Commentary

Loosli the new face of French poker

Updated: October 28, 2013, 8:36 AM ET
By Bernard Lee | ESPN.com

Watch Sylvain Loosli's journey to the WSOP main event final table every Tuesday night on ESPN.

For the past three years, France has hosted the World Series of Poker Europe. After four years in London and two subsequent years in Cannes, the tournament series moved in 2013 to the "City of Lights," better known as Paris, and this year, the country had much to celebrate as Roger Hairabedian captured his second bracelet in the 2,200 euro no-limit hold 'em event. Outlasting a field of 337 players, Hairabedian's victory made him the only Frenchman to win two bracelets. Out of the eight events at WSOPE, French players earned two bracelets (the other was Darko Stojanovic's victory in the 5,300 euro Mixed-Max no-limit hold 'em event) and four runner-up finishes.

French players have had solid success over the past few years at the WSOP in Vegas as well. Gaelle Baumann's final table bubble last July was memorable, but it was Antoine Saout's run to third place in 2009 that change the course of the country's poker potential.

[+] EnlargeSylvain Loosli
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)Sylvain Loosli enters the main event final table sixth in chips.

Saout's remarkable run inspired thousands of French players, including one poker professional who is currently hoping to outperform the country's icon: Sylvian Loosli. The 26-year-old will enter the WSOP final table sixth with 19.6 million in chips and credits Saout's run for invigorating his quest.

"Obviously, when you see Antoine getting such a tremendous result, you think you can do it myself," Loosli said. "It was magic to see him achieve such a great result. … Last year, I was sweating Gaelle Baumann. Unfortunately she finished 10th. But it feels really great to be at the final table. For me, for my friends, for France, for French poker. It's great."

Loosli began playing small tournaments about seven years ago while attending business school. He became fascinated with the game, studying it by watching the World Poker Tour coverage on television and training videos online.

"I really enjoyed the game from the beginning," he said. "I thought there was so many different aspects in it … the strategy, the mindset, everything."

From a casual player to a dedicated pro, Loosli took his game to another level as the poker world became regulated in France.

"It really boomed back in July 2011, when the market was regulated," Loosli said. "Poker rooms had to buy some licenses and started to advertise a lot on TV. At that time, there was a really big boom about poker in France. I think many of the current young players started to be professionals at that time. … It was definitely a great boost for a lot of us."

After completing this education, Loosli moved to England for more poker. He'd play primarily online in the shorthanded cash games and for a while, that's all that intrigued him. Slowly the tournament bug bit and Loosli was hooked.

"I always thought I could do well in live tournaments even though it is not my main game," he said. "I played in three EPT's, one Partouche Poker Tour in France. That's it … I always thought I could do well, if I just focused a bit more on playing live and working on my game."

With only a 24th-place finish in a preliminary EPT event on his career resume, Loosli decided to attend the 2013 WSOP. He said he'd only play the WSOP once and that this was his only shot.

After playing in a few $5,000 and $1,500 preliminary events, he registered for the main event, primarily inspired by his fellow countrymen and women from past years. Day 1 was did not start out as smoothly as he had hoped.

"The beginning of the first day was pretty rough for me," he said. "I had a really good table but I just wasn't able to win any pots. I didn't have so many good hands. At some point, I was down to 15k on Day 1."

His fortunes changed when he got moved to a new table. He chipped up to 46K to end the day and from that point on, he had what could only be described as an incredibly smooth journey to the final table.

"I never had to put my tournament at risk [after Day 1]," Loosli said. "It was great. I never went all-in for my tournament life after that. ... I was feeling very comfortable playing because I was deepstacked, which is when I feel I have a tremendous edge."

During the middle of tournament, Loosli enjoyed a surreal ride to the top of the leaderboard as his stack grew almost exponentially day-by-day: 500,000 (end of Day 3); 900,000 (end of Day 4); 5 million (end of Day 5); 14.1 million (end of Day 6).

Calm and collected, Loosli headed on to Day 7, the final day of play before the final table hiatus.

"It's kinda of funny because I felt more nervous before Day 6," he said. "When I started Day 7, I didn't feel any pressure. I knew I got lucky at the end of Day 6 (Q-J > Danard Petit's A-A). I felt it was like a freeroll. Now, I was just focusing on my goal. I wasn't even looking at the pay jumps. I was saying to myself don't make any mistakes, keep playing my game, keep playing some good poker and I will be a November Niner."

One of the biggest surprises on Day 7 was the self-implosion of the chip leader Anton Morgenstern, who amazingly exited in 20th place. Loosli had a front row seat to the drama, which may have helped him make the final table.

"It was quite crazy to see him bust like this," Lossli said of Morgenstern. "He was sitting on my left. I think he was a very good player so when he busted it was very good news for me. Overall, when you see people making big mistakes, you are just thinking that I'm not going to do the same thing."

Loosli didn't make any mistakes as he coasted into the final table. He left Vegas with a great desire to continue to learn and prepare. He signed a deal with the largest site in France, Winamax, and for the past few months has been diligently working on his game.

"I will be as prepared as I can for the final table," he said. "I plan to play more tournaments. A bit of a mix of live and online including sit-n-go's. I'm lucky to have many good friends in poker. "

Part of his preparation will be to analyze the potential strategies of the other stacks at the table. Unlike some others, Loosli acknowledges he has a good table draw, but understands that fortunes can change in a heartbeat.

"Four shorter stacks to my left and the bigger stacks to my right. But you know, things can change very quickly in poker," he said. "The shortstacks could double up very quickly. I will be able to adapt, but overall I think it is a great seat."

Just having a seat at the main event final table has created a legacy. Loosli cited Saout's influence and what it meant to his game and now,  thousands of others will think of Loosli in the same light and yearn to follow in his footsteps. Will he leave Vegas the next world champion? If so, he'll make an huge impact on one of the largest European markets, but more than that, he'll realize a dream that he never meant to chase.

"It would obviously be the greatest accomplishment of my poker career," Loosli said of a potential victory. "It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is the best tournament in the world, everyone is dreaming about it. I would take a great pride in being such an ambassador."

Bernard Lee is a columnist for ESPN.com and the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Since finishing 13th in the 2005 WSOP Main Event, Lee has earned over $2 million in career earnings, including three poker titles. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Bernard is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and also the host of a weekly poker radio show in Boston, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show".

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