Saltiness, SC and Streaming: Lex’s Poker Journey

March 10 2020

The man has sunglasses covering his eyes. He doesn’t smile as he places two cards face down in front of him. The guy across the table keeps the same close-lipped expression, a hat casting a shadow over his untelling face. A woman frowns as she studies her own hand, barely even a blink as she passes.

Turn to Lex Veldhuis. He’s cracking a huge smile as he watches his sunglasses-clad opponent. He’s laughing. He even cracks a joke.

That’s how Lex plays poker.

“It enhances my experience the most. I’m more approachable. I get to chat more,” he explains. “If you start with the scarves and sunglasses, you have to have a well-composed table manner and stick to that. You become more quiet. It becomes boring. I figured I’d rather enjoy it.”

For Lex, sunglasses are a crutch. They’re an obstacle even. Because even while playing poker, there’s nothing more important to Lex than just being himself.

“If you don’t like talking, don’t go out there and talk a lot because you think it’s good. That will also distract you. Make you tired. Make you not pay attention. Do whatever you feel comfortable with. Make sure you don’t give off the wrong information while doing it,” Lex says. “Sometimes I won’t say anything at the poker table, other days I may be talking to people all day. It’s a reflection of real life. Some days you might be hungover and angry and other days you might think life is great.”

Emotions spark competitiveness, says Lex. In fact, he can’t get invested if there’s no emotion involved. Of course, he’s not going to tilt at the poker table. But he’s not going to be robotic either. That’s just not him.

That focus on authenticity - that need to always be true to himself - is what has made Lex one of the most successful poker streamers in the world. It’s what has brought him back to Team Liquid.

Poker is like StarCraft, except you can’t rage quit

Lex was voted Poker Streamer of the Year in 2018. In 2019, he won the Poker Streamer of the Year award once more. He was also nominated for the Poker Personality People’s Choice Award. He’s been the biggest poker streamer for the past three years, boasting over 200,000 followers on Twitch.

Lex has been on Team Liquid’s streaming team for two to three years now. But he’s been a part of Team Liquid since 2004. That’s That’s when he was playing StarCraft with Victor Goossens. Oh, and when he was roommates with him, too.

Lex recalls being a part of the early Team Liquid family. Hanging out, playing StarCraft. As you do. But it quickly turned to poker, thanks to Victor.

“He told me that he’d found a game I could play for money. This was back when I was 18, 19… I had just moved out of the house. I was looking for a job on the side to pay rent. He told me to check it out. I started out playing with fictional money to get used to the rules and strategy behind it,” Lex says.

But that quickly turned to real money, real fast. And Lex was making a lot of it.

Lex’s biggest score in a poker tournament was $270,000 at the WSOP in 2009. His biggest online score was $92,000. Ten years ago, he also competed on cash games on television, like High Stakes Poker and The Big Game, where the buy-in was $200,000.

And it actually came really easy to him thanks to none other than StarCraft.

“It was just another strategy game,” Lex says.

You think about your opponents next move and formulate a strategy to thwart them. Are they going to use a cheese strategy? But you also think about how your opponent may respond to your own strats, too. Will they bluff you? Are they getting angry? It’s that 1v1 dynamic, that focus on counter-strategy that made StarCraft the perfect introduction to the skills Lex needed to dominate in poker.

But there’s one thing Lex carried over from gaming at first that he quickly learned he would need to eliminate.

“At first I would just be very visibly salty,” he says. “You can’t really show emotion or let somebody see you’re annoyed at being one-upped. It gives them confidence. The best thing you can do is show no emotion when you lose a pot. If your opponent does something really sick, but you’re not salty, it makes them feel very powerless.”

And when real money is on the line, it’s hard not to get salty.

One time, Lex was on a few live shows, High Stakes Poker and The Big Game, where he lost a $200,000 pot with a bluff. That was a moment where he had to keep his face straight, keep it together. Then there was the time he lost a $2 million prize, a massive pot, at the World Championship of Poker, after he ended up busting because of a bad hand. Those are painful moments where you have to just keep a straight face - maybe even laugh and smile - in hopes of fooling your opponent.

Laughing and smiling while knowing you just lost your chance at $2 million is a skill not many people have.

While Lex has been able to basically make a living off of his ability to hide his saltiness, sometimes he just needs that release. That moment where he can scream out a good, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Save all that rage for the live streams

What better way to reduce your stress like slamming the table and yelling out profanities in front of all of your followers?

“Playing poker online, it’s a release of emotion,” says Lex. “I don’t pent it up. I can get really mad about something, yet keep playing the strat I studied. Every online player gets emotional. And now there’s cameras for online poker and viewers can see it all. My opponents get to see it, too. Sometimes people at my table, if they see me lose a very sick hand, they’ll tell me they’re going to tune in to my stream to watch me react to that one.”

For Lex, the only way to stream is to just be yourself. At all costs.

Acting is too exhausting. He’d be fried after acting 40 hours a week. Instead, he lets it all out. Cursing and all. Letting loose is what streaming is all about for Lex. It’s about being honest with his audience.

And his audience is more than just an audience. They’re a community. They’re his community. His friends.

“It’s very gratifying. It’s like real life,” he explains. “If you don’t get along with somebody, if they don’t like me, I can just ban them. Your community grows with your stream. Now I’m just at a spot where I can have a very chill chat and everybody is hanging out. You’re streaming with friends watching.”

You know, if you had some friends who secretly pray for you to lose some money here and there so they can see your reaction. But that’s the beauty of poker on Twitch. It’s one of the only esports where you can watch someone play for - and with - real money. It doesn’t get more real than that.

Lex is excited to be a part of Team Liquid because it’s a chance to be a part of that esports world again. The competitiveness. The streaming. But he can do it with his own unique skillset.

He continues: “I want to bridge the gap between poker and esports. I think not a lot of esports people realize they have a sick skillset for poker. Multi-tasking, strategy, meta-games… I really like just diving deeper into playing video games, hanging out with other streamers. It’s just strengthening everything.”

And it’s only just begun.

Right now, poker is just a niche category on Twitch. But Lex will be hosting his own live show in London, Lex Live, on April 17th. There will be streamers from all other esports titles, building up a community and further combining Lex’s love of streaming, gaming, and poker. And knowing Lex, it will be a very real, chill gathering. A lot of laughing. No sunglasses. No frowns.

Writer // Olivia Richman

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