Dario Minieri is the poster boy for Italian online grinders of the pre-legalization era.
Rising up from the ranks to become one of the best players online, the baby-faced Minieri turned his passion into a pro deal with PokerStars and a WSOP bracelet.
Ten years into his career Minieri is still grinding away but the climate around him - especially in Italy - has changed dramatically.
PokerListings Italy's Giovanni Angioni caught up with him as he enjoyed the first break at EPT London yesterday to find out more about his new life in Malta, why he thinks poker is a sport like any other and why the game in Italy is on the brink of disaster.
PokerListings: Let's start things properly and talk about this EPT you just started. The room is literally packed with stars, so I wonder do you have any familiar faces at your table?
Dario Minieri: No, right now I do not know any of the guys I am playing against, but they all seem to be good players. After all we are at EPT London, and the field is always very tough here.
Maybe there's just a lady who might not be too much of an experienced player, but right after the first few hands I already understood she comes from the “London school”.
PL: London School - what do you mean by that?
DM: It means she is a smart player who does not take unnecessary risks. Inexperienced maybe, but solid enough to be a good opponent.
PL: This year the EPT invaded the Grand Connaught Rooms. How do you like this quite unusual location?
DM: The place is great and I feel it’s just way better than the one we were in a year ago. It's nice to get out, take a walk and find yourself immediately in the middle of London.
PL: How many years have you been playing poker now?
DM: 10 years now.
PL: And, 10 years later after your first hands and adrenaline rushes … do you really still feel motivated to continue?
DM: Absolutely. Poker remains and will remain my greatest passion for me. Especially as there are always new challenges, new goals to achieve.
PL: Such as?
DM: Such as winning a tournament that I did not yet win. In the end, what did I win so far? Only a WSOP bracelet, nothing else.
I've never won an EPT title, never won a WPT title ... it's the stimulus of trying to achieve this that keeps me going.
PL: It keeps you going but then I wonder … from where? Most of the best Italian players around have left the country: Mustapha Kanit and Filippo Candio moved to Malta, WSOP bracelet winner Rocco Palumbo grinds from Slovenia ... how about you?
DM: Nice timing for this question – I really just have moved to Malta myself too.
DM: A bit for a “life-choice” and a bit because Italy's heavy tax system is killing poker. Let me tell you: the Italian government is doing everything it can to make our job impossible.
They probably do not get that, but they are killing the game. With all the rules they have set, playing poker in Italy is much harder than anywhere else.
Leaving the country is simply the choice they are pushing everyone who thinks of playing poker as a profession to make.
PL: It it the taxes, is it the legislation? What’s so bad then?
DM: Let's say that, apart from taxes, the creation of an Italians-only field does not help.
Having the opportunity to play on .com sites helps a lot to improve the game as it allows you to play with a larger and much tougher field compared to the one we have on .it poker.
PL: Is there anything the country could do to convince players as yourself come back?
DM: Anything they decide to change will be very welcome – although I do not expect miracles.
The possible adjustments to be made would be many: reopening the .com market would make things much better. But I think that’s impossible and it does not even make any sense to speculate on it.
They could change the tax situation, which is something much more practical and definitely more doable – then - yes, the situation in Italy would become completely different.
PL: With such a dark present, I wonder how the future looks. Italy banned live poker and now has a closed “Italians-only” online market. So where is tomorrow’s Dario Minieri playing today?
DM: If you consider that I grew up as a poker player playing online, I guess that’s where you should look for the "new" Dario Minieri.
Yet, again - if there was a wider field of players, it would all be much easier.
PL: In which way?
DM: I was very lucky because I could challenge myself playing against players who are now at the top of the online world. I think of Shaun Deeb and many others of that level.
This was the key to my career: playing against the best ones in a much wider field than the one Italians play in today.
Then, believing in yourself and fighting hard I guess you could also manage to start from PokerStars.it and get high enough to get important results. In the end it is more a matter of personal will than of possibilities.
You know, poker is a beautiful game and the problem is that the Italian government does not realize all the similarities it has with sports in general.
It took time even to me. But now, after over 10 years of playing, I see this more than ever before.
PL: Nice saying that – but in which way is poker actually a sport?
DM: There are many reasons. Sure – you might not be lifting weights, hitting a ball with a tennis racket nor kicking a ball.
But in any sport, in the end, what matters most is the head, not the arms or the strength you have.
Think about this: if Lionel Messi is who he is, it’s surely not because he was given some incredibly powerful legs.
It’s the brain what makes a difference, exactly as in poker.
PL: Being a quite active online grinder I have to ask you what you do to protect your PC. You know, after the "Finnish affair" at EPT Barcelona ...
DM: Oh, I've suffered many weird situations in my life – and those taught me to keep my PC as safe as possible and not to let anyone put hands on it.
PL: Why so, what happened to you?
DM: I prefer to say only that I have suffered things that I did not even think could exist.
Now I protect my laptop with safe passwords and I am extremely careful about who gets close to it.
PL: Very last thing: some players told me they've given up the idea of playing the WSOP because - with all the pros being in Vegas, the online field becomes so much easier that it would be a waste not to play against it. Have you ever thought to do the same and give Vegas up for the money?
DM: Well … online poker does not give bracelets - so no, I could never do that. This is because according to me, poker is not just money. And even then, even if it was only money ... no, I would not do that even then.
Sure, maybe you could make more money by playing online at that time because all the good players are away - but it would be like killing a dream.
Poker, for me, has always been WSOP bracelets, EPT titles and WPT ones. So - no, I could never do that.