Poker Coverage: Poker Legislation Poker Tournaments U.S. Poker Markets

Valentin Vornicu Looks For Success On WSOP Circuit To Translate To Bracelet Win

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Jul 04, 2018

Print-icon
 

Romania-born Valentin Vornicu is quickly establishing himself as one of the best no-limit hold’em tournament players around thanks to an amazing, years-long run in the smaller buy-in World Series of Poker Circuit events.

Vornicu and fellow poker pro Maurice Hawkins spent more than sixth months tied atop the WSOPC titles leader board with 10 gold rings, but on May 13, Vornicu won his record-setting 11th ring by taking down the WSOP Circuit Harrah’s New Orleans $365 re-entry event for $64,200. He outlasted a field of 1,340 entries to set the new ring record. But the San Diego-based Vornicu was just getting started.

In the early morning hours of May 15, just over a day later, he extended his lead by winning his 12th WSOPC title. For the second of his back-to-back wins, the 34-year-old poker pro topped a field of 349 entries in another $365 buy-in no-limit hold’em event, earning $24,084 in prize money. The win brought his lifetime tournament earnings to more than $1.1 million. He’s been cashing in events since only 2011.

After capturing his 12th ring, Vornicu remarked: “Is this real? I’ve never won back-to-back tournaments. Maybe online, but usually after I win a tournament live, the next one I play I just bust before the first break.”

Vornicu has quickly made a name for himself in the world of cards in only a handful of years. He credits his success to his past experience winning a bronze medal as a teenager for Romania in the International Mathematical Olympiad. He learned how to become comfortable solving math problems in a competitive setting, which years later proved to be the perfect training ground for a career on the green felt. He also credits finding veganism in his late 20s with giving him the mental stamina to play long hours at the poker table, especially in multi-table tournaments.

Despite all the accolades in the WSOP’s regional tournaments, Vornicu is as eager as ever to capture gold at the Rio Convention Center this summer at the WSOP’s flagship series in Las Vegas. Going into the 2018 festival, he had 20 lifetime cashes at the summer series, with nearly $400,000 in earnings. So far, he’s recorded two top-10 finishes, one in 2017 and one in 2016. His best showing at the Rio was a 23rd place in the 2016 main event for $269,430. Amazingly, that was his very first time playing the WSOP’s $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em championship.

Card Player had the chance to catch up with him to talk about the WSOP and his recent run.

Brian Pempus: Congrats on your back-to-back wins. What did that accomplishment mean to you?

Valentin Vornicu: In the moment, it felt really good. There’s been about five times when a person won two rings at the same [Circuit] stop. I thought it would be really cool to do that. Getting the record and qualifying for the National Championship also felt great.

BP: You’ve gone deep in a number of WSOP events but have yet to win a bracelet. Can you talk about how difficult it is to close out a tournament on poker’s biggest stage?

VV: The thing is about the WSOP, some of the events are over 10,000 people. They are huge fields. No matter what you do, there is no getting around the need to win flips. You are obviously trying to dodge as many as possible. Once you get deeper and deeper, there are more good players left and it’s harder to avoid the all-in situations. If you are talking about a few events, you need the luck, but once you put in enough volume, eventually the hands will come your way.

BP: Do you think you have a strong ability to close out poker tournaments?

VV: Yes, once you get to the final table things change. Some people just try to make the final table, but once you are at nine players left some things change. With that said, there are pay jumps and other things that change the way people approach it. You should be able to figure out your opponent’s approach to the final table. Some people care more about money, others care about the win and play more aggressive and crazy. Some people just want to ladder up. It really pays off to understand your opponent’s mentality. I think I have done a pretty good job of it over the final tables I’ve made. For example, maybe somebody is really deep in makeup [from a staking deal]. They won’t try to ladder up, they will want first place. It’s best to be aware of all the information that you can.

BP: Maurice Hawkins is no. 2 on the ring leader board. Do you two have a friendly rivalry?

VV: We just played a sit-and-go together at the Rio a couple of days ago. There were like $2,000 in side bets (laughs). Maurice is a great guy and great player. I don’t see it as a rivalry. He’s going to keep winning, and hopefully I’ll win a couple more. I don’t think he cares [about the ring leader board]. Obviously, at the end of the day the money is what is important. No one is giving us any prizes for being at the top. It’s just good to win and show off our games.

BP: A couple of years ago, you were among the chip leaders throughout the main event. What was that experience like? How did it help you grow as a player?

VV: Over that whole tournament, I don’t think I was worse than top 20 in chips at the beginning of day two through day seven. It was a great experience. Playing at that level every day was amazing. If you have a big stack in the main event it’s really advantageous. I remember going to the bubble about two hours earlier than anticipated. I basically doubled my stacked without catching any cards on the bubble. It was a dream scenario. It’s not to say that the other players played poorly given the situation. When you have a $15,000 cash coming your way, and you’re sitting there with 20 big blinds, even if you double you are below average in the tournament. The correct strategy sometimes is to play very solid. There are a lot of things that happen in the tournament. Seven days of play is a lot. It gave me confidence for playing bracelet events in the future. The main event is always something special. It was my first main event. I didn’t want to play in the years before. I had people wanting to put me in, but just because you think you have good odds to make the money doesn’t make you a favorite from there on out. It’s a giant field. There are so many things that go into the tournament. I didn’t feel like I was ready before 2016. I had plenty of rings and tournament experience, but I wasn’t sure I could play my best for seven days. Once I felt like I could, I ended up playing nearly the entire seven days. The marathon is insane. You need nerves of steel. With a little luck, I could have made the final table. I don’t like to play tournaments unless I feel like I have a better than average chance of winning. People asked why I didn’t sell and play the $100,000 buy-in, but let’s say there are 100 people in an event, I should have at least a one percent chance of winning. I’m not going to play it if I feel like I don’t.

BP: How has your background in math helped you as a poker player?

VV: Well, it’s not so much the mathematics. We were mathletes, not athletes (laughs). It was stressful and competitive. It’s super, super intense and I managed to do well. I won a bronze medal. I’ve also trained the Romanian team. I have that background, but there are a lot of people who have PhDs in math. That doesn’t necessarily make them good at high-stress, competitive mathematics. In poker, you eventually get used to the high stress, but that was my advantage before coming into poker. It’s not that I know the odds better; it has nothing to do with that. It has to do with the competitive aspect.