To casual poker fans Antony Zinno was an overnight success – he won his first World Poker Title in 2013 and in four years he’s gone on to tie the record with three WPT titles, he won the 2015 WSOP $25,000 High Roller bracelet and racked up over $6 million in earnings. But Zinno worked at perfecting his game for years before his breakout win.
In 2007 online poker was booming and Zinno was in his third year of law school in Boston. “I was doing really well at the time and paying my bills with online poker,” he said. “I wish I had more time to play back then because I might have done a lot better if I had more time to play.”
“So, after my third year of law school I had a big decision to make, I knew I was going to finish law school but what am I going to do after?” he said. “When I was coming out we were going into a recession and it didn’t look promising for a career as a patent attorney. I love traveling and figured I’d give poker my best shot.”
“I graduated, passed the Bar and decided to play poker for a living right then and there,” Zinno added. “It was way before Black Friday and I was grinding out a decent living. But I had $150,000 is student loan debt over my head and never practiced as an attorney.”
Most people might consider that a waste of time and money but Zinno views if differently. “It was cool going through seven years of school – very tough school – to learn the discipline it takes to be a poker player,” he said.
“I had my ups and downs along the way, especially when I started learning Pot Limit Omaha in 2008 – the game broke me,” said Zinno. “I had to learn, learn, learn and eventually everything clicked late in 2012, so it might have taken a while.”
It may have taken a while for Zinno to grow into a world-class poker player but it was something he was naturally drawn to – he grew up a gamer. He would obsess over any video or board game that involved strategy.
“I don’t have any (poker) secrets but I think the way I attack situations with strategy all comes from gaming,” Zinno said. “When you play video games and you make a mistake beating the boss, you have to go back and do it again and better not make the same mistake.”
“You do this repeatedly for years and years, you get better at that improvement process and you become what wizards will call GTO - Game Theory Optimal,” he added. “You learn how to conquer by mistakes and past progress. That's maybe why I've had some success.”
“But I’ve drawn much better in live poker than EV – winning three WPT’s is not expected value for pretty much anyone – there’s just not enough volume to expect to win three.”
Zinno is tied for the all-time lead in WPT wins with Gus Hansen, Carlos Mortensen, Chino Rheem and Darren Elias. Which is a club he never expected to join, “I always thought of myself as a cash grinder because I’m a little camera-shy. I try to present myself well with wearing suits to final tables but it was never a goal of mine,” Zinno said.
Anthony Zinno at his first WPT win at the Borgata. (Photo: WPT)
“I didn't expect to be in that company of elites whose lives either are poker or were at some point poker all the time,” said Zinno. “Carlos (Mortensen) at some point was all poker - that was his passion, his everything, a true consummate professional.”
“I like winning trophies but it was something that was more of a dream of mine rather than a goal,” he added. “All I want in life is comfort – having those huge student loans stressed me out so much. It was a nag to pay them and make enough for my bills. I started to realize as I was beating cash games I was getting better so I started to play more tournaments, realizing that I thought I had an edge over the fields.”
“But you have to embrace the fact that no matter how good you are, you could easily go a couple of years without a good score. Everything happened magically with my tournament wins,” said Zinno. “But I had motivation to get better and prove I could do it again. I started to put in even more work on my game because I didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder.”
“After my Borgata win, poker became my whole life. I put in high volume on the tours, watched videos, did whatever I could do,” he said. “I’d even go to my mother’s to visit and she’d have poker on the DVR that we’d watch together. Anything I’m doing is poker related – I look at it as something that’s helping me get better little by little. Even if it’s like 0.1% - that’s something.”
Zinno’s determination may seem one-sided but his foundation that keeps him grounded is his family. “My most happy moments are being with my family and I hope to keep it that way. Balance is key in life for any and everything. You can never forget about the ones that love you, not matter what.”