It’s that time of year again. People are gearing up for the WSOP and WPT, which means a lot of MTT pros will have to put on pants to play poker and enter the lights of a brick-and-mortar casino. I was discussing the upcoming WPT tournament in Florida with Alex Assassinato Fitzgerald and, with his permission, wanted to share with you some thoughts.
As a lowly non-pro, I get super excited by the televised events, the glitz, the glamour, and the stars I grew up watching all competing on the world stage vying for Player of the Year points. Alex however, seemed to be hesitant to get into the spirit of things and when I asked why, it started up an interesting conversation.
Some of this may sound familiar to you online pros, but Alex was telling me that live events lately just are not as fun anymore. “My bluffs get picked off by people because I look more nervous in real life. Sometimes my reputation online plays into that too.” Alex had been regaling me with tales of tournaments past, when he would be recognized and he would feel trapped by his own persona.
“If some local calls me a name, no one cares, but if I say something back, then I’m a jerk.” That got me thinking about the slew of Phil Hellmuth rants we all know and love. “Honey, some donkey just called me with Q-7 suited! They all play so bad against me.”
It was then that I came across some of Alex’s older articles posted in Bluff and on PocketFives from when he first started writing back in 2007. The much younger pro had a different perspective about playing live. I started copying and pasting sections of it together into a letter to Alex, from Alex. People tend to hear better when they are listening to themselves.
Most of it was general advice and routines he would use to get ready for a big live event, but it ended with Alex saying, “Finally, the most important thing to remember when you’re playing is to just have fun. You’re playing a card game after all. A lot of people watch poker on TV and dream of getting to do what you’re doing.”
I added onto the letter a little advice from me (I couldn’t help myself). I said “Alex, you’ve mentioned people play against you differently when they know you are Assassinato. When you’re playing live, why not be your own legend?”
None of these people know who Alex really is in his personal life. People don’t play against Phil Hellmuth because they want to know the man behind the bracelets. They want to see the Poker Brat explode and do something outrageous. Have fun at live events. Ham it up! Buy a new pair of dark shades, noise-cancelling headphones, and a new hoodie. Stare down that guy at the end of the table and tell him, “Don’t you know who I am? I’m Assassinato!”
Looking at the game this way will accomplish a few things. First of all, playing a caricature of yourself will take a lot of pressure off. If someone gets mad at you, they aren’t really getting mad at you. You’re just acting and playing a part. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Wear that persona like a suit of armor you crawl into. Pull the levers inside and make the outer puppet dance. When something happens that gets to you, remember that it’s all for show.
Lastly, it can be really fun. Muhammad Ali trash talked everyone in front of the cameras. Reading reports about him away from the press, however, usually told a different story. He was a fight promoter in a time when boxing had fallen out of favor and it was his job to be interesting. A more modern day example would be UCF champion Ronda Rousey. She has said repeatedly that in interviews she talks a big game, but that is just for show.
I can already hear you guys asking, “What if I talk a big game and some no-name from nowhere busts me out of the tournament on television?” If that happens, so what? You are still a pro. You shake his hand, tell him good game, and give him a thrill. He will tell every person he knows for months how he busted some big online pro in Florida and he will keep playing and putting dead money into the poker economy.
Isn’t that what you want as a pro? Some guy to have a moment of fame that will keep him paying the top earners for years to come? If you are playing poker for pride, you are in the wrong game.
So to Alex and all of the other online pros heading into the wide world of dealing with players who wear their sweatpants in public to play, good luck at the tables. Remember one thing: Don’t act like the guy on the left, act like the guy on the right:
John Wood is the on-staff mental coach at Alex Fitzgerald’s Pokerheadrush.com. For a discount on his mental coaching services, please visit this link.