UK poker star Sam Razavi has had some huge wins recently. We find out how he does it: “I believe in running good but I believe there’s some force out there that rewards you for working hard”

Sam Razavi is on a mission to show he’s not just some crazy player on a heater and he’s coming to a town nowhere near you to prove it

In early December Sam Razavi woke up in a hotel room in Bangkok and quickly realised he had just 10 minutes to make his flight home to England. Unsurprisingly he didn’t make it. ‘One of many missed planes! I learn to accept it now,’ Razavi says. The next day he made it to the airport and back to the UK, but this was just a visa-based pit stop before he headed out for the Asian Poker Tour (APT) Goa event.
Once safely on the west coast of India he dusted off the APT Goa main event then headed straight to China for the inaugural WPT China event where he ended up finishing third. After China it was back to Thailand, via a brief stop in Singapore to test out the cash games. Then after ringing in the New Year on the beach it was a short flight to the Philippines for APT Cebu. How was your December?
To Sam Razavi, however, this is just business as usual. The chirpy Brighton native spent the whole of 2012 living out of a suitcase in pursuit of poker fame and fortune and leader board points. And It all started with an impromptu trip to the Philippines.
Back in early 2012, Razavi was living in Thailand and seeing a friend was intending to play in APT Cebu he took the decision to head out to join him. It proved a wise move as he took second in both the main event and a side event for close to $50k. But he didn’t realise the effect that tournament would have on his year.

Flying without wings

Razavi has a slightly obsessive personality. Once he discovered poker everything else took a back seat as he threw himself head first into the game. And even now, once he finds a target, it can easily overtake his life. In 2011, this was winning the UKIPT Leaderboard, in 2012 it was something a little more exotic.
After his APT Cebu success in February, Razavi realised he had a chance at winning the APT Leaderboard. ‘I was fifth in points and I didn’t realise there was a race on, I just stumbled upon it, and I decided that was my goal for the year. I was like “Right I’m just focusing on this, I’m going to win it”, and I went to Mauritius specifically to chase the points,’ he says.
The points chase didn’t end in Mauritius, and led to him doing some pretty crazy things in the hunt for a few free buy-ins. ‘I went to the Philippines to play the event there and I was multi-tabling side events. By the end I was multi-tabling like three events, I made the final table of the APT in Cambodia, but I was multi-tabling two side events at the same time,’ he admits with a laugh.
After a rush of results in Cambodia, in the end it came down to a head-to-head battle with one other player with an event to go in India. ‘I was in Bangkok at the time, so I did something a bit stupid,’ Razavi says. ‘I flew from Bangkok to England, got the visa and then two days later flew to India and I got there just in time for the main event and I ended up winning it,’ he adds with a laugh.
It wasn’t a classic in Goa, with just nine people turning up for the main event. But the indefatigable Razavi wasn’t put off and put on his game face and revived his sit-and-go skills to take down the title. His reward was the title, and the APT Player of the Year award. It was, he says, something of a reward for the hard work he put in.
‘I believe in running good but I believe there’s some force out there that rewards you for working hard. So I was definitely running like God but I think there’s a force there that allows me to pick up Aces against Kings once in a while if you’ve been working really hard at your game. Either that or I’m just a massive luck box. One of the two,’ he says.

Moving on up

Alongside his APT adventures Razavi found time to knock in an APPT title down in Melbourne. After winning an online satellite from his hotel room during the Mauritius APT he headed out to the PokerStars sponsored event in Australia and went and won the whole thing for around A$300k. And the man himself says it couldn’t have come at a better time.
‘I’d been having a bit of a downswing and I had a lot of money tied up in other things. It was a bit stressful because I knew I was running well in tournaments and I knew a result was around the corner, and then I came really close in Macau. So when I managed to just press and press and then eventually get there even though I was under a bit of pressure at the time, it was such a massive relief. It got me out of trouble.’
As a result he let off a fair bit of steam celebrating the win, blowing around $10k at the casino on champagne and sushi. ‘I said to all the staff and the bloggers if they want to come and celebrate we’ve got a table at Nobu so just come and we’ll eat the restaurant dry. That bill was like $5,000, dead including a tip, and then there were some excesses afterwards with champagne in other bars,’ he says shyly.
It’s all a far cry from the first time he was introduced to the game eight years ago in the back room of a theatre in Huddersfield. At the time Razavi was working as an actor, and a chance game of poker one night changed everything. Like everyone else Razavi spent the first few months learning the game online and losing money. ‘It was just really exciting, it was just a fun game. I’ve got an addictive personality as well, and poker is quite an addictive game,’ he adds. But within a year he was a winning  player, and his love affair with the theatre was starting to take a back seat.
As it turned out, that acting job in Huddersfield would be pretty much Razavi’s last acting gig. He had a deal with an Italian theatre company where he would spend four months directing and producing their shows for them starting every January. In reality this meant a couple of weeks work and the occasional trip to Italy with royalties coming in for the rest of the time. ‘I started dropping the acting jobs and mainly doing that one job and playing poker on the side,’ Razavi says.

Bump n’ Grind

He started off, like most of us, playing $10 one table sit-and-gos. It wasn’t likely to win him his fortune. ‘I didn’t really have this vision, any vision that I’d be playing for a living, I just really enjoyed it,’ he says. Eventually he progressed to playing more online tournaments and in one night binked two for a total score of around $6,000. With this bankroll the focus moved to cash games, first six-max and then heads-up.
‘I was quite lucky because five, six years ago I was the only person sat on heads-up tables most of the time. These days it’s just absolutely flooded with people. But then I was making quite a lot of money, and I just stuck to that,’ he says.
Back in the early days Razavi and his friend Ben Meredith would rent a villa for three months on an island in Thailand and just grind. ‘It would be a combination of grinding for a few months in Thailand and then getting bored and missing the family, going back to England, trying to play a few tournaments around there, the UKIPTs and what not, and then realising that I really didn’t like the weather and missed the sun and the jet skis and heading back to Thailand.’
‘I’ve spent quite a few years out in Asia now and I think life is just not so fast paced as it is in England, it’s a lot more chilled and laid back and I’m quite a lazy sort of laid back person so I like things just to run smoothly and easily. When I miss it I pop back as often as I can, but I don’t spend more than 10 or 14 days in England. It sort of depresses me to go out at night and people are trying to pick fights with you,’ he says.
It was while living in Thailand where he first discovered the delights of Macau. Razavi was one of the first UK pros to notice what was going on in the little island off the coast of China. He noticed a new PokerStars sponsored room at the Grand Lisboa casino and decided to head out to check it out. He flew in for a week during one of the festivals and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. ‘I couldn’t believe the ridiculousness. It was like being transported to a time when poker had just been invented – it was just crazy. You could expect to make £10,000, £20,000 a week, just playing the equivalent of £1/£2 or £2/£4,’ he says.
But the trouble was he couldn’t fall in love with Macau. The gambling paradise doesn’t have much going for it beyond the casinos, and he would struggle to last more than a week at a time there. It’s something he looks back on now with no shortage of regret. ‘I really didn’t take advantage of Macau to the extent that I should have done,’ he says ruefully.

The Irish Rover

But while Razavi was crushing the cash games, his tournament play was still a mixed bag. His early form was hardly the stuff of legend. Trips to Vegas and Macau resulted in some deep runs, but not much to show for it. And ironically it was a trip back to Dublin and the UKIPT that saw the breakthrough.
‘It was my 30th birthday and I went to ten different countries that month, and Ireland was one of them,’ Razavi explains. ‘I went deep only to finish in 23rd and I remember busting and walking out of the room and just not being bothered whatsoever. I realised I could play tournaments and not be bothered by going deep busting and understanding that’s half the game, so that’s when I started playing more and more.’
He didn’t have to wait long for the next breakthrough. Razavi final-tabled the Aussie Millions for over $200k in early 2011 and then took down the UKIPT Cork main event for €71k and went on to take the UKIPT Leaderboard title that year. Suddenly the online heads-up cash game player had found a new identity, and one that suited him far better. ‘You know, if you enjoy it, it really counts for something,’ Razavi says. ‘I’m more naturally suited to being a live player.’
Part of his success at the live tournament tables can be put down to his background in acting. His easy-going manner at the table and confident banter allows him to get into people’s heads without ever revealing much about himself or his own play. It’s probably his best role to date. ‘I’ve enjoyed watching people and trying to figure out what they’re up to and, if I’m honest, manipulate them to making decisions that they shouldn’t be making.’

Break a leg

Razavi remains an actor at heart. When asked how he introduces himself to strangers he admits to saying he is an out of work actor rather than a poker player. He admits this is partly to avoid the awkward ‘so what have you won’ type of questions, but it hints at a deeper sense of his own identity. Is he an actor who is playing poker or a poker player who loves acting?
‘I think if someone turned up and said, “We’ve got you a six month contract with the Royal Shakespeare Company but you’ve got no pay or we’ll stake you into tournaments for six months on zero makeup and you can keep what you win” then I think I’d take the acting job to be honest. I really want to get back into acting and that’s what I really have a passion for, but sometimes I think, well maybe I was only meant to have that brief foray in acting because it was meant to lead me to this,’ he says.
That’s not to say he doesn’t love the game. Razavi has a clear passion for poker and you can tell it’s in his blood, but he struggles a little with what his life has become. ‘I sometimes sit back and think the lifestyle that can be afforded by sitting on your arse clicking a few buttons is just a joke, it really is. When I see people work so hard and we’re playing a game of cards here, it feels like it’s almost making a mockery of everyone else. I don’t know, it’s kind of weird,’ he says thoughtfully.
‘I don’t come from money, so thankfully I’ve known what it was like to have to work really hard to make a living, but at the same time you feel you have a right to sort of enjoy it to some extent. I battle with my conscience saying ‘Should I buy another bottle of champagne? That money could feed a family for a month.” I have those battles with myself,’ he says.
And poker certainly isn’t a lifestyle his family would have chosen for him. ‘I remember one day my father came down and said “Look, if you carry on playing poker I’m going to kill you”, he literally said that in anger “I’m going to kill you. It’s not the way forward. It’s not the way forward.” Even after I made like 20, 30 grand or whatever, they still thought there was a possibility that it could go downhill.’
‘He was definitely right for the first year, I was pretty much a bum, you know, just sat losing what little money I had, playing $10 sit and gos. I’ll put my hands up and say I was what I classed as a bum, no job, no direction in life. But after a good two years I’d got a bit of respect from my parents, and now they play as well, my mum plays online, my dad does, and most of my brothers do as well.’ Razavi may have got into poker for the money, but there is no doubt he’s loving the recognition that comes with binking a few tournaments. ‘At the end of the day it’s a game that involves gambling and a lot of that is being able to beat the psychology of the game. If you’ve got people spurring you on and you’re getting recognition it does wonders for the psychology,’ he says.

Infamy or fame?

Razavi is a curious poker icon. At heart he is an actor who has found himself wedded to a game that gives him a lifestyle he once only dreamed of. He loves the psychology of the game, and the competition, but you feel if he had to do all this in Luton and Coventry he would have packed it in long ago. But that’s not to say that now he’s had some success he will be quite so keen to give it all up should the RSC come calling.
‘Every time I get a result I feel that I need to back it up with something else, so after this year I feel sort of pressured to either top it or to at least have a good  year again. I’m still going to work hard but I really want this year to be as good or better than last year. I just want to really be able to prove that last year wasn’t just a massive heater, or that I’d stolen Usain Bolt’s shoes and refused to give them back.’

Around the World with Sam

A selection of the final tables Sam Razavi has made…

AUSTRALIA Melbourne – APPT/Aussie Millions
CHINA Sanya – WPT China
PANAMA Panama City – LAPT

Razavi’s 2012 APT Results:

APT Cambodia – US$220 No Limit Hold’em Six-Handed – 2nd
APT Cambodia – US$330 Freezeout – 5th
APT Cambodia – US$1,100 No-Limit Hold’em – 5th
APT Cambodia – US$60 No-Limit Hold’em – 1st
APT Cambodia – US$100 No-Limit Hold’em – 2nd
APT Manila – PhP11,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Hi – 6th
APT Macau – HK$25,000 No-Limit Hold’em – 9th
APT Cebu – PhP50,000 No-Limit Hold’em – 2nd
APT Cebu – PhP5,000 No-Limit Hold’em – 2nd
APT Goa – P150,000 No-Limit Hold’em Main Event – 1st

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