Jeff Lisandro, professional poker player, tells it like it is

Jun 24, 2008 7:04 PM

Road to the WSOP by Joe Awada |

We’ve been fortunate the last few weeks being able to discuss poker in general, and the World Series in particular, with some of the game’s best players.

Their comments have been thoughtful and, hopefully, have helped some of our poker-playing readers.

This week I’ve recruited another good friend of mine, Jeff Lisandro, an international poker professional based in Italy (though he was born in Australia). Talking to him is a real treat, kind of like conversing with a cross between Tony Soprano and Crocodile Dundee.

Obviously, Jeff is in Las Vegas for the World Series, and he will give us a unique perspective, that is, the view of an international player. Known as "The Iceman" because of his stoic style of play (it’s true … I’ve played three final tables against him!), Jeff is thoughtful and, at times, outspoken.

Jeff won his first World Series bracelet last year, and was runner-up as Player of the Year for the tournament based on his number of cashes. He also has a ring for winning a WSOP Circuit event, and in this year’s WSOP, took second place (worth $347,000) in the No Limit Deuce-to-Seven Draw Lowball event two weeks ago.

Besides being a highly-respected professional player, Jeff has owned and managed casinos, and consulted for casino operators on an international level.

As a player, Jeff is selective in choosing his games. He doesn’t particularly like No Limit Hold’em because it’s become a game for the "masses," and he isn’t shy about entering the higher limit games.

"I personally like to play the games I like to play," Jeff said. "I can afford the higher buy-in games and feel I have a bigger edge in these games than in the lower limit No Limit Hold’em events."

Focusing on a game of choice should be the path of the newcomer, Jeff said.

"As a new player, you should focus on one particular game, become good at it, then invest in that game," Jeff said. "Try to avoid learning too many games at the same time. Your play will suffer if you do."

Jeff said the World Series this year has a nice mix of games for newcomers as well as seasoned veterans. The higher-limit games are well-spaced with the lower games, and conducting two events a day has provided plenty of action.

"There seems to be enough games for every level of player," he said.

As a player based outside the U.S., Jeff said he looks forward to traveling to Las Vegas every year for the World Series.

But this year’s change in the championship event’s final table – which won’t be played until November – could present serious difficulties for Jeff, or other world travelers, should they make the final table.

"As much as I like Las Vegas, I wouldn’t want to make a second trip here," Jeff said. "To come a second time, I’d probably have to apply for a visa and run the risk of being qualified as a professional poker player by the government, which presents huge tax considerations for me."

Besides the inconvenience and logistics of rescheduling a second trip to Las Vegas, especially for international players, Jeff said he believes "most players would want to get the tournament completed" when it is played in July, and not wait until November for the outcome.

Jeff added that the move to delay the final table is strictly a business decision, one that will generate more revenue for the WSOP and its owner, Harrah’s.

"You have to believe that Harrah’s will make millions, perhaps tens of millions of dollars extra for this delay – they get another mini World Series in November, a thousand guests in the hotel, high rollers in the pits and the TV revenue," he said. "It’s clear this move was strictly to benefit Harrah’s, and not the players themselves."

There’s even a "worst case scenario" associated with delaying the final table. "What happens if a player dies or can’t return?" Jeff said. "And every one of those players is put at risk.

"It may sound far-fetched, but if you’re at the final table, the ‘elimination’ of one of your opponents can be worth a couple of million dollars to you."

Jeff said the "Tonya Harding" factor can’t be entirely discounted.

"A World Series championship is just as prestigious as a gold medal in the Olympics," he said.

The decision to delay the final table was never made with the players in mind, Jeff said.

"The problem is the Players Advisory Board, whose members are involved in the poker industry and has its own agenda and interests," he said. "It’s unfortunate that all players aren’t adequately represented on boards such as this one."

Next week, Jeff will give us his global perspective on poker in general, where it’s heading, the effect of the Internet and dealer-less tables, as well as burgeoning venues in Macau, Monte Carlo and elsewhere.