You should know this from the very beginning: things were not going very well for Lukas Hlavac.
This was not the normal state of affairs for the man from Slovakia. Hlavac was the type of guy who could see his future even when others could not. He had the kind of dreams that went beyond his family’s budget, and from the age of ten years old, he set out to make them happen on his own. There was success along the way, but by the middle of last week, life had taken some really tight and weird turns.
To start off with, his longtime girlfriend left him. To make matters weirder, within a few hours of being alone for the first time in forever, he was heads up for a Spring Championship of Online Poker title against a man once considered poker’s most erratic and frightening player, Viktor Blom.
Life, Hlavac was learning way too quickly, could be really weird.
He took this self portrait, declaring, “That’s who I am now.”
The question–one of many–was this: well, then who were you before? That is another story all together.
At age ten, Hlavac saw himself on two wheels. A motocross champion. That’s who he was going to be. It was a goal that would’ve been a lot easier to achieve if he actually owned a motorcycle.
“My family was not rich enough,” he said.
They couldn’t afford it, and so Hlavac’s dream lay dormant as he worked his way through his primary school and eventually graduated to adulthood. He started working, but the dream of climbing astride a screaming motor with two wheels wouldn’t fade. So, he made a decision, one he admitted was probably ill-considered.
He borrowed €6,000 and bought a bike himself.
“Stupid,” he said, “but I would to do it again.”
After that, every hour he didn’t spend working or sleeping he spent training himself to be a motocross champion. He didn’t go out partying. He didn’t wile away the hours surfing the internet. He practiced for a full year and then found himself doing this.
In his very first race, he crushed the competition, leaving all the other racers more than a minute behind him.
In his second race, he crashed and ended up in the hospital for three days.
Both happened on his very first day of competing.
A lot of people might have seen it as an omen. Hlavac chose to use the experience as motivation.
“After that, I put myself together, and I was winning race after race,” he said.
By the middle of his first season, he was in first place in his division. And then, as happens sometimes in both that business and the business of poker, he ran out of money.
“I had to leave everything behind,” he said.
The plan was to spend a year or so in London, make some money, and get back in the dirt.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would declare London a boring city. Nevertheless, it can feel very big for a man from a small country who knows few people. There is a particular isolation that comes with moving to a new place away from home.
“I started playing poker online because I got bored,” he said.
It wasn’t long before he became aware of Viktor Blom, the man known as Isildur1, once mysterious and feared in all the big Omaha games online.
“I was always talking about him with my friends,” Hlavac said. “How good player he is, and how it would be to play with him.”
Hlavac got his chance.
It happened in this year’s Spring Championship of Online Poker. He entered a $5 rebuy Omaha event, one of the smallest buy-ins in the entire series. He was one of more than 4,000 entries competing for a prize pool worth nearly $74,000.
And by the end, he was heads-up with one of poker’s most notorious Omaha players.
Forgotten–at least for the moment–was the girlfriend who had left the day before. Forgotten, too, was the long-stalled motocross career and the life he left behind in Slovakia. For this night, only one thing mattered: finishing this particular race.
He did just that.
Halavac won, pocketing more than $11,000, and perhaps better, knowing he beat one of the best.
“It was best feeling in my life,” he said. “I hope I will meet him on poker table once again.”
It takes a certain kind of person to hop on top of a screaming motorized death machine. It takes, perhaps, the very same kind of person who could look across a computerized poker table and stare down one of the best in the game.
This spring, that person was Lukas Hlavac.
Whether his girlfriend ever returns is still a matter of question, but Hlavac’s place in poker history is not.
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