Sorel Mizzi on smashing the Aussie Millions

Sorel Mizzi on smashing the Aussie Millions

Monday, 10 March 2014

We catch up with the The Wizard of Oz.

Most poker players who were around in 2006 have since gone busto or faded into obscurity – but Sorel Mizzi has never been most poker players. Having crushed the tournament scene for over $12 million over the years, the Canadian pro shows no signs of slowing down. Following his latest A$1,000,000 cash at the Aussie Millions, Bluff Europe sits down to talk to him about flummoxing Australia, high roller controversies, and million dollar disappointments.

Hi Sorel, how’s it going?

I’m just in Thailand at the moment, getting a foot massage for $6 an hour so life is good.

Nice life. Unwinding a bit after the long hard tournament?
(chuckles) Yeah, after all of that work I did. I was in Australia beforehand obviously, and it’s not a big trip to Thailand – only 8 hours. I like coming out here, so I’ll probably go and see a couple of friends, and maybe stay in Asia for a few months.

Congratulations on the Aussie Millions second place! How do you feel?

I feel ok – I thought I would feel a lot worse as time went on, but I don’t. At the time I was really upset that I came 2nd, but now I’m super happy. I had a million dollar trip – that’s a lot of money! I’m pretty happy with how I played everything. I have a second and a third now, so there’s only one spot left to get!

You’ve had so many near misses in Australia – is it really frustrating?

Hmmm... I’d say there’s better adjectives to describe how I feel. It’s pretty amusing that I’ve had such great runs all the time, but it’s frustrating that if I’d just run a little bit better each tournament I would’ve won Aussie Millions five times, which would give me insane legendary status. But y’know, that didn’t happen. I’m happy with the results I’ve had, and I think they’re going to continue – in Australia especially.

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You run so good in Australia, why is that?

I think that my playing style matches up really well against Australians. When I go to Australia it’s like I’m playing online in 2006 again. It feels the same. It’s probably the second best value event of the year. I think I perform particularly well against weaker players, because I’m better at understanding how their mind works. The Aussie Millions and the Main Event of the World Series are two events where there are a lot of amateur players, and they’re environments that I think I excel in.

There were some really tough people on your final table in Oz this year. Who were you most wary of?

I had a great position – I was to the left of Ami Barer, who went on to win it. He was probably the most aggressive, next to me, on the table. So having him on my right made it hard for him to play too many hands against me. It was the dream position! Not only was he the chip leader, but he was also probably the most experienced player. For me whoever the player is, it doesn’t matter if they’re to my right. Even if it’s Phil Ivey or anybody else, if they’re on my right I’m going to be fine.

Other than that it was pretty smooth sailing. Up until heads-up, everything was going my way – I started the final table with 2.85 million, and peaked at about 9 million. When I had 9 million I think there were about 4 or 5 left, so I had almost half the chips in play. Then I lost a few pots to Ami. He was actually the shorter stack at one point, but he won some pots off me, and he won some all ins. We went into heads-up him with 12 million against my 6 million, and he just had the hands when he needed to have them.

What is he like as an opponent?

We hadn’t played at all up until the final table. On the final table he was actually opening quite a bit of hands when we were eight or nine handed, and I kind of let him get away with it. I tried to start playing back at him, and he opened less, but still opened a fair amount. He 4bet me one time after I 3-bet him for like the umpteenth time. He 4-bet with what I’m pretty sure now was a pretty weak hand, but I had such a good hand to see a flop with I decided to just call instead of 5-bet all in. He was tough, because he was doing some quite unconventional things. Heads-up he was limping every hand instead of raising... I’m not sure what his intention was there. He was playing an unorthodox style for sure. I happened to get pretty lucky on him a few times, but not going to showdown. There were a couple of hands where I just hit really big and he was betting into me, and I think he actually had some hands a lot of the time because he took a very long time to fold, and I don’t think he was hollywooding.

Were they any hands that you found particularly interesting – weird spots where you didn’t know where you were at with him?
The first hand of heads-up I had 8-9 on an 8-7-7 board. I had raised preflop and he’d called. I bet the flop and he check-raised me. I know he likes to put in some really small raises with a wide range of hands, so that being said maybe I should have checked back, but I thought my hand there was too strong at that point. He bet the turn, which was like a 3 or something. Then the river came a Jack, and he checked. I checked back and he had trip 7s, so that was kind of a weird hand. He had done a lot of interesting small check-raises, and I guess I didn’t have enough time to adjust to that seeing as the heads up match was relatively short. The hand after that first hand we played he had me down to like 20BB, so not a lot of room to be creative.

It’s a pretty awesome result to say the least – where do you think this ranks in terms of your proudest finishes?

It’s up there. Obviously if I won it’d be the most proud I’ve ever been from winning a tournament. I’ve come so close so many times in so many different tournaments, I’ve had two seconds in the WSOP, 3rd in the Irish Open, 3rd in GuangDong, 3rd in the Monte Carlo High Roller, now 2nd in the Aussie Millions. For that reason it’s hard to say what my absolute proudest moment is, because if I’d won even one of those tournaments that would be it. Having all the chips at the end is a super fulfilling feeling. I guess winning the Premier League a few months ago is up there as well, because even though it was only 12 people, it was a super tough field. Having all the chips at the end – you can’t beat that feeling.

When you get seconds and thirds, do you tend to wake up days or weeks later in a cold sweat, like ‘I should have played that differently’?

This particular tournament came at a great time. I was on a little bit of a downswing from other areas, so just winning the money was so big for me. It was disappointing at first obviously, but I’m pretty over it at this point I’d say. I think I made a couple of small mistakes on the final table. When I say mistakes there, a lot of the time it’s really small things that other people wouldn’t think are mistakes. But any time you make that kind of small error you’re not playing the hand absolutely perfectly. It’s always frustrating to make mistakes, but the more I play poker the more I realise that if I’m constantly getting over losses, then I’m going to be in a constant emotional deficit. I can’t afford to always be upset. The reality of the matter is that most of the time I’m not going to cash a tournament – only like 20% of the time, and if I don’t get over these things right away then it’s going to have a massive effect on my personal wellbeing. That’s been a struggle for me, it’s honestly something that I’ve worked very hard on. I’m pretty okay with losing now – I try to stay emotionally stable regardless of the result.

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Could you tell me a bit more about the downswing?

Yeah. There were a few investments that went wrong, and a couple cash game sessions that were not favourable. I took a lot of shots, and none of them seemed to go my way. In 2013 I cashed for $4 million, but in truth I didn’t see much of it. A) I gave away a lot of pieces of myself, so a lot of the money that I won was pieced out to investors, and B) I have an expensive lifestyle, and have made some bad financial mistakes in the past. I had a lot of bad habits – I used to be pretty bad with gambling and things like that. Fortunately that’s no longer an issue (or at least it hasn’t been for the last few months!) but having those kind of problems is a huge drain to a professional poker player. I’ve finally overcome that, and I’m way more successful now.

How different are high rollers for you to play compared to regular tournaments?

It used to be a novel experience playing a $100k tournament, but now they’re so common it’s just another day at the office! The interesting thing about tournaments is that most of the time you don’t really need to balance your range, but when you’re playing $100ks against people you play constantly, and you’ve seen so many hands that they’ve played, you really have to change that. Balance now becomes massively important. You’re playing the best players in the world who are going to pick up on your tendencies, so you have to constantly adjust – something that’s not important in bigger field tournaments where you’re only going to play against your opponents once. In larger tournaments, you can play a hand where everyone at the table except one person knows exactly what you have based on how you played it, but as long as that one person has no idea it’s okay. That happens a lot – where nearly everyone knows you’re not bluffing, but you do it anyway because you know that one person will call.

In the $100ks those situations are more rare, because usually you’re up against a starkly divided set of people. Either you’re playing against the world class of players, as well as a few online tournament grinders, or against businessmen. Even the businessmen are very smart people. They pick up the game quickly, and they improve exponentially. Overall, high rollers are just more of a challenge, because you have to constantly adjust, be aware of what people are doing, and where they’re getting their EV from – what are they doing to be profitable? You have to exploit that, and they’re going to know you’re doing that so they’re going to exploit you! There’s way more levelling wars going on, because for the most part everyone has a pretty good grasp of the game. There’s a ton of advanced mental work that happens in them, which is very appealing for me.

Do you think they will continue to attract enough rich recreational players and businessmen to be sustainable?

I think if you build it, they will come. I think the business guys are just really enthusiastic about playing poker. Where else could you play against the best in the world in any other sport or game? It would be appealing for me to play tennis with Roger Federer, but I know at the same time there’d be 0% chance that I’d even win a point. In poker you can play against the best, and it’s possible for you to come out on top. That’s the most beautiful thing about the game – anyone can win. I think it’s exciting for a lot of business people as well, because they’re sort of learning the game at the same time. A lot of them have learned the game very well, and their room for growth is huge because they have what it takes on an intellectual level to figure it out. It’s a massive challenge for them. I’d be doing the same if I was a business guy who wasn’t a professional poker player, it’d be so much fun to play against these pros and see what they’re doing!

A lot of these guys play in way bigger games than what they’re playing for in these tournaments, so if they can learn anything by playing high rollers then it becomes worth it. The other thing is, people play poker for different reasons. I play for fun and I also play because it’s my main source of income, but not everyone does it for money – some people just love the game. I think that’s the case for a lot of the business guys.

What about re-entry in high rollers? Daniel Negreanu fired 5 bullets in the $100k, and Ike Haxton fired 6. Do you think that’s excessive? Do you set a personal limit for yourself?

I don’t have any rules about it per se, but I don’t see myself ever going off for that many bullets. I’m kind of undecided on how I feel about it. I lean more towards the side that it’s fine, it’s just as if another person has entered the field. Anyone can do it, so that makes it fair. It just gets really expensive for not only the person playing, but also the people who’ve invested in that person. That becomes a little bit of an issue when people have to keep putting in money for this guy to play, and obviously you can say ‘No, I don’t want to do it’, but that can be hard when you’re already in for that much. It’s hard to cut yourself off, because you want to make it back. It hurts in that sense, but people should have the self-discipline to know when enough is enough. Clearly $600k in a $100k tournament isn’t enough for Isaac Haxton! But if he’s okay with that then that’s fine.

You mentioned about investors – how much action do you normally give away of yourself in high rollers?

It depends.

You’re running 3D Poker Training, an exclusive poker training school. Can you tell me a bit about that?

What we’re trying to do with 3D Poker Training is have an interactive learning environment, where people learn not just what we would do in certain spots, but understand why we would do it. We look at people’s tendencies and how they think about the game, and then we get them to make adjustments on that thinking. We aim get them to a point where they have the tools to independently evaluate situations by themselves, and then we get them to apply that logic to several different hands. It’s more about instilling that specific mindset rather than teaching them what to do in very particular spots that might not come up for them again. We want them to think about the full game in a different way, rather than just a few spots.

Mizzi 5

Are you a natural teacher?

It was a challenging experience. It was my first time teaching in a conventional way, and it was tough but I think that I did a pretty good job – and I’m only going to get better. We’re planning on running a camp before the World Series of Poker in the summer – a small class of between 15-20, so we can give everyone the individual attention they deserve.

Has your success in poker changed the way you value money?

I think it’s important as a professional poker player to have a relaxed view of money. You can’t be too attached to it. People who have the capacity to win and lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in a week or even a day are just generally going to be better poker players, because they’re going to be willing to take more bold risks. That being said, it’s important to find that balance, because money does actually buy cool things! [laughs] It’s not just for playing poker and moving up stakes. My attitude towards money has shifted a little bit, I used to be way more frivolous than I am now. I still do indulge myself, but at least now I’m trying to invest in things, rather than just buying into a bigger tournament!

What motivates you?

I love playing poker, l love travelling, I love the people that I get to meet in various countries. Poker affords me the opportunity to all these things, so it’s not just about the money, but about the experiences. Obviously the money is still a massive factor, like I don’t see myself going to all these places to enter play money tournaments! But I think it matters less to me than most poker players.

Do you think you’ll still be around in poker in 5 years? 10?

I think poker will be my main source of income for the next three or four years. After that, it’s difficult to say. I can’t yet picture myself doing other things, but I think that I will be. I don’t see myself playing poker for a living for longer than another five years – hopefully I’ll have something a bit more stable. At the moment 3D Poker Training is a work in progress, and I really enjoy doing it. I think I probably have another year or two in me where I can continue to travel and play as much as I do now, but after that I’m going to have a more stable life. My definition of ‘stable’ would be being in one place for more than 6 months a year. Maybe even having a dog – those kinds of things, that would tie me to a city rather than just floating around the earth with no real home. Having said that, whether or not it’s my main source of income, I don’t think I’ll ever stop playing poker.

Tags: Sorel Mizzi, interviews, Aussie Millions