Steve O'Dwyer on winning the EPT Grand Final, the WSOP, championship floating and the Illuminati
Less than two weeks ago Steve O'Dwyer won the EPT Grand Final beating what was arguably the toughest final table ever to seal a career-best €1,224,000 win. His triumph not only added his name to a growing list of greats, but also froze out Daniel Negreanu's Triple Crown attempt as well as Jake Cody and Jason Mercier's ambitions to be the first two-time EPT winner. Put simply, it was an epic event.
Knowing the languid American-turned-Irishman to be one of the more interesting conversationalists in the game, we at the PokerStars Blog were keenly anticipating what O'Dwyer would have to say after finally claiming his title, closing out such a legendary line up. What quip or sardonic comment would tumble out of the new champ's mouth? We leaned forward in our chairs to get closer to the press room monitor.
"I feel great, but I feel really, really tired. That was gruelling," said O'Dwyer.
Sure, but what else? Come on, give us some magic.
Onscreen, EPT Live webcast presenter Joe Stapleton teed O'Dwyer up by asking him what it felt like to have beaten the best final table in history. We were now at tipping point across our desks.
"I don't know. I'm in shock. I have no words," he replied.
That was not what we were expecting. To be fair to O'Dwyer, the four-time EPT final tablist had just beaten an astounding roster of players which included some of the biggest names in the game; Daniel Negreanu, Jake Cody, Johnny Lodden, Jason Mercier, Andrew Pantling, Noah Schwartz and Grant Levy. It's kind of understandable that you might be in shock (let alone factoring in that gigantic seven-figure score). You can read the full EPT Grand Final report here.
A mental note was made to grill him later.
Awake and a million richer
Two days along we caught up with O'Dwyer while the newly crowned champ of European poker was late regging for a late festival €1,100 turbo rebuy (you can find out who won what by clicking here). He looked refreshed, he looked happy and he wanted a cup of tea, which will come as no surprise to anyone that's played with O'Dwyer: he carries around expensive looking vacuum packs of tea in one pocket and a tilted plastic tea strainer in the other.
As he ripped open a pack and started brewing, he said, "I invented this game in Barcelona where you accuse lots of random people of being Illuminati. There was some big conference going on, I don't know what it was for, but there were all these older, very well dressed secret lizard people. They were flooding the Hotel Arts and we were walking round the lobby just going 'Illuminati, Illuminati, Illuminati, Illuminati,' to all of them. That's my new favourite game," said O'Dwyer, flicking his strainer dry.
The Illuminati is a name that has been given to many groups and so-called secret societies, both real and imaginary. In this case, they were imagined and reptilian. This was the kind of gold we had been hoping for. Now O'Dwyer had been allowed a chance to recuperate and let his achievement sink in he could give the winner's interview we knew he could.
"It's just really overwhelming. I've spent the last day and a half doing nothing but respond to messages of support and I haven't even got close to responding to everyone. It's awesome. It's also really weird," said O'Dwyer, who said of beating the incredible line-up, "It makes it more special. It's nice to be a part of history. This is a final table that people are going to remember for a long time, I think."
He was correct on both fronts. That final table has gone down in the record books as the best ever, if we say so ourselves, and people could not stop congratulating him. In the course of our 20-minute interview no less than three people stopped by to tip their hat to O'Dwyer: "Every time I've had lunch or dinner multiple people have come up to say congrats. Some have been asking for autographs and photos which is really unfamiliar and very strange," he said, obviously a little uncomfortable with the notion.
Whether O'Dwyer wants it or not, the backslapping is much deserved. He's been an impressive force on the EPT for the last couple of seasons making four final tables and riding high on the leaderboard during both. No matter what O'Dwyer did, whether he tried to perfect that final table button limp or not, things didn't quite work out for him at the end. Sure he got to make a deal with Benny Spindler heads-up at EPT London for a huge score, but the title remained out of reach.
"This time I was more familiar with the feeling of how it could all just disappear if you lose just one coin-flip so I was a little less scared by the thought of not winning. The London final table was really tough but this one was off the charts," he said.
"My plan was to take it easy for the first hour or two hours and see how people were playing. I had an idea of how I thought Daniel (Negreanu), Noah (Schwartz) and Andrew (Pantling) would all play but I wanted to see what dynamics would develop before I got involved. I didn't want to play any really bad hands or make loose raises in those first few hours so I could set a tight image that I was trying to ladder up. Also, I wanted to give myself a chance to see what hands were coming in," said O'Dwyer.
This wasn't simply a case of hoping to catch aces or kings. The final table was being streamed on EPT Live 'cards up' on a one-hour delay so that people at home could see the hole cards.
"I didn't know going in that we were playing cards-up. I got someone to relay the hands to me and once I saw what hands people were playing I could decide who to attack. Justin Bonomo was relaying. He stayed in and watched the live stream. Once we got heads-up Justin had to go to dinner and Ike (Haxton) took over. Ike was the back up."
So your go-to guy is one of the best tournament players in the world who has $5,948,720 in live tournament results and won the €100,000 Super High Roller at the same festival the season before. Your back up, who steps in for the short -handed action, is the player who is recognised as one of the best and most consistent high stakes cash games players in the world, the guy who won more than €1 million in a cash game a couple of days before. Well, that hardly seems fair.
"I don't think it's fair at all. I really don't like it. I've been pretty vocal about that. I think if they're going to do it, it should be on an even longer delay, but it's just something that you have to deal with. If you want to play these big tournaments sometimes the organiser wants to stream it with hole cards face up. I don't think it's that good for the game. Maybe I'm wrong. I like the broadcasts when they're face down with world class players in there giving expert commentary. I think it's far more interesting talking about what their ranges are, what ranges they're putting each other on as opposed to what they should do."
All that said, it's not as if Pantling was some unsuspecting sucker. The Canadian had around $1 million in live tournament winnings and a lot of online experience behind him. O'Dwyer certainly holds a lot of respect for him: "He's a world class player and he's played a lot higher stakes in short-handed games than I have ever played. He's been one of the biggest winners for years and years and years until he basically retired."
Numbers, jumps and binks
When the action was three-handed between O'Dwyer, Pantling and Team PokerStars Pro Johnny Lodden there had been a discussion about 'numbers', a potential chopping of the prize pool. The conversation had not lasted long as Pantling, the chip leader at that point, had made it clear that he wasn't interested in making a deal. When Lodden bust out to O'Dwyer, mainly thanks to being on the wrong side of a huge and somewhat curious flip with queen-ten losing to pocket sixes in a five-bet shoved pot, the American-Irishman sidled up to Pantling and somewhat sheepishly asked about a deal again.
"I just wanted to double check and make sure that he didn't want to chop three-handed but that he might heads-up. I wasn't expecting him to say yes but I wanted to see, just in case. For me there's no reason to play for that amount of money if I don't have to.* If I can secure extra money then of course I'm going to go for it, which is why I was really happy to chop with Benny in London two years ago. It didn't happen this time and I'm really happy it didn't because it worked out better for me."
*There was a difference of €382,000 between winner and runner-up.
O'Dwyer's approach to chopping doesn't come as a surprise. He's calm and grounded, there are no macho outbursts, no tossing cards at the dealers, nor insults at his opponents. He understands the game and its swings, and understands that you can run hot or cold. Although everyone loves the top line of a seven-figure score, its recipient, particularly tour pros, very infrequently pockets it all themselves due to swap and chops, dealing and staking. O'Dwyer declined to put a figure on it, but did smile.
"I did quite alright. I had a good amount of make-up coming into this. I probably needed about top four or five, something like that. It was like London, I needed a really good result to get out of make-up," he said.
Another big score down you'd think that perhaps his staking days are in the past. Not necessarily.
"We haven't really discussed that. In smaller events, like this $1k rebuy, I'll definitely take 100% of myself. In the past I've been backed for everything because it's so convenient. It made keeping track of tournament results so easy, it all went on the stake. I didn't have to differentiate. Now I think that I'll play some of these things on my own. There's no amount of money that can withstand the variance you need to play these big events, which is why everyone pools their money together."
O'Dwyer also had some other expenses to make good on, thanks to some savvy prop betting by JC Alvarado.
"I have to fund a trip to Toyko for JC Alvarado and King Dan (Smith). I made a swap with JC in London after we'd been talking about how we'd never been to Japan before and that we really wanted to go. I don't know how we got on the subject but we decided to make a swap that if either of us won the Grand Final we would play for the other's flights, hotel and tickets over New Year's where there's a massive MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fight called Dynamite. This is always a huge thing, like eight hours of fights with a lot of really serious fights, but then a lot of funny freak show type things, like you have a 180 pound Japanese guy fighting a 300 pound Brazilian. All kinds of awesome stuff. We agreed on that and I then found out on Day 3 of the Main Event that JC had extended the swap to Dan to make it a three-way swap. It's now turned into a big thing where a whole bunch of us are going to go."
That's still some way off yet. There's a few small things to get out the way first, like the Guangdong Asia Millions taking place in Macau, Season 10 of the EPT starting in Barcelona and, of course, the World Series of Poker. You can read about some of the people playing the $130,000 buy-in event here.
"I'm going to go to play the tournament in Macau. That's going to be amazing. Me, Dan Smith and Ike (Haxton). Scott is probably going. Justin might go. Tony Gregg will be there. It's going to be a very exciting tournament."
Pulling no punches
The GDAM clashes with the start of the WSOP, but O'Dwyer doesn't seem too bothered about that. Far from it.
"Yeah, but I was already planning on skipping most of the World Series because I've had terrible results there and I don't particularly like Vegas. I really don't like the Rio, it's not a fun place to play poker. When you go deep in a big event the excitement that surrounds it is a lot of fun but it's not a well-run operation; the dealers suck, the floor sucks, they treat you like shit, there's no good food, everything is insanely expensive, the rake is ridiculous, you have to wait in massive lines," said O'Dwyer.
It's safe to say that O'Dwyer is a European Poker Tour convert, which is just as well given that he upped sticks from the US to Ireland (and his $4,840,796 in live winnings would rocket him to the top of the all-time money list for Ireland).
"This is infinitely better. PokerStars events are run professionally and they are very kind to everybody. At the Rio they can be really rude and they do not like to listen to suggestions of players whereas here I can just go up to Neil Johnson (PokerStars Live Poker Specialist) and say, 'Neil, this is what I think. What are your thoughts?' and we can have an hour-long discussion if he's not busy. That is not the case at the Rio where I've never found anyone to listen to me for more than five minutes before being told, 'Alright, enough, I've got stuff to do.' They don't really care about your opinion."
O'Dwyer, who has been coined The Hairy Beast by the EPT Live webcast team, has a habit of picking up nicknames. He's got millions of them, he claims, such as Tea Steve, Big Time Steve, World Champion of Floating Steve... World Champion of Floating Steve?
"Yeah, I won the World Champion of Floating in Vegas in 2009. I've never had another challenge so haven't had to run it again. It was a heads-up match against JC Alvarado and he didn't even come close to beating me. I had no problem floating in the pool at Panorama Towers in Vegas much longer than he did. He gave up and I showed off for another 10 or 15 minutes."
You may have some difficulty beating O'Dwyer at the poker table but here's a challenge you might stand a chance of beating him at.
"Maybe someone out there wants to give me a floating challenge."
Floats up for rolls.
Rick Dacey is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.