Ahead of the upcoming second PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC II), we’re bringing you a quartet of Platinum Pass Winner Stories. The first was that of Canada’s Amir Epstein. Our next PSPC Qualifier story features Karl Robinson, a 51-year-old from the UK.
Karl is a proud family man who now works on offshore oil rigs after having had a distinguished 25-year career in the military. His professional career has taken him to numerous far-flung places around the world, and he’s no stranger to big poker stages either, having competed at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas as well as the Aussie Millions. Karl was kind enough to share his story with us, and I hope you enjoy learning about his love for poker and his treasured memories and experiences from over two decades serving his country in uniform. He’ll be one to watch at the tables in a couple weeks at Baha Mar in the Bahamas, and Cardplayer Lifestyle will be there to root him on in person.
When did you first get introduced to poker and what is it about the game that attracted you and that you love about it?
Pre poker, If I look right back to when I was only 8 or 9 years old, I used to play drafts with my Great Uncle every Saturday afternoon at my grandma’s house. He was a really nice bloke but would never easily let me win just because I was a kid; he beat me every time. Looking back now, I’m so glad he played properly, because it made me practice and become a better drafts player. The day finally came when I beat him fair and square, with the proud moment of him saying I played very well. Many years later, a short spell playing Bridge with work friends in the early 90s taught me that some games required a decent knowledge of basic procedure, with card counting absolutely essential.
Now on Poker specifically, the mid 1990s and ‘Late Night Poker’ with Jesse May as the main commenter, it was just brilliant viewing for me. That was the moment I thought this was a game I could get into. I loved the fact you know the percentage of winning a hand (on average) with an added bonus of watching your opponent’s face when they play. The general thrill with the big all-ins, the fear of your massive bluffs being called, the various conversations at the table; it was right up my street.
Before making the move to work on oil rigs, you used to be a military man. Kudos to you for your 25 years of service. Please share with us some about your career in uniform.
Thanks for your kind words Robbie; ask most UK military veterans and they’ll say we never ask to be in the limelight. Joining the UK Armed Forces was a decision made well before my 18th birthday. I was very close to both my grandfathers and they both served in very active roles during World War II.
When I joined up, and after gaining some experience, they confided in me a lot more than they did with others. When you join the military, it forms a bond with the men and women you work alongside. No other job can get close because it puts you in places and scenarios no civilian job can. Of course, for some, this can be a controversial role to play in life, but there was so much good to come out of what we did. Most people only see wars on TV and never see the humanitarian side.
As for me, I don’t really talk a great deal about the details, but it was a fantastic 25 years serving around the world. Every climate you could imagine, from -40C inside the Arctic circle to +52C in the Middle East, and every level of humidity in some far distant places as well. Sometimes the work was very demanding, but we all knew it was for good reason. Other times, say when training in other countries, we could enjoy ourselves a bit more if we had some time off. Overall though, the people you meet, the countries you see, the experiences you have, good or bad, it’s what gives you so many memories and definitely gives a knowledge of world life that not many others possess.
What are some of your most treasured memories of serving your country over the years?
Wow, where do I start with that one? There’s a few, with obvious differences between operational and non-operational. Weirdly, I miss the tough times more than the safer days. Anyone with a decent amount of money to spend can see the nicer things I’ve seen, but they will never be able to experience the tough days, the places and the friends I’ve made along the years.
As for those nice moments… Watching the turtles hatch and rush down the beach to the sea in Ascension Island. Looking firsthand at the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. Watching an eagle swoop for a salmon in an Alaskan lake. Seeing the smiling face on someone you’ve just helped after they’ve lost everything in a natural disaster. Walking around the Mayan ruins in Belize. Being chased by an elephant seal in the South Atlantic. Jumping out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane, more than once. Being able to see the Pearl Harbour area in Hawaii. Taking in all the views at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro! The common denominator though, working with some of the best people you can ever imagine.
To what degree, if at all, do you feel that your time in the military helps you as far as your skills and intuition at the poker felt?
I’ve met so many people, from every corner of the world, which means I have a pretty good data set of how most people think and act. I’m by no means an expert in any psychological field, I just have a good initial feeling when I listen to them for a few minutes. How will this transfer over to the table? It might help me in deciding how to play against them, but I’m not going to give away all my secrets!
What sort of poker do you usually play? Cash games or tournaments? Live or online (or both)? You’ve been playing for a good while now; in what specific ways do you think you’re a better poker player now that when you first started out?
I’m a tournament player and very rarely play cash. With my position in the UK, it’s hard for me to play a consistent number of live games, as the closest big card rooms are over 80 miles away, but I did play in London recently at the UKIPT and some other supporting games to get some live time under my belt. So, for now it’s mainly online where I’m putting the hours in. Obviously the PSPC Platinum Pass win several months ago was massive but some decent online cashes since have been a nice confidence booster.
After retiring from active military duty, the world was your oyster. What specifically made you decide to pursue the physically demanding work of being an engineer on oil rigs?
Towards the end of my military career, I suffered an eye injury, which meant I could not continue in the role I once held. I was offered a semi management role, looking after 50 or so guys, but it was all or nothing for me. So, I decided to put my notice in and looked for another adventure in life.
After 25 years in the military, you develop a pretty robust sense of humour. When looking for a job in civilian life, that was a prerequisite. I wanted to use my technical skills picked up over years. I also wanted to be surrounded by people who are professional when working but don’t take day-to-day life too seriously. ‘Work hard, play harder’ was an old mantra and I’ll always stick by that. The offshore life has all of those qualities and was probably the next best thing, although I will always miss my time in the military.
This isn’t your first “big poker event”; in the past you managed to qualify online to play at the WSOP in Las Vegas as well as at the Aussie Millions Down Under. What’s different/unique/special about having qualified to head to the Bahamas for the PSPC?
My old poker days back in the early 2000s seem like a lifetime away. I played so differently back then. Yes, I did do well in terms of getting to play in a WSOP Main Event, Aussie Millions and a decent cash in a final table of the Sunday Million. But I took a mega long sabbatical for work and family reasons, only starting up again a couple of months before the PSPC Platinum Pass win.
In the future, I may win more seats at EPT, WSOP or even PSPC via satellites but this is my biggest crack at a high roller live cash. I’ve definitely got the Bahamas in my sights now, I watched the PokerStars 2019 PSPC online, all 9 episodes… twice! A deep run is my target, and we’ll see where it goes from there. My feet are planted firmly on the ground though. Everyone knows your cards are only good after the river is dealt, so I’ll just try to get my chips in with the best of it and ride that lucky wave.
Poker historically tends to be dominated by younger players in their 20s and 30s. Based on your working career and chosen field of expertise that stamina doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for you. So, by contrast, I’ll instead ask what advantage would you say being in your 50s potentially gives you against younger competition?
It’s only when I see my age written down or I have to tell someone that it reminds me, otherwise I never really think about it. I certainly don’t feel in my 50s! I’ve learnt so much over the years to know that, when it comes down to it, it’s a human against a human. I honestly don’t care if it’s a young buck trying to make a name for themselves or it’s Negreanu, Ivey or Hellmuth who sits beside me. Because they’re just poker players trying to get chips off others, like I’m doing.
Of course, the pros have a wealth of live experience but I’m still going to play premiums hands, average hands, vary my bets and bluff in some positions. I won’t be fazed by it; in fact, I’ll relish the chance to have a chat with any pro who has a good story, even if others find them intimidating. Maybe that’s where they get their edge from, knowing others think of them as a superhuman, but not me.
You’ve been working all your life and have a wife and young daughter. Have you given any thought to what the money might mean to you – and how, if at all, your life would change – if you manage to cash in the PSPC or even make a deep run for a six-figure score?
Let’s face it, money is the main reason we all play, right? Being able to use a skill to make money is what makes the world go around. I will always put my family and main work first; anything else is a bonus. When we get to the PSPC, I’m sure for most Platinum Pass winners an enjoyable experience closely followed by cashing will be the priority. Then the deep run follows and the dream of a final table, heads-up and lifting that massive trophy.
We’ve all had a moment or two to envision ourselves sat at that final table, 6-7 figures guaranteed, everyone watching. Then we snap out of it and carry on washing the dishes. If a big win came in my direction, we’ve got a house to pay off, my family to be financially secure, an old friend to look after. Then, I can decide if this would be a career to continue or not. Who knows (where my rosemary grows)!
Lastly, how – if at all – have you been preparing for the PSPC? Doing any study or working on anything specific? Have you begin playing poker a little more often than usual? Or are you just going to “play the game that got you here” in the first place?
Yes, there has been a notable increase in live and online play. My wife has a canny knack of reminding me, when I disappear into our study to play a few games! But she knows it’s for a good cause. Away from the grind, I’ve been concentrating more on the GTO side of things. I believe it’s really important to know because everyone has those charts and percentages etched into their brains. If for any reason I don’t stick to it 100%, I know they probably are and will adapt to that.
I’ve also bought into the BBZ seminars package and those detailed conversations been a massive help to me as it included all those pre-flop charts to get your head around. Plus, I started watching the cards face up in replays in the PokerStars ‘Events’ tab for games like the $5k Titans and other high roller final tables, where you know the players are not random ‘lucksters’ that have wondered in off the street. Finally, on your Cardplayer Lifestyle website’s recommendation, I bought an online copy of ‘GTO Poker Simplified’ to go over and see if I’ve ever misunderstood anything that I’ve looked at so far.
I don’t want to cram in too much just before PSPC though, I want to relax a bit as the date gets closer. Getting sat down at the table on Day 1 with a few winning hands under my belt will settle all those early but natural nerves and I’ll be ready for whatever is thrown my way… Viva Bahamas!