For millions of poker fans around the world, the heroes and villains depicted in ESPN’s iconic World Series of Poker broadcasts during the post-boom era are the only players worth knowing. And while Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, and Daniel Negreanu are indeed special players worthy of high praise, at one point a quiet Finn without a gold bracelet to his credit managed to outplay each and every one of the game’s recognized superstars.
Patrik Antonius may not be a household name to casual poker fans, but those in the know have long regarded the 35-year old native of Finland as one of the best players on the planet. With nearly $20 million in reported cash game earnings, while playing online, primarily under the now legendary screenname “Finddagrind,” not to mention $6.7 million in live tournament cashes and countless high-stakes cash game scores, Antonius earned a reputation for fearless play early on.
Antonius was born on December 13th in Helsinki, Finland, where he became a tennis prodigy at a young age. Finnish coaches labeled Antonius as “Wimbledon material” when he was just 13 years old, and soon he was fully immersed in pre-professional training. Antonius graduated from Helsinki Business College, the equivalent of a high school in his homeland, before serving a mandatory stint in the Finnish Army. All the while he was devoted to pursuing professional tennis, but before he could realize his full potential on the court, a bulging disk in his back prevented him from competing in his first professional tennis tournament.
Even before that, however, Antonius was fueling his competitive fire by playing penny-ante poker games with friends. By the time he was fully engaged in tennis training, Antonius and his fellow players were squaring off for $50 pots in between matches. When an injury forced Antonius to withdraw from serious tennis competition, he transferred his determination to succeed into a new outlet: poker. As described by Antonius on his personal website, the decision came naturally even at such a young age:
“Right out of the Army I was ready to start playing professional tennis tournaments. But just before my first professional tournament, I suffered a terrible back injury. Luckily for me, my passion for poker was almost as strong as tennis, and now that I could not play tennis, I was going to focus on poker.”
Poker had always been Antonius’ second passion, and when he was just 18 he managed to turn $25 into $225 by winning Casino Helsinki’s weekly No-Limit Hold’em tournament. That feat alone wouldn’t merit mention, but when one considers that Antonius had never before played the game (specializing in Pot-Limit Omaha instead), it becomes clear that he possessed a natural talent for all forms of poker.
While Antonius honed his craft in the local $2/$2 Pot-Limit Omaha games, building bankrolls and going broke in steady cycles like so many players before him, he also dabbled in a number of side jobs to make ends meet. Modeling, coaching tennis, and even selling products as a door-to-door salesman sustained Antonius in his early 20s, but poker was always on the periphery of his daily life.
After a three-month culinary internship spent in Italy, where he abstained from poker for a time, Antonius returned home in January of 2003 to continue his studies at Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia. Online poker had gained a foothold within Scandinavia at this time, so Antonius brought his game to the virtual felt. After a series of initial $200 deposits, Antonius found his proverbial groove by becoming one of the first players to experiment with multi-tabling. Two months later he held more than $20,000 in his online poker account, a windfall which helped convince him to focus on poker full-time. As Antonius described this time in his life years later, the multi-tabling discovery prompted his meteoric rise through the ranks:
“The idea of being able to play anytime and more than one table at a time was unbelievable. I was hooked. I started studying the game and my opponents even more and immersed myself in the game.”
Between the months of March and December in 2003, Antonius played online poker for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. His bankroll grew well into the six-figures during this time, but improving health in his back led Antonius to give professional tennis a final shot in the form of a one-year scholarship to Averett University in Virginia. While he gave tennis one last go, Antonius was also fine-tuning his online game, trading high volume for higher stakes and winning six-figure sums in the span of just hours. Specializing in $50/$100 blinds heads-up tables and other short-handed variants, Antonius never relented and quickly became one of the online realm’s most consistent winners.
A trip to Las Vegas for the 2004 WSOP followed after Antonius won his entry to the Main Event via online satellite. His tour of the game’s iconic live event ultimately proved fruitless, but Antonius left Las Vegas convinced that live tournament titles were an attainable goal.
What followed was one of the most impressive calendar years recorded during poker’s boom days. In 2005 Antonius made the money in a total of nine live tournaments, with each resulting in a top-40 finish or higher. Antonius began his year by recording a pair of top-15 finishes on the World Poker Tour, before cashing three times at the 2005 WSOP over the summer. He then went on to win the Ladbrokes Scandinavian Poker Championship in August, before finishing in third place in a European Poker Tour event for a $145,068 score. Just one month after his near miss Antonius broke through with his first EPT victory, taking top honors at the EPT Baden Main Event while earning $343,365.
Antonius wasn’t finished yet, however, and he closed off 2005 by finishing as the runner-up in the $15,300 buy-in WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic – a premier event featuring a full cast of the game’s most celebrated figures. Antonius outlasted Phil Laak (6th) and Doyle Brunson (3rd) at the final table to take home $1,046,470 in prize money – the first of many million dollar paydays to come. Antonius later described this yearlong run of dominance in typically understated fashion:
“In the summer of 2005, I got hot on the tournament circuit and went on a run that still puts a smile on my face. It was a very exciting time for me and my plan of moving to Las Vegas was in full effect.”
With his status as one of poker’s rising superstars now firmly cemented, Antonius went on to become a favorite for fans of High Stakes Poker, the first television program to feature professionals playing high-stakes cash games while risking their own money. Appearing on Seasons 3 through 6, Antonius was typically quiet at the table, but his fearless play spoke volumes.
In a pot contested during Season 4 in 2007, Antonius played what was the largest pot in show history at the time, taking top pair against Sammy Farha’s over-cards and flush draw with a staggering $998,800 pot on the line. The two pros agreed to run the turn and river four times, and Antonius faded the deck on three occasions to collect a $749,100 portion of the pot.
Due to his widespread success in both tournaments and cash games, as well as his reputation as one of the online game’s most respected figures, Antonius signed on to become a sponsored pro for “Team Full Tilt” in 2008. In 2009 Antonius claimed the largest online poker pot ever played, scooping $1,356,946 in a single hand of heads-up $500/$1,000 Pot-Limit Omaha against Viktor “Isildur1” Blom on Full Tilt Poker. When the site went belly up in 2011 following the events of “Black Friday,” Antonius claimed to have lost $5 million after Full Tilt funds were suddenly frozen.
While he rarely plays in live tournaments any longer, Antonius managed to accumulate more than $6.78 million in reported live earnings during a decade of dominance on the global circuit. That includes his largest live cash to date, a $1.23 million haul for finishing as the runner-up in the 2012 Aussie Millions $250,000 buy-in high-roller event.