It doesn’t take much more than a glance to mark Sam Grafton out as a player that likes to tread his own path, most obviously in what he puts on in the morning. Yes, there is a certain similarity to the standard online grinder uniform; baseball cap, occasional hoody and t-shirts and trousers whose fitting could easily be pegged as ‘creatively loose’. By coincidence, so could Grafton’s playing style which is currently paying dividends here in the EPT Deauville Main Event.
The British grinder is – at the time of writing – in the top of five chip counts of EPT Deauville with just 28 players remaining: just 27 players between him and €770,000. Grafton has been on the radar for some time, both directly here in Deauville and more generally in terms of the poker scene at large.
“Obviously it’s uncharted glory as I’ve never made it this deep in an EPT before but I feel that I’m playing well each day,” said Grafton. “The thing for me is to just keep my focus. I think before maybe I’ve played really well for two hours, four hours or maybe even five hours, now it’s a case of playing really well all day. In terms of chip counts and equity it’s a nice position to be in but there’s still some really good players in, including some of my friends.”
The Squid is no stranger to being this deep, just not live. His live recorded winnings are relatively modest for a player so well regarded, ‘just’ $286,749. A large chunk of that came at the back end of 2012 when he finally binked a large live tournament, a possible watershed for the slippery character. Online winnings have never really been an issue: he’s scored close to $1.8m in online tournaments and finished third – but took the largest chunk of the money for $234,193.06 – in SCOOP event 2-H: $2,100 NLHE. It seems that he’s now converting that kind of success from the laptop to the European felt.
“I’ve definitely improved and I was saying to someone the other night that when I was here in Deauville two years ago for my second ever EPT I met (James) Mitchell and Pez (Matt Perrins) for the first time and being around players of that calibre and talking hands with them and constantly going over spots at the beginning of this tournament gets you used to the deeper structures and longer levels,” said Grafton, showcasing his infamous ability to speak non-stop. “Online you’re not 100 big blinds deep so deep into the tournament, so there’s obviously a lot of spots where it becomes less of a pre-flop game. My play down the streets has improved.”
Grafton speaks quickly and with timbre that carries across a tournament floor like few others. You always know where he is. He has no issue with standing out from the crowd.
“I guess I am different from other poker players in the sense that my girlfriend’s an actress and that I like theatre, the arts and whatnot, “he said with a shrug. “I had a life before poker, I did a degree and masters in literature and philosophy. I still maintain those interests and passions. I try to make sure there are times for that, rather than Craig McCorkell who just goes to the Xbox after the grind. I like to read and think a bit.”
But there’s no mistaking that Grafton puts poker first and for all his bluff, bluster and camaraderie it’s the standard blood, sweat and tears that have got him to where he is today: in one of the biggest tournaments in the world with a great shot at the final table.
“It’s hard to get the right balance: to survive at the top of this game you have to put in a hell of a lot of volume and work really hard. It’s all right when you’re nineteen to just play poker, but you do need to balance your life for the sake of your relationship and family. My main focus is poker at the end of the day. I am passionate about other things but I’m a very hard working guy at this discipline to achieve what I want to do.”
So, perhaps the question on most people’s minds, why does he dress like that?
“I guess this is part of my other life and my life before poker. East London is where I’ve been living the last few years and my aunt owns an art club in East London. When I first played cash games I used to work on the door of her club and go to The International at three in the morning when everyone was coming in drunk and I was just finishing work. It’s very East London inspired and eccentric, I guess, a little more out there than the average person. I like having fun with what I wear. I like to be creative in everything I do. It’s a bit like the way I play poker. I don’t necessarily play completely standard and I guess my fashion matches that.”
Story checks out.
Grafton has since taken a downturn. Keep an eye on EPTLive and our live updates to see if he can pull it back.
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Rick Dacey is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.