2011 WSOP November Niner Sam Holden: Full Interview

18 August 2011, Created By: Arthur Crowson
2011 WSOP November Niner Sam Holden: Full Interview

He may be the short stack coming in to the 2011 WSOP Main Event final table, but with 24 big blinds left Sam Holden isn't just looking to get it in on the first hand and go home in ninth.

If you caught our feature article with Sam in the news section yesterday, below is the full transcript of the interview.

PL: What’s it been like for you since making the November Nine?

SH: It’s obviously been pretty cool. I’ve been doing a lot of mainstream interviews here in the U.K. but that’s finally died down a bit and I’m starting to a more poker interviews. It’s generally a lot more fun doing the poker interviews because the questions tend to be more interesting.

I just got back from UKIPT Edinburgh as well. That was really the first live poker I’ve played since Vegas.

It was fun to get back to playing poker again.

PL: Can you talk a little bit more about your experience with the media so far?

SH: It’s been great. I’m just trying to take it all in stride. I’m obviously not used to it at all and didn’t really know what to expect.

It’s been a lot of fun and generally the attention is pretty nice. Everyone seems very interested in the story, even people that don’t follow poker.

PL: What was the reaction from your friends and family when you got back to the U.K.? They must have been pretty excited...

SH: Yeah absolutely. I mean they were following along online when I was out there so I was even getting reaction from them when I was still in Las Vegas.

Everyone was very excited and as soon as I got home I was getting a lot of phone calls. It was great catching up with everyone that I could.

Obviously they all had their own questions, wondering what it was like. Everyone is obviously delighted and very excited.

PL: Did you find a lot of friends you hadn’t seen in awhile coming out of nowhere to say hello?

SH: (Laughs) No, not too much. There have been a few people on Facebook I wouldn’t normally hear from but it’s really just been nice comments. Generally the people who were congratulating me were close friends before I went to Vegas.

PL: Were your poker friends fairly amazed you made the November Nine?

SH: Yeah definitely. I mean lots of them had a piece of me so they were extra, extra happy. Obviously it’s what every poker player dreams of. Making the Main Event final table isn’t something any poker player expects to do.

It’s probably more real to my friends than it is to me because it still hasn’t sunk in completely. It’s all pretty crazy.

PL: Could you talk a little more about your upbringing and where you grew up?

SH: I was born near a place called Eastbourne in East Sussex. The actual village I grew up in (Herstmonceux) was very small and only had a couple of shops.  

When I turned 18 and I went to university in Canterbury. I’ve lived in Canterbury for the last four years.

I graduated from university last June. I’ve been playing poker professionally since then. Obviously I’ve been playing poker longer than that.

PL: What were you into when you were growing up? Did you play sports? Any hobbies?

SH: I played a lot of sport when I was growing up, especially at school when I was younger. I was never particularly good at one sport. I just enjoyed playing all of them. I wasn’t bad but I never really excelled either.

I just enjoyed the competition and exercise like most kids. I enjoyed school too, though, I always did pretty well. I guess I stopped playing most sports when I was about 18 because I was playing poker by that point.

PL: How did you actually get into poker?

SH: I think I saw it on TV when I was in university and then started to play for free online. Just sort of teaching myself the rules and very basic strategy. 

I met a few other guys that played and we talked about online poker. I made a few deposits and would usually lose them after a month or so.

Eventually I got better and started beating the micro stakes.

It turned into kind of a part-time job for me. I just used it to essentially fund my life instead of going back to the bar I was working at.

PL: What initially attracted you to the game?

SH: I’ve always enjoyed maths and statistics and that side of the academic world. I definitely understand and enjoy that part of the game.

I’ve always enjoyed competition as well. I liked card games and strategy games. It was a combination of those things.

I like the way poker players think and constantly try to improve.

PL: What do you think is your best attribute as a poker player?

SH: I think removing emotion from decisions and thinking rationally is probably the best part of my game. I was quite surprised at the WSOP that I could break hands down just like any other game of poker even though there was a lot of pressure.

I just tried to think about the situation, the players, the chips and the cards and what the optimal decision was.

PL: Are you primarily an MTT player online or do you play cash games as well?

SH: I play mainly tournaments. I’ve played a bit of cash over the years but tournaments were always what I enjoyed the most.

It could have been because I had the most success in tournaments but after awhile I just focused primarily on them.

PL: Did you have any big scores in the early stages of your poker career?

SH: Not big scores. I final tabled the Sunday Million earlier this year. Finished sixth. That was my biggest score before Las Vegas.

I was doing OK at MTTs but I was nowhere near crushing it. I was making a good living but I definitely had a lot more to learn. I mean, really, I still do.

PL: What did your parents think when you told them you wanted to play poker professionally?

SH: I think they sort of saw it coming because I was playing through university and taking it more and more seriously.

They’d heard I was doing quite well, although I guess they really had no proof at the time.

When I graduated I just wanted to give it a go for a year and see if I still enjoyed it and what kind of living I could make.

My initial plan was to go back to university after a year and maybe go for a Master's degree.

As I carried on through the year I started making good money and really enjoying myself and once my parents could see that I was making money and could pay my bills they were happy.

Obviously they were worried I would go broke because they don’t really know much about poker.

PL: This was your first World Series of Poker. Why did you decide to play?

SH: Tournaments had been going very well online and I’d started to play a little bit live. I knew live games could be a lot softer and there were a lot of recreational players, especially in the World Series.

I knew there was a lot of value out there. I knew I could beat the games. Plus it’s the WSOP and every poker player wants to be there.

I was very excited to get out there and play it.

PL: Did you play any prelims?

SH: I did play three events.  I didn’t cash in any of the big tournaments I played but thought I was playing well and was encouraged by the amount of players in each tournament.

To be honest I expected a higher standard of play in general at the WSOP but there were just so many poker tourists.

Obviously there is so much variance in table draws because the pros are there as well. I definitely had some luck in the Main Event to draw some softer tables.

PL: Heading into the final table this year you are one of the shorter stacks, is that a situation you feel comfortable with?

SH: Yeah absolutely. Having an online MTT background I’m pretty used to playing a 20-30 big blind stack. I feel it’s one of my strengths.

Whilst I’m ninth in chips, I’ve still got 24 big blinds. There’s some room there. I’m definitely not heading out to Vegas just to stick it in on the first hand.

I feel I’ve got a good chance to win or go very deep. We’ll see what situations arise.

PL: Could you talk a little bit your preparation leading up to the final table? I’m assuming you’re going to be watching as much footage of your opponents as possible.

SH: This year there is even more footage around because of the live stream so I’ll be taking a close look at that and I’m sure everyone else will be.

Obviously I’ll be trying to work on my own game as well. In my opinion every poker player has things they can improve.

I have a lot I can improve. Hopefully I’ll be able to use my time wisely. I definitely want to get some live practice in other tournaments.

PL: Some players distance themselves from the game in the months leading up to the November Nine, I take it that’s not going to be your approach?

SH: Personally if I didn’t play before November it would all feel very foreign to me. It would feel quite unnatural to be playing poker for the first time in four months. I wouldn’t feel very comfortable.

I’m trying to get as much live experience as I possibly can against good players.

Someone who is more experienced might take a different approach.

PL: What do you think of the table draw?

SH: My seat is kind of tough because on my direct left is Pius Heinz, who’s a very good player, and on his left is Ben Lamb and then the chip leader Martin Staszko.

To be honest the whole table is tough and anything can happen.

PL: Are there any players at the final table that particularly impressed you during the play down?

SH: (Laughs) Pretty much all of them. I think these days there are so many good players in the world and the structure is so good in that tournament I don’t think we’ll ever see a weak final table in the Main Event.

That said, I guess I’d have to say Pius really impressed me. The only reason I say that is because I didn’t see him show down many of his hands, which is usually a good sign.

PL: Winning the Main Event is a huge and obviously there would be a ton of media attention that would come with it. How would you feel about receiving that kind of attention and essentially acting as an ambassador for poker?

SH: Obviously it’s what every poker player dreams of. The ambassador role would be kind of intimidating but it’s something I’d try to enjoy and do as best I can.

Poker has done a lot for me and I enjoy the game and the industry behind it so I would be very proud to represent it.

It would be fantastic and present a lot of opportunities for me I’m sure.

PL: Are there any players you look up to?

SH: At the moment it’s guys like Isaac Haxton and Scott Seiver. They think on such a high level and they do a great job of taking their emotions out of the game.

I love how rationally they tend to think and the way they break decisions down.

PL: Do you think the U.K. poker scene is fairly strong?

SH: Yeah there are some awesome U.K. players at the moment. People like Jake Cody and EPT winner David Vamplew have been crushing it.

I love how Vamplew thinks about the game. He’s so consistent. He doesn’t take any spot for granted. He never disregards any spot he’s in as “standard” whereas so many players just make instant assumptions.

PL: You currently live in Canterbury, are you planning to stay there for the near future?

SH: No I’m actually hoping to move to London in September. I was planning on doing that anyways but making the November Nine makes it a lot easier financially because London is such an expensive place.

I’m really looking forward to it.

PL: Have you had any unusual media requests yet?

SH: Most of it's pretty standard. I’ve been watching some of the other players do skits and such and I’ve been thinking that doesn’t look like too much to me (Laughs).

Haven’t really had any odd requests yet.

PL: What did you think about being referred to as the “Jobless Brit” in the The Sun?

SH: Yeah that was one of the first stories I did with the mainstream media over here. They phoned me up for an interview, which was fine, and the story was fine as well but they went for a headline of “Jobless Brit” and then told readers I’d been playing poker professionally for a year so they contradicted themselves a bit.

(Laughs) I didn’t take it too personally. I think they were just looking for an eye-catching headline. Lots of my friends do now call me “The Jobless Brit.” It’s all in good fun.

PL: What tournaments are you planning on playing over the next few months?

SH: I’ve already made plans to play the WSOPE in France and I’ll probably play EPT London as well. I’ve also been thinking about playing WPT Paris but we’ll see what happens. There are a couple more maybes in there as well.

PL: Thanks Sam, we’ll see you at WSOPE.

SH: Sounds good.

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