I guess when you see pictures of a guy whose bank account has swelled an extra million big ones (cliff note for those who’ve joined in late: Levy won the APPT Grand Final in Sydney in 2007 and pocketed a cool million dollars for his achievement) you paint a picture in your mind of this larger-than-life, throw-caution-to-the-wind, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants poker player who commands the entire room’s attention.
But all the 29-year old teacher and rugby coach wanted from me was a handshake as he said G’day before a tournament earlier in Crown this year.
While it might not have been as obvious as his elevation off the ground, Levy’s down-to-earth nature is what I’ve come to admire the most about him. (That and the steady stream of scores playing tournaments both live and online he has to his name.)
Since his home-court success at Star City last December, Levy’s been leading the poker life that many bright-eyed fan-boys and fan-girls can only dream of, traveling extensively throughout the world as a PokerStars sponsored player and proving that his victory in Sydney was no fluke.
Almost a year on and Grunter finds himself back at Star City and ready to defend the APPT title that arguably served as the launch pad for his career as a card player. The proud family man reflects on what the last 12 months of his life have been like as well as this game of skill and chance that we call poker.
The best thing has been the fact that I have been able to spend some extra time with my family. It’s unbelievable how quickly children grow up and I don't want to miss out on that. With the extra travel I have to do as a member of team PokerStars  it was inevitable that I had to cut down on my teaching workload. I teach two to three days per week now and when I’m not in the midst of travelling, I get to spend more time with Sharon and the kids. On top of this, they have travelled with me to the US for WSOP  and to Melbourne a few times.
Conversely, what’s been the worst thing about your victory? Is there a downside to massive poker success that many onlookers wouldn’t be aware of?
The effect that countless hours of poker and disturbed sleeping patterns has on your health and well-being is no doubt the worst thing. So many people on the periphery think that poker is all glitz and glamour, but if you don’t look after yourself you will wind up very unhealthy.
You’re a super-competitive person: how long did it take you after your APPT win to have that urge to win another tournament?
I found that I struggled to play my best game for a couple of months after the win. It was a psychological thing on the most part. After winning such a hefty amount, it was difficult to mentally prepare for a tournament that may require 12 hours of play for paltry returns in comparison. By the time the Aussie Millions Main event came around, I was confident that I was playing well but I was exhausted and played accordingly. Post Aussie Million 2008 I had a nice break of about a month and freshened right up. I probably didn’t start playing optimally until about March or April, and have enjoyed a bit of success both live and online since about May.
Since your APPT victory in Sydney, you’ve definitely attracted far more media attention – is this something you enjoy/you’re comfortable with?
I don't know if I enjoy it as such. I mean, I don’t mind it and I know its kind of part of the whole deal. I'm a pretty quiet guy and tend to keep to myself in my day to day life, so at first I was really uncomfortable with it. As the year has progressed I have grown accustomed to giving interviews and doing photo shoots and filming TV commercials and what not, so it comes more naturally to me now.
Now that you’re a “known” player, do you think some people play different against you? Does it affect the way that you play poker tournaments?
A little. So many people have seen the footage of APPT and APPT TOC so everyone just thinks I’m a ridiculously loose bluff  machine. Obviously the footage is edited to show as many of the interesting hands as possible, so of course they are going to show me running bluff after bluff and being uber aggressive. In reality, they showed approx 40 hands of the 230 odd that were played on the final table, so it doesn’t really paint a perfectly accurate picture. Because of this wild image I find that so many people stack off to me when I have big hands because they just feel I'm full of shit all the time. In contrast, I can't really get away with any bluffy type plays as it stands to reason I’m going to get called down light more often.
As a PokerStars sponsored player, do you feel like you have to be somewhat of an ambassador for the game?
Some what. PokerStars have provided me with enormous opportunities to travel and play in an ambassadorial role and I’m only too happy to promote this great game in our market. I think the Australasian market has huge potential, and, to be honest, what winning player doesn't want more fish in the game?
You’ve achieved plenty in the game. What’s next on your to-achieve list?
I want to continue achieving some quality online tournament scores. In terms of live poker, WSOP is unfinished business. I went 0 from 7 there this year so I'm probably going to focus on playing a little better over there in 09. A deep run at the Aussie Millions is very important to me also. And obviously back to back in Sydney is a MUST, lol.
If you could have a choice between your APPT win or being able to grind $200,000 a year online playing mid-stakes cash game poker for 40 hours a week for as long as you like, what would it be?
That question has to be a level, please mate. I don’t do anything for 40 hours all year, let alone one week.
In Australia, there tend to be two groups of players – the older, experienced veterans who have been playing the game seemingly forever, and the young online guns who take turns shipping five-figure scores as if it was a regular day at the office. Which strand are you in the Australian poker tapestry?
Wow, tough question mate. To be honest if I’ve played a bunch online, I can't wait to have a break and get into a major live tournament. On the other hand, halfway through a live Main Event I'm there telling all and sundry that live poker sucks. Fortunately, I get the opportunity to play both live and online and I have had varying degrees of success in both. When it comes down to it, my style is probably more the online style, so if pushed to commit I’d consider myself an online player despite the fact that I don’t put in enormous volume like some of the freakish players we have such as Dong, Jay, Stevo, Jarred et cetera.
Do you think the wider Australian poker community gets too caught up in the whole online versus live thing?
It’s always an interesting debate and is probably the reason why people get caught up in it so much. To be honest there is only a core group of Australians who have had great success in both. Tony Dunst is probably more qualified than anyone else in our poker community to talk about the nuances of both live and online. It seems obvious from his writing that he believes online players are far better than live. My opinion is that online players are so much stronger playing shorter stacks (anywhere from 5-30bb). When stacks are deeper and structures are slower live pros (or online cash game pros) tend to have a slight edge.
What’s the number one lesson you learned that turned you from an average player to a winning player?
To only play when I want to as opposed to forcing myself to play and grind. I find if I enjoy my poker I perform better.
Some very talented and intelligent people make a living playing cards. As a teacher (a role that gives back to the wider community) do you think it’s a shame that these minds aren’t being applied in fields like science, medicine or health where their talents could be beneficial for society as a whole?
For some people, sure it is a shame. I’m a firm believer in doing what you enjoy though, not what you're good at. People work better and perhaps even achieve greater things when they are doing something they love. If you have an IQ of 170 and want to dig trenches, so be it.
Where do you see the future of poker headed in Australia? Do you think the game’s reached a critical mass of sorts?
I think as long as there are affordable tournaments and cash games that aren't raping people with rake then poker is here to stay for some time. I know that in Sydney the market is enormous. I don't see growth going backwards any time soon, although it may plateau in a year or so.
What poker do you play online at the moment?
As of this year I have been playing a lot of the HSMTTs (high stakes multi table tournaments) on PokerStars with a degree of success. I still play some cash PLO  on the side on some of the Euro sites. I only play one full day per week, interspersed with a few hours here and there on a couple of other days.
Assuming poker is still around in future and isn’t replaced by some other game that people can make a healthy living off, what would you do if your kids wanted to pursue poker as a career?
I'll let my kids decide what they want to do. I'm certainly not going to push them into poker, but it would be fairly hypocritical of me if I was to frown upon it if they wanted to play.
Name two under-rated players that all of Australia should all look out for in future.
A few of the young online guys from Adelaide are dead set superstars. Jonno (xMONSTERxDONGx), Dean (Dinjho) and Jarred (FlopNutsOnYou/Try_an_Hit) are all chalking up huge scores every other week online. It’s only a matter of time before they do it in the live arena like Jay (SEABEAST) did. I fully expect at least one to ship a tourney or two at Sydney or during the Aussie Millions.
You Sydney guys seem like a pretty tight-knit group when you’re together overseas or in Melbourne. Is this because you are all mates or simply a case of safety in numbers when away from home?
Yeah there is a core group of us that are pretty close and travel together a bit. I didn’t know a lot of these guys 18 months ago, but travelling to x and y, you see the same people over and over again and you form a bond. It’s not really about safety in numbers it’s just that we spend so much time together that we enjoy each other’s company on the most part. Except Ali K, he's a clown.
“Please mate.” This catchphrase has come to prominence recently – what’s the story behind it?
I wish I knew. Some idiots just say things that stick, this is one.
Finally, what’s happening with Card Academy?
On hiatus it seems. It just seemed to fall off the radar of importance for those involved in it. It probably coincided with WSOP this year. Once we all returned Card Academy kind of hit a wall and we didnt make any more videos etc. It’s a shame really. I hear some murmurs that it may come back bigger and better than ever in the not too distant future with some new instructors and some financial support, but nothing has been confirmed.
Perth’s popular poker personality, Max Veenhuyzen, was the first Australian to win the PokerStars  Sunday Millions. You can read more of his work in Bluff Australasia magazine as well as at his blog www.acehighwine.com .