WSOP November Niner Sam Holden

September Cover

06 September 2011

The last couple of years have been great ones for the Brits at the World Series of Poker. In fact all that's been missing has been a victory in the Main Event. 22-year-old Sam Holden could be on course to change that though.

We caught up with the last Brit standing as he prepares for the WSOP final table and talked strategy, sponsorship and how being one of the November Nine has changed his poker life.

Take us back to the beginning, Sam…

I started playing poker when I turned 18 after seeing it on TV. I was playing for free on the internet, then made a few deposits and just started building my way up. When I got to university, I managed to meet some poker friends, played some home games and began taking it more seriously. I started reading books and really concentrated on improving my own game.

When I was leaving university I was in a position to turn professional. That was June 2010 and for the last year I've been playing full-time. During the year, I've built my way up, usually playing online MTTs. Then I started to play a few live events, mainly UKIPTs. I got to a point where I had a bankroll sufficient for a trip to Vegas for the World Series, and so I booked my flight, took a shot and ended up doing pretty well.

What's your daily routine?

It has changed a lot now since the World Series. I'd be on a late-sleep schedule, so I'd be getting up around midday and then I’d try and do all the real stuff, like paying the bills and everything I need to do in life, up until about 6pm. Then I start playing online, and obviously, if you have a deep run, you could be playing until 3am quite easily. But often, if things don't go so well, it would be over by 1am and then I’d try to chill out after that and go to bed about 4am.

To be honest, what I really enjoy about poker, and the reason why I was so drawn in to doing it professionally, was the flexibility that you have. If someone phones you up and asks if you want to do something tomorrow, you can just say yes.

Did Black Friday affect you?

Black Friday, overall, didn't affect European players too much, with the exception of the tournament field sizes decreasing slightly. Since then, Full Tilt has gone down, and more people have been affected. They were processing cashouts at first and so everyone thought their accounts were fine, but things are up in the air now, which came as a bit of a surprise. I have some money locked up on Full Tilt, so hopefully I can get that back in the future. It's a shame, though, because it means a lot of amateurs have lost confidence in online poker.

Is your ability natural or did you study hard?

I’ve put a lot of work into my game and watched quite a few online training site videos. I really find it fascinating learning new things. It's a bit harder now because a lot of the stuff I watch I already know, but there's still so much to learn in poker. Certainly when I was coming up, there was always a lot to learn, which I really enjoyed.

What are your views on poker tracking software?

They're definitely good. I think they are very valuable and players misuse them, so it's a big advantage. I use Hold'em Manager and do a lot of analysis of my game, which usually involves going through hand histories and looking at particular situations. I don't do as much homework as I should, and there is definitely a lot of work that people can do looking at their stats that I don't. It's an area I'm looking to improve.

What abut the pressure of variance, especially as an MTT player?

It’s definitely a hard part of being an MTT reg and I've halved my ’roll several times in a downswing. It's tough, mentally, when it’s your only source of income and you start losing confidence. So, definitely, I don't think it's for everyone. You have to persevere, be very patient with the game and always check up on how you're playing.

If you’re not playing so well, you need to put in hours to improve. There's definitely a big mental aspect to it and I see a lot of people rationalising to themselves that they're playing well and have just been really unlucky the whole time, when it isn't always the case. You just have to be really self-critical, which is very difficult.

We heard you had a nice MTT score before Vegas…

I chopped a large Sunday MTT for $88K and it was a big deal for me as it meant the trip was more comfortable financially. Now I could definitely play the Main Event, and also buy into the preliminaries without having to sell any of my action.

What is the process for wearing logos at the World Series?

When I got moved to the feature table, an agent approached me. I was actually lucky because we were two minutes away from a break at that point and so I managed to speak to him for 15 minutes or so. He signed me up to, which was great. For that, I got $5,000 for each day I was at the feature table. The figures aren't as high as in previous years because the big guns aren't splashing the cash around like they were last year, but it was still pretty sweet to get paid just for wearing a patch.

Did anyone else approach you?

I signed through an agent so they did all the bartering and found the best deal for me. They're on commission, so obviously the best deal for me is the best deal for them as well. There were a few other guys that approached me to wear a patch of some random poker rooms in America, but they weren't really offering much money and were independent. The main poker sites tended to be through agencies.

Have you started playing higher since making the November Nine?

I don't think it's going to change it too much. I played most MTTs other than the 1Ks, up to 16 at a time. Now I might play some of the 1Ks now and again, but probably won't unless I'm feeling really focused and need a challenge, as the fields are generally quite tough. I'll obviously be happier to play a 2K event or something in a tournament series if I feel there is value as I'll be more rolled. In general, I'll just be playing the same things: Sunday majors.