I am the Wahlroos: Thomas talks poker

Thomas Wahlroos
Thomas Wahlroos says, "Get your banana on your own time."

In just 18 months of live tournament play, Thomas Wahlroos has amassed more than $1 million in winnings.

Sure, the money's nice and all, says the 27-year-old Finnish poker pro. But what he's really sniffing after is a tournament win. For a relative newcomer to the live circuit, Wahlroos has a string of solid results - including three cashes at the 2007 Joe Beevers calls, tries to bluff me out on a K-6-7 flop but since he led out I knew he had a straight draw, otherwise he would have check-raised. So, we go all-in and he has a straight draw and my aces hold up and that's it. I double up to $10,000, then I made a few good hands and now I've got $20,000.

How are you feeling about the tournament now?

It's the same as last year. I came in eighth in this event last year. After an hour I was down to a tenth of my starting stack then things start turning around. The blinds get up, the aggression pays off more and you actually get to make people fold at some point. So as this tournament goes further, the more aggressive you are the better your game works. And that works for me. So now I've survived the worst donkeys in the field and now I can play my good game. If I double up one more time, I'm golden.

So was last year your first Series?

Yeah, and the reason for that is I used to be an investment banker and I used to work sick long hours with hardly any vacation time at all. If I had only 24 days off a year, I didn't really have time to come play here for a month or whatever. So I didn't actually play live poker until last March.

How did you transition from investment banking to being a full-time poker pro?

Easy. The last say, year, after work I was playing a lot online. At some point I was making so much money online compared to my salary - or actually losing at some points as well - every day I could have three- or four-month swings on a big day online. So it didn't make sense to go back to work anymore.

How do you enjoy the high-stakes online games compared to the live tournaments?

High-stakes poker online, for me, is a big grind because it's just money. But I play the tournaments for the sake of competition and winning. I've cashed about a million dollars in my 18 months of tournament play, but I've never won anything. So I'm playing for the sake of winning. I really want to win something. Money's fine, but money you can always grind online. Still, I'm more into poker for the sake of winning things than money. I just need enough money to support my lifestyle and the more money I have, I'll just blow it all away on stupid things anyway.

So what do you blow your money on?

I would say all great or top players in poker are gamblers by nature. We have a lot of stupid bets going on and we play a lot of Chinese poker. I just can't believe how bad I run in every sort of luck game out there. Luck games have taken some money; I'm not hiding that fact.

Are you down this Series?

Yeah. I was up. During the first few days of the World Series I had a massive run online and then I started losing on every single form of poker: online, Chinese, Pai Gow, cash games, everything. So from being massively up, I'm actually down a bit. So I'm not feeling too good about this World Series.

You've cashed three times though. Are you pleased with that?

I've cashed three times. And in heads-up I was one win from making the top eight to make the ESPN TV table, which would have been interesting. And in another $3k event I came 14th and I lost A-K to A-10 for a massive pot when it came close to a final table there. So basically, my cashes have been pretty good but they still suck because they're so close to making final tables.

And then I've bubbled in three events. I was chip leader in the $5k Limit event; it paid 27th and I finished 29th. Things like that. So I could have easily had five or six cashes but I just have three and I'm pretty upset about that.

Obviously it's a goal to win a tournament, but do you have any aspirations of becoming a celebrity player?

No, no. The more I become a celebrity player, I think it's pretty much bullshit, actually. When I go back home, I want to be me and not have to deal with all the bullshit of being a celebrity player. I mean, here I don't mind doing the interviews because poker is so much a ridiculous thing in the States. So you actually get respect from people in the street here, whereas in Finland it's not like that. It's actually more of a nuisance being a celebrity because then, like, if you go out and get drunk and do something they're going to write about it. You get loads of bullshit for doing something that you didn't used to.

So I actually try to avoid the Finnish press as much as I can. If they ask me for four or five interviews and I haven't given them a single one yet. I actually gave one by accident, but this guy told me he worked for a poker magazine but actually he worked for a Finnish tabloid magazine. That was pretty bad. So after that, I'm not giving the Finnish media anything.

What's your take on the Scandinavian poker scene right now? It seems like it's getting pretty hot.

There's a lot of good players out there. The average player is much better than the worldwide average. It's going to grow. Within two years there's going to be at least 10 or 15 well-known Scandinavians that just haven't broken through yet. The Scandinavian scene is growing and there's a lot of potential out there.

I've heard you're a bit of a wild guy, party animal. Is that true or a rumor?

It depends. When I'm actually on the poker circuit I don't party as much as when I'm back home. When I go back home after the World Series, it's going to be all parties for a month or so - barbecues and outdoor parties in Finland, meeting up with old buddies I have seen for two months; it's going to be fun.

You're a big risk-taker - into extreme sports and that sort of thing. What's the appeal?

I don't view it as risk-taking. Risk-taking is, like, base jumping, where one in 500 jumps somebody dies. Skydiving, if you don't really f**k up, it's fun. That's my view. Surfing or whatever, some people die every now and then but it's not really that dangerous. It's a sport that's scary to the general public but it doesn't scare me because I don't think there's risk in it.

Is that how you feel about poker?

Poker is, in the long term, pretty stable. In the short term you can lose big money and win big money and get your bad beats and stuff. But over a five or 10 year period it's pretty stable.

How do you think Harrah's is doing this year?

I was only here last year, so it's hard to judge. But it's clearly worse than last year. Of course it's grown, there's more players here, so maybe it's tough for them to accommodate. But there's too many tournaments. And breaks. There's breaks all the time. They think because the fields are bigger they need to give longer breaks so people can go and get their snack or whatever. If I was running this we'd have almost no breaks. If you want a banana, just go get it during play - just miss two hands or whatever. I don't think we need to half-hour breaks just because we have big fields.

We show up at 12 p.m. and we play until 2 or 3 a.m. During a sort of 14-15 hour period we actually break for four hours. So I'd rather have less breaks, go home at 12 a.m. and get a good night's sleep and come back the next morning.

* * * * * * * * *

At publication time, Wahlroos was sitting at $24,000 in chips - by no means the tournament's short stack, but not wealthy enough to guarantee he will get to come back tomorrow morning. But 2007 isn't over yet, and neither are the Finn's chances of locking down his first tournament win.



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