January 2023 is here and with it is the realization that the long-awaited second rendition of the PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC II) is almost upon us. I’m looking forward to attending PSPC II and bringing you all live event coverage from Nassau, in the Bahamas. In the meanwhile, in these weeks leading up to the event, Cardplayer Lifestyle will be bringing you a quartet of Platinum Pass Winner Stories. Perhaps one of these fortunate few, who’ve got themselves a $30,000 prize package to participate at PSPC II, may repeat Ramon Colillas‘ 2019 feat and go on to win millions of dollars?
Our first story is that of 46-year-old Amir Epstein. The Canadian amateur, who is looking forward to some significantly warmer weather later this month, was kind enough to share with us a lot about his poker background, his family, his poker home game that’s been running for decades, and much more.
When did you first get introduced to poker and what is it about the game that attracted you and that you love about it?
I started playing poker with my best friends just after high school. We all sucked and used to play these dumb dealer’s choice games, which got insanely out of hand: Omaha with black deuces, snowmen (8s) and red hockey sticks (red 7s) as wild cards… total stupidity. But as time went on, we took poker more seriously and now we only play Texas Hold’em. We developed our game and followed tournament rules quite strictly.
Most of us have played at the WSOP. In fact, one of my good friends made it to the final table at two different WSOP tournaments! I think most people don’t know how arduous the game really is. It is often compared to chess, and I’d argue it’s more complex because it demands an element of chance that doesn’t exist in chess. That’s what I love so much about the game. Coincidentally, it’s also what I hate about it, too. When some donkey calls a three-bet and cracks your pocket aces with a 2-9 offsuit, it makes me feel like I am about to suffer a stroke. I’d rather stab my eyes out with a safety pin, lol.
You’ve been playing poker for decades with the same group of about a dozen friends. How did that group originally form?
We have a weekly game that started roughly 20 years ago that we still play to this day, every Sunday night. We regularly have about 10-12 guys who all have families and obligations but decided to make a conscious decision to carve out every Sunday night so we could all get together and play poker. We value our friendship. It’s how we are able to stay close and be in each other’s lives. We are a sarcastic, hilarious group, that often discuss how tragic it is that we don’t have our own TV show because people would piss themselves laughing.
PokerStars should consider producing a show about me crushing my idiot friends every week at “The Rumpus Room” (my friend Eric’s basement). For example, one of our friends made a critical error wearing a khaki-colored shirt with pockets one night to our poker game. He is now referred to as “poacher”, as we constantly badger him about his “African expeditions” and his blood thirsty passion for hunting innocent elephants for their tusks. It’s been 12 years and we still crush him with poacher jokes, all because he wore a khaki shirt. He should know better.
We tease, but we all love one another, so it’s all for fun. Our weekly game of poker allows our friendship to grow and allows us to sustain immense comedic relief and happiness that we share through the game of poker.
That’s a LONG time to stay in touch with the same group of a dozen friends… how can you explain that you’re all still so close and playing poker together through marriage, having kids, and everything else life throws at people?
I know what we have is really special. It’s tough keeping friends from high school upon entering adulthood, especially since all of us got married and most of us had kids as well as careers… well not ALL of us have careers.
One of our buddies plagiarized an essay in university and got kicked out. He makes partitions now. Stay in school kids.
We chose to stay friends. We did it by have a devoted weekly gathering. It’s the only way we were able to do it. Otherwise schedules wouldn’t allow us to get together, as we are busy guys.
At the end of the day, it’s poker that kept us all together. That and our WhatsApp group, where we make fun of each other all day long. No, seriously, we have a problem. Hundreds of messages every day spent shitting on each other, laughing at the idiocy of it all, and we finish the week end with two tournies on Sunday night. It really makes life fun. I love those donkeys.
We keep it civil, so we play two tournaments with a $20 buy in for each. Top three cash. I’d feel bad taking more than that from those idiots, lol.
You’re a big family man. Let’s first go up a generation. Was poker a big thing in your parents’ house? With your siblings?
Not at all! My mom and dad got divorced when I was young. Mom took care of us alone and she took education very seriously. When we moved to Canada in 1981, my mom didn’t speak the language and couldn’t work in her profession as an engineer (a career she had in Israel). She had to learn to speak English and then redid her engineering degree in English. She was a superhero.
I lost my mom to breast cancer when I was 24 years old. Her lessons were instilled in me even after she was gone. So much so, that I went to law school and acquired a Law degree as a thank you to my mom. I don’t remember my mom playing cards much, especially not poker. My sister doesn’t play poker. I get a feeling she kind of frowns upon it. I overheard her telling her kids (my nephews and niece) that bluffing was the same thing as lying, lol. She is also well educated and is a CEO of a big corporation. She’s the best; just not at poker.
And let’s hear a little about your wife and children – do they ever partake in your poker passion?
Megan is my queen. We have been happily married for 14 years, and we’ll be celebrating our 14th anniversary on February 4th while we are in Bahamas! The $5 million I’m going to win will make for a decent present, don’t you think?
Megan enjoys playing poker, but does NOT have a poker face. She is crazy beautiful but she blushes REALLY bad when she has a killer hand and gets zero value because of it, haha. She doesn’t like gambling as much as just playing for fun. She went to Law school with me and is just more cynical in nature. I’m the risk taker, she is NOT.
My three munchkins are Raine (13), Rhodes (11) and Emerson (8). Raine might be the sweetest boy in the whole world. Tells his sisters they are beautiful whenever they try on new clothes or brush their hair, and is super sensitive. He is ALWAYS reading, and I’d put money on the fact that he is better read than most players coming to Bahamas, including me. He looks like a young Shawn Mendes; handsome little devil.
Rhodes is my perfect angel. She does well in school, always does her homework, and enjoys extra curricular activities. She is super smart, and absolutely beautiful. She loves dancing, singing, and I couldn’t dream of having a more perfect daughter. I used to be the bad influence, so I have NO clue how she is MY daughter!
Emerson, or Emmy as we know her, is one of the funniest kids in the world. She is a firebrand. She goads her siblings into fighting and loves causing trouble. At five years of age she started cooking and makes her brother and sister breakfast every Saturday and Sunday morning. It’s like the funniest thing you’ll ever see! This tiny little blonde girl reaching up for the frying pan cracking eggs, throwing some turkey bacon on the frying pan, toasting bagels. She is also a wild child, in every sense of the word. Her laugh might be the funniest thing you’ll ever hear in your life. She scream laughs. Louder than hell. It’s addictive and contagious.
She too is absolutely stunning, just like her sister, mother and brother.
Recently, I taught the three of them how to play poker. They took an interest in it because Daddy plays every Sunday. We play at home with real poker chips, but obviously without any real money. They ask to play with real money. With MY real money. Sneaky little monkeys, lol. I tell them that they need to know and love the game for its labyrinth of complexities. They don’t need to worry about the gambling aspect. The last three tournaments we played as a family, Raine crushed all of us!
You used to be a lawyer and now you’re an entrepreneur with a food delivery platform. That’s a very big career move to make, especially after taking so many years to train as a lawyer in the first place. What brought about that transition?
I worked in criminal law for a little while, and I actually really liked it. I left the world of crime to go on tour with my rock band! Hahaha, I know it sounds completely nuts. We were called Crash Karma and it featured members from some of Canada’s biggest rock bands. My drummer Jeff plays with The Tea Party, my guitar player Mike was from Our Lady Peace and my singer is Edwin sings for I Mother Earth. If you’re into rock and you live in Canada, you know those bands. They dominated the radio and music television for all of the 90s.
They are awesome guys that I somehow convinced to play in a band with me and each other. We recorded an album at Mike’s studio, and we got a record deal, management, and an agent to help us. We toured across Canada, playing with giant bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Weezer, Rush, and so many other amazing bands. We had three top 10 radio singles and a few top 20. We even won “rock song of the year” at an awards event in Toronto. It was my dream for most of my life growing up, and I was lucky to have lived it to some degree. Being married to the most incredible wife makes it really easy to go after your dreams. I love those guys, they are my brothers.
From playing music, I went eventually went into artist management and began managing artists and building their careers. Platinum selling artists, massive tours, the whole nine yards. Things were going swell until COVID happened and the music industry shut down. I knew I needed to do something different to help provide for my family until things normalized again. I came up with a crazy idea of developing a long distance restaurant delivery platform. Think Uber Eats, but long distance! I began by driving to Montreal, picking up orders for people, and then driving it back to Toronto where they lived. I went from being a lawyer to delivering pizzas, but I LOVED it. The idea caught fire and “I Miss Montreal Food” was featured on all media platforms across Canada.
After only a year and a half I expanded the company to offer nationwide delivery, so that Canadians could order from really popular restaurants anywhere in the country to their home no matter where they lived. One of the most famous delis in Canada is located in Montreal and it’s called Schwartz’s Deli. We were making it available for people all over Canada and it did quite well. Today the company operates on its own, and acts as passive income for my family. I really didn’t think I’d own a company that delivered hundreds of pounds of smoked meat every week, lol.
So how do you keep busy now, professionally speaking?
At present, I am building a new tech platform for the music industry that has the potential to change the entire landscape. I’ve been working on it with a really close friend of mine who is a platinum selling producer and has enjoyed multiple radio hits. The two of us came up with the idea last winter, and we’ve been building it together ever since. The platform is just about ready to be introduced to music label and artists and it’s going to shake things up.
I’ve always enjoyed being a disruptor. Alex and I have a mutual respect for one another so we have been trying to partner on some level for years. Now we have this incredible thing that could really change the game. The platform is called MySy and it is merging the music industry with the stock market. Fans of music will be able to purchase shares of artist songs (stocks), and earn royalties. We are launching sometime in 2023 and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
You won your Platinum Pass last May by coming in first place in a charity tournament in Toronto benefitting the Shaare Zedek foundation, which raises money for those in Jerusalem with Breast Cancer. This was their fifth annual tournament and they raised well over $200,000!; do you play in it annually? Tell us a little bit about why supporting this charity/cause in particular is important to you? Do you have family in Jerusalem/Israel?
This was my first time playing, and it was a blast. Over 500 people attended; it was really a fun tournament, not just because I won, but the whole night was a good time. There were some pros and a bunch of amateurs like myself. Great vibes, great people! They really did such an amazing job. I felt like I was at an award show or something. Food was incredible. There were drinks.
This charity hits very close to home. As I mentioned earlier, my mom passed away from breast cancer when I was young and left a scar in my heart that will never heal. She was so important to me and raised me and my sister with so much love; I owe everything to her.
I will definitely be attending again every year to support the incredible work that they do. I was born in Israel and I love that country with all of my heart. This charity helping women in Israel with breast cancer is doing god’s work, and I’m proud to have been allowed to partake in the tournament.
Aside from your home games, you rarely play in live events. I guess that makes playing at the PokerStars Players Championship that much more special to you. Tell us why you don’t (or haven’t been able to) play more often.
I’ve played in a handful of tournaments in Las Vegas, as well as some at Fairview Casino in Niagara Falls, and I really love it. I’m just really busy, and being a husband and a father who loves spending time with my family, I don’t usually have the opportunity to play very often outside of my regular weekly game. This tournament is going to be unbelievable. I’ve been looking forward to it for a LONG time!
How often do you travel? Have you given any thought to how you’ll be spending extra time in the Bahamas away from the poker tables?
I used to travel quite often for work, but not as much since COVID. My wife and I would take our kids on amazing trips around the world. Every year since Emmy was born we have gone away in the winter. We’ve travelled to Thailand twice, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Hong Kong, and the Dominican Republic. We go for 4-5 weeks at a time. We teach our children about tolerance, and the many beautiful cultures around the world. They love experiencing new foods, languages and wonderful people.
This summer, Raine will be having his Bar Mitzvah and Rhodes her Bat Mitzvah in Jerusalem. We’re thinking about also taking them to United Arab Emirates for a few weeks afterwards, as well. I plan to win the PSPC in the Bahamas, so there won’t be much time to bake in the sun or enjoy the island. I’m going in focused and ready to take the whole thing down.
Not to get ahead of ourselves, but should you manage to cash in the PSPC, is there anything specific you would want to allocate the money to?
My kids future. My family is everything to me. I want to give my kids everything. My mom, sister, and I struggled when I was growing up. We didn’t have much. My mom worked seven days a week at a bakery for years to give us a semblance of normality. She eventually returned to her engineering profession and worked at Bombardier, but got sick some years after that. Most of my life, we struggled financially. I want to be able to help my kids once they’ve grow up. Whether it be helping with university tuition, or helping them purchase their first home. I want to do whatever I can to give them a head start in life.
Lastly, how – if at all – have you been preparing for the PSPC? Doing any study or working on anything specific; or are you just going to “play the game that got you here” in the first place?
I haven’t really prepared much, to be honest. I have my game. I’ve always watched my favorite players online before I ever qualified for the PSPC. I’d love to be seated with Ivey, Hellmuth, Esfandiari or fellow Canuck Negreanu. I know their game… sort of, lol. They are god status players, so beating them would be quite the honor. Also, I’ve been practicing my gloating for Hellmuth. What I would do for a storm out from him!
The only other way I have been preparing is at my weekly game. Every time one of my buddies plays a stupid hand, someone says “Don’t do that in the Bahamas”. Over and over again, “Amir, you should definitely not do that in the Bahamas”. “Going all in under the gun with 10-Q? Don’t do that in the Bahamas”.
So that’s about all of the counseling I’ve gotten from my moron friends. They all look up to me, because I am far superior to them in this game we call poker. They want to help, but I’m out of their league. I want them to know that with lots of practice, maybe one day they’ll achieve a scintilla of my skills and greatness. I need to win this tournament, for them 🙂 .