Exclusive interview with the high stakes online legend Ilari ‘Ziigmund’ Sahamies: “I just finished playing my morning session and won $30,000”

Ilari ‘Ziigmund’ Sahamies has become one of the stars of the high-stakes poker scene, reckless and talented in equal measure

It’s 10am, most poker players are still sleeping off the previous night. What have you been up to?

I just finished playing my morning session and won $30,000. I had been ahead $400,000. Then I played very badly.

What happened?

Not much. I was a little bit hungover and made mistakes against Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan. They’re very good players, and anyone who plays badly against them is committing suicide.

A lot of players at that level won’t go up against those guys without feeling 100%. Why do you do it?

I shouldn’t play if I’m not 100%. But I can’t help it. I probably play my best game only 20% of the time. I just love to gamble.

You played on the recent season of High Stakes Poker. How’d you like it?

Actually, it was very bad for me. For five days in a row, I hadn’t slept more than two hours per night. I was so tired when I got there that I didn’t speak or anything. And I lost like $350,000. Not so good.

Would you do it again?

Of course. Next time, though, I’ll sleep. People were surprised that I was so quiet. They had seen my chat online and expected me to be that way when I play live.

You do get pretty outrageous with the trash-talking on the internet. What is up with all that?

Mostly, I am just joking, though I do say some bad things. I remember telling Gus Hansen that he is a gay lounge singer.

You also have a reputation for playing poker drunk.

I haven’t played drunk in one-and-a-half years. I don’t really know why I did it. I guess it was fun. Actually, it is fun. When you’re home alone and you log on drunk, it’s just about pushing in money. I’ve probably lost $3 million playing poker drunk.

Was it worth it?

Of course not.

What have been your biggest one-day swings?

I won $700,000 in one day and I lost $2m in one day.

How does it feel to drop that kind of money playing online poker?

A little bit sad, a little bit bad – but not bad enough. I should feel worse than I do.

You’ve played a lot with Patrik Antonius and Tom Dwan. What do you think of the durrrr Challenge?

It’s a good challenge for Tom. He is a smart guy. Everybody talks about how he has lost his mind for putting out that bet. But I think it’s good for him. I would not take on Tom.

No way?

I would play if the blinds were $2/$4.

You mean $200/$400?

No. $2/$4, with the same overlay. Maybe he’ll do it. I need to ask.

People always make a big deal about game selection. Is it possible to exercise that at your stakes?

I could sit there and wait for Guy Laliberté or Gus Hansen. But I’m too impatient for that.

What is the deal with Gus Hansen?

Whenever I talk to online players, they tell me what a fish Gus is. I actually find that hard to believe. I think he knows how to play, but he doesn’t care. He pushes, pushes, pushes. Still, I love when he is out there. He makes it a good game for me.

Give me a little bit of your background. Didn’t you start out as a pool player?

That’s right. I was 14 or 15, hanging out in the pool hall, when I met Patrik Antonius. He’s a good pool player, but I was better than him.

Did he suggest that you try poker?

Yeah. I was just 15 when we played for the first time at Patrik’s house. At first I was not very good, but I picked up the game quickly, and, soon, we were playing at the same level. I played only a few times between then and when I turned 18.

I started going to the casinos in Finland. For two years I played only live poker.

Did you have a regular job?

I was an oil driller, a construction worker, a telecom operator.

Wow, those sound like pretty menial gigs. Weren’t you super smart in school?

Better than average only. I played poker in the casinos during my last two years of high school. By the time school ended, all I wanted to do was play poker. I won $70,000 or $100,000 playing low-stakes during my last year of school.

How’d you get into playing online?

I was 20 and started playing on a site called ccccpoker.com. Then I played on Paradise and Prima. Erick Lindgren was one of my favourite opponents. We played $40/$80 heads up. Not a lot of guys played so high back then.

How’d you make out?

I don’t remember how much I won. But it was enough for me to buy my apartment.

You talk a lot about going on tilt. Is there a certain point when you just can’t take it anymore and you tend to start steaming?

Once I get down $250,000 I go on tilt. I raise out of position and just play so bad. It’s so sick. I have less control than everybody else.

I guess it’s hard to take losing huge sums of money.

It’s not very hard. So I must not care too much. If I cared a lot about money, and it was important to me, I could control the tilting. But you can’t care about money and play at these stakes.

What is life like for you in Helsinki?

I play for three or four hours each day, go out with friends a couple times during the week, work out in the gym as often as possible, spend nights with my girlfriend. It’s nothing too unusual.

I like the footage of you online. There is one where you are eating some gnarly stuff on the Finnish version of Fear Factor [http://tinyurl.com/l3bvqa]. Then there’s another where, on a dare, you snorted a line of salt, squirted a lime in your eye and downed ashot of tequila [http://www.tinyurl.com/6ecrye]. How did the stunt feel?

Terrible. It sucked.

Would you do it again?

Yeah. But it would have to be for money: $5,000. No, wait, make it £5,000.

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