EPT9 Barcelona: Matt Kay, navigating the Ch0ppy waters of the EPT

ept-thumb-promo.jpgPoker is the proverbial hard way to make an easy living, but do you really know how hard? The perfect person to tell us was in today's field at EPT Barcelona - but I bet few of his table-mates know exactly who they were dealing with.

Matt "Ch0ppy" Kay, from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, is more than just an online poker sensation. At time of writing he tops the prestigious Pocket Fives leader board, which ranks the results of all online tournaments. Ch0ppy has been first for about four weeks now, making him as close as poker gets to an official world No 1.

But with thousands of contenders snapping at his heels, Kay may be in danger of losing his top spot just by playing in Barcelona. Live tournaments take a long, long time to complete, the kind of time in which an online tournament tyro could expect to play more than a hundred events.

"I don't look at it like that," Kay said, collared at the end of the dinner break. "I'm not someone who can play online constantly. I start hating life if that happens, regardless of how I'm doing.

"If I start playing every day, I'll start playing badly. I just can't help it, so even during WCOOP I'm going to force take days off. I guess it's just important to know yourself."

That said, Kay did admit to hopping on a bus to Andorra yesterday, to play a full schedule of Sunday tournaments. He cashed seven times from the principality, in tournaments costing between $22 and $215. He won the former (a $22 re-buy, which earned him $4,441) and the latter was the Sunday Warm Up, in which he placed 175th.

"After that, I took the bus back at 6.15am," Kay said. "I got about two hours sleep on the bus." Then he played the main event here, silently going about his business behind shades and beneath headphones, as low under the radar as any world No 1.


Matt "Ch0ppy" Kay at EPT Barcelona

It is conspicuous, of course, just how much Kay does not hate his life - even though he busted from the tournament shortly after dinner. Regardless, he is really enjoying the existence of a travelling poker player these days, having nailed a near-perfect work-life balance and reduced almost all of the down-sides of live play to their near minimum.

"I like travelling I guess, and I'm trying to do more travel-like things when I go on these trips," Kay said. "For the first few days I actually stayed in a hostel this time and had a great time and met a lot of really interesting people. It's just really fun to do and I think I'm going to start making a habit of that. Wherever I go, I'm going to try and stay in a hostel earlier."

He even figured out how to keep his valuables safe, stowing them in a friend's room who was playing the Super High Roller event, while Kay went on his excursion around northern Spain.

"Expenses are the big thing," Kay said. "If I look back over the years and think how much money I've spent on travelling, it kind of makes me sick to the stomach thinking about it. But it is what it is and I'm getting better managing the expenses...This (EPT Barcelona, for which he qualified in a €500 satellite online) is sold out, so I was able to sell the hotel package and book a cheaper hotel - along the metro line, so I could take the metro instead of a taxi. It's thing like that that I didn't do a year ago. I'm trying to force myself to do that."

Plain spoken common sense like this is rare in a poker player, not least one of Kay's relatively tender years. Nevertheless, he is an experienced campaigner and has amassed more than $4m in online tournament winnings in the five years he has been playing the game. And yet poker still does not swamp his life.

"Sunday is definitely the biggest, but I don't like to go over 15 tables," Kay said. "Fifteen is too much, but Sundays you just kind of have to sometimes. I'm much more comfortable around six, I guess."

The next Sunday is six sleeps away. Time for trips to several countries before then.


Tournament update:

We have nearly reached the end of Day 1B. The full number of runners - and therefore the prize-pool information - is not yet totally verified. But it seems that Day 1B attracted 670 players, of whom 423 remain at this stage.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour