Before the Game: Sorel Mizzi the Telemarketer (Part Two)
When we spoke to Sorel Mizzi for part one of this feature on his life Before the Game, he had served two years in the army. Having gotten interested in playing online poker, Mizzi would need a bankroll to support his newfound hobby, so he went to work.
“I came from nothing, having moved out of my parents’ house when I was 17, with no one supporting me financially. My last time working for someone else was for a telemarketing company, selling insurance over the phone.”
For Mizzi, that was talking to people, and becoming a good communicator, something that directly applies to being a good poker player, especially at any level up to high roller. Knowing when to talk is a skill but knowing what to say to nudge your opponent towards the wrong decision is vital.
“Telling a story and actively hustling had experiential value to poker.”
“I felt like I was good at sales and wanted to explore that ability and find my strengths. I realized that constantly learning at the workplace should be prioritized over making money. It was the apprenticeship phase of my life and I should be soaking up as much knowledge as possible that will help me in subsequent careers.”
Mizzi’s apprenticeship had already taken in two years in the Toronto Scottish Regiment. Now it included a demanding sales role. From the start, his ability to sell gave him a key skill which he would later use in poker.
“Telling a story and actively hustling had experiential value to poker. When you’re playing hands, you’re trying to sell a story. Often, you’re trying to misrepresent what you have and don’t have. I wouldn’t say that the telemarketing was misrepresentative, but would I buy what I was selling? Probably not.”
Mizzi was selling something he didn’t believe in, but despite this, he excelled in the role, being one of their best salesmen in his first three months. But he had itchy feet.
“As soon as it became more of a job than a challenge, I was happy to move onto the next step, which for me was playing poker. I played throughout that job, but I didn’t have enough money to just quit. Every time I’d lose money online, I’d deposit again from a check from work. Eventually, I went on a run.”
Many online players have met with success, but for Mizzi, in that phase between learning the game and winning real money, he had a life-changing week that opened up some opportunities.
“I won $80,000 in a week playing $100 tournaments. I was on cloud nine. I won two out of three of the Monday, Wednesday and Friday majors on partypoker and came second in the other. It was pretty huge. I was excited and thought ‘I can do this.’"
“Every time I’d lose money online, I’d deposit again from a check from work. Eventually, I went on a run.”
If Mizzi believed in himself too much, he was about to feel the full effects of that due to a game variant he still doesn’t relish talking about. He used his new $80,000 bankroll to go back to the first game he ever played - limit hold’em.
“This time I was playing much higher stakes at $100/$200 and $300/$600 limits. I wasn’t rolled for that game. I played too aggressively and overall quite poorly. I was playing nine-handed limit hold’em as if it were heads-up. There were things in poker that I was really good at and things I wasn’t. Nine-handed Limit hold’em was my poison and I dumped most of the money I won from tournaments back into nine-handed limit hold’em.
Mizzi realized that he needed to invest the last $10,000 of his money, and, along with his brother, put it into an underground poker club in Toronto. Limit hold’em wasn’t going to make his name, but he quickly found out what would.
“I worked out that tournament poker was where it was at and to stay away from limit hold’em cash games specifically. It just made so much more sense to play poker full-time and that’s what I did.”
Leaving the Work World
Poker could become his job, but first, he needed to leave his 9-5 at the telemarketing company. That meant getting fired. Cue a politer rewriting of a certain scene from Fight Club.
“I got fired from that job actually for having a really long conversation. After the first couple of sentences, I never followed the script, but this one time in particular, I was a bit out of control. I talked to someone on the phone for over an hour. Naturally, the department in charge of red flagging irregularities reviewed the conversation.”
“I had the highest turnover rate in my district, they just didn’t like my style.”
That dreaded moment when the boss calls in his misbehaving employee is one that most people would love to have the guts to rise up and tell that boss where to go. Mizzi did exactly that.
“My boss brought me into the office after one of my shifts. He referenced the hour-long call and wanted me to sign a warning and agree to be more professional and less nonchalant. To my boss’ surprise, I refused to sign it. The next morning when I came into work, my boss told me that he had to let me go. I had the highest turnover rate in my district, they just didn’t like my style. Obviously, getting fired was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Poker became Sorel Mizzi’s life, and he never went back to work. Over $12 million in tournament winnings later, it’s fair to say that he doesn’t have any regrets. But he did gain a lot from the life he had...Before the Game.