“If you ask: ‘Is it still beatable?’, ‘Can you make a lot of money?’, ‘Can you start low and grind it up?’, The answer is yes.”
Five years into his online poker career as a member of the PocketFives community, high-stakes online poker professional ‘Girafganger7’ still believes in the poker dream.
The well-known Belgium pro, who goes by ‘Giraf’, is a fixture in the online tournament scene. He’s a consistent threat to take down any tournament he enters and, in 2018, he has been a mainstay in the top 25 of the PocketFives Rankings.
Of course, like most, it wasn’t always easy for Giraf, he recalls his early years when he was trying to figure out the game and was basically “clicking buttons.” It wasn’t until he hooked up with a staking stable and received coaching that a whole world opened up for him. Nowadays, he insists that with the wealth of available online training sites and hard work, the poker dream is still there for the taking for everybody.
“(The dream) is just a bit smaller. You can’t really win a million every year, but you can still win more than a normal job. And it’s fun, you know? I wouldn’t advise people to quit a good job to try online poker but if you just got your degree or something and want to give it a shot, I think it’s a viable thing to do,” he said. “You can still do it playing MTT’s online because there is so much good information out there. It’s actually not that hard, basically, anybody can do it, it just takes work…and grinding out the variance.”
Giraf has done just that. He’s put in the work and his results prove it. He’s rapidly approaching $7 million in career earnings and currently sits as the #15-ranked player in the world. This fall he took home a World Championship of Online Poker title in Event #55 (Medium – $530 NLHE 8-Max PKO Turbo) for over $106,000 in a month where he racked up over $400,000 in earnings.
While he says he’s not concerned with reaching money milestones, the former #1-ranked player in the world is looking to make a return to the top of the list.
“I would like to be number one again. I think that’s pretty special because the Swedes are really good,” Giraf said. “So, just getting there would be great again. I’m going to get to $10 million in cashes anyway if I keep playing. Profit is still more important than overall cashes.”
A good portion of his lifetime earnings occurred in the first half of 2017. Giraf’s results for the beginning of that year had an occasional five-figure score but nothing that was going to separate him from the pack. Then in April, he soared to a fifth place finish in the PokerStars Sunday Million 11th Anniversary for a massive $292,000 score. That propelled him into a spring season he’ll likely never forget. He notched a pair of five-figure scores and then took tenth in the $10,000 Spring Championship (High) Main Event for $72,567. All of that paled in comparison to what would be a career-high score for Giraf. At the end of the 2017 SCOOP $1,050 NLHE Phase Tournament, he struck a deal that had him take home the lions share of the prize pool of $745,000.
“That whole period, that whole six months was kind of insane. It was just the massive heater that people dream of happened right then.”
As it turns out, Giraf’s deal in the SCOOP tournament is both one of his fondest career moments and it is also the sidebar for a larger story. This is the very tournament that Gordon ‘holla@yoboy’ Vayo ended up winning, earning $692,460 after the deal. This amount was then withheld from Vayo on suspicions of Vayo playing against site’s Terms of Service and using a VPN to play from the United States. The situation has prompted Vayo to file a lawsuit against PokerStars to try and recover the money.
With Giraf finishing as the runner-up, he reached out to see what happens in this case.
“The guy who used to work at PokerStars, (Michael) Josem replied to me on Twitter and he said that in cases like (Vayo’s) where there wasn’t real cheating, it goes to charity,” Giraf said. “I would be fine with that but of course I’d rather just have Gordon Vayo keep his money. I think it’s pretty ridiculous. There’s so much shady stuff going on and then a guy who plays on his own account and can kind of prove that he was in Canada at the time, but maybe not completely, like maybe one day or another he can’t prove it and then PokerStars decides to go after that. For me, that’s ridiculous.”
Giraf has recently relocated himself in order to continue to play poker a little more freely. He’s been living in the UK for over a year, getting settled and keeping the grind alive. He’s been exploring new ways to keep the game fun, even dipping his toes into the world of poker streaming.
“I was doing it for my Facebook group just to try it out. I enjoy it, but it’s not like an educational thing. I don’t want to become a Twitch streamer, that seems like way too much hard work. But I do like it,” he said. “I’m not 100% sure if I’m going to keep streaming, I would like to. But, like I said, it’s kind of a lot of work. If I do it, I want it to be decent, you know? I want people to enjoy themselves so I would have to take it kind of seriously.”
This all goes back to his original thought. He believes poker is still a world where fun and profit can be had at the same time.
“I want to do it because you can still make it in online poker. You can still do it. I think for a while it used to be all crazy gamblers before Black Friday. Everybody was a ‘degen’, spending all their money on coke and hookers. After that was kind of the backlash where everybody was doing yoga, being healthy and doing boring, serious stuff. I think there is some kind of middle ground where you can just enjoy playing online poker. Like, really enjoy it. I feel like people forget that it’s really a lot of fun. I mean, it’s a game, you know?”
Outside of his love of the game, his goals have little to do with the game of poker. For years now he and his girlfriend have been caring for farm animals in Belgium. He has been splitting his time between online poker in the UK and traveling to Belgium.
“The goal, mid-to-long term, is to have my own sanctuary for animals. Mostly farm animals, maybe some stray dogs,” he said.
But in the meantime, to help continue his efforts in helping the animals he loves, he plans on continuing to grind. Also, finding his way back into the top-5 and letting people watch while he goes on the rider. Or not.
“I just kinda want to do something fun. I haven’t figured it out what it is yet but I’m trying stuff. We’ll see where it lands.”
You can follow along with Giraf’s poker journey via Twitter: @Girafganger7.