Bengt Sonnert, the Swedish sensation, is quietly becoming the name on everyone’s lips
There must be something in the water in the small city of Linkoping in southern Sweden. The birthplace of online legend Erik Sagstrom is also the hometown of one of Sweden’s hottest poker exports – Bengt Sonnert. The 25 year-old emerged fully formed onto the tournament circuit last year with top-ten finishes at the Monte Carlo Millions and the Five Diamond Poker Classic. But for the charismatic Swede, just as for Sagstrom, his tournament record is much less than half the tale.
Where it gets really interesting for Sonnert is the online cash tables. He’s a regular at the £40/80 no-limit cash games on Betfair as well as an occasional visitor to the dizzy heights of the $200/$400 games. He’s grafted his way up from $2/$4 limit games to garner a fearsome reputation online. He now takes part in some of the most expensive no-limit showdowns anywhere, with tens of thousands of dollars changing hands every few minutes. We grabbed some time with the affable and laid-back Swede to shed some light on the secrets of an online cash game king.
How successful has 2006 been for you so far?
It’s been a really good year. I haven’t done that well in tournaments – I’ve reached a couple of final tables – but in cash games it’s gone really well. I’ve made a lot of money. I had a goal at the beginning of the year to win $1 milllion and I had beaten that by October.
Are you finding it easier to make money online?
This year I may have got a bit lucky, but I’ve also improved. I play much less, but I choose the right games. It’s been getting harder to win at high-limit tables. I’m not expecting to win as much as I won this year for the next few years.
So which is your most successful game?
I’ve only been playing no-limit for the past year. And heads-up is my favourite game. That’s my best game and it’s the most fun to play. It’s a really fast game, you play a lot of hands, you have a lot of decisions to make. When I am playing well I want to play heads-up all of the time.
So how often do you play?
Maybe a couple of times a week on average. The games are so high when you play online you don’t need to play that much. But you have to be focused. That is something I have improved on. I try to be as focused as possible. When I start playing I need to know I have time to play for eight hours, to be comfortable and play my best and not be stressed out.
How do you go about achieving that focus?
Most of the time I travel to a hotel. I don’t play at home that much because there are too many distractions. One time I went to a spa hotel in Sweden and got away from all the distractions and played for three days straight. That went really well. When I go to a tournament I go for a couple of days beforehand and play live and online. You have to be focused. I have noticed that every session where I am not 100% I don’t seem to win much.
How easy do you find it getting reads on players online when there are no physical tells?
It’s more about getting a read on their pattern of play. You notice their different types of moves and bet sizes on every street. Sometimes it’s about how fast they act, but most of the time it’s how they make their moves on different streets. Some players play very tight and only bet a lot when they have something. If you have those kind of reads, you can make a lot of money. But at the high stakes [games], players mix up their games more so it’s hard to get a pattern.
Are there still enough fish online to make it profitable?
It’s getting tougher. Some players are live pros who have won a lot of money, but they are not good at the online cash games. Those are the best players for me because they have such big egos they think they are better than you anyway. There are also people who have succeeded in other areas and play high stakes poker for fun, and they are also good for me to play against. But 90% of the players are professional poker players.
Are you close to any of your fellow high-stakes pros?
At the 50/100 level, I know a lot of people from Sweden and Norway, and some of them are good friends of mine. Everyone knows the rules, and you can still beat each other on the cash tables, but most of the time we just sit out against each other.
Outside of your friends, who do you try not to play against?
There are a lot of players that are really good, but I try not to fear anyone when I play headsup. I try to have respect for everyone, but not to fear anyone. You can’t have too much respect for the money either, because if you are scared of the money it’s going to be hard to win.
Do you have enough respect for the money to have withdrawn some of that $1m?
You still need to have cash on the sites to be able to play the games, but I have taken most of it out. I don’t cash out that much when I am winning, but when I start losing I start to cash out so you can’t lose it all.
Are you not tempted to play at higher limits more often with your new bankroll?
I think it’s stupid to play the biggest games most of the time. I’m better off playing the smaller games and winning more often. At the higher limits I can have maybe two winning sessions out of three, but at the lower limits I can win nine out of ten. It’s also more stressful to play that high and lose big pots. At the same time it’s much, much more fun.
So are you tempted to take your shot at the Big Game one day?
Absolutely not. I don’t need that kind of gamble. I don’t need to play that high. I don’t play the 200/400 games much either. If I’m on a really big rush I could take some money and sit down there and sell some percentages to friends. But I’m not going to play ten times higher than I normally do because that is just stupid.
As a cash game specialist, aren’t you tempted to ditch the tournaments and play more cash and earn more money?
Absolutely not. If I win the same amount of money in a tournament as I do in a cash game, it’s 100 times more fun. It’s the best feeling in the world to sit at a final table with a chip lead. That’s what you’re after. The investment isn’t big for me. If I’m playing bad in tournaments I can’t lose that much, but the upswing is really big. At the same time, it is frustrating. When I go out of tournaments I am always pissed off for a couple of hours – a couple of days sometimes.
Are you a natural gambler?
I’m much less of a gambler than some of my friends who play poker, but I’m still a gambler. I’ve always bet on football matches and played the occasional casino game. And I’ve got involved with stupid prop bets, but I try and avoid those now because you have nothing to gain from them.
What’s the next step for you?
I’m hoping to find my tournament game. If I keep the record I had last year, then I will be super happy. I haven’t won a big tournament yet, so that is something I would appreciate a lot. I know that is hard, though. I’m not looking for the fame, though. I don’t want to be as famous as the American players.
Do you find the transition from playing cash games to tournaments easy?
When you focus on cash games it’s so hard to get into the tournament frame of mind because they are so different. I play so much worse in tournaments when I am doing well in the cash games. Last winter I had a really good couple of months on the tournament circuit and I didn’t play any cash game sessions during that period.
So are tournaments a refuge when you are running bad?
I had a really bad swing in the last couple of weeks. I know I’m not playing my best, and I’m losing a lot of money, so I’m trying to focus on the tournaments. I don’t necessarily care about winning tournaments, because I know how hard that is to do, but I want to keep going deep.
LIVES: Linkoping, Sweden
FAVOURITE GAME: No-limit hold’em
PLAYS ON: Betfair Poker
TOURNAMENT WINNINGS: $570,702
CAREER HIGHLIGHT: Finishing fourth at the 2005 Monte Carlo Millions
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