Sky Poker pro Julian Thew reflects on hitting the big time – and why he no longer plays the biggest tournaments
In 2007 Julian Thew was well known on the UK stage as one of the best live tournament players around. Since 2001 the soft-spoken pro from Nottingham had been consistently cashing on the local circuit but was lacking that one major score to really put him on the map.
Then, in September of that year, Thew won the Plymouth leg of the GUKPT for £59,500. Thew says that televised win was, ‘huge financially and for confidence, motivation and momentum’. Just a few weeks later he entered the Baden leg of the European Poker Tour and took down the biggest prize yet, an EPT title for €670,800. Julian Thew was suddenly on everyone’s mind as one of the players of the year and most feared tournament players in the world. A second GUKPT title followed in January 2008 to cap off a stunning twelve month period that saw Thew net $1.6 million in winnings.
The good times didn’t continue for Thew though, and he left the European scene after ‘falling out of love with the game’, preferring to spend time with his family and play in local tournaments around the country. With a £62k win at Dusk Till Dawn, a Genting Poker Series victory for £40k and a record-breaking third GUKPT win since then, it was a good decision by ‘Yo-Yo’ who now has nearly $3m in total winnings. Find out how Julian Thew took down his first EPT, the pressure of playing high-stakes tournaments and why he is worried for the young poker pros of today…
In the beginning
Julian Thew: I started playing poker as a serious hobby in around 2001. It was really hard convincing my girlfriend and friends that I was going to casinos at night, coming back stinking of smoke. None of us knew anyone that had done that before. It was definitely perceived as gambling and everyone thought I was just spunking my money away!
I had been on the European tour for two or three years before Baden. I had been on a few final tables and I was one of the more aggressive players. I would quite happily get a big stack on Day 1 but then I would keep on pushing it too far. That was how my nickname of ‘Yo-Yo’ came about. In 2007, I took a step back and made a few adjustments. I added a bit of common sense to my game. If I got a stack I nurtured it a bit more and the results really came in that year. Winning the GUKPT Plymouth just before Baden was massive. It was the first year that the GUKPT was running and it was televised. It was huge financially and for confidence, motivation and momentum for me.
The young EPT
From the very start the EPT was considered the event to be at. It was televised and there were prizes of £200k for the winner – at the time you just didn’t see those amounts being handed out in Europe on a regular basis.
I went to Baden full of confidence from the GUKPT win but then I lost half my chips to Barry Greenstein in the first hour of Day 1. He had a flush, I had Jacks on a low board and paid him off like a donkey! But I put my head down to rebuild and then cracked Kings with Queens to finish in the middle of the pack at the end of the day. On Day 2 I ran up a stack and then Day 3 went really well. I won a huge pot against Pascal Perrault that set me up to go into the final second in chips. I definitely felt like I was the best player at the table and I had the gears that were needed to win. I wasn’t assuming I would win but I knew that I had a very good chance.
Money jumps for joy I’ve never understood people who say they never look at the pay jumps. I am always aware of what they are. It was around €100k for fourth and that was definitely a nice point to get to. The final table took place about two days before I was 40-years-old and I’d always had this goal that I would pay off my mortgage before I was 40. If I got fourth that was the mortgage paid off!
I chopped it heads-up with Denes Kalo as none of us wanted to play for €300k! We left €100k on the table for the winner so I ended up winning €600k. It was amazing when I won. I welled up. My flight home was the next morning and it was fantastic to be back in England. I had some pictures taken, the local BBC Nottingham came over and did a piece on me for the news, and it was also my 40th birthday too so we had a great time. It was like a dream. You always dream of winning something like that but you’re never sure if you’ve got it in you or if you deserve to win something. It’s a huge relief I suppose.
As a tournament player you are always struggling with your confidence. Some days you feel like you are a good player and then a lot of the time you just feel like you are the worst player in the world because so many things go wrong or you make several mistakes in a row. I remember when I won the EPT I thought, wow, I’ll always have this level of confidence now. But it’s amazing that just six months later the frailness of your confidence can be back to where it was…