Tough Competition Drives Newly-Minted WPT Champ Kayhan Mokri
Kayhan Mokri doesnt see a future in which he becomes a regular tournament guy.
However, after a string of extraordinary successes in 2023 – racking up more than $2.6 million in earnings and capturing a major title with his induction into the World Poker Tour Champions Club – perhaps its time he reconsiders.
Mokri, the 29-year-old poker pro from Norway, cut his teeth primarily in small-stakes online cash games. In recent years he’s gradually stepped up his game, spending time during COVID rising through the ranks. And, sure, during that time hed been playing some tournaments. But it wasnt until everything opened back up that he started taking them seriously.
I didnt play anything over $10,000 before 2023, Morki said. I think I only played $5Ks and I just decided that I wanted to try [to play higher] and its been going very well, to be honest.
“In the beginnng, I started playing tournaments to win a live tournament. I just never had done it and it kind of got to me. It became an obsession at times..I had to winI dont know, it just got to me for some strange reason. I started talking about it at all the tables. When I was playing live – I need to win.
And it took some time for that itch to be scratched. Small successes in his early pro years have gradually turned into big-time scores over the past 12 months. A breakthrough final table in the 2022 EPT Barcelona Main Event earned Mokri more than $340,000 and locked up his first six-figure cash. With that windfall at his back, Mokri started traveling the international circuit more and playing higher stakes, determined to secure that win.
He came close to victory a few times, both on the EPT and even at this years Triton London series. But finally, Mokri found what he was looking for this past August with a victory in the 2023 EPT Barcelona 100,000 Super High Roller for a career-high $810,622.
With the self-imposed pressure of a tournament win off his back, Mokri returned to simply playing in tournaments when he felt like it. That included firing a pair of major online events – the WPT Global Fall Festival $3,500 Championship Event, and the PokerStars WCOOP $10K Main Event. In an excess of rungood, Mokri final tabled both. He finished in 6th place in the WCOOP Main, and ended up taking down the WPT title.
Both scores were for more than $90,000 each, but with his second major career win, in the WPT Global event, Mokri will be adding his name to the WPT Mike Sexton Champions Cup. He made a bit of history in the process becoming the first-ever WPT Champions Club member to win a Championship Event on WPT Global, and he’s one of only four players to ever take home a WPT Championship title online.
So, heads-up was very frustrating because I had a humongous chip lead and this guyhe wouldn’t bust, Mokri said, looking back on his WPT win. We ended up going all in four times and I just lost all of them, with flip situations. And then I was getting frustrated, but when I won, I just smashed my office desk and I was like Finally, yes! It was more of a relief than anything else because when you have this big chip lead, your mind is already out, Oh, I’m going to win this
I was very happy, obviously, because I was playing tournaments that day and Id just lost everything except that. And then I just won it, so it kind of saved my whole week. So it was very nice. It was a very good feeling. Winning a tournament always feels good. I know poker players could get robotic at times, myself included. But yeah, it felt very good and it was a very nice feeling.
Its a highlight amidst a massive year for the Norweigian, in which his live earnings – just 14 results, five of which cracked six figures – have put him in The Hendon Mobs top 60 earners of 2023. This, for a guy who stumbled into poker by way of a random coincidence and after dabbling in the game in college fully went for it in 2018. Now, just five years into his poker journey, Mokri has taken his game to the next level.
Yeah, to be honest, it’s kind of been kind of surreal because I hear about poker players, especially tournament guys, playing long into their careers without having any really, really big scores. And I seem to have them almost all the time. I kind of feel spoiled. Obviously, I’m running over 1% level, I would say. But, I mean, yeah, it feels good.
It’s just like you’re in the moment, you’re playing well, when you’re winning it’s easier to play well, you’re more in the zone. And I’m going to continue to play tournaments I think at least for some time. But I’m going to cut down on the traveling because it’s very exhausting. But for now, I’m enjoying them and mostly the higher buy-ins.
Mokri is happy to have the win with his name on the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup being like a bonus. But its not the accolades that really drives him. Its competition. Its one of the reasons he escalated his buy-ins so quickly and, you can hear it in his voice, its the real reason that hes taken tournaments seriously.
The motivation for me is playing against the best, he said. This constant trying to find amateur players and playing against themit doesn’t give me anything. Yeah, it’s easier with the money and easier to win, but I like the competition and I want to try to compete on the highest level.
Obviously these guys are super intelligent people. And it’s like the competition is what I like. It’s a lot of fun and it gives me a drive and keeps me motivated because poker at times can be quite static. Playing against these guys, you always have to think and really get drained after two weeks of thisBut yeah, I really enjoy it and as long as it gives me motivation and a drive to keep on playing, I feel like that’s the correct thing to do.
And Mokri puts his money where his mouth is. His step up in stakes has him battling against some of the toughest competition in both cash games and tournaments. His foray into the poker spotlight has him attending Triton Super High Roller events where hes not only battling against the brightest minds in poker, but also some of his own poker idols – including Phil Ivey.
When I started playing, Phil Ivey was like the man, it’s always been Phil Ivey, he said. I played a very brief moment with him in the $250K in London [at the Triton Invitational]. I remember a very brief moment with him. Unfortunately busted very quickly, but for him, if there’s one poker player I wanted to play with, it was himhe is the guy for me.
Despite reiterating that he plans on spending more time at home in Oslo, likely grinding online cash games, Mokri already has tickets booked for a series of high roller tournaments – first at EPT Cyprus, and then followed by getting in the mix at Triton Monaco for his third Triton trip this year.
As he looks to continue his recent successes, Mokri is looking to normalize his life as a poker pro – establishing a schedule, hitting the gym, having a social life – as he tries to find a +EV work/life balance.
That said, hes still looking to capitalize on the heat hes generating now while keeping an eye on what the future may bring.
Short term it’s trying to play my best game and win as much as possible and just trying to compete at the highest level as long as I can at least. Long-term wiseIm not sure, he said. I think I’m going to be playing poker for a couple more years, but I don’t know how much longer I have it in me because the competition is really stiff and people are always going to come there hungry. And at times it’s easy to struggle with motivation. But I mean, I’m saying this now, but I’m thinking my long-term goal is to try to make an expansion in life where I start a business or something.
These are the things I think I’m going to do, but its very hard to answer this question. I could be playing poker until Im 60who knows?
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