Finding Isildur1: Viktor Blom cops to his secret identity
It's a 20-minute walk to the farthest reaches of the Atlantis resort known as The Cove. It's literally the most distant point from the PCA tournament room. No place on Atlantis is as posh as this hideaway at the end of the island. One has to pass no fewer than three guards who are charged with the duty of making sure the unwashed aren't sneaking into the land of the elite. On a late Thursday afternoon, this is where Isildur1 is hiding.
To most anyone watching, he is just a tall, lanky young man in ripped bluejeans and a gray hoodie. His mop of hair is a perfectly tangled mess, one that could have as easily been assembled by a high-dollar stylist as a 20-year old Swedish kid who has suffered multiple delayed flights and lost luggage on his first trip to the Bahamas. Ushered into the back of a swanky lounge, he sips on a Corona and intimates that he's just happy to be somewhere warm.
"It's so cold in Europe right now," he said.
It's probably very hard to to be unhappy if you're this Swede. Somehow in the span of a few years, the young man has managed to find an almost unparalleled poker fame without once giving his name to the media. He's won, lost, and won millions again in the biggest pots in online poker history. Legions of fans and haters take to the poker forums to discuss the young man's every move. They speculate on his identity. They critique his play and how he chats at the online poker tables. They love him. They hate him. They either want to be him or beat him.
At this moment, he's just a stylishly disheveled kid sitting on a leather sofa. He is sitting for his first official interview. He shifts in his seat and looks around the room as people look back and surely wonder, "Is that him?"
The answer is a very quiet, "Yes." At long last, after spending month after month as poker's Keyser Söze, Viktor Blom is happy to admit he is Isildur1.
By now, there is no one in poker who doesn't know the legend of Isildur1. With a poker nickname ripped from "Lord of the Rings," the wunderkind seemed to come out of nowhere to challenge and beat the biggest names in the game. Within days of his arrival on the scene, he had earned the respect of poker's top players. The question that rang out in every room was, "Who is this guy?" It became a parlor game for poker players worldwide.
There were many people who pegged Blom for the man behind the online avatar, but 100% confirmation of Isildur1's true identity was near impossible. If the media approached him, they were summarily rebuffed. Blom simply didn't see any benefit in seeking out fame. He was playing a game he loved, and if he could remain in the shadows, he was fine with that.
"There was no reason for me to talk to the media," he said.
Many people would have disagreed with Blom. There were few stories in 2010 poker that were as good as his.
Blom was the youngest of four kids in a humble Swedish home. At age 14, the man who would someday bet tens of thousands on the turn of a card couldn't conceive of having millions of dollars. Then Blom found poker.
"In the beginning, it was just for fun," he said of his early games with his friends.
Four years later, at age 18, Blom started to think he might have a knack for the game. Playing .50/$1 games online, Blom played for 15 hours a day. It was one of the world's most profitable obsessions.
"I deposited $2,000 and within three weeks I had two million," he said.
Blom was immediately pegged by the poker community a maniac--a frighteningly talented maniac, but a maniac all the same. Everybody wanted to play him, and Blom was taking all comers. He soon learned losing millions was easier than winning millions.
"I had some rough days," he said with a wry smile. "But I'm not worried. I know I can always win money."
No matter how much he won or lost, it wasn't a topic that was easily discussed around the Blom family dinner table. His parents were happy to support their son in whatever endeavor he chose, but Blom couldn't conceive of a way to explain how he regularly won and lost fortunes.
"I try not to talk to them too much about it," he said.
His two older sisters don't play poker. His brother does (and recently won a big Swedish tournament), but he's still nothing like Blom. "He is more of a grinder," Blom said. "I am the gambler."
So, imagine what it must have been like. It's as if Blom were the only one allowed on the world's most insane roller coaster but couldn't tell anybody what it was like. He had friends and he had family, but finding an actual peer was well nigh impossible while maintaining his secret identity.
It's impossible to say how long Blom would have hidden behind the Isildur1 name. He doesn't even know. But one late Autumn day, PokerStars came calling. On offer was a coveted spot on Team PokerStars Pro. There aren't many people who would turn down a spot in poker's most elite stable, but taking on the role of a Team Pro came with a price. Blom would have to stand up publicly and admit that he is, indeed, Isildur1. Finally, in a sort of "Lebron-goes-to-Miami" moment, Blom stood tonight before the assembled media and embraced his fame.
"It felt like the right time," he said.
And so that is how Viktor Blom came to be sitting in the lobby bar of the island's most luxurious hotel, nursing a beer, and answering the questions he's avoided for so long. He does it in much the same manner as he plays. He only gives away what you can wrest from him. While ready to put his face to his screen name, he's still intensely private. He doesn't care to discuss his personal life beyond what people would normally know about his game.
When he made his decision to sign with PokerStars, he knew that would come with a lot of scrutiny. There was no more hiding, but there was also no refusing the world's best poker gig. Even Blom couldn't turn down PokerStars.
"It's the biggest site. They do things right," he said.
There are many people who think Blom believes he's got it all figured out. He's been called everything in the book. More than a few people have called him arrogant.
"I don't know why they would think that," he said without a hint of irony. "I am confident, but I don't think I'm arrogant."
Though he's experimented with ring games, he always goes back to what he loves: the back and forth struggle of heads-up play. It's clear that the one-on-one to the death battle is where he finds his raison d'être. Given a choice between Omaha and Hold'em, he can answer quickly.
"I'd prefer a really good hold'em game," he said,
Blom is still willing to admit he has a lot to learn. He is starting to learn new games. He has also developed some sense of self-awareness, enough that he doesn't plan to approach any new adventures like he has his past endeavors. That is to say, don't expect to see him playing in the nosebleed section of games he's learning.
He is also trying to refine his live poker skills. It's an area of poker that he admits is his weakest. "I need to learn to be more patient. I need to learn to let go of some more hands," he said. "I want to have some good live results, maybe win an EPT."
With that understood, the money doesn't seem to mean much to Blom. He plays for a simple love of the game. Asked how much he'd have to win before he quit poker, he said "I've never thought about that. I love the game. I love the challenge."
Blom now lives in London, a place he loves for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the city's famous public transportation system. With all his millions, Blom has never owned a car. Even if he did, he wouldn't have anything to do with it. He doesn't have a drivers license.
"I haven't had time to get it yet," he said.
It's not clear if he'll have any more time in the near future. Now that he is Viktor Blom in addition to being Isildur1, there will be legions of people wanting to know how he does it. Asked how he would advise new players, Blom thought for a moment and then answered, "Start slow."
Then Blom paused. A wide smile broke out on his face. Start slow? He saw how ridiculous his answer was.
"I didn't do that," he said.
There was still a lot to learn about Blom, but the conversation had gone on for a long time. There would be other days, other interviews, and more time to try to figure out exactly what makes the guy tick.
Ultimately, the topic drifted to what would happen tonight. In front of the crowd at the PCA, Blom would finally stand up and once and for all admit that he is Isildur1. He looked neither excited nor nervous with the possibility. He actually seemed more focused on what would happen next. He was scheduled to play heads up against an PokerStars qualifier, and then heads up against fellow Team PokerStars Pro Betrand "ElkY" Grospellier. The rules and stakes were discussed with a member of the PokerStars brass. Blom nodded through it all. When it got quiet, he only had one question, one that said more about him than any of the answers he'd given over the past hour.
"Can we rebuy?" he asked.