Few players have experienced the upsurge that Welshman Roberto Romanello enjoyed last year. After an emotional and long-awaited victory in EPT Prague at the tail end of 2010, he went on to pick up another major title in WPT Bratislava just a few months later. He was a casualty of the Full Tilt saga, but cashed numerous times for the remainder of the year, including a WSOPE final table and multiple six-figure scores in side events. In total, he's won over $1.5 million in less than 13 months!
Why has it all come together in the last 13 months?
Obviously, before Prague I was making a lot of final tables and knocking on the door, but to get a major event under my belt was a goal of mine. The European Open was more or less one of my biggest wins, and also the Poker Lounge TV tournament, but you always want to win a big event with a lot of runners that's unique and obviously an EPT, a bracelet, WPT, and so on are the ones you're after. So, winning Prague was a big relief off my shoulders and just meant everything, which is why I was so emotional.
I just brought together all my experience from those final tables I made: took my time, didn't rush it. Sometimes you try and push things a little bit too much, and it doesn't work like that; there are times when you need to sit back and be patient. I think Prague was like that for me. I was so desperate, didn't want to put a foot wrong, and it worked out for me. It's all down to experience, and using your skills.
It's weird, because a few months later I played the WPT and I was just fearless. I seemed to play two different games at the EPT, but when it came to the WPT, my confidence was super high, and I blasted through the field and was chip leader on the final table. I was very aggressive, and the amount of three- and four-bets I was putting in was phenomenal. It just goes to show the confidence you get from winning a major event and what it does for you. A lot of other players are the same; they seem to have that flair about them when they win. It works, because aggression is the way forward today.
I always knew I had the engine of a Ferrari but I just didn't know how to drive it. It was only a matter of time before I would learn to use the gears at the right time, and that's what happened. I had my test runs, then finally put it all together. That's what I believe anyway.
How did you handle the bad runs?
I know a lot of players who run badly, and some still are. I had it for two years. The first year, I exploded and made lots of finals, so I knew I had something, but then I kept getting a lot of bad beats. Thankfully I can't moan about it anymore because I've had a good run as well.
I'm still going to get beats, so I just count myself lucky that there are people who are running worse than me, and I'm blessed to have won a couple of major events and be in the position I am. You've always got to keep your feet on the ground. If you try and stay on the positive side of things, then it can only bring positive elements to your next game, or when you next sit down at the table.
Tell us more about Prague...
It was a strange one. I remember finishing Day 1 as one of the chip leaders, and again on Day 2, so when Day 3 arrived I prepared myself for the possibility that I wouldn't be in the same position later in the day. The pots are big, and you need to accept that you can lose that chip lead very quickly. It's very rare that someone is chip leader for the whole tournament; you're going to get ups and downs.
At one point, I suffered a bad beat and slipped to below average, but I just wanted to stay focused and grind it through. I'd mentally prepared myself for everything that's happened in the past, so I think that helped me recover when I did lose one of those key pots. I stayed strong and didn't lose the plot.
If I play a tournament now and I'm not chip leader, and it hasn't quite gone my way, I'm a different person: I'm grateful to still be in the tournament, so I go back the next day very positive. I don't panic and just gamble on the last level, when previously I might have just chucked it in. Anything can happen the next day and you need to understand that you can't win every tournament you play.
How about heads-up?
I don't look at the prize money at all when I play because I don't want it to affect my decisions. If I get heads-up, I'll have a look, and I recently chopped a side event in Prague for €100,000 with John Eames when it was just the two of us left. But the year before, in the Main Event, I was hungry for the win, and just wanted first. When I got heads-up, the Italian [Emiliano Bono] kept begging me for a deal, but I kept saying no. I thought the €200,000 difference was massive to him, so if I could just keep the pressure on he would eventually crack.
Prague was probably the best day of my life. It was something that I wanted so badly. When that final card hit the felt and I knew I'd won, I was ecstatic. I wasn't all in at any point in the tournament, and it's not very often you can say that. I played my heart out. Afterwards, I invited everybody to a party in the Sky Bar upstairs in the five-star hotel and I picked up the bill. It cost me 15,000, but it was the best 15,000 I've spent. We had a great night. Amazing. I'd do it all over again every time.
Where did that furry hat come from?
I bought that at Snowfest, wore it for a side event and went deep. Before I went to Prague, I thought I'd put a few lucky things together, so I took the hat, and also my multi-coloured hoodie which I was wearing when I made the final in [EPT] Copenhagen. I wore them from Day 1 and then you couldn't get them off me, they were stuck to me.
I've tried them a few times since and they don't seem to work. I sort of realised that it wasn't the hat or jacket, and maybe it was me after all. I did wear the hat for Day 1 of Prague last month, but I went bust in level one with aces all in preflop versus kings, so I don't think I'll wear that again. Hopefully I can put it up for auction one day and it'll fetch a lot of money for charity [laughs].
Have you been splashing out?
No, never. I don't tell many people this, but I only have a bit of pocket change on me at all times. When you're on the circuit, with all the gambling, sports betting and so on, it's easy to get sucked in. I've been there, so any big money I win now I always give to the family to be reinvested in property, and then just keep 5K in my account so I have enough to travel, along with a bit of spending money. I don't go around with big amounts of money as I don't want the opportunity to do something stupid. If a big cash game comes up and I think I have an edge then, yeah, I'll organise something out with my brothers, but with other things I just don't want that temptation to be there.
Thoughts on Full Tilt…
I was with Full Tilt for over two years. I was popular with them, and they seemed to like me, so I was lucky in that way, but when I won those two big events, they gave me a phone call saying they wanted to extend my contract and sign me up for three years with a live deal worth nearly a million a year. I was on the brink of something really big and remember thinking: 'Shit, this is just all happening for me right now.'
Then, within a short space of time, it all crashed. I was upset, like anybody would be, as the contract could set me up for life, and it all got taken away from me in Vegas. But then I thought about it, and realised that I'd had a great run, and so didn't have any hard feelings towards them because they're the ones who believed in me, and when they signed me up, that's when everything started to work out for me.
I'm very grateful for the time I had with them. I did have a bit of money in my account, and obviously it would be nice if everyone gets their money back, but for what they did for me, and the money I took out of the game, I have no big regrets. Without them, would I have won those tournaments? I don't think I would have.
I've been lucky enough to be picked up since, and I have a great deal at the moment with Matchbook. They asked me to come on board before, but I was with Full Tilt at time, but when Full Tilt went down, there was no need to try and do it on my own as it could get very expensive, so I went for it, and I'm very happy.
I cashed on my first event with them in Barcelona, for around €150,000 when I won the €5,000 six-max, and came sixth in the €2K, so I've had a great start for them, and have done really well since. There's nothing more that I want than to keep winning for them, and earn myself some money at the same time. Matchbook are a staking site, so I still have the option to be taken on by a poker-playing site when the time is right. I'm also involved with OneWayPoker [online cardroom] with my brothers, and it's going really well and I'm enjoying playing on the site.
Vegas hasn't been friendly to you over the years...
Something good that's come from Vegas is that big fold I made on TV with jacks over tens [view here]. It turned out to be good for my profile, but, in the end, it was a losing hand. Vegas has been really cruel to me, and I just seem to get coolered when I go over there. Every single time.
I'll keep fighting, and will be returning to Vegas in the summer. As much as I hate saying it, I'll probably be going for the whole Series. I seem to get very homesick when I go to over there - I'm buzzing when I first arrive, but after a week it seems to wear off. I don't think I'm the only one who feels like this; there's only so much partying your body can take, and people start to get a little fed up. Having said that, I've seen some of the younger guys go non-stop for six weeks, going out every other night. I can't do that anymore.
The Triple Crown would mean everything. I came close in Cannes recently when I finished fifth for the bracelet, so again, I'm pushing the door. It's going to be tough because of the added pressure - and I would definitely have been feeling it if I'd got to heads-up - but it would be amazing to be able to do it. I'm not worried about it though; if it happens, it happens.
What was it about your game that pleased you the most during 2011?
What made me happy last year is that I've been very consistent, not just winning a couple of majors, but also doing well in side events too, making final tables, going deep. And I think that's what's made me proud.
It's very important to realise that every time you sit down at the table, you're learning something new that can help improve your game. The day I sit down and think there's nothing more to learn is the day I become a losing player. If you can bring something back with you every time you play an event, and use it next time, that's good, you're doing something positive and adding to your game.
The speech-play is still there in the bag. I brought it out in Venice. If you hear me speech-playing, it's because there are weak spots on the table. If I'm not, then it's because there are good players at the table and that I don't think my speech-play is going to be as effective, so I'm just trying to outplay them quietly.
What's the current standard in tournaments?
There are some great players around at the moment. Sam Trickett is outstanding, he has the finished product, but he has experience behind him now. A lot of the younger players coming through are really talented, but they should look at Sam, see what he's doing and learn from him. At the moment, they're very aggressive, and great at collecting chips, but too many of them are blowing up and exploding with stacks. I see a lot of myself in them from when I first started out.
I think there will always be weaker players, and the game will always have those spots. It's just if you're lucky enough to get the right tables. More times than not there will be at least one player at the table who is offering that value.
There's a big difference with tournaments these days. They're well run. You go to Dusk Till Dawn, and they start on time, which was unheard of back in the day; every tournament would start late. And if you look at WSOP, that's improved a lot over the years too.
Plans for the New Year...
Matchbook have already put me into all the events at the PCA, and also in Australia, so it's going to be good. I'm very happy overall, and very grateful. I know it's tough for a lot of players who want to get themselves out there and noticed, so I'm one of the lucky ones who have a great opportunity. Hopefully it continues, and if it doesn't, I have a great family and there's always something out there for me to do.
Our New Year Reviews will continue throughout January and appear every two days.
Previous New Year Interviews:
#1 JP Kelly