Former elite judo athlete Liem Huynh tells us about his PokerStars qualifier experience
Football players. Soccer players. Tennis players. Golfers. Even chess grandmasters.
Poker is not only a popular pastime for athletes in their prime, but it’s also proven to be an ideal landing ground for retired sportspeople seeking to scratch their competitive itch in a game where Father Time isn’t quite as cruel.
That was certainly the case for Sweden’s Liem Huynh, a former elite Judo athlete who represented his country throughout his teens in the highest echelon of the sport.
He left the Japanese martial art behind when he was 19 and has been playing poker ever since. Now 38, Huynh, from Malmo, is a professional omaha cash game player who plies his trade at cardrooms in Sweden and beyond.
But this week Huynh is at the European Poker Tour (EPT) stop in Barcelona for a week of tournament poker action.
It’s even sweeter because Huynh is here as a PokerStars qualifier, having won a full package to the event (with his Main Event buy-in, hotel and expenses provided) from just a €27 satellite on PokerStars.
“There were two seats into a €530 qualifier, and I won one,” he says. “Then there were four packages available in the €530.”
Huynh bagged himself one to land his biggest satellite win.
“I’ve won others before, but nothing as big as this,” he admits. “It was amazing, a nice feeling. The hotel is super nice!”
FROM JUDO TO POKER
Liem Huynh began to learn judo at a young age and by the time he was a teenager he was one of the top practitioners in Sweden, competing for his country at events around the world. It was on these trips that he first discovered poker.
“We had a lot of free time in training camps, so my teammates and I used to play €2 tournaments for fun. From there, I just continued playing.”
He fell in love with High Stakes Poker episodes and by the time his judo career was coming to an end, poker was there to fill any competitive void.
“It’s mostly mental strengths,” Huynh says when asked about crossovers between judo and poker. “I always feel like I want to be better in poker [just like I did in judo]. When I win, there are still things to work on. When I lose, I feel bad but I want to improve. It is what it is.”
These days, Huynh splits his time between his eight-year-old daughter (“She needs a lot of attention from me!” he says) and playing live omaha cash games.
While he regularly travels for poker with his poker friends from Malmo, Huynh doesn’t always jump into the tournaments, preferring to stick to omaha in the cash area.
But he knew he didn’t want to miss EPT Barcelona 2023, hence why he set out to qualify online.
“My first-ever EPT was here back in 2018, so it’s special to be back,” Huynh says. “I love the city, the atmosphere, the weather… Everything is good here.”
“IT’S SO FUN TO BE HERE”
Back in 2018, Hunyh was in Barcelona on his own dime and decided to take a break from the cash games to play the Main Event along with his friends. Despite having played poker for more than a decade at that point, he immediately recognised a higher level of play.
“At EPT events you find many of the best players in the world,” he says – something he was reminded of during his deep run in the record-breaking Estrellas Poker Tour (ESPT) Main Event (the biggest PokerStars event ever) last week.
“There’s a big difference in skill when you play at these festivals,” he says. “When the fields are so big there are some weaker players in the beginning but you can feel it change A♠ . On the second day, with 500 left, I felt like there were four or five good players on every table.”
Huynh’s run ended in 245th, good for a €5,330 score. From there he jumped into the Main Event using the entry he won via the satellite, but alas, his run ended in the latter stages of Day 1B.
You might Huynh would hop back into some omaha cash games, but you’d be wrong. He’s still on the tournament grind, trying his luck in the Second Chance Main Event.
“It’s so fun to be here,” he says. “That’s the most important thing to me.”
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