Christoph Vogelsang exploded out of obscurity this summer to win $4.4 million in the 2014 WSOP Big One for One Drop.
It was an incredible feat, especially considering not that long ago Vogelsang was a student who had just deposited $10 on an online poker site.
After a stratospheric rise through the online stakes (he was playing NL$5k within four weeks of starting) he sold some action to play the Big One and eventually finished fourth.
We caught up with Vogelsang at EPT London to discuss a number of things including big buy-in tournaments, poker as a profession and even his faith.
PL: You used to be very active online before the One Drop and in 2013. Now you have disappeared almost completely.
CV: I haven’t played online since the One Drop. I needed some time to contemplate and to take some vacation.
I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I still want to play poker or if I want to do something else.
PL: But now you’re here in London.
CV: Well, I live here and as the tournament is practically on my doorstep, I thought I should play some and see a couple of friends.
PL: When did you move to England?
CV: I came here when I started studying. Before that, I studied in Germany. When I came to England, I didn’t play online poker.
PL: You experienced a stellar rise through the levels. You started in 2010 with $10, and four years later you’re in the most expensive tournament of all time.
CV: In the beginning I just got really lucky. For the first couple of months, I didn’t realize how big swings could be.
I don’t think I would have kept playing if I hadn’t been that lucky. I really enjoyed my studies and playing poker was not my planned career.
I think I got luckier than 99% of all players. I deposited $10 a couple of times and after four weeks, I was already playing NL5k cash games.
To improve my game, I used to talk to my friends about poker a lot. That was very motivating for me and helped me study poker theory and identify my mistakes.
PL: You played the One Drop. Is it true that pros have less of an edge when the buy-in is so high it might take them out of their comfort zone?
CV: The One Drop certainly is something special, however, most of the pros don’t spend more on it than they do on other high buy-in events.
Many of them sell 75-90% plus mark-up of their action, so they are only in for 3-20% with their own money. I did that too.
Business men pay the complete buy-in with their own money. Thus, I don’t think the pros are psychologically at a disadvantage.
Me, personally, I’m thinking very conservatively about how much money I’m investing.
This way I manage to be pretty unemotional when I play. The way you have to act in a specific situation must be guided by cards and your opponent’s play.
The buy-in level shouldn’t be of major importance. Higher buy-ins only mean you’re dealing with stronger opponents.
It is generally important to allow yourself to make mistakes. Sometimes things go wrong, and that’s OK. You just can’t do the right thing all the time.
To me, my Christian faith helps me get through this. I know there are more important things in my life than my poker career.
That doesn’t mean I’m not following my goals with everything I can. It rather means I can be courageous and deal with setbacks in a constructive way.
It is not always easy to understand what disappointments and defeats can be good for.
But I trust in god and I try to see the good things within the setbacks.
As a Christian, you tend to be optimistic, which is very helpful in poker.
PL: Was the One Drop the highlight of your career?
CV: The One Drop was fun. I like poker and it is even more fun if you play on the big stage.
A lot more people have been approaching me since then to talk about poker.
On the other hand, I don’t consider myself a better player now than I used to be before that tournament. The One Drop had a pretty small field.
If you finish in first, second, or third place it doesn’t tell you if you played well or if you got lucky.
Long-term online success says a lot more. Poker tournaments are fun to play, but I don’t look at them results-orientated.
The best thing about the One Drop was that there were so many poker friends in my vicinity who wanted to invest in me.
If other people than just me can profit from it, too, it’s even more fun to win.
PL: You are a very analytical person. Is it really even possible to fathom the depths of variance in high stakes poker?
CV: It is human to be overly self-confident. Which is why you should closely look at your personal results.
Since 2010, I’ve been playing on lots of different levels. In cash games, I would always have more than 100 buy-ins for any level I played.
When I was playing MalACEsia on Full Tilt, I sold some of the action.
PL: At the Grand Final in Monaco, you approached online qualifier and surprise finalist Sebastian Bredthauer and asked him to sell you a significant part of his action.
CV: That was a spontaneous idea. Sometimes, deals like this can be profitable for both the staker and the stakee.
At the time I spoke to him, his chips had an expected value of about €180,000 but he was only guaranteed €50,000.
Based on this, I could have paid him €160,000. Had he won only €50,000, I would have lost money.
On the other hand, if he wins the tournament and a million euro, I would have made a big profit. So I would have carried the risk.
Deals like these make sense if you play for several times your bankroll.
A deal like this is a particularly good idea for the players at the WSOP Main Event final table.
The economic thought behind this is that money has a diminishing marginal utility.
Thus, compared to getting either very much or little money depending on different probabilities, it is preferable to take a medium profit for granted.
Yet, it’s perfectly ok that he didn’t take my offer. These deals are actually very similar to what’s happening in finance.
You improve the benefit by spreading the risk.
PL: Sounds like you were born to play poker…
CV: I like poker and I am thankful for being able to make money with it. Poker is an intellectual challenge.
In the future, however, I would like to have a different profession.
PL: Wouldn’t you miss travelling?
CV: I am happy wherever I am. I grew up on a farm and I had a wonderful childhood without having travelled a lot.
I wouldn’t enjoy travelling if I had to be on the road all the time. If I travel only occasionally, I appreciate it a lot more.