2010 was a barren and disconcerting year for veteran pro Julian Thew, but he returned with aplomb in 2011 with two tournament triumphs including a third GUKPT title in Coventry. And despite a brief post-Stars tenure as a 'free agent', he soon joined former running buddy Tony 'tikay' Kendall as a proud member of the Sky Poker team.
How have you enjoyed your time at Sky?
It's gone really well and I feel very at home with them. I write blogs, put in some hours online, and play the live events. I've been to all the legs of the Sky Poker Tour, haven't missed any. They're really good and I managed to final-table one, so I'm happy with that.
I also go on the show once every couple of months, but we're looking to increase that next year so I'll be appearing every few weeks. It's definitely well out of my comfort zone, and I was sure I was pretty awful the first few times I went on, but it's one of those things where the more you do it, the easier it gets, so I feel a bit more relaxed doing it now than I did eight or nine months ago. It's a new skill set that I can learn and it's something a bit different, although I'm still nowhere near as polished as I could be at this stage.
I've always shied away from the limelight a little, and it would be lovely to just be anonymous, but it's part and parcel of what I do now and one of the responsibilities I've taken on board as a member of the team, so I'm happy to do what I can. It's definitely a slightly different audience than normal, and I do get recognised occasionally, say down at DTD [Dusk Till Dawn] when people who don't know me mention that they saw me on the show.
It's great working with tikay. We've always been quite tight, so it's nice in some respects as I see him more now than I used to. As I'm sure you know, he's a very busy fella.
How was Vegas?
I had a terrible time in Vegas; it was the biggest disappointment of the year. I only went for two and half weeks, but didn't cash in anything. I played the Main Event, one other World Series event, and then a few of the tournaments at the Venetian and Caesars. I think I played well for the first week, but then didn't play well during the second. No scores on the doors unfortunately.
I think next year I'm going out solely to play the Main Event. Normally I come out a week or two beforehand and play really hard, 12 to 14 hours a day. If I'm in a tournament, I'm there all day, and if I bust, I play the cash games, so there's probably a bit of burnout by the time I get up to the Main Event.
The Main Event is a bit of a plod, but if I could just get off the plane, have a day off and sit down in the Main Event super hungry, keen and in tiptop condition, then I think I'd have a much better chance. I've played it for seven years now, and I've never got through Day 2.
Tell me about the final in Coventry...
I went in sixth in chips. There were a couple of guys chipped up, two or three of us in the middle of the pack, and then the short stacks. It was a tough final table; definitely some good players on there. I've known [Richard] Trigg for quite a few years, and obviously he was dangerous with his big stack. Also Sam Grafton - I've only played with him twice, but you can tell he knows what he's doing. Stuart Rutter was on there as well, but he was handcuffed by his stack.
It was a good mix on the table, but I just ran really well and hit the cards when I needed to. It was one of those days when you didn't need to give too much thought to anything; it all just fell into place. The third GUKPT title was nice, but for me it's more about the money. Being the last man standing and winning any event is always good, but the way I look at it, it's a £1K event and it just so happens that I've won two other £1K events in that Series, so I don't read too much into it. The first title [in Plymouth] was definitely the most special though.
I've probably only played about four GUKPTs over the last couple of years, purely because they just don't get the runners really. I think Coventry did quite well to get 145, and I definitely didn't think it would get any more than that. I didn't go down to London for the Grand Final. It's a big buy-in, £2,500, and I'm past the point where I feel I have to play every event in a series, so I just pick and choose. Coventry was the most local one for me, so it was convenient.
The first two years the GUKPT had a really good start, with a lot of runners, but perhaps some of the venues were a little farflung. No one else was competing at first, so I think they're going to struggle next year with Genting and all the other tours around.
What do you think of Coventry Casino?
I haven't been there that often actually. It's a lovely casino, and has got a little bit of a Vegas vibe, almost. On Saturday they had a match on, and when the match finished, hordes of people came downstairs. I gather from talking to some of the locals that the cash games are electric. They've got all these kegs of beer dotted across the casino floor with pumps, so they're lashing out the pints to the punters. People tend to just sit down with £50, but it doesn't take long before the games get rather juicy. So, Saturdays in Coventry when the match is on is a good time to play live poker.
What have you been up to for the rest of the year?
I'm just writing an end of year blog now for the Sky Poker site. I've played more tournaments this year, about 80 in total. It's gone okay, which is really down to two wins. It's a really fine line. Out of the 80, I cashed around 10 percent of the time, with six final tables and two wins. It would have been nice to up the in-the-money finishes, but I'll take two wins any time.
I haven't really been hitting the cash games over the last six months; I've just been playing online really on Sky. I'm probably breaking even, so I'm not making waves and need to put more time into it. I'm competent, but I'm nowhere near the standard of some of these young Brits coming through. Lots of technically better players than me. I played with Sam MacDonald at the weekend, and at Monte Carlo. He was very good and put on a masterclass on our starting table, playing around 85 percent of pots and making life very difficult for everyone. It's not often you see someone who impresses you so much.
I think the standard at the moment is really good. You'll nearly always get a couple of strong players on your starting table now, and these young guys are so hungry that I don't see it letting up any time soon. The game is going to get tougher and tougher, definitely, and I've just got to try and keep up or get in the slipstream.
Do you feel the pressure as a family man?
Oh definitely, definitely. I had a really disappointing year in 2010, so the pressure's been off a little this year because I've been running and playing a little bit better. People seem to tag you with winning an EPT and think you're sorted for life, but EPT wins aren't enough to retire on. I'm one of the older players now, but I've still got quite a lot of working life left in me, so you certainly can't pack up everything on the strength of one EPT or anything; you need to be relatively consistent, although it's hard to gauge with MTTs.
When I first won the EPT, I thought that was it, no self-doubt ever again, I can put that to bed, but six months later I reverted back again - it doesn't take long. Even this year with two firsts, that's a win every six months, but six months can feel like a long time in poker when you're not peppering the money spots. I've certainly experienced a confidence boost, but do still slip up now again. That's partly down to not being focused, and perhaps not having the time to prepare before an event, because I'm taking the kids to football and so on. Life's a lot more hectic now. It feels more like work these days, but although I don't get the butterflies anymore, I still look forward to playing with a sense of anticipation.
What's the future of poker over here?
I think the tax officers have been sniffing around, but obviously it's a big thing to take on with so many different aspects to it in terms of winnings and losses. Certainly across Europe, more and more governments are clamping down on poker. If it got taxed over here, then that would make what isn't an easy profession, even harder.
The fact that the US was wiped off the online map, yet still seems to be growing, is a good sign. They got around 60,000 runners or something for the last Sunday Million - I think that's a pretty healthy indication that poker isn't going away just yet.
What are your plans for 2012?
I don't have any interest in the EPTS, or anything that big. I was going to play the WPT, but we had a bereavement in the family so I didn't play. I'll definitely do the Irish Open, and all the UKIPTS, the Genting Tour, and probably one or two GUKPTs. Also DTD with the £300 freezeout every month and the Monte Carlo events, so that's a pretty full enough calendar already.
Our New Year Reviews will continue throughout January and appear every two days.
Previous New Year Interviews:
#1 - JP Kelly
#2 - Roberto Romanello
#3 - Daniel 'jungleman12' Cates
#4 - James Keys