Niklas Astedt stood up from the final table and said his goodbyes. It was a close call, but his first World Series of Poker bracelet would have to wait for another day.
And that seems to be ok with him right now because, after all, he is Niklas Astedt, and if history is any indicator – his time will come. For the uninitiated, Astedt, the 31-year-old savant from Sweden, is a generational talent when it comes to online poker. He’s one of the most respected players in the game today, and for many who have followed his successful online career – he’s perhaps the best ever.
It’s undeniable, Astedt is in a category all by himself.
And his career results tell the story. A brief recap of his extensive resume includes Astedt as the #1-ranked online player in the world a record 10 different times for a total of 97 weeks. He’s currently second on the Online All-Time Money List and he’s won multiple titles in nearly every major online tournament series, most using his famous screen name ‘Lena900’. His accomplishments make it so the notoriously private pro finds himself constantly in poker headlines.
Now he smiles as he sits down for a brief chat, well aware that another headline is right around the corner. The missed chance at a bracelet fades away as it is likely just another ending to a tournament in a string of thousands of tournaments. Besides, what Astedt’s really excited about today isn’t a bracelet at all, it’s a Championship Belt.
Astedt was the runaway winner of the PocketFives #1 Number One contest this past May. The contest asked the poker community to vote and declare who is the all-time #1-ranked pro in online poker history. ‘Lena900’ topped the list that included the titans of online poker. Names like Fedor Holz, Sami Kelopuro, and Chris Moorman all fell as Astedt was named the winner. The prize, a one-of-a-kind #1NumberOne Championship Belt. It’s a trophy Astedt seems excited for but also an honor bestowed by his community that is not lost on him.
“Poker is tough because no one knows who’s the best right?” Astedt said, discussing how it feels to be acknowledged as one of the best. “The only thing you have is your peers telling you kind of that they’ve seen you as a good player. That’s the only validation you get of being [good]…so, of course. Yeah, definitely, I like hearing that, especially from my peers, playing the same kind of stakes. That makes me feel good.”
The first impression of Astedt is that he’s both soft-spoken and sincere. You may have to lean in a little to hear him. But his quiet confidence has been earned after years of what is a legendary dedication to the online grind. From his first time atop the Online Poker Rankings in 2016 to his meteoric rise on the Online All-Time Money List beginning in 2017, to his four GGPoker Super MILLION$ titles, Astedt has been one of the most reliable, consistent winners at the highest stakes online. Now, after years of grinding, he admits he may be pulling back from his non-stop schedule in the near future.
“Up until maybe a year ago…or two years ago…I did play a lot, a lot, a lot of poker. And I mean, where did the motivation come from? I don’t know. I always wanted to be among the best and it takes a lot these days to do that. Both studying and playing, but for me, now, I enjoy competing more than the grind.
“My next three years are probably not going to be as grind-heavy as it’s been. I’m going to pick and choose a little bit more. Also for me, the games aren’t as big anymore. I can play Sundays and I can play the series. There is a lot of series, but still, it’s not an everyday grind. I wouldn’t play a Tuesday anymore just because, I don’t do that anymore.”
Astedt has been playing online poker for nearly half his life. He got his start the way many young players have. During the mid-2000’s poker explosion the vibrations were felt as far as Sweden where a teenage Astedt and his friends started playing home game tournaments. It wasn’t long before Astedt found he had a knack for the game and started to take it more seriously.
“I started out playing freerolls,” he said. “Then I borrowed my mom’s credit card and I played on her account when I was 17. I quit school two years earlier than I should have to graduate and I just played poker.
“I moved out of my parent’s house when I was 20 so I would say that for 11 years I’ve been supporting myself playing poker.”
Now known as a tournament pro, when he first started out Astedt was playing mostly cash games. Poker’s learning curve can be steep, and expensive, and Astedt was not immune to its swings.
“The first four or five years I was playing a lot of cash and figuring it all out. I was playing the highest cash games there were and then, a few months later, I was playing 10 stakes lower than that. Then a few months later I was playing big stakes again. So I was up and down a lot when I was playing cash games up until I was 24. I had very bad bankroll management in general in my early twenties.”
During that time, it was the money that attracted him. He said he found out early that he had an edge and that he could continue to make a good living. But after all of his success over the years, for him, now, he says playing poker is more about the competition than the payday.
“I’m somewhere in my career, or whatever you want to say, where I don’t have to care that much about more money kind of so I can pick and choose where I play and more about the competition of it, than pure making money.
“I enjoy playing high stakes. I enjoy it when I feel it. I never sell action. I always play on my own. If I can’t play a tournament, I won’t but I like when I feel it. I play better when I feel it.”
One thing Astedt hasn’t always cared for though is the notoriety that comes along with a career such as his. There’s no real upside to being poker famous in Sweden and so over the years, he’s had an aversion to cameras, interviews, and, at times, even having his real name in connection to his screen name. It’s all been in the name of security and privacy, not out of indifference or arrogance. But, he acknowledges, that time has passed and anyone who wants to know who ‘Lena900’ is can now find out.
“Like now, when I’m here [at the WSOP], I take 10 photos a day with Brazilians and Asian [fans]. Apparently, they’re big fans of mine and that part…I don’t love it as much but I’ll do it, you know? I’m quite easygoing.”
He does come off as having a laid-back, humble nature. It’s one that doesn’t stifle his competitiveness nor prevent him from praising the competition.
“It’s strange when it comes to poker, because maybe the top 20 guys, I don’t play with that much. They usually play the live high rollers. But I think it’s a big jump between mid-stakes or mid-high-stakes and the top, 40 guys that play $5K+ online or $100K live. They are damn good. They put a lot of work into it and that’s what it’s about. And it is quite a big jump, I feel, between playing mid-high and playing high stakes online and live.
“The landscape of poker has changed so much. Back then [earlier in his career], it wasn’t that I didn’t play the highest stakes, it was just that the highest stakes was $1,000. You know what I mean? Now the highest stakes are $25,000 online and you can play a schedule on a Sunday for $100,000…$200,000 sometimes if you want to. It’s just so different from what is offered and how the games look today. But I’ve always been in there, competing in the highest stakes there was.
“I mean, this year has been crazy though,” he continued. “I’ve had four straight great years, but this one has been particularly crazy with having one $10K every Sunday and me final tabling it every second time. Winning it every third time or whatever…it’s crazy.”
Astedt is a player who has essentially done and seen it all, and while he says “I want a bracelet” what he’s really after is the competition. Where the serious competition is, is where you’ll find him.
And when the World Series is done, he’ll take the Championship Belt back home, put it away, and prepare for another year of battling to beat the best. So he can remain the best.