Anom-Iwan: A story of stupid drunk love a poker madness
How Iwan Robert, a lovesick French nurse, moved to Prague and pulled off a night of sheer poker madness
A few weeks back, veteran PokerStars Blog writer Howard Swains and I stood waiting for an elevator in Barcelona. He looked at me with the look he gets when he's feeling mischievous. He spoke a word I couldn't even spell: Anomalisa.
It was a film recommendation, one he vowed not to spoil for me by telling me anything about it, but one he insisted I should see.
So, upstairs I went into a hotel room that looked like almost any hotel room, grabbed a drink from a mini-bar that looked like any other mini-bar, and settled into a bed that looked like any other bed. I pulled up Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa on my laptop and settled in for yet another night on the road.
If you've seen the film, you know what comes next, and if you've not, I will do you the same favor Swains did me and not spoil it for you one bit. I will only reveal this much: it's, in part, a study of that moment when you see something completely different in a sea of sameness.
And it's also a connection to one of the wildest stories to come out of PokerStars this month.
Little did Swains or I know at the time that there was a Frenchman across the border who had already declared Anomalisa a "masterpiece" and was just a few weeks away from distinguishing himself from sameness in a way we almost never see. When given the chance to talk about his poker achievement and provided a platform to say anything he wanted to the world, he took that opportunity to point to the Kaufman film and declare, "I think everybody should see it."
Iwan Robert, 34, is a nurse, one who deals with the psychological stress of his job by burying himself in cinema. He's made films of his own, and he devours the best of the silver screen. It was what led him to Anomalisa and the search for something to make his heart beat faster in a world that can often feel tragically mundane. It's a search that pushes him into dance clubs, into the arms of women, and occasionally into a drink...or sometimes more.
"Sometimes too much, I have to admit," Robert said.
He eats good food, surrounds himself in trance music, swims to keep in shape, and travels as much as he can in that constant quest for something new. For a lot of searchers, this kind of life is a product of having something away from which to run. That is not true of Robert. His life has been, by his estimation, rather ideal.
"I had this perfect childhood. My parents are both teachers, and they did an excellent job as parents," he said. "I have also a sister who has two daughters. It's absolutely magical to see them. They fill me up with joy."
There is also a brother in the picture, one Robert calls "emotional" and also "a better poker player than me."
By this point, a reader could be surprised poker has managed to slip in as a subplot to Robert's life story. It was this month, however, that the game gave Robert a highlight reel like few have seen.
A STUPID DRUNK LOVE STORY
Imagine Robert at age 21 and swept up in what he still calls the Moneymaker Effect, one of countless young people of the early 2000s who discovered poker after amateur Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker.
"I had this intense feeling like the one you can have when you meet a girl for the first time and you connect directly. It was almost mystic. I literally felt in love with the game," he said.
Robert is a romantic, one of the hopeless variety, and his love of the game led him into a group with whom he's made his biggest and strongest group of friends.
"I have friends mostly due to poker, and, oh my God, I'm so happy I discovered the game like this and I was able to meet them," he said. "I absolutely cherish the friendship we have together."
These are men, some of whom lived together, who would get together and play cards six nights a week. They bought their own poker table and began a marathon game where money got passed back and forth among friends. It was the type of bonding experience that will stick with a man forever...but it won't make him rich. At one point, the group had a collective epiphany: wouldn't it be smarter to try to take other people's money?
So, Robert found online poker where he started with tournaments and quickly decided he was more of a cash game player. He worked his way up to the $200 games and built a bankroll of $7,000.
And then he got drunk. Or in his words, "stupid drunk."
You can write the rest of the story yourself. Wasted, he sat in a $1,000 game and lost it all. His poker bankroll was gone.
"That night numbed me a lot," he admitted.
Robert moved back to tournaments, and within two months had built his roll back up to $5,000. He started working as a nurse, and kept poker as a hobby.
Two years passed, he moved to Prague, and he thought he might mess around with some tournaments again. It would prove to be the decision that turned this September into one that stood out in the sea of sameness like a beach ball in a bowl of soup.
HE DID WHAT?
People who make it their business to keep track of poker results spend a lot of time looking at PokerStars during the month of September. That's when the World Championship of Online poker runs, a time when we re-visit the heroes of the game demonstrating the best of their talents. We meet new champions here and there, but unless a reporter is paying close attention, results can start to run together over the course of more than six-dozen events.
PokerStars compounded that issue this year with the introduction of the companion Mini-COOP, a small stakes series meant to give the more frugal poker player a chance to experience the structures and thrills of a championship-style series.
It was in this series where Robert found himself in the middle of a moment that floored even veterans like Jason Somerville.
If you can't watch the video now, here's the recap:
Robert (known as Ethanolol on PokerStars) entered two events within an hour and half of each other. One had 12,000 entrants. The other had 18,000 entrants.
Robert won them both.
"I ran like Jesus. I was in the zone. Nothing could reach me. A very strange feeling," he said.
A back-to-back win is not unheard of. Terrence Chan did it in SCOOP in 2009 in his specialty, limit hold'em. That said, Chan's opponents numbered in the hundreds. Robert defeated around 30,000 players to win his back-to-back titles, winning more than $15,000 on less than $15 in buy-ins over the course of one night.
"When I realized the two final tables were coming, I was conscious that it was complete madness. I was defying the variance," he said. "And then when I won both of them, I was shocked somehow, but I was aware that subnormal just happened and that these scenarios should not exist somehow in real life. But it did!"
Indeed, it did. And that's why you'll see Iwan Robert, an anomaly of the first order, playing the big-time $5,000 WCOOP Main Event.
I know what you're thinking: he's doing it again, isn't he? He's drunk on the moment and going to spend 1/3 of his winnings on one tournament!
In this case, no. He's not.
Impressed by the performance, the people behind the scenes at PokerStars gifted Robert a free entry to the WCOOP Main Event, so now, his love of the game--the one that defied the odds and raised a lot of eyebrows--will see him competing against the best in the world for online poker's biggest championship.
For a lot of people, it would be the most exciting thing that's ever happened to them. For Robert though, it still doesn't rank as high as that one other feeling that stands out against the mundanity of each passing day: love. Say what you will, but this poker anomaly is a big softy still in the search for that one beautiful life aberration you can't buy at the card room cage.
"I know guys will laugh at me, but I'm an helpless romantic. There is nothing to compare between love and poker," he said.
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Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Follow him on Twitter: @BradWillis.