Charlie Carrel is one of those people who anyone who’s ever taken a bad beat, or who had a rough ride when they first started playing poker, should hate. You see Carrel is another of those poker phenoms who deposited small and won big. In his case he’s turned a $15 deposit into over $500,000.
What’s more, with his floppy hair and extravagant hoodies, it’s easy to think of him as the next in the line of loud, brash, flash poker youngsters who don’t know they’re born. Spend just 15 minutes in his company though and you’ll soon change your mind.
Here’s one such example of how he bucks the stereotype. Aged 19 and having just finished his A-levels, he left London and his friends behind to live in Jersey with his Grandma so he could dedicate himself to poker. Let that sink in for a moment, he voluntarily made that decision, turning down nights out getting blind drunk, for nights in stealing blinds. This is a wise head on young shoulders. He says of that move: “Not to sound arrogant but I was becoming increasingly aware that I was good at poker and that I had a lot of potential and I’d read a lot about players like nanonoko (Randy Lew). I thought it best to dedicate myself to poker whilst I was still young.”
Let’s rewind for a moment because Carrel is very much aware of how well he’s run to get to where he is today. His story begins like many others, playing small stakes games with mates which piqued an interest in poker and led to a decision to dip his toe into online poker. “I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t get lucky in the first few times I played online,” says Carrel, whilst relaxing at EPT Malta (having unfortunately just busted from the Main Event). “My best friend and I used to skip A-level revision and go to his house and play. We had plans to be sit and go ‘regs’ although we did talk about playing cash games as well. We were playing $1.50 sit and gos at the time. I never planned on turning poker into a career. I was still very much wanting to go into some maths orientated job.”
His dedication to poker was already solid enough that his parents became worried, but again Carrel’s wisdom beyond his years shines through in how he dealt with it. “My mum and my step-dad had what amounted to an intervention where they said I needed to stop gambling. So, I prepared a big power point presentation and came down with graphs and expected value and showed them my past papers of A-level that I was crushing. They eventually understood the graphs but not straight away.”
By that point Carrel, who plays under the username ‘Epiphany77’, had gone through a eureka moment and switched his focus from sit and gos to cash games, a move that would prove very profitable. “I can remember how it came about. My friend and I had a conversation where we tried to work out the EV of being a sit and go player in comparison to being a cash game player. We basically came up with a strategy that concluded we’d be better at poker if we started with cash games and then branched off into whatever we wanted. I think we did it assuming you’d play the same amount of hours and that we could then learn something else in the future when we knew more about poker. We were very aware of our ignorance.”
And once he changed course that was it for Carrel. “I absolutely loved cash games as soon as I switched because there was a lot more thinking involved. That’s the point where my friend stopped playing because he got an apprenticeship, he had to work and he liked computer games. Whereas I was playing 10NL Zoom every night, whilst I was still studying for A-levels.”
If his decision to move to Jersey seemed like a flight of fancy, what happened in Jersey would shape his entire poker career to date. “I started off playing 50NL Zoom with a bankroll of $1,500 and I then made a transition to another site playing regular cash games. It went really well, I went from 50NL to 1000NL in about two months. I wouldn’t usually quantify it in time but rather hands played, which was a lot.”
It’s the age old poker question that seems like the key to the world’s riches, that of how to get better at poker. “I learnt almost exclusively just by playing hands,” says Carrel. “The only resource I was using was a free site that I now coach for. The guy who runs it – Evan Jarvis – had made some videos where he did a bankroll challenge. He played 25NL and 50NL and I watched those videos five times over. After I’d outgrown those videos I was performing best when I wasn’t looking at anyone else’s strategy. I was in a chat group where I was talking hands with people but I think by the end of it, it was more for their benefit and for the benefit of me being able to go through my thoughts.”
When Carrel switched back to PokerStars he started playing the biggest Zoom games on the site and being mathematically minded it’s no surprise to learn Carrel uses a HUD when playing his usual Zoom cash games. “If I’m playing Zoom I won’t play without a HUD. But they’re not the root of all evil that they’re made out to be. They distinguish online poker from live poker and I don’t think it deters recreational players from playing too much. I certainly don’t think HUDs should be banned.”
So far we’ve covered Carrel’s history of sit and gos and cash games but he’s also proved handy at tournaments too. He chopped the Sunday Million for $201,000 in January 2014 and in November of last year won just over £108,000 in a live tournament in London. “It did make me enjoy live tournaments a lot more. I’d played a couple of EPTs without much success. It gave me a little snippet of how fun it is to run deep in a tournament, ignoring the past three months Zoom has been my main game but over the last three months I’ve either been not playing or playing tournaments,” he tells the PokerStars Blog. “It’s selling your soul to the devil, but tournaments are a lot easier. Recently I’ve been trying to sort out some life stuff like getting healthy again and exercising. It’s so difficult to keep up with cash if you’re not playing intensely. You’ll fall behind.”
Many people cite the buzz you get from going deep in a tournament as the reason they keep playing them but that’s not the case for Carrel. “I got such a big buzz from watching my friend win the Sunday Million,” his close friend Ben “1Don’tStop1” Heath, who’s also in Malta, came second in the Sunday Million on March 1. “I think I generally get more enjoyment from intellectual stimulation. I think the biggest buzz I’ve had from poker is either from my friends winning or when I was moving up the stakes by myself and was constantly thinking about poker and the different lines I could’ve taken in different hands. That gets my adrenaline going.”
The youngster is on record as saying he prefers memories to money, and if proof of that was needed then look no further than his trip to Amsterdam. “I’d always wanted to go to Amsterdam so after I came second in the Sunday Million I posted it in the two Skype groups I was part of. I invited a lot of friends from home too. We barely left the hotel, we got the penthouse for a couple of nights and one of the nicer suites for the other nights. It was just really fun because there were loads of teenagers walking around in trippy pyjamas and the rest of the clientele in suits and tuxedos wondering what we were doing. That’s something I’ll never forget and is worth so much more than money.”
The cost of that trip? A reputed $60,000.
Carrel plans to live out of a suitcase for some time yet and will definitely be heading to Vegas. It’s here that you remember that Carrel has only really been playing poker at a high level for around two years and before that he was a poker fan. “I get to live with some of my big heroes, I’m going to be living with Greg Merson, Tony Gregg and I think Randy Lew too,” he gushes. “I’m such a fan boy! I remember when I was playing 10NL and nanonoko was the fastest player ever. You could just tell he was clever. A really cool nerd. I can relate to that. I can relate to nerd. I’ve never met Merson or Gregg but I can remember watching Merson win the WSOP and I just loved it, a great example of a cash game player playing against tournament players and as a cash game player I just thought he played insanely well. And Tony Gregg is just a boss.”
So given that he has some, perhaps, unexpected free time on his hands and he values memories more than money is he going to set out on a pilgrimage to see some of the historic island of Malta? “Honestly two days ago I didn’t even know where Malta was so I don’t know enough about anything to know what I can do here,” he admits. “I think I’m going to play as many tournaments as I can whilst I’m here. It’s the first time I’ve properly sold action for live events, I’ve made a package and will be playing the high roller and others events.”
Whilst Carrel says he’d like to see the world, and has some plans in that department, it’s clear that for now poker is his focus and the world can wait. With his talent that’s probably another in a long line of +EV decisions he’s made.
Whilst the Main Event is just getting going there’s plenty happening on elsewhere. There’s a panel at the top of the EPT Malta Main Event in which you’ll find hand-by-hand coverage and chip counts. Below that, there will be feature pieces.