Welcome to another installment of Poker Routines, the series that uncovers the routines and habits of the world’s greatest poker players, featuring Sam Razavi.
Sam Razavi is an actor, a comedian (I made that one up, but he is funny), and a professional poker player.
He made his name working through the ranks at the now defunct Blackbelt Poker, before moving to Asia, where he has won more Asian Poker Tour (APT) Player of the Year titles than Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Triple H have won wrestling titles.
Who are you?
“Sam Razavi: Father, husband, and wife (only on a Sunday). I am also the joint World No.1 for least amount of bracelets won at the WSOP.”
What is your claim to fame?
“With the benefit of hindsight, I’d guess it would have to be piling in an effective 30bbs sb v bb against Howard Lederer in the Aussie Millions Main Event back in 2012 to bust him. I hadn’t had a ton of experience playing tournaments then. It folded round to me, and I just shipped in. I had 33, and he snapped off with AK. I had him covered. The flop was a pair and a random high card so I had to fade the counterfeit and the overs and it held. He just seemed dazed and confused after the hand and stumbled away into the night.”
When did your aspirations to become a poker player begin?
“I was working an acting job in the North of England when after the show one day, one of the actors suggested we have a game of poker. I used to drive back home to Brighton on the weekends, and I discovered it online during one of those weekends. I also started playing for very small money with my brother and a friend who was a dealer at one of the casinos at the time.”
How do you spend the first hour when you wake up?
“I always succeed at getting back to sleep for a sufficient “overlay” before rolling out of bed and finding coffee.”
What time of the day do you find it easier to play poker and why?
“These days if we are talking about playing online, it would be after, say, 10 p.m. At three years old my son is already expressing an interest in button clicking, so it’s hard for me to focus. Playing live doesn’t make much of a difference to me as long as I’m heading into a session prepared.”
Do you have defined goals for how many hands/sessions you play in a week: both live and online?
“Neither in either case. I barely play online these days, and certainly not serious enough anymore to have any targets. That’s mostly down to the time zone (living in the Philippines); if I want to grind a decent tournament schedule, I would have to play throughout the night. I’ve tried that on multiple Sundays, and it took me half a dozen attempts to realise I can’t stay awake. I’ve lost lots of money falling asleep deep in tournaments and registered in other tournaments that haven’t even started. In terms of live, I’m more focused on tournaments as opposed to cash games so when an event is on I am usually too busy in tournaments to even think about playing cash games. The only time I get some good solid cash hours in is during the WSOP when I’ve busted that days tournaments or I have a rare day off from the tournament grind and decide to play some cash instead.”
Where do you play online, what types of games, and stakes?
“I just stick to Stars at the moment, playing PLO cash games no bigger than $5/10, PLO tournaments or satellites into live events. But I don’t put in enough volume for this to even be significant.”
Same question for live?
“Last few years as I’ve started to settle down and have children, I haven’t been on a rampage around the globe like I used to be. I’ve been quite content just hanging around and playing the live circuit around Asia. Average buy-ins are not big; perhaps $100-$500 with Main Events usually in the region of $1-2k. My main focus every year is on the WSOP where obviously I’ll be buying in for $1.5k+ every day. However, over the next year, I am looking to make an effort to attend a few higher profile events around the world…but we’ll see what happens. I always find something that keeps me busy and stops me from going, so there’s no guarantee I succeed in that goal.”
Do you have a specific routine that you go through before you begin an online poker session?
“Creeping quietly across the room to load up the laptop and making sure the volume is muted so my son doesn’t wake up. That about sums up my routine.”
When you first sit down to play poker how do you begin?
“I like to take it easy and assess my table before coming up with a strategy based on the way my opponents are playing/behaving.”
Describe your grinding station set up.
“Grinding station currently retired and surviving on a moderate pension.”
What tools do you use when playing poker, live and online?
“Online = Zero. Live = Caffeine.”
What’re your thoughts on listening to music when playing? If you do, what do you listen to?
“Definitely don’t listen to music when playing live. I don’t want to miss any information, and at the same time, I don’t want to be the guy that needs to keep being prodded/reminded to put his blind in because he can’t hear the dealer. While playing online, if I’m not playing that many tables I would opt for episodes of Family Guy or American Dad in place of listening to music.”
If you use a HUD then how do you use it?
“I’ve never used a HUD.”
What system do you use for taking notes on your opponent’s, live and online?
“Online, I usually just tag the player as “decent” or “fish” – with live I think I have a very good memory trained up from years of learning script back in my acting days. I just take mental notes on my live opponents and hope to remember them next time they turn up at my table.”
Do you have a specific warm down routine after you have finished a session?
What do you do on the hour every hour when playing online?
“Usually jump up and make another coffee.”
What do you do during the break of a live event?
“Catch up with friends I haven’t seen in a while. If my wife is in the same tournament, we might discuss a few hands during the break.”
What do you eat and drink when you play, both live and online?
“Really depends. I can be really bad when playing live; I might go the whole day surviving on coffee because there isn’t time to go and take an hour off to eat, and if the options in the casino are shite I would rather stick to the coffee and eat later. That’s something I have to be aware of more and find a solution to.”
What is your process of review?
“I don’t do hand history reviews. I’ve never been big into the studying side of poker. I think part of me has always been reluctant because of a fear that it might drastically change my game if I work too much on that side of poker. What I am doing now is working, I am winning and am extremely consistent in cashing tournaments. There is no need to change that as long as I am recognising changing trends in the game and keeping up with them in my own way.”
How do you educate yourself about poker?
“I watch a lot of the playback for most of the major tours; I’ve probably seen 90% of all the content out there. I watch it actually because I enjoy it not because I’m looking for ways to improve or adjust my game – but I’m sure without a doubt I will subconsciously pick up on a lot of things that I will incorporate into my own game later on. I am particularly focused on watching the mixed games at the moment as I plan on playing those at the WSOP next year. I love Hold’em and Omaha, but since getting involved in OFC Pineapple a couple of years ago, I’ve begun to develop a taste for games other than Hold’em. I love 2-7, and after years of avoiding it I’ve taken a liking to Omaha Hi-Lo too.”
How do you improve your mental state?
“I don’t know if I ever look to improve my mental state – but I certainly try to avoid it from declining! The key is in constantly finding something to do that makes you happy. If I wake up one day and realise poker isn’t making me happy or is becoming detrimental to other things in my life that make me happy (family, for example), then I will simply stop playing it for good.”
How much of your time is spent playing versus learning?
“I think like most things in life, the best learning comes in the doing. I’ve learnt so much myself over the years because I’ve always allowed myself some time to think and assess after a tournament and be self-critical. I always make a mental note of something I did well or something I did wrong and log it to capitalise on similar situations in the future.”
How do you know when to stop a session?
“If I am dealt a couple of coolers and a couple of really bad beats in quick succession, I waste no time in bringing my session to a close. I believe in bad luck and running bad, and if I recognise that I’m trending that way in a session, I will quickly nip it in the bud. There’s always another day.”
Are you consciously trying to emulate the style of a particular player? Do you have people you look to as models for your game?
“Not really. I think in any field you wish to succeed in, if you try to be someone other than yourself, you will never realise your true potential.”
Is poker easy? Does it come naturally to you?
“As a game, it is pretty simple. I rarely find myself in situations where I am giving myself a headache or beating myself up over a situation wondering what I should do. I recognise spots very well. So in that sense, yes, it’s pretty ABC to me. The challenge comes in maintaining focus for a whole day, a whole week or a whole month of non-stop tournaments, and being able to go in with the same motivation and focus every day when things aren’t going my way.”
What is your favourite moment in pi?
“From my personal experience, it is without a doubt winning the ANZPT/APPT Grand Final in Melbourne. Everything just fell into place. I was playing a tournament in Mauritius, and with the time difference and the tournaments starting in the evening, I found myself lounging around in the hotel. It so happened that the satellites for the event in Melbourne fit in perfectly with this down time, and I won a seat. When I went to catch my flight from Mauritius, it was overbooked. I don’t know how I managed to blag a seat on that flight since there were maybe seven of us that had been turned away and I was probably last to turn up for check-in, so I certainly wasn’t first on the list. I explained the situation to the rep. If I missed that flight I would miss the tournament. She eventually quietly ushered me away from the group and printed me a boarding pass and led me through security. When I got to my hotel in Melbourne, I was so tired I slept through the first four levels. I woke to a Facebook message from the poker room manager telling me I was being blinded out and was I actually in Melbourne? LOL. I rushed to the casino having lost a third of my chips, but made it through the day and eventually went on to win the whole thing, no deals. Melbourne has always been good to me; I got my first big score there when I was backed by Black Belt Poker and Neil Channing. My time in poker with Neil was some of the most memorable moments of my career. Great times.
“My favourite moment in poker outside of my own personal experience is the video of the hand with Jack Ury (bless his soul) in the WSOP Main Event where he flops sevens full on a 6-6-7 flop and his opponent who is holding 6-7 “talks him” into getting all the money in on the flop. I can’t stop watching that video. Superb stuff!”
What books/courses/mentors have helped improve your game (doesn’t have to be a poker book)?
“I’ve never been big on the studying side of poker. I’ve read one poker book from start to finish, “The Raisers Edge” by Elky and co. If I remember it was pretty good.”
Do your surroundings affect your work, how?
“My immediate surroundings have had an effect on my game in terms of live play. I’ve played in one or two casinos that have been really run down, badly maintained and badly managed. It’s not easy to be inspired to win in places like that.”
Was there ever a time when you didn’t want to play poker? How did you get out of the funk?
“There have been quite a few occasions where I have been fed up of poker. The best way to deal with that is simply, if you don’t feel like playing, don’t play. The phase passes, so I just wait until I feel like playing again.”
How does poker make you feel?
“When it goes well; when everything fits into place, it can make you feel invincible. Funnily it gives you strength to tackle other areas of your life you might be finding difficult. On the flip side, when you are running bad for an extended period, it can make you feel very insecure. It’s up and down, but as long as you spend more time winning than you do losing, it’s not such a bad game.”
What is the one thing you know you have to change after answering these questions?
What is the one question I didn’t ask but should have asked, and now answer it?
“Probably, “Do you play much online these days? Because I’ve got a few questions about your online game.”To which I would have answered, “No”. LOL :)”