How does a kid called Roland de Wolfe go from writing about poker stars for PokerPlayer to taking them on on the world stage?
As 2006 draws to close, would be hard pressed to find a man more content with his life than Roland de Wolfe. Following a surging run of tournament success, the 27-year old has taken the UK poker scene by storm and, quite naturally, you’d be forgiven for thinking he would be only too happy to shout about all this from the very highest roof top. But De Wolfe is a curious soul. Hidden under his cocksure persona lies a shy and introverted character. Talking about success is not something he’s keen on doing, and as we soon find out, this magazine has something to do with him choosing to stay tight-lipped.
De Wolfe, as it turns out, is a deeply superstitious guy. Since leaving InsideEdge some two years ago, he’s achieved success he could only have dreamt of previously. So much so, that he wants nothing to come between him and his rise within the poker world. But journalists wouldn’t be journalists if they weren’t persistent, and after weeks of phone calls and requests being turned down – we finally got our man. Poker players can be the cagiest of creatures!
So come on Roland, why the change of heart in speaking to us?
I wanted to challenge my superstitions head on.
And why are you doing that?
I’m really trying to work on it [superstition] not having so much effect on me. You have to accept that you can’t alter what might happen. In gambling – or anything else – you have to be willing to accept that bad things can and will happen. I think you have to meet your superstitions head on. It doesn’t do anyone any good in life to say ‘I must do this’ or ‘I must do that’.
Do you feel these superstitions have had an impact on the way you play poker?
Normally I can just get on with things and concentrate. It’s away from the table more that it affects me. I don’t know, I’m just a superstitious guy and since I left InsideEdge my life has changed so much. I just need to learn to ignore it.
So how did you go from being a poker journalist to a poker pro?
During my time with the magazine, I was becoming more and more involved in poker. There was a festival at the Gutshot in London and I won the first event. I chopped it with an up-andcoming young player called Adam Lee, who tragically died from cancer shortly after. I then started playing more and more on the internet and in my spare time.
Was it simply a progressive change?
I had some really good results in the summer of 2004 and was learning all the time as I had such an enthusiasm for the game. Then at the end of that year, there was a spell where I was on a rush and winning more money than I’d ever had. I won £15,000 in three days online. I wasn’t even that good – just really lucky.
What really made you go for it?
I wasn’t enjoying work that much and reacted badly to the pressure of having somebody else as my boss. I just wanted to play poker. I enjoyed writing, but I was just concerned with building a bankroll and playing for myself. I was getting very addicted to it. I couldn’t work when I was completely focused on doing something else.
You must have had a gambling personality before this time, surely?
I remember playing cards at school when I was 12 or 13 – just pontoon with two of my mates. One of them now works for Ladbrokes and the other one’s a trader. So I guess it was in the blood at an early age.
Yeah, but most kids played cards…
Yeah I know, but it [gambling] was something that was always with me. When I got disillusioned with school, it was a good escape to go to the bookies. It was an amazing buzz as well. I’d play pool with my mates at school – and it was always for money. I’d also go to the casino to play blackjack.
Okay, so back to the present, and your run as a pro. How did you get going?
After deciding to give it a go, I went to Vegas and had a couple of results and came back with a £30,000 bankroll. Then I went to Paris and won the WPT and everything changed. Once you win a big event, you just get a lot more opportunities to play more – so you’re fortunate in that way.
The WPT in Paris was the landmark victory for you. What were the emotions of winning that event?
It took a couple of weeks to sink in, but it was like: ‘Wow.’ I’d watched WPT events and followed it, so to be an actual winner was fantastic and out of this world.
Was that your announcement as a serious UK poker star?
Yeah. I knew I could compete at a very high level anyway, but it gave me the belief that I could take anyone on. I never really thought about being a poker star or anything like that. That’s just rhetoric. It’s about you competing and doing well against other people.
Your latest big win was the Dublin EPT. How does it feel to be the only player to win a WPT and EPT event?
It’s a real honour. That’s probably my greatest achievement in the game. All the great players have played in both events. It sounds great, but is it better than winning two WPTs? When you get to the TV table in a WPT event, you have to get really lucky. It was a good field in Dublin and the EPT has got a bit more play. It was a really proud moment. Winning both was something that I’d identified before. When Patrik Antonius – who’s a good friend of mine – was playing heads-up in the WPT, I was thinking, ‘I really don’t want him to win’ – he’d already won an EPT and I wanted to be the first to win both.
Was the mathematical side of poker something you came to grips with easily?
I was never good at mathematics at school. I couldn’t do the top paper at GCSE, for instance. But, on the other hand, I was always good at adding up numbers in my head. To be honest I wasn’t very focused at school. The maths side of poker is something you learn, but it’s also something you just pick up. Maybe I’m not an expert, but I don’t think you can take it to an amazing level. Once you know how game theory works and what the odds are of certain things happening, it’s a question of practising it so you do it quicker in your head.
Talking strategy here, it’s well documented about your aggressive approach to the game. Has this always been your style?
Oh yeah, I don’t think I have the patience or the concentration levels to play really tight. I’m not an aggressive person, but being conservative and tight is just not something I’ve learned yet. It’s somewhat a reflection of my outlook on things.
You seem a very humble guy despite all your success
I appreciate how lucky I am. When you are arrogant, you’re just setting yourself up to be knocked down – what’s the point in that? That’s not a good approach. You don’t want people to try and take shots at you in poker just because of who you are and what you have achieved. Who the fuck is better than anyone else anyway? Professional poker players are not better people than the average man in the street. Also, why would I want to take someone’s money and make him or her feel like shit? What’s the point? I’ll still make the odd cocky comment at the table if someone played a hand really badly, but I would never take it too far. At the end of the day we’re just playing cards and there is an enormous amount of luck involved in the game.
That’s a very honest approach
Well I know how things can change. You can go through good runs and bad runs – and I know I’m on a good run at the moment. In the UK people love to take shots at people when they are doing well. I’m just going to get on with my thing, do what I do and see what happens.
And if poker finished tomorrow?
I would probably try to move into sports betting. I would never want to work for someone else. There are other things I want to do long term when I have more money. But at the moment, I’m very happy with where I am and wouldn’t want to change anything in my life….
Roland is just one of the many great players we interview in PokerPlayer mag every month so try it HERE