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Changing Times: An afternoon conversation with Sam Razavi

There was a time when Samad Razavi dominated the APT circuit. There was a time when Samad Razavi fiercely hunted down the APT’s highest honor – the APT Player of the Year title – capturing it an incredible four years in a row from 2012-2015. There was a time when everyone thought he couldn’t be overthrown. But that time has passed.

Sam Razavi - Photo APT
Sam Razavi – Photo APT

Last year, Razavi missed several APT events costing him the fifth title. He eventually placed 2nd while a new champion was crowned, Japan’s Iori Yogo. Since then, the UK pro rarely attends the circuit that he once feasted upon. So we sought him out and learned all about the current flux of his life.

On chasing the fifth title

Without a doubt, a fifth APT POY title was very attainable. Based on the standings midway through 2016, Razavi was neck-and-neck with Yogo, the only player that nearly took the crown away from him the year prior. While we know that Razavi is the type of person that goes full throttle when he wants something, it really was a question then of how bad did he want a fifth?

Despite his love for playing the APT, he admitted “I was feeling like I was a bit locked in chasing this Player of the Year title every year, and even if I wish I had given Iori more of a run for his money, I found excuses to miss the last few events because somewhere in the back of my mind I didn’t want to win the POY again. I thought, I am gonna have to come back again and again. I think it is my OCD really because if I really don’t want to play, I should be able to say I don’t want to play it.”

Poker no longer the main focus

With Razavi’s drive for the title on down shift, his energy and time high-tailed elsewhere. During the latter part of last year, Razavi and his wife Menchu opened Greedy Gonzales, a Mexican restaurant in Cebu, Philippines along with the help of his brother.

Greedy Gonzales
Greedy Gonzales

Although Razavi enjoyed being in the kitchen, the decision to open the restaurant was far from being a career change.

 “Firstly we wanted to set this up to have something to do apart from lazing around the house waiting for the next tournament. So it is something to focus on. If you are not doing anything, it eats away at you. I think it is healthy for the relationship as well. Secondly we really like Mexican food and the options in Cebu aren’t great. So then we’ve got a place we can eat anytime we want to eat Mexican food. And lastly, the kids are growing up. We don’t really want them to think mom and dad just sit and watch Netflix and eat out and play poker tournaments, that this is the way to live. It’s really all those things.”

But as with any new endeavor, it demanded much of his time especially with a multitude of challenges needing to be tackled. Surprisingly, despite Razavi being a very profitable poker, he wasn’t the type to mind the books per se.

As a poker player, he admitted to having never separated his bankroll. “I came from an era of online poker where the money was so easy to make if you are one step ahead of the field. I was never separating, oh I made this much and this much are my expenses, what’s my hourly rate. It’s all nonsense to me. In the restaurant it’s easy if you’ve got something. If a supplier turns up, it’s easy to just pull out the cash from your wallet. You forget it needs to come out of the restaurant account. I never separate but I should coz it is easy to just lump it all in. Like when we go to the supermarket and we buy things for the restaurant and since we’re there, we go ahead and get diapers, and then everything ends up in one receipt and we just leave it coz we can’t be bothered.”

Another challenge was the work relationship with his staff.  In the Philippines, locals tend to regard foreigners above themselves.

This general characteristic caused him plenty of frustration, “I don’t understand why they don’t question or tell you they don’t understand or ask to have it explained coz in the restaurant business there’s a lot of pressure and if you are in the kitchen you are shouting at the waitresses or if they make a mistake, I always tell them we are working together. If we’ve done something wrong then you too have to come in and give us a bollucking and tell us. It’s what gets stuff done in that environment.”

This topic alone crosses over into Razavi’s love-and-hate relationship with the country that he’s lived in for the past five years.

Razavi has been known to let out some of that steam on social media. “Sometimes I blow up and I say stuff and I feel really bad coz I’ve got a lot of friends in the Philippines, and I feel like sometimes if I am really frustrated I feel if I post it they think I am attacking them and attacking the whole Filipino race. There are just some things that I can’t wrap my head around, some of the simple things. There are a lot of things that seem common sense that doesn’t seem to be in place.”

In addition to the restaurant, also in the works is a drama school with Razavi and his wife looking to revive their past love for the arts. Razavi has a background in theater acting and Menchu was once a singer in a group signed and recorded with Sony.

So between the family life, the restaurant, the upcoming school, we did wonder, where does that leave poker? Razavi says, “poker is no longer gonna be 100 percent”. And his current stats clearly reflect it.

Poker Goals: Value, Money, and a Bracelet

Sam Razavi - Photo Long Guan , Courtesy of PokerStars
Sam Razavi – Photo Long Guan , Courtesy of PokerStars

With a lot on his plate now, Razavi has only brought in 12 cashes this year. But since poker is still his bread and butter, and making money is first and foremost, he knows he has to put in the time yet be discerning. “It’s more about trying to balance the time coz you have to put in volume to get the results. On the flip side, you put in too much volume, you are not spending enough time with the kids. You don’t put in enough, you may not be making enough to justify playing poker coz as someone who just makes money playing tournaments and not on cash games now, you are ticking over and ticking over hoping to get that big result.”

He went on to add, “the tournaments I am selecting are what’s gonna give the best return of investment for the money. If I fly somewhere that’s expensive to get to, expensive to stay, I am looking at what overall is gonna bring the best profit in for the future” … ”it’s about trying to lock up the future for my kids.”

At the time of our chat, Razavi had just finished 6th at the PokerStars Festival Manila Main Event for a US$23K payday. That was a pretty healthy score. It was the only event he joined at the festival.

While Razavi has graced the poker spotlight way too many times that we’ve waved off counting, alike many hopefuls he has yet to shine under the world stage. “My main focus for the future is always looking toward the WSOP coz that’s one thing I haven’t managed to do is win a bracelet. That’s something I really want to do but definitely haven’t given myself enough opportunities to do so. He added, “once I win a bracelet, after that, you’ll find me in the Sit n Go pit all day long. You won’t see me in the bracelet events. The Sit n Go pit in Vegas is the best.”

WSOP 2015-  $ 3,000 No Limit Hold’em: Sam Raazavi finishes 4th for $ 153,682

Addressing the shady side of poker

Before we ended our chat, we did pick his brain on one more topic. Being a seasoned player with experience playing all over the world, surely he had some advice or recommendations for the Asian circuit organizers. At the current state of poker in the continent, he has seen it grow with plenty of ups and downs along the way. Directing his feelings more on the organizers based in the Philippines, “if organizers coordinated a bit not just in terms that their dates don’t clash but in saturating, in always having tournaments. Too much of anything is not a good thing.”

Another aspect he brought up, possibly much more critical, was helping address the shadier part of the poker realm. “Unregulated staking deals. People going around and getting staked by random foreigners. I’ve heard many of these stories of people obviously being screwed over by that. There’s a relatively small group of professional poker players in the Philippines that take the game really seriously, their livelihood or they want it to be their prime source of income. If I was part of that group, you have to start actively doing something to vet what goes on because I used to stake random people just to give them a shot but now I just have a policy that I just don’t stake anyone, particularly in the Philippines, because here people take advantage of an opportunity. People who are so serious about poker have seen and watched and noticed how easy it is to approach the staking and then they take advantage of that. And eventually it will serve to hurt the community because once you lose that trust, and those people who really need the staking and play by the rules, they won’t be so readily available to them.”

While Razavi added that it may help if players do more such as set up forums to address this issue, “I also wish that organizers would do something about people that harass you for staking coz there’s asking for staking and there’s constantly harassed to the point where many times I’ve staked someone just to get them out of my face. I’ve heard some people turn around and say I don’t want to go there coz people are just harassing me. It’s a small group of people that don’t come but it’s a small group that might be able to bring more small groups of people to the tournaments.”

Since our chat, Razavi has attended the PokerStars National Championship Barcelona event where he min-cashed at one of their biggest events. He hopes to attend WPT India in November though he seemed more hyped up on bringing his wife as they both love Indian food. “I really think she’ll have a great time. The food is so good and they have a buffet on the ship now. Really, really good.” 

Story Triccia David


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