With COVID-19 restrictions in place throughout nearly all of Europe, there wasn’t anywhere for Arthur Conan to play a live poker tournament. Since there were limited options for the 24-year-old Frenchman, he decided to make the trek across the Atlantic to South Florida to play in the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown in Hollywood. The series was huge, with the $3,500 World Poker Tour main event drawing 2,482 players to set the record for the largest field in tour history, nearly quadrupling the $2 million guarantee.
But despite the massive fields, it was Conan who stood out, making quite the impression during his stay in the Sunshine State.
In the span of about a week, Conan won $855,355. His first was an outright win in the $50,000 Super High Roller event for $733,320. And he followed that up with a deep run in the main event, taking 10th place for $111,035. The two monster scores more than doubled his career earnings, which now sit just shy of $1.6 million.
That’s quite an impressive résumé for a 24-year-old, especially in the modern age of poker with competition levels at an all-time high. Despite his age, however, Conan isn’t exactly new to the game. He’s been playing since he was a teenager.
“I started playing poker at 18, but I knew the rules before that,” said Conan. “My father played a little bit and my brother was playing. So, I started playing with my family, and then moved online.”
Arthur’s brother Marius, who is two years younger, is also quite a player. In fact, the younger Conan bested his brother at a 2017 WPT DeepStacks High Roller event in Cannes. The two siblings finished heads-up to take home the majority of the prize pool.
Online poker was where Conan cut his teeth, however. But thanks to European gambling laws that allow 18-year-olds to play in casinos, it was a live event that caused Conan to start grinding on a full-time basis. In July 2015, Conan hopped in the France Poker Series €1,100 no-limit hold’em main event. Even with minimal experience under his belt at the time, especially at those stakes, Conan made the final table and finished fourth for €45,000.
“I played, but I wasn’t playing a lot,” said Conan about his poker career at the time. “I started playing poker professionally soon after that score. About two or three months later, I started playing for a living. That was one of my first tournaments, so it was a very important score for me at that point.”
Conan continued to focus most of his time on online tournaments, while playing the occasional live event. He was still finding his way around the poker landscape and even switched his preferred game type a few times before finally finding a comfort zone.
“I started with tournaments at the beginning of my career, and then I switched to cash games after about a year and a half,” said Conan. “After about another year and a half, maybe two years, I switched back to online tournaments, and now I only play tournaments online. I’ll play some cash games live, but mostly tournaments.”
Since he got his start on the virtual felt, Conan’s transition to the live arena, from a fundamentals perspective, was very easy. In Conan’s eyes, the game was very different, but players that played predominantly live poker lacked a technical understanding that he accumulated after hundreds of thousands of hands played.
“I found it to be easier than online for the same buy-in levels,” he said. “But the game was so different online instead of live. It wasn’t necessarily easier, but it was very different.”
For the first three years of his professional poker career, Conan stayed in Europe. He wasn’t 21 yet, so it would be illegal for him to play at most tournament stops in the States. But he developed into a solid reg at European stops and put together a consistent stretch of deep runs and wins.
In 2018, however, he was finally old enough to make his first trip to Las Vegas and play a full schedule at the World Series of Poker.
“I was very, very excited to go to the WSOP in Vegas,” said Conan. “I had just turned 21, so I wanted to go play as much as I could. I stayed for the whole series and it was very good. I didn’t have a bunch of scores, but it was very fun.”
Conan made one deep run at his first summer series, finishing 15th in the $888 Crazy Eights no-limit hold’em event, adding another $34,577 to his bankroll.
“It was my deepest run at a WSOP event to this point and it was very exciting,” he said. “But at the end of it, it finished quite bad. I lost a huge pot as a big favorite, so it was hard. But after, it was okay. I had to go to other tournaments the day after, so that’s it. That’s just how the game goes sometimes.”
While he didn’t want to admit that it was easier to play live tournaments in Europe than it was online, he did say that the American fields were considerably softer than the fields he had encountered before.
“I had heard from the other Europeans that it was going to be easier,” said Conan. “I do think it was a little bit easier than Europe.”
After his first stint in Las Vegas, Conan took his game to the next level. He earned his first cash in a €5,000 buy-in event at a stop in Barcelona and was consistently playing bigger buy-ins from that point forward.
In 2019, it was more of the same. He put up solid, consistent results, including a win in the WPT DeepStacks Marrakech main event for $83,918. But he had yet to make a big, career-changing score. He spent his second summer in Las Vegas for the WSOP and then went back to Europe for the rest of the year before the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on most live poker tournaments in 2020.
“During the pandemic, I had fewer distractions,” said Conan. “I moved to London, so I just played more than I used to play and moved my entire grind online. I just played for eight months straight online with a lot of volume during that time.”
Conan racked up 10 cashes during the online WSOP amid his grind. But eventually, the urge to play live poker was too great and he decided to leave London and head to the U.S.
Crossing borders during a pandemic wasn’t the easiest process for him and his friend and travel mate Sonny Franco, who finished fourth in the $3,500 WPT main event for $438,500.
“We had to do two weeks outside Europe,” said Conan. “We couldn’t travel directly to the U.S. from Europe, so we did two weeks in Morocco beforehand. Then we took the flight from Morocco to New York, and then to Miami from there.”
Ultimately, the process was so cumbersome that he doesn’t think many foreign pros will make the trek to America until after border rules are relaxed.
“It’s a bit complicated to come, so I don’t think many European pros are going to do the same,” said Conan. “For the WSOP (scheduled for October), of course there will be Europeans, but I think it might be reopened by then.”
Once Conan got to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, he started playing stakes he had never attempted before. One of the first events he registered for was the $50,000 Super High Roller no-limit hold’em event. While he had never played a tournament with this big of a buy-in before, he did have some experience playing high-stakes live tournaments.
“This was my first $50K buy-in,” Conan admitted. “I had already played the $25K [PokerStars Players Championship] two years ago, but this was my first $50K. I was a bit nervous to play, but after a few hours of play, it was okay.”
He navigated his way through the 42-entry field and secured a spot at the final table. He was joined by several high-stakes regulars, including runner-up Sam Soverel, Christopher Brewer, Seth Davies, Sean Winter, and Jeremy Ausmus.
The final table was by no means soft, but the absence of some of the high-profile international pros that normally play these stakes made Conan more comfortable than he would normally expect to be at the final table.
“All the best American pros were in the field, and the pros from Canada and Europe that are used to playing these types of events were not there,” he said. “So, I think the field was quite soft [for a $50K], but still tough.”
It was anything but smooth sailing at the final table for Conan. With four players left, he decided to run a massive bluff on Davies, who was one of the top two stacks. It didn’t end well.
“He raised pretty small from the small blind and I called from the big blind with 9-7 offsuit,” recalled Conan. “The flop came Q-10-6 with a flush draw. He bet two-thirds [the size of the pot] and I called. The turn was a jack, which brought a backdoor flush draw. He bet the turn, but it was very small. I raised and he called. The river was a blank, but it brought the front door flush draw in. He checked, and I [moved] all in, except one big blind. He tanked and called me with two pair.”
The failed bluff left Conan with just a single 25,000-denomination chip worth just a one big blind, and he was going to be forced to commit half of it in the small blind on the very next hand. Given the situation, he was clearly the odds-on favorite to finish fourth and earn $203,700.
What ensued next, however, was one of the greatest comebacks in recent poker memory. Conan quadrupled up the very next hand from the small blind, and doubled up again a few hands later. Before he knew it, he had turned that single chip into a 20-big blind stack.
“I think I had some hope when I got to 10 big blinds,” said Conan. “So after two or three double ups, I knew it was possible to win again. When I had only one blind, I knew I was almost out.”
Brewer ended up eliminating Davies in fourth, and Conan sent Brewer packing in third, leaving just Soverel standing in his way. Conan ultimately won a flip with pocket fives against Soverel’s K-9 to finish the job and take home the $733,320 first-place prize.
But he wasn’t done yet. The day after his victory in the Super High Roller, Conan jumped in the $3,500 main event. He played another several days, navigating his way through the massive field, and before he knew it, he was making a run at a second consecutive final table.
“I had a lot of confidence in the main [event] after that win,” said Conan. “I just played my game… and looked what happened.”
What happened was another deep run and ultimately a tenth-place finish after he lost a flip with his A-Q against Erik Cajelais and his pocket jacks. He picked up another $111,035 for his efforts.
“I think that [the money] can be a boost to keep playing those high buy-in events,” said Conan about his newly padded bankroll. “But I’m not sure if I’m going to play all of them just because of the score. I will definitely play more of the $10,000 buy-ins. The money doesn’t change my career a lot, but it’s nice to have the boost and [get some attention] from the media.
With an inflated bankroll, Conan left South Florida, but didn’t fly back to France. Instead, he decided to head west to Las Vegas, where he’ll continue to take on the live circuit for another few months as Aria, Venetian, and Wynn all plan on hosting tournament series through the summer.
“I’m going to play some $10Ks and maybe some $25Ks at Aria,” said Conan.
Look out high rollers, Arthur Conan has arrived.
Photo Credits: World Poker Tour/PokerGO/Seminole Hard Rock