It’s hard not to notice the six-foot teddy bear watching over Patrik Antonius’ shoulder at the Finn’s Las Vegas home. It’s the same bear that was sitting in his suite in the Bellagio back in 2006 when I first interviewed him.
It seems strangely significant, as it’s one of the few things in his life that has remained the same over the past three years. In many ways the Finnish online legend’s life has changed almost beyond recognition.There is no doubt he looks much the same.
The shaved head and cut-glass cheekbones giving him an intense brooding look and his piercing stare adds an air of confrontation as we begin the interview. It’s a mask that is quick to fall, however, and an easy grin breaks out as he talks about his upcoming trip to Finland. The emotionless iceman persona is not one that easily suits Antonius.
The slightly accented, deliberate English can hide the fact he’s an opinionated, funny and passionate character. And his home is no cold utilitarian workplace either. The bear now belongs to his young daughter Mila, and looks totally in keeping with a house filled with toys.
The birth of his daughter is the biggest change in his life since his days living at the Bellagio. He divides his time between Vegas and Monaco, and his Vegas place is a family home, with Antonius tucked away upstairs, earning a living playing poker for increasingly huge stakes.
For him, the games of two years ago seem small in comparison and he admits to finding $200/$400 no-limit ‘boring’.
Antonius has matured into one of poker’s elite, as adept in Bobby’s Room playing limit stud as he is online playing heads-up no-limit hold’em. He no longer feels like a player trying to prove himself, but one who has arrived at the top and feels comfortable in those lofty heights.
But one thing that has not changed is his love for online poker. Antonius may have begun his career playing live games in Helsinki casinos, but it was online where he grew his bankroll and first became an icon.
And watching as he reclines in a leather chair in his poker office, you can tell this is where he is most comfortable. He’s not one of the online generation, and claims to struggle with more than three tables, but the online poker world is where where he truly belongs.
This is his home turf, and his conversation is littered with screen names rather than real names. To him these guys are OMGClayAiken first and Phil Galfond second.
Antonius, despite his young age, is one of the old men of online poker. But he continues to pound on the games. According to highstakesdb he’s won nearly $7m playing the mixed no-limit hold’em, pot-limit Omaha games on Full Tilt. And only Phil Ivey evokes the same fear in his opponents.
Right now, he is firmly back in the spotlight thanks to his role in the durrrr Challenge that has set the new online God against the old. And it’s reminded the poker world just what a phenomenal talent Antonius is.
So you would be wise to listen as he explains who he thinks is the best in the world, what makes a great player and why he doesn’t want to be known as a poker player anymore...
Do you think you’re the best online player in the world?
Number one? What about Phil Ivey? Do you not think of him as an online player?
Yeah, I think he is the only guy who might have an edge on me. He is the toughest opponent. When he’s playing a lot of poker he’s hard to beat.
Who are your top online players?
Phil Ivey, durrrr has a unique style, although the problem with him is he only plays pot-limit Omaha and no-limit hold’em. Phil and I are good in every single game. Ziigmund has been very tough for me. I’m not sure who else there is.
How about Gus?
I respect his game and think he is a better poker player than OMGClayAiken and Urindanger but he has some weaknesses too. He knows exactly how to play but he is too sloppy and lazy and has too much gamble in him. But he is very tough in limit games and it is never easy with Gus.
Do you not think the likes of Phil Galfond and The Dang brothers are up there?
No. First of all they only play two games. OMGClayAiken has been playing very badly against me. Urindanger plays very bad pot-limit Omaha and OMG has made so many terrible calls against me. Those guys have obviously been running very good and it’s evening out now.
If I was putting a list of the top 10 players they would be there, but there is a reason they only play when there is a fish in the game. They don’t mess around with the best players.
You haven’t been at the Rio much this World Series. You were sick for three weeks and have only managed two events. Do you care about winning bracelets?
If I won a bracelet it would honestly mean completely nothing. So many people have bracelets and there are so many events. At the moment, I play for money. I stopped playing tournament poker since it got too small for me and it’s a very unhealthy life travelling to play poker tournaments.
Even if I play live [cash games] I don’t play $2,000/$4,000 anymore as it’s not worth my energy. There are some smaller games online I have not played either as it’s better for me to play less.
How much poker do you play online in an average week?
When I was in Monaco it got very boring for me. I would work out and for the rest of the time I was online but nobody wanted to play. I was miserable. I’ve also had periods in Vegas where I’ve played 10 hours of poker in three weeks.
There were no games. I know from highstakesdb when people have no money. Everyone has trouble playing when they’re losing, because when you’re on a downswing there is always something that bothers your head.
You’re not immune to that. You’ve talked about throwing things through walls before.
I’ve fixed the walls [Antonius points towards the wall and laughs]. I almost broke my elbow though. I tried to put my elbow through the wall and there was a nail on this piece of wood and it went so close.
What made you lose your temper?
I was sick for three weeks. When I can’t work out my nerves get very tight. And when you have a bad run online you literally reach boiling point. If I play poker after training I feel so good and relaxed it is impossible for me to steam.
I hear you are quite into MMA (mixed martial arts). Is that a good way to let off steam?
I like to watch fights, but I am not going to be fighting. That said, if anyone puts up an offer like when Gus fought Theo [Jorgensen] I might be interested in doing something like that. There are a lot of guys I would love to fight.
I will even put an offer in that I will fight Mark Vos and he could have three minutes where he could just punch me. He could have one round to try and win. I would love to break his nose. This guy has been putting his nose into my business and telling lies about me. Everyone knows he is a total piece of shit.
Aside from Mark Vos, do you find much in your life stresses you away from the table?
My life is less stressful now since I am more financially secure. I am part of Full Tilt and have a steady income from that. I’ve also matured a lot as a player in the last two or three years. Two years ago, I could not have decided to focus on cash games, I would have played tournaments and cash games and burned out after a couple of weeks.
How has your life changed in the past two or three years?
It’s changed a lot. In those days I was living an unhealthier lifestyle than now. I was definitely more of a poker player, whereas now I don’t even want to put myself in that category. I really don’t like their lifestyle and I want to separate myself from poker players. I don’t like to spend time with them, I think they talk too much and are kind of boring company to hang out with.
Has your daughter changed you?
Mila has changed me a lot. She is the most important thing in my life. It hasn’t changed my poker game, I’ve been gambling the same way.
Do you think the games are good at the moment?
There are way less gamblers these days. I think the best players in the world, Phil Ivey, durrrr and Ziigmund, are all crazy gamblers. They don’t have anything that limits their games because they love to take risks and can pull the best possible play in any situation.
These other guys think too much about money and should think more about getting better as a player. I’ve played so much in my life against better players but it’s all worth it because I’ve got that money back tens and hundreds of times over.
Are you in the position where you don’t need to play poker anymore?
Yeah I could quit and quite easily find a lot of things to do instead of playing poker, but I love it.
Is the competition online really fierce at the high levels?
One and a half years ago it looked like a lot of very talented players were coming into the game, but they didn’t stay.
Why do you think they didn’t come through?
Maybe they went through bad runs. I had bigger expectations for LarsLuzak because I had such trouble with him at the beginning. But I’ve been getting the best of him in the last five months or so.
What do you make of Luke Schwartz?
I guess he must be talented because he is beating a lot of people. He is a pretty interesting person for the poker world. Usually these guys who talk a lot of shit are not good players, but this guy seems a little different.
I think he is a good spice for the games. He wants to play me $200/$400 no-limit but I find it too boring. It would be nice to play him but I am not willing to go as low as $200/$400.
You reserve a lot of praise for durrrr, and you said earlier he had a unique style. What do you mean by that?
He plays worse hands than other people but can mix it up. He’s a very tough opponent against weak players because he applies pressure in certain situations. He likes to use a lot of blockers in pot-limit Omaha.
He likes to go for the backdoors, when he can bluff and see an opening for a backdoor flush or straight draws. So it’s tough to guess his hands. He has done very weird checks like checking top two pair, which is very strange with all the draws in pot-limit Omaha. He is focused when he plays and is very good at quitting.
What do you mean by that?
Poker is about making the right decisions, and in high-stakes it is very important to quit at the right time and not play when you are tired.
It’s a lot of little things that make a big difference.