March 2013 cover

07 March 2013

Not content with spending some time last year at the top of the Pocket Fives Rankings as best online tournament player, Chris Brammer also topped the Bluff European Rankings for live tournaments in 2012.

Although that first-place finish in a major live tournament still eludes him, he had to go deep consistently in a lot of high buy-in events in order to get the top spot. Congratulations to our 2012 Player of the Year.

As a poker player is it enough for you to be consistent and moneymaking? Or is it frustrating not getting a first place in a live major?

It’s definitely frustrating. I really want to win one. I guess it makes me want it even more, the fact that I’ve had a few shots rather than just a one off.

Is it just a matter of time?

I probably only played 25 live events last year. If you think about it, it’s a small sample size. I could go 100 tournaments online before I win one. So I don’t expect to win one or anything like that. It’s just live events feel so much bigger, with the hype, the media, the railbirds.

Do you think accolades like Player of the Year matter much to poker players?

They’re always nice, but I don’t think too much about them. I don’t think many people do. They’re definitely a nice bonus at the end, a pat on the back, that sort of thing.

You say that photo shoots aren’t really your thing. Are you publicity shy?

I guess so. I don’t mind doing the odd interview but I’m not really one for publicity.

Is that because you’re a shy person?

I think so. I guess I’m loud when you get to know me, but really I am very shy.

Tell us a little bit about the 2012. What were the highlights? What really sticks out in your memory?

I’d always been backed for my tournaments up until last year and then I went on my own, so it was a pretty big year for me, personally, to be able to fund myself and still come out a decent winner. I had a very good year online and a couple of final tables which were majors, I guess. They both had a million for the win. It’s difficult to imagine I could do that again, to be honest. But I really want to win a big live event now. That’s my main focus.

So you’ve struck out on your own, which perhaps makes being Player of the Year even more impressive, in comparison with players in our top ten who have sponsorship, for example….

That would be a lot easier, getting 100% of your buy-ins covered. I say I’m on my own but I still sell percentages to try and offset the cost a little bit. I very rarely have 100% of myself, in a live event especially. Things like the WSOPE and tournaments like that – €10k is a lot of money to put up into one event so I sold around 40%.

I swap percentages with my friends. I swap with Toby Lewis and Craig McCorkell. I swap with them pretty much every event. Unfortunately, I was the one who was winning last year when the swaps were down. When the swaps weren’t down they were the ones winning. That’s how it works sometimes.

Do you back players?

I’ve dabbled in backing. While it starts off OK, it can wear on you very quickly, especially if you’re having problems with a horse, having to send them dollars every day. It can very quickly piss you off.

Tell us about the WSOPE event. What were the crucial moments? What do you remember most about the final table?

I’m pretty sure I always had chips throughout the tournament. I may have been chip leader at a couple of points. To be honest, it was plain sailing all the way through until we joined as one table. We were on the final table bubble, as it were, for 3.5 hours.

As we joined as one table, it all started to go wrong for me. I remember I got a big decision wrong against Sergii Baranov, the guy who finished second. He bluffed me in a pretty big pot. The pot was so crucial to my stack that I basically had to either go all in or be left with, I think, 25 big blinds. I eventually folded and he showed me a complete bluff. I got that decision wrong, which could have made the whole difference, to be honest. It meant that I was back at 25 big blinds and didn’t really have much movement after that.

Do you go away and replay those crucial hands in your head? Do they torment you?

Not so much. I didn’t care too much about it. It was a case of what could have been, I guess. If I’d have played it differently I might have won the tournament. I also might have just dusted it all off. Anything can happen, really. I try not to let it get to me too much. Obviously there’s an element of doubt.

There was another hand on the final table actually, a smaller pot where he bluffed me off as well. I was less concerned about this, though. The first time was a mistake; I made a mistake in folding.

Let’s backtrack a bit. How did you get into poker? Your dad plays a bit, doesn’t he?

Yes, I came home from a night out and found my dad watching the WPT on TV. They were playing out in the wind on some island. Instead of going to bed I stayed up and watched it with him. I’d never seen it before. My dad had always played card games, not poker but three-card brag and things like that.

I just went into college the next day and mentioned it to a couple of friends who’d also seen it and we started to play. It just went off from there.

Tell us a bit about the learning process. How do you go from being an enthusiastic amateur who's seen it on the TV to being at a World Series of Poker final table?

It’s kind of self taught, although there was a lot of mutual learning with friends. We’d bounce ideas off each other and learn from how one another played. When I first started, I’m sure I was terrible and didn’t really having much of a clue, but I managed to win. That’s the thing with tournaments. You don’t have to be good to win. Because I was winning, it gave me enthusiasm, I guess. If I started off losing I can’t imagine I’d still be doing this. I was lucky in that respect. The network of friends got bigger and bigger. The biggest turning point for me was becoming friends with Chris Moorman. He was already crushing the games. He was the biggest online winner and still is. He was really crushing online tournaments. I think I learnt a lot from him.

Was there ever a Eureka moment when a certain concept fell into place? Or was it more gradual?

I’m not sure. I’ve always been aggressive and that’s always been to my advantage. You don’t actually have to be any good to win tournaments; you have to be aggressive. Having that natural aggressiveness allowed for my mistakes and still let me win tournaments. I can’t think of any Eureka moments exactly. You’re always getting better, exploring new things.

Are you concentrating more on live now or are you still grinding away online?

I actually have this weird thing where, after a big live tournament, I can’t all of a sudden go back to playing online. I don’t know why that is. I just can’t motivate myself. It takes me a while to get back into the rhythm of things.

There have been spells where I can play every day online and love it; every single day on the grind. I guess it depends on how I’m doing. When I’m doing well I’m enthusiastic. When I’m not doing so well I’m less enthusiastic. When I go deep in a live event I want to do it again; go deep in another live event. I’m playing less now. It’s a conscious decision to play less and do other things rather than just poker.

What kind of things do you do when you’re not playing poker?

Anything that’s not poker, to be honest (laughs). Watching films, seeing friends.

That’s important for your mental state…?

Yes, I don’t think I put enough into that side of things before. I want to see my friends more now than just online.

How many tournaments do you play when you’re grinding?

I tend to play a minimum of 15 tables across the buy-ins. It depends. If there’s something special on, something important, I’ll tend to narrow it down a bit so the concentration is higher. That doesn’t come up too often. I think we’re all pretty much playing the same schedules.

Are you not really a cash game player?

I occasionally dabble but it doesn’t really interest me, to be honest.

Why do you think that is?

I prefer the blinds going up. I prefer winning tournaments. I get satisfaction out of winning tournaments. I’m sure cash players are much better poker players fundamentally, but I’ve just never really enjoyed playing cash. I can see its benefits, though. If I'm playing an MTT session, then I can’t just start and quit an hour and a half in and do something else for 20 minutes. When I’m playing MTTs I’m playing basically for the entire night.

Any tips for our readers on improving their tournament games? For example, what common mistakes do you see average players making in MTTs?

One of the most common mistakes is calling too much. People need to be very precious of their chips. They need to be aggressive with them but not careless and needlessly calling away. I don’t think you should be calling too much ever. A tournament is a raising game. You need to keep your fold equity; you need to keep applying pressure but not give away chips by calling down.

What are the best and worst things about the poker lifestyle?

The best thing is definitely the freedom. I’ve basically got my own hours. When I do play I’m in for the night but I don’t have to play on any given day. I don’t have a boss telling me to come in. I’m my own boss, basically. The tax-free money is very good too.

Did you ever have a normal job or has it always been poker?

When I was 17 I worked for Boots the Chemist for around six months. It was a Saturday job while I was at school. That’s the only job I’ve ever had.

Good for you! So what’s the worst thing about the poker lifestyle?

I guess the antisocial aspect of MTTs, in particular. Last night my friends were saying come out but I’d already started playing. It wasn’t possible for me to go out with my friends. That can happen quite a lot when you’re playing MTTs. Also, it can be stressful sometimes, losing $10k on a Sunday. That can get you down.

Do you have any mechanisms to deal with losing big chunks of money?

My friends help me in that respect because we are all in the same boat. We do know what it’s like for each other. Having my friends pat me on the back when I do get a win definitely helps me through. The wins are so much better than the losses for me. Even if they’re not very big wins, I value them very highly. I guess that helps.

Apart from your friends, the young British players we all know, which players do you admire?

I was really impressed in Cannes with Jason Mercier. It was the first time I’d played him. He really impressed me as a player. Obviously I knew he was good anyway. He was showing me what the elite were. The Swedish players are very good. They give me a lot of trouble online.

I do value my friends. I know it’s easy to say. My friends are some of the best players, I think. Moorman and Craig McCorkell have changed my game, no end. How they think about poker is just incredible.

What do you want to achieve in 2013?

To win a live event, that would be the big one. I’m off to LA for the LA Poker Classic. I plan to win that, but if that doesn’t go to plan we’re going to see a friend in Vancouver for a few days then fly to San Francisco for WPT Shooting Stars. Those are two pretty big tournaments coming up over the next few weeks. Then I’ll fly back for EPT London, which would be one of the best chances, I think, being on home soil. That maybe is the biggest one to win for a British guy. After that, there’s the EPT Grand Final, then the World Series. I’ll see how I feel after the WSOP. Sometimes I can feel dejected and not want to play any more. Then sometimes I want to play everything.