There aren’t many industries less forgiving than poker, but if you’ve spent any time in or around a newsroom, particularly a television newsroom, you’ll have a pretty keen idea of how sharky the real world can be.
Alexandre Amiel spent almost all of his 20s as a news reporter for Canal+ investigating the biggest stories in the country for France’s equivalent of 60 Minutes. And, after moving on, he set up his own company producing documentaries, magazine programmes and talk shows, focusing on current affairs, culture and politics.
Such enormous exposure to “real life” — both in and out of the studio — can offer a pretty shrewd perspective on poker, even when the stakes are as high as they are here at EPT Deauville. It’s why Amiel is able to sit back and enjoy every moment of his deep run in this tournament, happy to take an extremely reasoned line despite the money at stake.
“I’ll be more happy if I win, like everybody, but this is a game,” Amiel said. “People have to know it’s nothing but a game. If you don’t think that, you’re going to have a hard time playing poker.”
Amiel is 39 and only took up poker about five years ago, by which point he was successful enough in business, and had a young family, for him not to allow the game to take over his life. He admits he has been fortunate enough that when he glances up to the list of payouts he knows his immediate welfare does not depend solely on where he places, but he also knows that even finishing at the very top of the pile does not necessarily mean the best man has won.
“My philosophy, for poker and for life, is that if you’re successful, it doesn’t mean you’re a genius and if you’re less successful, you’re not a loser,” Amiel said. “You have to handle the swings. When you play poker, have fun. Have fun when you win and be OK when you lose. Don’t think to yourself, ‘I’m a genius’ when you win because at poker tournaments, whoever it is that wins had to be lucky at some point.”
Amiel currently sits with more than 1.3 million in chips, his high point of the tournament, and has had his share of fortune today. He came into Day 4 with a mere 15 big blinds and was all in on the first hand (forcing Ludovic Geilich to fold). He then spiked an ace with A-10 to better pocket kings, before he went on an elimination spree. He won flips to knock out Marko Laine and Javed Abrahams and took a chunk from Zimnan Ziyard with aces.
“What I like about poker is that it’s like real life,” Amiel said. “In real life, you have to be lucky and you have to have skill. You cannot be successful in real life without being lucky.”
He continued: “I don’t pay casino games. If I go into a casino and there is no place for poker, I get out. I’m not interested. But what I like about poker instead of bridge is that luck has a part of it.
“In life, if you begin with a Harvard degree, you are more likely to have a successful career. But if you have no degree, you can make a successful career too. In poker it’s the same. If you have aces, you have more chance to win the hand than if you begin with seven-deuce. But then if you get stuck to your aces, or to your Harvard degree, you might not get very far.”
Among the numerous programs produced by Amiel is Mon Plus Beau Coup de Poker, which loosely translates as My Best Poker Coup and screens on France’s TF1. Perhaps surprisingly for a “poker” show, there are neither cards nor chips involved. Instead, a series of French celebrities (artists, designers and the like) are asked to describe a moment in their career where they took a calculated risk and won.
It explores how decisions in real life can mirror those at a poker table, with fortune often favouring the brave. The guest list is diverse, ranging from the clothes designer Daniel Hechter to the former international footballer Vikash Dhorasoo, the actor Tchéky Karyo and the singer Julien Doré.
“It’s a poker site that finances it, and we say poker ten times, but we never talk about poker,” Amiel said. He added that the best poker documentary he has ever seen is That’s Poker, made by the French director Hervé Martin-Delpierre and focusing on Fabrice Soulier, Joe Hachem, Isabelle Mercier and Luca Pagano’s visit to the 2007 World Series of Poker. Stringent rules about shooting inside the Rio and videoing the action meant that the narrative followed the players off the felt and resulted in a very well rounded documentary.
“It showed all the ups and downs, the swings you have to handle,” he said. “This is what I like about it. It showed what it really is.”
Right now, what it really is for Amiel is the biggest score of his career. He won the first major tournament he entered, a €500 event at the Euro Finals of Poker at the Aviation Club in Paris, but the money he is already guaranteed here in Deauville eclipses his €20,020 prize.
There will be plenty of folk cheering him on. He has spent most of his time this week in pleasant conversation with table-mates and spectators, putting into practice his insistence that the game is about having fun. His business concerns mean he doesn’t play as many tournaments as many people, but he always seizes the opportunities to make new acquaintances.
He said: “When I am at the table, I’m friendly. I talk to people. It doesn’t mean I don’t play them or I don’t respect them. But if they’ve met me once, usually they know me.”
By the end of this week, so might many millions more.
Follow our coverage of the Main Event at EPT Deauville by heading to the main EPT Deauville page. There’s hand-by-hand coverage in the top panel, plus chip counts, and feature pieces below. Follow the High Roller on the High Roller page. EPT Live is also on, so tune in there for a close-up view of the action.