The consummate old-schooler, Rocco's been playing Stud since before most of the young guns had started elementary school. Tonight we saw how experience can pay off and how much a bracelet means to someone who had to fight every step of the way.
After his win the media corps pulled the champ aside to conduct a press-conference style interview. We all contributed questions and we're running each and every one to give you the whole picture.
Congratulations Michael. That was quite a celebration when you won!
It was really something. It was really exciting to win this tournament and to finally get a bracelet. I won this for my little boy. He's coming in from Denver. He's five years old and this is for him. I don't know what to say. I'm so excited. This is one of the best days of my life other than having my little boy.
You've been around this game for a long time and if anyone's paid their dues it's you. Elaborate a bit about what this win means to you.
I've been playing Seven-Card Stud professionally since 1987 and poker's changed so much since then. Some really great players are coming up but you really don't see a whole lot of Stud anymore. My last win was at Bellagio but it's so exciting to get one here at the World Series of Poker.
It's absolutely amazing. I'm flabbergasted.
What's the biggest difference between in the fields in these low-buy-in Stud events compared to Hold'em?
Well, Stud's starting to become a dying game with all the young kids playing Hold'em these days. Really, the talent of these new guys is unbelievable. They learn so much about Hold'em from playing online, and that's really good for the game that it's so popular, but I wish they would advertise Stud a bit more because it really is a great game.
You came into the table as the chip leader and the levels were pretty high. How much did having that stack help you in making it through and getting rid of some of the short stacks?
The levels really didn't bother me too much. I'm a pretty tight player and I just wait. I had enough chips that I wasn't at risk for the whole tournament. When I got heads-up I tried to change my play but I was still trapping and I was able to pick up some hands.
I knew my opponent, he's a good player, and I knew he was going to be aggressive. I knew he'd do a lot of the betting and raising for me so I slow-played a few big hands when I knew he was going to be aggressive.
You used to be a dealer at the Dunes. You must have some stories from those times.
[Laughs] I'm sure I do. The Dunes was a good joint to work for. When I first moved to Vegas back in the '80s I really didn't know what was going on. I didn't understand that the Mafia owned a lot of these joints.
But they were actually really good to work for. They treated us really well so in a lot of ways I miss the old days. So much has changed over the years.
This is a personal question. Can you tell us a bit more about your son and what he means to you?
[Pauses] Yeah. He means the world to me. I had part custody of my boy for a year and a half in Ohio and we just had a court date a few months ago. I've become friends with the mom and everything and he wanted to go back with her.
Everything's really been working out fantastic. He's got his own cell so I can talk to him whenever. He's my life. This is for my son. He changed my whole life. He's going to be here in two hours.
You have a big cheering section here. How much does it help having your friends here to support you and celebrate with you?
It's unbelievable. Cyndy [Violette] has been sending me texts all day, supporting me, and it really helps a lot. They're true friends, and not only because I owe them all. [Everyone laughs]
Thanks so much Mike and congratulations again.
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It truly is refreshing to see someone excited about winning a bracelet. I've had players tell me they were bored and wanted to go home to sleep just minutes after a win. The exact opposite was true with Rocco. The minute he turned over the winning hand he was on his feet, unable to contain his emotion.
Bracelets still mean something to the people who remember the days before online poker and daily six-figure pots being pushed. Rocco only took down $135,000, a small amount by today's standards, but judging by his reaction he might as well have won the Main Event.