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EPT suits Martin right down to the felt
With more than four years of the PokerStars.com European Poker Tour now in the history books, it's obvious that the tour has been very good to young American poker players. Some of them have had so much success there that they play almost exclusively in the Old World.
Recent EPT London winner Michael Martin is among that group. Before his big win earlier in the month, the 24-year-old from Pennsylvania had two major European final tables to his credit, including a fifth-place finish at the 2008 EPT Grand Final.
Of the more than $3.2 million Martin has won during his brief poker career, just over $3 million of it has come in Europe.
"I play mostly in Europe, so that's naturally where my success will come from," Martin said of the Euro-centric nature of his poker accomplishments.
"But also, I thrive on traveling. And I think that the tournaments that they run [in Europe] are way better [than those in North America]. I think the EPTs are run very well. The whole production over there is just a more enjoyable experience that makes me more prepared to play."
Merry olde London Town
Winning in London may have marked the first time Martin had claimed a major poker tournament title, but he had come close on several occasions before.
In addition to his EPT Grand Final performance, Martin had previously finished as runner-up twice. He said that those two experiences helped him when he was on the short stack at his final table in London.
"The first time I got second, which was in Amsterdam, we had played heads-up for almost three hours," said Martin. "We had made a bit of a deal, but we were still playing for a decent amount of money. Mentally, I had just given up. I was satisfied.
"I was playing at like 90% by the end of it, which I've seen happen all the time in tournaments when people become satisfied [with making the final table]. And also I was playing a very good player, Trond Eidsvig.
"Then in Council Bluffs [at the WSOP Circuit main event] I kind of ran into a card rack, but also I didn't play my best. After those two times, I told myself that would be the last time I didn't play my best when we got heads-up."
After catching the right cards at the right time, Martin found himself with just Michael Tureniec to beat. He said that his past experience helped him stay settled.
"It helped to have been there twice before, to learn from my mistakes and know what it takes to win," said Martin. "He doubled through me in the beginning and those thoughts crept up like, 'Oh no, am I really going to blow this again?'
"But I just kept telling myself, 'There's just no way I'm losing.' I made sure to stay completely focused and keep my emotions out of it, which I think is vital to winning heads-up. You have to stay focused on what's important."
There is a difference
Martin said that despite being confident when originally making the jump from online to live play in January 2007, three years after he began playing as a junior in college, he still had to learn a lot about the differences between the game's different versions.
"In the beginning, up until Amsterdam, I had very little live success," said Martin. "I had a cash in the WSOP Main Event, which was nice, but that doesn't really mean a lot. I knew I wasn't that good at live poker yet, but I also knew it was only a matter of time until I figured it out.
"It's just like online poker; you see the same situations come up. A good player makes a mistake, but he doesn't make the same mistake twice. After a few months of making what I didn't know were mistakes and then realizing that they were, I was able to patch that up."
Within six months Martin had three more WSOP cashes to his credit, and by the end of 2007 he had a second-place finish at the Amsterdam Master Classics. He credits his success to his willingness to learn the intricacies of the live game, which online players sometimes find counterintuitive.
"Online players are sometimes so fixed in their ways that they're not willing to believe that the live game has differences," he said.
"There's a lot of math that goes into online play that, with live play, I think you have to have to kind of throw away and really go with your read. Sometimes in live poker, pot odds just don't matter. The guy either has the specific hand you think he could have, or he doesn't.
"It's not like in online poker where people are assigning ranges of hands to people," he continues. "In live poker things are a lot more black-and-white. I think the biggest difference is that you're playing against personality types at the table.
"In live poker some people just always have to have that hand, that time, and even if the pot is laying you proper odds to call, you know what he has so you don't have to call. And you have a lot more information available. I think a lot of online players misuse that information in the beginning."
The more things change …
Even though he hit what others might consider the big time with his win in London, don't expect Michael Martin to go crazy spending the money he won there. It's all about the travel for Martin, who said he used to read blogs by Brandon Schaefer and Carl Olson during the first season of the EPT and dream of being able to see the world thanks to poker.
"I know this is not going to sound exciting, but the money won't really change much [for me] at all because I travel so much. I mean, after winning in London I plan on playing the EPT for at least another year after this year.
"So it's not really worth it to me to buy a place back in the States because I'd only be living there maybe two or three months of the year. And I never drive when I'm back home, so buying a new car is out of the question."
Instead Martin will continue to mix two things he loves: poker and travel. The money is too good to leave Europe right now, but he said that he'll consider expanding his travel calendar if turnouts increase for events on the Asia Pacific Poker Tour or Latin American Poker Tour. But it doesn't look like Europe will ever be off his schedule.
"I really enjoy Europe, more than any place I've ever been," he said. "And it's easy to travel over there, since I live on the East Coast. It's not much different than flying to L.A."
But most of all, said Martin, poker in Europe is just more enjoyable than anywhere else he's been. "It's much more fun to play in Monte Carlo than it is to play in Tunica, Miss. or something. The room that they have set up for [the EPT Grand Final] is really amazing. It's a big glass circular room, it's just - I don't know, it's like playing in a movie or something."
If his results so far are any indication, it won't be a surprise at all to see Michael Martin continue to play a starring role in Europe for some time to come.