We speak to Kirk Morrison about his rollercoaster ride on the poker scene: “My biggest fear when I was 21 was turning into that 80-year-old timid guy who just passes and passes”

After years in the poker wilderness, Kirk Morrison is back with a bang

The player

At just 20 Kirk Morrison arrived in Las Vegas to play blackjack. After losing his bankroll he turned his attention to poker, joining a group of players including Daniel Negreanu and Allen Cunningham.

After winning a WSOP title in 1998 at Seven-Card Stud, he dropped out of the scene and moved to New Zealand. But in 2006 Negreanu encouraged him to return to poker, and in 2007 Morrison has made two WSOP final tables as well as finishing second at the WPT Championship for $2m.

You’re a WSOP bracelet-holder with nearly $3m in tournament winnings, yet most people have probably never heard of you. What happened? Where have you been?

I got burnt out doing what I was doing. I was going non-stop between Vegas and LA and came over to Europe to play Late Night Poker. I had a few bad habits and was going to die a young man the way I was living my life. I needed to change, so in 1999 I went to New Zealand to clear my head for a couple of months, and two months turned into seven years.

The story goes that Daniel Negreanu tracked you down during the 2006 Aussie Millions to entice you back into poker…

That’s about right. He got hold of me and told me to meet him in Melbourne. At that point I still didn’t know how big poker had become. While we were there, Daniel took me to the exclusive Crystal Room. The first people I saw were Maria Sharapova and Martina Hingis. Then James Blake and Roger Federer walked in and Blake went straight up to Daniel and asked for his autograph. I started laughing – if only they knew five years ago we were at the Crystal Park Casino in California playing $2/$4 and drinking cheap red wine!

While you were in New Zealand were you aware of the online poker explosion?

I didn’t know anything about it for the first three years I was there. I was completely shut off and that’s how I liked it. I changed the person I was and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

What were you doing for kicks?

My first love has always been the ponies, so I got involved in selling a few racing horses. I’ve always bet on the horses, hitting a few pick-sixes.

So even though you were on a poker sabbatical, you had another outlet for the gambling?

It’s always been in my blood. I started out playing blackjack but it’s a grind. Then [when playing poker] I got tired of the cat-and-mouse game and putting on a facade. That’s not me. I did it very well for a period of time, but it got old.

You seem to have battled your demons successfully and are getting consistent results since returning to poker, but were you concerned that you’d been left behind?

My biggest fear when I was 21 was turning into that 80-year-old timid guy who just passes and passes. For the first couple of months when I came back, I turned into that guy because everyone was playing like I used to play back in the day.

All these kids came out and I got run over. I didn’t ask Daniel for advice – he knew I’d eventually figure out what to do. I finally took my panties off and got back to my old ways of being Kirk! I stopped pre-flop raising and wanting to see every flop against these people. Since I’ve done that it’s been golden.

During the World Series of Poker Europe H.O.R.S.E. final table, you seemed to enjoy interacting with players at the table – does that play a big part for you?

I love it. I’m a personable guy, and I want to broaden my mind, so I like hearing about people’s backgrounds. Also, by getting them to talk I can pick up a few things.

What seems to distinguish you from other players is that you don’t care about the glory and the bracelets – it’s all about the cash.

I get people telling me, ‘Kirk, get out there and you’ll be a superstar,’ but I don’t want to get completely wrapped up in it and lose touch with reality again – that’s what happened to me last time.

Plus, you’ve witnessed life under the constant glare of the spotlight vicariously through Daniel.

I couldn’t do what Daniel does. He and I are very similar in many ways, but I don’t know if I could expose my life as much as him. He does it, and he does it very well. I know he has some regrets sometimes but he can’t complain.

How are you going to prevent yourself from burning out again?

That’s a good question and one I’m still trying to find the answer to. I’m going to take a lot more breaks. I’ve got it in me and I know it now so I’m not worried about getting left behind any more. I think you’re actually born with the core to gamble and I’ve been fortunate and unfortunate enough to have that.

My biggest strength at the table is my biggest weakness away from the table, that’s why I’m fearless sometimes. People live day by day, but I live minute by minute, so I’m not sure. I’m going to play a few cards and go about my merry way.

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