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Ali Imsirovic Fights His Way To The Top Of The High Roller Circuit

26-Year-Old Talks About Record-Breaking Million-Dollar Pot

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: May 05, 2021

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Almedin ‘Ali’ Imsirovic was only a teenager when he found poker in 2011, an interesting time to discover a game that was facing major disruptions in the U.S. after Black Friday. It was another five years before he could even play poker in a Las Vegas casino. But despite his limited time on the felt, the 26-year-old now finds himself among the very best in the game today.

“It’s hard to say exactly where anybody is, but I’d be hard pressed not to have myself in the top 10,” he reluctantly said. “And yeah, the goal is still always to be the best. That’s what drives me to study constantly and get better.”

It’s been a meteoric rise for the Washington State-raised Imsirovic, who seemingly came out of nowhere to win the Poker Masters and the purple jacket in 2018. Since then, he’s only further established himself on the high roller circuit with 16 career titles and nearly $11 million in live tournament earnings.

Imsirovic recently appeared on Card Player’s Poker Stories podcast to talk about his unusual start in the game, becoming a high roller crusher, and what it felt like to drag a million-dollar pot. Highlights of the interview appear below. You can listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or any podcast app.

Poker Beginnings

Ali was just three years old when his family fled the war in Bosnia, ultimately settling in Vancouver, Washington. His father had been a successful businessman in his home country, but was forced to start over from scratch and work numerous jobs to keep the family afloat.

Imsirovic had hopes of playing basketball at a high level, but ankle issues kept him off the court and looking for somewhere else to focus his competitive drive. His father would play small-stakes poker with his friends, but whenever Ali asked to play, he would be told no.

“He was very opposed to me doing anything gambling related,” Imsirovic said.

Ali passed some advanced placement tests, allowing him to graduate from high school at the age of 16 and enter college early. He enrolled at Washington State University, and ultimately left just one semester shy of earning his degree. The reason? Poker.

Coasting through school, Imsirovic would spend his days reading poker books. He would even skip school to get home early enough to play online freerolls. When he turned 18, he started making trips to nearby Final Table Poker Club in Portland. It was a tournament win there that kickstarted his career.

“It was Valentine’s Day, and I was supposed to go on a date with this girl,” he recalled. “I was headed to her place, and we were arguing about something. I told myself, ‘F**k this, I don’t want to go on this date anymore.’ And right next to her place, was this [cardroom].”

He walked in and saw a tournament running with a $60 buy-in. ‘Perfect,’ he thought to himself, as his father had given him exactly $60 to fix his guitar. Six hours later, he had won the tournament.

“I won it for more than first place!” he boasted. “I had 90 percent of the chips in play four-handed, and they wanted to chop, so I asked for $100 more than first place.”

(This was not the last time Imsirovic would run away with a tournament win. At a recent high roller event, he held 80 percent of the chips in play even though late registration was still open!)

Becoming A Poker Master

Imsirovic has always jumped in head first, and wasted no time getting started with his professional career. He recalled an early trip to Choctaw Casino in Oklahoma where he lost half of his bankroll.

“I was kind of always okay with going broke, just because I had no responsibilities, and I had friends that were always willing to back me if I needed it. I was okay with trying to run it up, or with going broke and starting over.”

He remembers his first shots at the high rollers, and admits that he moved up too soon.
“I played in two $10,000 events and one $25,000 event, and I had no business playing those at the time. I remember I had Justin Bonomo on my left and he was just destroying me. I was like, ‘I don’t belong here.’ I didn’t play the rest of the [series] and just went back to studying, trying to get better.”

After a few false starts, he began to find his way. He had a string of final tables in 2017 to boost his bankroll, and then won events at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and Borgata Spring Poker Open to give him some major confidence and momentum. In late 2018, he won two events at the Poker Masters and cashed for nearly $1.3 million, earning the purple jacket as the overall player of the series.

Imsirovic Wins Poker Masters Credit: PokerGOLess than two years after his first major tournament score, he had already broke through to the high roller circuit.

“It’s kind of hard not to be confident at that point when you just win back-to-back high rollers against these tough fields. I was like, ‘I belong here. These guys now know who I am.’”

Imsirovic continued to fire, cashing in the $300,000 buy-in Super High Roller Bowl and then winning a $25,000 event at the U.S. Poker Open. After a couple of close calls at the 2019 World Series of Poker, he took runner-up in the Super High Roller Bowl London for the largest score of his career, banking $1,089,000.

Winning A Record-Breaking Pot

Imsirovic was too young for the first online poker boom, but he took full advantage of the second boom during the lockdown. With live poker shut down around the world, online poker traffic surged, as did high roller action for both tournaments and cash games.

In August, Imsirovic found himself playing in a massive game of $500-$1,000-$2,000 no-limit hold’em, sitting on a stack of nearly $600,000 against the likes of Jake Schindler, Chris Brewer, and Wiktor “limitless” Malinowski.

“I was just playing tournaments most of quarantine, but then these cash games showed up on GGPoker. At first it was $500-$1,000, and I knew I could afford [to play] and the games were good. And then they made it $500-$1,000-$2,000! The stakes were so massive and it was very stressful. But the hourly, the amount of money you could win in that game was insane.”

When Tan Xuan opened to $4,278 in the cutoff, Imsirovic looked down at ASpade Suit KSpade Suit in the big blind and three-bet to $21,000. Xuan called, and the flop came down 9Spade Suit 5Heart Suit 5Diamond Suit. Imsirovic continued for $15,425, and Xuan raised to $53,700. Imsirovic called, and the JSpade Suit hit the turn. This time he checked, and Xuan bet $101,046. Imsirovic called, and the river was the 8Spade Suit.

Holding the nut flush, he checked, and couldn’t click call fast enough after Xuan shoved for his remaining $309,719. The board was paired, but Imsirovic wasn’t worried about a full house, and indeed, Xuan had turned his flopped top pair with 9Diamond Suit 7Diamond Suit into a bluff. A bluff worth a record-breaking $974,631 for Imsirovic!

“When the river came, I was like, ‘no f***ing way!’ I called, the pot went to me, and I literally just screamed at the top of my lungs.”

Even though the result was great, Imsirovic admitted that he had the wrong read overall.

“I thought he had air, just the way things were going,” he said. “I thought he just didn’t have anything. If the river bricked, there was a chance that I was just going to call it off with ace high, and lose to his nine. Honestly, if the river bricked, I might have lost a million-dollar pot with ace high.”

Before the pandemic, the previous record for a no-limit hold’em online cash game pot was $723,941, held by Di “urindanger” Dang in a Full Tilt Poker hand that took place back in 2008 against Tom “durrrr” Dwan. (The record for largest overall pot still belongs to Patrik Antonius, who won $1,356,947 in a hand of pot-limit Omaha against Viktor “Isildur1” Blom in 2009.)

It took 12 years for the hold’em record to be broken by the aforementioned Malinowski, who got it all in with pocket aces against the pocket kings of Michael Addamo for $842,438. Less than a week later, the record belonged to Imsirovic.

“I didn’t expect to be playing so big, but I’m very glad I did. I mean, I didn’t win that much, probably like $2.5 million total. But for those stakes, that’s like 10 or 12 buy-ins. It’s a lot of money, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not like I crushed the game for 30 or 40 buy-ins.”

To celebrate the record, one of Ali’s friends had a custom quilt made up, featuring the hand history and a screenshot of the online poker table.

“It might be the best gift I’ve ever received.”

Picking Up Where He Left Off

Imsirovic was already one of the most feared players on the circuit before the pandemic, finding particular success at the Aria High Roller series, and he had no problem jumping right back into the winner’s circle once casinos re-opened their doors.

In fact, the Aria has hosted 14 high roller events so far in 2021, and Imsirovic has already managed to win four of them, cashing in eight overall for a combined $1,443,610. His latest feat was particularly impressive, nearly going back-to-back-to-back in consecutive nights, winning two of three heads-up showdowns against fellow high-stakes pro Sean Perry.

“It’s hard to talk to people over the plexiglass and masks obviously take away some of the live aspect of it, which I don’t like, but honestly, I take whatever I can get. I love live poker so much and I’m just so happy to be playing again.”

As a result of his high roller run, Imsirovic now sits in fourth place in the Card Player Player of the Year standings, and given the volume he puts in, he is a real threat to win the title for 2021. ♠

Date Buy-In Event Finish Payout
Sept. 2019 £250,000 Super High Roller Bowl London 2nd Place $1,089,000
Sept. 2018 $50,000 Poker Masters 1st Place $799,000
Dec. 2019 $50,000 Five Diamond High Roller 1st Place $600,000
Dec. 2018 $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl Las Vegas 7th Place $540,000
Sept. 2018 $25,000 Poker Masters 1st Place $462,000
Feb. 2019 $25,000 U.S. Poker Open 1st Place $442,500
Nov. 2018 $50,000 Caribbean Poker Party 3rd Place $400,000
Feb. 2021 $50,000 Aria High Roller No. 6 1st Place $344,910
Aug. 2019 €50,000 EPT Barcelona High Roller 5th Place $319,203
April 2021 $25,000 Aria High Roller No. 13 1st Place $310,000
April 2021 $25,000 Aria High Roller No. 14 1st Place $300,000
Nov. 2019 $25,000 Poker Masters 2nd Place $269,500
April 2018 $2,500 Borgata Spring Poker Open 1st Place $246,066
May 2019 $10,000 WSOP Turbo Bounty 2nd Place $213,644
July 2019 $50,000 WSOP High Roller 7th Place $212,292