The PokerNews Interview: Bertrand 'Elky' Grospellier
Bertrand Grospellier is one of the hottest poker players in the world. Since the start of January, 2008, when Grospellier won $2,000,000 for taking down the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, Grospellier has been on a rush. He followed up his PCA triumph with a win at the sixth annual Festa Del Lago Classic in October, and has sprinkled in several other top finishes as well, both live and online, including a third-place showing at the recently completed NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. The former professional StarCraft gamer known as "ElkY" recently shared insight on his rush with PokerNews:
PokerNews: First of all, let's talk about your sensational last year. You said you received affirmation that your game is good. What are you convinced of now, that you still had doubts about in 2007?
Bertrand Grospellier: My first win in 2008 was a big tournament, the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. It was a field that contained everything: a bunch of good players, but also many lesser players, including a lot of qualifiers. The other tournament, the WPT Festa al Lago, was a completely different tournament. The field was smaller, but there were no qualifiers and the whole field consisted solely of the biggest pros. A year later I also won the High Roller Event at the PCA. This tournament had a much higher buy-in, and as a result the whole field was made up of really big players. With these wins I proved to myself that I can beat any field, and that was a really good feeling.
PN: Then there was the final hand of the PCA 2008. You made a raise with 8-8 and Hafiz Khan moved all in. You asked him how much he had left and you saw him get worried when he found out how much he still had. Was that the only reason you decided to make this risky call?
Grospellier: No, of course that wasn't the only reason. I had been sitting at the same table with him for two days already, so I had already seen him do a thing or two. Whenever he made small re-raises, he always showed Q-Q, K-K or A-A. The fact that he now made a large reraise, all in, surprised me. Maybe he wanted me to make a bad call. But when I looked at his face I was pretty sure I had a coinflip. Maybe he would have still pushed with 9-9, but with 10-10 he wouldn't have done so. Furthermore, I was the chipleader, and all these things combined resulted in me making the call. I was not surprised that I was ahead with more than 55% [odds to win the hand].
PN: Have all these results changed your view on poker?
Grospellier: No, I still play pretty much the same, but I do try and improve all the time. The only thing that changed might be that I am now more confident that I am on the right track. This might lead to some other players being more intimidated when playing against me, which is a good thing when playing poker tournaments, so I'm quite happy with that. On the other hand, there are still many players who just want to be in a pot against me. I just need to adjust to this, but I believe I have more advantages than disadvantages because of it.
PN: Was the WPT easier for you than the EPT? At EPT events you seem to deal with a lot of players who are used to playing online and are more used to aggression than players at the WPT, where you find more old-fashioned live players who play more passive.
Grospellier: The structure of the WPT is much better than that of the EPT. Players have more chips and the levels take longer. You don't need to gamble as much in WPT events. EPT events go a lot faster and therefore you often need to gamble more. So in that sense it doesn't really have anything to do with the kind of players. I also played relatively tight during the WPT.
PN: There was once a time when you hadn't yet played poker but were playing StarCraft. Can you compare the respect you got back then with the acknowledgment from poker nowadays?
Grospellier: I was very famous in Korea. Now, because of poker, I get respect all over the world. Although the respect might have been bigger in Korea, in the end it was only one country.
poker players obviously have more money, and if people look at me now, they look at the money I make. That's how I get my respect, by the money I win. There was not that much money in video games. It was very hard to get by with what I made there. Therefore, in video games you got respected for how good you were.
It is also a lot harder to be successful in video games than in poker. With poker you can be successful and get by after one year of training. If you want to make a living from it, you only need to look up the games with players who are worse than you. Then you win more and more. With video games you need to belong to the top three, or at least the top ten of the world in order to make a living from it. This is obviously much more difficult.
PN: You have accomplished so much in poker... does it make it more interesting to return to video games? Or is that no longer an option for you?
Grospellier: Well, I still don't know all there is to know. When playing poker tournaments, there is always a certain amount of luck involved. The challenge for me in poker is still to defeat the aspect of luck, haha. But I will play StarCraft 2 when it comes out. It will be released by the end of the year, and it could be that I will play two tournaments just for the fun of it, but not as much as I played the first one. With poker you just have a lot more freedom than you do when you're a professional gamer. Gaming takes up a lot of your time, and can also be quite monotonous to be honest.
PN: When did you actually start playing computer games?
Grospellier: When I was three. My brother got a computer. I played against him and was actually better than him from the start. When I went to high school I started to get internet. Playing against the computer was fun, but playing against other people was obviously a lot more interesting and difficult. It's a completely different game, and I really enjoyed it. When I heard that Korea was organising big tournaments, I decided to go there. I won a couple of qualifying tournaments in France and ended second in the championship. After that I received a sponsoring deal and everything kind of went well from the start. I enjoyed the culture there, the life, the language. I can still speak Korean, although I can't understand everything anymore.
PN: During this time you also met the Dutch poker players Victor Goossens and Lex Veldhuis. You guys are still friends?
Grospellier: Goossens came to Korea for half a year; that's when we met. He was also a good player, but he had a harder time in Korea than I did. We still got a long very well. It was more or less because of him that I ended up playing poker. There were a lot of StarCraft players in those days that stepped over to poker, for example Rekrul, James Mackey, RainKhan, Ryan Daut and RaSZi (Veldhuis).
PN: How is your bench press bet with RaSZi going?
Grospellier: I'm training for it. My manager is also an ex-professional tennis coach, so he helps me train. I really want to win this one and I hope to be able to beat Lex. I lost the last two prop bets that we had, one weight-loss bet and one bet where Lex was only allowed to play $3/$6. But of course I had no control over these things. Lex was just able to do it. Now he will encounter some opposition, so now we'll see who's better.
PN: [What about] a sit-'n'-go player who suddenly starts playing live heads-up cash games? It seems you've become pretty good at those.
Grospellier: It's hard to play heads-up live. Casinos often don't feel like opening up a table for it, and when tournaments are running, they often don't have the room. But yes, I do enjoy it. I've started to specialize in it more and more. Playing live heads-up is very difficult, even though I practiced a lot online. Heads-up games lead to much more action and you can exert more control over your opponent. It's fun because you end up with a lot of marginal situations where you can't just fold your hand.
PN: What do you enjoy more? You play a lot of heads-up sit-'n'-goes online. Do you prefer playing cash games or sit-'n'-goes?
Grospellier: I prefer playing cash games, because you sit deeper and you can play more hands. In sit-'n'-goes you sit less deep and the blinds increase relatively quickly. It's a completely different game. In cash games you also need to be more aggressive, and you can also win more.
PN: You had been playing nine-man sit-'n'-goes. Why did you step over to heads-up sit-'n'-goes?
Grospellier: It's more fun, and on top of that the nine-player sit-'n'-goes aren't good to play anymore. The skill-level of the players has increased too much. Furthermore, the payout structure isn't great and you can't really adjust your game anymore because at the highest stakes, every player completely masters the maths.
PN: The moment you started playing heads-up sit-'n'-goes, was that when you set yourself the challenge to become the first PokerStars Supernova Elite?
Grospellier: I started just before that, yes. Because of the sidebet I then started playing more and more, because this was giving me a lot more FPPs (PokerStars Frequent Player Points). That was the main reason.
PN: During that period you lost a lot of money, but according to rumors you won back quite a bit as a result of the sidebets for the challenge. To what extent is this true?
Grospellier: I did lose a lot. I wasn't good enough yet, but I also had an outrageous rhythm. At some point I played for 24 hours a day for a whole week, with short 15-minute naps every four hours. Of course that wasn't great for my game and I played very bad as a result. By the end of the week I was playing so [expletive] bad, so I decided to get some proper sleep. [Still,] everything I lost, I managed to win back through the bonuses I received from PokerStars. You receive quite a few rewards as a Supernova Elite.
Editor's Note: The original version of this interview appeared on nl.PokerNews.com, our Dutch site.
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