Sorel Mizzi: Running like God

Sorel Mizzi July cover

01 July 2010

“Everything that happened before 2003 in terms of bracelets should just be washed away. I think from 2003 or 2004 onwards, it’s a new generation of poker.”

Sorel Mizzi’s tournament results so far this year might just represent the greatest run in modern poker. In the first six months of 2010 he’s gone deep in 16 major tournaments, final-tabling 12 and winning four, for over $1.5 million. Is this the hottest tournament player of all time? Bluff caught up with Sorel in Vegas to see if some of the magic rubs off.

Sorel! What, why, where, how?

Well, it’s a combination of a lot of things. Obviously I’ve been running slightly above expectation, maybe a lot above expectation, but I have been doing a lot of things differently and I’ve been adjusting more to live play. My reads on different opponents have gotten a lot better. I don’t think I’ll run like this every year, but I don’t think it’s that difficult to do as long as I continue playing my A-game at all times.

It’s partly luck – obviously you need that for any tournament, and there are situations where you can’t avoid coin flips and 60/40s. But I’ve developed my game in a way where I don’t make the marginal calls or bluffs anymore, so it’s a combination of luck and just becoming a better player than I used to be. Experience is the hugest thing. Once you start understanding how people think and the mistakes people make, you learn to exploit them and then you can heavily evolve. My biggest change comes from evolving my game.

And you’ve just signed to

Yes, they’re great. They give me the opportunity to play a lot of live tournaments. Titan is a really good site with a lot of players, and they’re very interested in my input as well, which I like. So I’m not just a sponsored player; I’m giving them suggestions on how to make the site even better. We have a great team – three Team Titan members, including myself, have already final-tabled the World Series, so there’s a lot of good spirit in the group, and I can see myself staying with Titan for a long time to come.

You used to be online player. Is it true you’re now almost exclusively live?

That’s true. I do dabble online once in a while. For example, the SCoOP series was recently on and I played almost every day to prove to myself that I could still beat the games online. It’s all about what interests me at the moment and where the money is at, and I just think there’s more money to be made in live games than online now. When I was learning how to play poker in my online years, when I was 19 or 20, I was playing up to 20 hours a day and my goal was to be rated #1 on PocketFives. Playing that many hours can burn you out.

Then I went from playing online every day for 10 to 15 hours to just playing Wednesdays and Sundays, then maybe just every other Sunday and now maybe once a month. I’m only really interested now when it comes to big online tournament series, and I’m playing online cash games far more than I play online tournaments. That’s more fun for me than sitting at home and grinding tournaments all day. I still enjoy live tournaments a lot because there’s so many different elements and variables that you have to consider. Having every hand as a separate entity and playing it as best that you know how to; there are different things you can do in live poker to make the way you play your hand better. It’s not just about bet-sizing and ranges; there are things you can say and do and all these different elements in live poker interest.

So you’ve fine-tuned the psychological aspect to your game?

I mean, I definitely have become a lot better at it. Definitely, I’m better at reading people – I never used to consider that. For example, there were situations where it was so obvious that someone was bluffing or value-betting but I was looking at bet-sizing and really obvious tells. These days I’m better at picking up subtle tells, which I don’t think you can learn from a book – it just comes from experience, and that’s something I finally have. I think that I’ve become a much better player because of it.

How’s the WSOP so far?

So far, I got off to a rough start, then cashed in the seven-card stud and just made another cash in the $2,500 NL 6-max. I was chip leader with 25 to go and I came 25th; I took a pretty big beat. There’s still a lot more to play, though, and I think that certain events will be my strong points, like the $25k 6-max. I think I have a big edge. I haven’t played many NL events, I’ve been playing a lot of mixed games, which I’m relatively good at but don’t have a lot of experience in. The bigger NL events are where my biggest edge is; PLO as well. I’ve been running under par in those, though. Overall the WSOP hasn’t been as good to me as I thought it might, but give it time.

What would it mean to you to get a bracelet? Are they important?

Yeah, I think they’re very important. Poker players and the media and everyone say that it’s the key to poker immortality or whatever. It’s not, but the frustrating thing is that I’ve never won an official title from the EPT, WPT or WSOP. I’ve won several side events and come very close – third in the Aussie Millions and Irish Open – but to win and to have the title, that’s something you can’t take away. I want to be a part of that bracelet race because, as far as I’m concerned, everything that happened before 2003 in terms of bracelets should just be washed away. I think from 2003 or 2004 onwards, it’s a new generation of poker and the bracelet race is reset. A bracelet would mean a lot to me; it would definitely solidify everything I’ve worked for. When you win a bracelet it’s something nobody forgets. I think it would be a huge accomplishment.

As a tourney pro, you’re obviously hugely competitive by nature, but you also have to get used to a doing a lot of losing. Is that difficult?

Yeah, psychologically it’s difficult to deal with. When you’re playing well and get so deep in a tournament it only takes one mistake or one wrong card to get busted. When you’re that deep in an event, it’s a lot of pressure. When you bust out that late, you don’t even want to think about what might have been. I used to be terrible. I’d go home and not talk to anyone and isolate myself until the next day. Now I’m getting much better at dealing with losses and disappointment, but it’s very frustrating and psychologically draining. I’m better than others at dealing with it now, I think. I just wake up the next day and play again – nothing from the past ever changes how I play.

What other qualities do you possess that makes you a good poker player?

Interestingly enough, I was talking about this a few days ago with a friend of mine. Your personality strongly affects what kind of poker player you’ll be. I sometimes meet people who have never played poker in their lives and think they’d be a great. There are certain characteristics that help – being laid back, not taking yourself too seriously, having a little to a lot of gamble in you – those are qualities that I think a lot of good players have.

You also have to be good at making certain plays that you think other people will react to in a certain way. Getting good at realising what you can do to induce action from your opponents is a big, hidden thing that a lot of people don’t realise. You can manipulate your bet-sizing and create lines that blow your opponents’ minds – either make them freeze or just do something stupid. I also think a lot of people make the mistake of putting opponents on their own level of thinking. It can be a huge mistake to assume someone thinks about poker in the same way that you do. That can injure your own game.

Going back to the WSOP, tell us the about the Main Event. Do you approach it differently from a regular tournament?

The tougher the field, the less marginal spots you should take. If it’s closer to a call when someone shoves on you, but it’s really close, you should lean towards a fold in the Main Event because there are so many better spots against weak opponents. Even if you have a tough first table you have to realise that it’s a huge tournament and the quality of players in the event is very low. In a tournament like the $25,000 6-max, I’ll have to make much more marginal plays because it’s not easy to accumulate chips. That’s one of the big differences between the Main Event and a smaller field.

How do you stay sane playing in Vegas for so long?

I’m pretty good at setting out a goal and sticking to it, and this year I want to win Player of the Year. Next year I might not play any poker at all, but this year is the year that I’m focused and determined and there are very few things that can distract me. Vegas is a very distracting city but I’m going to do all I can to avoid distractions at all cost. I’ve only had one night out so far and I knew I wouldn’t be playing the net day, so it wasn’t a big deal. I’m not denying it’s hard, but if you play as much as I’ve been doing for the past three years, you kinda get used to it.

How did you discover the game in the first place?

I played five-card stud with my parents – for like biscuits or something. That’s how I learnt what beat what. Five-card stud is kind of obsolete now, but it introduced me to cards. Then I remember walking home from school one day and finding a video poker machine that someone was throwing out. I took that home and played on it all the time.
When I first played poker with friends I thought they’d be playing five-card stud, and I was like, why do you only get two cards? What are these “blinds”? I didn’t understand anything. But after ten minutes, I completely fell in love with the game. I started playing all the time and watching poker on TV. There wasn’t much poker on [in Canada] at the time, so I had to download it all. I just wanted to watch more and more.

Then I went to the army and I had a summer job in the reserves. I played with my colleagues all the time and that’s when I really started developing my skills. At that time I was nowhere near close to the best amongst my colleagues, though.

When I got home I started playing a lot of online poker and lost a bunch playing limit hold’em, but with those losses came a lot of experience and I became a much better player in the process. When I discovered tournaments I suddenly had a tonne of success. I’d still play cash games and lose money there while winning money at tournaments – kind of like I do now (laughs).

I’m better at cash games these days, but tournaments have always been my forte. I remember making $60,000 in a week and losing it all back playing $100-$200 limit. After that, I stopped for a few months to pursue other things, and then I was working at Radio Shack and would put a percentage of my pay cheque every month onto online poker sites.

The first tournament that I won that really started the ball rolling was the $152 tournament on PokerStars. Annette was at my final table – I think she came fifth and I came first – which is funny because we’re very good friends today. That was massive for me at the time and I took all the money from there and started playing on all the other poker sites, playing as many tournaments as possible, and from there I built up the roll that I’m on now.

What’s the best advice you could give us on how to win a poker tournament?

There’s a lot of general standard advice out there, but it really comes down to what you do that no one else does – that’s what gives you the edge. There are certain things that I’ve started doing that definitely help my motivation factor, such as keeping a really good track of where I’m winning money and where I’m losing money, and just keeping really detailed records of everything: tournaments, cash games, prop bets, expenses... I have an entire spreadsheet for the whole year. So why does that help my tournament results? The answer is that, at least for me, it becomes a competition in itself – to always have an upwards moving graph. When you’re playing all the time, and you’re not really keeping track, you’re not as accountable for your wins and losses and so you’re less motivated to win. If you keep track you have more tangible goals. If a goal is clearer it’s easier to accomplish.