EPT11 Barcelona: The best in the business

In September 2010, Patrick Leonard started an online poker diary entitled "The Best in the Business" in which he proclaimed he would become the best player at whichever poker variant he chose to focus his efforts. It was quite some claim from a 20-year-old student who was a complete unknown, had few poker credentials to speak of and wasn't even a professional player at the time.

While Leonard claimed he had a love for the game and would be completely dedicated to improving his skill set, it was a spiel many had heard before. Seasoned observers would have set the under/over line pretty low for how long the diary would last.

However, a week ago his self-proclaimed prophecy came true when he became the No 1 ranked online tournament player, according to Pocket Fives. It's a remarkable feat in itself, but even more so when you consider that Leonard, who plays as "pleno1" on PokerStars, didn't play his first tournament this year until March.

"I started to play tournaments randomly one weekend when I went to Nottingham to play a live event," Leonard said. "I hadn't played tournaments all year, that Sunday I chopped the Sunday Warm Up and won two other tournaments and thought 'this is quite fun'."


Tournaments are fun - who knew!

More results followed, including a six-figure score when he came ninth in the PokerStars eighth anniversary Sunday Million. Suddenly Leonard, who had set himself the goal of making Supernova Elite by playing six-max Zoom poker, had an altogether different target in mind. "I saw myself slowly moving up the Pocket Fives rankings," he said. "I was in the top 20 in the UK and set myself a target to get in the top 10 in the UK."

Once that was completed he climbed higher and higher until he was looking down from the summit.

"It's a two-year ranking so I didn't think I would've accelerated this quickly," he said. "I've obviously ran well in this short period of time. It feels good as my friends and family can see that I'm doing something worthwhile, not just clicking buttons for a living."

Leonard is only the third player from the UK, after Chris Moorman and Chris Brammer, to have held the world No 1 spot -- even though he currently lives in Budapest, Hungary. He said that the rankings motivated him to put in more volume.

"The rankings are similar to Supernova Elite," he said. "Initially that was what was going to drive me and motivate me to playing every week and even though there's no direct financial gain from the rankings it still made me play five times a week."

But does he regret his bolshiness from 2010 now he's five years wiser?

"I was always ambitious but I was also pretty deluded, I was nowhere near the best in the business at the time, nor do I think I am now," he said. "At the time I thought I was a lot better than I was. I was a university student who just had a love for the game who wanted to breakthrough, somehow, somewhere."

For those hoping to emulate Leonard there's no magic formula to follow, just hard graft at the poker coalface.

"I devoted myself to poker in all aspects of my life," he said. "The first thing I do in the morning, even if I'm not playing, is go online and read about poker. I just immerse myself in the game. I've done that since I was 18 and I'm 25 now. "

The turning point in Leonard's poker career was getting a job with an online poker strategy site and moving to Gibraltar to work for them.

He said: "That was crucial for me, I didn't have time to play poker because I was so busy, but it meant that every day I was learning more about poker players. In my role there I dealt with the VIPs and got to know good things they did and bad things they did and tried to incorporate the good things into my own game and eradicate the bad."

Before poker, Leonard was dedicated to football and was on the books at Southampton between the ages of 15-18. He had aspirations of become a pro and was in the same youth team as Gareth Bale. And, there are certain parallels between the Welsh wing wizard's rapid rise and Leonard's own.

"When Bale went to Tottenham, he lost the first 30 games he played for Tottenham and was known for being a really bad player, thin and slight," the diminutive Leonard said. "Then he went to the gym every day for two years and bulked himself up and now he's known for being one of the most built players. He wasn't born like that, he just tried really hard."

Leonard's gym was his computer, he didn't become a great poker player overnight, he just worked harder than the rest.

Follow all the action from the tournament floor on the main EPT Barcelona page. There's hand-by-hand coverage in the panel at the top, including chip counts, and feature pieces below.

Nick Wright
@PokerStars in European Poker Tour