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2013: A year of million dollar swings

My favourite poker moment of 2013 came when my girlfriend asked me if I wanted to eat dinner with her one evening or if I was going to keep playing poker. I was two-tabling Viktor Blom heads-up at 400/800. We both had about $120k at each table, and we were in the middle of playing a big pot on both tables.

"Hang on" I said.

I needed to think about what to do next. I went all-in on one table and then all-in on the other.

Viktor called one, thought for a while and called the other. Both pots shipped my way.

"Nice. I just won a quarter of a million dollars" I said. "And he quit, so, yeah, dinner sounds great!"

Playing that high can be a bit surreal at times. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This is my first-ever blog post, so I should probably start by introducing myself and giving you a bit of my poker history for those of you who don't follow the online games.

My name is Alex Millar, I'm 28, and I play as Kanu7 on PokerStars. I started playing poker for fun at university a little more than eight years ago. I played mainly freerolls and $5 tourneys/sitngos in my spare time. I then took a year off after uni to play poker full time before starting a normal job.

I started playing 100nl with the $3k bankroll I had built up while at uni, but after a couple of months I had made pretty much nothing and realised that I wasn't as good as I thought I was! Fortunately after a lot of hard work I managed to work out how to win and from there my year went extremely well. When the time came to start the job I had moved up from 100nl to 2knl and had a six-figure bankroll. So, I turned the job down and carried on with poker.

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After that first year, things continued to go well. While there have been plenty of hurdles along the way (Black Friday being the biggest of course), I arrived at 2013 having been playing the highest stakes no-limit hold'em games for a few years and being generally considered top 10, maybe top 5 in the world at the game. The year 2013 was to be a pretty crazy year though to say the least.

Over the previous couple of years I had been moving further and further away from 6-max games and more and more toward heads up. I really enjoy the 1-on-1 competition of heads-up play. Trying to find a way to beat a particular opponent who gives you trouble is one of the most rewarding challenges in poker when you are successful.

Coming into 2013, though, I had reached a point where almost nobody in the world was prepared to play against me for a reasonable amount of time. Isaac Haxton and Ben Sulsky were the only two guys prepared to regularly play me and they were probably the best two HU players in the world. Despite a lot of effort, I hadn't found a way to beat them. This left me in a pretty awkward spot where I couldn't just play those guys without losing a ton of money, but I also had nobody else to play.

Then Viktor Blom sat with me at 300/600 early in January and asked to play heads-up.

Historically Viktor had always done well against me, but he had been playing a lot of other games and was therefore a bit rusty at NLHE, Meanwhile I had been improving, so I was quite confident in having an edge. I sold some action and we played a session.

Unfortunately playing multiple tables with a $60k buy-in on each table leads to some pretty big swings, and I lost about $700,000 over a few hours of play. Following that I had another frustrating day at the end of January in which I stayed up all night playing a good 50/100 6max game and ended with a nice profit of $60,000 or so.

Happy that it had been worth staying up all night, I was about to go to bed at about 11am when Phil Ivey sat with me at 300/600. Phil is obviously a fantastic player and one of the best in the world across multiple forms of poker but at specifically HU no-limit hold'em he would be a significant underdog against me. This was too good an opportunity to miss.

Unfortunately things didn't go my way here either, and I ended up losing $300k in a couple of hours. I guess he realised that he wasn't going to be a winner long term because he never came back to play again, but that still left me down nearly $1m for the year before the end of January!

With neither Phil nor Viktor keen to play me again and no other games running at those stakes it became clear that it would be a long hard grind at lower stakes to make back the money I had lost in just a couple of sessions. Unfortunately, not playing much 6max and with almost nobody to play against HU, that wasn't a very easy option either.

Throughout the next few months my action was pretty limited, so I started to play some low stakes PLO when I had no NLHE action. Learning the game was pretty fun, but before I got too far with it something crazy happened. The 400/800 deep ante 6max games started running on Full Tilt!

For anyone who's not familiar with those games, the minimum buy-in is $120k on each table, and you can easily win or lose $1m in a session. The games were running because there was a guy from Macau who plays the crazy high stakes games over there who wanted to try his luck online. Any time an unknown arrives at high stakes, everyone will want to play against them assuming that they are a weak player until they prove otherwise.

Everyone wanted to be in the games. I managed to get involved a few times as well, but again things didn't go well for me, and coming up to the halfway point of the year I found myself down $1.5m for the year at the tables.

Luckily I am pretty sensible with bankroll management and had sold action for all 300/600 games or above, so not all those losses were mine. But it still hurt. I dislike losing other people's money even more than I dislike losing my own, so I spoke to everyone who had a piece of me and explained that I thought that the guy from Macau was actually getting pretty good and that I hadn't played all that much 6max recently so I couldn't be sure that I was a big winner in the games. Thankfully they unanimously said they had confidence in my game and wanted to continue buying action which I really appreciated. I started to put more and more work into my 6max game and continued to play the games into the second half of the year.

I started to make some of the losses back in the 6max game, and then Viktor finally returned to play some more HU, this time at 400/800. We had played a few short sessions since my big loss in January where I had made a bit back, but I was still down a lot to him for the year. The first few sessions were pretty swingy including three days where I was down $300k, $400k, and over $500k against him but managed to battle back to a $300k win each time.

One of those days was particularly fun as my old housemate Greg who had moved to America was visiting with his girlfriend Michelle and arrived that day. I had already been down $300k, got back up to +$100k, and then gone back down to -$400k before they got here. As we all chatted, I went back to being up on the day and then back down to -$350k. They then went for a nap for an hour before we went out for the evening as he was pretty jet-lagged. By the time he woke up, I had got to +$300k for the day, Viktor had quit, and we could head out for the evening pretty happy! Greg used to play low-midstakes poker when we lived together, and he'd watch me play sometimes, so it was pretty fun to go back to that for a day with swings as wild as that.

After these swingy sessions, things really got crazy, and every session we played for a while, I couldn't seem to lose. I ended up winning $3.2m from Blom at 400/800 for the year. I undoubtedly got extremely lucky against him, but after feeling that he'd had luck on his side in some of our previous encounters I was certainly taking it pretty happily! In total I won $4m in four months, and my year was completely turned on its head.

The last couple of months of the year were a little quieter, but I managed to add some more to my yearly total. Unfortunately, after my downswing early in the year I had to sell more action than I previously had, so I had a smaller piece of this upswing than I had of the downswing. That meant that I actually ended up making just under $1m for myself for the year after deducting some losses incurred buying pieces of people playing live games. This was less than the previous three years, but I was happy to make a load of money for the guys who were buying pieces of me, and considering the first half of the year and the fact that I only managed to play 130k hands for the year, it was a pretty great return.

So where does this leave me for 2014?

The NLHE games are really tough at the moment with some very good players playing the high stakes 6max games and with quite a few very tough guys playing HU. My immediate goal is to keep improving and to beat these guys while getting in more hands than I did last year.

I had a great time at the PCA but spent a lot of money and lost $35k playing the Main Event and the High Roller, so I'd also like to get into the black for the year. On the plus side, I'm better off than this time last year, so hopefully it won't take so long!

(I spoke too soon. Between writing this and it getting published I played a session versus Viktor at 300/600 and lost just over $600k. I guess history has repeated itself and I should avoid playing him in January! Hopefully I make a speedier recovery this time than I did last year.)

I'm still feeling quite positive about the year ahead but we'll have to see what action I get and whether I can be as fortunate as last year in the highest stakes games.

Also in the next year I plan to learn to play PLO well enough to beat 25/50+. That won't be easy considering I will be competing against guys who have been playing PLO for years, but we'll see how it goes. Finally, I'll look forward to continuing my new Team Online responsibilities including writing some more of these blog posts.

Anyway, this has got quite long, so I'll leave you with my 2013 graph (luckbox, small sample, lost a chunk of it already in 2014 etc). Feel free to let me know on Twitter (@kanupoker) if you have any feedback on the blog. I'm new to this so ideas, suggestions, and criticisms are welcome.

Good luck everyone. Thanks for reading, and I'll try to write a shorter post next time!

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