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From Dropout to Head of Content - #ThrowbackThursday
Milko van Winden
Head of Content @Pokercode

It was the 2019 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas where I first saw some orange hoodies parading through the Amazon room in the Rio. By the white lettering on the hoodies and the black & orange patches, they were wearing I was able to make up that they were getting the name ‘Pokercode’ out. I have to admit that I had no clue what it was about, but I was intrigued from the start and I wanted to know more about it so I decided to follow them on Instagram and Twitter to keep an eye on the developments. A lot has happened since then, but even more, happened before.

This is my story of how I ended up at Pokercode

Born in 1994, I had no clue about poker when the entire Moneymaker boom happened in 2003. I had a higher-than-average interest in board games and always wanted to play them, despite sometimes having to force my two brothers or my parents to play with me, but the wonderful game of No-Limit Hold’em wasn’t on my radar yet when Moneymaker beat Sam Farha to take down the WSOP Main Event. This went on until 6 years after Moneymaker’s triumph that I came across a video on YouTube of a 22-year old winning the Main Event. A Danish gentleman going by the name of Peter Eastgate winning over 9 million dollars with a card game. He was my Moneymaker. I couldn’t let go of poker anymore. I spent the next weeks, if not months, watching as much ESPN coverage of the WSOP as I could find on YouTube.

I remember my mom once coming home with a DVD-set on how to play poker. I can’t remember from who it was, but I think I watched on repeat to learn as much as I could. I bought my first plastic chipset and started to teach the game to my friends in school. Every break we had we started to play poker against each other.

At one point when I was 16, I stayed home from school having the stomach flu. I finished every single Xbox game I owned and Netflix wasn’t a thing in the Netherlands yet. Between the constant bathroom visits, I didn’t have anything to do. I decided to open an account to play online poker. I already played freerolls on PKR (remember them?) but I wanted the thrill of playing for a couple of dollars because I obviously had the feeling I could beat them all and I would never lose money myself. It started with a deposit of $10 that lasted me about a week on 2nl. Thinking back I find it pretty impressive I didn’t blow through it all on day 1. I think that’s the moment I never let go of poker. I played every now and then, but I started following all the tournaments and started dreaming about once playing them myself. I wanted to know everything.

The following years, unfortunately, it felt as if life was crumbling apart. My girlfriend passed away at 17 years old. I was heartbroken, fell into a severe depression, and when I went to college after graduating high school I was so lost with myself that the only way was down. I dropped out of college four years in a row. Every single time trying again at a different school. During my third try, I met Christel. We clicked from the start and she tried to help me where she could, but I was the only one that was able to tackle my issues. Eventually, I could, some years later. I’m very thankful that I have Christel by my side. She’s now my fiancee and I can’t wait to get married to her.

During all of this, poker was the only thing that never left. I changed schools, I met new people in those schools but they came and went, just like I did. But poker and the people I met through it, that’s the red line.

Milko playing live poker in Holland Casino Rotterdam, 2016 - Photo by PokerCity.nl

Get Up and Try Again

Having failed college four years in a row I gave up on trying again. I started to look for a job but nobody wanted to hire a 22-year old 4-time college drop-out (big surprise, I know). At this moment, in April 2017, I came across a job opening for live reporting at poker tournaments in the Netherlands. Finally, something I was interested in, made me money, and I genuinely thought I was going to be good at it. I applied, got the job, and I was finally moving forward again. Persuaded by my mother and my sparked joy for writing and creating content I moved down a level in education, but started another study, “editorial staff”, literally translated from Dutch. During the WSOP International Circuit Rotterdam in September, I was working alongside Yori Epskamp who worked at PokerNews if I could go to the WSOP with them as a live reporter. Fast forward to December of the same year and Yori slid in my DM’s asking if I was still interested in joining them for the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Fuck yes, of course I still was.

I set my goals, I had the chance, but upon cross-referencing the WSOP schedule with my school schedule I realized that the WSOP would be in the final 8 weeks of my classes. The first thing that crossed my mind was: “I can just drop-out again, I guess”. Luckily, thanks to my amazing headteacher Paul van Alphen, I didn’t have to and I got permission to go. Half a year later I saw my dream coming true of actually setting foot in the Rio during the World Series of Poker. I couldn’t believe it. I was so amazed by the sheer size of it all. When the WSOP was drawing to an end and I was working on what I assume was a low-profile $1k event, I received an email from the school congratulating me on completing my year and continuing to the second year. I was in shock. After years of struggling I now not only had a job, but I was also looking to actually finish school and getting a degree in 2 years.

Since the 2018 WSOP, I worked at several different events. My school granted me the opportunity as long as my grades were good. I had the privilege of going to Bucharest, Rozvadov, Prague, Marrakech, and Monte Carlo. By then I was invited back to the WSOP and 2019 was looking as bright as ever. This is where Pokercode crossed my path for the first time, seeing Fedor and Matthias play in bright orange hoodies, lighting up the room. I remember being extremely interested. I’ve always looked up to Fedor and the run he had in 2016 is something I looked at in awe.

Milko working during the 2019 WSOP

Pokercode wasn’t the only thing that crossed my path during the 2019 WSOP, however. During my second year in Las Vegas, I met Robbie Strazynski. Robbie has his own website Cardplayerlifestyle and he wanted to interview me for his ongoing series: Get to know the poker media. I was intrigued by Robbie’s website and wanted to get involved. After the interview and publication of the article, we stayed in touch.

I had written an online poker room review for Robbie after the WSOP and in the meantime, I started my final year of school in September 2019. I had to do a full-year internship, but moving in together with my girlfriend put me in a position where more money was going out than coming in. I was able to work in the UK during Lex Live 2 and in Uruguay for the partypoker MILLIONS, but it wasn’t enough. I reached out to Robbie because believe it or not, Pokercode launched in October and I wanted to write a review on it. I followed the project since their promotion of it during the 2019 WSOP and I had the time to do it.

Diving in Pokercode

Robbie gave the green light and I started with the review in my free time. I spent 40 hours a week at my internship and on my commute I watched the Pokercode videos trying to soak up as much information as I could. I still remember watching the first video on the train. The feeling I had and the excitement. I got to know the platform and I eventually wrote quite an extensive review for Cardplayerlifestyle, but Johannes pointed out that nothing was written about the community. I was caught by surprise, because I wasn’t aware of the community in the first place, but after being admitted to the Slack server I quickly realized what the true potential of Pokercode is.

I finished the Pokercode review in Prague right around midnight while I was there for PokerNews to report on the 2019 EPT, along with Hill Kerby. Thinking about it now it couldn’t be a more fitting place to finish the article that would eventually be the start of something bigger. I wasn’t aware back then, but during the 2019 EPT Prague there was a Pokercode meeting with them talking about the future of the brand and product.

Covid ruined my future

After my review, I checked in on the Pokercode community every now and then. It was a place where I felt and still feel comfortable and very welcome. It’s a group of like-minded people who all share the same passion for the game. It’s a safe space to improve not only as a poker player but also as a person.

In March 2020, covid-19 hit. My back-up plan in case I couldn’t get a job after graduating was to work as a live reporter. That was thrown in the bin, because how can I report when there are no live tournaments? I needed to find something and I needed it quickly. Out of nowhere, I received a message from Johannes if I was interested in becoming Head of Content at Pokercode. Of course I wanted this, but I wasn’t exactly sure if I was capable of doing it. I was still finishing school and I wasn’t sure if I could match their expectations.

Luckily, after countless talks and trials, I was hired after finishing my degree. I graduated and a week later I started at Pokercode. I didn't want a break and I was so incredibly eager to start. I had so much to learn and I didn’t want to disappoint them after putting their trust in me. Now I know that we were able to iron out the wrinkles, but it wasn't an easy start.

Milko after he won the €220 Turbo of the Dutch Open Poker Series

Head of Content

Nine months later I couldn’t be happier to be a part of Pokercode, but I still remember those first couple of days. I barely slept because of the excitement, but at the same time it wasn’t just excitement that was flowing through me. I was also nervous and experienced tremendous amounts of stress. How could I live up to their expectations when I have no experience. Did they not see the college-dropout that was still hiding in me? At some point I received messages about either a small mistake, or just a general question. My body would reply in a way I never experienced before. My temperature rose, I started to sweat, and I felt anxious.

Luckily after some weeks, or maybe even months, I got used to the day-to-day Pokercode life. I wake up with a smile on my face every single day knowing that I can call what I do my job. From working together with the design team to create stunning assets for social media, to working 70-hour weeks in order to deliver 30 Grindhouse episodes. I have learned so much over the last 9 months, not only professional but also personal. I made new habits, removed others, and I’m trying to improve every single day.

The Pokercode team has turned into my work-family and I can’t imagine working anywhere else at this stage of my life. In true ‘Pokercode-Johannes’ style: shoutouts to Johannes for believing in me. Great things are waiting and I couldn’t be more excited about the future of Pokercode and my own.

The biggest thanks to my fiancee Christel.

If you ever want to reach out about Pokercode, the Pokercode Grindhouse, or any other projects we have going on, please do so through milko@pokercode.com

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