David Vamplew reveals how he came from obscurity to defeat John Juanda to win the 2010 EPT London main event…
David Vamplew was an unknown on the poker circuit before late 2010. The Scotsman had been just one of a thousand anonymous young kids making a good living playing online cash games at home. The only evidence that Vamplew had ever stepped foot into a casino was a solitary recorded cash at that summer’s WSOP when he finished 106th in a $2,500 event.
Then, over the course of a week in London, Vamplew’s life changed forever. The 23-year-old led the EPT main event from Day 2 onwards, playing recklessly and without fear all the way to the final table where he made it to heads-up and a face-off with one of poker’s original superstars John Juanda. Most players would have been cowed to be on the receiving end of one of Juanda’s infamous stare downs but Vamplew ‘just treated him like any other opponent’ and ‘wasn’t intimidated in any way.’ After a four hour heads-up battle it was the unheralded Brit that emerged victorious, much to the surprise of many watching.
Vamplew’s £900k win set him up as a familiar face on the European circuit where he’s had constant success, including WPT and UKIPT final tables. On the flip side, the Edinburgh pro’s victory also spawned a barrage of headlines crowning him as the ‘Harry Potter of poker’ for his uncanny resemblance to the Hogwarts magician. Here’s how Vamplew weaved his own magic to win one of the biggest prizes in world poker…
David Vamplew: I’d only played one EPT before London and I wasn’t comfortable buying in for £5,000 – even though I’d often win or lose that in a day online – so I sold pieces of myself. I had 32% of myself when we sat down to play. I was nervous to begin with as it was still one of the biggest tournaments I had played, and I really didn’t want to bust out.
But in level one you start with 300BBs and I was just playing it like it was a cash game. If I had A-x suited I was never folding because I was really confident after the flop due to my experience online. I felt that a lot of the other players wouldn’t have too much experience playing that deep and would be weaker after the flop – now I’m not sure my approach was correct and I definitely made a decent amount of mistakes but that was how I approached it.
I cruised into the money because I had the chip lead at the end of Day 2. Even though I look young, I don’t think players were really going after me. Now, if I don’t recognise anyone on the EPT, but they are young and look like they play online, I assume they are competent – there’s a much bigger target on the old guy wearing the qualifier gear than young kids.
Making the final
I had a big chip lead all the way up to the final table – I didn’t realise how big a deal it all was at the time. Even after I won I didn’t realise how hard it would be to even get to Day 4 in one of these tournaments again. I was naïve and I didn’t understand the variance in EPT tournaments. I think the way I played actually increased my chances of winning the tournament, but it probably didn’t increase my chances of winning the most money on average. I was very unlikely to make any big folds, and I played the whole tournament like it was a cash game but people all had different stack sizes instead of sitting with 100BBs.
I ignored the pay jumps completely, at least up until the final table. The final had a few players with tons of chips and then lots of short stacks, so it was a concern that I’d make a mistake and go out before one of those. But I definitely didn’t put as much weight on it as I would now.
I really cared about the money but I think I cared more about the win at the time. And that was the way I played. I wasn’t especially nervous going into the final table – it was really fun! I was just enjoying that I was able to keep on playing.
Meet Mr Juanda
It was cool that Juanda was there, but I wasn’t intimidated in any way. I just treated him like any other opponent and that was probably to my detriment a little bit. When I was playing him heads-up I expected him to play like any old mid-stakes cash game reg would play, as they were the people I was playing all the time. Those players would all play a similar style and bluff in the same sort of spots. Juanda surprised me by just playing very straightforwardly in the heads-up match and it caused me to make a lot of mistakes. Juanda was one of the best players at the final table so I wasn’t thrilled to be heads-up against him. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen him but then Tom Marchese and Kyle Bowker were also really good.
No big deal
I went into the heads-up with Juanda at a fairly big chip disadvantage so at that point I was thinking it was just pretty good I had got this far. I was trying to ignore the big show all around me with the cameras, lights and trophy. I just wanted to focus on heads-up.
I had six or seven friends on the rail, including a couple of guys that came down on the train that morning from Edinburgh to watch. It was cool to have them there, and I definitely felt like I was holding my own against John. I was comfortable. I’d played a lot of heads-up before and in at least some situations I felt like I knew exactly what he was doing and what he was thinking.
I wasn’t nervous at all during the start of the heads-up [it lasted four hours] but then we were forced to go on an hour long dinner break halfway through. I suddenly realised what was happening and I began to feel it. A couple of my friends suggested to me that I should ask John if he wanted to do a deal. I assumed that he wouldn’t. I thought he was really rich, would think he’s better than me and so why would he even consider a deal? Anyway, I asked him after the break and he said yes. We left 10% of the money to play for – you have to under EPT rules – and because the stacks were quite even we chopped the rest of the money equally. I wouldn’t say I noticed it myself but people have told me that I looked much more relaxed after we did the deal.
Even though I won, I don’t regret doing a deal. I don’t regret selling action before the tournament either because I wouldn’t have played if I didn’t sell action! You can’t say that making a deal in that situation was ever a mistake.
Finish the job
I didn’t realise how big a deal winning an EPT was or how much of a knock-on effect the win would have on the rest of my life. Immediately after winning the final hand I was already thinking what was next. I was so tired as well because we had been playing for 12 hours.
This win definitely gave me the confidence and bankroll to go on and do well since. The money is the part that has allowed me to travel to all these tournaments – that was what I always wanted to be doing.
The hands that won the tournament
1. David Vamplew Jh-Ts vs John Juanda Jc-2h
Juanda raises on the button with Jc-2h to 360,000 and Vamplew calls from the big blind with Jh-Ts. The flop is Js-Jd-7s. Vamplew checks, Juanda bets 520k and Vamplew check-raises to 1.33m. Juanda makes a small re-raise to 2.005m, Vamplew moves all-in and Juanda calls. The board runs out 5s-Qd and Vamplew gets a crucial double-up in this 13 million pot.
‘I felt that he would expect me to play really aggressively heads-up and check-raise him tons on a board like this with every flush draw, every K-T or gutshot and so on. I wanted to add some strong hands to my range so played it fast. He clicked it back on me and I had seen him do this previously with K-K preflop so I knew he did it with good hands. I suspected he was trying to get me to go crazy with something like a draw so even though I had trips I wasn’t thrilled with the situation!
‘Once he made a raise on the flop there was no way he could fold to my shove. The only other way he could have played the hand was to flat call the check-raise but he must have felt that playing aggressively on the flop would keep my range wider for getting it all-in.’
2. David Vamplew 3s-3c vs John Juanda Ad-6d
Juanda raises to 400,000 on the button with Ad-6d and Vamplew calls with 3s-3c. Vamplew check-calls a 700,000 bet on the 6s-Jh-As flop. The 8s turn is checked by both players. The river is 6h giving Juanda a full house. Vamplew checks, Juanda bets 2.025m and now Vamplew checkraises as a bluff to 4.9m. After a short think Juanda moves all-in and Vamplew insta-folds.
‘Check-calling the flop was definitely a mistake. I should have just folded there. Even if I have the best hand a lot every single hand that he is bluffing with will have tons of equity versus me and when he bluffs I won’t be able to call.
‘When he checked back the turn I felt he would often have King-high, a Six or Eight and sometimes a pair like 7-7. I would never have expected him to check back A-6 as it wasn’t what any of the online players I was used to playing would do. When you’re playing live pros sometimes they will do stuff that you might think is weird or tricky. I could never put him on a flush or full house on the river because of this. It ended up that he got me pretty hard just by checking the turn.’
3. David Vamplew Ac-6c vs John Juanda As-Th
Juanda min-raises to 400,000 and Vamplew calls again. The Qs-4h-Kh flop is checked by both before the fireworks begin on the Jc turn. Vamplew leads out for 625,000 with his nut flush draw before Juanda raises it to 1.85m. Vamplew thinks for a good while and then moves all-in – Juanda snap-calls and is one card away from winning the tournament. The 3c falls on the river though and Vamplew gets a lucky double-up on his way to winning the heads-up shortly after.
‘This was really bad play by me! If I had just flatted his raise on the turn it was a really significant portion of my stack and also if I hit a flush it would be hard for me to get paid as I was out of position. That pushed me more towards going all-in on the turn, but when I think about it there are very few hands that he is ever raising me with and folding to a shove. But whatever, BINK! When I saw the club I was really happy I had the chance to keep on playing.’