When Stadium Series cards-up coverage begins on the PokerStars Twitch channel on Monday, there will be an unfamiliar voice in the commentary box alongside our regular announcers James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton. Well, perhaps “unfamiliar” isn’t quite right. Anyone who has been in a European poker room over the past five years or so will almost certainly have heard this voice before, usually at a volume significant enough to be heard over chip riffling, conversation drone and, let’s be honest, amplified tournament announcements too.Sam “The Squid” Grafton is both voluble and vociferous, but it’s fortunate that what he says is usually also well worth hearing. The 39-year-old Grafton, originally from Leamington Spa, in the UK, is a deep thinker about not only poker, but all manner of social, political and philosophical issues too.
He recently answered a question from Stapleton on the Poker In The Ears podcast about what he’d been reading during lockdown. “I’ve been reading about African American history and suchlike,” Grafton said. “I like to think I’ve done a reasonable amount of political and historical reading in my life, but like a lot of white people I’ve begun to question whether I really do know what’s going on, the struggles black British people and African American people face. So I was reading Angela Davis, I was reading through the essays, and there was some absolutely amazing statistic about Puerto Rican women, how many of them were sterilised.”
He continues to discuss the subject’s contemporary relevance and his own concerns about the gaps in his knowledge regarding the pressing issues of the day. Nothing Grafton says conforms with what most people would expect of a professional poker player. It’s far more interesting than that.
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The omens are good, therefore, for his stint alongside Hartigan and Stapleton, where they will also be joined by Griffin Benger. Grafton and Benger worked together providing commentary on the short-lived Global Poker League (GPL), and Grafton says he’s always happy to be back in the booth, even as he intends to play Stadium Series too. “I hope that I can bring some insight as to what it’s like playing deep in some of these tournaments,” he says.
Grafton most recently enjoyed a prosperous Summer Series, where he won the $530 Main Event for $210K, including bounties. That was the second-largest online cash of his career, but it’s still dwarfed by some of the scores he has recorded in the live arena. After completing the journey from tiny buy-in events in London’s card clubs a decade ago, Grafton is now comfortable on the Super High Roller circuit, and picked up more than €1.3 million for second place in one such event in Barcelona last August, in what was his first €100K buy-in.
The top section of his list of tournament scores on the Hendon Mob is notable too for the number of flags that appear, underlining Grafton’s commitment to travel for his work. There are six-figure scores from Spain, the UK, Australia, Prague, the USA, Romania and Brazil.
We’ve bumped into Grafton at a number of these events and he’s always been a brilliant and generous interviewee. Here’s a look back at some of Grafton’s chats with PokerStars Blog — and here’s hoping for many more stories yet to be written, perhaps starting with the Stadium Series.
SAM GRAFTON, IN HIS OWN WORDS:
After winning a SCOOP title in NL08:
“You’re working so hard during SCOOP, and you’re working on your game all year to be ready for a big series like that, and then my biggest win came in a game where I’ve got no real sense of how strategies work…It felt like money from the sky, I mean it really did feel like a blessing.”
On the life of a poker pro:
“[When] variance isn’t on your side, and you’re turning up and slogging away, then it can feel like a job. That said, I know a lot of people’s jobs feel like jobs every day, so we’re privileged to do it, and I don’t forget how lucky I am to be doing this.”
From: Sam Grafton in Bucharest (August 2017)
Eschewing the X-Box:
“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. 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.”
“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.”
On poker players’ fierce competitive spirit:
“The intensity with which poker players take any game is crazy. I’ve played all sorts of games with poker players, and it’s simply not natural for everyone in society to take games incredibly seriously, and to play them to win at all costs. For us, that’s completely standard. So either you had that propensity before you got into poker and that’s what drew you to it and made you good at poker, or you don’t.”
On being himself…
“I was never concerned with looking silly, if I saw something that was bright or outgoing. I just see it as dressing up, if you know what I mean. When I pick out clothes or whatever, if it’s fun or, mixing things together as well, like wearing glasses which are a bit geeky with like a lemon jacket or a sports top that’s quite jock. Those two are contradictory. There’s playfulness. I guess that’s my attitude to life.”
On taking that attitude to the poker table…
“I take inspiration from someone like Vanessa Selbst who plays unorthodox. If I want to do something and think it’s right I’m not going to be concerned with what my friends are going to think or how it’s going to look when its reported. If I think it’s the right play I’m willing to be a bit more creative.”
From: On being Sam Grafton (December 2014)