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Talal Shakerchi: “I Care as Much as Anyone Else Sitting There”
“Just took down the SCOOP Main for $1.5m!!!”
There were three exclamation marks; not one, but three. That’s a lot of excitement to squeeze into a text message.
I shout upstairs to my wife: "Liza!"
“Talal has won the SCOOP Main Event for $1.5m!”
“Awesome, tell him well done from me!”
Text Messages Ever More Dazzling
Hailing from the Welsh Valleys I’m more used to my friends texting me to say they have won a £10 acca on a Saturday afternoon, £10 for three numbers on the lottery, or a bracelet made from coloured beads down the bingo hall.
Poker changed all that. I left God's country and started following the poker circuit like some deranged nut. Electricians, carpenters and Job Centre managers exchanged for poker players, poker players and poker players.
The text messages got ever more dazzling. A few thousand won here. A few thousand won there. But $1.5m? Won, playing a game on the computer?
"I am really pleased," said Talal Shakerchi shortly after winning the $1,468,001 first prize in the Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) Main Event.
"It's not the biggest tournament I've won regarding the number of players, but it's easily the biggest in terms of cash size.
"It was a tough competition. I like playing against the best players and a good $10k like this is packed full of them."
I have this vision of him lying in his bed with a copy of Market Wizards on the bedside table and his laptop propped on a purple silk pillow. His wife is next to him.
“When are you going to turn that bloody thing off?”
He pushes his specs back with his index finger and squints at the screen.
“Give me two minutes.”
Never Happy Becoming Average
The board shows 4♣ 3♦ 2♦ 7♥ J♦ and Shakerchi holds the nut flush. Sean ‘nolez7' Winter moves all-in.
Shakerchi makes the call. It's all over. He closes down his table and gets back to work.
"I didn't have time to celebrate. I had a lot of work to catch up on because of SCOOP.
"As soon as the tournament finished, I got stuck into some e-mail. Then I had to prepare for some meetings so I got my head down and got on with that.
“A few years ago, I won a SCOOP event with over 5,500 entrants. In many ways that one was more satisfying because although the average player wasn’t as strong as this one, it’s tougher to win a tournament of that size.
"I felt as happy with that win as I did with this.”
It might surprise you to learn that Shakerchi has won three SCOOP titles playing under his pseudonym of raidalot. It's not supposed to happen that way.
Who wrote this script? Isn't one of the most successful Hedge Fund managers in Europe supposed to be the whale? Why does this man have such sharp teeth?
"I have been playing for something like eight years now so I'm not new to the game. I never came into this game to merely play. I was never going to be happy becoming an ‘average player'.
"When I do things, I want to do them well. When you play online you can get a lot of volume in and I also spend a lot of time studying the game."
That's Not Luck
I must have gotten that book wrong. More Mathematics of Poker than Market Wizards I guess?
"I have also had the advantage of jumping in and competing at the highest level," Shakerchi says. "The learning curve is sharper and you can pick up so much more by playing with them as the lessons stick better than watching them play."
Or as my wife put it when we were discussing his win: “He was always going to win something major because he is so smart.”
I guess it was only a question of time. Sure, some successful businessmen pop into the high rollers purely for leisure. People who don't have the time to learn, review and apply.
But when someone cashes in 38 SCOOP events for $1.6m, makes the final table of five of them and wins the biggest and toughest event of them all? Well, that's not luck.
It's great when someone of Shakerchi's standing wins a huge sum of money because you know it either stays in the poker community or heads into the poorest parts of the world.
He is one of the most significant philanthropists in the UK. His success in business will save many lives and help reduce so much suffering. Off the tables that is; on them, he likes to make people suffer.
Imagine being Winter, knowing you're heads-up against a multi-millionaire with no chance of a deal on the table. That has to affect your play, right?
"I Care As Much As Anyone"
“I think in some scenarios I gain an edge," Shakerchi says, "because the money doesn’t have as much meaning as it perhaps does for my opponents.
"If you are playing a regular weekday tournament it doesn’t have much impact; neither will it during the early phases of the $10k I won. Where it definitely makes a difference is when you get to the later stages of a $10k.
"The pay jumps are pretty big. At the final table yesterday the first pay hike was $70,000 and then the top pay increase was over $400,000. For many people, those amounts can make the difference between having a great year or a poor year and that must create more pressure.
“My argument is people shouldn’t play tournaments at a level that effects their play, as they are at a disadvantage. But inevitably people do. It also helps in those tournaments to be perceived as someone who doesn’t care about the money.
“The reality is, I care as much as anyone else sitting there because I am competitive and want to win. But I don’t have that extra pressure of the money mattering and that makes a difference when you are playing big bubbles or final stages of major tournaments.”
Does that mean figuring out ICM calculations goes out of the window? Does he has one move, and that’s to go for the jugular?
"I do take account of ICM but the advantage for me is I can see it in a longer-term picture. For me, plays that make sense on average in a given situation I can take and variance isn't going to be a problem for me.
"Whereas someone else may feel pressured into making a sub-optimal play because each result matters a lot, particularly when the buy-in is bigger than normal."
"I'll Play Until It's No Longer Fun and Challenging"
So where does this all end? What does a man, who has so much money his only problem is figuring out how best to give it all away, do next?
“For me personally, it’s to do well in the toughest tournaments in the world. This is the kind of tournament where all the top pros play, they bring their A game.
"It means a lot to them so they are trying hard, you can feel that everyone is focused.
"I don't have poker goals. I expect to play much less online following the recent changes at Stars, where there has been a consistent move towards more luck-based games and worse value for the players, but will still participate in the series where I love the long and deep structures.
"I don't know if I will play forever. I will play until it's no longer fun and challenging. At the moment, I am still relatively new to the games outside of Hold'em and I only play them a few times a year during SCOOP, WCOOP and WSOP.
“I know I’m well behind the top pros in those games but I study them. Other people might have differing opinions but I don’t feel like I am a total fish in those games.
"I can hold my own. I can tell by my results that I can’t be doing everything terribly bad.”
"I Know a Win Doesn't Say Much"
What about ego? If I had won $1.4m I would have gone all Dick Van Dyke and started singing from the rooftops.
"It's all about making the right decisions. The boost comes more from knowing I have done more things correctly beyond my normal rate. The time I feel worse is when I make bad decisions.
"It doesn't matter if I have won or lost it's about whether my decisions are right or wrong. For example, even though I won that tournament, I’m still feeling bad about playing the river poorly on one final-table hand against Scott Seiver.
"It's nice winning a tournament. It's nice winning money to keep the bankroll replenished. But in itself, I don't see it as a huge achievement. It's more about doing things right."
Talal Shakerchi is doing a lot right; in poker, in business, and in parts of the world where the lights go out when the sun goes down and playing online poker seems as distant as me winning $1.4m.
Wait. Another text.
"Dad …can you give me some money xx."
Oh, how the other half live.