The French poker star discusses his time as a professional StarCraft gamer in South Korea, his passion for fast-paced card game Hearthstone and the buzz he gets from Twitch streaming...
With his crop of platinum blond hair and collection of snazzy sunglasses, Bertrand Grospellier, otherwise known simply as 'ElkY', is an instantly recognisable figure on the international poker scene. The Team PokerStars Pro also sits comfortably atop France's all-time money list with live tournament winnings of $13.5m, while his tour de force was completing poker's coveted 'Triple Crown' in 2011 (WSOP, EPT and WPT titles).
The 36-year-old is also a bit of an online poker phenom. Back in 2009, he entered the Guinness Book of Records for the most Sit & Go poker tournaments played within the space of an hour. That was 62. Indeed, lightning reflexes and unwavering endurance come easy to ElkY after plying his trade as a professional gamer before discovering poker. We caught up with him at King's Casino in Rozvadov, Czech Republic, to hear more about his gaming life outside poker...
ElkY on his way to setting a Guinness world record in 2009
Have you always been passionate about computer games?
Yes. My brother, who is ten years older than me, was given a computer and our sister didn't want to play with him. So I started playing games with him from three years old and got into gaming that way. But I also liked all kinds of games, including board games.
Before you rose to fame in poker, you were a professional gamer in South Korea, ranked one of the top StarCraft players in the world. How did that happen?
I'd visited the country in 1999 and 2000 but I moved there in 2001 because at the time South Korea was the only place you could become a professional StarCraft gamer and make a living from it. They were really advanced with eSports and it was on TV. I loved living in South Korea and life was really fun. The capital Seoul is a huge city and there is so much to do all the time. If you want to get a haircut at midnight, you can. It's non-stop action. It was a dream because we were being paid to play video games, sometimes in front of 20,000 people in arenas, and we would get recognised in the street. One time, we were mobbed on the subway by fans and spent over an hour signing autographs. A unique thing about Korea was that a lot of our fans were older - some were in their forties or fifties, which is quite different to Europe.
Where does the nickname 'ElkY' come from?
ElkY was my character name from role-playing games, so I kept using it. Also, Koreans have a problem pronouncing my real name, which meant it was easier for them to call me by my game ID.
Out of interest, why is there a capital 'Y' in ElkY?
I just thought it looked cooler and more symmetrical.
Did you learn Korean?
Sure, I can speak Korean, although not perfectly. But I can get around in Korea quite easily. Living with Koreans made it easier to learn the language.
How long did you live in that part of the world?
Six years. For the first four years, I was a StarCraft professional. Once I got into poker, I decided to move back to London because by 2006 I had become a PokerStars Team Pro and there were so many tournaments in Europe. It didn't make sense living in Korea and going back and forth every other week. It was just too tiring, so I moved to London in 2007. As well as doing well at poker, I was spending a lot of time on the road as part of my StarCraft deal, and my Korean teammates had to join the army as everyone has to sign up with the military for 26 months. So I decided to focus on poker and became a pro about a year before signing with PokerStars.
ElkY won the PCA Main Event in 2008 for $2,000,000
In 2015, you signed for professional eSports outfit Team Liquid as a Hearthstone player. How did this deal come about?
I've always been a fan of Team Liquid and I've known the founder since 2002 as we played StarCraft together in Korea. We stayed in touch and they offered me the opportunity to sign for them in 2015. However, I haven't played much Hearthstone for them this year as it takes a lot of practice and I've been busy with poker pretty much this entire year with live events. But I'm looking forward to the next opportunity I get to compete for Team Liquid.
What similarities does the turn-based card game Hearthstone share with poker?
Both have incomplete information because you never know exactly what your opponent has in his hand. Like poker, you can try to guess based on how he played previous hands. In both games you need to know the probabilities. In poker you need to know the odds of your opponent having certain cards or you hitting your full house and so on. It's the same in Hearthstone. A lot of the time you will be having choices and you need to decide which move is likely to win you the game. Also, you have to take much more risk when you are behind in Hearthstone, very much like you do when short stacked in poker tournaments and go all-in because you need to take a lot more risks. There are so many things in common between poker and Hearthstone, including variance.
How did it feel to win your first Hearthstone tournament in 2016?
It felt really great. I'd been playing eight months and coming close to a win. It wasn't the biggest event but there were still a lot of really good players in the tournament. It felt like a real accomplishment and was encouragement for me to play more and compete.
You're also a regular Twitch streamer. What's the appeal of streaming for you?
I really love the interaction with the community and your fan base. It's really fun to play poker or games and you can interact with viewers, especially seeing as poker is naturally an individual game. With Twitch, the people sometimes stay up to 4am or 5am for the big tournaments to see where I finish. It is also a way for people to discover poker. My best moment on Twitch was when I came fifth in a $2k SCOOP [Spring Championship of Online Poker] event for something like $70,000. It was crazy because you could see there were more and more people watching and cheering. It was exciting and definitely my most memorable Twitch moment.
ElkY streaming live on Twitch with fellow streaming sensation Jason Somerville
What else do you get up to away from poker?
I like to run and I'm in training to run a marathon next year. I'm not that bothered which marathon it is but I just want to get ready for it and hopefully run more than one. Besides running, I hang out with my girlfriend, watch TV and play video games. I also do yoga with my girlfriend, although I'm not super into it - I'm more into meditation than yoga. I try to meditate almost every day, especially during busy periods, which helps a lot with my game. Staying healthy with the right preparation is one of the most underrated aspects of poker. At the WSOP you can play 10- to 12-hour days, so if you're not in super shape then you're more likely to make a mistake, especially if you're tired and unhealthy.
Source: poker stars