We chart the meteoric rise of super high stakes online cash player Isildur. Is he as crazy as everyone says?

Isildur1 has turned heads by taking on and beating the best nosebleed stakes players around. Michael Kaplan wonders if he can go the distance…

Puggy Pearson didn’t know much about the internet, but he did know a lot about human nature. One of the great old-school hustlers, and a top poker pro in his day, Puggy once commented to me on players who view themselves as being unbeatable: ‘There’s a paddle to fit every ass. I don’t care who you are and I don’t care how good you think you are. Somewhere there’s a paddle that’s just right for you.’

During these days of nosebleed stakes online, analytical software, and so many hands per hour that variance gets wrung out in no time, Pug’s little homily seems hopelessly quaint. It’s easy to figure that the pillars of online poker will never collapse, and then along comes a mystery man named Isildur1, an internet marauder who may or may not be the Swedish pro Viktor Blom.

As of this writing, he’s taken Phil Ivey, Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan and Patrik Antonius – the scariest opponents in poker – on a seven-figure, heads-up joyride, complete with whiplashing swings and the kind of collective paddling that none of them could have possibly expected. Brazenly confident, Isildur has even developed a habit of multi-tabling against each of them simultaneously, which has sent the online railbirds wild.

First Blood

One of the early opponents to get beaten by Isildur is Haseeb Qureshi, a CardRunners pro and instructor. They started out playing $25/$50 no-limit Hold’em and then moved up to $100/$200 pot-limit Omaha (Qureshi’s best game).

Multi-tabling, Qureshi was down around $450,000 when he finally gave up and quit. ‘The most difficult and unique thing that Isildur does [primarily in no-limit Hold’em] is that he hugely overbets rivers when the top of his range beats the top of his opponent’s range,’ says Qureshi, speaking from experience. ‘But rather than just overbetting in a standard range, Isildur will go out of his way to keep more strong hands in his range by checking back more of them on the flop and turn. He makes EV sacrifices early in a hand in order to equip himself with more good hands for his river strategy. Very few players do this, and it is extremely difficult to deal with. He forces you to make tough decisions and very big guesses in terms of how he is playing his range. It’s a strategy that a lot of people are likely to begin incorporating into their games.’

That said, Qureshi acknowledges that he will welcome another crack at a PLO session against the mysterious online player. The only problem is, for the time being at least, Isildur probably won’t play low enough for him to get the shot.

Andrew Robl, who lost $20,000 playing an hour of $25/$50 no-limit Hold’em against Isildur, can understand Qureshi’s desire for a rematch. ‘I think Isildur does a few things wrong in PLO,’ maintains Robl. ‘It’s a game in which you make more maths-based decisions than you do in no-limit. On flop play and preflop play, Isildur makes mistakes.’

American Dream

Going back to Puggy’s paddle-for-every-ass theory, I wonder if this is the beginning of the end for America’s top online players. Is there a bunch of mini Isildurs waiting in the wings? Or is he an anomaly? The latter, says Qureshi. ‘European players are generally weaker than the Americans, so on the whole, I would say Isildur is pretty far ahead of anyone who plays [primarily] in Europe.’

As for Isildur’s long-term prospects, Qureshi and Robl agree that they don’t seem that rosy. Qureshi characterises him as a guy who ‘really loves action’ and figures that ‘he’ll probably keep playing until he goes broke’. Robl points out that when you spend many hours competing at the highest stakes ‘against the three people who’ve won more money online than anyone else,’ it’s not suicidal but it isn’t exactly healthy for your bankroll either.

In the same breath though, both Robl (and Qureshi) acknowledge that the possibility of a mega long-shot conclusion also looms: ‘There is a small chance that Isildur wins $10m from these guys combined, and then nobody will play him any more.’

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