Many tournament series come and go in poker, but the truly great series of events endure. When you think of poker events that have taken place in recent years, your mind might automatically think of live festivals in far-flung locations, but in recent months, poker has migrated online.
As a result, several tournaments have taken place online and seen great players flock to play them. That is certainly true of the GGPoker Super MILLION$ events, which take place each week and cost $10,300 to enter.
How the Commentary Team Came Together
Not only are these online poker events enormously popular, almost always exceeding their lofty tournament guarantees, but many players qualify for the Main Event by playing satellites that cost as little as $100, earning vast returns on their investments when they make the tournament proper.
To celebrate this week’s 52nd episode of the Super MILLION$ being broadcast on the GGPoker YouTube channel, we spoke with the two men who bring it to life in such spectacular fashion each week, professional poker player Randy Lew and renowned streamer and commentator Kevin van der Kooi.
Also known as ‘Nanonoko’ and ‘Rotterdam’ respectively, we pulled up a third seat to the party and took a deeper look at how they put together one of the best poker shows in the world together.It turns out that van der Kooi and Lew met each other some years ago, long before the Super MILLION$ was even an idea.
Randy Lew: We actually met each other in 2017 through Elky when I went to the King’s Casino in Rozvadov.
Kevin van der Kooi: I knew who he was, but I think he had no idea who I was! We had a little chat, and it was cool to meet him; we didn’t spend too much time together, but it was fun.
RL: After that we didn’t speak again until we started doing the Super MILLION$ a year ago. I never would have imagined I’d be working with him one day but now that I’ve got to know him better, it’s been a real pleasure!
Both men knew of the other, but it seems like neither of them were quite aware just how good the other was at what they do.
RL: Kevin is a very professional commentator, due to his experience from casting Starcraft and he’s able to keep it casual at the same time.
KK: Even though I was never a professional poker player, I’ve always had love for the game since the day I discovered it.
RL: At first, I didn’t think Kevin had that much experience in poker but after I did more and more shows with him, I realize he’s got a huge passion for the game and even streams it on Twitch.
KK: I remember watching videos with Nanonoko playing 24 tables at the same time and of course The Big Game, even though that didn’t go very well for him! For a long time that was my favorite poker show, it had a cool format and really fun players.
RL: Although while he’s not the best poker player I’ve ever seen – far from it – he’s way more experienced than other commentators I’ve worked with which allows us to engage in better conversations about hands. This man loves pocket fours and for some reason, he thinks they always make a set! I think he truly believes this even though it’s a statistical anomaly.
What Makes the Super MILLIONS So Popular?
There have been successful events online before, but the structure, format and pre-tournament betting odds for the Super MILLION$ really set it apart. How innovative did both commentators think the show would look when it first began and since it has grown?
RL: When GGPoker approached me about doing commentary for the show, they wanted to create a poker show that regulars can expect to play each week and viewers would come back to over and over. The idea was to do a high stakes tournament since not only would the prize pool be big, but it would attract the best players in the world over and over again.
KK: I went in with no expectations other than being a little concerned about not knowing the guys I should know. As someone who plays [poker] casually and watches a few of the big events, I wasn’t necessarily familiar with all the big online guys in this day and age.
RL: Yeah. High roller fields are smaller so we would see familiar faces at the final tables which helps us as commentators create backstories for these players. Fans get to see familiar faces too. I think the final table betting really adds the icing on the cake, so fans get to truly be invested in watching the broadcast and having a good few hours of fun.
We couldn’t agree more and love the pre-match betting odds and the ability for GGPoker fans to invest in their chosen picks. During the recent Coronavirus lockdown, fans have craved an experience that allows them to interact. Van der Kooi believes that lockdown helped build a regular player pool, too.
KK: A lot of players were of course available every week rather than once a month due to not traveling. I guess it did help that Randy and I were somehow available for 50+ weeks in a row, which I guess wouldn’t be the case it wasn’t for the lockdown!
Many of those players who have become regulars are some of the best players in poker, of course. We wondered if an all-time leaderboard might be an addition for the GGPoker Super MILLION$ as it heads into its second year.
RL: The truth of the matter is every high stakes poker player thinks they are +EV and winning in these tournaments.
KK: I think poker players love stats, so it would be silly to run something for a year straight and not do anything with all the awesome and truly interesting stats we have.
RL: Exactly. Players come back every single week because a true professional poker player always make a decision on whether it’s +EV to enter the tournament in the first place as well as each additional re-entry thereafter. What happens is we have people who end up inadvertently compete for the all-time money leaderboard, but I don’t think it’s a factor into how they play or whether they enter in the first place.
KK: I think it would be really cool if there were seasonal championships and a little prize for the best performing player over four months and of course after a year, it should be possible.
RL: If there was a prize incentive leaderboard, then I can see players competing for it since they love every ounce of EV they can get!
KK: (laughs) We all know poker can be brutal for one session, even two, three or four, but after 52 we should have a good idea of who’s truly exceptional.
Who’s the Best Player to Play Super MILLION$ So Far?
We had to ask both men who they thought would qualify as the best payer over the past year, and it turned out not to be too difficult.
RL: Niklas Astedt, no questions asked.
KK: Yeah, it has to be Niklas Astedt. Everything about his play is just solid and the results are ridiculous; ‘only’ two victories but an absurd number of final tables and he’s never done anything incredibly stupid or silly. He’s as close to the perfect player as you’re gonna see.
RL: He has the most ITMs (in the money finishes), the most final tables, and the most total winnings and profit. The only category he doesn’t hold is most wins which is held by Michael Addamo, but if Niklas didn’t run so bad in one of the heads-ups, he would have three wins by now.
KK: I think we should give honorable mentions to ‘Mr Gambol’ (Joakim Anderson), Bruno Volkman, Artur Marturosian, Darren Elias, Lucas Reeves, Isaac Baron, Yuri Dzivielevski and Michael Addamo. Addamo’s style is so wild; it brings a lot of success but also pain sometimes! I’m a fan of a couple of the Finnish dudes, as well. Of course Samuel Vousden – although he hasn’t been super fortunate in our series – but also Sami Kelopuro and Eelis Parssinen.
Plenty of players have qualified for the $10,300-entry Super MILLION$ Main Event on GGPoker each week by playing satellites then selling action before the main tournament started. This is a facility that players love, and both Lew and van der Kooi feel exactly the same.
KK: It’s definitely been fun to see the different approach between all the players that qualified, from people that sell action and guys that are in for five bullets
RL: We often get satellite winners who reach the final tables and get some career-defining scores. We’ve had multiple times where someone has won a $100 satellite into a $1,000 feeder then reached the final table with the $10k entry for some massive scores.
KK: It’s just cool and it does often show in the playing style.
RL: Yeah, I love the fact that these satellite winners shake up the dynamic at the final table due to their different approach to the game which makes the regs adjust differently for better or worse.
While there have been 51 amazing episodes to date, does one stand out to our men in the know? We put them to the ultimate test of picking their favourite.
KK: This is very difficult to answer! Benjamin Rolle winning with the king-six in a three-way all in and then taking it all down was quite hype! I remember waiting 30+ weeks for ‘limitless’ to make the final table and then losing heads-up to ‘ferrariman’ who had a Ferrari avatar! Perhaps the one that stands out the most, though, is the one where Yuri won against Michael Addamo heads up.
RL: Yeah, it has to be Episode #41 (which took place on March 23rd this year). Michael Addamo had a massive chip lead and ran so hot that after one hour of play we were down to heads-up which was the fastest ever. Michael Addamo had 18 million chips against Yuri Dzivielevski’s two million, but Yuri made some sick plays to eventually beat Addamo in an epic heads-up match.
KK: Addamo knocked out five players in 60 minutes and Yuri came in at 7th or so and had less chips when three people were left then what he started the final table with! Somehow, he got six pay jumps, then folded trip Jacks heads up then made a legendary call with third pair a bit later, quite the week!
Which Hand Was the Best to Watch?
If that was the best tournament, then do the two men disagree on a favourite hand during the Super MILLION$ so far? Actually, they do.
KK: I’m not sure if it’s the best, but the most bizarre hand has to be Kotelnikov vs Melogno, heads up, 66 vs 75… that river shove! On the 6-3-Q-9-K board, Melogno bet 4.5 million into a nine million chip pot and Kotelnikov shoved. Melogno had 2.5 million behind with seven-high, had a 4:1 chip lead before the hand started and ended up losing the heads up!
RL: Episode 13 on September 8th, 2020 was great – Connor Drinan against Daniyar Aubakirov, with $1,435,048 for 1st and $1,041,413 for 2nd place.
That was one of the biggest Super MILLION$ events ever and they were playing for about $400k during heads up and they played one of the most crazy hands we’ve seen in all of the Super MILLION$.
Both men obviously love watching these players play, but have any of the players they’ve commentated on contacted them after the broadcasts?
KK: It’s super cool to hear some of them enjoy [the commentary]. I tried to banter with Benjamin Rolle, telling him that he should have played his pocket fours, but he gave me a super serious answer that he shouldn’t, and I was like ‘Ben, they always flop a set… in this case quads!’ He was just like ‘No, it’s a fold.” and I’m like ‘I know, Ben.’ That German humor!
RL: There was a guy named ‘PiePie’ who would basically just go all-in or make it like 7x preflop and the way he was playing felt like a meme. He’s actually a live tournament player who has some solid results but plays a very unconventional style. Even though we basically ripped him apart and had lots of jokes about him throughout the final table, he reached out to me and thought it was hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing as he listened to us while playing!
Keeping the Laughs Coming
Some of the funniest Super MILLION$ moments have been where either Lew or van der Kooi have called in a card then been laughed at by the other. There’s a natural chemistry between the two men, but was that instant or did it take time to blossom?
RL: We each have our own superstitions such as Kevin always thinks pocket fours make a set and I love calling hands being over before the turns and rivers are even dealt!
KK: Ha ha! It grew over time. I think Randy likes that I don’t pretend to be the pro that I’m not, so I try to keep it energetic and just be dumb about things. I think my stupid comments grew on him.
RL: It’s great banter and we’re both pretty laidback poker enthusiasts, so it ends up that both of us work well together.
KK: The way I see it Is that I dragged Randy down to my level and now he’s really having fun, haha!
Going into the second year of the series, could the fact that poker is easing its way out of a global pandemic affect Super MILLION$? Where next for such a successful format?
RL: I’d add a yearly leaderboard with prizes for different categories such as most ITMs and most money earned, so there are even more incentives and more stats for us and the fans to view.
KK: Yeah, I hope we can do more with the stats and add some cool prizes to some of the die-hards that have so many good runs and sign up every Sunday. I like the trophy case and ribbons they have introduced on GGPoker, but I’d love to see more stuff like that, perhaps even a physical trophy for every winner. The tournament is big enough, I think they deserve a little trophy!
RL: Adding final table betting was an awesome addition to the experience. I’m sure it’ll get bigger and better!
KK: Exactly – I’m quite happy with how it’s going overall. It would be super cool to have someone like Elky once stop by for an hour or so, just to have some laughs – I think he’d have fun with it too. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but I’m happy a lot of people enjoy the show and like I mentioned before that even some of the pros and crushers think it’s fun to watch -that was kind of the goal all along. There are thousands of hours of content out there of analyzing every hand, but GG wanted us to bring a little more than non-stop analysis, some fun and laughs. I could even be the donkey who’s stubborn and has some wrong takes, as long as I can get Nanonoko fired up he won’t just talk about ICM, haha!
RL: I know GG is always pretty innovative in improving the player experience. I never know what they have in store to improve things, but they always surprise us!
We can’t wait to discover what comes next as the GGPoker Super MILLION$ weekly tournament series enters its second year. Want to take part and put yourself in the firing line if you fold pocket fours pre-flop? Get involved in the GGPoker Super MILLION$ satellites or take a piece of the betting action next time the final table takes place.
It could put you right in the heart of the action.