He finished second in the biggest tourney in the world in only his third cash ever. We ask the Team Betsafe pro how he’s going to follow that up in 2016
Luck can strike you at any time – you just have to ensure you make the most of it. Felix Stephensen was primarily an online PLO cash game player when he bet $1,000 on the Netherlands beating Australia 3-2 in the 2014 World Cup at 60/1. Memphis Depay scored the winning goal in the 68th minute, leaving Stephensen with a long sweat for his $60k. Stephensen then made the best decision of his life – to ‘have some fun in Vegas’, which culminated with him buying into the Main Event. Five months on from his original bet, he finished second, netting him $5,147,911 in only his third ever live cash. Stephensen is now a member of Team Betsafe and travels the live tournament circuit. We caught up with him at the Norwegian Poker Championships.
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You play a lot of tournaments around the world, is the WSOP still the festival you look forward to the most?
The WSOP is without question the highlight of the year. The prestige, the excitement and the sheer volume of tournaments is like nothing else in the world.
How long are you planning on being there this year and what events are you playing?
I’ll get there late May and stay for the Main Event, so probably a couple of months in total. I’ll play all the Pot Limit Omaha events, most of the no-limit events and probably a few mixed events for practise. In all, I’m probably going to play 30 tournaments at the Rio. I’ll probably play a few cash sessions as well, but the main focus is on winning my first bracelet.
What are you looking forward to outside of the Main Event?
I love the Omaha events. They’re a lot of fun and you get way more action than in no-limit hold’em. It helps that I’m really experienced at the game. Highlights for me will be the $25k and $10k PLO, plus the $10k six-max.
How do you cope with Vegas in between tournaments?
Keeping your head straight is always a challenge in Las Vegas. This year I’m renting a house with friends off-Strip and that should help a lot. We’re all of the same mindset in that we’re there to perform, not to go wild and party. I’m sure there will be a late night or two, though. We’ll also play lots of golf and tennis whenever the weather lets us.
Have you got any tips for readers going for the first time?
CUT is one of my favourite restaurants, with great food and good service, but it’s pretty pricey. Yellowtail is also a winner. All American Dave is a good healthy option when you’re grinding at the Rio. If you’re playing cash, try Aria or Bellagio. I prefer Aria, it feels really slick.
You finished second in the 2014 Main Event – did you have a big stack right from the start?
Not at all. It took me five days to even get to an average stack. In massive tournaments like this patience is the key. Lots of people try to push things too much from the start.
Was there a specific hand that you look back on as being critical to your run?
There were quite a few big, important hands. On Day 7 I had two massive double ups, both with A-K. One was early on against Mark Newhouse when he had A-9, and then the biggest pot of the tournament before the November Nine when I got it in pre op against K-Q and was lucky enough for it to hold up (see the video below). The most memorable hand was on Day 3 when I was all-in for my tournament life with K-J against A-K and managed to hit my Jack. Looking back at it, that was a huge moment.
As you play through the days and you start getting closer to the November Nine, how did you cope with the pressure and the cameras?
Experience plays a big part. At that point I didn’t have a lot of it, but I think it will hold me in good stead this summer. Back in 2014 I tried to stay focused, play one hand at a time and play it the best I possibly could. Don’t over think it. You don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself. Try and have fun, it’s still the same game no matter where you play it. Enjoy the ride.
How do you approach a massive tournament like the Main Event? Does it take a different approach to a standard MTT?
You have to prepare yourself for a full week of playing poker. That means you have to sleep well, eat well and stay focused all the time. Try to keep some sort of routine, and clear your head of all the noise and focus on what you’re there to do.
What did you do when you finished as the runner-up? Party or sleep for a week?
I had a few drinks that night but then I headed off to Los Angeles and rented a house with some friends. It was a lot to take in at the time and it was good to get out of Vegas after what had been a really intense week.
Have you watched all the highlights back since? Are you happy with the way you played?
From what I know about the competition and poker at the time I’m really happy with my performance. My poker game is always changing and developing though so I think I would have played better now and done some things slightly differently.
Felix Stephensen is a member of Team Betsafe. The $10k buy-in 2016 WSOP Main Event starts July 10 with three Day 1s. The final table will be contested in November.
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