Lee Davy sits down with one of the most talented young British poker players in the game, Jamie Sykes, to talk about his transition from tournaments to cash games, and how difficult the poker life can be.If you are keeping up, you will be aware that yesterday I wrote an article called I Would Rather be Lucky Than Good. That article was inspired by a meeting with Jamie Sykes during the World Poker Tour (WPT) Alpha8 event in London.
Sykes was sitting in a £5/10 cash game and we struck up an interesting conversation about the road he has trodden from playing in some of the most prestigious tournaments in the world, to a place he now calls his office: The Palm Beach Casino in London.
Here is that conversation.
I noticed you had a column in BLUFF Europe magazine, this month. Are you trying to take over my job?
“I have always loved writing since I was 15-16 years old. As my academic career kind of fell to pieces in Uni – when I found poker – I did less and less. I did a bit of fiction, then my iMac got nicked – so I lost all of that. Now I have just started to get back into it and have written some stuff for PokerPlayer, and that was my first article for BLUFF.”
I think you would make a great writer because you are a very opinionated person – where does that come from?
“I have no idea? My parents aren’t like that at all. They are both kind of chilled, even my sister just gets on with it. I’ve always been the kid in the corner, quite tipsy, and spreading my opinions on things. I used to have a lot to say about a lot of things, but more recently that’s narrowed, and I generally have a lot to say about gender equality, and separation of wealth in the UK, which I guess are pretty liberal topics.”
Do you remember the first time we met, when we shared that mansion in Vegas?
“Yeah, that wasn’t very liberal.”
You were deep in make up at the time and struggling to make ends meet playing tournament poker, as were a lot of people. Describe the past three years in a nutshell.
“Basically, I was brought up playing tournaments with the likes of Jake Cody, Matt Perrins, and Tom MacDonald. We would just play poker and travel around drinking a lot and having fun. We had some success, and had the absolute best time. But we barely played enough to ride out the variance. We were winning money, but we were spending it very quickly also.
“Then I got into a bit of a downswing. I was backing some people and they took some money from me – the usual stuff for MTT players. I spent most of my money, got stuck, got backed, and in the end it wasn’t making me happy.
“I had a cold realization that I couldn’t make a lot of money playing MTT’s. Either as a product of my personality not being suited for poker, or tournaments, but I spoke to some friends and they suggested I switch to cash games.
“My backing deal came to an end and I was in chunks of make up and had no money. I started playing 25 & 50NL online, built it back up, got some coaching, and everything is a lot better now. Lifestyle and poker wise.”
When I first joined the poker industry there was this huge belief amongst the younger players that they could achieve anything.
“It’s the magnified version of the America Dream of poker. If you put in a bit of time, you can get it all in a short period of time. You don’t have to go through an application process, sit down in front of people who are less intelligent that you, who are judging you, and telling you that you are terrible; having annual reviews and stuff. You can just do it yourself, get the money and spend it on anything you want. That freedom is the most liberating thing in the world. You become addicted to the feeling that you are in control, then as you get older, and you go through the rigmarole that poker produces, you realize you are not in control at all. When you play MTT’s for a living, and you are not being professional about it, then you are at the will of variance.
“For some people it has gone really well. I’m not saying it’s all down to variance – some people have worked a lot harder than me and have made it, but there are also a lot of people who have worked a lot harder than me and have not made it.”
When things are tough I imagine it’s still extremely difficult to consider leaving. It becomes your whole life right?
“It’s very strange when you come up and meet all these friends. It’s a hobby that turned into a profession, so you don’t get this separation of time that everyone else does, and you never really consider it to be a problem when you are drinking, traveling and playing poker. I think it’s really important to separate the time and have actually have things you do that are not just poker related. Perhaps you should even have friends that are not involved in poker as well?
“You need some diversity in life, otherwise you become completely lost in poker. It becomes your entire life and it doesn’t becoming fulfilling. I lot of people have made a success out of poker, and have a lot of other things on their mind – like Dan Colman for example. Whether that be political ideologies or social ideologies, it’s really important to have something else to put your energy into, or you can get lost in the rabbit hole a little bit.
What do you think of the ethics of teaching your child to follow in your footsteps and becoming a professional poker player?
“As far as ethics go there is nothing wrong with it. It’s a very open and free competition. The thing I love about poker is it’s the only type of game where you can sit alongside the very best. I see it as an irresponsibility rather than an ethical decision. I am not sure I would want my kids getting involved in this, and all of my friends have said the same thing. They don’t want their children to get into poker.
“There is no set structure that you can follow, so it’s very easy to fall by the wayside, or completely ignore important parts of your personality like social and personal development. Some people get extremely good at poker, but they forget to develop as an actual person, and they are incapable of having successful relationships, function in society, and be happy.”