Five million shark Tian 'wobbly_au' Shou steps forward
"My friend was convinced I would make it big on PokerStars so he gave me $50 and a one-hour lesson in Hold'em. Six months later I had $100,000. Three years later I had made a million and saved my family from poverty."
- Tian 'wobbly_au' Shou
If that was the opening voiceover in a made-for-TV movie you'd write it off as unrealistic hogwash, as a script tossed together by a screenwriter who didn't really understand poker. Turn $50 into millions? No-one can do that, can they? Apparently Tian 'wobbly_au' Shou can and did, scoring five consecutive years as a Supernova Elite along the way. Shou has now clocked up more than five million VPPs, an accolade that was rewarded recently with a PokerStars TAG Heuer watch as he joined the likes of Kevin 'WizardOfAhhs' Thurman, Bertrand 'ElkY' Grospellier, Randy 'nanonoko' Lew and Grayson 'spacegravy' Physioc in the exclusive PokerStars Hall of Fame.
The 27-year-old, who was born in China but grew up in Australia, now wears that watch every day and says that it means more to him than anything else (not including friends and family, of course!).
"Let me give you some context," said Shou. "I've made more than a million dollars but I don't, and never have, owned a car. I don't take pride in anything materialistic; I have no jewellery, I don't own any other expensive watches, or clothing of any sort. But I wear the watch from PokerStars because I am proud of making SNE every year for five years straight. When I look at it, it reminds me of what I've accomplished so early in life."
The timepiece was delivered to the Sydney home that he bought with his poker winnings, a situation that would have seemed impossible when he started the game six years ago.
"When I was 21 and finishing my final semester of University I was waiting tables 30 hours a week at Outback Steakhouse (an Australian themed steakhouse restaurant chain) as I was a very poor student trying to make ends meet. I had fantastic grades, graduated top of my class in several subjects and had a lot of prizes and scholarships, but it wasn't enough live on as I had to look after my sister and help mum with the mortgage," said Shou.
Picking up poker turned out to be a very astute decision for Shou, which is little wonder given that he describes himself as, "very rational and dutiful, intelligent, confident, calm, careful and loving toward my family." He moved up through the stakes, racking up winning years like you or I would get loyalty stamps from a coffee shop: his best year being a $650,000 annual profit.
It's quite an incredible tale. Shou's single mother raised him and his younger sister by herself until Shou started working at the age of 13 "delivering newspapers using a supermarket trolley and a fake ID that said I was 16." Before poker took off, Shou had worked as a waiter, bartender, primary and high school tutor, university teaching assistant, auditor and finally a risk consultant, all the while picking up strong grades.
"My mother and I were living pay check to pay check from when I was 8 till I was 22. We moved countless times. We've even been evicted," said Shou.
Many of the things most would take for granted were an occasional luxury. Meat wasn't a regular on the kitchen table, for instance. Things have changed a lot over the last few years (and Shou has, somewhat understandly, developed a taste for Wagyu beef).
"My greatest achievement was that before Black Friday I've never had more than two consecutive losing months and had made more than $300,000 every year. My toughest moments have come after that where I have been struggling to break even. I work tirelessly to become a feared name and start winning again, not so much for the money but to regain my confidence. As I said, I am a rational person so I don't claim to be a perfect player at all. I think the games have gotten tougher, but even so there is plenty I can do to improve as a player and I look forward to that," said Shou.
Confidence is one thing, being able to assess yourself in the cold light of day is another and it's the mark of the best players in the game. Shou has played as high as $200/$400 NLHE on PokerStars - a hefty buy-in of $100,000, no less - but his regular game for a large part of those five years was $25/$50 NL with his biggest winning session being, as he recalls it, around $200,000 while his biggest losing session clocks in closer $320,000. It's eye-watering stuff.
When you play for those stakes you've got to be happy to tangle with the best, and he has: he's won a six-figure pot from Daniel 'KidPoker' Negreanu. Playing online at PokerStars Shou opened with aces for $400 and Negreanu called in the big blind with ace-king. A 5♥A♠5♠ flop, which was fast-played by Shou, was enough to get in effective stacks of $54,000 to win an enormous $108,000 pot.
"My usual game lately has been $2.5/$5 NLHE ZOOM on PokerStars. I play six hours a session daily, but I have played less due to meeting a wonderful woman, and realising that spending money feels a lot better than making it!" said Shou.
Shou has three key players that he particularly respects, and their work ethic reflects back on how he approaches the game. It includes, perhaps unsurprisingly, the two Phils; Galfond, because he's "rational, non-degenerate and very good at all forms of poker," and Ivey for one specific moment in time. During the 2009 WSOP Main Event, in which Shou finished 95th for $47,003, he saw Ivey go straight to the cash games after an 11-hour day at the tournament tables. Ivey ended up finishing 7th for $1,404,014. The third is PokerStars player Filthy999 who was that player that introduced him to the game and gave him the $50 to start his amazing poker career.
Shou has just two cashes to his name. That WSOP cash and a 10th place finish in the ANZPT Adelaide Main Event, both in 2009. He has entered four live tournaments. Yes, just four. If you're running a 50% in-the-money ratio then perhaps you should be playing more live events. That's something that's actually pretty likely to happen.
"I am currently trying to establish my name and gain some respect from my peers by developing my website, www.wobblypoker.com*, and I also plan to play more live," said Shou.
*Currently written in Chinese but will an English version is planned to launch soon.
Keep an eye open for Shou on the live circuit and hope that you don't find him on your left.
Rick Dacey is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.