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Sebastian Saffari: "We Look Back at Hand Histories Now and Cringe"
The name Sebastian Saffari conjures up images of a sleek, sophisticated European.
Someone you find sipping Pinot Noir outside a cafe in Paris watching the world go by.
Then you talk to him.
Whilst you can still picture him outside that cafe, it’s in Newcastle - not Paris.
He’s drinking a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale, not Pinot Noir. But he’s still watching the world go by - thinking, wondering, sucking it all in.
Saffari is 29 years old. The milestone of 30 awaits. He lives in London, no doubt pulled there by the strings of poker.
His roots are Geordie. Born and raised in a town called Hexham.
He's a $3.7 million winner online under the nicknames "bassysaffari," "thereal_bandito" and others. He's also a WSOP runner-up and a WCOOP winner, too.
Lee Davy: I believe you are a big Newcastle fan
Sebastian Saffari: It’s the nearest club to Hexham. Everyone who lives there supports Newcastle.
My uncle used to take me to the games when I was a kid. I got into them just as the Premier League was kicking off. Newcastle were a big part of that.
We were one of the first teams to dish out the replica kits and really absorb everything that makes the Premier League great today.
I think that’s why Newcastle fans always maintain that we are a big club. It’s because we were during that time.
LD: Who is your favorite player?
SS: It was actually Hatem Ben Arfa. I went out on a limb for that guy and he let me down in a big way.
I guess he proved everyone right. He was the most talented player I think we have ever had. It’s a shame that he also turned out to be the laziest and fattest.
David Kelly was the first player I thought was the best. Then came Keith Gillespie. I always had the name Gillespie on the back of my shirt.
LD: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
SS: I wanted to be a footballer. Then as I got a little older and realized that wasn’t going to happen I was attracted to business.
My parents run their own interior design business. They sell high-end kitchens. They’ve done really well since they started two decades ago.
LD: Where did you do your work experience and did they pay you?
SS: I went to the Lloyds Bank. They didn’t pay me.
LD: Did you have a real job before poker?
SS: A lot of my friends will say that I have never had a real job in my life.
During my gap year I worked in a country pub. I also worked in the family business when I left University.
Poker was my thing back then, but I wanted the experience of working with my Dad.
I created their company website and I understand the company pretty well.
LD: Is that your fall back position?
SS: It’s interesting. When I first got into poker I would have been ashamed to go back and work for my parents. I would have looked upon it as failure.
I don’t think like that today. The poker industry is on its knees. The smart players have contingency plans. They have multiple streams of income.
These days I am grateful that I have the opportunity to work with my parents. I am turning 30. I don’t want to be grinding at the poker tables forever.
LD: Poker is on its knees?
SS: I play tournaments. They have gone downhill since Black Friday. The withdrawal of the American market took so much out of the game.
Also, everyone has improved so much; fish are much better. They make mistakes; we all make mistakes, but they don’t make mistakes with the rate the fish did 4-5 years ago.
These days nearly everyone is capable of putting you to the test. I find that the weaker players have leaks but they aren’t taking weak lines or missing value bets like they used to.
The game is so much tougher these days. It’s got to that point where I have to ask: ‘What’s the point of getting out of bed and grinding midweek?'
The prize pools aren’t great. You can’t even get a decent game on Full Tilt anymore. They keep reducing the prize pools.
My Sundays exist purely on PokerStars these days. I am boycotting partypoker because I fell out with them over a hacking scandal they haven’t dealt with very well.
I have been in the game a long time now. I can honestly say that things have gotten stale. Nothing new is happening. I can’t see where the next poker boom is coming from. That’s very worrying.
LD: What about the live game?
SS: The live game is good. I try to play as much as I can. You have to be careful though.
The EPTs cost a fortune. You can get stuck for a large sum of money playing in one of those.
You need to win something, or at least get a decent cash, otherwise you could run into trouble.
Most people have recognized the importance of playing EPTs, WPTs, PCA and Aussie Millions. That’s where the value is for tournament players these days.
LD: How do you manage your poker finances?
SS: I have done everything the wrong way. When I first got into the game it was fairly easy to be winning $20,000-$40,000.
I was 22-23 years old and money wouldn’t stick. I always had a great time, don’t get me wrong, but I was leading quite an expensive lifestyle.
I didn’t make good financial decisions back then. I had a decent cash at EPT Budapest and 10% of the winner (Will Fry). I had a nice roll. Things were going well.
I didn’t care about money back then. I went through it easily. Then I got backed by Mathew Frankland for a short while.
I think he will be the first to admit that he took on too many horses during that time. Everyone did.
It seemed to be an English characteristic. We don’t seem to care about money that much.
I have this friend in Newcastle. He plays cash games. When talking about tournament players, he says: 'champagne lifestyle, lemonade wages.’
He’s right. He makes all the right decisions. He takes care of his money. He’s been in the game for a long time. He’s a smart guy.
When I first got into the game I was making some good money. I was also qualifying for the big live events easily.
The games were huge. The first prizes were huge. Everyone was making money. It all seemed so easy.
I became friends with Martin Jacobson after Budapest. We both look back at that time and realize that we put in zero effort.
At that point it didn’t matter. We were always making money. We look back at our hand histories now and we cringe. We weren’t that great at all.
LD: Budapest was an important milestone for you
SS: I started playing poker professionally after Budapest. I had a deep run and got 10% of the winner. That gave me a little buzz.
I think I came out of there with a roll of around €70,000. My Dad was trying to get his hands on it. He wanted me to invest it.
I wouldn’t let him. Like I said, I made all the wrong decisions.
I also got scammed whilst I was in Budapest. It was ridiculous really; showed how naive I was - how naive all of poker was.
Poker players really trusted each other back then. That’s changed now. But there wasn’t any real scamming going on when I started out.
Will Fry lent this Swedish kid €500. He was hanging around waiting for Will to get paid and I was talking to him. He stayed with me for a while.
He was a total degen. He never showered, never brushed his teeth and drank coke all day. He ended up going into my PokerStars account when I was asleep. He blew a lot of money.
He travelled back to the UK with me and I confronted him about it. In the end I had to get his Dad involved. We wrote out a contract for the amount he owed me.
I think it was €18k. Then his Dad refused to pay up. I eventually took them to court and got most of the money back.
LD: What happened to the kid?
SS: I heard he eventually got sent down. He got seven years for doing meow-meow and for being in possession of a gun. I guess that sums up my early life in poker.
LD: Did you learn your lesson?
SS: I did; the hard way. I could have been stung for a lot more. I thought I had him sussed.
I mean, why would someone scam you and then not run? I don’t even think he thought he was doing anything wrong.
I assume he thought he would gamble with my money and then pay me back at some point if he lost. Like I said, he was the ultimate degen.
LD: Are you a degen?
SS: I don’t gamble that much. I bet on football. Not huge amounts, but I take it seriously.
I’m not just punting. Everyone I know enjoys gambling. They are always looking forward to placing their football bets on the weekend.
I think it makes my life more interesting.
LD: You have liked Russell Brand on Facebook. Why?
SS: A lot of my friends and family have a conservative view. Brand isn’t like that. He doesn’t conform.
He has strong views on life. A lot of people slag him off and criticize him for not backing any of it up with action. He never said he had the solution.
He paints things in black and white for people who don’t know how the world really works. He points out things like how the media manipulates people.
A lot of people don’t see that. We need people like Brand educating the masses.
Brand can also annoy you. I do get a bit bored with him. I know the world is fucked up, and all this shit is happening.
It’s not that I don’t care. If only a few people watch what he does then he has been a massive success.
I don’t understand why people don’t take the good things that he says and run with it instead of just thinking he is a dick.
Our society makes fun of people who are trying to make a difference, that’s the problem. As humans we can’t progress as a race because we are always pulling other people down.
LD: Why did you like Floyd Mayweather?
SS: I don’t necessarily admire anything about him as a person. I’m not a big boxing fan. But he’s a great athlete and I have respect for that.
But I’m not buying into the photos of his large amounts of money. I’m not an admirer of the Dan Bilzerian or Floyd Mayweather way of doing things
LD: Why did you like science?
SS: I like progression. I like to learn about the universe and all those sort of concepts.
Science - how can you not be interested in it? So much is unknown and there are so many problems we are trying to solve.
SS: Not for me.
SS: I go through periods of interest. Martin (Jacobson)’s girlfriend Angelica is really spiritual. She piqued my interest in it.
I watched some interesting documentaries but I haven’t explored it recently. I am open-minded.
I am never going to say this is wrong and that’s wrong. More and more stuff is being figured out as time progresses.
SS: Everyone is always fearful of the unknowns in life; also death. Otherwise, I’m not fearful of much.
I don’t get worked up about certain things. I have never been financially poor so I’ve never worried about money.
Your financial status used to matter in the poker world. There was this jealousy when someone won something.
It wasn’t good. People would complain that this or that guy got lucky. It felt like it was difficult for people to be happy for other people.
Perhaps it’s just the variance. Over the years the money I have earned has reduced. I don’t have the financial power of the Radojas and the Jacobsons.
It’s made me more philosophical; more humble. I like myself more these days. I lead a great life and I am having a wonderful time.
LD: How would life change if you had all the money?
SS: I don’t think it would. I am equally as happy with or without it. It was something I worked out as I got older.
People think a guy is lucky because he wins $2m. Let’s figure out who is lucky or not at the end of their life. It’s not all about the money.
Money isn’t the ultimate decider of life satisfaction. I see a lot of my poker friends getting angry and upset when things aren’t going well.
It can beat you down. But there has to be a chin-up time. It’s only money.
You can’t allow something so fickle to dictate your happiness. It’s the way society is though. Everyone is trying to get the car, the house and all of that shit.
Everyone searches for that champagne lifestyle. Everyone wants those champagne wages.