James ‘James666’Sudworth was one of the original six members of Team PKR when it was formed in 2009. In March 2012, Sudworth decided that three years in the spotlight was enough and he severed his ties and moved to Costa Rica.
So what is Central America like for a young British online grinder?
Why do so many online grinders choose it as a home?
Many US citizens chose to move abroad after Black Friday, so South/Central America was an obvious choice for many. Lots moved to Canada, but most people who were used to the heat, such as the Californians, those from Florida, and even Vegas decided to head South to the equator, taking up residence in Costa Rica because of the cheap living costs, tropical weather and beautiful scenery. Although I was not affected by Black Friday in the same way as Americans, I moved to Costa Rica because it has a great time zone for playing poker (all of the America’s have a great time-zone to play vs. Europeans).
Where did you choose to live and why?
Once I knew I was going to move to Costa Rica, it was just a matter of deciding whether I wanted to live in the City, in touristy areas, or completely off the beaten track. As I wanted to get away from it all I decided the Rainforest would be my home. A few areas sprang up after I did some location searching on Google, but Pavones stood out. It is right at the bottom of Costa Rica, an hours drive from the Panamanian border, has the second longest left break surf wave in the world, and backed right on to an amazing selection of rainforests. Although it was hundreds of miles away from the nearest towns (and hospitals as I would find out during my trip), it offered the placid sanctitude of the rainforest, combined with a small touristy beach location.
What were the biggest difficulties for you as a grinder?
The hardest thing to deal with whilst I was grinding online in Costa Rica, was the internet. Because I was ‘in the sticks’ there was no such thing as broadband, or a hardline internet connection, therefore I was accessing the internet through a series of Wi-Fi transmitters around the property, that in turn received their signal via radio waves from hundreds of miles away. It was a terribly unreliable system, so I ended up playing on a 3G dongle most of the time and I estimate I lost about $4,000 in disconnections over the 3 months I ended up being there.
What were the biggest positives for you as a grinder?
The downsides of a terrible internet connection were made up for ten fold by the pace of life. I made friends with the locals, went horse back riding, quad biking was my main mode of transport, I trekked through the Jungle and found thousands of amazing species of life, learnt to paddle board, and started working out properly for the first time. ‘Life’ and amazing times-zone to play poker in, easily made up for the few thousand of dollars I lost in disconnections
What options were open to you from an online poker standpoint?
There were no restrictions imposed in Costa Rica for online poker players. There were no tax issues as long as you were careful, and all sites allowed full access to their networks. Many sites have issues if you play in countries that are not governed properly, or they do not have licenses to operate in, but Costa Rica is free from all that nonsense, and in fact some of the biggest networks in the world have their offices based in Costa Rica due to the lax laws, and cheap overheads.
What did the daily grind look like for you when in Costa Rica?
I would usually wake up at about six or seven in the morning with the sun shining through the windows. I would shower, make breakfast (usually of locally caught lobster at amazing prices), and then I would grind online during the heat of the day (primetime in the UK), taking an hours break for lunch, a P90X workout, trek through the Jungle or a swim in the pool. After that when the sun went down, I would usually venture down to the La Manta bar in the nearby beach village of Pavones where I would drink the night away!
Was there anywhere to play live poker or gamble live?
In Costa Rica there are a number of small casinos and card rooms, mainly in the Capital San Jose, but I avoided them. After my tenure with PKR had ended I didn’t want to play anymore live poker. I did, however, play a few times in some low stakes home games with locals which was fun.
One night a new guy turned up in one of the home games and he knew I was a professional Poker Player, and that my name was James. He then put two and two together and worked out that I was James ‘Flushy’ Dempsey! He soon cottoned on to the fact that he had mistaken me for another poker player, I asked him who he thought I was. After he told me, and I corrected him, he sheepishly apologized and asked if I had ever played against him! After retelling stories of mine and ‘Flushy’s’ drunken antics at various tournaments, and night clubs around the world, he asked me if I could give him his phone number… This is where I moved the conversation on very quickly, the last thing I wanted was for Dempsey to have a stalker on his hands!!!
Do you find it risky playing live poker in an unfamiliar country?
I have played in underground card rooms in Brazil and some of the biggest Casino’s in the world. All of which attract unsavory characters, but the majority of the time everything is really safe. I have had none of the problems people might commonly associate with ‘gambling dens’. As long as you are polite to everyone, and keep a sharp eye out for anything ‘dodgy’, you will be safe to play poker anywhere in the world. If there were a juicy game anywhere, I would be the first to jump in.
How did Costa Rica Treat You?
It was downhill from the moment I set foot onto Costa Rican soil. That country just didn’t want me being there! The wheel on the Quad Bike I was renting decided it didn’t like being attached, whilst driving around a steep bend next to a cliff face. I won the biggest coin flip of my life, and it was the right wheel which literally snapped off, and my quad crashed into the inside of the cliff face. If it were the left wheel that had come off, I would have crashed the opposite direction, right over the edge of the cliff!
After my battle with the quad bike, I soon found myself battling with Dengue Fever, courtesy of some over-friendly mosquito’s. Thankfully I had never had Dengue Fever before, if I had, my body’s immune system would not have saved me, my platelet count would have dropped fatally low, I would have started bleeding internally and would have about two-hours to get to the hospital to have a blood transfusion. The nearest hospital was three-hours away at a push! Fading two possible deaths in Costa Rica made me realize I had to leave. A week after I recovered form the Dengue Fever, I booked my flight to Texas to move in with a girl I had met for 1 week in Costa Rica!
Why should a Brit move abroad to grind when we don’t pay taxes at home?
Although we do not have to pay taxes at home in the UK, the overheads of living in such an expensive country, mean you have to play a lot higher, with harsher variance than you can do abroad. As long as you do not live in another country for more than six months (country dependent) then you have no issue with that country trying to take any tax from you. We are technically just on holiday, and seeing as gambling is not taxed in the UK as it is elsewhere; poker is still classed as a hobby, therefore tax free wherever you play. It is also amazing how much better your outlook on life and psychological well-being can be when you play in a relaxed environment with plenty of sun, than back home in crap weather with arrogant stuck up English people.
If the UK government started taxing UK poker players how would that affect your decision to play professionally?
If the UK ever started taxing poker players I would instantly move to a country that didn’t tax it and become a resident. The savings we make as poker players on a tax free job, far outweighs any downsides to moving out of the UK. It surprises me the amount of Americans who have not permanently relocated, even before Black Friday.
How difficult is it to make a living playing poker professionally? How does playing in Costa Rica help?
There used to be a time when making a living from online poker used to be so easy. I could sit down for a days session and expect to win $1,000 a day easily with no risk. Those days are long gone as everyone has improved thanks to training sites. I would say the games are the hardest they have ever been. It is still easy to make a living from poker, but not as easily as I was used to in the ‘Golden Era’ of online poker. One of the easiest ways to improve the amount you earn in a month, is by cutting your overheads. By moving somewhere where living costs are very cheap, and you don’t have any temptations hindering your poker playing, you can increase the amount you effectively earn per month, without changing your game at all.
What are the toughest obstacles that stand in your way of making a decent living? How does Costa Rica help those or hinder them?
I can only speak for myself when I say the hardest thing to overcome whilst playing poker, is variance. It is all too easy to lose 20 buy ins over a few sessions, and think the world is coming down on you. Bouncing back from big downswing’s is the hardest thing to do, because your mindset is all over the place. You are not thinking correctly, therefore not playing optimally. Being somewhere you enjoy, somewhere relaxing and most importantly somewhere sunny (Sun has an amazing impact on your happiness), can make those hard times just that little bit more bearable!