Within the poker world, the concept of ‘recreational’ play can mean a variety of different things to different people.
For some it will involve the freedom to play at stakes where they can comfortably afford to lose and shake it off, while others will define it as the luxury of playing with opponents who add more to the experience than a mere battle of wits.
The common denominator, though, is a broad enjoyment of the game – the feeling that it is fun and not just hard work. And this is something Fedor Holz, who recently partnered with partypoker, values deeply.
I’m speaking to the German high-roller ahead of the upcoming Poker Masters, a series of $50,000 and $100,000 tournaments at the Aria, and the excitement in his voice is palpable when I raise the topic of the 30-second shot-clock.
“I think this is the part for where for sure I became a recreational player,” he laughs.
“The moment I played a tournament without a shot-clock, inside I was screaming ‘clock’ all the time. All the high rollers now have shot clocks, or at least most of them, so when you go back you just can’t stand it anymore.
“I just think it’s so much more enjoyable – if everyone played fast it’s just…it’s way better. If you intentionally play slow you’re not breaking any rules, but you’re taking value from others that might be better than you because they play fewer hands.
“That’s why personally I’m happy with playing faster, because I feel like I’m not losing much. Yes I might make slightly better decisions but it doesn’t really matter, it’s just the fun part of it is so much more valuable than the 5% I might gain from playing way slower.”
Sure, the situation might be affected in part by Holz’s success in super high rollers – after all, it must be easier to adopt a relaxed approach when victory in such tournaments comes easily.
In addition to his sole WSOP bracelet – a $4.8m score in 2016’s One Drop High Roller – Holz has multiple super high roller titles at the Aria, where the upcoming series will take place.
That record, in combination with a familiar field of what he expects to be “between 40 and 50 players” for most if not all of the events in the Poker Masters, means he anticipates a relaxed atmosphere among a group of individuals going into the first tournament with similar mindsets.
“I think it’s not necessarily that we respect each other’s game, but that we expect each other as humans,” he explains.
“It’s not about ‘this guy’s a good player, this guy’s a bad player’, it’s more that they’re all decent people. Whatever differences you have, most of them are smart, reasonable people and it’s nice to have conversations with them.”
Holz has played as little poker as possible since the end of July, with his last recorded live cash coming at another super high roller event, this time in Budva.
In fact, he tells me, he has made a conscious effort to keep his diary free from poker throughout August and September, admitting one of the main things he has picked up from those long Vegas summers is that “knowing your energy levels and what you can or can’t do is very important”.
He took this approach in part to ensure he is fresh for the Poker Masters, but also to help him prepare for a documentary series he plans to put together on YouTube over the course of his week at the Aria.
The 24-year-old is no stranger to the camera, having dabbled with vlogging and recorded training videos in the past, but he promises this will be different, both in terms of its production values and the level of insight he aims to provide into his entire grind, not just the hours he spends at the table, with a camera following him round pretty much all the time and episodes being recorded and cut almost constantly by his team.
He nods in acknowledgement when I mention Nosebleed, the award-winning documentary featuring French pros Alex Luneau and Sébastien Sabic, and admits he is especially keen to create something “real”.
“I don’t want to say any sentences that don’t fit and I don’t want to do anything that doesn’t fit, I just want to show that this is how an intense, 12-hour grind day looks. And I think we’re going to capture that well,” Holz says.
“I think there’s parts for everyone – there’s parts for people who have never been in touch with high stakes, low stakes players as fans, and there’s a part for mid-stakes players who want to get there and want to see, like, ‘how can I improve and what can I do?’
“My routine is not perfect but I think it can show we’re still humans. I’ve worked lots of hours on this but still I’m also eating breakfast like others, working out, having a good time, meeting friends and just enjoying the game, and I think that’s the idea behind this.
“Generally I feel like over the years in my poker career I’ve learned a lot of things from other people, so I just feel like there’s a lot of content I learned myself over the last couple of months that I want to give back to the community.”
While he is yet to explicitly ask some of his peers for their input, the man at the top of the German all-time money list is confident his peers will be more than willing to offer up some insights, be it in the form of throwaway tournament observations or something more unexpectedly deep.
Those on the outside might worry that the presence of the same faces in super high roller fields can bring the threat of monotony or repetitiveness, but the subtle changes in any tournament setting, coupled with the respect the top players have for each other both on and off the felt, means there is rarely any real danger of this.
“That’s the cool part about tournaments – it’s always different,” he says.
“There’s a couple of players who, even at live poker I’ve probably played 200 or 300 hours with, but still it’s never the same.
“There are certain situations that might be the same but then on one final table you’re the big stack and he’s the short stack, you play 3-handed, 6-handed, different situations, different other players involved. It’s always a different setup and that always makes it so entertaining,
“That’s really why I like these super high rollers so much, because you’re not just sitting there and staring at each other and playing great poker, it’s entertaining but it’s also a challenge, and it’s a mix of all of those things that makes it enjoyable to me.”
Fedor Holz was speaking to Tom Victor for partypoker LIVE
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