Max Pescatori: “Playing Tournaments is the Hardest Thing You Can Do”

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When most poker fans see their favorite player taking first prize and winning hundreds of thousands of dollars in a tournament, they don’t realize the difficulties pros endure when they aren’t deep in the money. Recently, CalvinAyre chatted with two-time Italian WSOP bracelet winner Max Pescatori (pictured) about how he has remained successful as a tournament pro and whether the competition has evolved to the point of making the game unbeatable.

For Pescatori, the key to success in today’s environment has been to diversify his skill set and learn games that haven’t yet become as popular as Hold’em. “I love to play any game,” he said. “To me, real poker is just getting together and playing a choice of 25 different games. Classic dealer’s choice is the best game to play live; I can play that for hours and hours.”

The ability to beat more obscure games has become increasingly important as Texas Hold’em strategy becomes more studied and refined. “Hold’em cash games are not unbeatable, of course, but it’s definitely getting much more difficult,” he admitted. “The players that were playing really high are playing lower because they found those games difficult. The fish keep disappearing.”

Pescatori’s natural inclination to mix up his play has served him well. In fact, he doesn’t enjoy playing strictly Hold’em at all. “Hold’em I find boring, aside from Hold’em tournaments, which are a rush because they play differently at every level,” he said.

Pescatori got his start in 1999 playing Limit Hold’em before making the switch to Omaha Hi-Lo and Mixed Games like Stud Hi-Lo and Razz. “Later, I decided to play some tournaments and supplement my income with cash games and it worked out well for me.”

In his long career, he has taken home two WSOP bracelets along with two Circuit rings and banked over $3 million in live tournament winnings, according to the Global Poker Index. But, as all tournament pros know, it hasn’t all been a walk in the park. Even when the poker boom was at its peak, Pescatori said that making money in tournaments was never guaranteed.

[Playing tournaments] is the hardest thing you can do. You can play well all the time, but at some point you’re going to have a problem,” he said. “I wouldn’t recommend trying to be a professional by just playing tournaments and that’s it. You have to be good at cash and use tournaments as a fun thing and not your primary income.”

In cash games, “four out of ten players are going to walk out of that game a winner… sometimes seven if you have some rich businessmen who are not that good but like to play,” he said. “But in tournaments, we can have four or five guys who are bad players, but your five professionals are fighting for one prize. So, if 30% of the prize pool goes to one out of 300 people, then the variance is huge.”

What’s more, the Italian says that when a tournament player makes a big score, they might not always make the soundest financial decisions while holding a huge pile of cash. “When you win $50K to $100K, players make expensive purchases like buying a new car; that’s not the way to be a professional poker player unless you have sponsorships,” he said.

Recently, Filippo Candio (pictured), another Italian tournament player and fourth place finisher in the 2010 WSOP Main Event, announced his retirement from the game. Amid persistent and reportedly false rumors that he had committed tax fraud, he decided to withdraw from poker. “The PPT of Campione d’Italia after my birthday is very probably the last that I’ll play,” he posted on his Facebook page.

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