Back in 2011, an unknown Martin Staszko made it to heads-up in the World Series of Poker Main Event only to be edged at the post by the young German, Pius Heinz.
Unexpectedly, though, two years later the higher-profile Heinz has pretty much vanished from the poker scene while Staszko continues to quietly travel the poker circuit and play all the big events.
His runner-up finish in the Main Event was not his first live score, and he has more than a dozen cashes since, but Staszko's still not a guy who gets a lot of time in the spotlight.
That suits the mild-mannered Staszko just fine - although a $5m+ windfall has an impact on even the humblest of persons. PokerListings Germany's Dirk Oetzmann caught up with him at the recent Prague MindSports Festival to see where the poker life has taken him.
PokerListings: What’s changed for you over the past two years?
Martin Staszko: Not that much really. I like to think I’m still the same guy. I do have a new girlfriend, though.
"People were trying to borrow - I don't know - $100 million from me."
I have bought some property in Prague, so I now live 50 per cent of the time here and the other 50 per cent in my hometown.
I do this because I have family here and it’s closer to the airport, which is more convenient as I travel a lot to the different tournaments.
PL: Success like yours has consequences. For example, you might suddenly have lots of “friends” in need of money.
MS: Yes, I experienced that, too. The first couple of months were terrible. I tried my best to ignore all the requests.
If you add them up, people were trying to borrow – I don’t know – a hundred million dollars from me.
PL: How do you deal with dramatic stories like a daughter being sick and needing surgery?
MS: It is difficult, because you never know who is telling the truth and who isn’t. That’s why I ignored all of the mails altogether. I don’t have time to research every single story and find out.
That’s just not possible. Instead, I have made my own choices and I gave some money to charity.
PL: What kind of charity are you involved in?
MS: I give money to hospitals and I support children.
PL: Do you still have a contract with PokerStars?
MS: No. It was a 12-month contract and it was not prolonged after it was finished.
PL: But you still spend most of your time traveling the poker tours?
MS: Yes, I play a lot. Mostly big tournaments in Europe and in the summer I fly to Las Vegas.
I don’t have any specific favorite tour but I favor the main events with their deep structures and stretched out schedules. That is the kind of tournament that works best for me.
I've had quite a few results this year but there was no really big one although I did make some final tables. (Ed. note: eight scores in 2013, biggest was at EPT Barcelona main event for c. €30,000.)
PL: Were you a gamer before you started playing poker?
MS: I have played a lot of games, but most intensely I used to play chess. I was pretty good at the junior level but then I never got really serious about chess. I play only for fun.
PL: What other games do you play?
MS: I play darts. I started at University. Of course I have tried other poker variants, too, but I don’t know much about games like Open Face Chinese, for example.
PL: What’s your opinion on deals at final tables?
MS: It depends on the players, of course, but I generally don’t deal. I think I made one deal in all my poker career.
PL: Since you've been on the road a lot playing tournaments, you've seen the "first card off the deck rule" has caused some controversy over the past year. Is it a good rule?
MS: Difficult to say. It has pros and cons. In some respect it is good for the game because it protects the players, but it’s also a little bit patronizing.
PL: When you play online do you use tracking software?
MS: Yes, I use Hold’em Manager. When I started that was the one I first encountered so I stuck with it. I have never tried any others.
$5m+ will keep you going for a while.
PL: What about analysis tools?
MS: No tools. I don’t do much theoretical work. Most of the time I analyze hands on my own.
Sometimes at tournaments, when there is an interesting spot, I speak with friends about them. Other than that I do the work by myself.
PL: What’s your favorite sport outside of poker?
MS: When it comes to playing: tennis. When it comes to watching, probably football. But you know the Czech are a hockey nation, so I follow that, too.
My favorite hockey team is HC Oceláři Třinec from my hometown, but when it comes to football I like the teams with Czech players like Chelsea or Arsenal.
But I really enjoy teams like Barcelona for their beautiful playing style. They make football fun to watch.
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