Young and gifted high stakes play Andrew Robl on his journey to the top: “A pair of girls wrestled in the pool for a prize of $200”

Young, flash and gifted at both online and live play, Andrew Robl epitomises the game’s newest breed

Less than a year ago Andrew Robl was officially too young to play poker in Las Vegas. But that didn’t stop him from moving to Sin City, flashing a fake ID when necessary, beating the high-stakes no-limit games around town and maintaining his status as one of the deadliest players online.

Today we meet in the coffee shop at the Venetian, right around the corner from the apartment he rents in a luxury high-rise on the Strip. Dressed in jeans and a hoodie, blond hair mussed and body ripped, Robl looks like he ought to be heading off to a frat-house booze blast. But as soon as he starts talking poker, it’s clear that his days of beer-bonging are far behind him…

You started playing hold’em in high school. But by your first year of college, in 2005, things began to go crazy. What was going on?

ANDREW ROBL: I had become an online sit&go specialist. In my mind, it’s the simplest form of poker. You don’t need to make many decisions and it’s mathematically soft. I played 12 to 14 tables at once and had a simple strategy: don’t play many hands early on, then play shove-or-fold.

During my first semester at Michigan State University I made $5,000 or $6,000 per month, partied four nights a week, paid for everyone’s alcohol, and maintained a 3.9 GPA [grade point average where the highest possible is 4.33]. I had a $30,000 bankroll going into January of 2006, and then I made $15,000 in a single month.

How’d you get good enough to do that?

AR: I think in a logical way and I have a willingness to learn. Most people try to figure out poker on their own. I asked for help on the forums and read every poker book I could get my hands on. Plus, most people are so incredibly lazy about poker. You see guys who’ve been playing for 30 years and they make mistakes that just can’t be justified.

When did you first hit Las Vegas?

AR: In February of 2006. This was the real turning point for me. I was having an awesome month online and a guy from a sit&go forum was throwing a party out here. He invited a bunch of players, rented a ballroom at the Venetian and put on a 32-man heads-up tournament with a $500 buy-in. I came with a $10,000 bankroll, went straight from the airport to the Wynn, and jumped into the $80/$160 limit hold’em game.

I was really intimidated at first, but then I saw people making huge mistakes and wound up winning around $1,500. I became confident that not everyone in Vegas is a card shark.

What happened next?

AR: That night I went with the other online players to Spearmint Rhino, where some multi-millionaire paid me $300 to give a lap dance to one of the strippers. Then, a night later, in the heads-up tournament, I made the finals but lost in an upset to a casual low-stakes player (who got lucky). Suddenly, though, I was the new guy that nobody had really known about before. I felt euphoric.

My mind opened up to this new life I could be living. On the day I got back to school, I dropped all my classes and went on to make 50 grand in the next month. It was the sickest thing ever.

So you’re winning all this money, playing online, but still living in a college dorm room. Did you play any live poker at all?

AR: There were games at Michigan State, but they weren’t big enough to interest me. One exception came when a kid from my high school wanted to play me to see who was the best guy in our hometown. So we played a $5,000 heads-up match in the basement of my friend’s house. Then the kid’s father came downstairs and saw $10,000 on the table. He was cool with it, but he just wanted to make sure that nobody had a gun and that there wouldn’t be a heist taking place.

Tell me about the dichotomy of being a successful, professional poker player while hanging out with a bunch of college kids…

AR: It started to get weird. I drove an Escalade, which meant I had the nicest car in town. I threw a New Year’s Eve party going into 2007, and spent like $2,000 on alcohol and hired a bartender. It was in my apartment with an open bar. Everyone was calling their friends saying, ‘This millionaire kid is throwing a party.’ They had no idea that I was just rich for a college kid. In their minds I had all the money in the world.

Sounds like a good party.

AR: I threw ridiculous parties. One time I bought a giant, inflatable swimming pool and filled it with cooking oil. A pair of girls wrestled in the pool for a prize of $200. Three hundred guys were crowded around watching and I refereed.

After a while, though, it must get old to be the only guy with money…

AR: Yeah. At one point I had cash stolen from me, and that made me feel shitty. It got to feeling like people were taking advantage of me. They ate my food and drank my alcohol and justified it by saying, ‘Well, you won $10,000 today.’ But I couldn’t sit there and tell them about the times I lost $8k in a day. These kids had $400 in their bank accounts – the sums would have shocked them. We were living such different lives.

Moving to Vegas must have seemed like the only reasonable option.

AR: I moved here this past December. Vegas is the mecca of poker, and if you want to be a professional gambler this is the place to be. Ironically, even though I live in Las Vegas, I still play mostly online. The live games here usually aren’t big enough. But during the Five Diamond Classic there was a $50/$100 no-limit game and I played that every day. Your average player has $50,000 on the table, so it’s pretty deep.

How’s the live poker gone for you?

AR: Great. In my mind, live poker is the easiest thing ever. It’s like a joke. You play $25/$50 online and your normal table is four really good pros, one break-even player and one fish. So basically everyone is splitting the fish money. In live poker, the pros aren’t as good, they haven’t played as many hands and the dynamic is more like this: me, maybe two other really good pros, four retired men who are break-even players, and two or three rich people who have no clue.

Sounds like your life here is pretty busy.

AR: This is going to sound crazy, but my life is actually a lot calmer since I moved to Vegas. I’m living on my own here and I’m more focused on poker. I’m always either playing poker or talking about it. And the thing about living in the Midwest is that if I told someone I played poker for a living, they immediately thought I was a deadbeat or something. Out here it’s respected. Plus I have poker-player friends to hang out with. It’s weird to be with people who don’t gamble.

Tell me about your non-poker bets.

AR: I had a good one with my manager Nick. He was going to have to walk from Las Vegas to the city limits of L.A. within seven days. We were going to bet $20,000, which is a lot of money to Nick but not a lot to me. If I won, I would have felt bad; if I lost, Nick would have been all rich and stopped working for me. I ended up buying out of the bet for a 50-inch plasma TV. We also had another bet, for $200, in which he had four minutes to run up the steps to my 31st floor apartment.

He came pretty close, so I called it a wash. Nick pulled a muscle near his rib, and the next day he went to the emergency room because he thought he was having a heart attack. But he’s okay now.

Beyond proposition betting with your manager, are you thinking about ways of making money away from the table?

AR: There’s a lot of money in the game, but I also see a lot to be made elsewhere, through endorsements and sponsorships and things like that. It’s not easy, though. Right now there are more pros than ever. However, the big-name tournament pros, compared to the young generation, are just not as good. I think it’s only a matter of time before the young internet kids take over. That’s definitely the future of poker.

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