I played a bit of poker at college, but I was 23 before I got serious about the game. I’m from Killybegs, in Co Donegal, and I have a degree in business studies from Sligo Institute of Technology, as well as a diploma in sports recreation.
I didn’t really plan to do anything when I came out of college and then one of my friends suggested I try a game of poker. Straightaway, I was fascinated by it.
I have a sports background, so I liked the competitive nature and the mind games. I also liked the banter at the table. I played in a few tournaments and ended up winning one. The prize was Ir£1,000 (€1,200). I also played cash games and early on won a similar amount. I then moved to Dublin and started winning more in a week than I would earn in months.
I was lucky enough to win the Macau leg of the Asia Pacific Poker Tour early in my career. It was in 2009 and I was 23 or 24. I’m 29 now. The prize was more than $500,000 (€362,000). I went there to play with a friend and I won my seat at the main competition in a satellite game.
When you start off, you don’t have much money, so you try to “satellite” your way in. For that tournament, a seat was $5,000, and for every 10 seats bought, one person was allowed to win a satellite place in a separate competition where entry was $500. The goal is not to win the money, but to win a seat. You also get a hotel room, expenses and a goody bag; you could end up there for three days.
Cash games have fixed blinds — the amount put into the pot. That’s how betting starts and the game doesn’t change all night. In a tournament, you play with chips and the blinds are increased all the time, which forces the action. That can make tournaments very exciting. They attract a lot of recreational players, as everyone has a chance at winning. Cash games are more suitable for professionals and I’ve played them where the blind starts off as high as €1,500 per player.
As a professional, you have to take it seriously and a huge part of that is managing your money. One of the first things I did was build a house back home in Donegal. My next goal is to buy an apartment in Dublin. I made mistakes along the way, but that’s how you learn.
When people ask me for tips, I always say play a lot — don’t be afraid to play a lot of hands. It’s a repetitive game, so the more often you play and the more often you make wrong decisions, the more you can analyse where you went wrong.
One of the best things about poker is that if you are a novice, you could just sit down at a tournament next to a guy you may have seen play on television. It’s not as though poker players are idols, but if you’re a fan of sport, you’re never going to have a chance to play alongside Brian O’Driscoll or Robbie Keane. With poker, you just pay your money and take a seat.
Blain is an ambassador for fulltiltpoker.com and will be taking part in the UK and Ireland Poker Tour event in Nottingham from May 7 to 12