We are so happy to be celebrating the long-awaited publication of the English-language version of Eli Elezra’s autobiography. The book, entitled Pulling the Trigger, was originally written by by Matan Krakow and Yoav Ronel and published in Hebrew in March 2017. I had the honor of translating the manuscript into English.
Back in October, Eli paid a visit to Israel and I had the pleasure of meeting with and interviewing him in Jerusalem, where he was born and raised. I hope you enjoy watching the video; a transcript is also included below.
Hey everybody, Robbie Strazynski here in Israel, with Eli Elezra. We’re in Yerushalayim. Hi, Eli. How are you?
That’s good. Israel’s national poker hero, Eli Elezra. First, I see you often, and I have to ask you: You’re always wearing Michael Jordan gear. What is it about Michael Jordan? How did you get into basketball in the first place? Why him?
First of all, he’s my idol. I love Michael Jordan. But I remember, I would say 15 years ago when he was on the top and he won all these rings, he came up with Nike and his line of clothes, and I was fat. So my wife, she bought me all this Michael Jordan clothing and they covered everything, so since then it’s become one of my most comfortable shirts.
Well, that’s the basketball stuff. But you’ve been living in Vegas for years and now all of a sudden, over the last year or two, you’ve gotten into hockey. The Golden Knights are in Vegas. Tell me, what does an Israeli know from hockey? Tell me.
I tell you what, it’s unbelievable. I never actually went to a hockey game until the Knights came to Vegas. And the atmosphere — I went to one game, and it was the most unbelievable — I took my kids with me, and we enjoyed it so much, so I start asking about the rules. Before I used to bet here and there, one game. But I understood all the time, Canadian, and people in the North, that’s the people that go to hockey games. And then when they came to Vegas, what they did in Vegas, it was most unbelievable, so we all love it now.
So you got really into the team.
How often do you go to the games?
Now and then. I believe I’ll go at least 10 times during the season, and probably about three or four times during the playoffs.
Because of course they’re going to make the playoffs…
Hopefully they’ll go to the playoffs one more time.
Very cool. Nice. Well, hockey is nice, basketball is nice, but we’re also here specifically in Jerusalem to talk about Eli’s book, the autobiography. It’s actually October 2018 right now, but we did something very cool. This is Eli’s book, the Hebrew book, Agadat Poker. It’s been translated into English, and it’ll be called Pulling the Trigger: The Autobiography of Eli Elezra, and it’s slated to be published in January 2019. That’s a real big moment.
Let’s start from the beginning, though. From Israel, you started going out and seeing the world. You started talking about your years in Alaska, in the book, right? You spent a while there, it was about four or five years on the fishing lines, in the cannery, working there. Are you still in touch with anybody back from those days in the mid-’80s, and do people there know that you’ve become Eli Elezra, the successful businessman and poker player?
Actually, I would say the only one I’m in touch with is Jonathan’s mother, which is, my boy, he’s from Alaska, from Kotzebue. And I’ll start by telling you that the reason I went to Alaska, is in my unit in the army in Golani Brigade, one of my officers said “Oh, you can make a lot of money in the fish business in Alaska.” And it was amazing, he was 100% correct. I went over there, and I made a lot of money, “back then,” you know. That made me enough, gave me enough time to go and travel off in the Far East. And then, after I finished all my money in the Far East, instead of coming back to Israel, I went back to Alaska, and the second time I stayed there for an additional three years. Overall, Alaska was amazing; we did a lot of fishing and hunting.
And there are plenty more stories in the book about that as well. In the book, you mention Jonathan, and I’ve met your wife Hila, you talk a lot about being a family man. And of course, you have a lot of family with you in Las Vegas, but you do come back here to Israel pretty often. Do you have family who still lives here, friends, that sort of thing?
Yes, absolutely. First of all, Jerusalem will always stay my city. I was born over here, and I love Israel and I love everything, you know, the Israeli people. And I’m an American, and at the same time I’m an Israeli. And every vacation, every, I would say sometimes twice a year, I come over here. Yes, I still have family members, you know, uncles and aunts. My dad lives here; he comes a lot of time to Vegas, like three times a year. But for me, Israel will always be on the map and I will always come and visit.
Yes. Well, Israelis are known to love to travel the world, wherever you go in the world, you’ll find someone from Israel, and you talked about your backpacking days traveling everywhere after your service in the IDF. How about in your more adult life? Where have you been in the world that’s just, like, your favorite place, and is there anywhere that you haven’t yet traveled that maybe is on your bucket list to still go?
I tell you what. Before the army days, or during the army days, I never in my life imagined that poker, and poker only, would bring me to see the world. And I went almost to every spot in Europe that had poker, and then we went to… I mean, for me the most favorite places would be Melbourne, Australia, and New Zealand. I went over there during my Full Tilt days, and I spent about five weeks, and it’s amazing, it’s really amazing. And I think that if it’s not for poker, I wouldn’t see probably 50 countries that I’ve seen. And I traveled and played and enjoyed the countries.
When you go and you do all that playing of poker, do you actually go and see the city and do sightseeing and see the landmarks and all that?
Yes, as you know, not all of us make it deep in tournaments. So sometimes, when you start getting to a place and it’s a Main Event, usually you take 5-7 days. So if you get knocked out in the first or second day, you go and see the city. And those are the times that I go and explore a lot of cities and a lot of places that I never thought I would be able to see.
Well, you know, life is good now. We’re in a beautiful hotel in Jerusalem, a beautiful view of the old city. You’re talking about all of your days traveling the world. Times weren’t always so good. It wasn’t always so easy for you, you know, back in Alaska where you were grinding 16-hour days in the taxicab or in the cannery, and of course, before, here in Israel. It wasn’t an easy life. You grew up in a small little neighborhood, Baka. Do you ever think about those times anymore? Or maybe at the tables, when you’re in a really pressured situation, like, “oh, I can handle anything, I was in the army.” How often do you think of your past, or are you sort of like, that’s in the past and now I’m moving forward?
I mean, I think that every person, everything in your life has the power to make you a better person; you always have to remember where you came from. I came from maybe a small neighborhood in Jerusalem, called Baka, but at the same time, I love that I had my household, it makes me so strong and, you know, with a good family. Together with that and then going into the army days, I said to everybody, “you know, you have to be in the Israeli army and go to Alaska to be so strong.” I remember days that you know, like what you said. During the army, it was so hard, you know. And I served four years as a lieutenant.
In the Golani brigade.
It made me. And it helped me, it definitely helped me during the poker days when I played poker. Of course I remember. I always remember where I came from, and I believe some of those qualities that I got in poker, I got from those old days.
Sure. And you know, when you talk about, the Golani brigade. For those not familiar, that’s the equivalent of sort of the American Green Berets. This is someone who has really not just served his time, but in tremendous operations in Lebanon during wars and stuff. He’s been through a lot more than facing an all-in shove at the end of a level near the bubble or something. So yeah, someone who’s really faced some adversity.
I guess we should ask a few poker questions; it is a book about your poker life as well. When the concept of high-stakes poker was forming, everyone knows that Mori Eskandani, the famous poker producer, he came up with this idea. And you talk a little bit in the book about how he came into Bobby’s Room and just started talking to you guys. Can you sort of like, paint the picture? What was it like? Was it like a, “we’re all meeting at eight o’clock,” or was it sort of where he sort of strolled in in the middle of a hand? What was that period of time actually like?
He actually walked in; I remember it like yesterday. He walked in, and we were playing — me and Doyle and Chip and Gus Hansen, and I believe Phil Ivey and Barry Greenstein. And he said, “Guys, I want to put this game that you have here, as is, into a TV poker game, and a TV series.” So I remember Chip started asking some questions. He said, “You are going to let us talk the way we want, we can do whatever we want?” He said “yes.” And I don’t know if you guys remember, at the beginning, the first season and second season, we even played props. Famous props, and then…
“I see it, I see it.” I remember.
And then, after the second season, Mori came and said, “Guys, you know, the mom and pop out there cannot really understand when you say “I see it” and then you start writing things down.
So the only thing we changed actually was that; we took the props out to be able to change more. I never in my wildest dreams didn’t believe that this was going to make such an amazing series, that I would be so famous during this time, that it was successful, and you know what? I did good doing those seasons. I made money, and I think right after the Moneymaker win, it all of a sudden made everybody think they could be a good poker player and that everybody can play, and it doesn’t matter that we play so high over there, now everyone can play even in small games.
Sure. And it’s not just from back then when Eli was on TV, you’ve been in a couple episodes of PokerGO’s new Poker After Dark series. Do you enjoy being on television?
Yes, I mean, I think I am a talker, you know, versus other people. Mori did not want to get those people with the sunglasses and hoodies and don’t say nothing. Mori was trying to let everybody know that poker is fun, also. And I think that, I believe I do it and I think that some of the guys coming in, they make it. Even Phil Hellmuth, who comes in and making so many, you know, falling off the chair and doing, you know. This is good for poker! And I just, I believe that now, with the new PokerGO going, it’s going to be even better, you know?
Sure. You’ve mentioned a lot of names there, Phil Ivey, Barry Greenstein, Gus Hansen, Chip Reese. That reminds me of a time, and again, you talked about it in the book, Pulling the Trigger, gotta get it now. The Corporation. This is a number of the big high-stakes pros who combined their bankrolls, they pooled them to face off against the banker Andy Beal of Beal Bank. You mention that you were the captain of the team for a certain time, but you never actually played against Andy. Why did you choose to put other players in and not yourself face off? Or maybe you have regrets, maybe you would have like to take him on a little heads-up?
No, actually no, I never. I was never a good limit hold’em player. And Andy, actually, when he came he was very amazing. He came and he said, “I can beat the best in the world.” And I was captain for only one session, you know; we had I would say with him about 15 sessions. I was partner only half of the sessions. I made money, but Andy, I realized right away that I will not be able to beat him, because I didn’t play a lot of hands.
Because it was only limit Hold’em, that you played.
Yeah, limit Hold’em. And during the time that I was captain, it was me and David Grey, we went over. He wanted to play at Wynn, because he figured that in Bellagio he could not make money. And actually, in Wynn it was funny; he beat us for $10 million and then we came back and Phil Ivey came and really got him pretty good. Phil Ivey took him for $37 million, so we were profiting $27 million or whatever. It was pretty amazing.
That’s a lot of shekels.
And I don’t think we’ll ever, ever see those kind of things again.
A unique time in poker history. Eli, why was it important for you to tell your life story in this book. You know, you’re still very young, only in your fifties still, you have a lot of life ahead of you. What made you feel it’s time to write a book?
I tell you what, it was Matan’s idea, Matan Krakow. He wrote the book with me, and he came and he said, “why don’t we do it? You are the only Israeli guy who can tell the stories about the real big high-stakes poker games.” And I remember when he met me, and he wrote it in his preface, and he told me “I think we can write a very good book.” I never thought I would want to write a book like Doyle Brunson, you know, the Super System.
Not a strategy book.
Not a strategy book. I just wanted to tell a bit about my life, and better yet, he’s the one that came up with the name. And by the way, “pulling the trigger” was Mike Sexton, right when I won my WPT, in a very big moment that Lee moved me all in with 4s5s — I have ace-queen — I remember Mike said “Will Eli Elezra pull the trigger? Will he do it?” So Matan came up with Pulling the Trigger, I called and I won the million dollars back then. But I’m actually very happy that in Israel the book was very successful, and now we’re translating to English because Doyle came to me a few times and said “I want to read your book!” So all my friends, a lot of English speakers will enjoy it too, I believe.
What was the feedback that you got? I remember being at the launch of the Hebrew book, it was about a year and a half ago. What has the feedback been that you’ve gotten from friends and other people who’ve read it?
A lot of people said, “We never knew that you fought in the Lebanon War, we never knew that you grew up in Baka, we never knew what you did in Alaska, it’s so amazing.” And then, I believe, I would say that we have about 70% about my life, and 30% about poker. And even my poker, for me, it was the highlight, you know: to win a million dollars, to win my three bracelets, and to tell all the stories about meeting all the wonderful people, poker players I played with. And I just, I believe that everybody that will read it will enjoy it because it’s something different, it’s different than any other poker book that you’ve read out there.
Sure. And you started the process of writing the Hebrew book many years ago, I guess 2011 or ’12. We’re in 2018, almost 2019; it’s been a long road, a long time. You haven’t been the one sitting and writing necessarily, but you know, it’s your story; you’ve been involved the entire way. What does it feel like after this many years to finally have the English book out?
Well, I tell you what, it’s two reasons. First of all, because I’m very lazy, it took six years. And second, I love playing poker. So there was some eras where I travel all over and there, as I said, I play a tournament, and so much cash game, and I keep pushing it to the side. And finally, with the people like Matan and yourself, we enjoyed it and I can really move forward and finally put a V on it and say, “OK, finally, my book is out.”
Well, thank you. And he said, myself, I translated the book, actually, from Hebrew into English. It’s been a real honor, and an incredible journey just as the translator of the book to hear the stories firsthand and to meet, wow, it’s not just Eli from TV, wow, it’s someone who really did all these amazing things. So that’s been my little perspective. If your story, and someday, you never know, you’ve seen Molly’s Game, Molly Bloom’s story got made into a movie. Maybe someday Pulling the Trigger, the Eli Elezra story, might get made into a movie. If that would happen, who would you want to play you as an actor?
Oh, wow. Interesting question.
You gotta come prepared.
I would say Matt Damon. He’s the one, he’s the one. He can be in the war, he can be fishing in Alaska, and he’s a heck of an actor.
You think he can pull off the Israeli accent? A little?
It’s a little like it.
We’ll teach you, Matt. We’ll teach you. Anyway, so, yeah, that’s it. This is Eli Elezra again. This is the Hebrew book, Agadat Poker, but by the time this airs, the English book, Pulling the Trigger: The Autobiography of Eli Elezra, will be out there. Here’s your chance. Learn the story firsthand, and I’m sure if you see Eli in Las Vegas, he’ll be happy to sign it for you.
I would love to do it, and I would love you to read it and enjoy it.
This is Robbie Strazynski, I’ve been here for Cardplayer Lifestyle. Again, Eli Elezra, from Jerusalem. Thank you so much for joining us.