About 18 months ago, Anthony Zinno was a mid to high stakes tournament grinder still at the beginning of what he hoped would be a profitable poker career. He had studied law and passed the bar exam at Suffolk Law School in Boston, but was giving poker a go before settling for life as an attorney.
At that point, Zinno’s biggest tournament poker score was $90,000, giving him hope that he could push on. He was playing a lot, gradually moving through the levels and making all the right moves, but nothing could quite prepare him for what happened next.
“It was kaboom!” he says today. “An explosion. I was like, ‘Wow.'”
In September 2013, Zinno went to the Borgata in Atlantic City and registered for the World Poker Tour main event. About six days later, with 1,187 players already eliminated, he was still involved when only two were left: Zinno and Vanessa Selbst were heads up for the title and $825,099.
Zinno won, beating one of the best in the world, and he had a pretty big chunk of his own action. It allowed him to finance another couple of seasons on the tour, which brings us to the 2015 Fallsview Classic in Niagara Falls in February, 2015.
In that tournament, with 417 players now vanquished, Zinno was once again heads up for a title. Once again, he won, taking C$380,021 and joining the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Gus Hansen, Carlos Mortensen and Barry Greenstein on the elite list of two-time champions.
But Zinno was not done. About two weeks later, he was back at the WPT tables at the LA Poker Classic in Los Angeles. He won yet again, earning a payday of more than $1 million, his third title in less than two years and second in consecutive tournaments.
Zinno, now 33, was suddenly the hottest player in world poker, on the heater of a lifetime. He was named WPT Player of the Year and is now alongside only Hansen and Mortensen as a three-time champion. Zinno’s momentum has also now swept him over the Atlantic and to Monaco, where he is playing the first €100,000 Super High Roller tournament of his life.
“At this point, there is nothing in poker that can happen that will make me sad, nothing,” Zinno says. “I’m in Monte Carlo. It’s beautiful. And I’m getting to play this tournament. This is, quite literally, a poker player’s dream.”
Zinno was born and raised in Cranston, Rhode Island, and, before both law school and a career in poker, studied chemical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Massachusetts. Like so many in college, he dabbled in a little poker, and picked up a decent cash at the 2008 World Series Main Event. (He finished 205th for $38,500.) But it wasn’t until after completing his law degree and starting pondering life behind a desk that he looked more seriously at a career in cards.
“I wanted to take the road less travelled,” he says. “I just hated the thought of sitting in an office and grinding so many hours, being stuck in one spot. I’ve always had aspirations to be able to say, ‘Hey, I like to be here, right now’ and just pick a spot and spontaneously to be able to go somewhere.”
Although many of Zinno’s friends and family were not poker players, he was immediately insistent in conversations with them that this too could be a profession. He started travelling to televised tournaments with a business suit in his suitcase, with the intention to wear it if he made the final table. He wanted to demonstrate his professionalism. He gradually taught himself to take care of his health, get a good night’s sleep before tournaments, and to manage his bankroll properly.
“My suggestion to everyone out there is not to take too big a shot,” he said. “That’s what I had to learn in my early 20s. I was taking too big a shots. I was playing 5ks with a 50K poker roll. Eventually, you’ll say, ‘I shouldn’t have been doing that.'”
Zinno also worked on his game. When poker players go on a heater — and it does happen more than would seem likely — they tend to explain away questions as to the secret of their success with the blanket coverall, “I’m just running well”. But Zinno said that after his first WPT win, he started applying himself to learning other poker games and expanding his range of experience: picking up strategies from different variants that would enhance his hold ’em tournament play.
He learnt how to improve his bet sizing by playing more PLO, and also played limit hold’em so that he would see more showdowns. He said he would look at the exposed hands at the end and think how he could have played the pot if it had been no limit; what would he have needed to do to get the player off the hand, if necessary, or to reel him in.
“A few things clicked,” Zinno says. “Having played a bunch of these different games, and implementing them, that was huge. And just the grind. I just increased the grind. I played almost every WPTs this past season, and after I won Borgata, I played a bunch after my win to finish off that season as well. So I’ve put in more hours…That being said, this past couple of months has been statistically an anomaly, just statistically improbable. I did feel that I was due to start to make a very successful living from poker, I just didn’t know it would be this good quite yet.”
And the life really is good when you’re a high roller on the European Poker Tour. Part of the package for players in this tournament is a three-night stay in the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort, which Zinno described as the best hotel he has ever seen. His room is on two floors, with a bedroom upstairs, and views, as the name suggests, across Monte Carlo Bay.
He is rubbing shoulders now with the biggest stars in the game, sitting on the same table as Sam Trickett, George Danzer, Isaac Haxton, Scott Seiver and Pratyush Buddiga and having his interviews interrupted by his new friend Negreanu.
(Zinno: “This is my first 100K, I’m really excited.” Negreanu: “Oh sweet. I totally love them.” Zinno: “It’s amicable and intelligent. No one gets mad.” Negreanu: “The conversation is so much more high end. Fabian, Igor. We’re talking food, we’re talking autism. Everyone’s a good listener. You don’t get that in a typical 10K.” Zinno: “We’re up there [on the TV stage] so what we’re getting is Scott complaining about the lights.”)
Zinno continued: “If you’re going to play a high roller, I think that here is the place to do it because this really is the land of the high rollers.”
For all the dizzying achievement of the past couple of years, and the two-floor hotel rooms overlooking Monaco, Zinno is trying to stay grounded. A small portion of his winnings from the WPT has gone to renovate his mother’s kitchen in his childhood home in Cranston, and the house will be painted next.
The WPT laid on an awards ceremony at a champion’s dinner for him to receive his Player of the Year title on the eve of flying to Europe, but when he tells his friends and family that he’s going to play a €100,000 poker tournament, they still instinctively think that’s the figure he might possibly win, not what it’s costing him to sit down.
“I stay humble,” Zinno says. “I’m not saving the world here, but I’m hoping that I can take these winnings, keep building and eventually do really good things with the money someday, which has been my goal. I’ve been able to do a few small donations with my recent wins and that feels great.”
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