The 2009 WSOP Player of the Year talks to Michael Kaplan about his success at the poker table – and frustrations off it
PokerPlayer: On a couple of different levels, this has been quite a World Series for you. Going into it, how did you see your prospects?
Jeff Lisandro: Before the tournament, if somebody told me I would win $400,000 in prize money, I would have been very happy. It’s above expectation. But I cashed for twice that and spent $180k on tournament buy-ins. So it feels good.
PP: You must feel less good about how things worked out in terms of getting a sponsor…
JL: I’d been thinking about how difficult it is to win at poker. I noticed younger players getting up to $300,000 a year in endorsements and decided I’d like to get that. So I made the rounds and asked what I needed to do to qualify as an endorsed player. Nobody got back to me. That was when I decided to use [the rejection] as incentive to blow everyone out of the water. I told some of my good friends that I would win three bracelets.
PP: Did the stars just totally align for you to win your first bracelet this year?
JL: They didn’t need to. I won it in the Seven Card Stud tournament, and I find that game to be different from some of the others. In Stud, if you really work hard at your game and push every micro-percent in your favour, you usually get the result you want.
PP: Aren’t you primarily a cash game player?
JL: That’s right. My goal in poker has been to make at least $1m a year. The first four years I did it just by playing cash games in London, Paris and the Bellagio. In Vegas I play mainly the Big Game, against Phil Ivey, Eli Elezra and whoever else is there.
PP: So why don’t you talk to Ivey? He’s obviously hooked in with Full Tilt. I’m sure he could give you some advice on landing a deal or at least put in a good word for you…
JL: I wouldn’t talk to another player about endorsements. That seems weird. I wouldn’t ask anyone to do me a favour. I don’t want anyone begging on my behalf. I want the site to come to me based on my merits.
PP: Your second bracelet this year came in the Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo event. Was it, once again, mostly a matter of optimising your play?
JL: I had so much confidence in that tournament. At one stage [of heads-up], the other guy had five times more chips than me. Still, though, I honestly believed that I was the favourite to win. I never gave up and I remained confident all the way through.
PP: At that point you must have expected somebody to take notice…
JL: I did. But nobody came up to me. Not one person. I was very surprised. But I figured that I had to tie the record and win a third bracelet.
PP: Obviously, being a relatively older player doesn’t help, but my understanding is that there are market-related issues at work as well. I’ve been told that part of the problem stems from the fact that endorsement deals don’t generate the returns that they once did.
JL: If that’s the case then why do the sites sponsor all these young players that I’ve never heard of? Good luck to them – I’m not jealous. But wouldn’t it be better to sponsor somebody with a name?
PP: In what ways do you find it advantageous to be a player in his forties as opposed to one in his twenties?
JL: I’m more mellow. Needling doesn’t bother me and I take things a little slower. Over the last five years I’ve stopped rushing. I’m not chasing the dollar anymore.
PP: I spoke with Michael Craig, the guy who finished second to you in the Razz event. He said you were incredibly dominant.
When it came down to the last four or five players, I had 70% of the chips. I began firing and nobody would take me on. Nobody would enter a pot with me. It looked like they were playing for second place. It was as if I had an aura. Now I know why the best players consistently win – they have so much confidence that opponents just fear them.
PP: And still no deal materialised. Do you think you turned off any potential sponsors by being so outspoken?
JL: It didn’t help. But I put everybody on notice. I want people to be aware of the fact that there are good players out there who, for whatever reason, are not being sponsored.
PP: You were raised in Australia, and you currently have Italian citizenship. Do you live in Europe now?
JL: Only for part of the year. I spend four months in Australia, three months in Vegas and five months in Europe. I’ve been going in that circle for ten years. Given a choice, I’d spend my time on Bondi Beach in Sydney.
PP: Why don’t you? Can’t you stay there and play online?
JL: I don’t like online poker that much. I like looking at my opponents and reading them. Beyond that, I don’t feel comfortable playing the really high stakes online. Of course, if I was sponsored, then I would play online regularly.
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