Do you know what well-known poker pro is also a national paintball champion? Here are some hints. He has over $8 million in tournament earnings and sits second on his country’s all-time money list. He’s a two-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) gold bracelet winner. He won a World Poker Tour (WPT) title in its first season. Any idea who it is?
Here are some more hints – he won the inaugural Premier League Poker title in 2005; participated in an underwater poker tournament against Phil Laak and Kenna James that same year; and was a successful Magic: The Gathering player for many years.
We’re of course referring to Finnish poker legend Juha Helppi, who was Captain of the team, aptly named the“Finnish Dream Team,” that recently won the 2022 Finish National Paintball Champions. It’s not the first time either as Helppi was the captain of the team when they won the same title in 1997, 2003, 2007, 2008, and 2014!
PokerNews recently chatted with Helppi about paintball, poker and more!
Putting Together a Championship Team
Born March 4, 1977, Helppi started playing paintball when he was just 15 years old by following in the footsteps of Olli, his little brother who had taken up the sport first. Fittingly, the Helppi brothers have been a part of the same team all these years.
The championship Finnish Dream Team consisted of Juha Helppi, Olli Helppi, Pasi Muurinen, Tuomas Manninen, Santeri Manninen, Kai-Markus Lilli, Mark Nuutinen, Heikki Siltala, and Tuomas Mertsalmi.
“I have been our team captain for over 20 years now and I am getting to decide who plays in the team and which strategy we use at each point,” Helppi revealed. “Paintball is a lot about strategy and guessing how your opponent’s play. Teamwork and communication in the field are also very important, you need to know where your players and opponents are and how many players both teams have left. In the team, you need a few fast runners, but back players can be a bit older, bigger, and slower if they shoot and communicate well.”
The Finnish National League consists of four tournaments held during the summertime within about a three-month window at four different venues in Finland. Seven teams played in the league, with six being from Finland and one from Estonia.
“We played six matches in every tournament. One match is always seven minutes, but the clock gets stopped when the game is not on,” Helppi explained. “There is ‘mercy three rule’ so if one team is leading by three points the match is over. Every point is played five-on-five and usually, one point is played in 1-2 minutes. Your team gets points to the league standings from every tournament – the tournament winner getting 10, second 9, etc. During the season we won 22 games, one draw, and one loss. The loss and draw were in the first tournament in which we finished third.”
Helppi, who for those wondering uses a Planet Eclipse Ego LV1 gun, isn’t the only poker player who has ventured onto the paintball field.
“When I won the WPT Aruba in 2002, my friend Anssi Tuulivirta finished second and I knew him from paintball and taught him how to play poker three months before that Aruba tournament. Nowadays he doesn’t play poker or paintball though.”
What’s Next for the Poker Legend?
Helppi has amassed more than $8 million in tournament earnings dating back to 2001 according to the Hendon Mob, which puts him second on Finland’s all-time money list behind only Patrik Antonius (who recently showed he’s still got it by making an amazing call). He first rose to fame during the early days of the World Poker Tour (WPT) when he won the first-ever WPT Aruba Poker Classic for $75,000 and then a few years later finished runner-up to Roland De Wolfe in the WPT Grand Prix de Paris at the Aviation Club de France for $318,528.
Helppi, a former poker dealer in Finland, won his first World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet in 2019 when he took down Event #72: $10,000 Limit Hold’em Championship for $306,622.
“Of course, it feels great. I don’t feel that tired right now because it’s so exciting to play for a bracelet. I’ve been coming here since 2003,” Helppi said at the time. “This means a lot to me to win a bracelet. It’s such a long journey.”
While Helppi had to wait a long time to get his first piece of WSOP gold, he didn’t have to wait long for the second. Just a year later in the WSOP Online GGPoker Event #35: $5,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Championship, he bested a 328-entry field to win his second bracelet and a $290,286 top prize.
With paintball season in the rearview for 2022, Helppi is turning his attention back to poker.
“I will be going to MCOP Amsterdam and EPT Prague in 2022 for sure,” he shared with PokerNews, “other events are still under consideration.”
Juha Helppi’s Top 10 Tournament Cashes
|October 2015||EPT Malta €25,000 High Roller||2nd||$399,261|
|December 2016||EPT Prague €50,000 Super High Roller||3rd||$360,186|
|July 2006||WSOP $1,000 NLH||2nd||$331,144|
|December 2014||EPT Prague €50,000 Super High Roller||4th||$330,933|
|July 2019||WSOP Event #72: $10,000 Limit Hold’em Championship||1st||$306,622|
|July 2005||WPT Grand Prix de Paris||2nd||$305,160|
|July 2020||WSOP Online GGPoker Event #35: $5,000 PLO||1st||$290,286|
|May 2011||EPT Madrid €25,000 High Roller||3rd||$274,582|
|January 2009||EPT Deauville €20,000 High Roller||1st||$254,598|
|December 2009||Full Tilt Poker Million VIII $20,000 Final||2nd||$250,000|
Images courtesy of Pictures Kimmo Kainulainen/paintball.fi
Executive Editor US, PokerNews Podcast co-host & 2013 WSOP Bracelet Winner.