Longtime fans of Cardplayer Lifestyle know that the main reason behind our ongoing Get to Know the Poker Media series is to shine the spotlight on hardworking members of the poker media whose work we can sometimes take for granted. Media folks can have interesting stories, too, and we wish to share those stories with you. While we’ve had a number of veteran members of the poker media corps featured in the series, occasionally we tap one of the newer members for an interview, too; someone like Milko van Winden.
Over this summer, I’ve had the chance to spend some time with Milko and get better acquainted with him. For this interview, we spoke for half an hour, during which I came to learn not just about how he got started working in the business, but also what it means to him to be a part of the poker community. As you’ll surely see from the way he answered my questions, this man has a bright future ahead of him and the right attitude that’s going to take him far in life.
Below is an edited transcript of the great, in-depth conversation Milko and I recently had. Enjoy.
How did you first get into the poker industry, and for how long have you been in the media?
I think it was two years ago, so 2017, in May. I had my first paid job working at WPT Amsterdam in May 2016, and since then, it’s been a little bit crazy because I failed four years of the Dutch version of college in a row. And I didn’t know what to do with my life, so I thought, I’m not going back to school anymore, so I’m going to work, make money, stop this nonsense that is failing four years in a row.
What were you studying? What was your major?
I had two years of industrial design engineering, and two years of social work. So, two very opposite things. And then I saw this job offer on Poker City, a Dutch poker news and reporting website, and they were looking for live reporters, so I just applied, and I suddenly got hired. And that’s how everything started, and that’s when I realized I actually like writing, and now I’m studying journalism again.
What were you doing on the Poker City website in the first place? Were you always a fan of poker?
Yeah. They had a forum, sort of like a Dutch 2+2, and I was just stuck on there, I guess since I was 16, so eight years ago. And I got to know friends throughout the forum that I met multiple times in real life, and they’re now real close friends of mine. About 80% of my social interactions are with poker players right now, or within the poker industry.
So, out of the blue, you decided to apply, and you immediately got a paid gig with WPT in 2016?
Yeah. I had one day that I worked for free for them to see what I was worth to them, to see if I was any good and if they were going to hire me, and that was a six-max progressive knockout in Rotterdam.
So did you have any sort of training whatsoever? I imagine they didn’t just throw you into the deep end; did you know how to do live reporting or what you were supposed to do on the job?
Not at all, and that’s the funny part. I’ve been reading live reports since I was 16, 17, maybe even before that. So that’s the only thing I had in my mind on how to do that, was just kind of replicate what I’ve seen online.
They taught me how to work with their content management system, and they actually let me do the entire tournament by myself despite having no experience.
I believe it was the first or second hand that I actually made a mistake in there, and I still know the player who was in the hand; he corrected me and helped me out. And I also vividly remember who won the tournament.
Well, I know we both have some mutual friends, Remko Rinkema, Frank Op de Woerd, and Yori Epskamp who of course all started out in the Dutch poker scene. Were you familiar with their work, or did you call them for advice at any point?
No. I’ve always been very impressed by Remko, how he does everything and especially his work ethic. After meeting Frank a couple of times and then especially since I’ve started working in the industry, I’ve been looking up to these people so much. It always feels like I’m a Dutch kid from a small village, and I wonder how do I end up in places like this, like Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, Marrakesh? It’s super weird for a nobody to end up in a position like this, and these guys are people who I really look up to now and who I really respect in the industry. They showed me that I’m able to do it.
Obviously you didn’t begin your current PokerNews gig out of the blue; there was a path forward from 2016. Besides WPT, what other outlets have you worked with from then until now?
Actually, it was mostly just Poker City, especially at the start. And in the Netherlands, we have the Holland Casino Poker Series, and they have, like, 12 different venues throughout the Netherlands. And most of them have at least one poker series a year, and some of them have two or even three. But then Rotterdam also has the World Series of Poker International Circuit Event happening in September, and Amsterdam also has the WPT and the Master Classics of Poker.
So, in September 2016, I’ve been in the industry for four or five months, and I was working for Poker City on a Dutch live report of the World Series Circuit event in Rotterdam. Yori was blogging for pokernews.com and that’s where I just simply asked him if he could take me to Vegas once. That was four months into my job. So, that’s actually how the ball started rolling, and then two months later in November at the Master Classics of Poker, he came up to me saying, “We might be able to do something where you get like a day before, you go to a Unibet Open, we can see how much you’re worth to us.”
It took a while, but first day reporting with this goofball! Time to step up my game and deliver the best $600 PLO Deepstack blog the WSOP has ever seen!
Blog provided by us on @PokerNews: https://t.co/KKUAtJFh2J pic.twitter.com/HNppMcU8N5
— Milko @ WSOP (@DegenOnTour) June 12, 2019
Sure. And also you’re, you know, to do live reporting in English for the first time.
Yeah, because I’d never done that.
Did you find it an easy or a difficult transition, switching languages?
It depends, and it depends on the speed of play as well. Because sometimes I feel like I can be more creative in Dutch, and sometimes I like English better, because I’ve been reading way more English live reporting, so I remember more ways to write a certain headline than in Dutch.
I know I have to get better at filming and editing but I hope this gives you a little inside look in reporting at Dutch Poker Tournaments.
Blogging the BIGGEST Dutch Main Event!https://t.co/iQH52GxqoE pic.twitter.com/8D1v2sjSbv
— Milko @ WSOP (@DegenOnTour) March 4, 2019
So what is it that you love about poker, that got you interested in the game in the first place and obviously that has kept you interested for these years?
I’ve been playing board games my entire life. I just love a good game, especially if you can touch it and you have stuff to do with your hands, not just a video. Everyone in my home, my mom, my dad, my two brothers – none of them wanted to play with me.
Then on television, I think I saw the European Poker Tour, and then I realized that it’s a card game that you play with other people, and I saw on this basic online video game site that had like small poker games, like Governor of Poker or something like that, a free game that you can’t lose real money. At that point a light bulb kind of went off in my head. Then I realized that there were online poker sites that were built to play against other people from the comfort of your home, and you could make money with that.
You said you had liked video games, so online poker was sort of a video game to you?
Yeah, a little bit, but it was a mixture between video games and a physical card game, because of course it’s a game you can play either online or live. Which is also very appealing to me, because you can pick your poison, whatever you like. And that’s how I got into it and realized I loved it.
In 2009, I remember like it was last week, the exact place that I was when I saw Peter Eastgate win the World Series of Poker Main Event on YouTube. I think I was 14 or 15 back then, I didn’t even realize that it was seen as gambling, and I said “I’ve gotta do this poker thing.”.
I started to teach my friends and playing as much as I can, just because I loved the game. And then I remembered the day I turned 18. That was a fun day because I was too scared and too broke to play live tournaments or anything, but it was my 18th birthday. I instantly deposited on PokerStars, and I went for it. No notable scores; I just remember the joy of playing.
Do you still play today?
Yeah, I play as much as I can and as long as it’s fun. I have given up the ambition to be a professional poker player or a profitable poker player a long time ago. As long as I can play the game and still have fun and enjoy myself, that’s all that matters to me.
I mostly like tournaments because I just like the thrill of winning something, while in cash games it feels like this never-ending grind.
Well I know that you and I, we played in a nice fun $4/8 mixed game together. Most people usually just play Texas Hold’em. So how did you get into mixed games?
I guess just my love for games. Because PokerStars had them all in the lobby. I mean, they had a lot, not just the standard eight games out of the mix. And I don’t know why, I think I was 18 as well and I just started to click on all these other names because they looked interesting, and then literally I saw that people would get two down cards and one up card. Everybody would get their own board, and that was super interesting to me. And, I don’t know, I just started to play them at penny stakes, like 4-cents/8-cents.
Is there a particular variant that you like more than the others?
Yeah, I guess Razz. I don’t know why, but I think it was the first non-Hold’em game that I saw and played, so maybe that one. And I once won the Little Razz on Full Tilt, the $2.20 tournament that ran at like 8 pm Central European Time. I won it a couple times in one week, and that felt good.
How about on the reporting side? Do you feel that there’s a difference or a challenge reporting on certain poker variants versus just the standard Hold’em?
I’ve done a couple of days of stud 8, and I’m not sure if I like it anymore. There’s too many cards. I mean, to play, it’s a wonderful game. Reporting-wise, however, there’s a lot of betting and a lot of up cards, and you have to write down every card with the suit, and you have to make sure you have every bet, and it can become very confusing because the betting lead will change during a hand sometimes. So it’s a tough game, but it took me about two days to finally find out a nice way or format to write down a hand history for myself so I can reproduce it in a blog.
OK, so I noticed when we met that you had some interesting tattoos. Do you want to tell us a little bit about what they are?
Sure. Well, I have the King of Hearts on my arm. I think I’m at about seven or eight altogether right now. And it just started with one on my leg and I got hooked and I wanted more. But a lot of them are music-related, because music is a big part of my life. Not even playing it, but just hearing music, just putting it on, and just especially metal, hard rock metal music. And I have two or three tattoos related to that.
I also have a little cube on my wrist that is normally hidden by my watch, and it’s just very basic, it’s underneath the King of Hearts. It stands for me and my brothers and my parents, because both of my brothers’ names start with the letter M as well, so if you have cubic meter, you have an M with a 3.
Also, it’s tattooed in a way that you can see the letter M in there, if you twist my arm you can see the letter E, and my mom’s name is Esther. And the letter F, and my dad’s name is Frank. So we have all of our names, like the first letter in there. And a little thing that connects me and my two brothers.
Family is something you don’t get to choose in your life, but you are stuck with them forever, so you’d better appreciate and love them. Because it will make things a lot easier.
Before you tell me more about the King of Hearts tattoo, what did your family think about you getting into poker and about having made it a career? It’s not exactly a conventional choice.
No, the funny thing is that my dad was always very skeptical, and my mom was always pretty supportive. She’s always very supportive of whatever I want to do. One of the memories that I have was that my mom was especially interested when I told her that poker is skill-based and not only luck-based.
And that is something I kept telling her. And then she always told me, “well, if you say so, I’ll believe you, and as long as you enjoy yourself and it won’t become a problem money-wise, then I’m all good with it.” I think they just realized after a couple of years that I just love poker so much and I wasn’t letting it go, that they weren’t surprised, shocked, or anything when I told them that I finally had a career in this industry.
Great answer. OK, so about the King of Hearts…
Yeah. I read the book The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King about the Andy Beal heads-up games, and I love symbolism, in general. So I’d been toying around with the idea of getting the King of Hearts tattoo because of the symbolism of the Suicide King. But I added a little thing to the image, where normally the sword will go either in or behind his head and not come out on the other side.
Me and my tattoo artist have added in that the point of the sword comes out at the other side with three drops of blood, so that it’s very clear it goes through his head. Because I wanted it in there because it symbolizes two things for me, because I want my tattoos to have meaning. And because it’s called the Suicide King, it always links to mental health as well.
I’ve been struggling a little bit with mental health in the last couple of years. I’ve been doing way better, but for me it also symbolizes a little bit that for me poker is not just a game, but now it is a community. It’s something I can fall back on; I have a support system with lovely people in there who I can tell everything about my life and ask them to help me with struggles and support me.
Wow. I hadn’t realized you’d take the answer in that direction. This community aspect, is it more within the poker media or rather amongst the players?
It depends where you are in the world because some player communities are super close. But I do feel that they, on purpose, isolate themselves from others. All these high-stakes guys, they just chill with each other and that’s it. But I remember from last year when it was my first time in Vegas, everybody was so friendly to me from the media, and I appreciated that so much. They made me feel so welcome here that I realized at that moment that I’d made a good choice to do this job. And I also realized that the eight weeks away from home weren’t going to be as hard as I thought.
I played in a 4/8 mixed game, played top golf, played a bracelet event, never seen that many casinos in my life, and fell in love with Vegas after the most insane summer of my life so far. pic.twitter.com/HiIAiHGHeB
— Milko @ WSOP (@DegenOnTour) December 31, 2018
Right, so obviously live reporting means you have to travel a lot. What do you enjoy and what do you least enjoy about that aspect of the job?
It’s very cool to see other places around the world, because everything’s so different and it’s very cool to discover a new culture and see the differences versus your own culture.
But especially on this trip right now, my girlfriend and I have been actively searching for a house back in Delft, in the Netherlands for over a year, and we just couldn’t get anything. And I think two weeks before I left, we got the good news that we finally got an apartment. But we would get the keys like two days after I left. So she’s been working her butt off at home trying to get everything together and fix the walls and paint everything and get a floor in there, and I’ve been sitting here in Las Vegas, and that feels kind of rough this year because I just really want to help her.
Is there any particular destination that you want to visit still that you haven’t yet been to, as far as doing live reporting?
Yea. I have a pinned post on my Twitter page…
Tournaments/venues I’d like to visit one day:
-Playground Poker Club
-UK Student Poker Championships
-Any Triton Stop
-Any Partypoker Millions Stop
-Run It Up Reno
-ONKP Final (Dutch Amateur Championships)
— Milko @ WSOP (@DegenOnTour) October 26, 2018
So you had mentioned that you’ve got hobbies of music, heavy metal specifically. Do you play instruments as well?
Yeah, I actually borrowed a guitar from Ben Ludlow that I have standing in our house in Vegas right now, so as soon as we are done I’m going to play guitar, because that’s what I really missed here last year as well. Guitar is my main thing music-wise, and I’m not very good at it or whatever, but I just really enjoy it.
What is it that you like about music so much?
I really appreciate good lyrics, that’s the biggest thing for me. You can have a great song, but if the lyrics are really bad, I will not appreciate it, so it has to be good music and good lyrics. And it’s just the way people can send a message or express what they feel throughout music and lyrics that’s just really cool, in my opinion.
From your answers, it seems like you appreciate symbolism, and you’re a person of the arts, so to speak. Yet, you’re doing live reporting, which seems to be much more technical, almost scientific, and formulaic. Do you see yourself at some point maybe doing more feature writing and longer pieces?
I’m not sure, because I still don’t really know what way I want to go within journalism. But I’m trying to expand my horizon a little bit, and I have an internship next year because it was my last year in school, and I’m going to do that with a Dutch television production house, so that’s going to be really cool to see everything behind the scenes, and I’m really excited for that.
I’m leaning towards television, because I really like to watch television as well, I don’t watch it that much anymore and especially not if I’m here. But I do enjoy certain shows. So I’m not sure if I want to go that way, but I’m going to discover that next year.
How is it that you can keep up your degree studies with all of the traveling that you do and working?
It’s tough; it’s really tough, especially this year. Last year was easy, because it was only the World Series, and I just had a couple of assignments I was supposed to do here. But this year, it’s been crazy. I’ve been doing quite a few stops.
It’s really funny, because I expected my teacher to say the opposite, but he told me school is not supposed to be in the way of your work. Every time I got asked by Yori to cover an event, I told my teacher I had a work assignment. My teacher knows that my work involves writing, so he was like sure, go ahead. And it’s been like that for every single trip so far, I just tell him that I got an offer and he says to go. I’d like to give him a shout-out actually, to my teacher, Stef, as well as Paul who taught me last year.
What is something that you haven’t yet done or an accomplishment that you wish to have in the poker industry that’s on your bucket list?
Oh, that’s a really tough question because I honestly never thought about it like that. I mean, I really appreciate the place that I am in right now, and I feel that because I’m so new to the industry, I am very far from being able to pick what I want to get. I still have to earn everything and work for it, and I never really thought about what I want or need to do within this industry, so I’m a bit blown away by the question because I don’t know.
Alright, the stage is yours. Let’s pretend you have the attention of the entire poker world, and there’s something that you want to tell them. What is it that you want to say?
I’ve seen posts by Jordan Young talking about depression. And mental illness is something I’m very open about and that I feel we need to open up more about.
I truly believe this is the best product/content I can produce. It’s easy when it’s from heart, take a listen. Releasing this podcast was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.https://t.co/CTbJ2vQZuZ
— Jordan Young (@Jymaster11) June 12, 2019
We should stop taboos on mental illness, stop taboos on depression, suicide, everything, because people are hurting from them, and we are, as a community, able to help them out and support them. So that is something that is really close to my heart. And also, people at poker tables need to stop being dicks. There’s no room for hatred, misogyny, anything like that. We should all be kind to each other and be even kinder in a good way to women, because we need them in our game.