Fedor Holz Interview
Monday, 15 June 2015
German youngster on living in the moment.
By Tom Victor.
"I'm looking forward to playing the World Series, but I'm looking forward to the time off after it as well," explains Fedor Holz, poker's newest phenomenon.
Speaking to the 21-year-old German, it is clear to see that a rigid plan isn't exactly what makes him tick; he thrives on freedom to decide to do something new on a whim. The next three months - the EPT Grand Final, followed by the Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) and his first WSOP - are only likely to see his wanderlust grow, and it would be no big shock to see him take some time away from the game afterwards to pursue his love of travel and exploration.
"I want to be able to travel whenever I want, and do more short trips for just one or two weeks to get new experiences," he reveals. "It's about experiencing a life with a lot of different colours, picking which area you prefer and how you prefer it."
He manages to live in the moment by acknowledging the inevitability of change, recognising that poker will only serve him for so long but welcoming the desire to commit to it while the passion is there.
"I know the moment will arrive when I decide poker is just not the right thing any more, but I know right now in this moment it's just the right thing to do. It just feels right, and that's kind of my approach to life - just do the things that feel good in the moment and don't try to force yourself to do things now because you think they might have a good impact on your future."
It is only really in the last two years that Holz's poker notoriety has grown, but that in turn has allowed him to share his outlook with like-minded individuals. His first live tournament win arrived in a side event at EPT Barcelona last year, one of five cashes at that particular stop, while he came close to final table berths at EPT Malta and the World Poker Tour stop in Vienna, the city he now calls home.
However it is online where Holz- known as 'CrownUpGuy' - has really made his name, overcoming one of the toughest fields around to win last year's WCOOP Main Event for a cool $1.3m. While the Barcelona run brought him some attention, it was nothing compared to winning one of the most prestigious online titles going.
"I noticed a difference after Barcelona, but it didn't feel too fast," he says. "Barcelona was more like something I was already used to, as I had the same sort of breakthrough online maybe six months or a year ago.
"People had started to recognise me, and a lot of people in the German and Austrian community knew me already. Then the same thing happened live - I cashed a couple of things and people started to recognise me a bit there too."
"But then the moment I won the WCOOP Main it was way too much - I got so many messages after that. I think it was just too fast for me to deal with right at that moment so I just didn't answer any messages to begin with - I took a week off and didn’t do much besides enjoy my life."
It's not only the poker media who have sat up and noticed, though, with more and more awestruck fellow players approaching Holz at live tournaments, and he admits he's "not sure how to feel" in these situations.
"I like when people respect that I achieved something because that means I've worked hard for something and that's a good feeling. But on the other hand when people don’t really know how to talk to me, or when they feel they're worth less than me, that makes me really uncomfortable."
Best of the best
However he is anything but a recluse. On May 9th, Holz will welcome friends from poker and beyond to his Vienna apartment for a pre-SCOOP party (not a regular occurrence - "we moved into a new apartment, and we just found another reason to have a party").
He will begin14 days of online grinding with WCOOP and FTOPS titles to his name, but a SCOOP crown has eluded CrownUpGuy so far. Not that he's too worried. "I take every tournament seriously, whatever name it has, but obviously the SCOOP would be really nice," he says.
"Obviously the main event, and the last Sunday, is always so amazing, but there are so many tournaments where a deep run is really nice and a really rare experience so I'm just looking forward to [the two weeks] a lot."
The spontaneity of the pre-SCOOP party is part of a carefree do-what-you-feel-like attitude which has helped him develop a close-knit group of friends with whom he travels to tournament stops across Europe.
Some of those within the group are just involved for the city breaks and barely spend any time at the tables - "We're open to whoever wants to hang out with us as long as you're cool and relaxed and nice to hang out with," he says - but Holz sees just as much value in spending time around talented players, where those around him can help him develop a new outlook on elements of his game and vice-versa.
When I ask him about who he expects to dominate SCOOP this year, his answer is instant, almost a reflex. "I think bencb789 is going to pull out a very strong SCOOP this series," he says, before pausing to add "…again". Holz's compatriot has barely been seen on the live felt, playing only a handful of tournaments, but last year final-tabled two SCOOP events, winning one for just shy of $250,000.
The pair will be staying together in Las Vegas for six weeks during the World Series, and Holz is grateful for the opportunity to share thoughts with someone whose game he clearly respects a great deal. "He's a super smart guy and it's really refreshing to be together with him as he has a lot of very interesting thought processes."Eyes open
One of the most admirable things about Holz is his combination of humility and a sponge-like psyche, which suggests he is happy to listen to anyone if he thinks he can learn from them to better himself in poker or in life.
He has a personal blog, in which he is always eager to share what he has learned with anyone who is interested, be it from a book, a conversation, or simply observing how other people operate.
"Wherever it is, whether it's poker or if it's talking about any other subject in your life in general, when you speak to people who have a lot of interesting things to say and you have a lot of things to learn from them it's always very valuable.
"Even if you just observe someone doing something in a specific way, those are the sorts of things that might change something in your thought process and how you approach life and the things around you. I feel like I have a very positive attitude to life right now and this helps me with poker as well - the more I develop as a person the better poker player I am."
If you think this is just bluster, you'd be wrong - there's no such thing as a half-measure for Holz. He developed a staking stable of great renown, based on being able to have a layered relationship by backing, coaching and having proper conversations with his horses, but even this is being scaled down now he has realised he can't offer everything he would want from a backer if the boot was on the other foot.
"For me it's a lot about the relationship you have as well. It shouldn't just be a business relationship but should be a friendship as well in a way. Obviously you have to try to be serious in a lot of things but I think there's more to it than that.
"Half a year or a year ago I had way more free time and less obligations, so at that moment it felt good and it felt like the right thing to do, but it is a very big commitment and right now I'm not the right person to provide that," he admits.Helping hands
His focus on the moment remains with helping those less fortunate than him, however, and this can be seen in his support for children's charity Casa Esperanza in Chile (http://www.casa-esperanza.de/), which provides an education and safe living space to children coming from difficult or abusive home environment.
He has a huge amount of time for those volunteers who put in the hours at Casa Esperanza, admitting "Without those people who invest their time, money wouldn't do anything, so I think the respect and fame should go to those people and not to me.
"I'd like to get people to do something in a similar way to help others, especially in those situations where you have something that is good for you but would be 10 times better for someone else. If everyone would think and act like this then I think the whole world would be a lot happier."
This mindset has helped Holz raise tens of thousands of dollars for the charity, in part through a pledge on a TwoPlusTwo forum thread to match other poker players' donations up to $20,000, which received widespread support (he donated $20,000 of his own money, plus more than $25,000 from the poker community). He plans to fly out to Chile to spend time helping at the home, but wants to be sure he can do the trip justice.
"I'd really like to be very selfless and prefer to go out there for a long time and help others, but I'm in a certain period in my life where there are a couple of things I have to do for myself - sort of to find myself - and find out things for myself, and this is right now. But after Vegas I want to start studying and I want to have the sort of lifestyle where I can just say 'I'm flying to Chile for the next 2 weeks'."
Holz's support for the charity is born out of an altruism comparable to a growing number of poker players, such as REG board members Liv Boeree, Igor Kurganov and Philipp Gruissem. Even though Holz grew up in relatively modest circumstances, he still appreciates that what he might take for granted will have far more value for others.
"I feel like I want to give in those situations where I feel it has the most impact, especially when I compare it with what impact the same amount of money has on my life compared to on their lives.
"I like to have a nice apartment and I like to travel, and as long as I have enough money to do that I'm happy. The more money I have it doesn’t really have more value to me, the value just stops at a certain point."
The balancing act between poker and life it always fragile, but it seems Holz is close to finding that balance by embracing the freedom offered by the combination of youth and financial stability.
"What I try to achieve right now is always being able to choose what I'd like to do the most - I think that's the thing that helps you the most. In poker, if you always do what you feel like right now as long as it's effective, it's good.
And his advice for others? "Don't think too much in terms of what you should do or what others might think you should do in a certain situation, just do whatever you feel is best."