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Isaac Haxton: "Poker Gives Me the Sort of Fulfillment I’m Looking For"
It's hard to believe it's been seven years since a long-haired Isaac Haxton fought the wind and rain outside in the Bahamas to finish second at the 2007 PCA main event.
It's even harder to believe the $861,789 he won was held captive by the Department of Justice as "evidence" for over eight months before being released back to him.
However long it took to hit his bank account, though, that big score early in his poker life laid the foundation for the stunning career in poker that's followed.
Since he's won millions more online, played in the highest-stakes tournaments and cash games in the world and, since 2012, been a member of the elite Team PokerStars Online.
In London for the ongoing EPT Main Event and High Roller we caught up with him for more on his path to the highest levels of the game, his stake in the stalled durrrr Challenge and more.
PokerListings: Isaac, your famous Full Tilt online nickname luvtheWNBA means that you love women’s basketball or doesn’t it?
Isaac Haxton: None of that. I was in a hurry to register for an online tournament on a Sunday seven years ago. And that popped in my head first when I registered on PokerStars.
PL: That’s a long time ago. Since then you've climbed to the highest online limits. Are there still opponents to fear?
IH: In NLHE definitely Doug WCGRider Polk, who I’ve been avoiding. In PLO there are a lot of good players. I don’t think I am one of the best there.
PL: And which player do you like to play most?
IH: I don’t think it would be very smart to answer this question.
It's generally not a good idea to speak publicly about opponents in such a small community because really so much of the secret of succeeding at high-stakes cash games is not just playing well but also understanding the meta game of opponent assessment and self-assessment.
It would cost more money than giving away one’s own playing strategy.
PL: You never play Mixed or Limit games. Why not?
IH: I have nothing against Limit games. I think those are great games, and I actually started out as a Limit Holdem player.
I played a bit of 2-7 Triple Draw before Black Friday. But I don’t think that I'm still competitive at the high stakes so I haven’t been played them for a long time.
There's also a bit of a frustrating phenomenon going in at the Limit games right now. There is very little action between mid-stakes and absolute nosebleeds, so it could be very costly to learn.
In NLHE and PLO if you’re not playing at the highest level and you want to learn, you can do that at $10/$20 or $25/$50.
PL: You're one of the few players who play online cash games and live tournaments at the highest level. Are you a little bit envious about what Daniel Colman achieved in only a few months?
IH: No. I played him heads-up a lot. We played a lot of $5k Sit n Gos last year. He definitely impressed me.
A run like this is actually a little bit too insane to expect from any player, not even myself (laughs).
But I have to say he is one of the best tournament players in the world so he deserves it.
PL: You used to be a mediator in the durrrr Challenge. What’s your stand on this now? Will it ever be finished?
IH: No. I think Tom has shown that he has no interest in it anymore.
PL: But you had some money on this as well, right?
PL: We heard you made some significant bets on Jungleman to win. Do you expect to ever get this money?
IH: It’s just in limbo. I'm not in a position to demand money from people who bet against me.
I don’t think that bets will be paid before Tom officially concedes and pays up to Dan Cates.
PL: Tom used to be a regular in the highest live-cash games of the world in Macau. Have you ever thought of Macau high stakes?
IH: Yeah, I thought about it. I played a little bit with some of the guys who often play there in Australia and Monte Carlo and in Vegas.
But I’ve never played cash games in Macau, despite it being something I am potentially interested in.
PL: Is it too dangerous for you?
IH: I don’t think dangerous, but there are some politics involved in getting to play the most expensive games as there is anyway in live-poker.
And getting heaps of money in and particularly out of Macau isn't completely straightforward either.
You can travel with cash into Macau but you have to play in Hong Kong Dollars and getting the Hong Kong Dollars out of Macau is not the simplest thing.
PL: You have an unusual background for a poker player. For example, a degree in philosophy. How does that relate to poker?
IH: From the age of 18 I studied computer science for three years and got really sick of it.
I wanted to play poker professionally but I wanted a decent degree first. After a year break I went back and got my degree in philosophy.
Basically, I chose something easy to get (laughs).
PL: Did that help you at any point in your career?
IH: Mathematics and philosophy have a lot to do with each other. And navigating the world as a professional poker player means you have to make some decisions in ethics and morality also.
And I think I made some of these decisions with something of a clearer head. So it was definitely useful.
PL: Some young poker players say they feel burned out from playing poker professionally after a few years. Have you ever felt the same?
IH: Honestly, not really. I think I'm unusual among even professional poker players. Just how much I love the game and how much I work every day to get better at poker is unusual.
Poker gives me the sort of fulfillment I’m looking for.
PL: In 2007 after your runner-up finish at the PCA the US government seized your $800,000 prize money. What happened?
IH: No, the Department of Justice seized all the money of Neteller. And my winnings were among them.
The technical phrase was "being held as evidence." But I got it all back eight months later.
PL: So, you still trust Neteller or Skrill?
IH: I would say I am pretty comfortable trusting Skrill and Neteller. But I would not trust the US government (laughs).
PL: No even in legalizing online poker?
IH: I think it will come. Slowly, state by state. But it could go faster.
PL: You and your wife have been living in Malta for three years. Would you go back to the States with online poker legalized?
IH: I am not sure about that. I have ambivalent feelings about my home country now.
But it has some advantages to be a real citizen with all rights than to be a permanent tourist.