PokerStars Festival Bucharest: Sam Grafton on his WSOP, Twitter game, online success, and poker as a job
There are certainly some beloved, colourful characters in the poker world, but for many different reasons. Daniel Negreanu? He's larger than life. Phil Ivey? He's an enigma. Charlie Carrel? His fashion sense draws the eye. Phil Hellmuth? Well, we've all seen Phil Hellmuth...
You can add Sam Grafton to that list, too. For several years now the British pro known online as TheSquid (or SamSquid) has taken more and more time away from crushing the virtual felts to venture into the live poker arena; always sharing stories, cracking jokes, and making the game fun for his tablemates (whilst simultaneously taking their chips).
Grafton's here in Bucharest for the PokerStars Festival, and is currently enjoying a good Day 1B so far (he's already cracked aces and made a straight flush). The perfect time for a catch up, then.
Summertime (and poker Twitter is peaking)
"The summer was good," Grafton says, referring to his recent six-week stint at the 2017 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
"Obviously the Brits did well, what with Max, Moorman, Brammer [that's Max Silver, Chris Moorman, and Chris Brammer - all of whom won their first bracelets], and another friend of mine Howard Smith, who came second in a Hi/Lo event, so that was great. Particularly because they're legends. I had a few swaps as well, so that was nice and eased the pain of my summer."
Grafton cashed seven times during the series, with his biggest result coming in the $10,000 Six-Max No Limit Hold'em event.
"It was my first year at the World Series for a few years and I really enjoyed it. I cashed all four six-max events and made some runs. I feel like I had some spots which were worth a lot of equity; it didn't quite come together for me, but it definitely could have been worse."
It's not just at the tables where Grafton's personality shines through, but also on Twitter. Take this gem of a Tweet:
Strategies for winning at WSOP— Sam Grafton (@SquidPoker) June 17, 2017
2010 Small ball
2011 Three bet
2012 Four bet
2013 Five bet
"I've got a lot of love for people who are funny on Twitter, there's a lot of people who are quite witty," he says. "Poker is an odd subculture where anything funny or sharp is produced by players or bloggers or staff members themselves. Anyone on the outside wouldn't understand the nuances of poker.
"So I think peak poker Twitter is during the summer, when everyone's playing a lot live and spends a lot of time on their phones. So I enjoy the interaction and a bit of banter, it helps the time pass."
However, Grafton believes his 'Poker Tweet of the Summer' title was stolen right at the end of the series by one Nick Petrangelo.
good game man :( pic.twitter.com/Iwl22ukuVY— Nick Petrangelo (@npetrang) July 9, 2017
"Rainer [Kempe - German super high roller and the guy not quite enjoying his dinner] is just a hilarious individual, I've got a lot of time for him. And Nick too."
It's one thing to have some success online before heading into the World Series, but in terms of confidence it's another thing all together to take down your second Spring Championship of Online Poker title (Grafton already has a SCOOP win from .fr in 2016).
The win didn't come in No Limit Hold'em though; the game which Grafton considers his bread and butter. It actually came in the $1,050 No Limit Omaha Eight or Better event.
"I really like NLO; I haven't played it that much - or as much as I'd like to because of the online schedule," he explains. "That said, it felt like money from the sky, I mean it really did feel like a blessing.
"You're working so hard during SCOOP, and you're working on your game all year to be ready for a big series like that, and then my biggest win came in a game where I've got no real sense of how strategies work. There's a huge amount of variance that comes with it.
"I only played two other $1K events and they were both hold'em, so that [win] was great. It's a great feeling; a lot of the time in poker you feel like you've run under expectation, but here was a spot where I've run hugely above expectation and that's just a really nice feeling. I woke up the next morning with a big smile on my face, for sure."
And how did the final table of that event go?
"I had a big chip lead coming into the final which was fortuitous, and I was able to use that effectively, because of ICM and using a big stack to pressurise other players at big pay jumps is something I do have a lot of experience with and I do do well. So I was able to apply what I knew about that to the format, and that's really where the win came from."
Bucharest? No brainer
We were actually a little surprised to hear that Grafton was coming to this event at first, mainly because after six weeks of live poker we thought he'd be chomping at the bit to get back home and play online instead. It turns out that's exactly what he did; it's just that he then won a seat to the PokerStars Festival Bucharest!
"I'm definitely looking forward to playing online, that's what I enjoy the most, but Bucharest is a great city," he says. "I've been here to play poker before and it's a lot of fun, and not far from where I came from [Grafton lives in Warsaw].
"I played a Sunday satellite and won a seat, and if I hadn't won that I wasn't sure I was going to come, but I flicked it in and won the seat, so it was a no brainer really. I'll stay and play the high roller as well. As long as there's a $1K and $2K tournament on the schedule, you can justify travelling because you can get two decent tournaments in.
"I've played at the Marriott here before and it's a nice venue. The thing with PokerStars, and something that I appreciate after a lot of time in Vegas, is that - apart from the ten-handed - you know it's going to be an incredibly well run tournament. In Vegas the standard can be a bit inconsistent, whereas with Stars you know you're going to get a great tournament. So yeah, I'm happy to be here, and although I'm ready to play online again, Barcelona is coming up and that's one of the unmissable tournaments in Europe."
Poker as a job
Going back to Twitter for a moment, there was a certain Tweet of Grafton's that I wanted to discuss a bit more. It contained the idea of poker as a job, and how he approaches it.
Sometimes this feels like a job. Sometimes it feels like something completely different.— Sam Grafton (@SquidPoker) July 8, 2017
"It's funny how many players think 'I don't have a job, I just play poker'," he explains. "There are some great days in poker and some great events where you think 'I'm just so happy to be here'.
"You feel like a punter, and that is the case travelling to somewhere like Bucharest; when you feel excited to come to a city that you don't know well and to find out more about it. And that element of poker is still there for most pros; where you still feel excited about playing, so it doesn't feel like a job. It feels like a hobby that you're able to survive and pay rent doing.
"Of course, there is a flipside to that where variance isn't on your side, and you're turning up and slogging away, and then it can feel like a job. So it depends; there's both sides of the coin.
"That said, I know a lot of people's jobs feel like jobs every day, so we're privileged to do it, and I don't forget how lucky I am to be doing this."
While he might consider himself primarily an online player, you can expect to see Grafton at a bunch of live events over the coming months.
"I'm going to see how it goes. I am enjoying live poker, and I feel a bit sharper having just done a full series. It's a bit like a bootcamp, playing that many live tournaments. But it really depends. I'll maybe go to the Borgata, Prague, and Aussie Millions in the new year is somewhere I'd really like to go. It's one of my poker highlights of the last few years.
"I'll definitely be playing WCOOP [the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker in October]. I feel like online is where you sharpen your game. I think if you can be a good winning online player, then you can always come to live stops and make money."
And that's exactly what he's hoping to do right here in Bucharest. Stay tuned to the PokerStars Blog to find out how the colourful character that is Sam Grafton gets on during the rest of the week.
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