“It’s great being in Brazil,” says Sam Grafton from his apartment in Rio de Janeiro, where he recently moved. “I’m really happy to be here. You’ve got the timezone for poker, the weather, the beach, it’s really nice. Naturally, I got sunburned on the very first day I was here.”
Tanning aside, it’s a busy time for the man known as “SamSquid”. The Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) is in full swing and when he’s not crushing poker himself (Grafton had an amazing 2020, finishing second in a High Rollers $5K for $343K and winning a Summer Series title for $128K and his first WCOOP title for $84K) he’s commentating on other crushers on the PokerStars Twitch channel.
“The PokerStars team have looked after me so well,” he says. “The broadcasts are so well done. I really like working with James, Joe, Griffin, Maria, Nick…everyone is so good at what they do. They make it very easy and give me a platform to speak about poker and draw up the strategies.”
If you’ve yet to tune in to see Grafton on the mic, you’re missing out, both on entertainment and a free learning tool. As a long-time regular in the high stakes tournament world with more than $8.5 million in online cashes and $4.1 million won live, he’s comfortable breaking down plays from the game’s best and explaining them in a way that seems straightforward.
“To truly understand a poker spot, you have to understand it in simple terms,” he says. “For the best poker players, poker is simple to them. For Mikita [“fish2013”] Badziakouski, very complex strategies are simple. So when I’m studying, I’m trying to understand why we approach a spot like this. What do we achieve? And when I’m commentating I go through the same process.”
Of course, sometimes even a player of Grafton’s aptitude has to sit back and wonder about what he’s just witnessed. “When players like Tim [“Tim0thee”] Adams or “Iimitless” [Wiktor Malinowski] do something remarkable, I’m left dumbfounded,” he says. “They’ll find an amazing spot to exert pressure that I wouldn’t have found and I become just a member of the audience trying to highlight how unique the situation is. I just try to convey, in simple language, what’s going on in the heads of these great players.”
None of this is new to Grafton. For years he’s got together with other great poker minds to go through final table replays in an attempt to understand his opponents and look for innovation. “I’ll see Michael [“imluckbox”] Addamo or Daniel [“oxota”] Dvoress do something and you just know that they’ve been in the lab,” he says. “Then you go back and study. There’s plenty of aha! moments from these great players and it’s quite nice that we can see their cards and catch up with them a little bit quicker.”
On a recent SCOOP broadcast, Grafton proclaimed that many of the game’s best believe Addamo to be the top dog right now. Does that mean he’s the best at retaining information and then applying it under pressure? Or is there some natural ability to it all?
“It’s both together,” says Grafton. “If we’re talking about the players who I think are the best in the world, I’ve no doubt they’re working incredibly hard.
“Of course, there is a level of talent there, you know, and they’re getting a bit more for their hourly study than I am because they’re the next level of genius,” he laughs. “But it’s like a great tennis player or an Olympic swimmer. There’s obviously an incredible natural talent, but there are other things like their upbringing and work ethic, you know? It’s the combination of natural talent and putting in hours and hours of practice. I don’t doubt that some of these players could slack off a bit and still be really good. But if we’re talking about the best in the world at something millions and millions of people around the world do, it’s both.”
If you’re not sure whether you’ve ever played poker in the same room as Sam Grafton, let me clear it up for you: you haven’t. Because if you have had, you’d certainly know it. The man brings an abundance of energy and laughter to every event he attends, so it’s not surprising to hear he can’t wait for brick and mortar to return.
“I’ve always said that live poker offers something increasingly special as the years go by,” he says. “As more and more of our lives have moved online, it’s special to go somewhere and sit with people you don’t know, sharing something energises all of you. One table change and you meet seven or eight new people to make friends with and drink in a bar afterwards. I love the variety of live poker, from skill levels to nationalities, and the shared poker language. We can have completely different backgrounds but we all come together because of poker. There aren’t many things like that.”
Grafton has won several live events, including the PokerStars Festival Bucharest in 2017 for $139K and an Aussie Millions event for $106K, and he believes the thrill of winning a live tournament is something very special. “You see people come back for years and years chasing that feeling,” he says. “It’s such an amazing thing.”
Whether Grafton wins a few SCOOP 2021 titles this year or not, this will always be a championship he looks back on fondly.
At the beginning of the series, Grafton announced he was joining PokerStars Team Pro.
— Sam Grafton (@SquidPoker) April 6, 2021
“I got loads of messages on social media and WhatsApp saying congratulations,” he says. “The response made me realise what a big deal it is. It’s an exciting new chapter for me and I’m very aware of that.”
Grafton has worked with PokerStars a lot over the years, from appearing on the Shark Cage to jumping in the commentary booth at live events and more recently, on cards-up online broadcasts. “I’m very close with a lot of the EPT staff and those events have been a huge part of my life. Over the past year I was doing commentary more and more and I just really enjoy it. It breaks up the grind. But I had no real expectations of it becoming a major thing.”
Grafton has joined a talented team of poker players and content creators, all of whom he has a ton of respect for. “I think Lex, Spraggy and Fintan set a really high standard for what it is to be a poker ambassador, y’know?” he says. “They really strike a good tone in the way they speak about poker and how they engage with fans.”
As for Lex’s ascent to the top of Twitch Poker and the high stakes, Grafton considers him a “superstar”. “It’s really interesting because he’s of my generation–maybe he came up a little bit before me–and he’s reinvented himself so many times and remains a superstar 10 years later,” he says. “But the thing that I really like about them all is they’re very authentic and that’s what appealed to me about signing with Stars and being an ambassador in this particular era. I think there’s a level of authenticity about all three of those guys. That was really important to me. PokerStars just want me to be myself and that just makes it easier and more fun. I’m really eager to do content with them, be on their streams, whatever it is.”
Grafton says it was particularly special to share his announcement with Parker “Tonkaaaa” Talbot, who joined Team Pro on the same day. “In terms of being an ambassador for poker, Parker is many levels above me,” he says. “He really is a star. People love Parker’s streams. They love him as a character. He’s done a lot to grow the game. I’ve known him for a very long time, we get on great together, and when I found out he was joining the same time as me, I was buzzing even more. Those four guys, I have no worries about. They’re all very funny, talented individuals.”
Will we see the Squid firing up his own streams in the future? “If that’s what people want, I’ll do my best,” says Grafton. “I’m all about trying new things so I’m sure I’ll do some streams. Maybe I’ll love it and start doing it regularly. If people want to see me grinding, I’m more than happy to show people that.”
But Grafton will continue to take things month by month, event by event. “I always said that when I turned 40 I was going to take it a bit slower and be a bit easier on myself,” he says. “But that’s not going to happen. I’m gearing up for some big years ahead with travel and playing. I want to continue to compete at a high level in poker. Yeah. I’m just really excited about poker right now.”