If you still believe that all Italian poker players are just loud, crazy, and don't stand a chance at the table, then you've probably never crossed paths with Mustapha Kanit.
With more than $4 million in online tournament winnings (source: PocketFives) and $3,774,515 in live tournaments cashes according to the HendonMob, Kanit is not only the runner-up in Italy's all-time money list for live tournament winnings, but is perhaps the best representative of a new generation of players that feels ready to challenge all the biggest names in the game.
Part of the vast pool of players who transitioned from Magic: the Gathering to poker, Kanit rapidly started to earn a reputation thanks to his way to approach poker.
After years of studies and of game analysis, Kanit seems to have fine-tuned a deadly hyper-aggressive interpretation of the game that has already won him the respect of the international poker community, not to mention a number of trophies most other players only dream of.
In 2015 alone, which mind you is only halfway over, Kanit managed to put together combined online and live tournament winnings for over $2.8 million thanks to capturing such events as the Super High Roller Event at the 2015 European Poker Tour (EPT) Grand Final in Monte Carlo, the 2015 Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) Main Event High, and the 2015 Full Tilt Series of Poker Main Event.
Right before that, the 24-year-old player from Alessandria, Northern Italy, found the time to join the first-ever Global Poker Masters and to leave the event as poker's world champion - a title he shares with his teammates Rocco Palumbo, Dario Sammartino, Andrea Dato, and Giuliano Bendinelli.
As he gets ready to fight for a gold bracelet at the 2015 World Series of Poker, where he is expected to play in the Event #58: $111,111 One Drop High Roller, Kanit sat down with PokerNews to reflect on his career as a poker pro.
PokerNews: You topped Italy's all-time money list until June 4, when Max Pescatori won the WSOP Event #9; you became poker's world champion after winning the GPM, and you won more than $2.5 million in May alone. I wonder, could it get any better?
Kanit: No, I don't really think so. I had two great runs at two events that I really cared about, and so I have to admit that everything is going great for me right now.
Those who follow your career have seen that you have developed your online and live game in an impressive way. After so may significant results in both games, do you feel more comfortable when you play online or when you play live?
I feel comfortable with both games, even if maybe things are a little better for me when I play online. I believe this happens because I have studied the online game for much longer and because I had some really incredible results there. Let's put it this way, if I had to choose, I would probably choose online poker.
What if I ask you to rank, in order of importance, your recent victories in the Super High Roller event in Montecarlo, in the SCOOP Main Event, and in the FTOPS Main Event?
I'd say that the SCOOP Main Event is probably the most important of the three. Then, there's the Super High Roller event at the EPT Montecarlo followed by the Main Event of the FTOPS.
Had I had to rank them in order of difficulty, however, I'd probably switch the FTOPS Main Event with the EPT event. That's mainly because of the larger field at the FTOPS and the fact that people could reenter in the tournament.
Let's focus on the hardest and most meaningful one then. To bring the SCOOP title home you had to survive a field of nearly 700 players that included some of the most famous names in the game. How did you feel during the two days of play?
I felt pretty comfortable throughout the whole event and I knew the structure of the tournament well. Also, I knew many of the players in there. I made the final table at the High Roller event of the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) twice already, and that event is very similar to this one.
I can tell you that until we got down to 10 players, I think I have played very good poker. I hadn't made almost any mistakes, I did some pretty smart hero calls and some intelligent folds. All in all, I think I controlled the action at my tables pretty well. I always had the feeling that everything was under control, and I believe this is something that can make a tremendous difference when you play.
Did you have any particular moment or hand that made you think you could actually win the event or that you didn't stand a chance to be the next SCOOP Main Event's champion?
To be honest, I think I have realized that I could really win the event after I won a flip against Shaun Deeb. Otherwise no, I have never had the feeling that I didn't stand a chance.
You have recently said that eight-handed turbo tournaments are your main game. Can you tell us why?
I really like eight-handed events, and I like turbo events. I have studied these two games a lot, and that's why a tournament that combines both my favorite games is naturally bound to become my favorite one.
One year ago someone called you "the best tournament player in the world." Instead of bragging about that, you quickly answered that you are not the best one "by a mile." Can you tell us why?
I said so because I am convinced that once you believe you are the best in what you do, you suddenly stop to learn and to develop because you no longer listen to others nor compare what you do with what others are doing.
There may be occasions where my game might be the best one out there, and I promise you that I am working very hard to become a better player. Obviously, it feels great to hear that someone thinks you are the best at what you do, but I still have many things to learn from a lot of players.
Poker changes all the time, and you always need to be able to understand the strengths and the weaknesses of the people you have around. Then, to develop your game, you need also to confront yourself with 'weaker' players. This, in my opinion, is the oldest and yet still the best way to become a better poker player.
Yet, if you are not the best tournament player - who is better than you right now?
I won't hide this. I think I may be one of the best and most complete poker players out there today, but there are other players with different skills and with a different approach to the game - so, let me tell you this: the whole idea of "the best poker player" is pointless.
The game has not been solved and there are many players that play great poker. You know, it's no longer 2004 when there was only Phil Ivey and the rest were a bunch of TAG players who barely knew the rules of the game. It's 2015 now, and there's a solid group of good players out there.
Every time I look at your results, the question that comes to my mind almost instantly is: where do you find the motivation to keep playing? Is it because of the money?
I found my motivation inside myself. I love competition and I love tournaments. I think I have a talent and I believe it would be a mistake to waste it. I think I managed to develop my game in a way that gives me a very big edge on my opponents and I know that this may not last forever. I love what I do. I love the freedom that I have earned through my hard work.
When I waste a tournament because I don't play well, I can be very hard on myself. Yet, over the years I have learned to deal with my emotions and to understand what I should or should not be upset for.
Years ago, after the Italian online poker market got regulated, you were among the first poker players to move away from Italy. Recently, you decided to leave Malta and relocate to London. Why did you decide to move to the UK?
It's simple, if you want to compete at the global level, you can't do it from Italy. London, on the other hand, it's a perfect location. Poker is legal and the players are protected by the law. As for Malta, I got a bit bored about the life on the island.
What effect did the moves to Malta and London have on your game? Did it help it to become less "Italian" and more "international"?
I don't think my game has ever been "Italian." I have always played a bit differently than others, and the opportunity to compete against different players helped me to develop and get better. Then, the war that goes on at the "dot-com" rooms every day made me grow a lot too.
You have already confirmed that you will play the One Drop High Roller at the WSOP. How is it to play in a tournament with a buy-in of over €100,000?
It's a completely different experience from anything else. Everyone there is really focused on the game. All the players respect each other and there's a lot of deep thinking during every single hand. Then, you also know all the players there. It's really a completely separate experience.
What WSOP events do you plan to play?
My plan is to play all the no-limit hold'em events after the Event #37: $10,000 No-Limit Hold'em 6-Handed Championship.