Exclusive interview with high stakes player Sami ‘larsluzak’ Kelopuro: ‘I have the hardest time beating Tom Dwan’

Sami ‘LarsLuzak’ Kelopuro is the Finnish sensation who has been hijacking the high stakes world

Habitual visitors to www.highstakesdb.com will be familiar with LarsLuzak, an oddly named savant who camps out at the top of the no-limit hold’em money list. His real name is the slightly less mysterious Sami Kelopuro. The 21-year-old hails from Finland, and seems unfazed by his breakout success detailing a typical morning: ‘I played against Tom Dwan online, for like one hour. I was waiting for my breakfast to come up from room service. So, why not? Just for fun. Tom won $200k from me, but, before then, I won $550k from Phil Ivey.’ It’s clear that those kinds of swings are all in a day’s work for the young Finn.

You stumbled across poker at a friend’s home game, just a few years ago, but how did you reach your current situation, playing in the highest stakes hold’em games?

To start with, I really liked the game and got excited about it. I played really small and quickly ran my bankroll up to $1,000. Then, after just a few months, something happened. I still don’t know what it was, but I kept winning and moving up in stakes. Before long, I was playing $10/$20 no-limit and making good money. I didn’t read any books and nobody taught me.

Were you in school at that point?

It was the end of high school. Friends watched the games, and were shocked. Then I spent nine months in the military service and kept playing on my computer.

You never needed to reload and you are totally self-taught?

That’s right. In the beginning I took a lot of shots. I had really poor bankroll management. I moved up so fast that I was always under-rolled. But I learned from the better players, and, very quickly, began beating them. I didn’t keep records or use the hand-tracking software. I did all the things that they tell you not to do. But somehow, it worked. The funny thing is that it took me a long time before I realised that I had made a lot of money.

You live in Helsinki, where online poker seems to be booming. Is there much of a live-poker scene?

We only have one casino, and I go there once a month to play the bigger tournaments or cash games. But they’re never very much higher than $40/$40 or $100/$100. I play a little in the pit and so does Ilari Sahamies [aka, Ziigmund].

Are you friendly with Ilari?

Yeah. We met at a party, at a nightclub in Helsinki, about one-and-a-half years ago. He told me about the good games on FullTilt and I started playing there soon after. But we don’t get analytical and talk strategy or anything like that.

Really? The American kids got good precisely by talking strategy.

We talk about really sick hands, but that’s it. The Americans do it differently. Some of them, like Phil Galfond, are smarter than us. Phil has such good table selection, where me and Ilari, we play with everyone.

Is there an upside to dispensing with table selection?

You get better quicker. I think it’s important to challenge yourself and play with the best. It affects your game in a good way. I’ve learned a lot from playing against Ilari and Patrik [Antonius] and the two Phils.

Who’s toughest at the heads-up nosebleed games?

I have the hardest time beating Tom Dwan. I’m doing good against Phil Ivey, and Ivey does good against durrrr, but for some reason, durrrr beats me. Tom’s game might be more like mine – somewhere between solid and extra-aggressive. Despite some good runs against Tom, I generally have trouble adjusting to him. Sometimes it feels like he can see your cards. You never get any value, and he always takes down your bluffs. I can’t figure out what he does. If I could, I would do something about it.

What’s the deal with Gus Hansen? You guys always seem to be queued up at his table online, waiting to take a crack at him.

Well, Gus is Gus. He likes to gamble. It seems like everyone thinks he’s a fish, and he creates a lot of action. That’s good for me. Only a few people want to play me heads-up. And heads-up is my thing. It’s the ultimate challenge. Everyone knows the basics in ring games, and you need a really long run to know that you are better than other people.  But in heads-up the better player wins a lot more often and he wins a lot more money. When it’s half pot-limit Omaha and half no-limit hold’em, there is a lot more gambling and a lot more money goes in. So the better player may lose because of all the gambling. Hold’em, on the other hand, is not like a lottery all the time.

I think I sense where your preferences lie.

I definitely prefer hold’em. There’s less luck and I have a lot more experience. But I can’t tell you exactly how much experience because I’ve never tracked my play.

I’ve heard from durrrr that PokerTracker can be a crutch and that it can actually hurt the creativity of good players.

That’s true. Of course, when you play with the same players every single day – which I do, since there’s only a handful who play the high-stakes heads up – you have to devise new moves all the time. If you don’t keep changing gears, you’re screwed.

Who’s got the most gears?

It might be Phil Ivey. He changes his game a lot. Phil used to check-raise me a lot. Now he just bets out with everything.

You mentioned the difficulty of attracting action, who won’t play you heads-up?

It is easier to say who will: Tom Dwan, Gus every now and then, Phil Ivey, Patrik, and Ilari. I think that’s pretty much it.

Do you mind playing against Ilari, even though you guys are friends?

I think he’s been watching my sessions. He’s doing pretty well against me, and I am becoming less comfortable playing him. It’s not a problem of us being friends. It’s more that he’s becoming harder to play. We win and lose $500,000 to each other, and then we’ll get together that night to have fun.

Is there a chance that you will take up Tom Dwan on his million-dollar challenge?

I’m thinking about it. But the match between Patrik and Tom is taking so long. Then Ivey is on line ahead of me, and maybe there is someone after him. If I do play Tom it’ll be all no-limit hold’em. He’s better than me at PLO. One thing I can tell you is that if Tom beats everyone, then I am probably not going to play.

You’ve kept a pretty low profile in terms of tournaments. Are you uninterested in live poker?

No. I have played some EPTs. But they have gone very badly for me. I must be the worst tournament player ever. I’ve played at least 15 events now, and have never cashed.

Why do you think this is?

I think there is some bad luck. Maybe I just don’t have the patience. I am used to these fast online games plus the buy-ins feel so small that I really don’t care too much. The biggest appeal of these tournaments is the opportunity to see friends and go to good parties. A couple times I made it to the second day, and I found it to be totally exhausting. You sit there for 12 hours and can’t do anything afterward because you are so tired.

In the middle of a tournament, while everyone else is hoping to keep from busting, you must be wishing for the opposite. That way you can go up to your room and play online.

There is some of that. Last year, I was supposed to play five or ten events, but the two I played were so boring that I just skipped the others. I played some live cash games, though, and those were nice. I like the action in Bobby’s Room.

How many hours do you play per month?

I play a lot more when I run bad. If I am stuck, I just can’t get it out of my head and I play the whole time. Now, though, I’m running good. So I don’t play for more than two hours per day.

When did you last run bad?

Early this year. That’s when I had my worst downswing. I was stuck $2 million. With the stakes so high these days, everyone swings in the seven-figures. It affected me, but I try to keep poker and real life separate. Still, I was playing 10 hours a day and trying not to think about the money. Looking back, I was playing okay but running badly. Maybe I was playing a little worse, but, mostly, it was just variance. It went for like two months.

Did it impact on your bankroll?

Of course it did. I was thinking of dropping down in limits, but it’s not possible. The lower [heads up] game is $25/$50, and I would never win my money back at those stakes.  

Tell me about your biggest win to date.

In 24 hours I won a little over $1.3 million. That was pretty awesome. I was in Portugal, hanging out at a low-stakes tournament with my friends, and I busted out in 10 minutes. Then I went up to my room, logged on, and there were a lot of games. I played and I won. But I did nothing special afterwards. Winning is the outcome that you expect anyway, so it feels less extreme than losing a lot of money does.

So, you won a million-dollars and went to bed?

Well, my friends and I did go out and party that night. But it’s something that we had planned on doing anyway.

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