Describe a modern poker player to a friend. What do you say? Young guy in a hoodie with sunglasses and earbuds who makes every move robotic?
You could be forgiven for that description if you made it. Those are often–if not usually–the players we see in photos and on TV. The detached, devil-may-care, animatronic poker player is almost iconic these days.
But there is a fact so obvious, it’s amazing it must be said at all: these men and women are all different, and often in very dramatic ways. It’s a fact we notice much more when we start looking into the lives of our most recent SCOOP champs. They span the globe and often share only one thing in common: they have a SCOOP Movado watch on the way to their houses.
In the North American area, Robert Kuhn, 24, is the new iconic online grinder. You can tell just by looking at his pictures.
That’s Kuhn on a boat somewhere off the Baja Peninsula coast, sipping on a beer, and enjoying the high life. There are many good Mexican poker players, but very often these days, if you see a Mexican flag next to someone’s name in the PokerStars lobby, it’s because they are poker refugees who have found a warm place to play their game outside the US.
“Mexico and Playa del Carmen in general is paradise,” Kuhn said. “The language barrier isn’t much of a thing. The weather is amazing year round, and there are so many great people down here including a lot of my closest friends. When I first moved here there were only four of us. Now there’s over 200!”
It’s not a bad life for a man happy to make a home away from home. The poker community there celebrated with him after he won $95,000 in a recent SCOOP event.
“After the win, I went to the bar and a lot of my closest friends were there,” he said. “The reaction and celebration was really really awesome.”
Indeed, life doesn’t look too bad for a man without a country.
While Kuhn’s exotic life may stand out as the new North American icon, around the world, his kind is still a bit of an anomaly. Among our recent SCOOP champions, we’ve found many who can’t imagine a world without the comforts of home.
Take Thiago Napoleão. He’s 32 years old and lives in Florianópolis, SC, Brazil, a resort city on the country’s southern coast once home to an LAPT stop. It’s where he was born and raised, and he sees no reason to leave.
Now a pro for seven years, he marks his life in achievements. There was the night he won the Sunday Warm-Up. There was the night his daughter was born. And there was the night he won his first ever COOP.
“It means the reward of my hard work throughout all these years as a professional player. It is my first series title on PokerStars and another achievement accomplished in my career,” he said. “I can compare this win with when I won the Sunday Warm-up, the biggest prize in my career so far. The joy from these two achievements were similar, one for the prize and another for what it means.”
Kyle Menne lives half a world a way near Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Like Napoleão, Menne never saw a reason to leave home.
“Most of my family and friends reside here,” he said. “The temperature change is insane, ranging from -40c winter to +40c in the summer. There is really nice cottage country for fishing, boating and anything else outdoors in the summers.”
While Menne may be a homebody like Napoleão, the two men couldn’t be much more different. Menne is just two years into what has been an up and down poker career, one that at times had him questioning whether he had the chops to do it for a living.
This year, Menne made some big changes in his life, most notably some discoveries about the way he treats his body. He teamed with a group called Pokerheath and has worked on his physical game as much as his mental one.
“I’ve put lots of time and effort into my poker game. Poker is great, but there many mental and physical sacrifices that you must be willing to make sometimes with not much to show for it,” Menne said.
He now has something to show for it. He beat Shaun Deeb heads up for a SCOOP title last week.
“Hopefully this is the start to winning some larger events,” he said. “I’ve come close so many times before this.”
A few thousand miles east in Slovenia, Nino Smolkovič (who goes by the name KidPokerSLO) also made the easy decision to not move away from the place he grew up.
“I’m not thinking about it, because we’re a small country. It’s really peaceful. We don’t have any frustrating poker laws or gambling laws yet, and that’s one of the most important things in my life as professional poker player.”
Perhaps more important now is the fact staying home made Smolkovič the very first SCOOP winner from Slovenia after winning the low buy-in version of the SCOOP 5-card draw event.
“The SCOOP title itself is very important for me, even more because its first Slovenian SCOOP title, and I couldn’t be happier winning it,” he said. “This is one of the biggest moments in my life, so it can’t compare, actually.”
Of all the champions we have interviewed recently, William de Oliveira may be the one who has stuck closest to home. The 26-year-old engineering student still lives with this parents. That freedom allowed him a little extra time to study up on his poker game and win more than $60,000 in a recent SCOOP event.
“I do not have to pay rent bills, electricity, or water,” he said. “I think it’s possible to live solely on poker, but very difficult. So, at the moment I intend to complete my studies in engineering and have poker as an extra income. Of course, if I have more results like this SCOOP, I can rethink that.”
There are many notable things about the Spring Championship of Online Poker, and among them is the ability to compete in it from almost anywhere. Its champions may not share a national border, language, or culture, but they all know the feeling of winning a SCOOP title. And they know one thing: home is where PokerStars ships that championship watch.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging