Vince Burgio has been a part of the poker scene for over 25 years and has seen many changes during his two and half decades at the felt. He is the owner of a World Series of Poker bracelet from the 1994 $1,500 Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo and has published two books, including his autobiography Pizza, Pasta and Poker. His poker resume includes upwards of $2.1 million in live career earnings and a fourth place WSOP Main Event finish in 1994.
Card Player sat down with Burgio before the start of CPPT Atlantis Event 14: $230 No-Limit Hold’em Mega Stack Survivor.
Name: Vince Burgio
Resides: West Hills, California
Lifetime winnings: $2,111,467
Largest Live Cash: $168,000 – 4th, 1994 World Series of Poker Main Event
Tell me about the name of your autobiography. What does it mean?
Well, I’m Italian and my wife and I struggled with what the name of the book should be, so I tried to intertwine some of my heritage in the book. It came out in the very beginning of 2006. In fact, it was named Best New Poker Book in 2006 by Ashley Adams, who writes for Poker Player Magazine.
What about the other book, Inside Poker: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly?
I used to write a column for Card Player and I had about 60 of the columns published. Then after each column I put an afterthought, because some of them were four or five years old and I thought ‘I was stupid to think that’ or ‘I was very prophetic because I saw this coming.’
Would you say you foresaw the current state of poker? Did you see the downfall of online poker coming?
Yeah, kind of. You just kind of new that either they (the government) were going to tax it or they were going to shut it down. One of the two. And I think it’s still the same now. At some point they are going to let it go and tax it.
What other things did you foresee?
Well, when they said you couldn’t smoke in the poker rooms people said ‘Oh God this is going to kill poker.’ I said ‘No, this is not going to kill poker. People are still going to play poker.’
What about things you didn’t see coming?
I certainly didn’t see the big boom that we had when Chris Moneymaker won the tournament (2003 WSOP Main Event). I think there were three things that contributed to that. Internet poker was just starting and television was different before that. I came in fourth in the Main Event in 1994 and they didn’t show the hands then. So when you watched those broadcasts, they were pretty boring. When they started showing the hands and now everybody could see what people had, that helped.
How long have you been around poker? When did you get your start?
I started in 1987. I had a construction company in L.A. and I played a few local tournaments down there and did well and then my wife said ‘Well lets go to Vegas, they have a tournament at the Hilton.’ It was a $200 or $300 buy-in and I came in third and got about $10,000 or $12,000 or $15,000, whatever it was. Then two weeks later they had one at the Riviera and I won $54,000. So I said you know what, maybe I’ll just try this for a while. I can always start my business back up. But I never have. It’s been good the whole time.
Today it’s a little more common to hear someone say they player poker professionaly, but back in 1987, how did people react after asking what you did for a living?
It’s funny that you say that because in one of my first columns I talked about how people treat somebody that plays poker for a living. Their jaw drops because they’ve never heard of it. ‘Oh wow, you actually do that?’ Then they ask where do you go and how do you do it?
One of my better columns was about how I went to have a root canal and the guy has both hands in my mouths and says ‘What do you do?’ I said ‘I’m a poker player,’ and he happened to be one too, and my whole column was about how he had both hands in my mouth and was asking me all these questions. I decided from now on I’m going to say I’m a crossing guard.
My mother, God rest her soul, she said ‘What will people think?’ And then of course in 1994 I won a bracelet and I also came in fourth in the Main Event. Then I won a $5,000 tournament for about a half a million dollars and I got a little bit of publicity. Before that, in 1992 I won the best all-around player at The Queens and I got my photo on the front page of Card Player. At that point they began to say ‘You know what, maybe it’s a viable thing.’
Of course now, you watch some of those broadcasts and seven of the nine guys are professional poker players. Now I don’t know if they are, in my definition it’s somebody who has been making a living at it for more than one year. I’ve been doing this for a lot of years.
Let’s talk a little about Atlantis, do you play here often.
Not really. In LA where I live I’m about 40 miles from the casino and I used to play everyday, because I played high but the games that I played, believe it or not, they discontinued them. But the travel time back and forth is like three hours and I just hate to put that kind of time in to go down and play.
I like to come up here because you get a room, you get on the elevator and you go down and play. So I played up here and when Mike Gainey (Poker Room Manager) took over the Atlantis, he kind of takes care of me and he is just the nicest, sweetest guy in the world, so whatever he does I will support. And at the Atlantis you’ve got no complaints about the hotel and the property.