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Demystifying Sorel Mizzi

by Rebecca McAdam |  Published: Apr 01, 2010


Once upon a time there was a young man from Canada — a fun-loving, competitive kid, with a savvy business mind, and an entrepreneurial spirit. Rising up in front of this young man were two pathways. The first looked worn yet safe and inviting, but this young man chose the less familiar route. It peaked and troughed as it gleamed like gold into the distance. He called himself “Imper1um” and began on his chosen path, one that would change his life forever.
Sorel Mizzi
In the six years since, the man behind the pseudonym, Sorel Mizzi, has visited the greatest heights and deepest lows that come with being a professional poker player. And just turning 24 years of age, Mizzi has proven he has something many other young guns lack nowadays — sustainability.

The Nonconformist
“I didn’t take the route of going to university, and getting a degree and a job,” says Mizzi. “I’m sure that kind of lifestyle has its benefits including balance, which would be huge for me because my life right now is very unbalanced; and stability, just being able to be in one place and having your family and friends in the same city as you. My family, and friends, all took the path of higher education to get a good secure job but I knew that wasn’t the path for me. I knew I was either going to be a huge success or a huge failure, there was never going to be anything in between.

“The normal lifestyle is appealing to someone like me who doesn’t live it, but at the same time I feel very fortunate to be able to do what I do at such a young age travelling the world, playing poker, and just living a very extravagant lifestyle. I try not to take it for granted. Freedom is very important, and what I have now is freedom, but in a way you’re also kind of a slave to the trade. You have to keep playing, and even if you don’t have to play, you still play. True freedom for me would be not having to play ever again.”

It is hard not to take from this that Mizzi no longer loves the game, but he is quick to clarify, “My goal is to not have to play again, it’s not to not play again. I want to play poker, I love poker, it’s fun for me, but you get burnt out after a while and it’s nice to have breaks, and just do normal things.”

Nearly Never Won the Race
“Imper1um” rocked the poker world, hitting the virtual felt running, and slaughtering any form of competition that came his way. But it was in 2007 when he made his first major live cash that “Imper1um” stepped to one side and “Sorel Mizzi” moved to the fore. After finishing in third place at the Irish Open the live results began streaming in. Mizzi went deep in the World Series of Poker, the European Poker Tour, the World Poker Tour, and even took first in the 2008 Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic.

It was in London however, at the WSOP Europe, that Mizzi had his shot at something all poker players dream of — a World Series bracelet. A painful finish in the £5,000 pot-limit Omaha event saw Mizzi settle for second, testing his stamina and patience. Opportunity then came knocking again in 2009 at the World Series in Vegas. The $5,000 pot-limit Omaha title was, however, not to be his either as in a dramatic three-way all-in finish, Mizzi left in runner-up position for the second time.

In January of this year, hearts broke everywhere as poker fans watched the Canadian lead the way in the Aussie Millions main event and then fall before the final hurdle. Mizzi spoke candidly to Card Player about his run in the event. “The main event was actually unique in a few ways, it was the first tournament I’ve ever played probably online or live where I was top three to five in chips the whole way through. I finished at a high point every other day than day 1 and obviously the final day when I came third. Having such good days and having such good results throughout the beginning and middle stages really boosted my confidence and got me in the zone.”

Only those who regularly lead the troops in live events know how it feels. But for Mizzi, there is no time for complacency. “The way I play, it’s just as easy to make the chips as it is to lose them,” he says. “I’m pretty much always on my toes. I don’t feel like I’m vulnerable to lose all my chips, but at the same time I never feel like the tournament is over. Even when I came to the final table with three times more than the second place, I knew that there was work to be done. It’s amazing how difficult the final table became compared to all the other days.”

“The thing about the Aussie Millions which I didn’t really like was it was medium paced at the beginning, the blinds went up every hour and a half, in the middle stages they went to two hours, and then on the final table all of a sudden they decided to make them go back. I understand it’s for TV and they want it to go fast, but at the same time it puts a lot more emphasis on luck than skill. At the same time if I won the tournament I wouldn’t be complaining. Throughout the tournament with the exception of the final table, I felt like the dynamic of the table was that of a $5 or $10 rebuy, and when I reached the final table, I felt as if I was playing the final table of a $50 rebuy on a Sunday, which aren’t that soft.”

One Time!
So what is preventing Mizzi from going all the way? “Obviously I’ve asked myself that question before,” laughs Mizzi. “I consider myself to be a very, very good heads-up player. I’d say that’s my biggest strength heads up or short-handed. The more short-handed it gets, I feel like the more of an edge I have, which yeah, begs the question, why am I coming second or third in these major tournaments? Even my last result was second in the side event of the LAPC (Los Angeles Poker Classic). And it just sucks, it really does. But looking back over time at all the hands, most of them came down to coin flip situations where I had to gamble.
S Mizzi
“The Aussie Millions was my sevens versus A-K where I put in a big percentage of my stack and it was one of those spots where I wasn’t happy about it but I needed to gamble with the stack I had against the players I was playing against. The Irish Open was another coin flip, my sevens again versus the K-Q of Roland de Wolfe. In the WSOP, I didn’t even have the opportunity to play heads up which kind of sucks, but in the WSOP Europe, I did. I was short stacked against Theo Jorgensen. We basically got into a flip situation and by the turn I had him drawing to six percent for the complete victory, and he hit that, so there’s nothing much I can do in these spots. I guess having these deep runs in these major events and coming top three is great, but obviously I’m waiting to get that monkey off my back.”

Sorel Mizzi comes across as the type of person who rolls with the punches and is good at adapting to changing circumstances. This could be why he continues to be such a threatening presence in live tournaments. When he came second in the WSOPE, he had only played around 300 hands of pot-limit Omaha before, but during the breaks he wrote down hands, spoke to friends, and learned as he played. Mizzi has strayed from his days of online domination, and admits it is no longer something that he wishes to spend a lot of time at. However, if he was to go back, even though the game moves at such a rapid pace, this is something he believes that he could also readjust to without hesitation.

The Brat Pack
Something else which Mizzi picked up with fervour is proposition betting. Over the years, Mizzi grew close to Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak, and Roland de Wolfe fellow professionals known for their quirky sense of humour and their passion for prop betting “When I hang around with Antonio and Phil, we gamble on everything, the most random things,” says Mizzi. It is often said that most poker players have leaks, some form of weakness where profit can easily turn into loss. Between playing poker online and live, prop betting, Chinese poker, and gambling, could Mizzi really still be ahead when it comes to his profit margins? “In gambling as in playing casino games which I have in the past, I’m definitely down, but prop bets, I’d say I’m definitely a winner. I consider both of them in a different league. Hanging around with Antonio, I’ve become a lot better at prop betting, because I truly do believe he is the best in the world at it. Prop betting is a very skilled art, maybe even more so than poker.”

Mizzi is known for taking on weight bets in the past, and according to the playful Canadian the reason for this is because his lifestyle has led to laziness. The incentive to follow through, however, is certainly not health related. “The last two weight bets I’ve made, I’ve won, and I was in great shape. But have I kept it off, and have I continued the diet and exercise regiment? No. I’m a firm believer that if you want to make a change in your life, the only incentive should be what you want from it. If I’m keen on something that’s beneficial for my life than there shouldn’t be any monetary incentive, and if there is, it’s probably not going to last.”

All Systems Go
It is clear that Mizzi is someone who is driven by personal goals. Even right now, he is challenging himself. The roaming youngster has decided, without any outside influences or incentives, this year he is going for Card Player’s Player of the Year. “I’m already top 16, so this year more than ever I’m going to be playing a ton of tournaments and I think I have a pretty decent chance of doing really well at Player of the Year,” he says. “I’m going to play a lot of live, very little online.”

Mizzi also intends on learning new games in time for the World Series. “One of the big events is the $50K eight game. One of my goals now in poker is to learn these games, and as for limit razz and all those other games that I’m not very good at, at least learn them enough to hold my own when the Series rolls around.”

There is not enough time in the day for Mizzi to accomplish all the things he hopes to. Although admitting freely that he is inclined to be lazy, he has shown in the past that when he sets his mind to something, he won’t stop until he has achieved it. However, not everything is in his hands. He says, “In everything I do, I want to be the best, and the thing about poker is it doesn’t always reward the best player, but I’ve learned to accept that. I’m one of those players who constantly improves their game and thinks about things on multiple levels. Because of that versatility, I feel like my results will continue, and hopefully eventually my time will come where I win a really big title.” Spade Suit