The Decision to Become a Poker Pro Has Never Felt More Right

The year was 1996.

I'd decided to drop out of college because I felt an exam from Stockholm School of Economics, a business school ranked top 10 in Europe and very hard to get into, wasn't for me.

I was going to become a professional poker player instead.

I had always drifted away on strange paths throughout my life and poker seemed perfect to me. I had always loved to play games and poker most of all.

I was intelligent and, since I was only 25, I would get a very early start and hence a competitive edge down the line.

Las Vegas Strip

I had even lived the life the old guys talked about. You know, that you needed a lifetime of life experience to sit down and win at the poker tables.

So I went to Vegas when the leaves had fallen off the trees back in Sweden and the long, dark, cold months were sinking down over the country preparing for six months of misery.

In the Shadows of Encore

I spent the first night in Vegas in a place now called “Royal Resort." It's in the shadows of Encore halfway to the Convention Center.

“Royal” was somewhere in the name back then, too, but nothing else about the place was royal.

There was no hot water in my room but I went straight to bed after my long trip caring about nothing else than sleep.

There was still no hot water in the morning and I complained at the reception. I got the room for free.

I loved America at that moment. I almost asked if I could stay longer for free. I mean, who needs hot water anyway?

Instead I took a walk on the Strip. It was very early in the morning because of the jet lag.

No restaurants were open but I filled myself with all the things I saw.

At the Time It Seemed Like a Bargain

A couple of hours later I had just passed the newest casino on the Strip. The luxurious Monte Carlo had just opened that summer.

I was walking past New York, New York, set to open early 1997, when I saw Excalibur's billboard promotion of a breakfast buffet for $1.99.


At the time it seemed like a great bargain. I'm not so sure about that today.

After breakfast I wobbled away through the casino. All of a sudden I was looking at four poker tables at the end of the pit games.

One table was going. The game was Limit Holdem and the stakes were $3/$6.

It was shorthanded, with only four players, and given the rake probably unbeatable.

I had promised myself not to play shorthanded. My plan was to play full ring, the game I had studied. I knew my starting hands from different positions and could duck the variance better.

So I bought in for a hundred and sat down.

Did He Sniff the Blood in the Water?

Ken Lennaard
Who's the pro?

I studied my opponents to try to figure out who was the pro.

The game was lightning fast. I tried to hang with the seasoned veterans but it was almost impossible. And a little bit terrifying.

It was about to get much worse. Because He sat down.

He was wearing black sunglasses and fat gold rings on most of his fingers, sprinkled with shiny rocks. A poker pro without any doubt whatsoever.

He talked on his cell, back when nobody had a cell phone in Vegas.

Did he show up because of me? Did the shark sniff the blood in the water?

Or had the poker manager called him up and informed him that a live one had just sat down?

I was scared shitless and had to let go of some stress. I almost did in my pants -- probably because of the food from the $1.99 buffet.

But I was not going anywhere.

How About That, Vegas?

There were one or two other guys I thought played pretty bad. Besides, where was I supposed to go? Back to the hotel room with no hot water?

The pro tried to run over the table from the start so I 3-bet him with pocket sevens. The flop came Q-7-2 rainbow and we went to war.

Ken Lennaard
New kid in town.

When he 5-bet me on the turn I had a sinking feeling that he had pocket queens. But that was impossible because he didn't 4-bet pre-flop, so I raised again.

It was scary, and thrilling. But what a ride.

We put in another couple of bets on the river before he called me. He showed me a set of deuces and I raked the monster pot.

I played a few more hands but my heart was not in it anymore. I wanted to cash out. So I did.

Up $76 in 45 minutes -- how about that, Vegas? There was a new kid in town.

$30/Hour Seemed Reasonable

I knew even then that it's very important to be honest with yourself in poker.

I realized that I had been lucky in that one hand.

But after some math in my head an hourly win-rate of $30/hour seemed more than reasonable.

The decision to become a poker pro has never felt more right than at that moment.

About Ken Lennaárd:

Sweden's most controversial poker blogger Ken Lennaárd has been around the professional poker circuit for almost 20 years. Among his numerous accomplishments are Swedish Championships both live and online, three WSOP final tables and over $1.5m in live earnings. He's now bringing his singular poker voice to the English world via Look for new posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Note: Opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not represent the views of

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