Former Grader and Brown Belt, but now RedKings pro James Keys opted for quality over quantity in 2011, a disappointing year being spared by an exceptional performance at the Aussie Millions when he won in excess of one million dollars for second. Meanwhile, his online game improved considerably, and he’s tweaked his mentality and approach to live tournaments as we head into 2012.
What did you do straight after the Aussie Millions?
Pretty much the day after the final we had flights booked from Australia to Hong Kong to visit friends there, which was exactly the same thing we did last year, so I guess life didn't change too much. We didn't play any poker for the rest of the trip this time though, and flew business class for a quick break in Thailand on the way back, which was nice.
What have you been up to since?
I played a lot of live tournaments between February and August with absolutely no success. I travelled up and down the UK as well as to Ireland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Spain and Italy before finally spending seven weeks in Vegas for the Series. I was completely burnt out afterwards and looking back I really wasn't playing very good poker so am not surprised I bricked all those events.
Since then, I've decided to go back to working on my game at online cash ($2/4 to $5/10 six-max No Limit Hold’em) and only playing live when I feel like it, and my play has improved immeasurably.
Bricking all those live tournaments, 2011 would have been a car crash year for me without the Aussie Millions, but then again I wouldn't have played most of them had I not had that bink, so who knows how it would have gone otherwise. It’s been amazing travelling around all these places which I wouldn't have been able to visit otherwise, and actually getting to see them because I busted all the tournaments on Day 1 too!
Did you play GSOP? How about Vegas?
I played every one of the GSOP [Grand Series of Poker] events. They're fantastic tournaments, the structure is great for the buy-in level (around $1,600), and there are always a ton of online qualifiers making for decent prize pools and soft fields.
They also tend to plan the events in different countries and cities from the usual beaten path, which is nice from a travelling point of view and also for a flag collector like myself. It also means the local direct buy-ins appear to be playing poker for the first time, which is always a bonus.
Vegas this year was a complete disaster financially, and, to be honest, my first time in five years when I've been genuinely unhappy there. For 2012 I think I need to make some kind of distinction between holiday time and work (okay, poker) time, as I didn't really achieve much of either this year. I might just ignore the early schedule and the $1,500 crapshoots and focus on having fun for a couple of weeks, then settle into a proper cash grind in time to get my eye in for the Main Event.
How did it feel to see Rupert [Elder] win an EPT?
Honestly, I'm just so ridic tilted and jealous because he actually won and got a trophy and everything. I had a five percent swap which softened the blow but, still, the resentment flows beneath the surface.
How important is your sponsorship and do you feel any pressure to perform?
I negotiated my sponsorship deal with RedKings just before the Aussie Millions; it would have been huge for me and enabled me to play some bigger buy-ins, but as it turns out it's just been a nice added bonus.
I wouldn't call it pressure so much, but I did really try too hard after Australia to get some kind of follow-up result so I could be mentioned in the same breath as the Codys, Tricketts and Moormans of this world, but that's pressure I put on myself, and I've now learned (at great expense) that it's best to just forget about that, play at your own pace and let the results come if they want to.
Do you still enjoy the travelling?
Travelling is definitely the best part of being a poker pro (that and the lie-ins), so I will continue to do as much as I can for the foreseeable future, obviously without going overboard like I did in 2011.
At the minute, I have plans to go to Salzburg (GSOP) and Thailand (holiday) next month, then the Dominican Republic for the GSOP Grand Final in April. While I'm there I'm also intending to visit nearby Puerto Rico for a week of R&R. Then there's the usual handful of EPTs and obviously the WSOP in June.
I actually have to skip Australia this year because I'm due to exchange contracts on a house in January and I'm not sure if I can organise all that while on the other side of the world. It's a shame not to go back and take advantage of my 15 minutes of near-fame, but it'll be there next year.
What aspects of your game would you like to work on in 2012?
A lot of my game fell off a cliff after January, mainly due to arrogance I think. In 2012 I need to remember to work hard to stay ahead of the game and that having a one million-dollar cash on The Hendon Mob database doesn't exclude me from having to fold to three-bets once in a while.
I already started working on this during the second half of 2011 and, to be honest, the improvement has been so drastic that it serves as great motivation to work even harder.
Last time we spoke, you were intending to focus more on PLO….
I've still got an incredible win-rate at PLO (variance) but can't seem to find the motivation to ever play it. I just don't have the love for other games the way I do for No Limit Hold’em, and I can't see that changing for a while.
Which boxes would need to be ticked for you to consider 2012 a successful year?
[ ] More money than I started with
[ ] Worked hard to be a better player
I would like to win a trophy (I've two first places on The Hendon Mob database, but neither tournament had a trophy for the winner), but if I can tick the two boxes above then I would consider that a successful year without the trophy. If I won one but couldn't tick those boxes, then I’d be disappointed.
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