Controversial Sorel Mizzi speaks out about his poker history: “I played $300/$600 online in a private game with David Benyamine and lost $250,000”

Sorel Mizzi is one of the most respected and controversial online tournament players around

Sorel Mizzi left high school unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. He shied away from university and set his sights on becoming a real estate agent, but towards the final stages of his course he started to get really good at online poker tournaments. In fact, Mizzi arguable became one of the best players in the world.

After a shaky start in the online game, with a high propensity to drop thousands on the limit hold’em tables, he found his niche as a creative, aggressive tournament player, winning around $500,000 on PokerStars alone.

His status as an online icon was rising, when he dominated the newly introduced $10,000 buy-in heads-up challenges on PokerStars. But his world was rocked when a scandal over his purchasing of an online account in the Full Tilt $750k tournament saw him banned from the site.

Ironically, at the time Mizzi was in the process of establishing himself on the live circuit and was beginning to leave the online world behind. His runner-up spot in the Irish Open, combined with a string of other results, elevated him as a real star of the future. And now with a sponsorship deal with Betfair he is a regular on the live tournament circuit.

But the online world is where he made his name, and right from the start it was a rollercoaster affair…

What was your first game of poker online?

I started off playing $5/$10 limit. My brother owed me $400 and being the bad example he is, he gave me the money on PartyPoker and got me hooked. I lost that money, borrowed some more from him and started playing again. It was really swingy. I would build $100 into $2,000 and then lose it all. The most I ever spun up was $50 into $14,000 in two days. I lost it all obviously. I did that many times before I actually got to know what my real niche was, which was online tournament poker.

When did you realise tournament poker was for you?

It was when I won three tournaments in one week for a total of $50,000. That is when I decided I had a talent and I should milk it as much as I could. But the crazy thing is I lost almost all the money going back to limit poker and playing $100/$200.

It was very depressing. I had all these plans of what I was going to do with the money. So what did you do next?

I had $10,000 left and opened up a poker club with my brother. That went well and three months later I sold that club to my brother and started getting back into online poker. I won a tournament that got my roll back on PokerStars. After that, I started putting money on a number of sites and playing everything I could. At that point, I started playing the $100 rebuys almost daily.

Was it always tournament poker for you from that point?

I’ve maybe had one losing month in tournaments since I started playing poker and if I continue playing tournaments I can be a winning player. But sometimes I get bored and play games I shouldn’t and that gets me into trouble. I still make mistakes in playing games where I don’t have a big edge. Limit hold’em has been my curse. The game is so much fun to me because I think it’s so simple but I probably lose at the game because I think it’s so simple.

Have you ever been tempted to try your hand at cash games?

I’ve tried to take a shot at cash games, but it’s just not suited to me. I would love to have the lifestyle where I could play cash games for a few hours and then sign off and do something else. But tournaments have always been something I have been good at. I think I can learn how to play cash games, but it’s not all about the money. It’s about doing what I enjoy most.

When did you start playing live tournaments?

My first big live tournament was Aruba and I came tenth. I took a huge break after that, but started playing more live just before the 2007 WSOP. I played in the Dortmund and Monte Carlo EPTs, the $25k Bellagio WPT and the Irish Open. I was qualifying for all these tournaments through satellites.

What was it like going from online to a live environment?

The first six hours in Aruba were intimidating. I was paranoid about people picking up on tells. I am only really comfortable after sitting at the table for a few hours. I get such good reads on my opponents – it becomes like psychological warfare. I love it.

How do you go about assessing people?

I like to talk to people and get an idea of where they come from, what kind of family they have and if they have kids. All these things create a story about a player and through that story you can figure out how they play. One of the biggest mistakes live players make is they talk too much and give away too much information about who they are and how they think.

How do you hide your own tells?

Sometimes I get paranoid I have tells and people are able to read them. I know that when I make a huge bluff I get nervous and become more stiff. That is the one thing I am really trying to work on. Now, after I have made the bet, I imagine being on an island drinking margaritas and try not to focus on the hand.

How much have you made from online poker over the years?

I back a few players and hopefully that should pay dividends in the future. I have made maybe $800,000 online and a little more live. It could have been a lot more if I hadn’t taken shots online. But I have no regrets. My goal is to stick to games where I have an edge and to not play any more limit. This is a job and it’s serious money. It’s so easy to lose it, and if you do, it’s not as easy to recover as you may think.

What’s the most ridiculous thing you have done in bankroll terms?

I played $300/$600 online in a private game with David Benyamine and lost $250,000. I started my roll with $30,000 and built it up in a week or two and lost it all in one day.

Have you changed your approach recently?

I have started to keep track of my results and enter them into a spreadsheet. It becomes a game in itself trying to be a winning player on the spreadsheet. It has helped me become more responsible for my losses and helps me be tough with myself when I play a game outside of my bankroll.

It’s not as much fun being responsible though is it?

No. It’s not even close.

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