All hail the King! Johan Karlsson, reigning champion of Kings of Tallinn, is speaking to me via the usual technologies from his home in Sweden.
So how did it feel to take down the last big live event in the before times? “Of course it was a really great feeling,” Johan tells me. “I had a couple great runs in Tallinn before, that winter, so to be able to win a tournament like the Kings of Tallinn was - yeah, that was a huge trophy.” As well as taking down the Kings of Tallinn for €126,900, Johan took third in the Main Event at the Coolbet Open for €29,800 in November the previous year, plus second place in a Deepstack side event at the same festival for another €10,000. He’s also had some impressive results at the Battle of Malta, cashing in the 2019 Main Event and picking up a fifth place finish in the €5,300 Mega High Stack event the same year. Nothing has been the same since.
Tallinn is a very beautiful city
“Pretty much straight after when I came home, the pandemic started,” says Johan. “So that was really the last big tournament I played. Since then there have been - well, for me - close to no opportunities. In the beginning of the pandemic there was a really huge increase of players online, but now I think it’s taken a step down to a normal level again. But in the first couple of months, it was a huge difference in the player field online.”
Despite having played online for 15 years, the majority of that time professionally, Johan had mostly switched over to playing in the several years leading up to the pandemic. “I enjoy it a lot more,” he says, “Because you get the social network around you, and yeah - you can have a lot of fun. I don’t play that much online now, but of course I’ve missed the live scene, with all the friends and the poker. So of course I miss those guys, and I’m looking forward to meeting them as soon as the poker stage gets going again.”
Naturally he is very excited about The Festival in Tallinn. “First of all Mauritz told me about this festival, and I’ve looked into it and it looks really fun and I’m absolutely planning to go if we are able to play. Tallinn is a very beautiful city - there are great restaurants, good parks, always a lot of nice people... For me, it’s almost like my second home. I’ve had a lot of good runs there, so it’s been like my home city, when it comes to poker.”
Playing against each other instead of against the bank
I mention that I am somewhat familiar with the shenanigans that the close-knit Swedish poker community get up to from hanging out with The Festival Series head honcho Franke, among others. “Yeah,” Johan agrees, “There’s a lot of Swedish guys travelling around and most of the time you meet the same people as a group. Of course, a lot of new players are coming to the scene as well, which is really fun. All of us want to get back and play together again, and enjoy having for example a fun week in Tallinn. We are looking forward to it. So we really hope we can get going soon again.”
I ask Johan for his recommendations for places to go in Tallinn, fit for a king. “Oh, well I’m really bad at names.” I put it to Johan that if you can’t remember the name of a bar, it was probably a very good bar. “Yeah! It’s usually like that - you go to a place here, and here, and you enjoy the bars and restaurants… Especially after a long day at the poker table, you’re going out a couple of hours after midnight, so it’s a little bit blurry.”
So does the King of Tallinn have any interest in games other than poker - blackjack or roulette, for example? “I have never heard of that concept before, if I’m honest!” says Johan, “But the blackjack tournament actually sounds like something that I could enjoy, even though I’m not a great blackjack player by any means. But it’s all about mathematical strategies, so I’ll definitely look the structure up and then most likely participate in that tournament. Sounds fun. Yeah it sounds amazing, playing against each other instead of against the bank - sounds like a fun concept.”
Just before we part, Johan delivers his final verdict on the upcoming Festival in Tallinn. “I would like to point a thumbs up to the host for The Festival - I think it’s a really great theme and I’m sure they’re going to make sure to deliver a fun and enjoyable event for us players. And I hope to meet a lot of my poker friends around the community in Tallinn. Crossing fingers.” The King of Tallinn has spoken.