Back in July, nearly 7,000 players gathered in Las Vegas for the 2008 World Series of Poker's championship event a $10,000 buy-in elimination tournament known as the most lucrative and prestigious event in professional poker. Last week, after a 117-day recess, 22-year-old Danish pro Peter Eastgate captured the title, defeating 27-year-old Russian Ivan Demidov by turning a straight on the final hand to beat Demidov's two pairs. Eastgate, the youngest main event champion in history, earned $9.1 million for his effortsthe second largest prize the tournament has ever doled out. On his way back to Europe, he caught up with TIME for a brief phone interview.
Life must be a bit of a whirlwind right now. How have you been celebrating?
In the immediate hours after the win, I celebrated with my friends and family. But we kept it pretty calm and relaxing because I was kind of exhausted after playing 18 hours of poker over two days.
How did you manage to maintain your composure and focus with so many cameras in your face and so much money on the line?
The money on the line was my motivation. It was what kept me focused.
It didn't make you nervous?
This year, for the first time, there was a four-month delay before the final table was played. How did you use that period to strategize and prepare?
I didn't do that much preparation for my opponents. I got the information that I could collect about the other guys. I tried to search for information online and watched the ESPN tapes. But you're really not getting that much out of that kind of information. It's really about being prepared mentally for playing for a lot of money and a prestigious title. You have three or four months, and mentally, I just got into the right mindset so that I wasn't nervous at the final table.
Did you come in with a strategy or did you plan on taking cues from your opponents and adjusting?
I didn't have any kind of real preset strategy. I wanted to see how they played, and combat it the best way I could.
In your path through the tournament, were there one or two key hands/moments that got you on track?
I had a lot of major hands. Obviously there was the hand with Tiffany Michelle. [With 18 players remaining, Eastgate won a pot of nearly 10 million chips holding a pair of aces against Michelle's ace and jack.] There was the hand with Dennis Phillips at the final table on the K-2-2 flop. [With six players remaining, Phillips bet 7 million and Eastgate, holding pocket aces, moved all-in for 22 million. Phillips folded, giving Eastgate the chip lead.] You have also some of the folds that you don't see on the ESPN tapes, and situations where I made the right folds and my opponent didn't show me their hands. When I talked to the other guys after, they told me I had made the correct fold. So there are a lot of key points. But basically, folding at the right time and getting good setups at the right time is key, as well as big hands you win.
Who was the toughest player you went up against? Any big-name pros, or was it someone you just had trouble reading throughout the tournament?
Ivan [Demidov, the runner-up] was one of the toughest players. He played a very good final table as well; he's a really tough player. There are a lot of tough guys. Later on in the tournament, there were so many really solid players, and very few bad players.
So what's your background in poker?
I've been playing about two years professionally. More than four years total.
That's a pretty steep learning curve. How did you reach the top so fast?
For the first two years, I played poker as a hobby. I was very fascinated by the game. I put a lot of hours and hands into it. But I didn't get into poker with a serious approach, which means reading books, reading online forums, learning all the fundamentals before you start off. I kind of just learned by doing.
What do you consider your biggest strength?
I'm pretty good at looking at the psychological aspects of the game. You need to consider what your opponent is thinking. You should always try to get into your opponent's mindset, and if you can get a regular idea about how he's thinking, you have a huge edge in the match, because you're always one step ahead of him. You're thinking how he's thinking.
It sounds like you have more of an intuitive approach to making decisions than a math-based one.
Yeah, kind of.
You're a 22-year-old who's come into $9 million. What luxuries are you're going to indulge in?
I'll be traveling a lot and eating well. I feel very good about being able to treat my family and friends very good. I don't know what things I'll be buying specifically. But I look forward to treating my friends and family very well.