EPT11 Deauville: Owain Carey, the Welsh wonderkid

We're not sure if there's an internationally approved age at which you stop being a wonderkid and became a wonder, erm, adult, but at 28-years-old Owain 'sngwonder' Carey has probably passed the cut off point.

But the Welshman, who lives in Haverfordwest, is reasonably new to poker having only really discovered the game at the age of 23. "My friends and I would play a £5 freezeout on a Friday night and the way that poker worked I kind of felt that my brain would be suited to this game," Carey said. "So I went away and thought that I should really give poker a go. I wasn't the best player in the game to begin with after about a year I was though. I played more hands than my friends online, I got into it. It wasn't just a beer and a social thing for me on a Friday night."


Carey with chips (pictured at UKIPT London in January)

While some say that poker can be very repetitive and mind-numbing, it's no exaggeration to say that it has turned Carey's life around and saved him from a far more mundane existence.

"I was definitely off the rails," he said. "I let my family down from 14 to about 23 probably. There's not much going on in Haverfordwest, I was stuck in a rut, drinking with my friends all the time, not having any motivation unfortunately. I was quite gifted at school and my mum really wanted me to do well but I left school at 14, I didn't do my GCSEs (taken at age 15-16) I shot myself in the foot. A guy who likes to think quite deeply about things does not want to be stacking shelves for the rest of his life and that was really my option."

So poker found Carey and Carey found poker and it seems a pretty good match. "I've probably been a full-time player for about four years, the first year and a half was like heads-up sit and gos and then I moved to multi-table tournaments about two and a half years ago."

The two formats are pretty alien, from heads-up to full-ring, from a game where you can play short sessions whenever you want, to being a slave to the tournament schedule.

"I enjoyed heads-up sit and gos," he said. "I liked playing a lot of hands! I joined a backing company who asked to me to play the odd MTT as 90 per cent of the players they staked at the time were MTT players. So I tried some out and had some early success on Euro sites and went on from there. It was fun to learn a new discipline, watch videos, read articles and have a real hunger for it."

Anyone who watches Carey play poker for more than a few hands will know it's hard to pigeon hole his style. He plays his own way.

"Part of my daily routine before I start to play is that I like to think about scenarios and what I'd do if they came up. Just freestyling in your mind. Every now and then I will have a eureka moment and realise no one's doing that. Or 1 per cent of people are doing that, so should I and look into what they're doing. Like nine months ago a lot of people were three-betting under-the-gun raises because it became the new steal spot. So little eureka moments like that."

And his approach to online poker tournaments is a fluid one and changes based on his opponents.

"I usually play six or seven tables, all the higher ones like the $320 six-max and the $100 re-buy. In 1,500 runner tournaments I play a really balanced game. So I won't perhaps won't peel with suited gappers, instead I'll three-bet with them so I can get my value hands paid. Against good thinking players you have to have a high frequency of doing things. But in a tournament like the Sunday Million you can just individualise the spot. You can just chip up by being better than most of the players at the table."


A rare (ish) live appearance for Carey (pictured at UKIPT London in January)

While Carey has been honing his online tournament game for a number of years it's only in the past couple of years that he's began to enjoy live poker.

"I did struggle when I first started playing live poker," he said. "I think I bricked my first eight tournaments. But I was playing £440 freezeouts in Stoke and places like that. My friend Billy Chattaway had started getting into playing live and told me there was a lot of money in it. So I started to play live too but the standard was so poor it was boring me and it was horrible. Then I played a £3K High Roller six-max at Dusk Till Dawn. I had a really tough table with $25/$50 cash regs, player like Crazy Elior (Elior Sion) and I played really well and lost a big chip lead pot with kings against ace-king. So that gave me real confidence."

And from the confidence results have followed with Carey's breakthrough cash coming at his first EPT in Prague in December. He was part of a seven-way chop in the Eureka Prague €2,000 High Roller which was good for €102,400.

"That tournament finished maybe seven hours before the Main Event started which was my first EPT," he said. "There were a lot of good players at the table, Dan Shak was there, Eugene Katchalov and Benjamin Pollak also."

Not that Carey minded playing against good players. In fact, he prefers it.

"It's a weird thing and something that I'm known for," he said. "My friends used to berate me for it and now my results are good in High Rollers they're like 'fair enough'. I prefer playing better players because I can empathise with what they're thinking, I can get into their heads. Everyone has different key words for what poker is to them and mine is empathy and being able to empathise with your opponent's thoughts. I feel I can do that better against players of a similar standard than someone a lot worse or a lot better."

He followed up his Prague cash with an outright victory in the £3,000 UKIPT London High Roller in January. The official final table was eight-handed and seven players got paid. Despite being the chip leader Carey offered a deal to take money off each place so that eighth would get paid.

"There wasn't too many logistical reasons," he said. "When I hit a certain age in my twenties I decided I was going to become a better person and get a career - I chose poker - my life wasn't going very far. So the deal was just part of being a decent human being. Eighth wasn't going to get anything and you could tell that most of them wanted to make the money. So I just said we should pay eighth too and we did a deal."


That'll look nice on the mantelpiece

Carey's rise has been swift but he's not ready to relax now, he wants to go further. "Some people are capped at how far they can go and others are uncapped as to how far they can go. My peers feel that in two years' time I could be playing the high rollers maybe super high rollers. That's my aim."

If he gets where he wants to go then he'll owe a debt of gratitude to Chattaway.

"Bill's my big friend in poker, we try and focus each other," Carey said. "He was supposed to be going home today but because I made Day 3 he staying because he wants to be about if I go deep. The first level has gone well I've gone from 165,000 up to 218,000. I obviously had the crash last night where I went from chip leader to dusting off half my stack in the last 20 minutes but I've refocused today."

And chip swings are something Carey is used to handling. "In amongst friends I'm known as being a little spewy at times but it's all controlled. I feel more than comfortable in this field, this is a weaker field than the tournaments I play online as far as thought processes are concerned and stuff like. It's concentrated online, if you play the $530 PLO, there are 50 players and 45 of them are very good. There's probably 20% of the field in this who are very good and they're spread out over tables."

It's been a decent 2015 already for Carey and a result in France would add to that but it's a tournament, or rather tournaments, on the virtual felt on which he has set his sights.

"I'm really looking forward to SCOOP," he said. "I'm just going to hibernate for SCOOP and really get my teeth into it. Because I played only on Euro sites until five months ago I was capped at what I could win. I've only been playing on PokerStars for five months but for me to be truly recognised as a really good player I feel I need a six-figure score online, so that's my goal."

It should be said that Carey's confidence at no point borders on arrogance, he's as down to earth as they come and if he plays as good a game as he talks, then with a little bit of luck he'll be a fixture in the biggest tournaments online and live for years to come.


Coverage from the Main Event of EPT Deauville is on the Main Event page. Check out all the action from around the festival on the main festival page. Also follow the action on EPT Live and stay up to date with the sensational EPT app for iPhone, iPad or Android.

Nick Wright
@PokerStars in European Poker Tour