Despite an eye-catching handle that would fair well in Scrabble, you’d be forgiven if EPT Loutraki was your first encounter with the name ‘Zimnan Ziyard’. Indeed, this was a relatively rare appearance for the Sri-Lankan born 25-year old pro, but it was one that netted him €347,000 and saw him join an illustrious lineup of former UK Champions that includes Jake Cody, Liv Boeree and friend Rupert Elder.
You’re a new face to most? How long have you been playing?
Although I was born in Sri Lanka, I was actually brought up in Iran, and that’s where I was first introduced to poker, although we called it flush, and played with Monopoly money. I think I was only 12 or 13 at the time, and was just playing with friends.
When I was 14, I moved back to Sri Lanka where I did my A-Levels, and right after that I came over to England, took a gap year off, and then went to University where I met Rupert [Elder] and Adam Latimer at Imperial College. Adam was the president of the poker society, but it was a long time ago now, maybe seven years, and certainly before any of us started doing it for a living.
My first encounter with real money poker was at a pool club I used to go to during my gap year. They had a best of the best competition, which included the games pool, American pool, snooker, darts and poker, which was the only one I didn’t have a clue as to how to play. I decided to give it a go and learn in the club, and so played an STT and managed to win it, even though I was still learning the hand rankings at the time.
I didn’t think I was really good at poker all of a sudden, but was pleased to be freerolling and so started playing some more. I won a few, and lost a few, but I ended up picking up the game really fast without losing too much money.
When did you turn pro?
I was studying mechanical engineering at University, and that’s when I started to play online. I began playing on the World Poker Tour sites – which everyone was playing at Imperial – and although I wasn’t making much money, I was probably breaking even at least. A few months into my course, I dropped out, and had a go at poker. And it turned out all right.
It was very different back then. It was much easier, and even though you didn't need to know much, you could still make a few quid here and there playing cash games. But WPT was a pretty small site: the games were running, but they became reg-filled after time, and were tougher, so I moved to Party Poker and began playing SNGs instead.
I was playing $10 SNGs, mainly 18- and 45-man, and probably enjoying a ridiculous ROI at that time, but this was pre UIGEA, so when the ban came in I started grinding the SNGs on PokerStars instead. Although the standard was much tougher, I played them for three or four years, turbos as well with the occasional shot at MTTs.
After a while I started to get bored just playing the same structure all of the time and was finding it increasingly difficult to stay motivated, so I decided to play more MTTs after shipping a $100 turbo. They’re much more fun, the fields are bigger and the prize pool is different every time, which keeps it interesting. Now I just play MTTs and have stopped playing SNGs almost completely.
I'm based in Eastbourne, so am down near the coast, and about half an hour from Brighton. I do go down to the local club at Hastings once in a while to play for fun, but I’m mainly an online player. I don't think I've ever played a UKIPT, probably because there's always something else happening that has kept me away. For example, when the UKIPT Brighton was going on, I was in Vegas playing the World Series.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Maybe a year ago I thought I was a great Omaha player, but the more I learned, the more I realised that I had no clue how to play this game, and it confused me. When I feel I'm getting good at something, soon enough I find I'm wrong, so I‘m not necessarily sure I even know what know my strengths are. I'm still making mistakes. It's about just thinking on the spot and looking at everything logically and making adjustments. Staying disciplined is the hard part.
I don't really study; I don't read books; I don’t watch it on TV. I just try to play it as it is.
So, how did you end up in Greece?
I won a satellite. It was my second go, and I think it was a €500 one. I play a few EPT satellites here and there, and have been to a few of them including the PCA [PokerStars Caribbean Adventure], Deauville, and San Remo. I think Greece was my fourth or fifth.
I think the PCA is by far the best EPT, obviously, mainly because of the weather, but the Atlantis [Resort & Casino] is a nice place to be. Competition-wise, it's pretty tough because a lot of top pros from both the States and Europe come over to play, but otherwise it's fun and is a good tournament to go to.
Greece was definitely not as tough as the other ones. I think around a third of the field were locals, so the standard wasn’t great, but there were still a lot of good players playing them, like with any big tournament.
Tell me about your journey to the final table....
The first day didn't start off too well, and I never seem to do well in the opening days of the EPTs. My high point was 65,000, but I came back down again, so I think I ended up chipping up from 30,000 to 36,000. For the other days, I was always in the top 10, possibly even the top 5.
My three big hands were all with queens, and I won a big 'flip with some guy who’d been four-betting me a lot. This time he had A-K of diamonds and the flop came 2-3-5 with two diamonds, so I had a bit of a sweat, but luckily I won the pot. It was for around 80 percent of my chips, so was obviously a very nice hand to win.
After that I had Q-Q versus A-K again which was taken post-flop, and then a hand against Rupert when he had K-J and I had Q-Q. And they all held up. Rupert almost bubbled the final table, but we didn’t get to play many hands. I think the last time we played on the same table together was six or seven years ago in the £1 and £2 rebuys. I’m pretty sure both of us have changed our game quite a bit since then.
Thoughts heading into the final?... Any nerves?
One thing I really like about the EPTs is that the days are short, but it's still very draining so you sleep very well because you’re so tired. When you wake up, you obviously feel nervous, and you’re anxious about everything, but after I sit down at the table again and play resumes, I normally feel comfortable and am just focused on playing well.
I didn't really have a strategy on the final table; I just tried to take it hand per hand because anything can happen. I was thinking of maybe being slightly on the aggressive side because I had the chip lead and there was a really short stack, but he kept doubling up and went from just a few big blinds to the middle of the pack, so I was no longer able to put pressure on people as there were no really short stacks anymore.
For me, even though I was a big chip leader, I would have been happy with fourth for a six-digit score. I've never had a six-digit score before, so I guess that was my target.
Which were the key hands?
I lost 25 big blinds early on with A-K versus A-A, but it was only for around 15 percent of my stack so wasn’t too bad. It would have been nice if I could have carried on going up and up, but I was a bit card dead after that and ended up being pulled back into the pack. I didn’t lose confidence or go on tilt or anything; I normally only go on tilt if I make a mistake and am usuthe finally fine if things play out like they should, which is what happened in that hand.
A key hand was when I raised the button with 7-5 of clubs and flopped a flush against top two pair. When you lose momentum, you feel as though anything can happen, and if he’d made his full house I would have been the shortest stack and had little chance of winning. In the end, I was lucky that he had such a strong hand and didn’t hit. After that, I was either first or second in chips and felt I had a good shot to win.
The aces and queens hand was interesting….
[Zimnan won a huge pot when Hauke Heseding raised the small blind with Q-Q, and Zimnan flat-called with A-A, before calling bets on all three streets of a 9s-9h-9c-3c-2d board]
It wasn’t pot control. To get maximum value out of the hand I decided to slowplay it, but then when he bet so heavily on the river, I thought the way he plays he could have bet three streets with quads and would be folding most other hands. If I raise, you know, he’s such an unpredictable player and has so much heart, he could come over the top and I’d be in a horrible position and wouldn’t know what to do. He was hard to play against because you never knew what he’d turn up with.
The dynamics in this hand were also unusual as there was a massive pay jump from third to second, and the other player was short-stacked. I'm not quite sure of the exact concept of ICM [Independent Chip Model] and how you calculate it, but I think it’s about simple logic more than anything. With such big pay jumps, just having the chip lead at this point would be a huge advantage in terms of bullying and applying pressure on the other players.
Tell me about heads-up play…
Heads-up, the plan was just to try and hit a hand and win. He was very hard to bluff, and because he went over the top three-handed with the rebluff so many times, I thought it would be a bad idea to start bluffing him. Trying to hit a hand and make him bluff was probably a better strategy.
[See here for a report of the winning hand. Initially, it was believed that Heseding had the biggest stack, but an official count revealed that Zimnan was the winner.]
The final hand was nuts or nothing. Obviously it was standard on the flop because I had the nut flush draw, but then I made two pair by the river and thought I could get paid off if he has an ace. When he jammed, he did it pretty quickly, and I was so close to folding. I think I'd had enough of him bluffing me and couldn't fold anymore. If he's got the flush, he's got the flush.
I'm not one of those players who play 16 hours straight, so I’m not used to long sessions. I like my sessions to be short, so although I was still able to focus on playing my hands and the important aspects, I was really tired during the final stages. I kept forgetting the blinds, and didn’t know what the exact chips were on the final hand. For some reason, I assumed he had around a million more than me, so when I realised I’d won I felt a sense of relief because he’d come back from just three blinds earlier in the final. It was a pleasant surprise.
Is it cash in hand? Any deals?
They just wire it, and it happens pretty quickly. It was definitely strange to see that figure in my account. I haven't done much with it yet, but I'm still in the process of buying a flat for myself and I'm looking around at a few places, so that's where most of my money is going to go to.
I had one hundred percent of myself, but when we were three-handed, there was talk of a deal, but the Greek guy wanted all cash and the casino wouldn’t let us take some cash, and some wire transfer, so it didn’t work out in the end. Obviously, we don’t want to be carrying that money around Europe, and he didn’t want us to transfer it, so we were unable to come to an agreement.
Plans for the future?
I don’t have much planned for the long-term future, but in the short term, I’m going to the Euro Finals in Paris next week, then definitely EPT Deauville. I haven’t looked further ahead than that. I’ll be playing more live events, but I think there are still one or two more scores to come before I can say for sure as there's a big cost involved in live poker, and it’s easy to spend a lot of money in buy-ins alone. I’m not ready for that yet, so I'm going to take it easy for now, and if it doesn't go well at the beginning then I'll start grinding online again.
Our New Year Reviews will continue throughout January and appear every two days.
#1 - JP Kelly
#2 - Roberto Romanello
#3 - Daniel 'jungleman12' Cates
#4 - James Keys
#5 - Julian Thew
#6 - Jerome Bradpiece
#7 - Rupert Elder
#8 - Barny Boatman
#9 - Jake Cody
#10 - Sam Razavi
#11 - Sam Trickett