Tony G: G-Force
01 November 2007
ony G – spiteful and poisonous to some, hugely entertaining to others, but few can question this enfant terrible’s awesome skills at the table. Off the felt he’s polite and meditative, on the felt he’s a monster. So, will the real Tony G please stand up?
Tony, it’s psychoanalysis time. Tell us about your childhood.
OK, I was born in Kaunus, Lithuania, which was then part of the Soviet Union – interesting times. It was pretty tough under Soviet rule – you couldn’t go anywhere you wanted and money was tight, but people were good and would help each other out. When I was 11, I came over to Australia and started playing poker very soon after.
What kind of kid were you?
I was a pretty tough kid, getting into a lot of trouble, missing school a lot. I wasn’t so happy in that system, growing up, so I was on the borderline of being thrown into a kids’ home. I used to play gambling games, tossing coins for any money that was available at the time.
Is it true you were the Lithuanian Rubik’s Cube Champion?
Yeah, I was pretty good at that. It was something I enjoyed. Whatever I did, I had to enjoy it. That’s why I didn’t go to school very often.
Was it an upheaval emigrating to a new country at such a young age?
Well, I’d been trying to go to Australia for a long time. My mum had gone over earlier, when I was seven, so I was kind of growing up by myself with my sister, waiting for my visa. I had been expecting to go much earlier, but it took a long, long time. Then, when I got the all clear, I flew to Australia by myself. I had to get a train to Moscow, and then I flew to Pakistan, then to Singapore and on to Australia. I didn’t speak any English, they just put a sign around my neck with my destination on it and away I went. I remember on the flight from Singapore to Melbourne, I went upstairs to first class. I hadn’t been invited; I just felt that I deserved it after a journey like that.
My family members in Australia would get together and play poker during holidays on Phillip Island and they let me join in. We’d play for low stakes – a few cents here and there. I got the feel for it then and I’ve been developing since.
Is that where you discovered the power of your tongue at the poker table?
Yeah. I’ve always been the type to say one too many words… But it was fun back then; we used to enjoy it. But I had the gift of a big mouth and I always tried to use it to my advantage to get people off their game. And to enjoy myself, too…
Are you quieter away from the table?
Oh, definitely, a lot quieter. I’m not the same person at all.
So poker takes you out of your shell?
Yes. It’s an outlet that lets you release your tension and use the skills that you have – reading people and working out mathematical problems. It’s something I love.
Does it bother you that your table image makes you unpopular?
With some people I’m popular and with some I’m unpopular. Some people find me entertaining, some people find me obnoxious. I can’t really control that too much. It’s who I am. I’m a warrior. I want to fight and I want to win.
Have you ever said anything really harsh to a player and then regretted it?
Yeah, it probably happens every day.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said?
Well, there are so many things. But I don’t really use swearwords or anything. I usually just say to people, “Why are you here? What are you doing? You don’t belong here,” and I guess that’s pretty insulting. But I do that all the time.
I guess the one we all remember is the “I’m gonna send you back to Russia” clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvCn_KbLpLY). Did you feel bad after that?
It’s fine. I can’t do anything about it now – that’s life. But I get on OK with Ralph Perry now – there are no problems. It was a pretty emotional tournament and I decided to give him a bit of verbal. The whole table knew where I stood and I went on to win that tournament, so I achieved what I wanted to achieve.
Are there any players you particularly enjoy winding up?
It’s fun to wind up Howard Lederer and Ralph Perry, especially. Most poker players don’t react that much, though. Howard gets upset and refuses to shake my hand. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of respect for him. People don’t realise that I respect a lot of these players. But I have to work harder these days because people know me now and they know what to expect. It was fun when no one knew me. Then I could really get under people’s skin.
What are the best and worst things about being a professional poker player?
Well, first of all, I don’t consider myself a professional poker player. It’s my hobby. The worst thing is that you can lose a lot of money. You can have bad swings and get in trouble financially. The best thing is knocking people out of a tournament. Sending them back to Russia (laughs). It’s more of a sport to me. That’s the bit I really enjoy. Recently I’ve been playing a lot of high stakes poker games in London – playing with Phil Ivey, Patrik Antonius and people like that. It’s a lot of fun: bluffing, calling, making them bluff… I enjoy the battle.
Patrik’s a very good player. He and Phil Ivey played an $800,000 pot in London last month. I’ve played a lot of big pots with Patrik and I’m not afraid of playing those guys. I always come out pretty good playing with them – especially recently.
You’ve become a bit of a star on YouTube recently. Do you have a favourite Tony G clip?
My favorite is the one with Surinder Sunar at the WPT in Paris, when I made him bluff (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoDQ8kKvG90&mode=related&search=), or the one where I bet three times in a row with nothing and got him to lay his top pair down (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ATdJFTNqlU). I was proud to be there on the day to put so much fight and effort in. I didn’t win, but it helped me strive for bigger and better things in the future. It shows you don’t have to win; you just have to fight hard. Surinder was a great warrior, too, and I’m happy that he won. It probably did me some good not to win. But it was fantastic to be in Paris when poker was just beginning to bloom, and to make a final table and just play my game and play well.
Tell us a bit about Pokernews.com and the other websites you’re involved with…
Yeah. To be completely honest, it’s about making some money from poker. No one wanted to sponsor me, so I thought the way to go is to set it up myself, and I had the confidence and commitment to the game to do it. I looked at the Card Player site and I thought I could do it a lot better. And then it was all about investing in the right people, putting good content up and doing the best job that you can.
What do you do when you’re not playing poker?
I keep an eye on my businesses. At the moment I could be playing the London EPT but I’m not looking to play any big tournaments. I’m in Moscow now, which is where it’s all happening now. There’s a big boom in poker here due to the laws they’ve just passed.
Can you give our readers a tip to help them improve their game?
One of the key issues is bankroll management. If you can improve your bankroll management and always play within your bankroll, you will have an edge over everybody else. Also, don’t tilt. You don’t gave to be the best player at the table, but if you don’t get upset you’ll do well. Just find a system that works and keep it simple. Poker can be simple – find a way to play and you’ll win money.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen happen at a poker table?
Probably all the stuff I’ve done myself. I mean, berating Ralph Perry when he got knocked out of that tournament. That was pretty strange, wasn’t it?