Are great poker players detached from the value of money?

Do you almost have to have a complete disregard of what money means to play poker at an elite level?

This week Viktor Blom made poker history winning his first major live big field event at the partypoker MILLIONS Main Event in Germany. As well as the fact he won, he also made a remarkable call to take it down which has really got the poker world talking:

On top of this, pleno1 shared this story about how he was down to €265 at the festival and flipped it to get himself back in the game, which led to the eventual win.

The stories of Isildur1 going broke, then winning millions, then going broke, then winning millions are infamous and very hard to corroborate. There are different levels of ‘broke’ in poker and I hope this final €265 was just for the trip, not his entire net worth, because if so most of the time that flip ends in a tragic outcome, it certainly would be nothing to celebrate. 

However, it does bring me to ponder an important subject in poker around our attitude towards money. Do you almost have to not care about money, maybe even have no respect of its value, to be a great player?

Money always represents something else

Daniel Cates poker
"Treat poker like a video game?"

I am not a great player, precisely for this reason (and many others). I look at a tournament buy-in and compare it to a bill I have to pay, then I look at the first prize and think about how nice it would be to go on a holiday with that money or clear it off my mortgage. Most players, whether they admit it or not, have a variant of this cognitive bias guiding their approach to the game.

I remember an early interview with Daniel Cates where he said he didn’t think about the money, he just treated poker like a video game and the money was a way of keeping score. I certainly think a player like Viktor Blom probably has this mindset too. He almost has to. I remember him once six tabling heads-up against Patrik Antonius, Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan in 2009. How else do you walk into the ultimate lion’s den of poker like this without being detached from money?

One of the great lessons I took from mental game coach Jared Tendler is that mental game problems around money in poker are always about something that the money represents. If you hate being 3-bet it’s not just because you risk losing money, it also might harm your self image as a good player, or a provider, or your ability to prove your parents wrong, or maybe it reminds you of being bullied at school. Money is always about what it can do for you and in a game like poker where the money comes and goes quickly, your mindset and self image are often on shaky ground.


Viktor Blom wins partypoker MILLIONS
Viktor Blom

So it makes perfect sense to me that a player who can navigate a field of over 1,000 top players and make a gutsy call to win a tournament can also be the same sort of player who can flip their last €265 to try and stay in the game. This sadly is why very good players go broke because of poor game selection and/or bankroll management. It’s probably not a mindset you can teach and in the long term it is probably not a productive one, even though the upside is huge.

Before I go too far suggesting that Blom is a degenerate, it is very important to remind everyone that he has survived for a decade playing this volatile style without any scandals. He is perhaps, as Nassim Taleb coined, ‘antifragile’ meaning that he is the sort of person who thrives in a chaotic environment where most others would falter. Plus he is clearly not entirely detached from money, because maybe the most interesting aspect of the whole win which nobody really talked about was the fact he did a heads-up chop deal, so the money means something to him.

I suspect the stories of his wild bankroll swings and ‘going broke’ are exaggerated and refer more to cash flow problems rather than net worth problems. I hope I’m right because he is the biggest and most fascinating enigma we have in the game today.

Does being a great poker player mean having no respect for money? Let us know in the comments:

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Comments (4)

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  • SeagalSteven


    Two different things.

    I agree poker players cant think too much about value of money, what those stacks represent irl. That doesnt mean BRM can be ignored, thats a sure way to ruin. You gotta keep track of the score.

    Isil true degen.
  • VorpalF2F


    You must want to win -- but not care if you lose
  • CucumbaMan


    I like the sound of that :)
  • anduke


    I think Blom has matured like everyone else. Taking this seemingly careless side about money, combined with some new wisdom will surely blast him off to even bigger heights soon.