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.

74 Replies to “Viktor Blom: The Man, The Myth, The Legend”

  1. First – awesome article.
    Being young helps players not care about money and treat poker as a video game with many levels.

  2. One of the other three is almost certainly Ivey, so that really just leaves one other person who you’re not sure you have an edge against in HUPLO. Skjervoy, durrrr, Cole South, Hastings, Ashman, Sauce, who knows; everybody’s list is probably a little different. Fun to speculate though.

    Also, I think as far as raw poker talent goes, you have to give major props to Ivey and Antonius who compete with specialists in every game. Isildur could be heading in that direction. I also assume they don’t use HUDs or watch training videos. Maybe that helps develop unique ways of thinking about the game.

  3. Another great blog post.

    As far as Blom as a player is concerned, you focussed mainly on Blom’s weaknesses especially as they relate to PLO. It would be interesting to get your POV on why Blom is such a strong NLH player. How was he able to beat Dwan in HU NLH? What is his style and what are his tendencies that make him a world class NLH player?

    Would love to see a follow-up blog post that discusses this.

    1. Disclaimer: This is just speculation.

      Since he’s already spoken to Blom about his weaknesses and he didn’t give out anything too specific about those weaknesses(i.e he didn’t say Blom has a habit of 4 betting on the turn light 60% of the time or something), he felt it was okay to talk about.

      Discussing the specifics of what makes him a good players and more specifically breaking down how he beat Dwan might enlighten Blom’s competitors to something they wouldn’t have otherwise noticed (Phil is ahead of the curve after all) and it might just be a matter of honor amongst poker players or amongst friends that he not want to break down the (for the most part) successful blueprint that is Blom’s game.

      Put another way. Breaking down and publicizing Blom’s weaknesses forces him to get better. Publicizing and breaking down his strengths, allows his competitors to get better and prematurely forces Blom to change his game. He will have to change his game at some point obviously but he probably prefers the rest of the high stakes world forces him to do it after paying him $$$$$ on the felt and not Phil on his blog.

  4. Absolutely brilliant read, Phil. I say that as a massive fan of Viktors, and yours. But I must admit that I feel like you should do Viktor (and yourself) a favour and delete this before it hits the archives. Don’t you feel that you’re breaking a poker pros bros code writing this for all to see? Put it in a book in 20 years or something, but you’re giving away way too much info on Viktor, regardless of whether you’ve discussed this with him or not. You are both young. You’re going to cost him a boatload and that could be the least of it. 

    Edit Suggestion: maybe just dumb it down a bit, like give an amount of info you’d be comfortable giving in a magazine interview?

    1. like someone stated earlier, he’s not giving away isildurs betting tendancies he’s just explaining things thats common knowledge but in a thoughtful articulate way as usual, keep doing what you doing phil you the poker voice of our generation and we poker fans love you for it.

  5. Great blog Phil! This is really weird but how tall is Viktor? Did he put money away from his Euro winnings? Basically has he put money in some sort of fund so that he can cover the basic necessities of life? Does he have a car yet? Has Tom Dwan ever confessed how badly he was beaten by Isildur1 or does he attribute the loss to something else?

  6. Thanks Phil for that blog entry, verry nice to read you and read so much (good) things about Isildur1’s opponent !

    Regardless

    French Fan of You and Isildur1!

  7. “Now he’s one of three opponents that I play with but genuinely have no clue whether I have an edge or not.”

    I see what you did there… 😉

    Are there opponents against whom you genuinely *do* have a clue that you *don’t* have an edge??? 🙂

    Great post.

  8. One thing I respect about Phil Galfond more than anything is his humility. It’s one thing to admit to yourself that someone is more apt at the thing you pride yourself on, but it’s another to admit it to them and to others. Nice post too.

  9. Hey Phil,

    I always read your posts.. Good work man, although this time I have a different opinion. I like What Victor brings to the poker world with his mysterious styles and everything, but I do think he is way to over rated!! I saw him a couple of times losing big money to amateur players not to mention that his live games, isn’t the best either.

    Anyway,

    Keep writing, love your blog

    Ryan

    1. Overrated? Amongst others by Pokerstars, Galfond, Negreanu and his graphs I guess. Rethink YOUR sample size and elementary my dear Watson.

    2. cmon man, his hu nlhe play is amongst the very best phil said he was poor plo6max to begin with but as improved greatly, dont know if u follow online tournaments but the guy was on a tear this past scoop so he’s improved greatly there and his live results have been improving greatly,sign of a future legend imo what more can you ask of the guy.

  10. Mr Sweets aka.Phil
    what a unique being you are.
    Im strictly a bad, mini, once a week pension player but follow the frequently astonishing events on world poker sites with such incredible flights of celebration and despair.
    Thats why its always such a pleasure to read and to follow your honest,heartfelt and objective musings.
    Not just poker but concerning the vagaries of life on and off the tables..
    I hope you feel a sense of celebration when you check out a mirror because from my singular viewpoint you are a rare individual indeed
    salute
    jonathan b.

  11. Great article, I am quite amazed there can be such respect at such a level of poker, game of esteem ego and money (not only that of course). Congrats Phil, good luck to you

  12. “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.”

    Well played.

  13. Great article Phil – as always. & another accomplishment, you didn’t start this one with Hey Guys!

    Hope all is well,

    Cheers

  14. One of the best and most seriously poker article I have ever read…
    Very very interesting….
    U r an amazing narator and anylazer Phil, and u have a very very nice personality.
    Thumbs up!!!

  15. Best poker article i have ever read about him. The details fit with my opinion on his game and live. He is so like me i also never read anything and the most people cant follow my poker thinking process in details. Think if he continius to play the best in each game and he is that of a quick learner he dont even need to work on his weakness, its a matter of his bankroll of course.

  16. Hi Phil,
    GREAT POST!!if you go busto you can always become a proffesional writer 😛 😛 .i have a question and i hope you answer me:I think you have said before that you consider Phil Ivey to be the best no limit holdem player (or all around) .who do you think is more likely to have an edge if Viktor Blom and Phil Ivey played a HU match?i would say Phil Ivey but i think you are better to judge 🙂
    thanks in advance!

  17. Forgive my ignorance but if someone doesn’t learn from books, videos, or software, and doesn’t work math away from the tables, how does one go about learning poker? Wouldn’t it pretty much all be results oriented? I’m really curious about what you have to say.

  18. Great blog post Phil!
    I have to ask though, does it ever get weird meeting people for the first time that you’ve potentially won alot of $$ from online?
    I would think that for instance if someone is running extremley hot taking your money and you’re semi tilting that you’d develop some kind of negative feelings towards that person. Gotta make for some akward situations IRL specially if u dont really hang out on a regular basis?
    -Pancake20

  19. Great post first of all! Since I don’t play on levels anywhere near you guys I can only judge Viktor as a person and I’ve met him a couple of times over the last year or so. Can only agree! Nice, calm and seems to genuinely love poker and the competition it brings. Class act and has the future wide open for him to become a true legend if he only wants to…

  20. Whats funny to me after this article and all the reviews, Nobody mentions that Isildur is -$400,000 over 600,000 hands on PS’s in 1 1/2 years. ..lol.
    He’s obv very bright kid but over that large a sample tells it all, even if game selection is poor.

  21. I’m kind of surprised you believe in “raw talent”. Tony Dunst recommended a book to me once called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and I think you’d find it pretty interesting. His book Blink might also be relevant to this post. Check them out.

  22. A great read Phil thanks for sharing your thoughts. Would you be able to show us your poker set up please,it would be great to see how the best operates. Cheers

  23. I find the fun aspect of the article very interesting. A lot of players do not understand the emotional aspects of their own play, for example, as you say: a lot of players _say_ they don’t care about money but they do.

    Related to this is that a lot of players _say_ they only play for the money and not for the fun, but they do. In fact, most people do enjoy poker at some level and this is one of the main reasons they play at all. Realizing this in yourself will actually help you cope with swings, because you will understand that you actually DO have an emotional attachment to the game. As we all know, becoming aware is the first step to understanding and being able to cope and use that to your advantage.

    Good post Phil, thanks a lot!

  24. Dear Phil,
    How are you not writing for someone? There is great value on your insight, access to info others don’t have, and your writing skills. You would definitely deserve a higher rate then the avg rate for writers. I know some of the checks for such articles might not mean much to you but might as well get paid for these awesome articles/blog post.

    Just a thought from a fan.

    1. We want book !!!!

      Personally – for me it’s hard to decide whom I like more :

      Isildur1 or MrSweets28!

      Maybe I am fan of Isildur1 likewise Phil, but Phil reminds me of expert professor, Nobel prize winner, wise sorcerer of poker and Isil is the young ingenious student, new age talent, playful phenom….

      This article is…….

      ….. [thinking]……

  25. I like this blog a lot. U are the best Phil. 3 players are Victor Blom, Ilari Sahamies and Phil Ivey.

    Have fun playing poker. Have to remember that in future 🙂

  26. a truly enjoyable read on many levels…can’t help to notice how much different Phil’s nature is than each poster above that concluded his comments “with well-played, sir.”

  27. Phil,

    You say that he hasn’t availed himself to any training videos, coaching or other such tools. I was wondering, without giving away any details about his game, if he’s developed at least parts of his game with similar strategies/thought processes that other high stakes players have who have used those other tools?

    Here’s one of my thoughts. In NL and PLO he will frequently see the hole cards of his opponents based on how he plays and he can learn bits and pieces based on that. If that’s the case do you think that will limit his development in draw games because he can’t get a great idea on how someone plays without seeing their discards?

  28. I will reiterate what someone else pointed out. This blog should be an example to others. A well thought out, well planned and beautifully written piece here that gives us all a real insight into the mysterious creature, Viktor Blom. Hat off sir.

  29. Hi Phil,

    A very interesting post and, as usual, very well written. I was particularly interested in your view that you and Blom are born with a raw talent for this game. I believe somewhat differently. Yes, you both has some of the natural talent that the game requires, but you both grown your talent through spending tremendous hours at the table. It would be great if you could read The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle who talks about this in more depth. Your opinion on the matter, after reading the book, would make great reading.

    Take care

    Lee

  30. Dear Mr. Galfond,

    I really enjoy reading your blog. Your posts are well written and thoughtful. I have had a secret poker crush on you for the past 3ish years, and am currently going into withdrawal. You need to post more!!!

    Sincerely,
    Me

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