It’s another report from the PokerStars Player’s No-Limit Hold’em Championship, and this time Lee Davy sits down with PokerStars Team Online member, Fintan Hand, to find out how much he would pay for great sex, his love for puppies, and much more.
The walk to the Coliseum fills with the pounding of 1500+ flip-flops, Toms shoes and Jimmy Choos.
There is a skip to the beat.
I imagine the Pied Piper of Hamlin and the rats because let’s face it, most of these sunny souls will end up drowning at some point, and right on cue there is the Piper himself, dressed in a shocking green suit adorned with shamrocks – it’s Fintan Hand.
Fintan prefers to stand, after all, he’s been sitting for the best part of eight hours, and we begin.
It’s the end of Day 1.
There is a glint of zombie behind his Iris.
“We made it into Day 2, shorter than we would like,” says Hand. “We got 20 bb, 28k from 60k starting. Still in, could go on a spin tomorrow. Got up to 100k earlier in the day, but it is what it is. We’re still in.”
Even a zombie would have felt the thing that made the start of this tournament feel so blatantly different. I ask Fintan to share his feelings.
“Bruce Buffer called it at the start of the tournament,” Fintan recalls. “I am a huge UFC fan. I have been watching it for years. A few of my friends were dilly-dallying at the start of the event, and I wanted to get inside to see Bruce. It was surreal to see him. I didn’t get to see Tony Hawk, but the fact he’s in the tournament is incredible. Even though it was a high stakes tournament, there was a relaxed atmosphere in the place, and people were very happy. I guess that’s down to PokerStars putting 320 people into the game, and it’s not the same people who are always playing $25k’s, who, maybe aren’t normally as chatty. It felt like an awesome atmosphere, and I was delighted to be a part of it. It’s been building up since Daniel Negreanu announced it in Prague. It’s been a year of different people getting passes, and all sorts of ways to get in. The set here is incredible. Over a thousand players already in, late reg open until tomorrow, it’s been a huge success, and with some life-changing money at the end of it.”
Like a Disney scriptwriter, I ask Fintan to begin by describing the part of the world that he tumbled.
“I grew up in Dublin, Ireland,” says Fintan. “I had a pretty good upbringing. I was hugely into football, so my weeks and weekends were taken up with the game. My parents brought me to every game. I got into poker, playing with my friends in school at 16, ended up getting a job as a poker dealer, and eventually ended up making more money playing poker than dealing.”
As a footy fan, I have to ask.
“Who is your favourite football team?”
Like alopecia, I wasn’t expecting that – I ask why a lad from Dublin decided to support a crap football team from the middle of England?
“I have family from Birmingham,” says Fintan. “My Dad was a home and away supporter for many years, and saw them win the European Cup in 1982. My granddad moved to Birmingham when he was 16, and went to watch Birmingham and Wolves play, and didn’t feel anything. He went to watch Villa play and fell in love. I was a season ticket holder until Alex McLeish took over after getting Birmingham relegated. I was so angry; I haven’t been since.”
I assume when he was younger he wanted to be a professional footballer. One thing I learned from my 20-minutes with this young man, is never to assume anything.
“I was never delusional,” says Fintan. “I was never good enough to be a professional footballer. If you’re from Ireland, if you don’t get picked up by an English club when you’re young it’s never going to happen. My dad runs his own business, so I wouldn’t like to have a boss. Maybe I would have followed in his footsteps and taken over the business. Or I would have gotten into something where I was my own boss. I like the idea of working for yourself.”
Talking about the period between leaving school and getting a job makes me think about my 17-year-old son, who is currently going through the wringer, unsure which road to take. I mention it to Fintan.
“It’s too young,” says Fintan. “I remember those times 100%. I was playing poker, but I wasn’t a Timex. I didn’t come out making millions before I was 18. I did ok and made enough money to go out with my friends at the weekend. I was at a crossroads. Everyone in my life was telling me I had to pick what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I did a University course because that’s what you’re supposed to do. I passed my first-year exams, and my parents have supported me hugely, but they wanted me to finish my degree because people think you have to finish your degree. I think when you’re 18 you’re so young you can do anything. You can go travelling, work in a bar to gain experience, pursue something that you’re passionate about. This idea that you need to get a degree, and be in a full-time job by the time you are 22-24 is bullshit; it’s not reality. It’s impossible at that age to know what you want to do.”
In preparation for my meeting with Fintan, I read his first interview with the PokerStars blog after Stars slapped the Team Online patch on his arm. Back then, he said he wanted to help change the stigma attached to poker. I ask him what that means.
“I think the stigma in one sense has improved vastly over the years,” says Fintan. “But take my Gran. I love her to pieces, but every time I call she says, “Don’t lose all your money in one game.” Most people who play poker professionally are so incredibly disciplined and so far from what people imagine. They imagine reckless gamblers who lead crazy lifestyles. I want to help show that poker takes a lot of skill and determination where in other walks of life people would give up easier. It can be lonely – not for me because streaming has eliminated that – but it’s a weird profession. It’s hard to explain to someone that you can do one or two months and come out of that with a negative loss. Streaming it on Twitch, and explaining that you don’t always win, but improve your chances if you work hard enough – I like being a part of that.”
I hand Fintan a deck of 52-cards, each equipped with a question designed to dig deep into the darkest recesses of his subconscious mind, and tell him to get shuffling – it’s the random questions round.
Finish off this projection – Deep down I suppose I am…
“Extremely happy at the moment. 2018 was the best year of my life. I got engaged, got a puppy and decided to play in a $25k, so the best year ever.”
I don’t get puppies.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a kid,” says Fintan. “As parents, you go on a journey together for nine months, and I can’t imagine what kind of love you feel when the kid is born because I got this puppy, and I was attached to it within 24 hours, and there was no build up to it. I loved it straight away because it depended on me. I never thought I could care for something so much, like this.”
What do you miss about being a kid?
“I am super lucky to do what I do, and I have my family support, and great friends all around me, but when you’re a kid you think that anything is possible. Whereas I am pretty…not negative…but a realist. When people tell me they are going to do certain things, I’m like, “You’re not going to do that.” For example, you just suggested I wanted to be a footballer when I was younger. When I was 16 that idea was gone. I am not saying people shouldn’t have dreams, and pursue them, but if you’re bottom of the class in music, and you want to be the next big musician, then you’re not going to do that.”
I point out to Fintan that he did become Team Online, was that something he once thought was unachievable?
“I didn’t think it was achievable before Jaime Staples was signed,” says Fintan. “He was the new breed. I don’t think anybody on the team believes we are amongst the best players in the world, although some are. We are there because we built a brand on Twitch. We went a different route. When I saw Jaime getting it, I thought it was possible. Jaime isn’t one of the best poker players in the world, but he’s one of the best streamers in the world.”
Finish off this projection: What I really deserve is…
“I don’t think people deserve things,” says Fintan, instantly. “If they work hard, they can get them, but you don’t deserve anything.”
Where does that value come from?
“My Mum and my Dad,” confirms Fintan. “They never instilled that I had to work hard. I wasn’t a hard worker in school. I was naturally smart enough to pass my exams, but I never pushed myself. I got a job when I was 14, and I enjoyed grinding, having my own cash and being independent. I worked in Super Value 5 days a week when I was 16. I just liked being independent and not relying on other people.”
How does he feel when he encounters people who do believe they deserve something for nothing?
“I am not a bitter person in that sense, but when people don’t work hard, and expect good things to happen, I’m like “fuck you.”
And there are a few of those in poker.
“It’s easy to be delusional in poker,” says Fintan. “You can have a huge bink, and think you’re better than you are, or you can say you’re running bad when you’re not honest with yourself and self-assessing.”
What’s the most you would pay for great sex?
“I would not pay for sex.”
Do you think there should be a salary cap for CEOs linked to the percentage of what the workers make?
“I am kind of left-leaning in some ways; like a socialist but at the same time I believe in capitalism,” says a conflicted Fintan. “I don’t think what people could make should be capped, but I think people should have more. I don’t know, I think, maybe, there should be a minimum living wage for everyone. But what if you’re in a startup, and the CEO is trying to expand his business to compete with these bigger businesses, and then you cap him, and then he doesn’t have the money to expand. So maybe when you get to a certain point you have to pay more, but not for everyone because you destroy the opportunity for growth.”
How does poker make you feel?
“I love it,” says Fintan. “It’s given me the opportunity to travel the world, make great friends, and I hope to continue to love it for a very long time because I think it’s important to do things you care about.”
Are you going to be doing this forever?
“It’s a difficult question to answer,” says Fintan. “I love that since I joined PokerStars, it’s given me the opportunity to branch out and do some commentary on different events, and other content, whether that’s little skits as part of the blog team. I like the idea of doing different things. I have always been an attention whore, I love doing commentary and playing poker, so who knows, if I still love doing it as much in 20-years, and that’s a possibility, then sure.”
And with that, he picks up his flute, and I can hear the feelgood vibe as I head to bed.