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Fabrice Soulier: "I’m Mostly Proud of Still Being Around"
Fabrice Soulier has been playing professional poker going on 15 years now.
He hasn't just "survived," either.
With remarkable consistency over the years Soulier has established himself as one of the best French poker players ever, accruing over $5.5 million in live tournament earnings and a WSOP bracelet along the way.
Way back when, Soulier had to choose between working as a film and TV director or giving his full attention to the game. He picked poker, and he doesn't regret his choice one bit.
PokerListings France's Fred Guillemot sat down with the renowned Everest Poker pro in Malta to talk about his new life as a father and how he's kept himself at the top of the game.
PokerListings: Fabrice, first of all, what did you think of your first Battle of Malta and of the island of Malta in general?
Fabrice Soulier: First, I have to say that we’ve felt very welcome here by PokerListings. As far as Malta is concerned, I’ve been coming here since 2007 - since my contract with Chilipoker and Alex Dreyfus really.
We’ve been close friends since then and we’re working together now. I’m quite used to coming to Malta, I’m even considering moving here.
I certainly intend on supporting everything that’s going on here in Malta poker-wise.
I think it’s a great destination for poker, the casinos are quite easygoing and when you see how well organized the Battle of Malta has been, especially considering how many players there are, it really makes you want to do more.
The EPT is also going to come here in March but personally I feel more inclined to support smaller tours. I think we need to break PokerStars’ - and therefore the EPT’s - monopoly.
I really want to push smaller tours so that we can bring some balance to the situation, I think it would be much healthier for everyone.
So I just want to congratulate the Battle of Malta and PokerListings. I want this tournament to keep going and to keep growing because it truly is a great event. I think everyone had fun.
PL: How did you discover poker?
FS: I actually discovered poker a really long time ago in Corsica, thanks to a friend of mine. We were playing with Antoine - who was one of the very first pros I ever met, it was the 90s. He was 17 or 18 and he was just having fun ripping off his father’s friends.
He used the money to buy some cool stuff like small motorcycles, holidays and made some investments. I couldn’t believe it. I think that’s what allowed me to think this was actually possible. After that, I kinda forgot about poker for a few years.
So yeah, I played when I was really young - about 16 or 17 years old - and went back to poker about five or six years later. I moved to Paris - I’m originally from the South of France - and started playing in the Parisian circles, and then I actually understood that I could play draw poker in those circles.
That’s all I was playing back then: Stud, California Lowball … stuff that doesn’t exist anymore (laughs) but that taught me a lot.
So that’s what I did for four or five years and then in 2000 I stopped working and won the Paris Grand Prix. I’ve never looked back, never regretted, even though it’s a lot of hours of work for not that many victories.
Would I advise anyone today to go into professional poker? No. Very few players make it, it’s almost as hard as becoming a professional athlete. No more than one out of 100 players manage to make a living playing poker.
As far as I’m concerned, as long as poker treats me well and I haven’t had enough of it, as long as I can deal with the adrenalin and I feel that I’m good enough to keep playing, I don’t see why I would stop.
When you see someone like Doyle Brunson who is still playing great ... so we’ll see, maybe one day I’ll create some sort of poker club for pensioners, who knows. (laughs)
PL: A WSOP bracelet in 2011, a whole bunch of cashes and third on the French All-Time Money List: your career is pretty impressive, but what are you most proud of?
FS: My little girl who’s 6 months old.
In poker? I think I’m mostly proud of still being around. We’ve lost a lot of players along the road and there are always people who laugh at you when you play certain hands a certain way and make certain decisions, who don’t listen to you when you give your opinion, and eventually they fail.
I’m not happy they fail, but I’m definitely happy to still be around, to have survived and to be able to take a part in the industry alongside other good guys like Alex Dreyfus - who also does a lot for poker.
So yes, being around nice people, keeping my head up high, never doing anything bad - I have a temper when I play but I’m always honest in real life. I’m quite proud of that.
PL: What is the best and worst memory of your career?
FS: I think my bracelet will always be my best memory.
There have been other French bracelet winners since but that year we had gone through a bit of a drought. I remember watching ElkY’s and Elie Payan’s final tables and I couldn’t believe it.
It was also crazy when I got to the heads-up with a massive chip-lead (6 to 1). I knew I could win but I still had to wait until the next morning and spend all night tossing and turning.
My worst memory is my bust at the 2009 WSOP Main Event, two years before my bracelet. I had two Kings, some guy shoved with two 4s, I go all-in with my 40 BBs and my two Ks and he gets his third 4 right away.
After that I had about 10 BBs left and ended up losing on a coin flip.
That time, I cried. You bust in 49th position after playing for seven days… Julien Brécard and I fell into each other’s arms and cried like two kids.
PL: I thought you might have picked your second place at the WSOPE Main Event last year.
FS: No, really not. First of all, being runner-up is a good result.
But also I wasn’t very happy about the way I played during the heads-up against Adrian Mateos.
He was better than me.
That’s my biggest prize, but there just wasn’t as much emotion as that other time.
PL: Do you have any regrets?
FS: Not really, no. I’ve done my fair share of stupid things in my life, and I still do some, but overall I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done.
Mistakes are part of my life. I try to work to improve and I think I’m making progress.
PL: Despite all the fame and money you seem to have remained well-grounded.
FS: I think I’ve been lucky compared to the young players of today because I only started being successful in my late thirties.
I had already a lot of life experience, I had worked for 10 years directing and producing stuff on TV… I knew what money was worth and it didn’t make me go crazy.
If I had to give some advice in this interview to young players who get started in poker and win a lot of money, I’d tell them that no matter how convinced they are that this is going to last, that’s not how it goes.
Variance always catches up with you in poker and you’ll have dry spells. You can get tired and no one knows what can happen in your life.
That’s why you need to make the most of the good runs. We have to be well-grounded because cards are very humbling. Luck doesn’t always come when it’s supposed to.
I went broke a couple of times when I started off and then once really after I became a pro. I never want to go through that again. Especially now that I have a family.
PL: What are your goals now?
FS: I’m happy to announce that I am about to sign a new contract with Everest Poker.
I want to keep playing live and I would like to play more high rollers this year. Since my win in Prague I’ve only played the one in Barcelona.
I didn’t play the one in London because I wasn’t feeling well, but I would like to play more of them - or reasonably moreconsidering my bankroll: some 10ks but maybe not 25k or 50k.
I’m very happy to keep working with Everest because it’s a long-term partnership and we’re getting along great.
PL: You also met your wife - another well-known poker player, Claire Renaut - thanks to poker.
FS: We met during the first NRJ PokerStars show. ElkY and I were teachers, Clara Morgane was hosting and Claire Renaut was one of the students we were taking to Vegas.
Claire’s presence was a bit random. It was a weird time in her life and she kinda just wanted to get out of Paris.
She liked poker but she thought it was just a regular shooting. When she understood what it was she saw me at the back of the room and said: “yes, I’ll do it.”
We both fell for each other instantly. It’s a cute story because the first time we ever met was actually on Valentine’s Day 2008.
PL: Do you think we tend to underestimate the social side of poker, with all these great people you’ve met?
FS: I was just talking about that with Alex (Dreyfus) yesterday. We were saying that the good thing about the Battle of Malta - that you don’t necessarily find in other big tournaments - is that I’ve never talked so much with the other players at my table.
The atmosphere here is really relaxed and it’s enjoyable to be more laid-back than on the EPT for example - even though it’s definitely necessary to be stricter to avoid collusion and cheating.
The social side is essential and we should promote it. Problem is, there’s more and more at stake.
This is something I realized when I became a professional: you start taking yourself more seriously, you want to score big results and you tend to isolate yourself from everyone else.
It’s too bad, poker is a fun game and it should stay that way.
PL: Did becoming a father change your outlook on poker?
FS: It changed my outlook on everything and it definitely helps you put a lot of things in perspective.
You realize that all that matters is the life and health of this little thing full of pure love.
PL: If your kid tells you she wants to become a poker player, what will you tell her?
FS: Oh, I think we’re going to teach her poker very early on. I think poker is great to learn a lot of things and it deserves to be recognized as such.
I mean, even big companies use poker now to help their employees develop their analytic skills or learn about ROI or risk-taking.
After all, it’s a game like any other, so you might as well learn it when you’re young.
Poker is part of a relatively new world that can sometimes scare older generations, like my parents for example. It took me a long time to tell them I was playing poker, you know.
It was 15 years ago and it’s amazing how quickly we’ve forgotten how much things have changed since then. Back then poker was still seen as some mobster game.
Some people still have prejudices and tell me I must always be lying since I’m a poker player. It’s absurd, I never lie outside of poker, I even tend to be a little too honest.
PL: Would you say that maybe poker is also a way to escape and be someone else for a while?
FS: Maybe, yeah. I do like that acting part of poker, especially since I used to do drama. I try to use it but I don’t always succeed. It’s pretty fun.
PL: What convinced you to give up a successful career as a TV director and producer - arguably a rather glamorous line of work and potentially very lucrative - for poker?
FS: Actually I tried to do both for a while but I had to choose. I wanted to do both well but I ended up just half-assing both of them.
Back then I mostly played at the Aviation Club in Paris and sometimes I would play until 5 or 6 in the morning. Then I had to go to work after that.
I would go home, take a shower and I smelled like smoke so bad. It was horrendous. And I’d go straight to the sets.
I did that for 5 or 6 months but in the end I had to make a decision. I quit working on my TV show, I wanted to take a sabbatical.
It was 15 years ago and I never went back.
PL: How was it working on Un gars, une fille, the TV show with Jean Dujardin (Academy Award for Best Actor in 2012) that was extremely successful in France?
FS: I mostly directed on the first or second seasons, about between 60 and 70 episodes. Then it got more complicated, less artistic, I became more of a pawn who was asked to do this or that, so I left.
I almost enjoyed working as an assistant director for a movie more than working as a director for TV. This way you actually get to handle a team, you’re in control, it’s very different.
It really is an amazing job but it’s also very extremely tough. You have to be young. I don’t think I’d have the energy to do it now.
Maybe I’ll direct a short or medium-length film if I feel that I have something to say.
PL: You’re very well-known in the poker world but we don’t really know you that well outside of poker. What are some of your other passions?
FS: It’s always been traveling. That’s why I loved poker right from the beginning.
I started kite-surfing recently and I have to say I really enjoy it. I started in Brazil, where I bought a house. I’m not really any good just yet but I’m trying to improve. (laughs)
I was born near the Mediterranean and I just really love the sea and everything around it.
When I come back to Malta, maybe I’ll start fishing again. I used to love it as a kid. So maybe I’ll do that on the weekends. (laughs)
Follow Soulier on Twitter here.