|The rakeback basically pays my rent. So it’s almost like I’m freerolling all the time|
Anyone who considers why online poker pros would move to Thailand to pursue their living ought to begin by considering why they wouldn’t. This thought passed through the mind of a player, who goes by the name of Ron F, in November 2006. He recalls, ‘I was sitting in my house in New Jersey, freezing my bollocks off and wondering what this bullshit is.’ The 35-year-old online pro, who multi-tables small stakes Hold’em, adds, ‘I knew I could be in paradise instead of Jersey.’
Paradise for Ron has turned out to be a laid-back Thai island that is popular with tourists and must go unnamed here for the simple reason that online poker remains illegal in Thailand. Since his arrival two years ago, the place has turned into a virtual United Nations of online kids who, according to Ron, view him as something of a big brother. ‘You’ve got plenty of Finns, Danes, Canadians and Brits,’ he says. ‘Coming here is a no-brainer – especially when you can live on $ 1,000 a month and party three nights a week. Guys who play higher, and earn more, live like princes.’
Four recent arrivals in that category share a home known as ‘the Mansion’. It’s got a pool on the roof, views to die for and close proximity to the beach. ‘There is zero stress unless you’re on a big bounce,’ says Mansion resident Adam G, 25, who multi-tables $ 2/$ 4 no-limit, grew up in Sheffield, and went bamboo a year ago. ‘I have an easy life here: going out to eat whenever I want, riding my scooter around the island, hanging out with my Thai girlfriend. I try to play three to six hours per day. I usually play two. But that’s all I need.’
Indeed, Thailand is a paradise where money is the last thing anyone worries about. Every poker player on the scene there seems to have a story about a big baller blowing in from the West and looking to show how he rolls by spreading around some baht. Invariably, though, he wakes up the next morning, hungover after a long night of partying and carousing with bar girls, wondering how he dropped only £150.
To hear Adam tell it, the favourable exchange rate ‘creates a situation where everyone is pretty much equal’. He acknowledges that a Mansion-mate plays close to nosebleed stakes but lives no differently from everyone else. In fact, if there is a drawback to Thailand – besides routine power-failures that cost big players big bucks – it’s that the country and its low cost of living have a way of sapping ambition. ‘There’s no rush and no need to move up in stakes. Rakeback basically pays my rent. So it’s almost like I’m freerolling all the time.’
How does all of this get processed by the local Thais? Adam, for one, is not quite sure. ‘I don’t know what they think of us,’ he says. ‘They see these young guys with a lot of money who seem to be working at home. Then they see the house and they’re like, “Whoa…” But we try to keep a low profile. So that means lots of barbecues and good parties at the Mansion. Everyone here is fairly chill.’
Despite the fact that Adam and Ron have been living in Thailand for short periods of time, they both feel like old hands. Adam says that the Hold’em contingent is growing fast and that someone new usually turns up when they have one of their frequent pub crawls. Inevitably, newbies are partying hard, partaking of the ubiquitous low-cost working girls and pigging out on delicious tropical fruit.
With all those distractions, it’s easy to see how you could lose your poker focus. Therefore, big brother Ron suggests, ‘Bring a cushion of money with you, so you don’t feel pressured to grind during the first month or two.’ Any other advice for newcomers? ‘Leave your girlfriend at home. Bringing a girl to Thailand is like bringing sand to the beach.’