I'm not one of those who suffers from a fascination with celebrities. Even when I had my very first live interview with Phil Hellmuth, I wasn't particularly starstruck. And for the records, I'm talking about one of the true all-time poker icons.
But, I have to admit that this time I was thrilled when I ran into Alec Torelli during the 888Live Austria Main Event. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't starry-eyed or anything. I was just pleasantly surprised by how genuine and natural his approach was to me, a complete stranger in his eyes.
In my daily routine as a poker reporter, I often have to write about players that I've never met in person. They belong to an imaginary world, relegated to a YouTube clip and probably some distant corner of my mind. However, with Alec, I had the feeling we weren't living on two different planets. I mean, right at first sight.
He's so well-known and yet, so down to earth at the same time that at a certain point, you end up asking yourself, "What's wrong with him?"
A Good Balance of Lifestyle and Poker
Alec and his splendid wife arrived in Austria the night before, after spending a few days in Milan.
"Ambra always wanted to show me Innsbruck," he told me, "since she had such a great memory of this city".
He took advantage of the late registration and joined the tournament and ran super hot until the end of the day, when he finished first in chips. But still, I couldn't avoid asking him how he manages to switch from 'nosebleed' high rollers to a relatively low buy-in tournament.
"One of the coolest things about being a poker player," Alec said, "is that you have a lot of flexibility to choose the life you want. Besides, I really like what 888 does because they put on really cool events, they combine a good balance of lifestyle and poker.
"I've always thought that poker should be fun, and I knew this was going to be a great weekend. The size of the event, the money, these things are secondary. I play tournaments for fun as cash game is my main 'thing' and I'm really enjoying being here. If I should suggest a new location for an 888Live event, I'd choose a location in which I've never been before!" (He laughs.)
"Joking aside, I've heard that Lisbon is a really cool city, and I think it might be great doing something on the beach, maybe in spring or summer. Let's say that any exotic destination, it would for sure attract a lot of players."
Keeping it Professional
Having fun doesn't necessarily mean approaching the game any less professionally, and Alec Torelli is probably one of the best examples of what I'm trying say. He focuses in on the most lucrative spots. He's always calm and never over the top; it doesn't matter if he runs into a bad beat or gets lucky on the river.
Personally, I would be really proud of myself if I'd have managed to handle my profession in his way; so I decided to be a bit sneaky. I asked him if an 18-year-old Alec would be happy, seeing himself as grown up man crushing high stake tables all over the world.
"I think, so," he answered, "I've had a few very grateful, humble moments in my career where I was sitting next to players I've always dreamed about [playing] or watched on television. Simply going from idealising some of those people, to being colleagues and competing at the same level as them is definitely awesome!"
As the tournament break was over, Alec hurriedly squeezed his way back to the table. When you're a real professional, you don't want to miss a single spot, and that's probably one of the many things that makes him a world-class poker player.