Lee Davy sits down with Sam Razavi to talk about his life in the Philippines, the meaning of life, parenthood, and how a king on the river nearly saw him swinging from the Voodoo Zip Line.
Sam Razavi very kindly offered to buy me dinner. Normally, I would refuse, based on some ridiculous testosterone charged man thing, but he had just won $150,000 so that softened the blow a little. I was late. He ordered chicken vindaloo, and chicken wings. I’m a vegan. I ate Nan bread smothered in butter. I’m not a very good vegan.
It was a good chat. Razavi is one of the most humble, and amenable poker players you are ever going to meet. He is also very open, and most of all, very interesting.
In this interview we talk about his life in the Philippines, his family, being a Dad, being a Stepdad, the meaning of life, making a World Series of Poker (WSOP) final table, and hoping that Davidi Kitai would get eliminated by the time we headed back to the table.
What have you been up to?
“In terms of playing poker I’ve been a little lazy of late. But I guess that’s the responsibility of having a child. I am sticking to the Asian circuit, and the Asian Poker Tour (APT) in particularly. I’m over here sampling some of the bigger buy-in events.”
What do you miss most about life in the UK?
“I miss my family. I have six brothers and three sisters, and I don’t see them that often. Most of my family lives in the UK, and I’m not there a lot. One of my brothers lives in Mexico; he’s come out to see me, so that’s nice.”
I believe you recently made some investments, talk a little about that.
“I bought a couple of properties in the Philippines. I think it’s wise to invest. If I could go back in time and give young Razavi some advice, I would tell him to invest as much as he could. That’s the advice I give to all poker players today. I look at myself now and think, ‘if poker disappears what would I do?’ I could go back to acting, but it’s one of the toughest businesses in the world. And who would hire me? My CV would say that I’ve been bumming around gambling for a living.
“I really enjoy cooking. My uncle used to have a restaurant in England, and my brother is a great chef – he has worked with Gordon Ramsey and at other Michelin star restaurants. My fiancée and I would like to get him out here to open some restaurants in the Philippines. I want to get involved as well. When my kids are asked what their Dad does, I want to have a different story than: “He plays on his laptop, and goes to the casino late at night.”
“I have always had a little internal battle about the profession I am in. On the one hand this is the only way I make money, and I also know it pays me a lot more than the average 9 to 5. On the other hand, as the years roll by I am missing acting. The theatre is my passion and I would love to get back into that, but to do that as a semi profession, with a family, I would need income or investments from elsewhere. Some times I feel like the years are passing by and I start to wonder what am I giving to the world? At the end of my life what would I have really given?
“People in general, especially poker players, have to find a way to give back to the world. I used to make a silly amount of money playing heads-up online. It’s absurd that you can make that kind of money playing a game, and not paying taxes. So I do what I can to help my family and friends, but I don’t do enough for the world in general. I get annoyed when I see poker players getting irritated about tiny rulings, or the state of the playing cards. That shit really gets to me. Have some appreciation for the life that you are leading.
“The one thing that really incenses me is the way dealers are treated out here. A few years ago, I was at this table and there was a female dealer. Someone went off her after she made a mistake. This guy was barreling into her, and so I called the floor, and yelled at him. The way they talk to them is a disgrace. The saddest thing is, those same dealers pull off those river cards that make you half a million dollars. Nobody ever remembers that.”
Does life have meaning, or is it meaningless, and we make the best of it?
“I recently saw an article that I can’t remember right now. It got me thinking that perhaps the future is mapped out for you. I always think back about how things have progressed, and how various things went my way. I found poker through varying different relationships within acting. Each one led to another country, and another tour, and if that sequence would have gone any other way, I wouldn’t where I am today.
“Then there was a bizarre set of circumstances that led to me ANZPT win in Melbourne. I was living in Thailand, playing online poker with my brother when I went to Cebu to play the APT, finished second and I was in the running for Player of the Year. I decided to go for it and flew to Mauritius to play in the APT event there. I woke up in the morning with nothing to do – as the event was in the evening – and so I played in a satellite for the ANZPT Melbourne on Stars. I never play them. It was only because I was there and had nothing to do that I did.
“I play the satellite and win, but when I get to board my flight it’s full. If I couldn’t get on the flight I wouldn’t have made it to the event on time. Eventually this woman came around and said there was one more seat available. As I am going through security I notice they took my bag off the plane. I thought I would have to miss the flight, but they said I could take it on as cabin baggage. I get there, and I am so tired I wake up 3 hrs. into the event. I get a Facebook message from the manager of the Crown asking where I had been because I was being blinded out. I went on to win the event.
“I never sit back and think what’s meant to be is what’s meant to be. I think that would make you lazy, and I’m not lazy. But I do think that things fit into place. I don’t know what force creates this – I have gone through various stages of believing in God and then not. But I think things work out when you give something back to the world. That’s what makes you happy. If you are the only person happy with life, then what’s the point of life?”
Why have you been so successful?
“I like to stay down to earth and not get arrogant when success comes my way. Bryan Huang once told me that he liked me because success never changed the way that I presented myself. You have to stay grounded. Don’t take life too seriously, but make sure you are not irresponsible.”
When I use the word success who is the first person you think of and why?
“I look up to my brother Dan. He is two years younger than me and he’s worked his way up from Sales Manager for Virgin Active (formerly Esporta). For years he won the award for top sale person at Esporta. He has won his management team BMWs, trips to Vegas, and he is someone I look up to, respect and admire. He is grounded, and I look up to him as a big brother more than a smaller brother.
What were your parents like?
“The thing I love about my parents, is they have always let us do what we wanted to do. They allowed us to make mistakes and learn from them. If we did something wrong, we would be told off, but that was about it. I was only young at the time but I began to see the change in some of my friends who were being punished for their mistakes.
“I got arrested when I was young for stealing chocolate bars. I was worried what my Dad would say. He sat me down and had a chat with me about it, and I never did it again. I really liked that. In the eyes of some of my neighbors, we may have been reckless kids with parents who didn’t care, but it made us all grow up very respectfully and I will always appreciate that.”
What’s life like as a parent?
“My son is a year and three months old and I am still trying to get as much advice as I can. You go into it with preconceptions of how you will raise him, but you have to take it in your stride, take each day as it comes, and do the best as you can.
“Menchu, my fiancée, already has a daughter, and she’s lovely. I know that he is definitely in safe hands because of the way she has raised Jordan. But from my own point of view, I took him back to the house when he was born and I thought: “Oh my God!” He was sleeping in the middle of us and I was worried I would roll over and squash him.”
What was it like to transition into the role of stepfather?
“She is 11 now. She plays golf, and has won so many tournaments. If poker goes down hill she’s my Willy Wonka Golden Ticket. She is that good. I’m a mild mannered person, and so the most difficult thing was trying to be stern with her. Menchu often tells me that I have to tell her off, when needed, otherwise she will lose respect for me. Although I see her as 100% my daughter there is still a part of me that believes I am not allowed to do it, like it’s not my place. It was strange when she called me Dad for the first time. I really like it, but it was strange. As time goes on I just see her as my daughter now.”
Talk about the final table.
“If it had been by first big final table you would have found me hanging on the Voodoo Zip Line. I was gutted the way I went out. I got it in as the short stack, I get called, and isolated, so I end up HU with AK v 77. Two players had folded AJ and KJ, and he rivered the king. If I lost 7’s v 10s it would be easier to take. The fact that I was one card away, and the difference was like $400k more, that was tough. You have to get lucky in these things though. I can’t complain. I have got it in QQ v KK and hit a Queen on the turn, and I got it in KK v AA, and a guy folded KQ and it ended up coming KQQ, I also picked up Queens seven times when short, twice doubling with them. It’s easy to get angry, but anyone would take that result. If you were given the option not to play a single event, at the WSOP, but could have $150,000 you would take it. But it’s still pretty painful because you can do so much more with $500k instead of $150k.”