Juha Helppi, on the phone at home in Finland, is summing up his plague year in characteristically understated style. After two decades of A-list prominence on the international tournament circuit, it took a global pandemic to push Helppi back to playing online, and his results have been impressive. He racked up 13 cashes in last year’s WSOP from the comfort of his couch, including his second bracelet in the $5k PLO Championship. He’s far too modest to go on about that though.
“So I basically almost stopped playing online poker back in 2008,” he explains, “And now I’ve played more online poker during the past year than I’ve played in the last 12 years total.” Regardless, he isn’t tempted to make the switch to online permanent. Online poker is no substitute for live as far as Helppi’s concerned, and he has no doubt that he’s not the only one excited about the prospect of playing live again after a year stuck at home.
“I don’t think anyone enjoys the transition online,” he sighs, “Although there are some good things - like, there’s much more traffic online now. I guess there’s many people who don’t usually play online, like myself. I think everybody’s really waiting for live poker to be available again.”
“Playing live... It’s totally different. When I play online I usually play four to six tournaments at once so I don’t really get that good of a feeling of how my opponents play. It’s totally different live - I think live players make more moves because they know how their opponents played, and online it’s more, like, ABC poker, less moves and more mathematical decisions. So I do prefer live, but at the moment, online has been good also.” Indeed it has.
Life in lockdown clearly hasn’t been too bad for Helppi overall - aside from crushing online, he’s been keeping busy playing tennis and other sports, although he laments that his favourite, ice hockey, is still banned. But he’s still looking forward to the return of live tournaments, along with the travel and the community that comes along with it.
“Yeah I’d definitely like to come to The Festival In Tallinn. I haven’t played live poker for one year so I’m really looking forward to playing live poker, and it will be really nice to play in Franke’s festival - it’s always fun to play with Franke. If you’re at a table close by, you know it’s going to be fun. It’s quite boring just to play online. It would be nice.”
Yup - we second that. It’s been a strange year, but there are good things on the horizon. It’s not long now until we’re back at the real-life felt. As Helppi says: you know it’s going to be fun.