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Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier: Poker Needs to Become Global Again
EPT Season 10 is off to a record-breaking start this week in Barcelona with massive fields, plenty of buzz and Team PokerStars' A-list pros all in attendance.
France's Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier is, of course, a fixture on that A-list.
Few can match his tournament record live or online with over $10.6 million in live earnings, WPT, EPT and WSOP titles and two WCOOP bracelets among his many accomplishments.
PokerListings France's Fred Guillemot caught up with ElkY shortly after he busted the EPT Barcelona main event for a wide-reaching interview covering everything from the future of poker in Macau and Korea to his supernatural decision-making ability.
PokerListings: Well, I guess I have to start by asking you about what happened in the main event... (ElkY was eliminated on Day 1A)
ElkY: I really didn't play some hands very well, I think I could have made much better choices. It was a pretty rough day for me overall. I'm really disappointed, it's frustrating to be out so early in the tournament. Now tomorrow's another day.
PL: Speaking of which, what are your objectives for this brand new season?
ElkY: I'd really like to win a High Roller. Well, ideally I want to win another EPT Main Event in order to become the first player ever to win two EPT Main Events.
But you have to be realistic – there are few tournaments, a lot of players, so I think it's somewhat easier to win a High Roller. Either way I'll try my best to win every tournament I take part in.
PL: Who's your favorite for the WSOP Main Event title?
ElkY: I think that at this point, JC Tran is definitely the favorite. He's the most experienced and the chip leader. I think David Benefield is probably the best player at the table though.
I think it'll be very open, even though JC Tran has the edge.
PL: What about your fellow Sylvain Loosli?
ElkY: It's hard to say. I do think everyone's got a shot at winning at this point though.
PL: I also saw you had a new coach...
ElkY: Ah, the rubber duck? Yeah, I think I'm already going to fire him! He was supposed to be my lucky charm for the Super High Roller, but considering how the Super High Roller and the Main Event went...
PL: No third chance then?
ElkY: Nope! (laughs)
PL: How about your famous challenges for this season?
ElkY: We're probably going to have new challenges with Eugene (Katchalov) and Andre Akkari, but nothing's been really decided yet. I think we'll do a triathlon, a Spartan Race, and maybe something else. We'll see how we can fit that into our poker schedule.
Not to mention that I haven't done as much sport as usual during the holidays, so I'm going to have to get back in shape!
PL: However, you don't seem to be a fan of prop bets that players like Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu or – more recently – Antonio Esfandiari like to take up.
ElkY: Oh, it depends ... As long as there's no health hazard or anything.
PL: So how about being vegetarian for a year? Or one year without sex like Esfandiari?
ElkY: Well, I think I could be vegetarian for a year, but I don't think I could do the other one ... (laughs)
I also heard that someone bet he could spend a whole week in his bathtub. I really don't think I could do that.
PL: Let's talk a bit about Asia and Macau in particular. Do you still go there often?
ElkY: I actually went in June, in the middle of the WSOP, because I had won a spot at a huge high-roller.
It really is amazing for high-rollers over there. The players have a really different style, they love taking risks. Gambling is second nature for Asians in general and Chinese people in particular. And even though poker is still less popular than some Chinese games, I think there's a good chance that it will be successful, especially in Macau.
Plus I love their facilities there, everything is very comfortable.
PL: Do you think Macau could become the new capital of poker? Would you ever consider moving there?
ElkY: Maybe one day! It's definitely not in the cards for now, but if poker keeps growing and things get more liberal than they are now – considering there are still many countries where only foreigners can play – then why not?
PL: Do you think it also helps Macau's popularity that the level is not as high as in Europe or in Vegas?
ElkY: Yeah, I think that's definitely important, especially for high-rollers. Poker is still relatively new to them, so the level is nowhere as high as in Vegas.
PL: Everyone seems to be talking about Open-Face Chinese Poker lately, and a lot of players seem to enjoy playing it. Are you one of them?
ElkY: No, not really. I think it would have taken me too much time to actually learn how to play it properly and I think it's less interesting than poker. So no, I'm not really tempted.
PL: Back to poker now. We've heard many people say poker is 'going downhill,' which actually seems quite wrong considering there are more and more people playing. What do you think could still be improved, both online and live?
ElkY: I think poker needs to become global again, just like it was a few years ago when everyone could just play together on PokerStars. We'll see when the Americans can play again, but that'll probably be ok in a few years or so.
Here in Barcelona, they've had more players than what they'd planned, just like last year. I think they've actually broken the record of players for an EPT event, so that's really good. I think it's great what PokerStars is doing on the EPT, it's getting better every year.
I think there's still work to be done about the calendar. Some coordination, at least at a continental level. It's good when it's like in Prague and there are tournaments there before and after the EPT, but they need to develop that and standardize the rules.
PL: Are you talking about the rule differences between the WPT and the EPT?
ElkY: Yeah, there are many differences and the rules are always changing. It would really be much easier if the rules were the same everywhere.
The TDA met in Vegas a few weeks ago, I think that's why they changed the rules again here.
PL: How do you explain that EPT Barcelona is so successful? Is it because it's the first EPT of the season, because the city's amazing or something else?
ElkY: I think it's a bit of everything. Not only is it the first tournament of the season but a lot of players are coming back from holidays ... and there are worse places than Barcelona to get back to business!
Plus there are a lot of amateur players who take advantage of the tournament to visit the city, Barcelona is a great city. I think all that makes EPT Barcelona a successful tournament, even though such a success is always a little bit unexpected.
PL: Would you say Barcelona is in your Top 3 poker destinations?
ElkY: I don't know if it's in my Top 3 but if it isn't then it's not very far behind. I love coming here to play, especially at this time of the year – it's perfect.
PL: If poker didn't exist tomorrow, what would you turn to? Would you go back to video games?
ElkY: I'm not sure. It's getting harder and harder to play video games at a professional level. I must say I haven't really thought about all that – I'd need to find something I like.
So yeah, maybe video games. Or maybe I could become a trader, I've heard there are lots of qualities in common between poker players and traders.
PL: You're said to have an amazingly quick brain. Do you consider yourself different?
ElkY: I must admit I never got tested or anything. I do think I may be quicker to make decisions than most players, but I think people exaggerate.
And when I play poker, I try to anticipate as much as possible and take decisions long before it's my turn to play.
PL: Which therefore gives the illusion that you're playing really fast?
ElkY: Yeah, that's true. Also, I quite like maths, I'm a science nerd at heart. I was going to study physics and chemistry before I dropped it all to play Starcraft.
PL: What job do you think you'd be doing if you'd followed this path?
ElkY: I'd probably be a chemist or an engineer, something like that.
PL: You know, when we see you multitabling on several screens at the same time, it does look a bit supernatural.
ElkY: True enough, I guess. Starcraft actually helped me a lot with that – hand-eye coordination and reflexes, etc.
PL: Do you think it's a gift or did Starcraft help you develop that?
ElkY: It has to be natural to an extent, but Starcraft definitely helped me. Although I wasn't even among the fastest ones!
In Starcraft, there's a system calculating the number of moves per minute. The average player does about 100. I could do 240, but the best Korean players could do 300 or 400.
PL: How do you explain that none of these Korean players have moved on to poker? It seems they could become successful poker players.
ElkY: Maybe. But you know, it's really difficult for them because it's illegal for Koreans to play in Korea. There are casinos, but they're not open to locals.
It's a shame because they'd probably be really good at it. Poker and Starcraft require a lot of the same qualities.
PL: Do you think there might be a lot of talented new players around when poker finally becomes legal over there?
ElkY: It's definitely possible. It'll probably start online and then expand to the live tournaments.
PL: Everyone seems to be talking about trackers lately. Being an online player, I assume you don't really have a problem with them?
ElkY: I don't really, indeed. I don't use them that much because I want to train myself to pick up useful information for the tournaments. I don't really have an opinion.
If trackers bother most players, then I don't mind them being banned. I'll adapt.
I don't think it's cheating though, because everyone can use them – online at least. So there's no unfair advantage or anything.
PL: Live poker has its debates too. Some players are getting annoyed that tablets and smartphones are omnipresent at the poker table and worry that it's affecting the friendly atmosphere around the table. What do you think about it?
ElkY: I get where they're coming from, but I think it's part of a wider phenomenon, it's not limited to poker. I don't think they could really be banned or anything, and it doesn't really bother me anyway.
I think young players who play their first tournament and are more used to playing online tend to use them a lot because they don't feel too comfortable at the table yet. It can be rather intimidating you know.
Not to mention the fact that when you're used to playing online, live poker can seem a bit slow and you can get bored.
PL: We talked about it recently with Pierre Neuville who felt it was quite sad that these players were bored and didn't enjoy the full tournament experience.
ElkY: It's quite sad, yeah, but you have to realize that a day of tournament play can be pretty long. You need to learn how to use them without abusing them, because it can also affect your game and make you miss important information.
On the other hand, it's nice to have something when you're bored. It makes it easier not to play too many hands, but you need to still stay focused on the game. If not, their loss!