Ruben Visser is a 24-year old wise man from Amsterdam, who is currently living in Rotterdam with his girlfriend as he waits for his new home to be built. Visser is a former PokerStars Team Pro, and when he joined the red sapde was the youngest-ever pro at just 19-years of age. He has won close to $2 million playing live tournaments and a bucketload of cash playing online. In March he achieved one of his dreams by winning EPT London for £595,000 and we caught up with him in the aftermath of that event to ask him to describe the week of his life.
Tell us about the week leading up to the EPT London, what was happening in your life leading up to it?
I wasn’t actually planning on playing at EPT London for tax reasons. Live tournaments are not that profitable for us. We have to pay 29% over our cash and we cannot deduct the buy-in, or any expenses, so you need a massive ROI to actually to make a profit, so I wasn’t planning on going. Then one night my girlfriend went to bed and I was playing something strenuous – but not too serious – online. Some friends were awake, and one of them said there was a $320 hyper-qualifier for London on in ten minutes. I was still unsure but eventually decided to play the qualifier to the qualifier. It was a ten rebuy I think and I won a seat into the $320 hyper through that and then managed to win a seat from there.
Life leading up to London was pretty good. Online poker was going well and I’m working on my Masters thesis for my studies, which is going great. I’ m doing a Masters in ‘Entrepreneurship and New Business Venturing’.
Interesting, what plans do you have for your future?
Next to poker I am also investing in smaller companies. I like looking at business plans and then buying shares in small companies. That really interests me. Entrepreneurial finance is one of my passions. I can really see myself working in that field after poker. At the moment I am doing it alongside poker, but at some point I would like to be doing more of that and less poker. I really like playing poker but I also enjoy doing other stuff too. Poker has enabled me to start my own business, and invest in some businesses as well, so I like grasping those opportunities and not just playing poker to make more money to add to my bankroll.
You mentioned the dreaded word ‘tax’. Can you expand on that a little more please?
A typical EPT is a €5,300 buy-in and most min-cashes are €7,500. So if I min-cash I have to pay €2,200 in taxes making me completely break-even again. So instead of paying taxes on our profits we have to pay taxes on our earnings, so you need a 42% ROI besides expenses to just break even.
What about online winnings?
Online, we have to pay per month, but you can deduct the buy-ins. You have to pay 29% on your profits per month e.g. the first month you win 10k and the second month you lose 10k we still have to pay 29%, so net your down 2.9k.
It’s a good job you have your masters because it doesn’t seem like a viable long-term option to play poker?
It is viable, but you really have to game select and think about what games to play. There are people that start each month (cash players) playing 1/2 even though they might be skilled and rolled for 25/50, just to avoid having losing months. If their month goes well they start moving up again. The tax situation in Holland means you always have to think about the taxes when deciding your games, you have to play low variance, high edge games and EPT’s – especially EPT London – does not qualify as a soft field or one with a massive ROI.
What were the most important moments in the tournament for you?
The first moment that was really important was in the third level when I was ‘all-in’ AK>QQ, which I was not happy about at all. My game is really post flop orientated. I really like playing flops, turns and rivers, as I come from a cash game background and I feel like I am strong at playing post flop. The edges you can attain post flop are much bigger than pre flop edges, so it’s not common for me to be all in, that early, for a coin flip.
In this exact situation I liked my play. Jan Collado opened the cutoff and I three-bet the button, as I saw a lot of value in getting to five-bet over his four-bet, as I expected him to four-bet a lot of the time – way over half the time – so I figured it was going to be a very profitable play. It ended up with him having QQ and me having AK so we both had legitimate hands. But I really didn’t like playing for stacks, that early, as I don’t think that is where my edge comes from. I was expecting him to fold a bunch to my five-bet so I still do like my play, but I was not happy about it. It was in a situation I felt I couldn’t really avoid but I wasn’t happy about being in the situation.
That was a very important pot for me because if I had lost that one I would have been out already. Luckily, the window card was a King and I made two pair to beat his queens. Then all the other days went really smoothly. I didn’t play too many big pots and was only all-in for my tournament life once more. That was on Day Four when I shoved ace-deuce from the small blind, over a button open from Olof Haglund. He called with ace-nine, and I had one foot out the door, but the window card was a deuce, and the second card on the flop was a deuce as well so I flopped trips. I was pretty much granted a second chance at the tournament right there.
I also played a big pot against Surinder Sunar on Day Three, where I got it in pretty light with my 10-6 on 10-7-3 board with two hearts, as we have a history in which he just doesn’t fold to me, and always tries to bluff me for some reason. He has not had good results in trying! He just keeps going for it. I’m pretty sure he tries to bluff Internet kids the entire time, and as I have picked up on that, I just don’t fold to him. He doesn’t fold to me either, so it is great fun. We have a nice dynamic; he ended up having 9-8 hearts for an open- ended straight flush draw, but bricked, so I wasn’t all-in there but it was a really big pot.
Can you talk us through the huge hand against Pasi Sormunen on Day Five?
The hand starts with the big blind, a Lebanese player Bassel Moussa, showing up too late at the table, so there is a dead big blind in there. It’s folded around to Pasi Sormunen in the hijack, who has about 1.8 million at that time, and an average of 1.3 million, with 15 people left at the beginning of Day 5.
He opens to 50k at 12k/24k and the cutoff folds, it’s on me on the button and I call with [Kd] [8d]. I decided not to three-bet because Sormunen likes to raise back. I like my hand to play a flop with and wasn’t afraid to get squeezed by the small blind. It was a young French player who played very solid and he wouldn’t three-bet there that often, or at all maybe. I figured I was going to play a pot, heads up, in position. I don’t have a great hand but I have some solid reads on Sormunen as I played with him two days prior. It was my third day playing with him, I knew he was hyper aggressive and I figured if I hit any kind of pair, I’m just going to hold onto my seatbelt and not fold. I called, the small blind folded and the window card was a king so I was already excited. I wasn’t planning on folding anymore! The flop came down K-Q-8 with the queen and eight of spades, so I flopped top and bottom pair; he checks to me which is fairly odd as it’s a good board to c-bet, but knowing his style I felt he wouldn’t check-fold-that board at all. So I bet, figuring he would check-call or check-raise. I bet 68k into 140k. He thinks for a minute, check raises to 152K; rather small, at this point, I am pretty much thrilled. He is going to have a bluff there a lot of the time. I have seen him play for two days in France and he just does not give up on his bluffs. I decided to give him some rope and just call. I figured if I raised back on the flop he is not going to get it in with complete air, whereas, if I call he is going to continue barrelling. Plus I am in position as well so if I have the worst run out, I can still make good decisions on the turn or the river.
The turn is an off suit nine, which completes jack-ten, which I wasn’t too afraid of. I figured he would just c-bet jack-ten most of the time on the flop rather than check-raise it, but it completed one draw. I wasn’t too afraid, still he takes about two minutes and bets about 225k – and we have 900k behind that. This was the same kind of position as the flop. I still thought he had way to many bluffs in this range to raise. I figured if I just call he is going to continue barrelling on a lot of rivers trying to make me fold one pair hands or missed flush draws. My hand looked a lot weaker if I just called and I like to keep the weak parts of his range in there as well, so I have no reason to raise. I ‘fake’ think for a bit because I would take some time on the weaker parts of my range so I am going balance it and if I’m sure I am going to call, I am still going to pretend to think about it a minute and then call. So I call, and the river is a [Ks] completing the flop flush draw and giving me a boat. I now beat queens and lose to K-Q and K-9 and he thinks again for about 2 mins and I prepare to be faced with a big river bet and am very happy about it. After a while he checks. Now if I think about the range I gave him, or what I perceived to be his range on the flop or turn, I thought he had way too many bluffs on his range, hence I couldn’t really value bet the river e.g. normally if someone has strong hands I could bet half the pot just as a value bet, but I couldn’t see any hands that he could call me with, so rather than going for a value sized bet, like half my stack, I had 900k left on the river, so in a pot of 900k, a normal value bet would not leave room for him to bluff over, if I bet 500k and I’ve left 400k behind and he is not going to be inclined to bluff over it. I decided to bet 190k. A very small bet in relation to the pot size. I chose that size because it left him with a little over 700k effective to bluff. He could raise 700 more if he decided to bluff, in his eyes that bluff would get through a lot more often than 400k more after I bet 500k.
I decided to allow him to try and bluff me as didn’t think he would check-call ever so it was pretty much an induced bet to give him the perception that he had fold equity and I had some hands I wanted to value bet, maybe a straight or low flush bet, that I would fold to an ‘all-in’. I bet 190k and he sat back in his chair and at no point really seemed to consider calling and all of a sudden he leans forward and says “all-in,” and I thought, ok I am not folding to you, “call”, my plan worked. I called within a second, he wanted to muck but he couldn’t, the EPT rules of ‘all-in’ you have to show and he showed ace-deuce with the ace of spades just for a complete bluff and I doubled to 2.8 million which is a little over 2x average. That was the most important pot for me as it allowed me to open up my game more and cruise to the final table.
Considering you qualified via a $10 re-buy did you have 100% of the winnings?
I swapped 10% during the final table of the hyper with Paul Berende. So whoever qualified gave the other player 10%. I also swapped 10% with my roommate in London and swapped with some other friends of mine. I like rooting for my friends and in this case I have to transfer money to them but that’s cool.
I see you made a deal three handed, was you happy with your deal?
When we were playing four handed, Mantas Visockis was the first one to propose discussing a deal, and Olaf Haglund was also up for discussing a deal. I didn’t say anything but Theo Jorgenson instantly said he had made a deal on a final table like this a few years ago and he wasn’t happy about it afterwards, so he wouldn’t do it again unless we offered him something special. I wasn’t planning on doing that, but said I’ll look if you double or bust. I wasn’t going to give him more than the ICM value of his stack, and I felt I wanted more than my stack was worth as felt I had an edge. I figured he wanted more as well. If two people want more, the two others have to give more up and I didn’t feel like that was going to work. Even though it was a lot of money I felt I had a good edge and was playing well, so I didn’t really want to give too much up.
Is deal making something that professional poker players need to be prepared for in such big tournaments?
Most people don’t have that much experience with deal making. I think when we went three-handed it was a wise decision for pretty much anyone, as it just decreases the variance by so much. At three handed the guaranteed third place was £240k, and first was £700k, so there was such a big difference. If you translate that to a three person ‘sit n go’ it would be a £200k ‘sit and go!’ Some people think, “Your just in there for $200 so you may as well play for it all now”, but if you just look at it, you’re playing for so much money, if you feel like the other players are very capable as well then I believe you should look at a deal. In this case we didn’t even play a single hand of three-handed play before pausing the tournament. I knew the other two wanted to look at a deal. I wanted to as well, but was not going to accept the ICM value of my stack. I felt I had an edge and wanted to be compensated for that. Especially as the other two wanted to deal a little more than I wanted to. I figured I could get a little bit extra, so we negotiated for about five minutes. I had an app on my iPhone for calculating the ICM value of our stacks so we used that.
How do you approach the awkwardness of explaining to your opponents that you believe you have an edge?
That is really awkward, even online it’s awkward. But in this case it went much less awkward than I expecting it to go. I just said we can calculate the value of our stacks but I want some more, and then Mantas said, “Is it because you have the chip lead?” I told him I believed I had an edge and he seemed to accept that. It really depends on your opponents. Some players take it really personally if you say something like that, but it was not meant as an insult. If they didn’t agree with me then I don’t think we would have had a deal. Olaf said he didn’t want to give anything up, but Mantas did. He offered to give me £6,800 and I just asked for £2.5k more, which got me to the total of the original second prize. We each paid the same amount of the 140k that was left in the middle that we had to play for. As I was the chip leader at the time I probably should have paid more, than the other two, out of that 140k, but we paid the same share.
So how much did you win?
I won £595k in total.
How did you celebrate?
When I won and I couldn’t believe it at first. I played my first EPT in 2008, and I have really wanted to win for such a long time. I got close with the PCA final table, last year, but I went out eighth and was extremely disappointed. Now I’m there again and I wanted to win so badly. Then everything went my way and I was ‘heads up’ with a massive chip lead, and had to go past one more person to actually get to my dream. Then he came back twice from being pretty short stacked, and the third time we were all-in I thought ‘come on please!’ I wanted it so badly, so when I finally won I didn’t believe it. I was flabbergasted for minutes
I had to have interviews, pictures and all that kind of stuff…like lift up the trophy. It didn’t even feel real at that moment. We went downstairs to the wardrobe, and my girlfriend reminded me I that I had forgotten the big cheque, so I walked back up to get the cheque to take home. Then I realised that I hadn’t even received my money. I was just not thinking about that stuff, so I walked back up and the floor guy was just laughing. “Would you like your money sir?”
Later we went to a Japanese place and then went to ‘Club Distrikt’, with some friends and my girlfriend. I was pretty tired after playing for six days but the adrenaline just kept me going for a few more hours.
Are you planning on splashing the cash a little?
No, I don’t really need anything. The week before I went to EPT London, my life was great, and right now I still think it’s great. The only thing that’s changed is that I have a little more money in my bank account. I didn’t need it for anything else. I have no real desire to play high stakes poker and I don’t need a new watch or a car. I don’t need anything expensive.
What was the funniest thing that happened that week?
I finished eighth in a £2k tournament with a £1k bounty and a few of us started doing vodka shots at about 2 or 3pm. That was pretty entertaining. Also, the night before Day Three of the Main Event I stayed up most of the night playing Chinese poker with Michael Tureniec, Paul Berende and Lauri Pesonen. Everyone was deep into the game whilst playing the Super Tuesday on their iPhones whilst gambling on this little table we had. That was also a lot of fun.
Did you cry at all last week?
I didn’t cry, but I was pretty emotional after winning. I did an interview with EPTLive and you can definitely see that I am very emotional when Laura Cornelius is introducing me. I actually looked at the pictures of Roberto Romanello when he won EPT Prague and I can so understand it. He really lives for the game and similar to him I just really, really wanted a title like this. Then once you get it, it is such a great feeling. I watched the video that PokerNews.nl made of the final table and the moment where I actually win, whenever I look at it, it gives me the chills, it just feels so unreal still.
How was you feeling when your contract with Stars ended?
I am pretty rational about those things. I look at it from a business perspective and can understand their decision to drop me. They had a team of eight people in Holland, where legislation wise, it’s not a good market for them. They had people like Fatima, Marcel and Lex who were all excellent from a media perspective so I knew if they were going to reduce the team that I would probably end up as a casualty.
What does your standard online poker schedule look like?
I don’t really plan anything. I always make sure my poker schedule fits around my life and not the other way around. I prefer to play the major tournaments on Sunday but if I miss them it’s no big deal for me. If I feel like playing I will, and if I don’t then I won’t.
But I really do enjoy my poker so despite that I probably still end up playing anywhere up to 40hrs per week. In cash games I play Omaha -2/4 up to 25/50 – but most of the time it’s lower than 10/20. I also play a lot of 5/10 Hold’em but it depends what’s running. I feel like my Hold’em game is far better than my Omaha game, but my competition is a lot worse in Omaha so it makes sense for me to play more Omaha at the moment.
I have played 21k hands of cash this year, so that’s not a lot at all. There are people who will play three times that in a month or something. Besides that I have played online tournaments, live tournaments and have played live cash games. I have definitely played for a lot of hours, but I’m not a grinder e.g. playing 24 tables or going for supernova elite. That is the opposite to how I want my poker life to be.
When your Stars contract ended didn’t you feel under a financial burden to play or had you already set enough money aside in the event of that?
I have always been very nitty with my bankroll, which is also why I swapped for this tournament. I sell action for games and tournaments that I play in. It might cause me to make a little less money playing games where I know I am profitable. But it also reduces the chance that I will ever go broke to 0%. I have never been close to broke; I am pretty nitty with what buy-ins I play, that is why I don’t play at too many EPT’s. I like the security of having money set aside, so if I ever wanted to buy a house or make some investments I could. I would much rather be sure that I would have some money, rather than maybe having a chance to be much richer, but also more of a possibility to be broke.
What is your most important HUD stat and why?
One that I like a lot that I think might be a bit underrated is aggression factor. Aggression factor tells you a lot about someone’s game. Imagine you flop a good hand; bet the flop and are considering check raising the turn. In those cases it’s so important to check if your opponent is likely to bet. If they have a really high aggression factor you can decide to go for check-raises much more often.
How high would their aggression factor have to be?
I would say an aggression factor of 2.5 and above. It also matters in which lines you should take with your hands. A lot of people think, “This is my hand, let’s go for a check-raise,” but what if your opponent is not likely to bet? Sometimes it’s better to play your hand really straight forwardly and just bet, bet, bet. Pay attention to the tendencies the opponent you’re playing has e.g. the flush draw misses on the river, you check to your opponent and he bets big. Some people will never bluff if they miss their flush draw, so even though their flush draw missed, their big bet means they have a good hand because they are very passive. The aggression factor can help you look at what hands could be in someone’s range. A low aggression factor usually means you’re not likely to bluff, so you should fold more often. It really helps you make some good, close decisions, especially in cash games, as post flop is where the money is being won. Making good post flop decisions is of a really high importance.
Do you use your ‘Hold’em’ manager to review your game?
I mark hands that I want to discuss with people later. I am really glad that I have a pretty good network of poker players around me, that I can send hands to on Skype and discuss. I think it is one of the most important things in developing your poker game, to discuss your hands with people around you. If you can talk to people who are better than you, or really good poker players, it just helps you a lot in developing your thought processes and understanding plays other people make and I think it has helped me a lot in the past to develop my own poker game.
Do you use any training materials that are available online?
I have watched some of the Omaha videos when I first started to play: the Sauce and Phil Galfond videos. I think they did help me to learn the basics, but in the end I just like playing to get better. I think my tournament game is quite well developed so I don’t feel I have the need to watch videos right now.