Viktor Blom: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

If you play or follow online poker, just seeing the name “Isildur1” evokes a strong emotional response.  He first became known for having (far and away) the most epic rise and fall in online poker history.  Let’s start there.

The Myth

From what I assume was a relatively small deposit onto Full Tilt, Isildur1 quickly amassed six million dollars playing the best of the best at the highest stakes available.  Much of this money was made playing $300/600 and $500/1000 HUNL against none other than Tom Dwan.

Isildur went on to challenge himself in ways that we still have never seen in online poker.  Seared in my memory is the image of him nine-tabling $500/1000 against Dwan, Ivey, and Antonius all at the same time.   Isil swung up and down, creating some amazing action for the railbirds.  It was the first time in my life that I felt like a fan watching the big online games.  I couldn’t wait to grab my front row seat and watch the spectacle.

He focused on HU NLHE but once he built up the bankroll, started taking on opponents at PLO, a game he wasn’t familiar with.  Unfortunately for the railbirds, Isildur1 (whose identity was still a mystery) and his bankroll came crashing down, mostly in one long PLO session against Brian Hastings, one of the strongest PLO players around.

Over the coming year, Isil ran bankrolls up and down again, creating more action in the high stakes online games than anyone before (or after) him.  The largest winning day in my career occurred HU vs. him, at the $300/600 and $500/1000 PLO tables.  After what felt like a full day long battle, I walked away with over $1.6 million.

Fast forward to the end of 2010, Pokerstars announced the signing of Isildur1 and promised to reveal his identity.  Not long after, we all knew the name Viktor Blom, and saw the avatar of a young, handsome Swede with a stare almost as intimidating as his game.

Since then, I’ve played more hands with Viktor than I have with any other player over the full length of my career (6-8 tabling HU adds up pretty quickly).

How Good Is He?

Given that Viktor is the most talked about player in online poker, I frequently get asked about him.  For all of those who don’t compete at his stakes, who watch his incredibly aggressive play style and his swings to match, it’s very hard to tell actually how good of a player Viktor actually is.  I think I’m as qualified as any to shed some light on this for you.

When I first played PLO against Viktor back on FTP, he was bad.  Now, he wasn’t a bad poker player.  He was already world class at NLHE, but he had just started playing a game that was completely different, and had jumped in to the highest stakes possible.  He overvalued weak pair+draw type hands, weak two pair, and all the other hands the typical NL convert misplays.  I was able to play a relatively tight style, and get a lot of money in with my dominating hands and draws.

Even while he was making so many mistakes, many signs of his poker intelligence leaked through.  It’s hard to explain what specifically I mean, or how I could tell, but just trust me.  I could tell that I was playing with an incredibly smart person.

Black Friday hit, so I went many months without playing online poker, and consequently, many months without playing with Viktor.

At the end of last year, once Viktor and I started playing on Stars, I was shocked by how far his PLO game had progressed over such a short period of time.  Not only had he corrected most of the leaks I’d seen earlier, but he was playing a style that was new to me, and forced me to think very hard about my own game.  Because of that, I’ve learned and improved a large amount just from playing with him.  I still felt I had a decent edge, and that his game wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t expect it to last long.

It turns out I was right.

By early 2012, Viktor had not only become very good at PLO- he’d become the toughest opponent I’ve ever played against.

Now he’s one of three opponents that I play with but genuinely have no clue whether I have an edge or not.  I’m going to keep the other two to myself, sorry.

The Man

This summer in Las Vegas, I finally had the chance to meet Viktor.  We’d exchanged numbers and talked a little bit via text, but that was the extent of it.  Though the first time we met was in the poker room, I had the chance to hang out with him a few times over the course of the series.

The first thing that stood out to me was how tall he was.  The second was the image in my head of Isildur1 (the intimidating, aggressive, scary dude) being shattered to pieces.  Viktor emanates happiness and kindness from the moment you meet him.   He’s one of those guys that you can instantly tell is a truly nice and genuine good person.  His happy-go-lucky demeanor makes it very hard not to smile, and it seems like he goes through life just having fun.

After hanging out only a few times, both me and my friend were bummed that he couldn’t move back with us to Vancouver.  I feel like he’d definitely be one of my best friends in poker if we had the opportunity.

Over the time we spent together, I got to learn more about his thought process and his approach to the game.  Some fun facts:  Viktor doesn’t use any kind of poker database or HUD, and he doesn’t watch any training videos.  In fact, he hasn’t used any of the resources that almost all full time online pros have.

The main thing that came across to me was Viktor’s pure love for the game.   My impression from talking to him was that he genuinely doesn’t care about the money.  I know some people say they don’t care… but they care.  I’m not sure Viktor does.  He plays poker because he has fun playing and he enjoys the competition.

If you could have heard him describe playing the $50k 8-game WSOP event, which included six games he didn’t know how to play, you’d understand what I mean.  He was so excited to be playing in such a huge event and to attempt to learn the games on the fly.  He looked like a kid in an arcade who’s Dad had just given him $500 worth of quarters.

I’m extremely jealous of the amount of fun that he has playing poker, and I’m someone who loves the game more than most.

My friend played in a 3 handed $100/$200 PLO game with Viktor this summer and told me a funny story about a hand from that night.  Viktor was facing a large river bet in a medium sized pot, and instantly folded.  As the dealer started to pass the chips the other way, Viktor looked confused and reached for his mucked hand.  After taking a look at it, un-phased, he said, “I don’t know why I always do that.”

He had folded a full house without noticing when the board paired on the river.  Not surprisingly, given the insane speed at which he plays online, this wasn’t the first time it’d happened.

Viktor explained to me over dinner one night that he likes to make his decisions instantly so that he doesn’t question his first instinct.  Apparently, folding the nuts every once in a while is a price he has to pay.

Most of us would be upset at misreading a hand.  If you’re a pro, it’s not impossible to deal with the swings of poker because they’re out of your control.  If you misplay a hand horribly (like accidentally folding a monster), that’s both financially and emotionally damaging, at least for me and most of the players I know- But not for Viktor.

Why? Because what you’re doing with a fold like that is simply throwing away money, and as Viktor says (more believably than all the other players who try to say it), “It’s just money.”

 

Strengths and Weaknesses

Viktor’s passion for the game is his biggest strength as a player.  He told me that he likes to play most with whoever he thinks is the best in the world.  I guess if you’re going to challenge yourself, you might as well REALLY challenge yourself.

I’ve said this before, but playing against tough players is one of the greatest ways to improve.  I’m sure that Viktor learns from each opponent he plays against, and it explains how quickly his game has progressed, especially without using any of the tools that most pros use.

When you start thinking about the money involved, it inhibits your ability to play your best.  People who approach poker purely as a job, for the financial reasons, will have a very hard time becoming the best of the best (though they may make plenty of money).  To actually be great, you need to love the game.  You need to have fun playing.  Viktor has these covered and then some.

His passion is also his biggest weakness.  Since he doesn’t care about the money, he’s not careful about the games he plays in.  If I were just talking about the opponents he chooses, that would be one thing.  Playing only in tough games of course makes your variance and risk of ruin skyrocket, not to mention that he may be an underdog to some players.

More than that though, I’m talking about the actual variant of poker he’s playing.  He lost most of his first $6mill roll playing PLO before he really knew how to.  Just this month, he’s been playing the highest stakes available of Omaha 8 or Better and 2-7 Triple Draw.  These are both games that he played for the first time this summer, and he’s taking on the specialists at the highest stakes.  It’s almost a lock that he’s an underdog in these games, and a favorite to go broke in them, but he probably knows that already.  He’s probably just having too much fun.

Viktor still has some work to do on his 6-max PLO game, too.  He’s very good postflop, but his love of playing big pots causes him to put in way too much money preflop with some marginal hands (my opinion).  In a 6 handed game, someone is much more likely to have a good hand to punish his looseness.  Also, many weak hands can play okay in HU pots, but not when the action is multi-way.

On top of this, Viktor definitely has a C game that he hits often after losing a large amount.  When tilting in a 6-max game (or even a HU game), I think his results get hurt quite a bit.  They’d benefit a great deal from Viktor employing a stop-loss strategy.

If you’re wondering why I’m posting this publicly, potentially helping one of my most frequent opponents improve, I’ve told Viktor personally all this before, and they were things that he already knew.  I’ve told him that I’m happy to be honest with him about what I think he does right and wrong.  In fact, we both talked very openly about the ways we’ve adjusted to each other over the series of HU matches we’ve played.

The Legend

The majority of my high stakes opponents have put more work into their games away from the tables than I have (which is still more than Viktor).  For whatever reason, studying poker in that way doesn’t interest me.  The reason I’m still able to compete with them is that I’m lucky enough to have some natural skills that make up the difference.  Call it what you’d like: intangibles, raw poker talent, poker IQ… whatever it is, I’m very lucky that poker comes more easily to me than it does to others.

In my opinion, Viktor Blom clearly has more raw poker talent than I do.

He impresses me on every level- Not only his game, but his competitive drive, his love of poker, and his refreshingly happy disposition.  Frankly, I’m a legit Viktor Blom fan.  You just have to respect someone who has his money from poker but plays the toughest games and highest stakes available for fun.

So what does Viktor’s future in poker look like?   With his talent, fearlessness, and pure enjoyment of the game, are we witnessing the beginning of one of the top poker legends of our time?

Personally, I believe that Viktor has the capability to be the best in whatever form of poker he focuses on (certainly any big bet game), but he needs to work on his discipline if he wants to have sustained and major success.

So that’s the question.  Can he plug some of the leaks standing in his way to rising to the top and staying there?  Can he avoid games he’s not familiar with until he’s practiced at lower stakes?  Can he tighten up his 6-max PLO game?  Can he exercise some bankroll management and not put his whole roll on the line consistently?

The answer:  Sure, he can… but it doesn’t sound very fun.