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BOM Champ Proust: "It Helped Me Prove to Myself I Can Play Well"
They say that winners have “something more."
For France's Nicolas Proust, winner of the 2015 Battle of Malta main event, that “something more” could arguably be a half-dozen things.
He’s hard-working, hyper competitive and humble. He can control his emotions, think lucidly and keep the proper frame of mind under stress.
A former tennis coach who took some time to focus on poker last year his "somethings" paid off huge in Malta with a €110,000 payday and the prestigious BOM main event trophy.
Now with the bankroll to give poker another serious go in 2016 we caught up with Nicolas late last year to find out if the 2015 BOM was as satisfying for him as it looked.
PokerListings: First of all, congratulations again Nicolas. What motivated you to take part in the Battle of Malta?
Nicolas Proust: I came for the EPT festival but I have some friends who live here and who kept talking to me about the Battle of Malta.
I really wanted to play that tournament, especially since I was told that the game wasn’t too “crazy." A €500 buy-in also seemed ideal.
I was lucky enough to qualify for some EPT events and I realized that the buy-in has a massive influence on the way you play, regarding the costs and winning thresholds.
PL: What did you think of the tournament?
NP: I had a great time.
It’s a very friendly tournament, everyone is having a laugh around the table.
Plus I know a lot of people here, so I just had a good time.
PL: What did you enjoy the most compared to other tournaments?
NP: First of all, just being in Malta. I feel great and it’s very important. The prize pool, too. It was huge compared to the buy-in and the structure was interesting.
Everyone was here to play. You can do things you wouldn’t necessarily be able to do in other tournaments.
Here, there’s just enough pressure to play well. It’s the perfect tournament to step up your game.
PL: You’re 29 and you used to be a tennis coach. Can you tell us a bit more about your background?
NP: In high school all I wanted to do was IT. After that, I went to university to study IT, up to a Master’s degree. And then I just dropped everything.
I couldn’t picture myself spending my life in front of a computer. Which is quite ironic when you think about it (laughs). Let’s say I didn’t want to spend my life in an office.
So I got my coaching degree to go back to my sport - I was playing tennis then. I wanted to play at a high level but I started too late. I was never good enough for that and I injured myself, so I had to stop playing.
I had opened a new section in a club where I was in charge of preparing players for tournaments, on top of being responsible for the more amateur section. I did that for 5 or 6 years.
Then I stopped working for a year. I wanted to take a sabbatical and travel, see the world and learn English in Australia. I’d even found a job there, giving classes. But that fell through and I stayed here.
Unfortunately the season had already started and I couldn’t find a club. I had nothing left but poker (laughs). It didn’t go great at first.
PL: Was it the money that convinced you?
NP: No, I’ve always been aware that poker was absolutely not “easy money” and that it was difficult to handle your money to play and to live.
But there are definitely good sides: freedom - that’s priceless. Just being able to go anywhere at any time, that’s something I couldn’t do when I had a boss.
But it’s not all fun; it can get quite lonely for example. I didn’t want to act like a superhero if I couldn’t handle it.
I’ve only been playing for 3 or 4 years and the few results I’d had since then could have been just a good run.
PL: What pushed you to say “I’m going in” instead of “I fold?"
NP: Two months ago I was ready to drop everything, actually. Quit poker and find a job. I had applied here and there, to work in gaming companies.
But after that I had to make a choice. I still hadn’t found a job but I’d spent a lot of time on my computer, learning. For my ego I told myself I just couldn’t quit like that.
I had already made that mistake once, with tennis. And from then on it started going better and better online. Now I’ve won the Battle of Malta!
PL: How did you discover poker?
NP: With friends, on a tennis tour. We had a poker set, like everyone. It was back when the World Poker Tour was getting big.
I remember that everyone had their own rules, like a kids’ game (laughs). Online poker came a few years later, one night as I was bored (laughs).
I had a problem: I quickly got quite a lot of money ... playing badly. The fields were very weak. I played games I don’t even play now, like NL1000 cash games. Of course I ended up losing it all.
I started playing seriously when a colleague of mine showed me what Sharkscope was. That’s when I realized that I was losing 2 or 3k, which was huge at the time.
There was no way I was going to lose so much in a card game.
PL: So after that, you did some research?
NP: I bought two books. One that got me a lot of money: Kill ElkY 1 (Kill Everyone). It’s amazing for tournament basics. Then I bought the next two volumes, and some other books.
PL: What’s your favorite game?
NP: Tournaments. I get bored very quickly with cash games. It’s mostly about waiting for the fish and squeezing them out.
That’s not really my thing. I’m very competitive. Give me a bunch of players and may the best one win. It’s more fun, and in my opinion healthier.
Cash games are more interesting in the higher limits. Players have a different vision, there isn’t any fish. I would love to go up against these great players but I don’t have the money to.
PL: We imagine that being competitive, which you probably picked up playing tennis, helps you a lot with poker.
NP: Definitely. Poker and tennis tournaments have a lot in common. Inflection points exist in tennis tournaments as well as poker tournaments, for example when it’s 4 all or 4-3 or during a tie breaker.
At some points during the match your game, your state of mind, must change. It’s the same in poker. You’ll need to be more aggressive, to make slightly better decisions, to take risks. Just to show you’re present.
These situations exist in poker; they just take another form.
PL: Mentally as well?
NP: That’s an important aspect too. Poker is a solitary sport, like tennis. When you lose you’re alone, even if your friends are around to support you. You have to know how to keep yourself in check.
PL: Who are your role models in poker and tennis, these players who particularly inspire you?
NP: Marat Safin was my idol. He wasn’t a perfect player because he was a bit crazy, but his game was beautiful. I also really liked Gustavo Kuerten, for his personality as much as his game.
I also liked combative players like Agassi. Not so much for his game but because he was a model of perseverance, hard work and giving everything he’s got - like Nadal now. That’s the best spirit you can have when you’re playing sports.
Some poker players impress me too. I haven’t watched that many games on TV but online there are some monsters like Romain “neuville25” Baer or Chris Moorman.
Moorman is the kind of guy I’d like to spend one hour with just so that he could tell me his life story.
PL: Let’s talk a bit more about the tournament. What struck me is that you seemed very calm and collected throughout the tournament, even when you were one card away from busting. Always totally cool, no sign of stress.
NP: I felt it too, and it was strange. I’ve talked about it with my friends too, and they hadn’t really noticed.
When I called with A5 and Van Ravenswoud showed aces, in my head I knew I’d lost but I didn’t even get up.
I only had 2 possible backdoors but I didn’t think for one second that my tournament was over (laughs).
Maybe I was too focused, and not so clear-headed. Maybe I was just too sure of myself.
Already the day before the tournament started I had decided it was mine. It’s all very subjective but that was my frame of mind. I came to win.
It’s something I’ve learned when I played tennis: always have a goal higher than your actual goal, because it’s really hard to reach your goal.
I was 9th out of 10 at the start of the final table anyway, so I had nothing to lose.
PL: But you didn’t even seem that excited.
NP: First of all, I didn’t want to make the player feel bad, beating his aces with 9 players left. Out of respect for him. And I really wanted to stay focused on the tournament.
PL: Is that also a matter of respect or are you more of an introvert?
NP: It’s a bit of both. Most of the time I’m an introvert.
And it wasn’t a good time to burst out, like the chip leader Uri Gilboa who ended up losing everything because he was always caught up in the emotion. You can’t play like that.
It’s the same in tennis; sometimes you have to keep the emotion buried inside and focus on what you have to do. Save it for later.
PL: So you never had any doubt at any point?
NP: Not really, except for the first 30 minutes when I wasn’t feeling that great. I just needed some time to get used to the table, to get into the tournament.
I’m happy that I dared to do things I wouldn’t have dared to do in other tournaments. I almost played my online A-game, that’s really good.
The Battle of Malta helped me prove to myself that I can play well, even live.
PL: We imagine that it also helped you to have so much support.
NP: Totally. I received so many messages! My friends, my family, my grinder buddies...
I didn’t read them during the tournament because I really wanted to stay focused and my phone and my tablet were going off every 5 seconds (smiles).
But when I got home I saw that I had hundreds of missed calls, notifications, texts... It was insane.
I think that’s the best thing about all this. All these messages, everything you shared with the people at the rail, especially at the end. I think that’s what I’ll remember about this tournament.
That’s what you play for. It’s also what I played for in tennis. Playing the big games, having people there to support you and live the game with you.
If you can get that at a poker tournament, it means that poker can bring emotions and will always be popular, just like any other sport.
PL: Is there any special preparation for a tournament with more than 1,000 players?
NP: I didn’t do any particular preparation but I knew exactly in what frame of mind I would play it. I knew I had to get a lot of chips really quickly so I could go through a lot of tables as easily as possible and go deep.
I was careful to sleep well, to get up early enough before the tournament so I was well awake, and to not go to bed too late.
I’d already done that before and it makes a big difference. Because when you’re really focused all day, you’re drained at the end of the day. And if you haven’t slept well or aren’t well-prepared, it’s easy to make a silly mistake and lose it all.
PL: We can feel you’re a perfectionist.
NP: That’s also something I learned playing tennis, with competition: the deeper you want to go, the more attention you have to pay to details.
It’s the only thing that differentiate good players because everybody knows how to play, basically. I meet good players, players that are better than me, every day. It’s worrying (laughs).
At some point, if you want to make a difference, you need to make their weaknesses your strengths, and it can be tiny things. In the long run that’s what makes the difference.
But that’s not the only reason I won. It was my “one time” and I got lucky. Even if it doesn’t outshine what you’ve done before. I think luck doesn’t exist, it’s created.
The luckiest people are often the most “naive” ones, those who believe like children almost. Your frame of mind is important, and not just in poker.
PL: Do you already know what you will do with the money you’ve won?
NP: To be fair, I don’t think I’ll use much of it at all. I’m going to put aside most of it to cover myself. And then there are the taxes, so I’m going to have to let quite a bit of it go.
But what I know is that I don’t intend to waste it on useless things. My life isn’t going to change. I might invest in real estate.
I’m going to play more tournaments though. Not necessarily bigger ones, but $500 buy-ins or qualifiers.
PL: How long do you see yourself playing poker?
NP: As long as I keep making progress and I’m still interested, I’ll play. The day I start feeling that it’s not the case anymore, I’ll stop and I’ll go back to what I know best: tennis.
But for now this is still far, I still have a lot of goals and I’m really enjoying myself.
PL: What are your other projects?
NP: Right now, moving to Malta and going on a trip at the beginning of the year - in Thailand - to celebrate my 30th with a friend.
It’s three weeks of proper holidays with no cards involved. After that I might go to Brazil to visit my best friend.
And then the PCA, but even if I can afford it I don’t know if it’s really reasonable. I’ll definitely try to qualify though.
PL: Why Nicolas “Maverick”? Is that a reference to the poker-playing character with the same name or to Top Gun?
NP: Neither of them really, I haven’t even seen them. I get that question quite often though (laughs).
It’s a screen name that describes my state of mind.
A maverick lives his life the way he wants, even if that means being on the fringes of society.