Jens Kyllonen Interview

Jens Kyllonen Interview

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

From High Stakes to Outta Space.

By Dan Gallagher

Jens Kyllönen might just be one of the coolest people Bluff Europe has spoken to lately. Not only has he been crushing the biggest games in online PLO, he also likes to splash his winnings around on some of the coolest things imaginable. From Helsinki’s sickest apartment to journeys into outer space. The young Finn sits down with Bluff Europe to discuss buying in for a million dollars of his own money in Vegas and why he’s joined Run It Once to teach us all how he crushes the nosebleeds.

Hey Jens! what have you been up to lately?

I’m about to head to Rome for three days and then off to EPT Prague. I have to be back in Finland before the EPT main event, but there is a €10k PLO tournament and I’m going to play the cash games.

Are the Pot Limit Omaha live games good these days?

Yeah, I’ve just come back from Amsterdam. It went well - I won €155k. It was a good three days! It was really rough though; 14 hours of sitting playing live poker.

Where are the best live PLO games in Europe?

I don’t think there are many. I don’t play too much live - I’ve just started playing more recently. I heard that there were games at the Aviation Club in Paris, but that’s closed down now. I think it’s really wherever the tournaments are that the cash games emerge.

So are you now scouting the tournament schedules to look for good cash games?

Yeah, that’s basically my plan in the future, as now that there are not too many online high stakes PLO games running.

We see MTT’ers taking shots at live cash games after busting live tournaments. Do they ever take shots in the PLO games?

No, I guess not. I don’t know too many of the live regulars either way, so I can’t yet tell if they are from the tournaments or not. I see the same faces at the PLO cash games. There are a few guys who seem to go to all of these events and just play the cash games.

It’s a harsh climate in Helsinki during winter and you’re also in a rough timezone to be playing online (GMT+2). Do you ever leave Finland to grind during the winter?

I did a trip two years ago with a friend. We went to Melbourne, then on to Argentina and Brazil and finally London for the EPT. It was a ton of fun, but I normally get homesick pretty fast. I just like it here in Finland. Everything just works out. All my friends are here. My whole life is here.

You must be used to playing all night too, right?

Yeah, my sleeping schedule is always messed up. I wake up at 3pm and play until very late. But I like it like that. I’m kind of a night person. Even if I’m not playing, I like to stay up all night just reading some random stuff online or watching some TV series.

Did you ever have a real job, where you’d have to get up at 7am?

I was quite lucky. I found poker in my last year of high school. I had plans to go to university, but by the time I had finished high school, I had won enough that I decided to try it out as a poker professional.
Before that, I had to do military service for six months. I was playing a lot then and at that stage I just kept winning - I won EPT Copenhagen just after my military service.

What did you do as part of your military service? Did you have a specific role?
It’s a stupid rule we have in Finland, every man has to go. You either stay there for six months or 12 months. If you’re good enough, they make you stay for 12 months. So, I did my best to fail all of the tests and managed to get out in six months (laughs). I had such good grades at school, that I almost had to stay for a year, but I just about managed to get away with it. During my time, I was responsible for mortars.

Do you think national service helped you in terms of discipline and focus?

No, I was really unmotivated. It was a 6am wake up every morning and we went to bed at 10pm. So I would grind from 10pm until maybe 3am and then I would sleep for three hours and then the next day would be really painful. One night I had a $50k losing session in a really good game and I played until 6am when the morning alarm went off. I just thought ‘this isn’t happening.’ It was horrible (laughs). I didn’t enjoy military service one bit.

Jens 2

So you won EPT Copenhagen for over $1.2 million and were crushing No Limit Hold’em. Why the switch to Pot Limit Omaha?

At that time, the PLO games were so much better (than No Limit). There were way more fish and right from the start I did well. I can’t remember the exact reason, but I think I read that PLO games were so much softer and that it was the future.

So are you now exclusively playing PLO?

Basically, I’ve never looked back at Hold’em. I watch some MTT training videos and I get so tilted, because I think the players have such simple thought processes. There are a lot of very good tournament players, but I think the skill level to beat big tournaments like the EPT is so much lower than the level needed to beat high stakes online cash games.
I did study Hold’em for a month before playing the Big One for One Drop. I played some $50/$100 No Limit Cap games and worked with some software to look at pushing ranges, but other than that, it’s just PLO.

You’re famous for keeping 100% of your own action in for the 2012 Big One for One Drop, buying in with a million dollars of your own money...

Yeah (laughs). I’m not sure how that got out. It wasn’t like I was shouting it around, but the first interview I did, they brought it up and I was like ‘how did you know?’
It was such a historical tournament, and I knew I was only going to able to do it once. At the time, PokerStars and Full Tilt winnings were still taxable in Finland. Now that they are both .EU sites, we no longer have to pay tax. In Las Vegas, all winnings are still taxable.

So at this point, I had won over $1,000,000 which was taxable, so basically I would have to pay 50% tax on my winnings - meaning the Finnish Tax Agency essentially has half of my action. I would have had to pay $500,000 to the tax agency on the money I had already won that year. But if I lost $1,000,000 in the One Drop - I’m back to zero and wouldn’t have to pay any tax. So it was basically just a $500,000 tournament for me. I knew that in coming years I wouldn’t have any taxable income (to write off losses against), so I would have to pay $1,000,000 to then only keep half my winnings, which isn’t a good deal.

What does busting a million dollar tournament feel like?

It didn’t feel as bad as say, losing $500,000 in a day online. It was a surreal feeling - I knew that busting out of the money was obviously the most likely thing to happen, so I had prepared for it. I remember walking out of the Rio (the venue of the WSOP) and it was the first time I really thought about how far I had come. Five years before I was playing .50/$1 and now I had just played a million dollar buy-in tournament with my own money in Las Vegas with the world’s best players. When I put it in perspective, it didn’t feel that bad.

Also, I was on such a sick upswing at the time, I won $4,000,000 in 2011 and had won $2,000,000 in 2012 by the time I sat down for the One Drop, so I was on a $6,000,000 upswing in 18 months.

Is it worth you going to Vegas, given the huge tax rates?

Money wise it’s not really worth it, but It’s good to go for the experience. The Main Event is actually soft enough that it almost might be worth it, but probably not. You get to deduct your losses for five years. So if you put in a lot of volume over five years, then the effect isn’t that bad. But it’s still a 52% rate of income tax. That’s why not many Finns go out there.

Before, when PokerStars and Full Tilt were taxable, all of the Euro sites were tax free. I never used to play on those two, but I had to join Stars around 2010, because I really wanted to play the nosebleeds.

A lot of players move to the UK to avoid tax, did you consider this?

Now that PokerStars and Full Tilt are tax free, Finland is a good place to live taxwise - it’s only live games which we’re taxed for badly now. Before, I was looking at maybe Monaco or the UK, but as I say, I get homesick so easily. I just think there are more important things than money. 

We hear you’re part of the illustrious “never deposited” crew...

I’d never been much of a gambler. But there were lots of freerolls. I won $10 from a freeroll and grinded it up to $300 playing Limit Hold’em. From that stage I switched to No Limit and never looked back.

Did you always plan to reach the nosebleeds?

No, never. If you had asked me back then - no way. I remember thinking that if I made it to $3/$6, I could live very comfortably. It came really automatically for me. I would always see a fish playing at a higher level and so I would take shots there. I would then start to play those limits and realise the regs were not very good. I always thought the regs in the higher games would be exceptionally good, but they never were, so I just kept moving up and up.

Which was the toughest level for you to move up to?

When I started No Limit, I played full ring up to $2/$4. I was playing super “ABC” at the time - just flopping sets and taking the fish’s money. The toughest transition was moving to short handed. I had a lot of trouble loosening up and thinking outside the box.

In PLO, it was very smooth - I just kept moving up. Once I got to the nosebleeds, I took two failed shots where I grinded up and lost $200,000 both times. It thought at the time, that ‘if I’m winning enough at $25/$50, why do I keep losing my winnings every time’. But it felt like the nosebleeds were easier than $25/$50 at the time, so that’s why I had to get there.
Who’s the best PLO player in your opinion at the moment?

It’s tough to say. I think there are maybe 10 or 15 really good players, but it’s hard to say if anyone stands out. The games are so tough at the minute.

Are there any huge whales that play nosebleed PLO in the same way they used to be in the No Limit games?

There used to be a lot. But the problem is that now there are not any that play the really big games. Three or four years ago, there were a lot more players.

With the absence of huge whales, games are now super tough. Is the challenging side fun for you?

The most fun part is winning money, so in that way it doesn’t seem fun (laughs). But, yes - it means you have to stay on top of your game and keep learning to beat these tough games. I wouldn’t be anywhere near as good now if the games hadn’t got so tough.

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Speaking of learning, you’re the latest world class coach to join Run It Once. Has watching videos always been part of your progression?

Yes, more so when I was just starting. But I have always watched videos from players like Phil Galfond and Ben Sulsky. Also any player who I thought could help me add something to my game, I’d definitely watch them too.

A lot of people wonder why someone like yourself would give away their secrets. What’s your motivation for joining Run it Once?

I felt that two or three years ago, I was so far ahead of the curve that it would have been stupid of me to show the things that I was doing, because I was doing a lot of things that people hadn’t figured out. But nowadays, there is so much information out there and so many other good players make videos. I don’t feel like there is some “super secret” thing that I’m doing which others don’t know about. I’m not worried in that way.

I was also recently thinking about buying a very sick apartment here in Finland, it’s probably the sickest apartment that exists here. That would have been most of my bankroll, so I figured I needed to get extra money from anywhere I could. So that gave me the motivation. However, I figured (buying the apartment) wouldn’t be the most sensible thing to do with how the poker market is looking. So, perhaps I’ll wait for a few years first.

Are you enjoying being part of Run It Once?
It’s nice when you’ve been grinding seven years straight to take a different approach and try to and explain your thoughts. It’s also the first time I’ve started to coach individuals too (Jens coaches PLO at a rate of $1,500 per hour). It’s nice to do something else than the normal grind.
It’s been fun. It helps me to see people’s different thought processes and how they think about decisions. And if I think they are thinking about it wrong, I can explain why I think they are doing it wrong. 
Everyone has different styles and different approaches to the game. I’m actually surprised how many different approaches actually work in poker. You can think about the game in different ways and still get to the same conclusion. So, I think keeping an open mind and thinking outside of the box is what will get you far. Not making any rules. I used to think when playing No Limit ‘If I can get 10% of my stack in with Aces, I’ll never have to fold’. That’s dangerous putting rules in like that. You have to treat every situation uniquely.

So you’re the first poker player to sign up for Virgin Galactic and head off into space!

Yeah. It was supposed to begin next year, but a month ago they had a crash and one of the pilots died. However, they are continuing it now and I think it’s likely that it will start within two years. I’m the 400th person on the list, so I’ll have to wait for a while.

What will the trip involve?

It’s four or five days in their spaceport in New Mexico. They built it in the middle of the desert - it’s really cool and futuristic. You go through training and health tests there, but the flight itself is actually only two or three hours. There are two parts of the plane: first is the normal aircraft that carries the space ship. It leaves like a normal plane from a runway, then once it gets to the right height, it releases the space ship which then shoots up through the atmosphere into space. After that we have a short time where we can take off our seatbelts and float around in zero gravity. There will be big windows so we can look down on Earth and look out at space. Then it will come back down and let gravity do the rest to land back down on ?the runway.

That sounds incredible. How much did it cost for the flight?

I bought it for $200,000. It’s risen to $250,000 at the moment.

Have you been put off by the recent crash?

I guess a little, but I think it reduces the chance that it will happen again. Plus the fact that 400 people will go before me. If another plane goes down, I might have to reconsider.

Will you be the first Finn in Space?

No, unfortunately not. There is a guy who has borrowed money to go. But he seems very interested and excited for the trip - so I’m happy for him.

We were all shocked by the incident at EPT Barcelona, where your room was broken into and your computer keylogged. Have there been any more developments since?

No, there haven’t. Only the people investigating know if they ever even followed it up. Looking back at it now, I’m more disappointed with PokerStars than the actual robbers. I went to a lot of trouble, when really they should have just said they were not going to help. I guess now, we know they were probably negotiating this deal with Amaya, so I guess if I was PokerStars, I wouldn’t want to risk a $5 billion contract on something like this. So, I guess it’s just business and kind of understandable on their part. Even if I did get screwed.

Are you still shaken up by it?

Yeah, you see this stuff in the movies, but you can’t imagine it happening. It was amazing that somebody went into my room three times - even after I’ve notified the hotel. I have gotten over it, in the end I didn’t lose anything.

Do you think PokerStars would have been more helpful if you had lost money?
No, not really. I’ve heard similar stories where PokerStars have not been helpful. The PokerStars security manager told me that he had seen the robbers’ faces on the security cameras. But then, a few weeks later - he didn’t know anything (laughs). Maybe they told him to shut up. I feel they could have caught them if PokerStars wanted to.

So finally, on a lighter note - you’ve crushed everything, but what’s been your best poker achievement?

Winning EPT Copenhagen was a big one for sure. Another one was when I won $1,000,000 in one night on Full Tilt playing $300/$600. There was this big fish playing and I basically got to keep him to myself and I just ran really well. That’s something I won’t forget. It was post Black Friday, so it was stressful to see if I could get the money off Full Tilt. But luckily the money got into my bank account. That was a big part of the reason I’m here now.

Jens’ debut series is available to watch at  Essential packages start from just $9.99 per month

Tags: Jens Kyllonen, interviews