For the past few weeks, Sami Kelopuro has been taking it easy; spending time with his girlfriend, house training his new Italian Greyhound puppy, and generally just getting some much needed – and much deserved – rest.
To the victor go the spoils, as they say.
In April, Kelopuro won a pair of PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker titles and took down four GGPoker Spring Festival events. He cashed 120 times and his total earnings for the month were $4,446,237. That type of success helped the Finnish poker pro capture PocketFives Player of the Month for April. His mouse has been dormant since.
Putting together a month of solid results like he did in April didn’t come easy for Kelopuro. While he’s been able to hold onto the #2 spot in the PocketFives Rankings despite taking an extended break, the success came after a period of time where it felt like nothing was going right for him.
“The secret is to run good, especially in tournaments,” Kelopuro joked. “That’s the biggest change to the time previous to that. From Fall 2019 for about a year, I had a pretty rough run playing mostly tournaments, the same kind of (schedule) as now, and then it started slowly getting a little better, and now I had a total dream series.”
Now in his mid-30s, Kelopuro no longer qualifies as a young gun, but the experience he gained since first bursting onto the online poker scene in 2005 provides him with the ability to recognize what was happening to him while it was occurring.
“When it’s a pretty radical shift to what’s been going on for a while running really bad, always losing those key flips and getting the worst end of setups and so on. When that stops and things kind of radically change like that, you do feel that for sure,” Kelopuro said.
That’s not to say some cosmic force decided to flip the proverbial kill switch and allowed Kelopuro to taste success again. Through both upswings and downswings, Kelopuro has worked on improving his game and rather than relying on what he knows, including solvers, but he is continuously looking for new ways to study the game.
“There’s no way around it. If you take poker seriously these days, play on the highest buy-in level. I think you kind of have to (use solvers)t. I don’t think there’s many people who kind of skip that part completely and still have long-term success. So you do have to do that, but there are tools other than solvers,” Kelopuro said.
The last time Kelopuro put in a full day of online tournament play was April 26. When the SCOOP and GG Spring Festival were going, so was he; no days off. Once those series wrapped up, Kelopuro allowed himself some time to rest and enjoy the downtime. He hasn’t even peaked at what he might be missing.
“I don’t even want to know if there’s anything coming up. I’m not ready yet,” Kelopuro said. “I’m enjoying my time off and enjoying the good results for a while. So I don’t really have plans. So just going to take it easy, and when I feel like playing I’ll see if anything’s going on.”
Battling online in the highest stakes tournaments available against the toughest competition day in and day out, Kelopuro is well aware that there are not a lot of soft spots in those tournaments – if any at all. Having endured and survived through multiple single day million dollar swings in the days where he was grinding high stakes cash games, he developed the ability to shoulder those swings after switching to the tournament streets where buy-ins are regularly as high as $25,500.
“There isn’t that much value, I don’t think, for anyone. Of course, someone is better than someone else, but still, if everyone’s super tough, there could be a final table where everyone’s just so good,” Kelopuro said. “Maybe there’s one mediocre pro mixed in there, but that’s not much value, and if a couple of those real end bosses are in there, maybe there’s still no value. So they are very tough.”
Even though the world’s best players all seem focused on mastering game theory optimal play, Kelopuro doesn’t believe today’s game is totally devoid of the creativity that was common a decade ago. It just needs to be deployed at the right time.
“There’s room for (creativity), for sure. Nobody’s perfect, nobody’s going to ever learn GTO perfectly. But still, I would say less. And also, all the best players have quite similar styles,” Kelopuro said. “It’s the opposite to five, ten, whatever years ago, there were very different styles that were very successful. I don’t think that’s so much the case anymore.”
Still, as players take different approaches to learning, studying, and implementing GTO, different styles of play are obvious to the most astute observers and Kelopuro has pinpointed one group in particular that he believes is ahead of the rest of the pack.
“I think I’m a fan of the American approach. I think in that GTO style they are the best. They have studied the hardest it seems. They might lack then in, if they’re like very, very GTO approached, might miss some exploitative value here and there, but they don’t really necessarily play in the lower buy-ins as a lot of the Europeans do.”
Despite all of the succes he has enjoyed online on his way to being the #2-ranked player in the world, poker fans will never see him taking his game to the live felt again. A car accident when he was younger left him with a neck injury. Kelopuro believes that years of physical therapy which was meant to alleviate the pain may in fact have made things worse. Sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a poker for an extended period of time made playing live unbearable.
While that sounds like bad news for his online opponents, there is also a chance that he leaves that world behind soon as well. A growing set of interests outside of poker has Kelopuro considering retiring from the game – and don’t expect him to be a part-timer either.
“I guess it mainly depends on the games. How long are they beatable for me? How long it’s enjoyable and going well. But yeah, I don’t see that going on forever,” Kelopuro said. “The problem with the part-time thing is that it’s really hard to keep up with the field if you’re not playing all the time. Then you’re probably not studying all the time. And then you’re not good enough to win. And I don’t know if I want to be like a part-time mid-stakes player. And also I don’t want to be a losing high-stakes player.”
“So maybe it is time to quit then at some point, but we’ll see,” Kelopuro said. “Take one year at a time.”