If you’ve been watching poker television the last few weeks, you’ve no doubt seen Ali Eslami. The high-stakes cash-game player made a cameo appearance in the first episode of the web-based poker show Bullets and was also recently featured in three episodes of the World Poker Tour on FSN after final-tabling the Legends of Poker.
Eslami may not be a household name, but he has amassed $1,238,636 in tournament winnings and countless millions more playing cash games throughout California and at various properties in Las Vegas. Even more impressive, since the beginning of 2011 Eslami has amassed 14 tournament cashes, of which 10 were final-table appearances — giving him an incredible 71% rate of making the final table whenever he manages to cash.
Speaking of cashes, Eslami’s largest was in March 2011 when he topped a field of 98 entrants to win the World Series of Poker Circuit Harrah’s Rincon $10,000 Regional Championship for $282,242 and a seat into the National Championship that year. His other two six-figure scores came at the WSOP last summer when he finished third to Phil Ivey and Andy Frankenberger in Event #17 $10,000 Pot-Limit Hold’em for $199,623 and at the aforementioned WPT Legends of Poker where he finished in fourth place for $133,700.
Eslami, who tweets under @AliEslami, was kind enough to sit down with PokerNews to talk about his recent TV exposure, the difference between cash games and tournaments, and more.
PokerNews: You recently had a cameo appearance in the web-based poker television show Bullets. How did that opportunity come about and why did you choose to do it?
Eslami: They had actually reached out to Chad Brown, who is one of my best friends, to do that cameo. As you may know, he also has an acting background. He’s a poker player, he used to do acting, so he’s a very good fit. Chad was unable to do it, though, because he was going to be out of town, so he suggested me for the part.
It sounded like a lot of fun. I’ve been involved in the entertainment industry in different ways. When I was younger, I did 3D graphics for films, I’ve been on sets before, and I even did some effects for In the Line of Fire, the Clint Eastwood movie, so I’m familiar with that environment and I’ve always kind of enjoyed it. It’s not something I ever got into. I never wanted to be an actor or anything like that, but it sounded like something fun and different.
During the dialogue in your scene there are references to your third-place finish to Ivey and Frankenberger in the $10,000 Pot-Limit Hold’em event at 2012 WSOP. Was that something they wrote in for you specifically? Did you know about it in advance?
When they sent me the scene I was going to be making an appearance in, we talked a little bit about it and [the creator of the show] Ty Leisher was actually really flexible with feedback and stuff like that. They wanted to bring some realism into it so I talked about that match and worked with them on some of the details of that scene to have it reflect on something that actually happened.
It was kind of fun to bring a little realism into it. All the stuff that was in there was accurate as far as how things went down in the tournament. Originally, they just wanted me to hand over a bag that was supposed to be filled with money, and I thought it’d be kind of fun if we had real bricks there. They weren’t actual $50K bricks, but they are dollar bricks wrapped by hundreds. I made them for the show, I had them put together. If you’re wondering and want to make bricks, which in the show was actually the amount I cashed for in the tournament, that much in ones with hundreds on each side of every brick was something like $5,000-$6,000, it was actually a decent amount of money.
You also just got plenty of airtime on the last three episodes of the WPT on FSN at the Legends of Poker, which you final tabled back in August. The only other time you made a final table on the WPT you finished in sixth and received very little exposure. Was it nice getting some TV time?
I’ve had a very good record as far as cashes to final tables — it’s actually unusually high — but I think only three of them have been televised. There was a Bounty Shootout that didn’t get aired after it was shot, and that was the first time I was under the camera. The next televised final table was the WPT in Indiana, and those final tables are hard to make because they’re only six-handed. I was on there for such a short period of time that they didn’t even do a bio for me.
You’re primarily a cash-game player, so does the publicity that comes with making a televised final table appeal to you?
It’s fun, for sure. Anything that you kind of do for awhile and get decent at, it’s nice to have your peers recognize you a little bit. I don’t think it’s the primary motivator in tournaments, though. I would say my primary motivator in tournaments is that it feels like a pure form of competition to me. You start on an even playing field, so it’s much more of a defined competition.
After I won the WSOP Circuit Regional Championship in Rincon, I was on the way home and I stopped by the Commerce, which is where I play a lot of my cash games, and Carlos Mortensen was there. Rincon was the first tournament I had ever won and I was talking to him about the difference and how it feels to win a tournament as opposed to winning in a cash game.
I told him that I’d had big cashes in cash games, but this was a completely different feeling like nothing I’d ever experience before. Carlos then said, “When you win a tournament and you’re done with the tournament, you know that you have done the best. There is no better you could have done, there is no more you could have won. You can go to sleep comfortable knowing that you won. Period.”
In a cash game, you can walk away a winner, but you’ll think maybe I could have stayed and won a little more, and there’s never this finality of victory that you get out of winning a tournament. It’s a very compelling reason to play tournaments, and I think that’s the primary reason I play the tournaments that I do play.
The last tournament cash you had was actually from the WPT Legends of Poker. Have you played many tournaments since then or have you been playing primarily cash games?
I haven’t really been playing a lot of tournaments. There was one year where I was traveling around and really giving tournaments a go, I was traveling to EPTs — I’ve never done well in Europe, by the way. It was a year I committed to traveling around and doing the whole circuit and stuff. I stopped doing that because, while I like the competition of tournaments, I really don’t like traveling. I like being places, I just don’t like the act of traveling and dealing with planes and stuff.
When the tournaments come around L.A., I play them. I played the L.A. Poker Classic, but nothing interesting happened there. I did go to the Bay 101 Shooting Star. Nowadays, that’s about as far as I’ll go for a tournament. That and Vegas.
Can we expect to see you at the WSOP this summer?
Very likely, yes. I haven’t missed a World Series in years, so I think I should be there.