Joel 'Odonkor1' Nordkvist, 24, is the latest Swede to assert himself on the high stakes cash game stage. He broke onto the poker scene in 2008, placing 28th in the EPT NLHE Main Event in Barcelona. In 2009, he was nominated for "Best Online Poker Player" at the PokerStars' Scandinavian Poker Awards. He made news in April when soon after starting to play high stakes on Full Tilt, he won more than $850k in less than a week against many of the top online poker winners. He was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, but currently lives in Newport Beach, CA. He was recently signed to be a featured pro at Victory Poker.
Tell us about your beginnings in poker?
I started out with a 20€ voucher at a European site maybe 6 years ago. I built that up to a couple hundred Euros by playing 1-3€ SnG at b2b. I started playing higher and higher and started making more and more money. For the first year or so, I only played SnG's at b2b. I started playing cash games around 4-5 years ago. I was 15 tabling 0.5-1 at first, but I moved up in stakes pretty fast. During that period, I was only playing on the Cryptologic Network. I think it was 3 years ago that I started playing really high stakes.
We've read that you were highly active on the European sites previous to playing the nosebleeds on Full Tilt. Did you mostly play on Betfair and the iPoker network?
I've been playing all euro sites where there is high stakes games going from time to time. So I'm playing on Betfair, Ipoker, Entraction, Ongame, Microgaming. And just recently I started playing FTP, Stars and Victory.
Do you notice any major differences between the quality and styles of play on the European sites compared to the powerhouses of Full Tilt and PokerStars?
Well, I haven't been sitting and waiting for games at FTP or Stars that much. But from what I can tell, there is almost never any big fish in high stakes games at those sites. I think one of the reasons for that is that you have to send in a bunch of documents and verifications to play high stakes at those sites. I couldn't play at FTP for 6 months because they didn't allow me to, even after I sent in the documents. At Euro sites, you can see Russians come in with tons of money and just throw it away.
If you compare the regs, there are probably better players at the American sites. I mean, successful European players play on both, but successful
American players can only play the American sites.
In terms of progressing through the stakes, did you need to put in a lot of time both on and off the tables? What were the key 'a-ha' moments in your career that helped vault you to the higher levels?
I cant really remember any a-ha moments. The big milestones in my career have often been my big winning days. I remember when I was grinding 2-4, 5-10 and this really huge fish came in and asked me to play him in a heads up SnG. We started playing 2k and I won a few. We went up to 10k and I won 5 more or so. After that I started playing higher and had enough in my bankroll to start playing on another site simultaneously.
What helped your poker development along?
I've always had a close group of friends that I've discussed hands and strategy with. I think that's the most important thing if you wanna become better. A lot of people study a lot, watch videos, and read books. And then they go play like the pros, and do moves the pros do, but not really understanding why they do them. Its so important to know why your doing a certain thing, and not just doing it cause you've seen some CardRunners pro do it. I always play with some hand history program so that I can review my hands afterwards and show them to friends and ask what they think.
What have you enjoyed most about your poker career so far?
Just to be able to travel as much as I've done. Its nice to now that you can go anywhere in the world and just bring your laptop and work
Have you had any major setbacks in your poker career? How did they affect you and your game?
Well everybody goes on coolers. And every time you're on a massive one you swear to yourself to never play poker again. You just have to learn by them, and not try to chase when your stuck. I usually take a break for a couple of days if I've been losing. And then when you come back you're starting from scratch. If you lose 10 buy ins one day, and then play the next day, you will be trying to get them back and probably wont be playing your A-game.
What do you enjoy to do when not playing poker?
I like tennis, golf, and soccer. I also like playing PS3 games with friends. And I'm really excited about World Cup soccer starting soon. Sweden is missing out this time, so Argentina is my team.
What are your future goals in poker?
I'm going to try to become better at Omaha. In more and more big games, the game is Omaha so that's kinda important. I'm gonna try and play more live events. Winning a tournament would be cool, too.
You recently joined the Victory Poker. Can you tell us how this opportunity came about and why you decided to become a part of the new site and pro team?
Some of my friends at Victory asked me if I was interested and I was. It's cool to be a part of a new up and coming site that's growing and can be huge. The people who are running Victory are really smart and they know what they are doing. And it's a really cool gang of people on the team.
Tell us about your highly publicized session you played on Full Tilt where you crushed many of the top rated online players and won over $850K?
Well, I deposited $50k and I was planning on busting it or winning a lot. So I started playing anyone who wanted to play. I won a lot from jungleman12, LarsLuzak, URnotindanger2 and luvtheWNBA. I was on a massive heater and I think I ran like $300k over EV for those sessions.
I then had 900k in my account. After that, I played luckychewy and durrrr and lost a bit more then half my winnings. Against durrrr I lost a couple of big key pots in the beginning. My timing was completely off and I just lost every big pot.
Do you enjoy playing live as well? What events will you be playing at this year's WSOP?
Yeah, I'm really excited. I'm probably playing the $10k HU, $10k Omaha, $25k shorthanded and the Main Event.
Will you be playing any big cash games in Bobby's Room or the newly opened Ivey's Room?
Well maybe, it all depends on how the tourneys and live cash games goes. If I manage to get a hold of enough live money to play in them I might take a shot.
Share with us something about you that most people don't know.
I was very close to taking a full time night job just before poker started to go well for me. If I had taken that job, I wouldn't be playing poker at this level.
What would be the one piece of poker advice would offer to other young players looking to rise to the top of the poker world?
Discuss poker with friends, it's the best way to learn.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Joel. Before you go, we have several fun questions we always ask our interviewees.
What is your favorite fun poker phrase/slang/acronym?
Any quote from Rounders.
If the poker industry disappeared completely, what other career would you most like to attempt?
I studied economics before i got in to poker so i would probably do something in that area. I don't like taking orders so i would probably start something on my own.
If you were on death row, what would be your last meal?
Sirloin steak, fries and Bearnaise sauce.
When your poker career is over, what would you most like to be remembered for?
Hopefully, being one of the best heads up NLHE players.