EPT 11 London: Ryan Spittles: poker survivor
If you'd have been in the Grand Connaught Rooms a week ago you'd have seen the place being readied for the start of the EPT London Poker Festival. Long before the High Rollers and EPT regulars pitched up there was the small matter of the UKIPT Grand Final to take care of.
It's a well established formula that we've come accustomed to by now, PokerStars has numerous grassroots tours in Europe and their Grand Final takes place the week the EPT pitches up in its country for the one time that season. So the FPS feeds into EPT Deauville, the Estrellas Final ledas into EPT Barcelona, the Eureka Tour Final funnels into EPT Prague and the UKIPT Grand Final is the starter before the main course of EPT London. What this guarantees is runners and lots of them.
It also provides a fertile breeding ground for players to prove themselves on a grassroots tour before stepping up to the bigger stage. UKIPT Champions Max Silver and Ludovic Geilich have gone on to final table EPT Main Events whilst Jason Tompkins has a final on the UKIPT and EPT.
Looking to equal Tompkins by making the final of the EPT here in London this week is 27-year-old poker pro Ryan Spittles, who finished fifth at UKIPT Nottingham in May. But for Spittles, it could all have been so different as like many he fell into poker both by accident and design. "Like most people I saw Rounders late night on Channel 4 and the next day I went on Wikipedia and looked at how to play and I can't remember exactly but a couple of weeks later I saw Late Night Poker on TV. I deposited $25 online and back then, this shows how long ago it was, the lobby took you to limit Hold'em. I was just clicking buttons, no idea what won what, made some money that day but lost. Luckily I had a job, I probably lost a couple of hundred quid a month to poker for a couple of years."
His poker luck turned when luck in real life deserted him as Spittles fell ill and unable to work turned to poker. "I had to have a couple of operations. So combine that with the fact that I couldn't go to work or do anything and I had no money. I was on disability benefit for a year or so. I needed something to focus the mind because I was in a lot of pain. Just getting to grips with something that took my mind off it was huge. I started making money, not a lot but the fact that in a time where I couldn't do a lot else apart from watch TV I was maybe making £50 a week on really low stakes tables, it was huge. "
And then came the pivotal moment in Spittles' poker career, whilst many players have flipped for their tournament life, Spittles is one of a few players to have literally flipped for their poker life. Their poker career even. "I got better, started applying for jobs and got a couple of interviews. The night before I had £27 exactly in my account. I sat on one table of 15p/30p, so not even a full buy-in and got it up to £90. I won a flip with queens against ace-king, ace on the flop, queen on the river."
But Spittles didn't stop there, throwing bankroll management to the wind he upped the stakes. "Then I played two tables of 50NL (25p/50p) got that up to £500 and then moved up to 100NL and ran it up to a grand. The next morning I woke up and I had a decision. Do I go for these interviews? Do I use the money for a holiday, given that I'd been ill for so long, or do I just keep on playing poker? I chose poker. I stuck at 20NL (10p/20p) with that thousand pounds and since then I've built from there. If I'd lost that flip I guess I would've still played poker but I highly doubt I'd be where I am."
The path of learning to play online and then branching out to play live is well trodden but for Spittles his first forays into the live arena were completely down to online poker. "There was a promotion on the site I was playing on to win a live sponsorship deal. You had to play a lot online to qualify over a three month period and then the top 30 got into a final where it was winner takes all and I won. The prize was essentially entry into a live £1k tournament and increased rakeback. I then made the final table of the live tournament and made a huge mistake that still haunts me to this day. I triple barrel bluffed the wrong guy, he called me down with second pair and I busted in sixth for £8,000, which at the time was huge, but there was £50,000 up top."
Shortly afterwards Spittles took his first trip to Vegas, having inevitably won a package online. Whilst in Sin City, Spittles did some guest analysis for a TV show run by the site he qualified on and a month later it would turn into something more when he auditioned for, and got the chance to, appear as a regular analyst on a cable poker show. This role continues a couple of times a month to this day. "I've never had any inclination of going on TV, obviously It's only a small cable channel, but it's still fun. It follows an online tournament (although also takes in cash game hands) and sometimes we have just general poker discussion."
A future EPT Live guest analyst then? "Obviously EPT Live is tailored towards a different kind of audience, the players who watch EPT Live will be a bit more mature in the poker learning curve. On this channel it'll be a bit lower."
But it's still live, a point Spittles is keen to point out: "All the questions are live, all the hands are live. People think we get shown all the hands in advance, but we don't see them. Some guests might say something that's awkward but it's a lot of fun and I really enjoy doing it. It's also helped my poker. There are a lot of poker players, especially those who just play online who don't get to see stuff in the real world. How real world businesses operate. Every time the software is upgraded or there's a new promotion, the pros are always the first to say 'this is terrible, they're running a joke website,' but pretty much every poker website runs their business well."
And 2014 has been something of a breakout year for Spittles, who has racked up $167,000 in live cashes, more than doubling his previous best year in the live arena. As well as making the final table of a UKIPT he also made in a $1,500 WSOP bracelet event. The level headed Spittles puts his success down to a combination of factors "I think I'm playing better now than ever. I got coaching from someone for tournaments and probably this time last year 90 or 95% of my volume online was cash games, I played tournaments online just on Sunday's or during big festivals. I've adapted now, I'm playing a lot more tournaments online and that experience helps you when you play live. I'd had some minor results live before this past 12 months, but obviously nothing huge. Now I'm feeling more confident."
But it's clear from his demeanour that this isn't a player who'll be getting carried away and the days of risking it all are far gone. "Obviously some of it is variance, you don't go through a UKIPT with 1,200 runners and get to the final table without running good."
At that UKIPT final table, Spittles had Willie Elliot, a hyper-aggressive chip leader on his left, which isn't something you can really practice for. "He's a friend of mine and a great guy. I only got talking to him around that time. He was so aggressive and I definitely didn't adapt quickly enough. So even though I was happy with fifth place when I look back I would've played a couple of spots differently. I'd played with him the day before and obviously he wasn't playing that way before. So during the first orbit he was in every hand, so I assumed he either had it or was putting pressure on with marginal hands. Looking back he was just taking the absolute mickey out of everyone. It was an odd situation and I don't think anyone at the table adapted."
Six weeks later Spittles was at another big final table, a $1,500 event at the WSOP where he finished eighth for $45,554. "Obviously no one wants to bust a final table in eighth, but I think from 25 players out I was also a short stack, so it wasn't like I had lots of chips and punted it off. I definitely laddered up well and three or four people leading up to the final table made huge mistakes that made me money. I got it in good too, with AK against A-10 and the first card on the flop was a ten."
Spittles believes though that the UKIPT is tougher than the low buy-in events at the WSOP. "I would also say UKIPTs are tougher than your average WSOP $1,500 event. You might only start with 4,500 chips but I don't understand people who go to The Venetian because you get 20,000 chips to start with. The structure of the WSOP events are far better and as Neil Channing said to me: "A farmer from Nebraska doesn't come into town to take down a Venetian Deepstack."
As for Spittles, he's come a long way since the days of 10p/20p and if he continues in his current vein you suspect he's still got a fair bit further to travel.
Follow our coverage of the EPT London festival via the main EPT London page, where there are hand-by-hand updates and chip counts in the panel at the top and feature pieces below. And, of course, you can follow it all live at EPT Live.