Meet the superheroes

Meet the superheroes

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Loosli, Kitai and Baumann.

Nowadays, Team Winamax are showing off their superpowers far beyond the limits of the French-speaking world. We catch up with three of their brightest stars: Sylvain Loosli, Davidi Kitai, and Gaëlle Baumann.

Sylvain Loosli

Hi Sylvain, thanks for having a chat with us. Has it been difficult adjusting to fame after being on the World Series final table?

Well actually, it’s been quite good. I had a bit of time to adjust to the fame during the tournament, between July and the final table in November. I did a lot of interviews and the spotlight was on me, but I did enjoy it.

Do people recognise you a lot more now?

Well, not on the street or anything! But people do know who I am in live tournaments, especially in France. Poker players want to take photos with me or ask me questions. It has been quite rewarding, because it’s good to be noticed when you are doing well in yourself.

Do you think it changes how people play against you?

It could do. In January I went to the Bahamas to play the PCA, and the minute that I sat at the table the guy who was sitting on my right told me ‘I really enjoyed watching you on the Main Event final table.’ I think he definitely took it to be important, and we ended up playing each other in some pots. Maybe he had a bit more information about my game from watching me on TV than I did about his, but I’m fine with that.


Did you change your game much between July and November?

I didn’t change it completely, but I worked a bit on my game. The main point was that I had never played many tournaments before, and since then I’ve learned a lot about the importance of different pay-outs on the final table, and the value of ICM. It was obviously quite a big difference between the payouts, and especially since I hadn’t played many tournaments before, it was huge for me.

Is it true you’d only played 10 live tournaments before the World Series main event?

Yeah, something like that. It was crazy.

It didn’t seem like you were at a disadvantage because of that, though.

No, I don’t think so. I had played some online tournaments before – not many, just the big ones on the Sundays. So I wasn’t a complete beginner, but obviously the World Series is a bit different.

After the World Series, have you made a point of playing more live tournaments, or are you still focused on cash games?

I’ve been playing a few more tournaments. I made the final table of the Winamax Poker Open main event in Dublin and came second in that. At the time though, I wanted a change. I wanted to set a new goal for myself in poker. Before the World Series I had got a bit bored of my everyday routine, so now I’m quite excited to play more live tournaments. I’m proud to play for Winamax, so I set my goals pretty high. I want to win a major title now.

Do you think there’ll be a French winner of the World Series this year?

We‘re at a disadvantage, because there are so many more American players. But I think we’ll see another French player at the final table soon. Poker is growing in France, and hopefully one of us will win it one day!

When did you decide to go pro?

It was around a year after I finished my studies, so about 2009-10. I was still a student at the time, but just starting to get better at poker. I was playing $4/$8 and $5/$10, and making quite a lot of money every month even though I played part-time. [Laughs] It seemed like a very cool lifestyle to be a poker player, because you’re your own boss. You don’t have ANY constraints. You just do what you want, where you want. You can play poker anywhere in the world. It just seemed very cool.


How did your family react?

At the beginning, it was tough with my mother. My brother was quite proud because he knew I was making lots of money. The thing was, I wasn’t looking to play poker for my whole life, I was just planning on doing it for a few years. With my mother it was a lot more difficult. I had always been a brilliant student, and she said ‘why are you throwing everything away? What about your business career?’ Eventually she understood that it’s not just gambling, and it can be a ‘proper’ trade. [Chuckles] I think winning $2.8 million in one go helped. She’s fine with it now.

How have you found being on Team Winamax?

It’s great actually. Poker is not a team game – you play for yourself. So it’s nice to have that kind of team support anyway. We’re all good friends, and we chat a lot, and spend time together when we can. Travelling the tournament circuit can be lonely if you do it on your own, so it’s nice to have the others. I’m particularly close to Davidi [Kitai], but I get on well with everyone in the team.

How has your life changed in the last year after such a drastic event?

[chuckles] It’s changed a bit! The biggest change has been my new focus on playing live tournaments. I have a lot more people asking me to come and play tournaments with them. Overall, it hasn’t changed everything in my life – just my everyday routine. I’m still the same person – I just have more money! [laughs].

Davidi Kitai

Hi Davidi. You’ve got a Triple Crown, which is the peak of achievement for a lot of poker players. How are you going to follow that?

I have a lot of dreams still to do in poker. A triple crown is a great accomplishment and I’m really happy about it. I won a second WSOP bracelet last summer, and I would love to do a double triple crown. That would be nice. Being the first player to win two EPTs would be great, or to win a high roller event, because I have never done that. So that’s my next goal.

Which of those do you want to achieve the most?

Actually, the most important I didn’t mention. I’m really dreaming about making a deep run in the Main Event. I hope that one day I can be a November Niner, but that’s more of a dream than a goal – I know it would be really tough. So really I just want to improve year on year and go on to the next step, which is to play all the high rollers. I would also like to play in the super high rollers one day. That would be the last step – if I win a super high roller and reach my final table in the Main Event of the World Series, I can quit with poker.

You’re ranked as the number one Belgian player in the world. Do you follow that?

Yeah, I follow my progress. It has been many years since I became number one, and I hope that nobody can go above me. I hope I’m going to be Number one for a long time. It’s been four years.


There are tons of good players in Belgium these days, e.g. the De Meulder brothers, Kevin Vandersmissen and Kenny Hallett. Do you ever worry they’re going to sneak up on you in the rankings?

Yes, there are a lot of players who made some really great results last year. Michael Gathy won two WSOP bracelets, which was an amazing result. Kevin Vandersmissen is still one of the top online MTT players, but also is very strong live too. It’s great to have a small Belgian ‘crew’. We are less than ten players altogether who play most of the big events. It’s really nice to see the solidarity between us, and the great results we get.

Where in the world are you now?

I will be in London in two weeks, but I am currently in Luxembourg. I travel 6-7 months a year.

Do you enjoy travel? Is it ever tiring moving around so much?

Yeah, I really enjoy it. I prefer to play live poker than online – I’m still playing online, but less than before. I never get tired. I like adventure and travelling to see a new place. Meeting new people, and having fun. It’s quite boring to be in the same country, same city all the time. It’s not for me.

What’s it been like to be part of Team Winamax?

Winamax gave me a chance. They were looking for a Belgian player, and they decided to sponsor me at a time when I didn’t have many results. I am very grateful to them for giving me a chance and believing in me, and I have been with them six years now. We are a big team – some have left, and some others have joined, but there is a lot of exchange between us. We have a lot of discussions about poker – technical stuff, but also about the professional side of it. We have a coach – Stéphane Matheu – who helps us to be more professional and talk about our attitude at the table. We have become really good friends. I think it’s a big advantage to be not alone like most poker players. We go as a team, and if we ever have a bad period we have somebody to talk to.

How do you keep motivated if things aren’t going well?

I’ve been in poker for more than ten years. In teaching, we’ve been talking about not focusing on the parts you can’t do anything about, like bad luck. The best thing to do is go through it hand by hand, tournament by tournament. So when somebody is on a bad run, we try to analyse their game to make sure they are still playing good. Confidence is one of the most important parts in tournament poker, and sometimes when you are on a bad run it affects that.

You’ve been in poker for over a decade – what would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learnt during that time? Advice you’d give to your younger self?

Focus on what you are doing well. When I first played it was mostly cash games, then I moved to tournaments and was playing both. Finally, I decided to stop with cash games, because I feel I’m really a better tournament player. I feel tournaments are more creative. So I would tell myself not to waste my time playing so many hours on my computer playing cash games. Other than that, I wouldn’t change that much about poker. When I first started playing tournaments, my only goal was to win. I didn’t care about any bubble or final table bubble or any of that stuff. I have won 7 tournaments and 14 final tables, and that is what I am most proud about. [Laughs] That was not exactly the question, but I brag about it.

What would you say is your proudest victory?

Two weeks after I joined Team Winamax, I won my first WSOP bracelet. It was very good, because I felt more integrated into the team, more respected. It was my first win, so that was something special. But I would say my best memory is the win at EPT Berlin. It was after two years where I didn’t make many results. I didn’t cash in many big tournaments before that. I was really waiting for a big win to come again, so it was a big accomplishment – that feeling was probably the best I have ever had in poker.


Do you think you’ll do even better at the WSOP this year?

Actually, I feel really good this year for the World Series. I really like to play events there. I think the common kind of style there works well against my style, so I’m really confident. I play many tournaments, so I’ll be there from the beginning to the end, and I can always change and adapt – if I bust one tournament, I’ll always have plans for another. This gives me confidence to play my A-game throughout the Series, and try to make some results.

Why do you think your style matches up so well against the average American player?

I guess because most Americans are predictable. They are not like most European players, who are able to make a big move at any time. So it’s easier to play – you can put pressure on them, and when they resist, it means that they have a big hand. They are not exploitative. When I’m sat at the table with a Swedish guy, and some other Russian – even if they are bad, they are still harder to play against than the typical American style. I’d much rather play against an American than the average European or Scandinavian, who are more unpredictable.

Some people play according to particular rules and guidelines, whereas you’ve got a reputation for being totally off the wall and creative. Would you say that’s true?

Yeah, I think I’m a really creative player. I really try to change gears, so some people see me as a tight player, while others say ‘you are crazy’. When I’m on maniac mode, I try to be very aggressive, I can do sick stuff. I know that if you put my name into YouTube, you will find some sick hands. I guess that most of the time they only broadcast the sickest hands ever, because that is what is most interesting to the public – I’m not sure if I’m that sick all the time! I’m able to make a big move at any time, but it happens that I’m playing a tournament where I do not do any big bluffs, I just play tight. It all depends on the table I’m on in that tournament. However, my image is generally seen as very aggressive. Most of the regular players on the circuit know that it is not good to bluff me that much, because I’m supposed to be a calling station [laughs]. They all see the video of EPT Berlin where I make some sick call. That’s okay for me because I can play aggressively. I can three-bet, and I know that most of them are not able to four-bet me because they’re afraid I will five-bet.

Do you have any goals?

My goal this year will be to win a high roller event, but obviously if I win a Main Event that would be great. My goal now is to start playing the super high roller events. At the moment I have no solution for this, because it’s too high variance for my bankroll, but I’m looking for backers. I hope that I will find some for next year but for this year I will play some high rollers and I hope to win one. In the short term my goal would be to play the super high rollers, but in the long run it’d be to reach the Main Event of the World Series final table. I’m not sure that I want to play that much in five or ten years. That’s my problem – I cannot see the future from the present, so I really don’t want to try to project.

Gaëlle Baumann

Hi Gaëlle. Can you believe it’s over a year ago since your 10th place finish the World Series?

It doesn’t seem like that long ago, because everything went so fast after that. It was my first year with Winamax, and I was just starting to play proper tournaments. I played between 6-8 tournaments the first year, and then the following year I played over 40. It was a big change, because I was always on the move and travelling about.

40 is a lot of events to play in one year!

It is. Unfortunately it didn’t go so well that year. I had a rough year. Maybe I wasn’t playing well all the time, and I had a lot of rough tables. I experienced a lot of variance. Hopefully this year is going to be better.

Is it difficult to stay optimistic when things go badly?

That was a big thing for me. It was hard. I tried to work on my game and play as well as I could, but motivation-wise it’s difficult to go through disappointment after disappointment and still play your best game. It was tough, but I kept going. Now this year is already a lot better with my second place in the Winamax Poker Tour Paris [Gaëlle recently cashed for €65,000].

Congratulations! Is it a relief?

Yeah. I needed a big cash to get back in the game. I really want to play again so that’s good.


What was your tournament journey like?

It was crazy. On Day 4 I was down to two big blinds, then I doubled and doubled and doubled again. I had 2BB which was around 15k, and by the end of the day I had 900k. I didn’t know that could happen! I mean, I’d heard stories, but it’s the sort of thing that only happens to other people. There were a lot of swings and ups and downs, but by the end I had a huge stack, so that stage was easier.

What was the final table like?

When I went into the final table I was seventh in chips. There were lots of amateur players, because it’s a tournament that’s open to anybody, and a lot of qualifiers had got there for free. So the table was not so tough, and I took out what was probably the best player at the table on the first hand. Once I’d got my stack back up it was easier, as some of the players made a lot of mistakes.

What was the most common mistake you saw?

There was a guy who kept three-betting me, but only with huge sizing. I had really bad hands so I knew I just had to wait until I had a big hand against him. There was another guy who had around 15BB, but kept calling or raising then folding. It’s the sort of stuff that perhaps you don’t see in bigger tournaments.

What’s it been good to be part of Team Winamax?

It’s great, because we can always discuss hands together. When you look at the sponsored pros for some other sites, the players aren’t so close because they have so many people. Here, it’s a small team, so we can really support ourselves and help each other. Then every time someone wins a big tournament you want to get there too! It’s a competition, but not in a bad way. When it was going so badly for me last year, I could talk to them about their experiences. You just have to know that you’re not the only one, and that downswings happen to everyone, so to rely on them is great.

Could you tell us how you got started in poker?

I’ve always loved all kinds of games, and when I was studying in Australia I was invited to a poker game with some friends. I didn’t know anything about poker, but I loved it. After that, I started to play online because I didn’t really know anyone else who played. It began in play money, then I began studying the game and made a deposit online. I was only playing small games, but one day I won a tournament for $1,500. After that, I almost lost everything, but then I started grinding only cash games – from 2009-12, cash games were all I played. I started off in 5NL and gradually moved up the stakes until I was playing $5/$10, and that’s when Winamax contacted me. After that, I began playing tournaments again, which I was really not used to. It was partly for this reason that when I went deep in the World Series main event, I was really stressed. Because I was a cash game player, I was good when the stacks were deeper, but when my stack got down to 30-40BB I made some mistakes. I was really tense, and it was really hard for me. Thankfully, I think I’ve got better at tournaments since then!

So you found it really difficult to adjust during your World Series journey?

Yeah. I definitely made some mistakes. I’d always played big pots in cash games before, but I was not used to that particular tournament dynamic. It was tough playing the main event, particularly controlling my emotions. I was very emotional, and really too tense. Nowadays I’m a lot more quiet and calm at the table, but it was a big deal at the time. I think my emotions cost me the World Series final table. However, I can’t resent myself for that. I didn’t have any experience before that, so I don’t think I could have done better at the time.

It would be tough for someone so inexperienced to play any big event, but the World Series is literally the biggest event in the world.

Yeah. We were playing for six or seven days in a row. It was crazy. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I don’t even know if I enjoyed it. I was so stressed!


It’s amazing to come 10th in such a huge event, but was it frustrating to bubble the final table?

Yes, very. I was frustrated because I knew I had made mistakes on Day 7, and I was mad at myself. I stewed for two weeks, but really two weeks is not that bad – some people said to me ‘If it was me, I wouldn’t ever get over it!’ So, after two weeks I was okay with it, and even if I’d made some mistakes it wasn’t such a big deal. But before that was hard. I’ve been working with a mental coach on my self-control, and how to prepare for a tournament. It’s working great – I’m really starting to see the difference. Now I’m less afraid of playing good players, which before would really intimidate me. I’m more confident than I used to be. With my coach we just talk about stuff. It’s all about looking at your behaviour, and understanding why you do it – then you can change for the better.

Do you have anything you’re aiming for in the future?

Yes. I wrote a blog a few weeks ago where I said I really wanted to make a final table, because I felt I needed to get back up and running. I’ve since done that, which I’m really happy about; so now I’m playing all the EPTs coming up, and I really want to win one.

Tags: Sylvain Loosli, Davidi Kitai, Gaëlle Baumann, Team Winamax