PCA 2012: What makes a High Roller specialist?

We all know what it takes to be a winning poker player. You need a sharp mind, an aggressive streak that knows when to let go and a fearlessness that can get you in trouble out there in the real world. But what does it take to be a winner when you're surrounded by other crushing players? What sets apart a High Roller champion from the rest?

Somewhat conveniently, an obvious case study is at hand thanks to the $100,000 Super High Roller which is taking place just next door. Two players in particular leap out for inspection: Bertand 'ElkY' Grospellier and Philip Gruissem. We're all aware of ElkY. The larger than life superhero has blazed his way across the poker world breaking world records and the rules of acceptable fashion ever since he profitably converted a professional video game career to poker.

Elky's High Roller successes are impressive but one moment, well, one week in particular stands out. On the 5 May last year ElkY won the €25,000 High Roller Event at the EPT Grand Final Madrid for €525,000 and just seven days later the followed that up with another first place in the €10,000 High Roller turbo for a further €153,000. It hardly seemed fair.

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ElkY in superhero mode

And Gruissem? Unless you're an EPT regular and an EPT High Roller specifically, you would be forgiven for not knowing the German. Let that ignorance end here and now. Gruissem is a beast, as his 2011 High Roller results attest. They are terrifying.

9 Dec: 3rd, EPT Prague €10,000 no-limit Hold'em, €68,600
26 Oct: 4th, EPT San Remo €10,000 no-limit Hold'em, €68,201
4 Oct: 1st, EPT London £20,000 no-limit Hold'em, £450,200
31 Aug: 1st, EPT Barcelona €10,000 no-limit Hold'em, €234,500
9 Apr: 3rd, EPT Berlin €10,000 no-limit Hold'em, €67,000

Gruissem also finished 28th in the WSOP Main Event for $242,636 but, for the moment, that's irrelevant. We're looking at small field, high quality tournaments here, not the monster clusterchip event of the Big One.

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Philipp Gruissem

We've spent the day watching and studying both. Here are the initial comparisons: they both play seated, they look at their cards, they both think before tossing chips in. That's some entry level stuff so let's really put them under the magnifying glass. They both apply three-bets liberally; Gruissem frequently with position onto Jonathan Duhamel, ElkY out of the big blind into Viktor 'Isildur1' Blom's button raise - somewhat bravely - more than once. What else? Well, that's where things start to get tricky. If we could disseminate the pre- and post-flop nuances that have taken this pair up into the stratosphere, above the high flying rolling masses then we'd be there up with them, so let's go straight to source.

Philip, what are you and ElkY doing differently from the rest?
"ElkY and I play very different styles of poker which shows that you can have success with every style, but you do have to be able to change your style from time to time."

Riiiiight, so if it's not your style of play, what is it?
"It has a lot to do with confidence. You always see that players are winning tournaments or going deep in a row and that's because of confidence. A lot of decisions in a High Roller tournament are on a feeling, not mathematics, so if you have confidence you are always doing the right thing in those fifty-fifty spots where you can call or fold when neither decision is bad. That sometimes makes the difference."

So confidence and skill it is then. Therein lies the not-so-secret winning combination of poker. Or maybe they're just not willing to share and, if so, who could blame them.