Meet Kanu7, the UK’s high-stakes cash game player who has taken on Isildur, and won and lost millions online under the radar
If poker were a game where ability and fame were directly correlated, then the name Alex ‘Kanu7’ Millar would be on everybody’s lips. The softly-spoken Bristol resident has topped the PokerStars no-limit hold’em money list for two years, despite flying under the mainstream radar. Not bad for a guy who was inspired to take up poker after seeing his uni flatmate win $50 in half-an-hour.
‘And’, as Millar helpfully points out, ‘he was crap!’ ‘I was like “well I’ll be able to do this if he can”, so I deposited a bit as well,’ Millar says. ‘I played freerolls and $5 tourneys. I won a couple for a few hundred bucks, built up a bit of a bankroll. Then I started going to the poker society to play tourneys.’
The Warwick Poker Society has proved a training ground for a generation of poker players. EPT winner Rupert Elder is a graduate, as are a number of online grinders. By the time Millar joined some of the guys were playing mid-stakes online and he says he was inspired to play a bit of $0.50/$1 cash. He moved up to $25/$50 in just nine months and has never looked back.
Christy Keenan met with Millar to discuss his rapid ascent to the top, his view of the high-stakes world and his hopes for its future.
PokerPlayer: You moved up from $0.50/$1 to $25/$50 in just nine months. Was that a pretty smooth process?
Alex Millar: When I started off I was pretty bad. For the first month after I left university I made a bit of money and then moved up to $1/$2 and lost most of it and had to move back down to $0.50/$1. It wasn’t going well, so I wasn’t too happy at that point. But then I started playing on PartyPoker where the games were a bit softer, started watching CardRunners videos, and it took off. From there it was pretty smooth. I’d break even for the first few thousand hands at a limit then I’d start exploiting people and doing well and I moved up to $10/$20 pretty easily.
At $10/$20 I ran really good for a while. I was using a 50 buy-in bankroll so I moved up to $10/$20 with $100k in my bankroll. I started playing $25/$50 with $250k in my bankroll, and I lost all the way down to $101k. Then I had another big downswing when I tried to move up to $50/$100 playing heads-up. I was playing Prahlad Friedman, and I thought he was rubbish. Actually, he was rubbish, but I was more rubbish!
There were lots of bumps along the road, but the move up to $10/$20 was pretty smooth. I ran pretty good and the games were a bit softer back then. I had a bump recently playing against Isildur at $300/$600 heads-up, which didn’t go well. But overall it’s gone pretty well!
You don’t seem to shy away from playing the best players. You have mentioned a shortage of people willing to take you on. Are you considering branching out from strictly playing hold’em?
AM: I only play no-limit hold’em at the moment so I’ve limited myself a lot in the action I can get. I’ve started to play a bit of PLO, so hopefully if I can get good at that it will give me more possibilities. Sauce123 (Ben Sulsky) is better than me at every game and he gets more action than me because he plays no-limit, PLO, mixed games, draw games and everything. So as long as you’re prepared to expand and start doing different things to get action, you’ll be okay.
Judging by the fact that you went from $100NL to $5,000NL in nine months, it can’t be too long until we see you at the high-stakes PLO tables.
AM: It depends how good I am! At the moment I’m obviously pretty bad, but it really depends how quickly I take to it. There’s no guarantee that because I’m good at hold’em I’ll be good at PLO. So far it’s been pretty good. It’s quite fun to learn a new game when you’re just starting out. My goal would be playing and beating high-stakes PLO by the end of the year and hopefully quite a bit sooner than that, but it just depends how things go.
So is your current lack of action at NL actually a blessing, in that it’s encouraging you to improve your PLO game?
AM: Yeah, that’s why I’m not that worried at the moment about a lack of action, because I can always just fire up a few low-stakes PLO tables or look over some hands. I’m taking the approach in PLO that I’m not playing that much, but everytime I play I’m looking over pretty much all the hands I played and trying to think about it. People often go for the approach of just playing a load. But just from one hand you can learn quite a lot if you look at it in detail. Hopefully that’ll be successful for me, but we’ll see.
You were the originator of the Heads-Up All-Star Showdown event on PokerStars. Can you give us a bit of the backstory behind the event?
AM: You have all these live tournaments where you play a few hundred hands and whoever gets luckiest wins, basically. So I thought it would be cool to have a poker event that’s really heavily influenced by skill rather than luck. I suggested it and a few of the other top players were up for it, so I took the idea to PokerStars and they ran with it. I didn’t have that much to do with the final format but I thought PokerStars did a really good job with it. And I enjoyed it, despite it costing me $100k! [Alex lost a titanic battle with Isaac Haxton]
You’re not a guy who appears to chase the limelight, so why are you so active in the high-stakes community?
AM: I think in life, but especially in poker, there’s a lot of fairly talentless people trying to promote themselves a lot, and that’s just so far away from what I want to be that I guess I go the other way a bit. I’ve done the Isildur challenge and I started up the idea of the All-Star Showdown, so it’s not that I’m trying to avoid being known. It’s more that I don’t want to be throwing myself in front of TV cameras at every opportunity and riding into poker events on donkeys or whatever it is that people do when they’re not actually good enough to have their results or their skill levels speak for themselves. A lot of the guys that played in the All-Star Showdown are quite similar in that they’re not really going all-out for publicity, but if there’s a good challenging event that’s going on then they’re still up for taking on the best and testing themselves.
Your battles with Isildur have been some of the most compulsive viewing in the high-stakes world. What’s behind the fact that you two have butted heads relatively often?
AM: Well actually he won’t give me any action at hold’em! He will only agree to play if I make it 3x BB when I raise preflop. To people who don’t play much heads-up, it probably sounds like no big deal, but Isildur is very good at that game. When both players raise 3x preflop, that’s the game he’s beating most people in, and if you change it up by min-raising or limping he actually plays a hell of a lot worse. I think I’ve got quite a sizeable edge against him if I’m allowed to min-raise, but he just won’t play if I do it. Occasionally, if I haven’t had action in a while and I feel like playing, I might agree to his rules and have a game. But yeah, he doesn’t really play anybody at hold’em these days because I don’t think he likes being out of his comfort zone of raising 3x preflop, and most people will put him out of his comfort zone these days, so he tends to stick to other games.
I guess that’s his right…
AM: Oh yeah, absolutely, he can obviously do what he likes. No-limit players get a little annoyed, because people talk about Isildur as one of the best no-limit players in the world, and everyone’s like: ‘well actually, he won’t play any of us unless we change the rules to suit him!’ I think people feel a little aggrieved about the perception of him in no-limit compared to the reality, but he certainly has the right not to play.
Which no-limit players do you rate highly?
AM: Ben Sulsky is the best in my opinion. Isaac Haxton, who beat me in the showdown, is a very good player. Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates is good. You’ve got guys like Wilhasha and Sussie Smith who I’ve done very well against, but they’ve done well against others. They’re good and they play a lot of people. I think the gaps between the players at the top are decreasing quite a lot. The last few times I’ve played against people I used to have quite a big edge on, I’ve been wondering how much of an edge I have. I guess that just means I need to start improving again. But it’s hard to do that when you don’t get any action.
Are issues such as rat-holing (instaquitting or removing chips from the table after chipping up) and bumhunting harming the high-stakes economy?
AM: It does harm it, though they’re two very separate issues. Rat-holing is a problem but I don’t think you can really blame the people that do it. It’s within the rules so it’s down to the sites to protect against that. It’s a much less interesting game if you have people with 40bb stacks leaving whenever they double up. That ruins the enjoyment for a lot of people, so for the long-term health of the games I think it‘s good to get rid of that. Bumhunting is quite a big problem. I’d never criticize someone for game-selecting, but that leads to recreational players feeling hunted by the pros. Someone will sit who’s an unknown name and the table will be full in one second and a massive waiting list will pop up and I don’t think that’s good for the games at all.
Finally, if you could make one change to the high-stakes world, what would it be?
AM: Good question! I guess a rule where everyone has to play against me! I don’t think it’s the most important change that could be made, but I would change the heads-up lobby at the major sites so that there are a limited number of tables and you have to be willing to actually play people that aren’t recreational players in order to sit at a limit. You can get in a position where poker is just lots of pros sitting waiting for lots of recreational players. Recreational players won’t want to play and it’ll be boring for pros and I think poker will die if that happens. So anything that stops it from going in that direction is good in my book.
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