Rewind the clock back to April 2011 and poker was going through some major changes. Our tiny little island was absolutely smashing up the global tournament scene. From that man Jake Cody to high-stakes hero Sam Trickett, from Roberto Romanello to Toby Lewis there were new poker champions. And then Black Friday hit, causing shockwaves throughout the poker world. So when Rupert Elder won EPT San Remo it was perhaps not surprising his success got somewhat overlooked.
From nowhere the ex-Warwick University student became an EPT champion. Just one tournament, €930K and one very big smile. He even made it into the Daily Mail, who described him as a ‘jobless graduate’. But why is it that many of you will likely have never heard of the 25-year-old? PokerPlayer caught up with Elder to see how his life in poker began, what San Remo meant for him and why he’s yet to join the likes of Cody and Trickett in the race for the British throne.
Over an early morning cup of tea and patchy Skype connection, we asked Elder to open up about the past few years and his poker breakthroughs. As you’re about find out, there’s still plenty to learn about Team UK’s best kept secret. ‘Poker’s all a bit of fun,’ jokes Elder from his home in South Kensington. ‘I think I take the online poker scene very seriously, and when I’m playing live I do the same. But I’m happy to have a joke and enjoy myself, especially when playing live.’
Slow Burner With his rapid-fire speech, and warm wit, Elder’s one of the friendlier online grinders in today’s game. He’s worked for his success but his feet are still firmly on the ground. Yet as our interview goes through its early paces, it’s clear his mind is elsewhere. There are several awkward moments of silence and a few fumbled attempts to get his microphone working. Elder’s attention is clearly on the poker tables bleeping in the background.
‘Erm’ is followed by ‘uhm’. ‘Wait’ followed by ‘Hang on’. Twenty minutes later he finally relaxes, that early hesitation finally replaced instead by chuckles and more in-depth answers. And as he relives his poker baby steps, cheap sit-and-gos and university blunders, it seems Elder’s never been much of a quick starter.
‘I started playing poker with friends for nothing, just 50p sit-and-gos, then freerolls and things,’ he remembers. ‘Then I went to Warwick University and joined the poker society. I started playing more and more, but I wasn’t very good for the first two or three years, maybe even longer. I was probably a bit degen to start with. I spent a lot of time playing and thinking about poker, going to the poker society, even just going out drinking with the society players. Then eventually something clicked.’
And how. From losing buy-ins just big enough to buy a pint at his student union, Elder moved up to $27 PokerStars sit-and-gos and loved them. University was beginning to be relegated to the back burner. Elder still attended lectures, and pretended he was just a normal student, but poker was slowly taking hold of his life. Burgeoning friendships with Warwick alumni and future pros Andrew Teng and Thomas Partridge, as well as childhood buddy and 2011 Aussie Millions runner-up James Keys, were steering Elder in a different direction. All he needed to do was sort out his bankroll issues.
‘My problem was I would sit down in a huge cash game and lose it all,’ he confesses. ‘I didn’t practice great bankroll management. I remember once I took down an $11 event for $1,500 and decided there and then that I would try and manage my bankroll properly. It didn’t really work out that way though,’ he adds, barely muffling a laugh.
Yet despite these bankroll misgivings, Elder was making progress. As the Warwick University’s poker society blossomed under the tenure of his vice presidency, he and his gang of uni grinders honed their skills. The university refused to accommodate them, moving their poker society from shoddy venue to shoddy venue, so when graduation came around, the Elder, Keys and Teng crew were more than ready to cut ties. By his own admission, it took the shock of graduation and a swift boot into the real world to put poker into perspective for Elder.
Je Suis Baller
A month in the south of France with the likes of Teng, grinding WCOOPs, talking poker and mastering their university habit of hard drinking did little to dampen his hunger. Although he admits it didn’t do a great deal for his game at the time. ‘France definitely didn’t help my game improve,’ he says, still laughing at the memories. ‘We were just playing poker and then getting drunk or doing stuff in the country. It wasn’t the best training ground.
But France just struck me as somewhere that was nice and sunny and you could take the piss out of the locals and get away with it. Also it’s quite a baller place, not that we were necessarily looking for that. It was cool at the time to go there and think we were some high-stakes players.
‘We didn’t really have any success, but it got me into MTTs. And by November of that year, I played some Sunday majors instead of cash and ended up coming second in the Full Tilt Million and really got the buzz.’ By then, Elder had already decided to go pro. The odd moment was still spent looking for graduate jobs; trying to forge a career in something that ‘wasn’t gambling’. But too much was being won online to ignore his talents. His mind was made up. And his concerns that poker wasn’t that sustainable in the long-term were quickly set aside as his family came on board. All he needed were some big scores to justify his decision.
‘Once I graduated I lived with my parents, and they were pretty supportive,’ he recalls fondly. ‘I just sat at home playing $0.25/$0.50 for a few months, then $0.50/$1 for ages. It felt like every time I’d take a shot at $1/$2 I’d have to back down. Some of my friends were playing $5/$10 or $10/$20 and I was trying to learn everything I could from them. Then I moved up to $2/$4 and was doing really well and taking big shots at $5/$10 while working on my MTT game.’
But still it felt like it wasn’t quite coming together. ‘I was jealous of the people who were doing well and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t really getting those big results, ’he says. ‘And then I won San Remo.’
It was a sudden jump into the big time. No sooner had Elder got his hands on the EPT trophy than he was plonked in front of the cameras to share his story. Welcome to the world of a minor poker celebrity. ‘I had to spend an hour doing media stuff – photos and interviews – which was fun, but I really just wanted a beer to be honest,’ he says, laughing between clicks of the mouse. His win even got him into the national press, even if the poker world was more concerned with Black Friday.
‘That was pretty funny,’ he says, referring to the Daily Mail’s ‘Jobless Graduate’ slur. ‘It didn’t bother me as the Mail is pretty stupid, but the whole article was factually incorrect. They got my degree wrong and everything. I think they rehashed an interview and somehow made it into a national story, but they didn’t really check their facts.’
For Elder there was no time to savour the success as he had just a few weeks at home before he headed out to Vegas for the WSOP. ‘I guess what I’d done in San Remo started to set in when I was in Vegas. No one was really recognising me or anything, but there were lots of parties and it was just a fun summer.’ Fast forward to this year’s Vegas slog and things were a touch different for the San Remo EPT champ. Shortly before the WSOP started, Elder broke his leg out in Vegas and a lack of travel insurance lumped him with a doctor’s bill the size of a central London flat deposit.
It was in some ways illustrative of Team GB’s performance this summer on the whole. A lot of hope in the run up, but not a lot more than empty wallets and soreness to show on the plane ride back. Interestingly when we spoke just before the start of the World Series, Elder had some ideas why the Brits might fail to reproduce their form of recent years.
‘I think a lot of people look at someone like [Jake] Cody’s success, and he is a really sick player, but they try and mimic it a bit too hard and don’t put the time and effort in that he probably has done,’ he warns, his quick tempo speech slowing to a crawl as he makes sure he chooses his words carefully. ‘People think it comes automatically if you just play big tournaments. Well, some people anyway.’
A lack of any major success since San Remo might suggest Elder, too, is guilty of this. But he still puts in those hours. A staunch user of forums, training videos, and even a proud owner of the obligatory poker blog (www.rupertelder.com), he’s definitely not sitting around praying for that next big score. ‘I’m just really driven by the game,’ he says. ‘I want to get better. I want to be the best tournament player.’
Name: Rupert Elder
Live Tournament Winnings:
Biggest Cash: €930,000
Major Titles: 1
Beneath the surface
His comments about the Cody clones are something of a surprise from an interviewee who 30 minutes ago was a bundle of nervous laughter and hesitations. It’s clear beneath the relaxed nice guy persona their lurks a driven, confident poker player – with just a little hint of a wild side. But while others might be dropping five-figures in the strip club, or in the craps pit, his dark side is a bit more innocent.
‘After Vegas last year my PokerStars account got banned, so I didn’t get it back till December,’ he says, neatly skipping over the facts. When asked to clarify, those ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ aren’t too far behind. ‘I used a VPN to log on to my account in American and they found out,’ he adds, slowly. ‘I got a four or five month ban. By December I was itching to play online tournaments. But then I immediately went on a $50k downswing.’ That downswing was quickly eradicated once Elder rediscovered his online form, and access. Big final tables, including the Sunday Million in April this year, have put him back in the game. Yet his VPN mishaps show another side to Elder few have spotted.
During our short time together he’s talked up a ‘tight is right’ tournament strategy, yet it’s clear he’s still a bit of a degen. He’s a complex character. His words come out at 100mph, yet he’s incredibly laid back. What makes Elder most likeable though, aside from a wild undercurrent, is an ability to laugh at himself.
While fellow San Remo champion Liv Boeree used her EPT success as a platform for bigger and better things, Elder’s happy to keep life a little more low key. ‘It’s a fun life but I don’t know if I could be a pro forever,’ he says. ‘I’ll just keep doing it till it gets boring. I’m quite lucky to be in a position where if poker disappeared tomorrow I wouldn’t have to worry about it so much and would have some time to think of something to do rather than look for an immediate solution.
‘It would be nice to win a bracelet or to win another EPT, but I’m not that interested. I just want to play loads and grind it out and make lots of money,’ he adds. As our time together comes to an end, Elder chuckles his way through some closing questions. From not going back to university (‘I’m too old’) to finding sponsorship (I’m just a normal, 25-year-old white guy – there’s not a ton of marketability there’), he’s not afraid to poke fun at himself. Even-tempered and acutely self-aware, Elder really is just a nice guy doing very nicely for himself in this crazy world of poker thank you very much.
Towards the end of the summer we catch a glimpse of him in the Rio’s corridors, leg cast and all, hobbling between the overweight grinders on break from a $1k shove-fest. He appears good-natured despite his unlucky break. A quick handshake, an explanation of what happened to his leg and that is that.
Hand back on crutch. Good foot forward. Out into the hot desert air. Chances are next time you see Elder he won’t be hobbling any more. And if that’s the only bad beat he suffer in what looks like being a promising and carefully measured poker career, we’re sure he’d take it.
The key to online MTTs is to play a lot of them as there is a lot of luck in every individual event, and the best style is to be quite tight in general. But try and push the small edges. Limping is a massive mistake in general. There are times to limp, but they’re so specific If you get yourself in a situation where the decision is to push or fold, and the margins are quite fine either way, then go for the push. Aggression is better than being timidity in tournaments and you need to pick up those chips when you can.
The biggest mistake people make is calling too much preflop. Deep into a tournament, regs always commit ICM suicide as well by getting their chips in with a really bad hand. You need to do your best to avoid it, even if you think you have a good read on your opponent. It’s fun reading about hero calls or folds, and it’s all well and good when someone picks off a big bluff, but there’s a lot to be said for just being solid and grinding out a low variance win-rate.