agree to certain things, like not bringing girls back from go-go bars and all that kind of stuff. We were determined to make a good impression, so we were super clean.
‘One day I was in the pool and the landlord came up to me and said, “Cos, you mind if I ask you a question? Are you and Simon gay?” I just said, “what the f♠♥♣, no! You made us agree to not bring girls back”. He’s dug his own grave now, though.’
Girls, Girls, Girls
Unsurprisingly, for two single guys living in a foreign country, girls are important. But it’s not like the UK. According to Jones, you’ve always got to ask yourself three things in Thailand: are they female, are they prostitutes and do they want your money? ‘Out here you’re always panicking about penises, prostitutes and guns in pockets,’ Jones says with a laugh. And as the chat flits between stories of nights out, cheap booze and Full Moon parties, it’s obvious that poker’s taken a bit of a back seat for both players.
By their own admission, neither has set the game alight in the past six months. For cash game expert Paparestis, it’s been a bit ‘hit and miss’. There’s been the odd downswing and it’s only recently began to pick up again. ‘Before, if I had one annoying villain on my table, I’d allow them to get on my tits and tilt off stacks. But I just don’t do that anymore,’ he adds. ‘Partly because Thailand has evened me out, but mostly because of how happy I am out here. I feel healthier and I know every day is going to be great.’
Jones tells a similar story a few days later in Cambodia. Being an MTT grinder, the time difference hasn’t been conducive to big scores and 12-hour sessions and his biggest score is closer to $4k than anything ‘monumental’. But listen closely as they discuss the lack of any tangible poker success, and you soon realise they don’t really care. Or if they do, then they’re not letting on.
‘You speak to some players who play in the bigger, high-stakes MTTs and they have ridiculous swings,’ Jones tells me. ‘They’re very good players and they win a shitload of money, but some of them are in a lot of makeup and they’ve got f♠♥♣ all to show for it. Me, I’m out here seeing the world, earning a little bit here and there, and I’m happy.
‘The weather just gives everyone a positive feel good factor. There’s no aggravation. When you’re out here, on any afternoon you’ll see hundreds of people outside exercising – women, children, old people playing tennis, everything. In England that doesn’t really happen. Kids are just getting fat on their Xboxes indoors while it pisses it down outside.’
Dude Looks Like A Dude
Jones and Paparestis seem to be at their happiest and most honest when discussing the local life rather than poker. ‘My favourite experience was when I went to Borneo in Malaysia,’ Paparestis says. ‘We had a real action-packed trip and the highlight was staying on a private island one hour out at sea. It was just amazing. You got fisherman coming up to you with fresh lobster and fish. I bought 12 big fresh crabs and three lobsters for £11. Over here it’s cheap as chips.’
But if all this talk of cheap seafood sounds a bit tame for two professional gamblers in this part of the world, don’t worry. There are plenty of degenerate tales waiting in the wings. ‘I remember one night we started off with a few drinks in Patong,’ Paparestis begins, gearing me up for another lengthy anecdote.
‘The first place we went was this ping-pong show. There’s nothing they won’t squirt out! The woman’s accuracy with a pea shooter was ridiculously impressive. At the end she fired small, live turtles out into a big bowl of water. I was like what the f♣♦♠? Her tekkers was ridic!’
Accurate vaginas aside, the majority of the duo’s antics seem to revolve around ladyboys. The world famous ‘ladies’ of the night in South East Asia are a source for some of their funniest tales. And whether it’s dodging them in the supermarket or stitching up their mates who come out to visit, Paparestis and Jones can’t stop sharing all they’ve learnt about Thailand’s ladyboy culture.
‘We’ve had a few epic nights out,’ adds Paparestis before, insisting that I mention the time his friend Henry Griffiths came out for an innocent night on the tiles. ‘We bumped into a bunch of ladyboys touting for business and Henry said to them “how much for bum bum?” She told him £20 quid and he was a bit stunned. He said £10 and she snapped his hand off, grabbed his arm and dragged him off. He just shat himself. He’s a big lad and I’d never seen him run so fast in all his life.’
Ups And Downs
Leaving the UK is not always the best move, and even though Paparestis and Jones have few downsides to speak of, they make it perfectly clear that their life’s not for everyone. For some, leaving behind the comforts of home can be a shock to the system. And Thailand isn’t going to always welcome you with open arms.
‘In some places, you get treated a little worse because you’re a foreigner,’ says Paparestis. ‘There are scams about and you’ve just got to get your head straight. Once you’re wise and not a completely green tourist, it’s an awesome place to live. We can go down the road and eat a four course meal with drinks for about £2. In terms of being a poker player and coming out to grind a roll, it’s awesome.’
Even as they reflect on the, admittedly minor, downsides of their Asian adventure, one thing’s for sure, neither player misses their past lives. As I ask about life before bungee jumps and ladyboys, Jones makes it obvious that this was the right move for him.
‘Everyone always says they miss their family and stuff,’ Jones says. ‘But anyone who’s ever been travelling will tell you, you get back and for those first few weeks you love it. You’re Mr Popular and everyone wants to hear your stories, all about your trip. Then you find yourself slipping back into the same groundhog routine with everyone moaning about the weather or what-not. I don’t need that environment.
‘Out here you can hop about from country-to-country, city-to-city or town-to-town. I haven’t been in the UK during winter time for the last three years now and I’m happy about that. It’s just shit. You log onto Facebook during January or February and everyone is just so miserable. Sometimes I just put up a status on Monday morning about me being on a beach, or a cheeky photo just to give a nice rubdown.’
For Paparestis it’s a slightly different story. While he loves the life and the possibilities of Thailand, his family are beginning to pull on the eartstrings. As a member of a ‘real Greek family where everything’s home orientated’, his days in the sun might be numbered. And while his parents were ‘cool with it’ when he first boarded the plane, things are slowly starting to change.
‘My mum knows I’ve fallen in love with Thailand and that when I come out next time it will be for an indefinite amount of time. When I told her I was going to come back out for a year, she said “okay let’s discuss it when you come home”, which basically translated as “I’m going to put up a hell of a fight to keep you here”. There’s no way I’ll be put off, though. I’ll hide in a box and get on a boat. I’ll find a way back here.’
But just what is it that makes them want to stay? If you have to ask that, you haven’t really been listening. These two London lads are arguably living every poker players’ dream. They have no responsibility, no one to answer to and a huge group of mates to share their grade A lifestyle with. There are downsides to packing it all in and leaving the UK to grind. But judging by the way Paparestis and Jones keep holding back smiles and reeling off one unforgettable story after another, it’s probably something we all wouldn’t mind giving a go. Well, unless you’re squeamish that is… or a turtle lover.
‘That just sounds silly,’ says Jones when I ask if he’s got the perfect life. ‘I suppose I’ve got a pretty good lifestyle, but I don’t want to sound like a dick and say I’m living the dream. Life’s alright. I haven’t got too many stresses, I’m rolled for all my games and I’m happy to be out seeing the world, meeting new people and experiencing different cultures. Happy days, mate.’
PokerPlayer magazine will be a vital read on the beaches of Thailand so why not try a copy HERE