Exclusive interview with UK online player Jamie ‘Bear4rms’ Sykes, who recently won the PokerStars Sunday Million
Poker players from the UK had their most successful summer of all time in 2010, winning five WSOP bracelets and making a host of final tables. It isn’t just in the live arena however that UK poker is in a boom period. Online MTT leaderboards, for so long dominated by American players, are now being invaded by a whole host of young and talented British online players. Alongside established MTT stars such as Chris Moorman and Lawrence ‘rivermmanl’ Houghton, newcomers like Jake Cody and Matt Perrins have been tearing up the online scene.
However, the greatest result by a UK online player this summer came from Jamie ‘Beat4rms’ Sykes who won the PokerStars Sunday Million on June 6 for over $200,000. PokerPlayer.co.uk caught up with Sykes to discuss the life of an MTT pro, a little tournament strategy and his thoughts on that career-defining Million win.
What is your background in poker?
I am 23 and I have been playing poker now for about 3 years, but for 18 months seriously. I started off playing £5 SNG tournaments with friends in our spare time. I always considered it just a luck game or gambling but then I realised that the same person was winning every week.
I wondered how this could be happening so I purchased Dan Harrington’s and David Sklansky’s poker books. I read them and then I started winning every week and got the hunger for bigger action. I began playing online a little bit on iPoker but only $5 SNGs. I was making a decent amount of money, then went to university to do chemistry at Loughborough. I just playing casually online but made enough on Full Tilt playing MTTs to pay off my student fees. I then lost interest in university. This was halfway through my first year of uni, two years ago.
What was the response from your friends and family, did they feel you were throwing an opportunity away by leaving university?
My friends at uni were all poker players. I didn’t really get on with many people at Loughborough. It’s a very strange university – everyone else was really into sports – but I’m not at all sporty. I ended up becoming really good friends with a group of five poker players. We used to go to Dusk Till Dawn and at the casinos around Nottingham pretty much every night. They were loving it [turning pro] obviously! It was so degenerate, it was absolutely ridiculous.
My family really didn’t like my decision to leave university but they supported me anyway because I wasn’t leaving to play poker, I was just leaving it because I wasn’t really sure if it was the right thing for me at that time. Secretly, I really wanted to play poker full-time but it’s difficult to tell your parents that!
Were you exclusively playing MTTs online or cash games too? Do you play cash games now?
MTTs are my exclusive thing pretty much. I dabble in PLO cash and I’ve played about 10,000 hands at NLHE cash but I’m pretty much breakeven. I’m going to dedicate some time at getting good at it but I want to get really good at MTTs first.
Why did you start to focus on MTTs in the first place?
I just had more of a natural flair for it. The fact that tournaments start with huge numbers of players and you have to work your way through them really appeals to me. Cash games are a bit dull and always stay the same but in tournaments things are constantly changing. I also guess I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie so I have always loved it.
What skills do you have in your game that are most suited to tournament poker?
I think one of the most important things is to be able to adapt to how other players adapt to different situations. For example, as the blinds go up you’ll notice that some players are just blinding away as they’re not changing their game at all. To be good at MTTs you really have to be changing your game a lot and be willing to adapt to how other people are adapting.
Did you have some big scores before you turned pro? Did it factor in to your decision to play professionally?
When I was at university I had a $300 bank roll. I went down to my last $200 and decided to play a $200 FTOPS Hold’em/Omaha event even though I had never played Omaha before and managed to luckbox my way to the final table! I ended up finishing 8th for $4,000. It was by far my biggest score at the time. It was nothing to do with being good at the game, I was just luckboxing. I used that cash to build a bankroll.
Are you good friends with the well-known British MTT players?
I have been travelling a lot with that group of players. Players like Chris Moorman, Lawrence ‘rivermanl’ Houghton and Paul ‘Pab’ Foltyn started a bit earlier than me so I’m not really that good friends with them but the players that I am really good friends with are Jake Cody, Matthew Perrins, James Dempsey and Toby Lewis as well as others.
Do you think the U.K has as good a core group of MTT players as any country?
It is getting so much better. If you just look at the results from the last few months; James Dempsey won a WSOP bracelet, Dan Carter won the Sunday Million a few years ago and won the Party Poker Million as well. I honestly think we have a good core group of around twenty to thirty players who travel the circuit. Jake Cody – not just because he is one of my friends – is so incredible. He adapts so quickly due to his heads-up cash experience and he is so fearless, he plays like a Scandinavian!
You have been a pro now for 18 months now. Can you give us an insight into a typical day for yourself?
Sundays are huge. I usually get up at 1pm because I’ve been out the night before! I go out to eat to try and shake off the hangover. There’s usually four of us that grind in the same place and we alternate going to each other’s houses. We start registering [for tournaments] at about 6pm with the PokerStars Sunday Warm-up and then we finish registering at midnight or 1pm.
How many tourneys do you register for in one Sunday?
My average is dropping at the moment because I’ve moved up stakes so I am playing less tables. I’m only playing 8 or 10 tables at once now. Over the last three months my average has been 16-20 tables at once and I’d play about 30 tournaments per day on average. On a Sunday I’ll usually be in for about $2k and I expect to lose because the field sizes are so huge. Everyone talks about Sundays as like flicking money away. As a player we think we have an edge on the field otherwise we wouldn’t be playing but with the field sizes being so huge it is so difficult to get through them all.
Is the PokerStars Sunday Million the biggest and best tournament of the week for you, even before you won it?
Yes, it’s the dream. Every poker player plays the Sunday Million every week and almost nobody wins it or goes deep. It’s a $200 buy-in and a guaranteed $225k for the win which is just incredible value and the standard of the field is pretty terrible. It’s the same field as a $20 freezeout.
Is the standard of the field so bad for the Poker Million because of the amount of satellite tournaments that PokerStars provides?
Yeah that and also the amount of advertising PokerStars does to promote the tournament.
Do you really have to alter your strategy due to the amount of satellite entrants compared to a tournament like the Full Tilt $100 rebuy?
Yes it definitely changes the way you play. You want to get into as many pots as possible with the worst players because you’ve got such a large postflop edge and they are going to make so many mistakes. They will lose value on all the hands where a good player gets maximum value and they will be losing really big pots with marginal hands. You should try and play as many pots with them as possible and especially when you start with 10,000 chips like you do in the Million – it’s an incredible structure. It does become a bit of a crapshoot quite quickly though and that’s another reason why you should be playing as many pots as you can at the beginning. I know a lot of players play quite tight at the beginning of tournaments and I sometimes as well but not in this tournament.
Do you think a lot of people overlook just playing solid poker to begin with in tournaments?
Definitely. I definitely think there are a lot of good players who just play too fancy at the beginning of tournaments when you don’t really need to be trying to do anything like four-betting light. There are still loads of terrible players in the field and they’re all just going to give you value. I play pretty tight at the beginning of tournaments. I still play a lot of pots but I don’t really do anything [out of the ordinary].
Do you put pressure on yourself to chip up at the start of tournaments?
I don’t put any pressure on myself to chip up because I’m quite a naturally aggressive player anyway so I tend to bold quite steadily anyway. I don’t ever feel like I am losing my chips and I need to get going. I think it is a leak when people start thinking like that. Emotional control is such a huge part of poker and that is something that may be overlooked.
Was there a turning point in your Sunday Million win where you thought you had a good shot at having a deep run?
Yes, once you get into the money there are around 1100 players left so it’s like starting another tournament all over again. Once I got down to the last 300 and I had a stack I thought that I could go deep and then once I got down to the last 100 I had 10 big blinds pretty much all the way through and it was only until I managed to get back up to the 3m mark at the last two or three tables that I thought I had a real shot at winning it.
Was the money on your mind throughout the tournament or were you able to just focus on making optimum decisions?
The money wasn’t on my mind until we got three-handed. I’ve played so many games over the last year that you just forget about the money and focus on winning the tournament, especially when there is so much prestige based around winning a major tournament on a Sunday. I never look at the lobby when I’m playing but I had a quick look and realised I was playing for a lot of money here!
How long did the whole tournament go on for?
It started at 9:30PM and went on for 12 hours until 9:30AM.
Did you have your mates railing you throughout?
Yes, I was grinding with Jack Ellwood, the massive online superstar of the moment, but he left before the last two tables. I was actually in one of my student’s houses – Si Mitchell – I was getting support throughout the tournament from him all the way.
Did it help having someone to make sure that you were not doing anything stupid?
Yes definitely, I had Mathew Perrins on Skype too keeping me sane. When you’ve been playing for so long, and especially when you’re in that situation, you really don’t want to be making stupid mistakes so it’s best to have as many players ghosting you as possible.
How did you celebrate the win or were you too tired?
No, me and Si were cheering and dancing! The prestige of winning is just so huge. As lots of my friends all had huge results before me I was perfectly aware of the repercussions of winning. I was so happy, really, really happy.
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