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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier

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Bertrand Grospellier is a regular now on the European Poker Tour as well as the World Series of Poker. Most people know him as ElkY on PokerStars, one of the regulars at the high-stakes NLH tables. He can be found playing ten tables or more regularly, one of the pioneers in multi-tabling online. His experience as one of the best StarCraft players in the world prepared him for his poker exploits.

CC: Tell us about your background.

I am from France; I lived in Paris and then moved to South Korea to play computer games for a living. I was a professional StarCraft gamer for about four years. Then I found out about poker. I really love the game, and I had fun playing, I liked everything about the game, it gave me so much freedom, so I became a professional poker player about 2 ½ years ago.

CC: Do you ever return to France?

Actually, I am now living in Paris about six months a year because of the EPT season. I play all of the EPT events because I am a PokerStars sponsored player. I live now in Paris for half the year, Korea for four or five months a year, and in Vegas one or two months.

CC: What did your parents do?

My father was a banking investor and consulting, and my mother worked with him then quit after I was born.

CC: Paris is probably one of my favorite places to go.

Yes, I love it. It's very different than other cities.

CC: I've only been there in the summer once, and there were so many tourists that I really didn't enjoy it.

Yeah, in the summer there are tourists everywhere.

CC: Tell me about how you started playing StarCraft.

ElkY: I started playing computer games when I was really, really young. I had a brother who was ten years older than me, and so he had a computer always. He initiated me when I was three years old, and I started playing computers a little bit. I always liked it a lot, and I liked competition. When StarCraft came out, I had the chance to play online with other gamers. The competition was very tough, and I really liked it. When I heard there were big tournaments in South Korea, I tried to qualify and was successful. I finished 2nd place in the World CyberGames, which got me the opportunity to stay in Korea. In Korea, there are sponsors and television shows of StarCraft, so it gave me the opportunity to become a professional gamer. It's really what I wanted, and I did that for four years. After four games, I got a little bit bored with StarCraft because it is the same game all the time. It was actually pretty tough, because the Koreans practice really, really hard.

CC: There is a team manager, right? You live with other gamers on your team?

There is a manager, and we were a professional team. The Koreans would play eight-ten hours every day, so it was so much practice. Then I started doing well in poker, and I like that you can travel a lot with poker. In StarCraft, it is really just in Korea and a little bit in Asia. I went to Taiwan and China for some events, but Korea is really where StarCraft is popular. You also don't have much freedom with StarCraft, because you have to practice with your team all the time. When I started doing well in poker, then I decided just to give it a shot.

CC: How old were you when you went to Korea?

I was 20 years old.

CC: Seoul must have been a tough place to live. I've been there several times as well, and there are very few outsiders in Korea.

It is very different, that's for sure, but I had a chance to have a friend there who helped me out. I really like Korea a lot; it's very different to me. The night life is really great there, and I get to hang out with ex-StarCraft gamers who play poker now.

CC: You recruited Dan "rekrul" Schreiber to StarCraft as well.

ElkY: Yes, I brought rekrul to Korea for StarCraft as well because we were playing StarCraft together a lot online. I convinced him to come to Korea and give it a shot, but he found poker almost as soon as he came. We started playing poker together, and he just didn't play StarCraft much because poker was too good at that time. It's very hard for newcomers to enter the StarCraft scene. He tried, but it's really, really tough. Poker was actually easier in some ways. In StarCraft, you have to be Top Ten in the world to have success, and you really don't have to do that in poker to be successful.

CC: How did you start playing poker?

ElkY: I started playing on PokerStars because one of my StarCraft friends told me he was playing poker on PokerStars when we were chatting online. I just wanted to try one day, so I tried on PokerStars. I was playing $1/2 NLH when I started, and I lost immediately because I really didn't know how to play at all. I didn't know the rules or anything. I tried to figure out what the game was about, and it was similar to StarCraft in some ways. It's a very simple game to learn, the basics of the game I mean, yet it's almost impossible to master the game completely. The game changes all the time. There is a lot of strategy; it's a perfect mix between strategy and gambling. I really tried to study the game more, and I tried to get better and better.

CC: Are there any specific things that you see how players who have been excellent gamers approach poker vs. veteran card players who play poker?

ElkY: I think that if you look at StarCraft, you have to be very good at reading. You have to be able to anticipate your opponents' moves; you have to be able to expect what your opponent will do so you can answer. There are a lot of psychological games in StarCraft, especially at the highest levels. When everyone is very good, then the psychological aspect is very important. You have to be able to predict what will happen next so you can stay one step ahead of him. Of course, this is very important in poker as well. All StarCraft gamers are also very good and fast with computers. They have to be able to think really fast, and that's very important in poker, too. You have to analyze the situation in one second in StarCraft because it is a very, very fast-paced game. If you make a mistake or if you're too slow, you can lose the game. You have to be able to have quick analysis of the situation, which is very good in poker, too. Also, I think in gaming it is very important to be able to focus for a very long time and to play your best game no matter what the conditions are. I know a lot of StarCraft players who are really good when they play practice games, but when they go to a big tournament with cameras on them, it can be really hard for them, and they don't play their A games. It helps us in poker a lot because we can withstand the pressure no matter what the conditions are. That's why StarCraft players can become very good at poker.

CC: I talked to Rob "Vaga_Lion" Akery, a SuperNova who also has a gaming background. He also said that simply the length of time at the computer, training you to sit there for hours on end and not lose your competitiveness.

ElkY: Yes, I agree. It's very important.

CC: How does it translate to live tournaments, which seems to be almost the opposite of StarCraft?

ElkY: It was very tough for me when I started playing live tournaments. It's really, really slow, and it's hard to play so slowly when you're used to playing online. The dealer, the chips, all of this slows down the game a lot. I think it's more convenient for me online, but the biggest tournaments are live, so I have had to make the transition to live play. It is still poker, and I still love the game. I've tried to improve my live play. The biggest mistake I was making was playing too fast. When I play online, I play many tables at once, so I usually make good decisions. With a lot of experience, you don't take too much time to make a decision. You just know what to do. Most decisions are just known, you know what to do to make the most in the long run. In live tournaments, you have much more time to think. You have more time to analyze the situation more deeply, and you can pick your decision according to that. When I first started playing live tournaments, I was making all of my decisions really quickly. It was a mistake, I think.

CC: There were no other tables to go to; you can't multi-table live tournaments.

ElkY: Yeah. When I play online, a decision may not be 100% correct, but it doesn't really matter because I have the chance to play so many more hands at another table. When you play live tournament, it is the only thing I'm doing.

CC: How did you start multi-tabling? You started multi-tabling when it really wasn't done very much.

ElkY: Yes, when I started, I started playing two or four tables at a time. I knew right away that I could play more. When I started, there were no 6-max games, only nine-handed tables. Nine-handed tables are pretty slow, and you can have a type of play that is really tight. Now I've loosened up a lot, but then you would just wait for really big hands. I was playing a lot of tables from different sites early on, but then PokerStars removed the limit of four tables a few years ago. I was able to play more cash tables on PokerStars , so I really played heavily there.

CC: What are the most tables you've played at one time?

ElkY: I think fourteen or fifteen with some small SNG's, but I think a good number for me really depends on what I'm playing. If it's full-ring or MTT's, it's more straightforward. If I want to play short-handed or heads-up, I have to reduce the number of tables of course. It also depends on if I'm familiar with the players at the table, then it's easier for me. If I have new players, then I have to analyze the situation more and should play less tables. Between six to twelve players is really best for me.

CC: When someone wants to make the transition to multi-tabling, what do you think are the keys to success?

ElkY: You should add more tables when you are comfortable with what you are doing certainly. You have to be comfortable with your style of play and the decisions that you make. You also have to be fast with the computer and thinking about hands. You have to have a lot of experience, because many decisions should be made almost instantly. You have to be able to make automatic decisions, but it depends on your style of play I think.

CC: Your biggest cash so far was in Europe earlier this year, correct?

ElkY: Yes, I came in 2nd place in the EPT Copenhagen. Actually, I started pretty bad. I lost almost all of my chips the first day before the dinner break. I bluffed someone, and they called. After the dinner break, I was down from 10k to 2.5k in chips. I barely survived Day 1, and on Day 2 I had a good rush of cards in the beginning. I was playing pretty well, but I won a lot of coin flips and got a huge stack. The bubble came, and I won a lot of chips because no one at my table was adapting well to the bubble. Even the big stacks at our table tightened up a great deal. I was able to win 60% of the hands pre-flop on the bubble because people did not want to bet. It helped me a lot. Everything went very well until heads-up where I had trips with an ace kicker and a guy rivered a full house on me. It was a random card, he had pocket three's, and I had A-2, and there was action pre-flop then on a 10-2-2 flop. It was a really, really good board for me then the three came. I lost a huge pot there, and it was pretty disappointing because I had the chip lead heads-up and played very well.

CC: I know you've played at the WSOP last year and this year, as well as played all over the world. You've had a chance to meet many players, and some players play mainly live tournaments. I've always thought it must be an almost impossible way to make a living playing live tournaments, because you have to get so deep to get a return.

ElkY: It's pretty tough. It is very high variance, because you can play a lot of tournaments and get no results. Especially live tournaments. Online, it's very different. You can play many tournaments, maybe ten a day for a week straight. So, you can play in one week as many tournaments as someone who plays the entire live circuit. When you play online, if you get a bad run it doesn't matter as much. When I play in an EPT event or the WSOP, it can be a pretty bad run. You have to really make it deep. I take every chance I get to get a lot of chips, because I want to make it to the Final Table. I don't care about surviving to the money; the prize isn't as important compared to what you can win when you get to a Final Table. I didn't have good results in live tournaments from the start, and it was hard to know if I was not adapting very well or if it was normal variance, a bad run of cards.

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