This week’s classic episode of Poker After Dark features some of the best cash game players ever to sit at the same table. Last week, I wrote about Tom Dwan’s battle for side pot bragging rights with Ilari Sahamies. The former Full Tilt legend and poker lifer Dwan features again this week. This time, however, he is up against a player about whom comparatively little is written – fellow former Full Tilt Pro Patrik Antonius.
One of the most successful high stakes players of all time, both live and online, Finnish pro Antonius has never disappeared from the scene entirely. But in the years between the start of 2014 and the start of this year, he’d been quieter than most, cashing just twice on the live circuit. Indeed, for someone with over $11 million in results, he has never won a WPT Main Event or WSOP Bracelet. His EPT Main Event win came in 2005’s Season 2. But for all the media’s introspection about his career and where he sits in the pantheon of great players, one fact has stayed true throughout the Finn’s career. Patrik Antonius remains one of the most incredible players to watch play the game of poker.
When most speak of table image, what they often mean is how that player comes across to other players. From body language to betting behavior, it is often the fringes of that player’s physical image that will impose control on their opponent. A strong table image can, after all, mean looking weak enough to call down when you shouldn’t just as well as it should mean being able to bluff someone off a pot you know inside your head that you’re losing.
The perfect table image can be narrowed to a lot of things, but I think for a purely physical image, Antonius has it. The former tennis player and coach has long been held up as an impressive physical specimen, often by members of the opposite sex. But has Antonius’ image been better preserved as the legend from the effect he has on other men? He’s certainly won more money from them over the years.
If so, what makes a strong physical table image? Height, physical strength, a granite chin? Doyle Brunson has none of those traits yet strikes fear into the hardiest of men at Bobby’s Room to this day. Maybe it’s in the eyes. Antonius’ poker face is one of glacial tranquillity. In this hand with Tom Dwan, Antonius looks like a man at total peace with himself, something players could rarely have actually felt playing at these eye-watering stakes. But then, he’s always looked like that, whether it be winning the biggest online pot of all-time when he took $1.3m from Viktor ‘Isildur1’ Blom or staring down Joao Simao when the Finn triumphed in a high roller in Rozvadov earlier this year. He has an air of confidence that is hard to place, which makes it impossible to question. If eyes really are a window to our soul, maybe the Finn’s peaceful persona shines through.
The minutiae of Antonius’ facial movement is another key factor. He expresses so little that the smallest twitch of a muscle can tilt an opponent into believing or doubting his hand’s strength. That takes a lot of time to perfect, but one of the times I’ve seen this in evidence most over the years is when players move tables in a multi-table tournament. This is often because being moved from a table can be such a disturbing experience. If you’re making chips and enjoying your table, it can be highly frustrating to move. On the other hand, if you’re struggling at a table and get a table move away from the danger zone of skilled players, it can be the best thing that ever happened to you.
I can recall exactly that situation happening to me. I’d been in a multi-table tournament and struggling badly, partly due to sleep deprivation from reporting on a tournament until 6 am. At 12 noon, I found myself in a seat of a two-day tournament. And eight hours into that first day, I found myself hating life at a tricky table with players who all played as if they’d had 12 hours sleep in a Tibetan monastery. Luckily for me, I got a tap on the shoulder and moved tables to a much friendlier felt.
I picked up a middle pair – eights if memory serves – and raised all-in over-the-top of an opening raise in my first hand at the table. I wasn’t super-short, but I wasn’t massively stacked either. I got a fold, improved my stack, then the next hand got pocket tens. Having sat down around a minute earlier, I was all-in over a raise again. Suddenly the table reacted. Who was this player, raising all-in twice in two hands having just sat down? It went against the decorum of the table. I got two rather quick calls, both holding A-Q as luck would have it. I trebled up and was the happiest I’d been all day. Thereafter, my image was set and I could shape the way I played accordingly. I went on to win the tournament and felt a little like Patrik Antonius in the respect that I could control the table, something he’s done his whole career.
Now all I need to do is lose 30lbs and take up tennis. But while I do that, I’ll be taking time out to watch more of the action on PokerGO.
You can watch every episode of Poker After Dark by subscribing to PokerGO, as well as feature documentaries like Pokerography and the latest WSOP Main Event final table. Antonius has returned to the live felt in dramatic fashion this year, winning over $4 million in 2018. Why not find out about Patrik Antonius’ story by watching these classic episodes? The Finn’s recent form proves that great players never really go away, and they know exactly when to make you look… and look again. With a subscription to PokerGO, you can watch our on-demand poker any time you like.