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Interview with WPT World Championship Prize Package Winner Dr. Josef Strazynski

By Robbie Strazynski
November 10, 2022

A couple weeks later, it STILL feels surreal to say and write that my father, Dr. Josef Strazynski, won a prize package to compete in the $10,400 WPT World Championship. I’ll be there in my media capacity, covering the action at Wynn Las Vegas and, incredibly, one of the players I’ll be covering is my very own father. Obviously I know a lot about him, but the poker world has quite literally just been “introduced to him” for the very first time.

I figured it would be pretty cool to interview my Dad and give the poker world a bit of a closer look at who he is, his connection to poker, and see how he feels having a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in a tournament of this magnitude.

I hope you enjoy our conversation, a transcript of which is included below the video.

Interview Transcript

Hey everyone! Robbie Strazynski here for Cardplayer Lifestyle and I have the special pleasure today to interview my Dad, Dr. Josef Strazynski. Hi Dad, how are you?

Hello, how are you son?

Hey, Long time no see!   We had a nice home game last night, right?

Correct.

I know I lost. How did you end up?

I did very well.

OK, thank Gd. So you’ll treat your kids and grandkids. Excellent. Very good.

Well, the reason I’m interviewing you is because, Dad, you were fortunate enough to be selected as a prize package winner by WPT Global in a Twitter giveaway by Amanda Botfeld.

So just to give everyone a little bit of background – Amanda’s contest was – these were the words of her tweet: “nominate a family member and tell me why they should win”. I responded:

And incredibly, she did select you as the lucky winner… so I think it’s time to tell the poker world some more about you before you go and embrace this prize package to play in a $10,000 main event in Las Vegas.

I’ve got to say, it’s so funny. Because obviously, I’ve been speaking with my dad for 41 years. But I’ve never actually interviewed you. At least I don’t think so. My challenge is to remember – I’ve got to interview you like I would anyone else. So we’re going to ask some deep and probing questions here.

So, you taught me how to play poker when I was a little kid. What about you? When did you first learn how to play poker? And who taught you?

Well, actually, I was a little mischievous in my young years. And actually, I learned how to play poker during my grade school. And later in high school. Of course grade school it was pretending to play, and high school it was actually playing. And we used to skip class to play poker. We used to go to the park where nobody could see us to play poker. Of course the poker that we played at that time was 7 card stud. That was the only thing we knew.

But that’s how I learned. That’s how we played. Hiding it from the parents, from the teachers, and from any adult that would see us. And then from then on it proceeded, evolved to something bigger. Finally when I reached a little maturity, I started playing on a regular basis.

So, what stakes did you play for as a young man?

Oh, I will tell you what. Probably in the beginning we were playing for candies. And later on was for – I was in Poland, so was playing for … something like one-tenth of a penny.

Yeah, so that’s not an Israeli accent. We’re in Israel. And it’s not an American accent. So you’re from Poland.

Yes. I was born in Poland and I was living in Poland until the age of 20, yes. And then I moved to Austria. And then I moved to Italy. And then I moved to United States.

Interesting. Why the long journey? They didn’t have direct flights from Poland then?

I wouldn’t know, because at that time and age — at 20 — I didn’t know anything about flights. I left Poland as a political refugee with the help of HIAS, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. And they were the ones who took care of me while I crossed the border of Poland. Helped me to get to Austria. Helped me during my stay in Austria. And then they helped me transport to Italy. And then in Italy they were able to get me a visa to go to the United States. So it’s a little involved. Historically, probably other people can talk about it a lot. But that’s basically the story of a lot of immigrants from communist countries at the time.

Right. So you were escaping communism. And to the best of my understanding, you were already a doctor. You had graduated. You were a doctor in Poland. And then you had to become a doctor all over again when you came to the United States.

Yes. In Poland, you are eligible to apply for medical school upon graduation from High School. I graduated High School before I reached age 16. I was a fairly good student. I passed my exams and I was accepted to medical school. Unfortunately, when I arrived to the United States, the only thing that was accepted from my educational background was my High School diploma. So I had to go to College and apply again to Medical School.

I didn’t actually go for four years to college. I took the CLEP program, College Level Examination Program, where I basically took two full-time courses at Georgia State University in Atlanta, and challenged the additional subjects on a Pass/Fail basis. And after one year I completed the requirements needed for the American medical school. I took my MCAT and was lucky enough to be accepted.

So you must really have wanted to be a doctor. What type of medicine do you practice?

In the United States, I received Board Certification in family medicine. All of the graduates in the United States graduate with a certificate of physician and surgeon. I graduated and I took the Board Exam in family medicine. And that is what I have been practicing, Internal Medicine, Family Medicine until I came to Israel in January 1999.

Right. Almost 24 years.

Right. So here in Israel, I started working in the field which I thought needed extra expertise. I basically concentrate on complications of diabetes. In my practice, I work with patients who are failing in the treatment of diabetes. Who have developed vascular or dermatological or neurological complications. And I work towards decreasing the chances of amputation for those patients.

And you’ve told me you’ve been pretty successful. Like an 80% success rate, right?

Thank Gd. Thank Gd. I have been doing it here in Israel since 2005. And throughout the course of my working here, I have approximately an 80% success ratio in preventing amputations for those people.

Well that’s what Dad does! He’s not just a doctor, he’s a damn good one. He’s studied. He has two different degrees from two different countries. And at 74 years old he’s still practicing. Eventually, he’ll get it right.

Back to the poker part. Through all these years when you were practicing medicine and being the best dad in the world, as a kid, I remember you had a rotating home game. It was you, I remember Uncle Saul was there, cousin Stevie Wachtenheim and a whole bunch of family friends.  There’s a lot of this I don’t know. It’s a good time to ask. How did that home game first come together? Who had the idea, when did it start, and how many years did it go for?

I really cannot recall who came up with the idea. Actually, I think that our group tried to imitate our elders at the time. There were people one generation ahead of us who were having home games. And we said “Hey guys! Why don’t we do something like that ourselves.” And that’s how it started, because we had basically a very steady membership in our group. The same guys playing, more or less, every time. All but one married people. And we rotated from home to home on a weekly basis. Our games were always enhanced by a scrumptious meal.

I remember that. We used to have a room above the garage. I got there. I always used to ask mom, “Can I go out and bring dad something?” and it was cold cuts and drinks and cookies and, like a feast.

Yes, it was basically a very social occasion enhanced by the poker game. And I have to say, even then our game was never just Texas Hold’Em. We always had variations of games, some of which we made up, some of which we learned. Most of them had wild cards, like jokers. We had fun. It was great.

Do you remember what stakes you played for back then?

I think that at this stage I can tell you. I wouldn’t tell you back in Los Angeles, and I’m sure none of the players would have. Because the stakes were among us. None of our wives knew the stakes. Basically, our games started as $1/$2 and as the evening progressed, went higher and higher. And wins and losses would start with $100 and go up multiple times higher. But again, we kept it only within the group. We had a secretary. Our secretary was the one and only unmarried guy. Your cousin Stevie Wachtenheim. He was the only guy who was unmarried, so he kept the notes. Knowing who lost so much, who won so much. And this way none of the wives were able to catch wind of it.

Good times. Good times. Good memories. So another poker memory I remember having as a kid, you know, living in LA, we used to go to Las Vegas 4-5 times a year.

Much more. Much more.

Well that was when you and mom went probably without me and my brothers. But I remember – this was also – Vegas in the roaring ’90s was much more of a family-friendly destination. That’s when the Mirage started as the first MegaResort, and they were attracting families, and they used to send – this was before e-mail, so they used to send these big placards. “Come for the weekend, and we’ll give you a free room.” We usually stayed at the Mirage or Treasure Island. My brothers and I played arcade games, mom played slots, and you played poker. I honestly didn’t know then, and I don’t think I know the full story now. Where did you play? And did you pull any all-nighters? What were your stakes and, there also, it probably wasn’t Hold’Em.

Like I mentioned before, it’s different when you play within the group of your friends… and different when you’re going with your wife to Las Vegas. When you go with your wife, she limits your time at the poker table. So I don’t think I ever pulled an all-nighter. But there were occasions when I was coming back to the room at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.

Oh! Ok

One thing which I have learned: in order to be able to keep playing, I was always a winner.

Always?

Always! No matter what my actual balance was when I came to the room. If I was $100 or $200 dollars down. I said, “I won again”.

So I guess you played at the famous Mirage poker room?

I played a lot at the Mirage. I played Treasured Island. I played some at MGM. At Caesars.

Nice.

Yes, I played in a lot of places over there.

Good times. Do you remember, genuinely, your biggest win ever and how that felt?

Yes. Actually, that was at the time when the Mirage was closing their poker room. And they had an hourly contest of highest hand wins a portion of the jackpot funds. And in one of these hours, I ended up getting four Kings. And that got me the jackpot.

Do you remember how much it was for?

I don’t recall. I’m sorry. I don’t want to make up a number. I don’t remember how much it was. But it was very nice. Profitable.

Ok. Nice. Very good. Oh, of course. I’ve got to ask this one:

So we lived in Southern California which until today, but obviously even way back then, it is a mecca for poker with huge poker rooms like the Bicycle Club, Hollywood Park, Commerce. I didn’t know it at the time, but when I got older you told me you used to play at those places once in a while. And I believe you also had offices over by Hollywood Park, in Inglewood over there. When exactly did you play? If you don’t mind my asking.

Well, being a physician, I was very committed to my practice. Which means, when I went to my office in Long Beach, I was busy for as long as I needed to be busy. On my way, when I went from my office in Long Beach to Los Angeles, sometimes I took a two-to-three hours break at the Bicycle. So that’s how it was happening. But on a couple of occasions, I believe I went to play over with Stevie Wachtenheim in the evenings as well. But I did sneak into the Bicycle a few times in between the offices.

Ok. I see.

Now again. I don’t want you to tell that to your kids. I don’t want them to learn.

They’ll never see this. At least not until they’re 21 years old. Obviously, those clubs and in Las Vegas, they’re not like a home game. There aren’t wild cards and stuff. So was it strictly Stud? Or were there other games you also played?

No. In the casinos at that time. At Bicycle, it was only Texas Hold’Em.

Oh, so it was Texas Hold’Em already? Wow. Ok.

Texas Hold’Em was the only game I played at the Bicycle. Later in Las Vegas I played Omaha High Low, Hold’Em, 7 Card Stud. That was available. So I played more of a variety. But at the Bicycle, only Texas Hold’Em.

Right. Well, long-time fans of mine and of Cardplayer Lifestyle know that I’m a huge fan of mixed games. And now you see where I get it from. Dad, what do you love about poker so much?

I’ll tell you what. It was a couple of things. First of all, I am competitive. So a game which requires certain skills, which requires thinking is always a challenge to me. So playing poker is a competition. So that’s what attracted me. Also, it is a relaxation for me. It’s a kind of letting go of everyday things which you have to deal with sick people, with administrative problems at the office.

Bratty kids at home. Yeah sure.

So those are the two things which are really the most important. Even nowadays. We have a steady group of people who play in our home game. It’s not a question of going and winning the money. It’s a question of having a great time together. Of talking with people. Of laughing with people. Of kibbitzing together. That’s what I love about poker.

So you would say that you’ve developed a lot of good friendships over the years due to the game.

Correct.

Okay.

With an occasional bad apple thrown in. You know, you sometimes have people you invite to your game. And you think this is a permanent future member of the group. And then they are skipping on their debts or cheating in a game and you have to say goodbye to them. You know. But in general, we have a very homogenous group. We get along. We have fun. So that’s what it’s all about.

Good stuff. So when poker boomed. You know the Moneymaker years and the World Poker Tour started 20 years ago. You know, it’s all over TV. The game that really boomed was Texas Hold’Em. And you said already at the Bicycle that’s what you were playing over there. Yet, you retained that love for mixed games. Why?

Because it’s challenging. You see, when you play one and the same game, Texas Hold’Em, all the time, it becomes monotonous. It becomes somehow a routine. It loses the fun. When you play — like we play in our home game, every hand dealt is a different kind of game — you have to constantly readjust, switch, adjust. That’s what I love about it.

So I would honestly give exactly same answer, and I do when people ask me that question. But there’s a little asterisk. You know, again, this is obviously an interview because you won a seat in the $10k Main Event. You’re going to play a tournament. And with all of your years of play, as much poker as you’ve played, you really haven’t played tournaments at all. And it’s a Texas Hold’Em tournament. So sure, it’s the same game, but there is the excitement and all of the ingredients and factors of a tournament mixed in. And single elimination until there is one player left standing. How do you feel about that going into the tournament?

Let me first tell you that being told that I won a seat at the tournament was a shock. It was an absolute shock and it was such a big moment for me. I will never probably re-live a similar thing again. And yes, I am going to this tournament basically as a greenhorn. I am going as a complete novice. I have never really played in a tournament. So, I have to re-learn. I started by practicing the things which I see on television from my favorite players. In other words, I try to get the poses of Phil Hellmuth. I try to be like Daniel Negreanu. I try to be like Phil Laak.

But, I was fortunate enough to have a son who knows a lot about poker. So I am going to start picking your brain any day now, to pick up the things important to learn. I will also, hopefully soon, have an hour session courtesy of Jonathan Little from PokerCoaching.com. He graciously agreed to give me an hour of coaching to prepare me for the task of playing in a tournament.

He’s a top-notch guy. He also graciously gave me this patch. This PokerCoaching.com patch to give you.

I promise you I will wear it when I am in Vegas!

Ok. Thank you. Very good.

In the meantime, I am watching my tournaments on television whenever I have a chance. And hoping for the best.

Obviously having a love for the game and playing the game is one thing. But you’re clearly a big fan. You watch a lot of poker on the streams and on TV. When do you think that started? Your fandom of poker?

Oh my. I think that it started in my High School when I was hiding from others. Another challenge. Hide from the adults and play poker. So it started very early. And once I got hooked on it, it never left me.

And also those years in Los Angeles and our weekly game. With the fun that we had over there. With the socialization with the people and everything. It has enhanced it, and that’s what made it permanent in my life. And I was lucky enough that I was married to your mom who understood it and who loved me playing poker. And I’m now married to Judy who also understands my liking of poker and has no problem with me going and playing. So I was lucky enough in that respect.

I’m lucky in the same way with Miriam, too.

In what ways, if at all, would you say that practicing medicine is like playing poker?

Well, I’ll tell you what, I have always told my students, when I was teaching or when interns come to my office, I always told them that the practice of medicine is like the work of a detective. You have to get the clues, put it all together, and come up with an answer. And I think that other doctors would agree that this is essentially what it is. You have to have knowledge how to do it, and you do it. Poker, in many ways, is the same way. You are learning, the more you play, the more kinds of hands you see, the more combinations you see, the more you learn. And then this experience is being used in your mind to put together the facts and come up with conclusions. Not always correct conclusions.

Right.

But at the same time, that’s how you play.

I like it. That’s a pretty good answer. I like that.

Now we talked about how you haven’t really played tournaments, and you’ve played all these cash games. I’m kind of wondering why. Why have you always stuck to cash games instead of tournaments and never really given tournaments a shot?

I’ll tell you what. Just to be completely honest. I just remembered that last time we were in Vegas together, which was what? Five months ago. Six months ago? I did enter one mini-tournament of 8 people. 8 people at a table. I think I finished fourth out of eight.

That was the one time. Why I never played? Ok, when you enter a big tournament, you have to wait for the final outcome for a long time. There’s no instant gratification to it.

Mm. Hmm.

In a cash game, you see your money coming or going immediately. Instantly. So you know, the element of excitement and all the emotions is right away evident. In a tournament, again, it’s a question of me liking the mixed games instead of the same thing all the time. So I wasn’t all that eager to join. Yes, I dreamt of it. I wanted to do it. But at the same time, I don’t know if I had enough of zitsfleysh, we call it in Yiddish, to sit in a chair for a long time. Of course now, when this is actually going to happen, I will find my zitsfleysh. I will sit, Gd willing, for a long time.

So, for a man who’s been seeing patients for upwards of 50 years, you’ve got to find the patience and find them at the poker table.

We’ll do three more questions, and then I’m sure you have patients waiting for you at your office. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me on your lunch break today.

Given your poker experience and your relative lack of tournament experience, have you set any goals for yourself for this tournament? Now it is a freeroll, so I don’t imagine yourself the next Mike Sexton Cup winner. But do you have any particular goal?

Believe me, I would be very happy if I could get through Day 1 and be able to play in Day 2. Everything else is a bonus.

Nice. Ok. Well, I hope to be covering your Day 2 play as well as your Day 1 play as well. “Found a bag!” Everyone’s always looking for bags at the end of the day. Hopefully at the end of the day you find a bag.

We’ve got one question, actually, Amanda from WPT Global who awarded you the prize package. She had a question, she asked me for you:  If you manage to make it into the money, have you thought of what you might do with your winnings?

I’ll tell you very true. That’s optimistic, because I did not think that far ahead. But I’m sure there will be opportunities for me to spend the money quite fast. I do have children and grandchildren, who I love to indulge with new things.

Good answer.

And I, of course, have my wife who is very indulgent with me playing. I would like to reward her in some way while she is sitting in Israel and I am going on a trip to Las Vegas, enjoying myself playing poker. So there will be things, yes.

I have to say that’s pretty much exactly the answer I expected, and I’m glad it is. So that’s good.

You know me well.

I do. I do.

Last question for you, Dad. Besides playing the tournament, you’re going to have some free time while you’re in Las Vegas. Before the tournament. At the end of the day. If you bust out, you’ll have free time as well. Have you given any thought as to how you’re going to spend that time?

Well, I definitely made myself a short list of things I want to buy. Which I can’t get here in Israel.

Ok.

And other than that, I will use that time to play poker.

Nice!

I am going to find myself a table. Maybe Omaha HI Lo, maybe a mixed game if they are over there. And if, nothing else, play some Texas Hold’Em.

Sounds like a plan. Before we let you go, anything else you’d like to tell the fans here at Cardplayer Lifestyle?

First of all, before I talk to my fans, I’d like to thank Amanda at WPT Global for this great opportunity she has granted me by awarding me this ticket to the tournament. I want to thank you for nominating me. And I want to thank Jonathan Little for giving me his time and teaching me.

I want to thank in advance anyone for keeping their fingers crossed for me. And I hope I will be talking with you from the Winner’s Circle after the tournament.

That would be something. And I appreciate in advance that I get the first interview if that’s the case. So thank you.

You got it.

Dad, thank you very much. That’s Dr. Josef Strazynski, folks. I hope you enjoyed listening and hearing his story as much as I did asking him about it. Guys, if you’ll be in Las Vegas during the WPT World Championships, now that you know so much more about my dad, please come root on Dr. Joe. Say hi and grab yourself a free Cardplayer Lifestyle patch.

I’m Robbie Strazynski and you can follow me on Twitter @cardplayerlife. Dad, I believe you’re also on Twitter. It’s @StrazynskiJosef right?

Yes.

Ok, guys thank you all for being fans of Cardplayer Lifestyle. Thank you for tuning in. Have a wonderful day.

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Written By.

Robbie Strazynski

Robbie founded Cardplayerlifestyle.com in 2009. A veteran poker writer and presenter, Robbie hosts the CardsChat Podcast as well as The Orbit, a first-of-its-kind roundtable discussion live broadcast on Twitch.tv/poker featuring poker’s biggest names and personalities. In 2019, Robbie translated the autobiography of poker legend Eli Elezra (Pulling the Trigger) from Hebrew into English. Robbie’s “Running […]

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