Nightclubs, Pool Halls, & Playing Cards: PokerStars Ambassador Sam Grafton’s Wild Poker Journey 

Sam Grafton spoke with PokerScout at the PCA about his journey from playing in pool halls to becoming a PokerStars ambassador.

On a warm afternoon in the Bahamas, Sam Grafton is sporting a Phoenix Suns jersey as he sits outside the tournament area of the PokerStars No Limit Hold’em Players Championship (PSPC). The poker pro from the United Kingdom isn’t necessarily a fan of the team or even claims to be a follower of the NBA. He simply enjoys collecting jerseys, no matter the sport or how obscure.

“I don’t know anything about the Phoenix Suns,” he says. “It’s a great jersey though. When I’m in Vegas, I just buy some throwback sportswear and stuff like this.”

His interest in American sports gear occasionally leads to some humorous interactions.

“I’ve got like this Pittsburgh Steelers letterman jacket with all their championships on it,” he says. “I’ll be walking down the street sometimes and someone will be like ‘Steelers!” And I’m looking around and going, ‘Oh, yeah, go Steelers!’ Because to me, it’s just like nice clothing while I don’t really know so much about it.”

While Grafton may not know the ins and outs of the NFL and NBA, the Stars ambassador certainly knows his way around the poker table. He has $13.2 million in live tournament winnings and recently spoke with PokerScout at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, where he found a deep run in the PSPC.

Grafton discussed his life in the game, including learning the ropes in a pool hall and cash games after late night working in a London club.

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Competitiveness & PokerStars PSPC success

Grafton’s interest in sports jerseys may come with some ulterior motives. He brings a few on the road for poker tournaments and feels a bit more of a competitive mindset come with donning some basketball or football gear.

That seemed to work out in the Bahamas. He took 12th in the PSPC for $238,700 , but that came with some mixed emotions after such a huge 2022 and coming so close to another massive final table appearance. He also scored 52nd in the PCA Main Event for $29,400.

“In one sense, it’s really nice to run deep to day three, so you feel like you’re deeper in the tournament,” he says. “You feel like ‘I’m in with a chance of winning this thing.’ Obviously with 1,000 runners, to get 12th is a very, very deep finish.

“So in one sense, it gives me a sense that I’m playing well and very proud of how I played. On the other hand, it’s a little bit of a crossbar moment, not quite getting there, not quite finishing things off.”

Despite some of those misgivings, Grafton loved the experience in the Bahamas

“I think the atmosphere is unbelievable,” he told PokerScout. “Because people are bringing their families, girlfriends, partners, husbands, and loved ones. So that’s really nice – being able to just spend the morning on the beach, get the sand between your toes before you go and play poker.

“There’s just a very convivial atmosphere at the tables. And then I think, not to blow our own trumpet, but I think we’ve done a really good job of making this a great event. We’re setting the gold standard for how live events are conducted and I really think that we’ve done that here.”

A massive 2022 tournament record

Last year proved to be a big time for Grafton. In November, he scored a runner-up finish in the €50,000 Diamond High Roller in the World Series of Poker Europe for $465,852.

September came with a win in the $200,000 Triton Poker Coin Rivet Invitational, taking down a massive $5.5 million. In the same series, Grafton grabbed a runner-up in a $50,000 event for another $994,500.

In May he landed a fifth-place finish in a €100,000 Triton event for $756,631. March included a win and runner-up in European Poker Tour Prague events for a combined $300,000. Throughout much of the year, deep tournament runs kept heading Grafton’s way.

Winning pool hall poker sessions

Many of those skills at the poker table came after learning the game late in his 20s. After graduating from university, Grafton moved back home for a while. His brothers regularly played cards and some snooker at a local billiards hall. Grafton soon joined in.

“I used to go down there with the little bit of money I’d earned and play,” he says. “And I was always interested in winning because I couldn’t really afford to lose. I needed it to be a sort of self-sustaining hobby where I could at least break even, so straight away I was interested in the strategy of things.”

Grafton joins a long list of players who found poker at the pool hall. That includes legends like Bobby Baldwin, Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, and Daniel Negreanu.

In his autobiography The Godfather of Poker, Doyle Brunson even described playing in the back of a billiards hall when someone was shot. He escaped through a creek behind the building. Grafton’s games were a bit more docile than that story.

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Sam Grafton battling on Day 2 of the PokerStars Players Championship in the Bahamas. (photos courtesy PokerStars/Joe Giron)

Sober guy at the poker table

After moving to London, Grafton took a job at a nightclub making about £80 a night. After those late night hours, he’d then hit a poker room. Working the front of the club instead of being a patron came with an advantage. 

“It was probably a good time to play because I was stone cold, sober having finished my shift and everyone else was drunk,” he says.

At the end of the night, Grafton often came out ahead. While doing an unpaid internship at an NGO, poker seemed like a nice way to pay the rent. He’d play up to five nights a week and just seemed to keep winning.

“I came to love it,” he says. “I’d finish my shift and I’d get the train from south London to east London, and go in and play and get the last tube home. During the days, I’d just be thinking about poker hands and I’d be so excited to go and keep playing. When the internship finished, I just kept going.”

With millions of dollars in winnings and now representing PokerStars, that looks to have been a wise decision.

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