Dan Tolppanen:

My name is Dan Tolppanen, also known as Uniikki, the rapper. For more than 20 years I have been making music and thanks to this I have become somewhat popular. My record company is one of the biggest independent studios in Finland. I started in the Finnish rap group Kapasiteettiyksikkö. My recordings have millions of listeners on Spotify and YouTube. My albums became bestsellers and I played over a thousand live shows. Music has always been my life's work, but I'm also interested in business and social media. I'm also a passionate poker player.

I learned about poker when I met Ilari Sahamies. Back then he was one of the best players in the world and destroyed opponents at the highest limits online. He also turned out to be a great connoisseur of music and knew all our songs by heart. For one of the songs, we later shot a video in which Ilari starred.

Around the same time I met Jens Kyllonen.

Jens Kyllonen:

I first met Dan when Ilari Sahamies called me and asked if he and his friends could shoot a video in my apartment. I didn't mind. From that day on, my friendship with Dan began.

Dan Tolppanen:

Jens gave Ilari the keys and left 17,000 euros in brand new 500 euro bills in the hallway with a note attached that we could use them as props if we promised not to steal anything. Jens himself was playing poker in Bulgaria at the time. The clip turned out to be epic and became a cult. Jens's props came in handy in the scene in which the dwarf jumps on Ilari's bed.

At that time, I literally lived next door and soon began to hang out more and more often at Jens's. Sometimes we had an after-party at his place, sometimes I just watched him play high stakes on Full Tilt. His game inspired me to start playing online, but much smaller of course. I just went crazy watching Jens and Ilari casually send six figures to other players from the poker client. “Yo, can you lend me $100,000? – Okay, sent! Astronomical sums even for a famous musician, and these guys were younger than me!

Shortly before our meeting, Jens won the EPT Copenhagen main event and received over a million dollars. His victory brought poker to the attention of all of Finland.

Jens Kyllonen:

When I made it to the EPT final table in Copenhagen, my feelings were hard to put into words. My brother was drinking in some bar in Helsinki the night before and texted me that he was coming to cheer for me at the final. I immediately bought him a ticket for a morning flight, and he arrived in Copenhagen without a wink of sleep.

At the final table, people were busted one after another, and I noticed that I played the best. I got to heads-up and defeated the last opponent, the Swede Nalle. Having achieved victory, I still did not fully realize how much I had won. It was absolutely incredible.

19-year-old student becomes a millionaire overnight
He returns from the airport in a limousine

After this victory, my life became very strange. I'm just a simple guy from an ordinary family. After the finale, some guy offered to arrange a limousine for me to the airport. I accepted his offer, of course, but it turned out to be a trap to lure me into a car full of reporters. Representatives of the Finnish tabloids all the way bombarded me with questions.

Dan Tolppanen:

Although poker players from Finland won millions, they were ordinary people with normal biographies. Many of those who knew nothing about poker thought of them as lottery winners, but such a view was infinitely far from reality.

Jens Kyllonen:

Good players win at poker because they don't play against the casino. The casino only takes a small commission from each pot, and the one who plays better than opponents gets the advantage. If you are stronger, you will stay in the black over time.

My family lived in a middle-class community, my parents had four children.

One day my mother asked me what I want to be when I grow up. I answered: a millionaire.

I was introduced to poker in high school. During the holidays, I looked for a job, but I was not hired anywhere. So I played poker all summer. I started with freerolls and won $10 in one of them, after which I began to multiply this bankroll at the lowest cash limits. I ordered dozens of poker strategy books and read every single one. At some point, it turned out that my winnings per hour in poker were noticeably higher than in any summer job.

I continued to improve and develop, and my winnings grew. My bank account balance increased, but I did not perceive it as real money. The first time I realized the reality of what was happening was when I bought my first apartment – a penthouse in the center of Helsinki.

I made it to the high stakes with a speed that amazed even me. The path from freerolls to the highest limits in online poker took only two years. I'd been watching videos of Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu and Patrik Antonius while playing the micros and now I'm challenging them to their strongest games. And I not only challenging, but winning!

Dan Tolppanen:

In 2015 I started playing more online as there was a lull on the music front. I began to study theory more seriously. Sometimes I watched streams, thanks to which you can learn a lot, and watched training videos.

Jens Kyllonen:

Today, working effectively on a game is much easier than it used to be. We have a lot of tools, software, training sites. If you love poker, progress can be made very quickly. I think you can jump into high stakes in a few years. Some Finns have succeeded in this in recent years.

Dan Tolppanen:

Poker is a very rewarding occupation, because as soon as you start working seriously, the results immediately come. And progress never ends, no one can be completely satisfied with their game. The game is constantly evolving, opponents are getting stronger, so you can't stop.

Jens Kyllonen:

To be successful in poker, several qualities are required. A good knowledge of mathematics and the ability to think logically are not enough, otherwise mathematicians would play poker better than anyone in the world, and this is far from the case. It is very important to keep your emotions under control. I don't know of a single player who was able to achieve something without solving their tilt problems. When these people don't work out, they start to play much worse, and the losses from tilt sessions turn out to be so serious that they cannot be made up by good play on other days.

Dan Tolppanen:

Poker is a cruel game, because no matter how great you play, there are days when the cards refuse to give you victory. Such streaks happen to everyone and sometimes drag on for a long time. It is necessary to endure – if you are a good player, gradually everything will work out. I must say, to reach the top level in poker, you need to have the mental toughness of an outstanding athlete. If you can't control your own emotions, you won't achieve anything.

Jens Kyllonen:

When playing high stakes, money should be perceived as numbers on the screen. You can’t think about what you can buy with this money. Many times I won or lost 100-200 thousand euros a day. When you lose, you can’t say to yourself: it would be better if I bought an apartment with them.

I played my biggest pot at Full Tilt Poker. My opponent was Tom "durrrr" Dwan. The pot was a little over $300,000 and I bet big before the flop, but he ran me over on the flop.

The biggest losing day I played was in 2012, when I lost a million dollars in a day. I entered The Big One for One Drop in Las Vegas hosted by billionaire Guy Laliberte. It was the largest tournament in history and the entry fee was one million dollars. I flew out five hours later and had a very strange feeling as I walked out of the Rio casino. The sun was beating down mercilessly, and on the way to the taxi I thought: what was that?

Dan Tolppanen:

Finnish poker players are among the best in the world. The history of online poker goes back over 20 years and there have always been a few Finns on the top floors – Patrik Antonius, Sami Kelopuro, Jens... I think Finland is the world's number one in terms of the proportion of top players in relation to the total population.

Jens Kyllonen:

We often tried to understand why Finns are so good at poker. We are a small country, a tiny part of the population of the entire planet. I think this is due to the fact that we think quite rationally, and we have a good education system. We are not religious, which is good, because religion is poison in poker. You can't rely on god to help you on the river. Cards come out according to the laws of probability theory and nothing else.

Dan Tolppanen:

When I started playing live tournaments, it seemed to me that people treated me with prejudice: “What, a rapper at a poker table? He's definitely a fish." The average level of the game in Finland is quite high, but I still showed good results, and after some time, I found that many top players became my friends. People came up to me and said with surprise: “But you are not as bad as we thought!” With many of them we are now discussing hands and working on a strategy.

Jens Kyllonen:

Of all our group, Dan loves poker more than anyone – about the same as me. I remember we went abroad to a bachelor party for one of our mutual friends. After two days of partying, we ran out of energy and decided to hide in my room and grind SCOOP tournaments.

Dan Tolppanen:

Jens signed up for the $5,000 High Roller and I entered the $55 cheap version of the same tournament. How great it is to watch one of the best in the world play, especially when he explains his thoughts aloud! Looking at him, I grew as a player.

I think one of the reasons Jens is so good is his ability to keep his cool in any situation. More than once I saw him suffer from monstrous bad beats, but even if there was $100,000 in the pot, he did not show any reaction. Never even hit the table with the mouse! The example of Jens showed me how well you need to control yourself if you want to achieve something.

Jens Kyllonen:

It's hard to say what separates a top professional from someone stuck in the midstakes. It's probably a combination of different factors. A little more talent, a little more performance... There is no single factor that will automatically turn you into an elite player. If it existed, I would immediately share the secret with my friends, and they would begin to tear.

However, if you ask me to name the most important feature, it is probably a natural talent. We have no control over this.

When I started playing, my main goal was to win enough money to buy an apartment. I even named my blog on the forum that way. It was possible to achieve this goal very quickly, but by that time I realized that I would always find somewhere to attach a couple more million. I regularly have new money goals. I don't think I'll ever be completely satisfied with my results.

Winning a World Series of Poker bracelet has never been one of my priorities. I've always preferred expensive cash games.

In 2016, I was already starting to think about leaving poker. I played less than usual, but in the summer I still flew to Las Vegas. I always like this city where I spent six or seven summers in a row. Vegas is not only tournaments, but also great nightclubs and restaurants. Always warm and sunny, a lot of interesting things – in general, this is one of my favorite cities.

I managed to win the $25,000 Pot Limit Omaha tournament. It went on for four days. When I reached the final table, for the first time in a long time, I felt goosebumps. Few things compare to reaching the final table of a big tournament. The opponents are flying out one by one, you are getting closer to the heads-up... It's hard to describe in words.

It turned out that winning a bracelet is also very cool! I liked it even more than then in Copenhagen. Plus, I had UFC tickets for the evening, and we were going to celebrate anyway, so right after the finals, my friends and I rushed into the thick of the Vegas nightlife.

Dan Tolppanen:

My biggest win was in 2019 when I won the Helsinki Freezout and received 17,500 euros. It was a two-day tournament, 10 hours of play each day. I had the shortest stack for most of day two, but I kept calm, maneuvered and survived. And then I'm on the final table. My stack is still tiny, but somehow I cleared the path to victory. And when they brought champagne and a trophy, I was covered with euphoria. Such a strong feeling, I still remember it clearly. I would like to try it again.

If winning a small tournament in Finland brought me such joy, I can't imagine how it feels to win a major international tournament like the World Series.

Jens Kyllonen:

Dan became a surprisingly good player. It's nice to see how much he loves poker, how much he works on the game. Live play suits him very well – in my opinion, he reaches the final table in every second tournament. It's great when your friends succeed in poker.

I don't feel like I sacrificed anything for poker, although it certainly consumed all my attention and time. However, at some point, I felt a little sorry that I did not study anything anywhere. This is probably why I decided that something other than poker should appear in my life. Playing poker, you develop only as a poker player and do not learn anything new about the world around. I was already investing, reading a lot about economics and finance, and I had a decent amount set aside, so I decided to get an economic education.

Before graduation, I applied for an internship with Susquehanna International Group in the USA. It is one of the largest trading companies in the world, although it is not well known in Europe. Its founder, Jeff Yass, was a professional poker player 30 years ago. I read in an article about him that understanding the basics of poker was important to all of his traders. He even held daily poker training sessions, which were mandatory.

I am as deeply immersed in investing now as I was in poker. This is an interesting game, I play and work on it from morning to night. I have big plans.

I also have a family – a wife and a baby. Work in investments suits my daily routine much more than poker. I wake up at 10 am when the markets open, check stock prices, read investment forums, look for news from companies I own stock. This takes several hours. Of course, I spend a lot of time with the child and do the housework that my wife burdens me with, because I work from home, remotely.

My best memory of poker, aside from tournament wins, was one night in 2011 when I played the highest stakes on the internet until morning and won a million dollars. Playing high stakes and crushing anyone who dares to challenge me... When the last opponent left, it was already early in the morning. I was alone at the table.

I could not sleep and spent the whole day thinking about what happened last night.

Poker has brought me many experiences that I would never have had without it. We all need to feel that we are developing and achieving success, and poker has given me that opportunity. I think even if in the future I can not reach comparable heights in other matters, I will still die happy. Ha ha ha!

Dan Tolppanen:

And my poker journey is just beginning!