- »Poker Pro Jeff Kimber Reflects on a World Title
Poker Pro Jeff Kimber Reflects on a World Title
Q: How important was that win for you? Obviously, it has to be up there on your list of career highlights?
A: The World Heads-Up Championship was really important for me. It was my first year as a full-time poker player. I’d left work after being offered a very generous sponsorship by Ladbrokes. Which was very good in terms of not putting any pressure on me to get results. I felt like the title was a pat on the back, not only for myself, but also the guys who decided to sponsor me rather than someone else. A full-time sports editor at the time, I already had a couple of big scores to my name, while still juggling poker with work. This felt like an affirmation, that full-time poker was the right direction to go.
Q: There were some big names in that tournament, what stands out for you on your run to the title?
A: The ‘Devilfish’ being the biggest, plus a load of big-name Europeans. Especially lots of talented German and Spanish players. I’d actually played my first live poker at the Barcelona Heads-Up festival two years previous. Roy ‘The Boy’ Brindley, who at that time was the only Ladbrokes pro and also my teammate, had taken me out drinking with Devilfish, Kevin O’Connell, Willie Tann and lots of others I recognized from the television show Late Night Poker.
Funnily enough, I’d played the World Heads-Up the year before and lost in the first round. And, in the first game of the 2007 tournament, I was all-in on the opening hand. I flopped the nuts; my opponent had the second nuts and a flush redraw. I think he had 8, 5, of spades on a 6, 7, 9 flop, with two spades, and I had 10, 8. If he’d hit the flush I would have been out, and probably would have never played a HU tournament again.
On my run to the title, I played a couple of guys who I’d never met before but ended up becoming friends with. In round two, an American called Jeff Buffenbarger stuck around after I had beaten him to cheer me on. To this day, he’s a good friend. I didn’t know it at the time but Jeff played a lot in the UK, and lived just outside London. That was a fun game.
In the last 16, I played Don Fagan, a bit of a legend of Irish poker and certainly more experienced than me. I eventually got the better of him. Don would always come over for a chat, especially in Vegas during WSOP time, when I bumped into him. Sadly, he passed away a couple of years ago.
In the quarters, I faced a local Spanish guy who had a massive rail cheering him on. There weren’t many Brits there at all, and those who were, were in the bar. So, I was basically on my own, but I did manage to focus and quieten them down.
In the semifinals, I had a Finnish guy I’d never heard of but I worried that he’d be difficult and hyper aggro like the stereotype from that country. It turned out he was pretty tight and inexperienced and not too much trouble.
Q: You faced a young Daniel Carter in the finals? Reflections on the title match, and the realization that you had won?
A: The final was fun. Dan and I had only met at the start of the week, but once we’d seen the draw on day one, we noticed we were on opposite halves. We said to each other, ‘see you in the final, let’s chop it up’, and every day, as we advanced and the other guys we were with were being knocked out, we kept reminding each other it was going to happen.
When we got to the final, we decided to change the payouts a bit, like we’d discussed at the start of the week. We took 25k off the top and put some on second and the rest to play for. So, instead of 125k and 60k, we made it 100k and 75k with 10k to play for. That meant I actually won 110k, still a lovely pay day. Even though we were mates, we both wanted to win, and I ran pretty well and won the final pretty smoothly. In fact, apart from that first hand in round one, I don’t think I was all-in the whole tournament. I was only behind in stacks for less than ten hands over the course of the whole thing.
I read an interview with Dan subsequently where he said he didn’t realize what a ‘big thing’ winning the title would be, and that he wished he’d played more seriously in the final. But, were playing for 10 grand, never mind the title. I took it very seriously, and I’m pretty sure he did too, he just didn’t win!
Q: The legendary Dave Ulliott was in the field, and was quite entertaining both at the table, and away from it? What memories do you have ‘Devilfish’, a member of the Poker Hall of Fame?
A: The ‘Devilfish’ was a funny character, and he was on great form that week. He was a bit intimidating back then. I was a young, inexperienced player. And he was this almost celebrity superstar who had been there, seen it, and done it.
I had known Dave for a long time, from that festival in 2005 until sharing a table with him in a PLO comp just a few weeks before he stopped playing and ultimately passed away. I don’t think he ever knew my name. If he did, I don’t remember him using it, but I think I had his respect. When it was time to take the piss out of someone (make fun of them) or talk down to them, I was never his target. When someone did something bad or got lucky on him, and I was at the table, I would be the one he would turn to and say ‘did you see what this lucky motherf–ker just called me with?’ It’s something he did multiple times during that last PLO comp we played together. It felt like our table was me, Dave and four blokes dragged in off the street, who were told to play every hand in a game they’d never tried before.
He was a real showman. I remember that week in Barcelona, as you entered the casino, at the bottom of the stairs there was a piano, and Dave would be on that playing and singing to nobody in particular. I’d never heard the song ‘Desperado’ before, and I never wanted to hear it again by the end of that week.
When I’d first met him, along with a number of other Late Night Poker legends two years earlier, we’d all gone out drinking across the road from the casino in the bars along the port. Dave performed a trick, that I went on to see many times, bribing the guy on stage to let him get up, play his guitar and sing a song to the whole bar.
There was a tournament we went to in Turks & Caicos in 2007, where a group of about 10 English guys were invited. It was basically a group of nine of us who were mates and knew each other, and Dave, who’d obviously been invited as the big name. That week, given that none of us were close to him or starstruck by him, I saw a completely different side of the guy. He was much friendlier, and made more of an effort to be nice and fun with us all. Jon Kalmar, a UK poker player who reached the WSOP main event final table the year Jerry Yang won it (2007), took over the local karaoke and was singing, in his own punk style, ‘The Devil Came Down to Georgia’. Dave (wrongly) assumed this was a tribute to him, and got up to dance. He was the only person on the dance floor, as the locals watched on completely dumbfounded.
Q: The event was held at the Grand Casino in Barcelona, directly across from Port Olímpic (Olympic Harbour), on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Is that the first time you had been to the city? How did you enjoy the experience? And, where does the Grand Casino rank with all the others you’ve been too?
A: Barcelona is a fantastic city and the casino is in a beautiful place. Right on the beach and opposite the Port Olimpic, full of bars and restaurants. In 2005, having played poker online for about 7 years, I ventured into the live game for the first time, playing some side events at the 2005 World Heads-up festival. I actually cashed in a 300 Limit Hold’em comp with a lineup of legends in it! Casino Barcelona will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s the first place I played, and I also had a big result there, winning the heads-up title. It was my first major win – in fact, my first live win full stop! That was part of the reason I headed back there last year to play the WPT. Happily finding that the standard of play hadn’t moved on much! I went deep in the main, making it to day three and the money. Cashed a PLO side event, too.
Q: What does your poker playing schedule look like these days? Are you playing lots? Tourneys or cash games, or both? And, where?
A: At the moment, of course, all my poker is online while we find a way that live poker tournaments can be safely put on. I’ve played online cash and live tournaments over the past few years. So, the switch hasn’t been massive for me, though I have got back to playing some online tournaments too. There’s always that fear the game has ‘moved on’ and the standard of play will be excellent, but in reality, there is still plenty of value online. In general, for the past few years, I’ve played a lot more UK comps and not traveled too far, though always spending 4-6 weeks in Vegas in the summer. There is so much choice these days (or at least pre-COVID). Where we once had to travel to find decent events, these days there is no need to go far, especially living in London.
Q: What is the poker scene in the UK like, where you are?
A: The poker scene in the UK is still healthy. With a mixture of guys who’ve been around forever and still plenty of younger players coming through. Events in the United Kingdom are well-supported, though the demise of the UKIPT and the GPS means we have fewer festival events than we once had. I love seeing new generations of players coming through and testing myself against them. Making my mind up pretty quickly whether they will stand the test of time. I still remember the first time playing young kids (at the time) like Jake Cody, JP Kelly, Toby Lewis and Sam Trickett. What sticks out about all those guys is they were not only very, very good, they were respectful, intelligent, polite, fun to play with. And won and lost with good grace. The new players who come through telling everyone how good they are, and how bad everyone else is, rarely seem to last in the game.
Q: What is the biggest change in poker since your victory?
A: Aggression. It’s not a bad or tough thing to play against in a vacuum. But it just means that there are far more landmines to tiptoe through in order to go deep in a tournament. People will four-bet or five-bet you with nothing knowing that they’re probably only a two-to-one dog with their A5 off, or whatever, which means you’ll get a stack a lot, but also, as any gambler will tell you, two-to-one long shots beat odds-on favourites every day of the week.
Q: Have you ever been to Canada? If so, where? Was it poker-related?
A: No, I have never been to Canada. Almost went to the Playground Party Poker event last year but decided against it. I have friends who’ve moved there, and they have nothing but good things to say about life in Canada. I was just talking to a mate who moved there in the summer with his wife and kids, New Brunswick I think he said, and he loves Canadian life.
Q: Are you watching the High Stakes Feud, Negreanu v Polk?
A: I’ve watched at least some of every session of the High Stakes Feud, and I love it. I’m not a massive fan of either Negreanu or Polk, and have played with them both. Didn’t find it much fun. Not only because they’re both good, but also because of the circus that having them at the table involves. Especially Negreanu. I think Doug is amazing. A few things he does would just not even enter my head to try. His over-betting strategy fascinates me, and is something I really want to understand more and use myself.
It feels a bit like we’re watching Daniel get expensive lessons, and he’s definitely improving. But Doug just looks in a different class to anyone I’ve seen play heads-up. I watched the session he streamed with (hole) cards, and I think maybe he took it a step too far. It definitely didn’t help his bottom line. Maybe he always partakes in a bit of shadow boxing after felting his opponent. But it made me smile to see it cost him the next hand on the other table by losing track of what was going on. I watched the Negreanu breakdown of the showdown hands, and having watched Doug’s analysis of their top 5 pots, Negreanu’s are almost a piss take. He was just shouting, ‘What the f–k?’, and ‘What the f—k are you doing here? I call’. I’m not even sure if they’re serious videos.