Along with my Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast co-host Bruce Briggs, I recently interviewed popular professional poker player Ronnie Bardah. Many of you may know him from his time appearing on numerous World Series of Poker Main Event ESPN broadcasts, where he cashed five times in a row.
Some of you may be more familiar with his recent showing on Shark Cage, and his instantly legendary hand with former Miss Finland, Sarah Chafak. Ronnie is also a World Series of Poker bracelet winner. Below, you’ll find the entirety of Episode 258 of the podcast, which includes the interview with Ronnie starting at the 14:23-minute mark. You can also read the summarized transcript below.
Interview Transcript (Summarized)
A lot of our listeners are huge fans of poker, and I’m sure they’ve seen our next guest on the WSOP over the last few years. There’s plenty more we could talk about, but first thank you very much for joining us here.
No problem, it’s a pleasure. I appreciate you guys having me, I’m always down to speak about the game and get the game out there as much as possible. It’s great to do work with great guys like yourselves.
You sound like a true professional poker player, but a lot of people aren’t as familiar with you as we are, so why don’t you introduce yourself a little bit and end off the introduction with how you got into poker in the first place.
My name is Ronnie Bardah, I was born and raised in Brockton, Massachusetts, and I’ve been playing professionally for about 12 years. I got into poker through my dad. He was a pretty crazy gambler, going in and out of the casino playing casino slots all the time as well as the dog tracks, scratch tickets, sports betting, so basically I got a fake ID and started playing in the pits with him. Around 20 years old I realized the pits were no good and I picked up poker. I was making money playing cards as well as working and going to school. In the end poker eclipsed both of them and I dropped out of college, stopped working and never looked back.
We read online and it said that you started out playing home games when you were around 12 years old?
I was playing five-card-draw with my babysitters! I knew the strength of the hands and what beat what. We were only playing for almonds or something! Later I started playing basement games. We put up $5 a person, got 10,000 chips and the blinds went up every 15 minutes. This was before I took my game to Foxwoods and starting playing $1/$2 No Limit, and I learnt my trade playing sit ‘n’ gos in my basement. I started going to the casino with friends before I started making solo trips.
My dad used to tell at me when we first played together. We’d sit together and he’d start saying “You don’t know what you’re doing here. Go away. Go play blackjack” which was pretty embarrassing in front of all those people.
It obviously worked out for you! One of your claims to fame is your five consecutive WSOP Main Event cashes, but you also won a bracelet in 2012 in the Six-Max Hold’em.
It’s great to have a bracelet, but no one else my record. There were like seven players tied for four, but I’m the only one with five. It’s my own record. That accomplishment probably meant more to me than the bracelet win, but if I were to win a second bracelet, I think that would overtake things in terms of importance to me. There are a lot of people who just win a bracelet. I was a pretty consistent grinder back then, so when I won that first bracelet a lot of people knew who I was. When I won people were like “Oh Ronnie Bardah finally won a bracelet, good for him!” But there are a lot of people who have normal jobs outside of poker, and come over to the World Series to play two events in six days, and they win a bracelet! That happens! Once you get bracelet number two you’re in that special league for multiple winners.
So what you’re saying is that the second bracelet is the validation that people need?
It was crazy, the very next year after I won my first bracelet I went deep in the $5,000 Limit Hold’em, and finished third. I had a really good chance to win a second bracelet the very next year.
You’ve been a pretty big grinder, but you’ve done a lot of travelling outside of the World Series of Poker. What are your favorite places to play?
I used to play a lot at the Hard Rock in Miami, Florida before I moved to Vegas. Playing poker down there is really great, the atmosphere and the beaches are nice and the tournaments are really soft. My other favourite places to play are the Commerce in California and Parks in Philly. I like the people and have a lot of friends there. I like the area too.
And outside of the States?
I would say Aruba 100%. It’s my favourite place. I’m the pro for their tour, the ambassador of the PPC and they run tournaments all year round in the states, where they take 20% of their prize pool and put it towards packages to go to Aruba to play the main. They have a lot of stops in the states, and their $2,500 main event has $500k GTD, and it’s pretty damn good. First prize is going to be huge, and it’s in November. It’s a great time.
You broke your Main Event streak last year, but it still remains the record. Looking again online you had three cashes in the WSOP last year. What events di you cash in last summer?
I came in on fire. My first event was the Colossus, I went deep and took two brutal heats and finished 1,100th or something. My friend called me and said that Planet Hollywood have a similar tournament, and I ended up taking third in that. I played the Milly Maker and finished 300th, with a bad play in a huge pot. I played the six handed event that I won in 2012, and took 16th this year. I probably play like 8-9 events per year since 2010. That’s it. The year I won a bracelet I played six events. I cashed the main and won the bracelet, and bricked the other four. In 2010 the main event was the only event I played. In 2011, I played 12 events, and that the most I’ve ever played. I have like 74 cashes on Hendon mob but if you compare me to tournament grinders I play 10-15% of their volume. I cash a lot tournaments and probably should play more but I like the balance. I can’t take a full schedule I’d lose my mind!
It’s interesting that these gigantic field tournaments are the ones that you cash in. Do you prefer those?
The huge fields are way softer, you get a lot more amateurs. That’s just the reality of it. With 6,000 people there’s 70% of the field that aren’t very good. Then 20% are average and 10% are really good. And of that 10% there are 100 who are world class, and then 10–20 who are just aliens; super good. With bigger numbers you’re able to maneuver and pick your opponents well. When you’re playing a WPT $3,500 event in Jacksonville, you get 400 players and 200 know what they’re doing. Just like they say, cream rises, so down to 50 players there are 30 of the really, really good players. Even in the Main Event you get down to three tables and 75-80% are good. But 5-6 are there and no one has no idea how they’re still in.
But these big fields you could play for three full days, 12 hours each, and not make the money. So, a lot of pros say that it’s barely worth it. Is that something that goes through your mind when you decide to play or not?
If I’m not feeling well, I won’t play. I have to be running well playing cash and feeling well so there are a lot of variables for me to play a big tournament. I could sell action – sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It gets frustrating when you’re so deep and you play for two days and don’t cash. There’s so much variance. I know grinders who go on $200k downswings. That definitely plays a part. You min-cash and only make $6-7,000 after four days. Then you’ve got to pay back stakes. You have to final table or top six to make any real money and it’s really hard.
So when you play cash do you have a fondness for playing limit or do you play no limit?
If I find a good limit hold’em game, I’d rather play limit hold’em. I love no limit hold’em. When I lived in Miami I played no limit every day for three to four years, but back when I started playing, I was playing limit. I was back and forth between them and then Miami I played four days a week no limit. Coming back to Vegas it’s nice that I can play both again. I’m on a pretty big downswing, a $30k downswing in the last three weeks, so I’m taking four days off. I’ve been running really bad and I’m being hard on myself.
Sometimes it’s good to take that step away from the game and talk poker and get your brain realigned. Do you play anything besides hold’em?
I like playing the HORSE games. I can play PLO, I’m not that great and I’m a super nit. Sometimes you just have to nut-peddle and just sit there and get it in there with top sets, nut flush draws and wraps. I wouldn’t go well in a PLO game with really good players. If I’m playing PLO it’ll be because someone tells me that a certain table doesn’t know what they’re doing. I like playing the limit games. I’m trying to get better at the draw games, I’m trying to learn them because that’s where the money is. In Vegas there’s a $9/$18 game but they play 15 games, which has only five or six you want to play. It takes like five hours to get through a rotation. The games I wanna play are the $40/80 or $80/160 games at the Bellagio, but they’re too big to learn at.
We’re real fans of mixed games here as it mixes things up breaks up the flow; you get players who aren’t as proficient in the mixed games.
I’m trying to learn them, I like playing other games. It’s tough to leave a game that you’re really good at like limit and no limit hold’em where usually 70-75% of the time I’m winning.
Let’s talk about something away from the table. You know Muay Thai and apparently you’re a talented beat boxer.
I love Muay Thai. I’ve been to Thailand four times and when I go, I stay at a camp and it’s training twice a day. You get these massages that are geared towards fighting. Ice baths and just hanging out with other fighters. It’s amazing. I recommend it to anyone at any fitness level to do it for a month. You see the difference in your body. I love it.
How did you get into it?
I always wanted to do some self-defense type thing. In 2008-9 I was talking with Sorel Mizzi about going out there together, and that didn’t happen so I ended up just going out on my own. We still work out together some times. Before his fight with Brian Rast we sparred and he beat the shit out of me! He has a longer reach and is an inch taller and he had training leading up to it. I hadn’t trained in 3-4 months and jumped in the ring with him. It’s super tiring and I’m pretty sure that if I was conditioned and trained for 3-4 months I’d beat his ass.
With beat boxing, it’s just been something I’ve done since I was a kid. I’m definitely the best beatboxing poker player! I’m a novice compared to some people though. When people ask me to do it, I just feel bad because they’re giving me so much credit. I’m good, when people hear it they’re like it’s pretty awesome, and I’m not down playing my talents or anything but if I was in the beatboxing world I would be the equivalent of a mid-stakes grinder, like winning at $1/$2 no limit.
What do you see as far as future goals for yourself in poker? I know you mentioned a second bracelet, but are there any other events on the horizon?
I’d like to get out a little more. As far as marketing, I’m the worst at it, getting on TV shows. I was on Shark Cage and that was cool, and of course I’ve been on ESPN a bunch. I could have applied myself a little more into doing things that make a little more money behind the scenes. Like if I was training players or pushing myself towards some sort of reality TV, that would be pretty cool. I think I have the personality and the charisma and the look to get into these things.
Maybe I should get a manager, that’s something I’m looking towards maybe doing. I’m in Vegas but I’ll probably live out in LA pretty soon. A lot of things are happening there. As for goals as a poker player, I’d like to just consistently still win. I’m in Vegas trying to buy a condo for me and my dad and once I get him moved out here I’ll probably move to LA or Denver.
Is there poker in Denver?
There’s this really good $30/$60 hold’em game with a half-kill that goes to $50/$100, and sometimes they play $50/$100. It’s not big enough that you’re going to get the top professional limit poker players. It’s a perfect level where if I was to grind 30 hours a week I could make $120k a year as well as the tournaments they have there. They have the HPT and the MSPT, both huge events. I love Denver. It’s a really nice place, and really clean with a lot of good people. We’ll see what happens. I like going up there at least three times a year.
With all your exposure, playing poker for 15 years, do you ever miss the beginning romanticizing about the home games you used to play?
There are always different things you have to watch out for in home games: people cheating; a game getting robbed or raided; or just stupid rules where you have to stay in the game for a certain amount of time. I’ve played in some gangster games where people have been carrying guns, and I call a gangster with ace-high and they got pretty mad. Another things is that some people play on credit. Let’s say I win $4,000 and a guy loses a whole bunch and then I can’t get paid because he was on credit and I’ve got to wait. I’ll get paid eventually but it’s just the hassle.
Whereas in the casino, and I’m up $2,400 in an hour and a half, and I’m not feeling it anymore, I won’t feel bad getting up. You can’t do that in a home game! You won’t get invited back, it’s bad etiquette and you just look like an asshole. In the casino you can do whatever you want, who gives a damn?
The only thing I miss about the old days is when I look down at aces or AKs I used to get so excited. You just look down at it like “Wow, boy I can’t wait to see the board with this hand!” It’s like the hand is blowing up in your face. Nowadays, you look down at aces and you start thinking of strategy. You’ve seen aces a million times, and it’ just another hand where you want to think about how to get the max. I’m still passionate about poker but I miss the old days where it meant a lot, and you got so much more excited.
We certainly appreciate the time to give us some of your insight and experiences, and we thank you very much. Before we go, is there anything else you’d like to tell our listeners?
Thanks for having me, it’s a pleasure. For the listeners who are trying to get into poker, rule number one: don’t quit your job and try and get into the game. If you see yourself winning, stay at that limit and try and beat that game consistently. Then, if you’re making more money than you’re making at work, I still wouldn’t say quit then, I’d still keep playing. You need a big sample size of consistently beating the game at that level. You’ll fall into it after a while.
Rule number two: don’t let people borrow money! I don’t care if it’s $50, don’t let anybody borrow money. People change when it comes to money.
Rule number three: It’s cool to watch these high-limit players do all these crazy moves and float flops, check-float out of position, and bluff raise rivers, but you have to be comfortable making those plays. My biggest advice to a lot of beginner players is stay in your lane and be comfortable with the plays you are making. Be confident about them.
Rule number four: go slow, you’ll get there. It takes a while to be advanced, like you can’t just jump into advanced Spanish. If you wanna learn Spanish you gotta start at the bottom and progressively get there, and then three years later, after all your hard work, you’re fluent. Poker is the same way. Just take it slow and play tight and learn the game, watch listen and stop wearing headphones at the game. If you really wanna improve your game, listening to your favourite playlist is fucking bullshit. Stop listening to music, listening to people talk and paying attention to hands is the biggest thing about learning poker.
You can learn so much from looking at what people do and how people play hands and your hand reading abilities get so much better. If you’re listening to music you should not be playing poker. If you’re learning poker you need to be paying attention.