For many people approaching poker their aim is simple: money. The Chris Moneymaker story is well documented and for many teens the chance to spin up a meagre investment and turn it into millions of dollars is the main draw of poker. The reality though is a little more complicated and becoming a MTT star is not something easily achieved nor sustained. Luckily though some teens are motivated by something more than the money. Stephen Chidwick is one such prodigy who has made a staggering rise to the top level of online poker. Currently jostling at the top of the UK rankings with Moorman1, Stephen is another young Brit aiming to beat the best the poker world has to offer and at such a young age he looks perfectly poised to do it.
So, just how do you go from Googling for poker tips one day to dominating some of the biggest and toughest tournaments online? I had the chance to find out.
UKPN: There's relatively little information out there on you, probably because you're so young. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got started in poker.
S444: Well, I'm 18 and currently live at home with my parents in the UK and I've been playing MTTs full time now since I finished school in July.
I got started playing poker mainly because I've always enjoyed card games and one day I saw an advert for a poker site offering free games so I thought I would give it a go. I really enjoyed it but I am never content with just learning a game and playing it – I always want to get better.
Soon after I did a search for 'poker tips' on Google and that lead onto me pretty much absorbing any and every bit of poker information I could get my hands on. Playing freerolls whilst reading up on poker strategy eventually netted me my first MTT win which was a freeroll for $16. I played a lot of poker and really enjoyed building up from that $16 – not so much for the money but for the challenge of seeing how high I could get it. I started off playing limit cash games then switched to SNGs and eventually progressed to MTTs. More than anything it's the complexities and the competition of poker that I love and to be able to do something you are passionate about for a living is a privileged position to be in.
UKPN: How do you think you've developed so quickly and stormed towards the upper echelons of the Pocket Fives UK rankings?
S444: I think the main reason is the dedication and the time I have put into learning the game. I have quite an obsessive personality and if I decide to put my efforts into something I will generally spend a lot of time on it and that has been no different with poker. There is so much information out there in articles, training sites, books, forums, TV etc and I've just spent so much time learning and thinking about the game. This combined with numerous hours of play has allowed me to gain a lot of experience in a relatively short space of time.
UKPN: Are the rankings important to you or is it more about the money?
S444: The rankings are hugely important to me from a personal perspective. From when I first started playing I've been motivated by the challenge and the competition involved in poker. The rankings serve as my main motivation to play, especially when I am running bad, they get me back in the right mindset to play my best poker and move up the rankings. A lot of the time when I am deep in a big tournament and most people are checking the tournament lobby to see how much the next money jump is, you can find me checking the Pocket Fives plb points calculator seeing how many leader board points I could get for advancing to the next spot.
That's not to say I don't care about the money, obviously that motivates me also but I know that if I concentrate on playing my best and moving up in the rankings the money will pretty much take care of itself.
UKPN: Your biggest cash to date was in the Ultimate Bet 200k where you took $45k, but you've also had numerous wins for well over $10k. What does it feel like when you make a large score?
S444: The feeling when you take down a big tournament is one of the main reasons I play MTTs. The adrenaline rush from it is so much greater than a good cash game session or bunch of SNGs. It's hard to describe but it is a great feeling and it is ultimately what makes so many people keep coming back for more I think.
UKPN:…. and do you ever cash out and reward yourself after one of these cashes?
S444: As far as my bankroll is concerned, most of the time it all stays in there – not necessarily in the poker site but still in my poker bankroll. I don't really 'reward' myself after a big win by going out and buying something expensive that I don't really need. For me the reward is firstly the rankings increase that comes with the win and secondly the fact that the bigger my bankroll is the higher games I can play in. Since my competitive nature drives me to wanting to compete with, and beat, the best players at the highest levels the increase in my bankroll is a reward in itself.
UKPN: What's it really like being 18 and having so much free time?
S444: Most of the time if I'm not playing poker I'm looking at forums, watching poker videos, looking over hands, railing friends etc. I really do spend a lot of time around poker but it's nice that I can choose to take days off whenever I want or finish early one day if I'm not in the mood to play poker. One of the downsides to being an online professional in the UK is that if I want to be playing all the big poker tournaments, I basically have to sleep through the day as my last tournament can finish as late as 10am. Consequently when I do take time off, I often find myself wondering what to do at 2am on a Thursday morning. I definitely enjoy being able to control my own schedule though and I consider myself very lucky to have a job that allows me to do so.
UKPN: …and all the cash?
S444: Money wise, I actually probably spend a lot less than most people my age. This probably sounds really boring but most of my money is invested and I don't do a lot of extravagant things with what I have won. That said, it is nice to know that if there is something I want to do I don't really have to worry about the money aspect of it and again, I am incredibly fortunate that is the case and I try not to take it for granted.
UKPN: Do you think you'll be playing poker in ten years time or are you happy to make good money now and see how it goes?
S444: Wow, I barely even think ten days ahead, let alone ten years. I honestly have no idea – especially with the way the legislation is affecting online poker it may not even be my choice whether I am playing at that time. I love playing poker for a living and am very happy to continue doing it in the near future. Further down the line, who knows what will happen but at the moment I am content with taking each day as it comes and hopefully I will continue to enjoy playing poker as much as I do at the moment.
UKPN: Are you purely a holdem player or do you venture into other forms of poker?
S444: I know the very basic strategy of most poker games through reading a couple of articles but essentially I am purely a holdem player. At the moment, especially with online multi-table tournaments that is where the vast majority of the money is and I don't see myself spending a great deal of time on other games in the near future. In a few years time, I will probably put some effort into learning the other games so I can play a lot of WSOP events in 2010, but for the time being I am happy to stick to holdem unless there is a big rise in the popularity of other games.
UKPN: Does it bother you that you have wait until 2010 to play in the WSOP events?
S444: Of course it would be nice to play those events but it really doesn't bother me at all. There are a ton of great events I can play in fantastic locations all over the world and it is the same for everyone so it just gives me 3 more years to make sure my game is up to standard. I haven't really ventured into the live arena yet though so maybe my opinion will change when I do but it's not something I'm worried about it for now.
UKPN: How do you rate British online players compared to other countries such as America, Sweden, and Norway etc?
S444: Like I mentioned before it is hard to be an online tournament poker player in the UK and be highly ranked because of the time issues but I think the UK has a strong player base. Stephen Devlin whose online screen name is 'allinstevie' is a fantastic player and he has just traded in his day job to be a full time poker player. Also Chris Moorman, aka 'moorman1,' and I have been advancing up the rankings for a number of weeks so you can expect a strong push from the UK in the upcoming months into the upper levels of the rankings.
UKPN: Are there any online players in particular you don't want on your table?
S444: Obviously I am not happy to see any of the top players at my table and any good aggressive player is potentially going to cause me problems. But if I had to pick one I would go with 'apestyles'. I really have a ton of respect for his game and he is a very dangerous and unpredictable player who I would prefer was giving someone else headaches. I always extra vigilant if 'ape' is on my table as you can never be quite sure whether he has the monster he is representing or whether he has just 4bet you all in with Q5 suited.
UKPN: Finally, what's your top tip for players just starting out?
S444: My top tip would not be a strategy one but rather a tip regarding mindset. When you are playing poker, never be scared to make a play or trust a read for fear of looking stupid if you are wrong. So many people will shy away from making what they believe to be the correct play, whether it is a big call with a marginal hand or a huge river bluff with air when you think your opponent has missed. You have to trust yourself in these situations and learn from the outcomes whether you were right or wrong. This is a key ability that is shared by all top players. You really limit your progress as a poker player if you only stick with the 'safe' option and never put your neck on the line. I think this advice is greater than any single strategy tip I could give to a beginning player – never be afraid to try out something new and experiment and your learning curve will be greatly accelerated.
Ed note: Hit the big time like Stevie444 when you play the tournaments at Full Tilt Poker