Steve Hill sits down with online poker’s most controversial figure – Ilari ‘Ziigmund’ Sahamies
‘Hi, all you bastards and bitches around the world. I’ve started writing a blog for the COOLEST SITE IN THE WORLD.’ As introductions go, it’s hardly the most subtle or modest, but the man behind the intro to online poker hub, Coinflip.com, is not generally regarded as either. Specialising in pot-limit Omaha cash games, 25-year-old Ilari Sahamies plays some mind-bogglingly high stakes, videos of which can be viewed on the recently launched website. However, arguably even more entertaining are the non-poker videos, including such Jackass-style escapades as wrestling at dawn, and a tequila routine that involves snorting the salt and squeezing the lemon juice into his eye.
Old-school poker players are presumably appalled, but Sahamies represents the brash young face of the modern day online pro. This is reflected in his trashtalk, filling the chat boxes with reams of insults, mainly aimed towards his fellow pros. His warped sense of humour and imaginative insults have picked up something of an online following, leading to an unusual type of fame. As a further clue to Sahamies’ playful mindset, while his best-known handle of ‘Ziigmund’ has something to do with the Finnish word for sleep, his other noms de guerre include Ecs_Tasy and Kamasutra.
Despite making most of his money online, Sahamies has on occasion emerged from behind his computer to play live, notably in recent episodes of High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark. Indeed, as is not necessarily the current norm, he played live before ever discovering the lure of the laptop. As intros to the world of poker go, a home game at the house of Patrik Antonius at the tender age of 15 is a pretty illustrious start. Sahamies apparently befriended fellow Finnish pro Antonius at a local billiard hall, where he presumably spent a lot of time, racking up two Finnish junior championships to add to a slew of other sporting interests. Bizarrely, Sahamies is also the current Finnish watersliding champion.
BORN TO DO IT
Poker was always his destiny though, perhaps summed up by an anecdote in which he received a phone call from a teacher asking why he wasn’t at school. ‘I’m in Amsterdam playing poker,’ came the reply, before the phone went dead.
At the age of 18, Sahamies first visited the Grand Casino, Helsinki, and within two years had turned pro, building his bankroll from nothing. All of which brings us to a brisk winter morning in London, with an interview scheduled for the improbable and decidedly non-poker friendly hour of 10am. Sahamies has been in town for a couple of days, during which time he has made a cool $200k playing online in his hotel room. In stark contrast, I find myself shivering next to a ticket machine waiting for 9.30am to tick over so I can stick it to the man by securing a slightly cheaper travel card. It’s a devastating ploy that will save upwards of a pound while delivering me to the interview at the appointed time. However, just to prove that my appalling luck isn’t limited to poker, the tube station that I’m heading for has ground to a halt, leaving me sat on a train for 20 minutes before abandoning it and setting off on foot towards the plush Sloane Square hotel.
Never interrupt a man’s breakfast. By the time I turn up, sweating and dishevelled, Ilari has already decimated a fruit platter and is awaiting the delivery of an omelette. Following cursory introductions, I ask him where he’d like to conduct the interview, and he bluntly replies, ‘I don’t care.’
It’s not the most promising of starts, but is more due to his limited grasp of English than any intentional rudeness. I wisely decide to leave him to his meal and repair to a well-appointed room to read the paper. When Ilari joins me, his shaven head, scarred cheek and pidgin English give him more than a vague air of menace; he’s not someone you’d care to encounter in a darkened alley, or indeed over a well-lit poker table. Some small talk breaks the ice, though, and we manage to conduct an interview of sorts. Frost/Nixon it ain’t…