When did you go professional?
I started playing competitively around 15 years ago, then decided to make a career out of it. A combination of luck, being in the right place at the right time, and good old determination meant that I was able to compete against some great players early on in my career, which taught me invaluable skills I still use today. My family were fairly surprised when I decided to go pro (my mother wanted me to return to Sicily to work in the family restaurant) but were supportive when they realised how much money I was making.
Has poker become more popular in the last few years?
Definitely. Online poker has boomed over the last few years, and in-person games have been picking up too. A lot of people discovered poker during lockdown, and here in NYC I’ve noticed lots of new pros coming to the table. Poker is a very sociable game, so people have been keen to play in person with their friends, as opposed to playing online. It’s also proven increasingly popular with women which is great to see – it’s a male-dominated field here in the US, but there are lots of female masters coming to the fore.
Do you think the online boom has affected the integrity of the game?
No, but I do think that some people look down on online poker and associate it with gambling addiction. In my opinion, it has brought it to the mainstream and has given people who live on their own, or those who want to join a new community, the chance to get involved. Online poker is a booming business and there’s big money to be made. As long as people play within their limits, I think it’s great.
For beginners, what’s the best way to get into it?
That depends on what you want to get out of it. I always suggest hosting games or poker nights with friends or family to get into the habit of playing regularly. You can supplement this with online games, but if you really want to improve your skills – and the etiquette that comes with playing at a table – you should do it in person. Invite different guests to the game to make it more interesting – sometimes, playing with the same people can become predictable, so don’t be afraid to reach out to people outside of your immediate network. Of course, if you’re just starting out, I would avoid gambling or raising the stakes too high. Start out with low-value chips or substitute the money for something else altogether. I know a few people who have found themselves in sticky situations after being too ambitious too soon.
What’s the aim of the game?
The ultimate goal is to win money. You do this by capturing the pot which contains bets made by the other players. In most versions of the game, money saved is just as valuable as money won, so it’s key to know when to release a hand and when to bet.
What game should you start with?
Texas Hold ’Em is the easiest to learn. The rules are fairly basic and can be adapted if you want to up the ante. No-Limit Hold ’Em is another good one for beginners and can be played in short bursts.
How many people can play?
You need between two and ten players, though six or seven is ideal. If there’s just two of you, Heads Up is a great game to try, while most other games (like Texas Hold ’Em, Badugi and Omaha Hi) suit larger groups.
What equipment do you need?
You’re going to need a set of cards and chips, a deal button timer and a chip calculator. I would also recommend buying a special poker table to make things feel a bit slicker. You could even invest in an automatic card shuffler if you’re hosting regular poker nights – they certainly save time and take the pressure off the dealer.