PokerStars Sam Grafton on His Underground Days & More

Player Interviews

We started from the bottom, now we’re here. Those song lyrics might have been uttered by Drake, but they can easily be applied to the career of PokerStars Ambassador Sam Grafton.

PokerStars Ambassador Sam Grafton charts his rise from the bottom to the top of poker’s tournament rankings. (Image: Manuel Kovsca/PokerStars)

The enigmatic Englishman has been on a tear in recent years. In 2022 he won over $8.4 million and, in February 2023, he came agonizingly close in the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship. However, as CardsChat discovered, success didn’t come overnight. Grafton’s grind to the top has been a 12-year journey.

We sat down with Grafton following his 12th place finish in the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship. A $238,700 payday took his live earnings over $13 million, but he’s a competitor. As nice as it was to go deep in the best $25,000 tournament in poker, Grafton wanted more.

“It’s nice to have gone deep in the PCA main and the PSPC. On the other hand, as it is with every poker player who makes the final two tables, finishing 12th is frustrating. However, that’s the nature of poker,” Grafton told CardsChat.

The good news for Grafton is that he’s got bags of cash to cushion the fall. Winning the opening event of EPT Prague in 2022 gave Grafton an $88,196 payday and enough momentum to take down the Triton Super High Roller Cyprus a few months later for $5.5 million.

From underground games to poker’s elite level

Those results made 2022 Grafton’s best ever year in poker, a fact he acknowledged during our interview. But, as I know from personal experience, it’s not always been high rollers and seven-figure wins. Sam Grafton literally started at the bottom. Like myself, he played the weekly £50 tournaments in London’s International Poker Club.

2023 PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship

Sam Grafton went from low stakes games in London to poker’s biggest events. (Image: Joe Giron/PokerStars)

The underground venue (Ed: it was literally underground, not illegal) was where local grinders and aspiring pros would play. Grafton was a regular and, on at least one occasion, we played in the same tournament.

I may have even bluffed him on one occasion. Unfortunately for me, that was my career highlight. Grafton graduated from the International and went on to become a global star. However, as he explained, becoming one of poker’s elite was a pipedream.

“No, I never imagined I’d get this far in poker. It’s unfathomable, especially from the International days. Back then I was just trying to buy some ridiculous clothes and have money to go out. The way it’s panned out, to be playing these events, is amazing. Me and my mates often talk about how we’re going to look back at these moments and realize how amazing they were,” said Grafton.

Grafton went deep but he couldn’t win the 2023 PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship. Regardless, the event will become one of those amazing memories he’ll look back on and cherish.

“It was a great experience. There was a festival atmosphere at the PSPC and everyone was excited to play. Everyone was aware of what a great event it was,” Grafton said.

A festival atmosphere is what everyone has enjoyed at the PSPC and, more broadly, the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. I even had the chance to spread my wings and indulge in some extracurricular activities.

This was the first time met @SquidPoker what an amazing person. Talked to Sam multiple times throughout the week. Thank you @PokerStars for hosting the best live poker event

— Glen (@Frosty_Nug_Farm) February 11, 2023

However, for all the fun and frolics, the serious matter of playing for millions was never far from people’s thoughts, Grafton included.

“Despite the sense of community and excitement, we’re here to battle and take each other’s money. Once we were down to Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4, it was very serious poker. You’re aware that every all-in is worth a huge sum of money and equity, so you’ve got to be really sure of yourself,” Grafton continued.

Diversity at PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship

The PSPC is a unique $25,000 event because there are hundreds of qualifiers. In fact, of this year’s 1,014 entrants, 418 were Platinum Pass winners. This creates a unique dynamic that Grafton really enjoys.

“The mix of players is one of the most exciting things about poker, and this tournament exemplified that. As a professional trying to win the PSPC, you’ve got to navigate different approaches and styles of poker. You have to play differently against recreational players, elite poker players, and cash game regulars. Adapting your strategy on the fly is what makes for a good main event player” Grafton explained.

Does playing against a diverse field make it more exciting for someone who is used to playing, and winning, super high rollers against small groups of elite pros?

“They are both exciting in different ways. Of course, it was really nice playing with a mix of people. I sat next to Jens, a really interesting guy from Germany who told me all about his life. I like to meet different people from all walks of life, so that’s a positive for the PSPC. On the other hand, playing the highest buy-in events against elite players who put you under immense pressure, that’s a thrill unlike any other,” he continued.

Assembling a diverse mix of players is only possible when you run as many satellites and promotions as PokerStars. We also can’t overlook the allure of playing poker in one of the most exotic locations on earth.

“The PCA means a lot to a lot of poker players, especially my generation. There are a lot of people here I’ve not seen for a while but they’ve made the trip because they have such fond memories of the PCA. When I was coming up, I didn’t make it here too often, but I eventually won a package a few years into my career. It always seemed like one of the most glamorous events, especially being from Europe,” Grafton said.

Poker is as exciting as ever

Glamor and the opportunity to win $4 million has brought out the masses, but it’s not the only event in poker that’s popping right now. Grafton has been in the game for more than a decade and he’s bullish about the industry’s current state. Is this a second poker boom? Maybe, maybe not, but there are so many options right now that even Grafton is struggling to embrace them all.

“Numbers are up across the board, the schedule I’m playing now is packed. It’s hard to find the time to stay at home because there are so many events I want to go and play. The online offerings are still very strong, and there are tons of innovations such as mystery bounty events. I’m 12 years into my career, and I’m still excited to play online and in live events,” said Grafton.

Even if some people still see him as one of poker’s young guns, Grafton is a poker veteran. He’s been around a long time and, moreover, he’s an example of how hard work pays off. He knows the game from every angle and that makes him an ideal ambassador for poker and, in turn, PokerStars.

Sam Grafton4

Sam Grafton commands fear and respect in equal measure. (Image: Danny Maxwell/PokerStars)

When he speaks, people listen. Why? Because his words are worth listening to and, perhaps more importantly, he’s one of the most friendly and engaging pros on the circuit.

“I’m really happy to be an Ambassador for PokerStars. I feel like I’ve reached the age where I know a decent amount about this industry. I’ve come from an underground room at the International to super high rollers. So I feel that I can make contributions and provide input on what makes a great poker tournament. PokerStars is doing so much right, so it’s easy for me to give a little bit of advice. It’s important that we, as a community, have strong voices and strive to make things better. I’m happy to be a part of these efforts,” Grafton concluded.

Written by

Daniel Smyth

Dan Smyth is a poker media journeyman who politely reminds CardsChat readers that poker is played all around the world, not just America.

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