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Everything about John Tabatabai PROFILE
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John Tabatabai alias "Kankuwap"

Last blog entry on 9. September 2008
Last Update: 24. March 2014

Betfair Poker
"In the end, even the biggest names are human; they get dealt two random cards just like you and me."
John referring to the psychological effects of being famous
Cardiff, GB
London, GB
United Kingdom
Law studies
Professional Poker Player
Chess high school
Very aggressive
Annette Obrestad
His nickname "Kankuwap" is a word he made up himself, he plays poker for a sponsor as a full-time job, his first winnings were $5 in a freeroll, he was a professional chess player before he switched to poker


John Tabatabai is originally from Cardiff, South Wales, where he grew up with his parents and two sisters and finished school. He was an extraordinarily gifted chess player who had represented Wales in both the European and World Championships. He started playing poker at school with his friends during breaks, like how you would expect most people to have started. Instead of studying, all they did was play poker. 

In the beginning, John Tabatabai was not a good poker player and he was even worse at losing. After losing £ 0.50, he was so angry that he got some books on the topic and studied them. He also researched the game online and discovered that many online poker casinos give players the opportunity to practice and play games for fun. He read every forum imaginable and soon he was ready to play for real money. He could now put the skills he had learned at chess into practice at the poker tables. 

From $ 5 to the Top

He won his first $ 5 playing a freeroll. Amazingly, he built his whole bankroll from this $ 5. It gradually began to get bigger the more he played. After a few weeks he had earned a nice sum and had become a small celebrity at the online poker casino Ladbrokes. He was soon topping the leaderboards and nearly won the main event at the first Ladbrokes European Online Championship of Poker. 

John Tabatabai is a cash game specialist who played predominantly online until he discovered his fondness for brick and mortar casinos whilst studying law at university. He became a regular at “The Vic” casino, where he spent almost every weekend. Despite his youthful looks and his radical and risky playing style, he soon became a local star. As his bets increased, so did his fame and he was soon pretty well-known at “The Vic” as well. 


His nickname Kankuwap, surprisingly, is just a random word he came up with. In an interview, John Tabatabai explains how he got his name. It all started while outside a nightclub, where a friend of his was involved in a minor altercation. In an attempt to lighten the mood and calm down his friends, he started shouting random words, and Kankuwap was the one that everyone liked best. The word was still fresh in his mind when he opened up a Ladbrokes account the next day and that is how he became known as Kankuwap. 

The First Sponsorship Deal

It wasn’t long before the young and talented John Tabatabai found a sponsor. He was taken up by a firm that specializes in sponsoring online players and bankroll management. He was just right there too. Before, he had had tremendous swings due to lack of knowledge and experience and now he was being forced to keep an eagle’s eye on his finances. Unfortunately, it didn’t work right away though and he made a mess of everything first.

The Big Losing Streak

John Tabatabai lost a lot of money within just a short period of time. He was having a losing streak that just did not want to end and he was caught in the downward spiral. At this time, he had had a bankroll worth $ 20,000 to his disposal. He couldn’t just do whatever he wanted with the money though, because playing for his sponsors meant he had to stick to some fundamental rules. Number one was “don’t lose more than 5% of your bankroll,” and Number two was “Play at the limit that allows you to rebuy two and a half times the maximum buy-in with your bankroll.” John Tabatabai wasn’t interested in rules though. He was playing at way above what his bankroll allowed, sometimes even playing at eight tables at a time. 

His sponsors Chris Smith, a successful futures trader in London, and John Conroy, a multi-tasking business entrepreneur, both with a passion for poker and always interested in helping out their young talents, had to step in. Every Tuesday, Chris organized “Poker Night,” where he would get to know his new poker fledglings. It was during one of this Poker Nights that John Tabatabai got an ear bashing from Smith.

The New Deal

Over a few bottles of red wine and several glasses of Southern Comfort, John’s favorite drink, a new deal was struck up. John Tabatabai was to continue playing for his sponsors, because no one actually doubted that he had talent. All he needed were rules that he could follow and that allowed him to develop his abilities. From then on, he would be given $ 500 to play at Betfair Poker to rake in money for the firm. If he lost, he got another $ 500, and if he won, the winnings were banked so that he wouldn’t lose them again right away and he got another $ 500 to play with.

The new deal with Chris Smith was also special because, for John Tabatabai, playing became an actual full time job. Every morning he came into the office, logged several hours playing, went on his lunch break with colleagues and then drove home at the end of the day. John gained a lot from having such a rigid work routine, he even says so himself. Today, he believes that he is better off than many of the really big players who do not know anything about bankroll management and whose career is practically a rollercoaster with all its highs and lows and bankruptcies. The constant insecurity is an incessant burden, their game begins to suffer and often these careers end as abruptly as they began. John Tabatabai advises younger players to first get a job and the profit from the security that comes with it. With enough talent and practice, a career as a pro poker player will develop on its own.

Aggressive and Provocative

His playing style is extremely aggressive and challenging, so you won’t see John Tabatabai folding often. He is a player who could get any card combination and make something out of it. Even holding 7-2 off suite— nothing can throw him off. While his colleagues may still be fretting about a bad hand, Tabatabai is already thinking about what he can change to turn his disadvantage into an advantage. He has already won several games with the most absurd combinations. He was playing heads-up against one his team colleagues Annette Obrestad and the cards 8-7-6-3-2 were on the table. He was holding K-Q, so he bet on the river. Annette was holding K-J and so she called. Both still laugh about that hand. 

John Tabatabai has to put up with a lot of critique for his playing style. Many say that he plays too carelessly and that most of it is just luck; most don’t want to believe that there is a lot of skill and tactical finesse behind his moves.


At the 2007 WSOPE (WSOP Europe) No Limit Hold’em Main Event in London, John Tabatabai placed second. This huge tournament, which was held outside the USA, made history because it was the first time that WSOP Bracelets were given away in Europe. The poker elite were all gathered in London that day to go down in poker history. This was also the first time that it became clear, on a larger scale, how well the younger European players, who mainly trained online, cut-off in comparison to the older, more conservative pros. Professional players like Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and many others were soon eliminated. The younger elite fought their way to the top. It got really exciting at the final table. With much poise, John Tabatabi and Annette Obrestad beat the armada of opponents only to sit across from each other for the final match. 

More hands were played during this very exhausting and exciting heads up match than were played during that entire tournament. After much money was pushed back and forth, Obrestad eventually got the deciding hand, with which she went all-in. Nothing exciting happened pre-flop, then the flop came 7-6-5 and Obrestad bet. Of course, Tabatabai raised—he was holding 5♠-6. Thereupon, Obrestad, holding 7-7, went all-in.

This top set was all Annette Obrestad needed to go down in poker history as the youngest winner ever of the WSOP Main Event. She also won £ 1,000,000. You need not feel sorry for John Tabatabai though, who placed second and won £ 570,150.

The Big Breakthrough

A couple of months later John Tabatabai was able to prove his poker skills once again. He placed first at the All Africa Poker Tournament, winning $ 127,584. This was less than the prize money for the WSOP Event, but by winning this event, he could finally prove to the world that second place at the WSOPE Main Event was just the first step on the road to his success. 

Since the beginning of 2008, John Tabatabai completes Team Betfair. He is one of those younger players who, like Sorel Mizzi and Annette Obrestad, stands out due to his headstrong playing style and his enormous talent with which he makes his mark on the poker world. If you want to play against John Tabatabai right now, visit the Betfair website where you can also secure your exclusive BonusBonusBonus welcome bonus! Look for John at one of the numerous tables and go up against him!

John hardly gives anything prize about his personal life. He rarely gives interviews and in his blog; he sticks to posting the results of his latest games. Tabatabai is all about poker, he can’t stand the attitude stars have. He himself tries to avoid having such an attitude and any glorifications of the sort by concentrating solely on the game. In an interview he says: 

“But in the end, even the biggest names, they are human, they get dealt 2 random cards every hand the same as all of us. Once you eradicate the thoughts of them being superior or super stars and you play your own game and concentrate fully, most of their psychological edge disappears and then it’s back to pure skill.”

When John Tabatabai will win his first WSOP Bracelet is still unclear, but like most things in Tabatabai’s life, it might all happen very fast.

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