It’s the €2,770 World Poker Tour (WPT) Main Event in the Golden Vegas hotel in Bratislava.
We are approaching the money bubble and Marek Blasko has a chip stack as meaty as the set of guns that embraces them.
There is only one man winning this tournament. Marek Blasko will be the next WPT Champions Club member.
Then former European Poker Tour (EPT) champion, Roberto Romanello, is moved to his table.
In the next 30 minutes Romanello hoovers up chips. He now has what he calls "chirping chips."
He starts to chirp, and the focus of his attention is Blasko.
The next level turns into a massacre. Romanello gets inside Blasko’s head and the big man implodes.
He doesn’t even cash. Romanello takes his "chirping chips" all the way to the end zone and brings a WPT trophy home to his mother in Gorseinon.
Lee Davy: From a psychological standpoint, you tore Blasko apart. But where does this ability come from?
Roberto Romanello: I think it’s important to understand that when I first started playing poker it was amongst friends. They would come over to the shop, after work, and we would each chip in £3 or £5 and play some Sit & Gos.
I have always been a confident cheeky chappy and I would take the piss out of my friends and have some banter. Because I was playing with my friends, the game wasn’t that serious. This meant that there was a high level of banter during every hand.
Shortly after we started going over to the pool hall across the road and we would get 30 to 40 players each playing for a minimum of £5 per game. Once again I knew everyone, and so I was still extremely confident.
I quickly learned to annoy people, wind them up and take their chips. When I went to the casino for the first time I shut up immediately. I didn’t know hardly anyone and it was £100 buy-in.
It was like a High Roller for me. I liken it to an online player going to play their first live game. I was really nervous.
I ended up sitting next to this guy called Mad Franco. I didn’t know him back then; he was loud, obnoxious, rude and a little bit intimidating. I will always remember Mad Franco. I was as quiet as a mouse.
After a while you get confident with your surroundings. You start talking to people and getting to know them. I have been working in the shop since I was 14 years old. You have to communicate with a wide variety of people. This breeds confidence.
LD: So it’s your natural personality?
RR: That’s true. It’s who I am. It’s not manufactured, and I think that’s the same for all the great table talkers in the game.
I’m thinking about people like Daniel Negreanu, Mike Matusow and Sam Grafton. It’s who they are.
They are loud and talkative on the table and the same when they are away from it. They aren’t putting on a show.
LD: How good are you at table talk?
RR: I believe I am one of the best at using my mouth. Sometimes I am quiet and other times I am loud.
I play at a much higher level today than I used to and so I have to use this part of my game sparingly.
Back in the day my table talk would work on lots of players, but today I have found that it doesn’t work all of the time.
LD: Give me an example of where it won’t work?
RR: If you're on a table full of really great players, and you keep on and on, you just look like a bit of a cock.
So with the better players you have to use other parts of your game such as your technical ability.
LD: How do you choose the players you believe table talk will be effective on?
RR: I don’t choose them - they choose me. There are players in the game that love a bit of banter.
If I see someone like that then I’ll get stuck in and level them.
LD: Give me an example of leveling?
RR: Take the hand I had versus Ben Wilinofsky at the EPT Champion of Champions back in EPT7 I think. He was being cheeky and talking a lot on the table, and then he started on me.
I call with 98o in the big blind and flop the stone cold nuts. We both check. The pot is relatively small and we both check the turn.
The river is a brick and I check again. He makes a small bet and I say, ‘That’s a weak bet.” He says, “You should raise…. if you make it 20k I might fold,” so I make it 20,500.
I tell him that I’m bluffing, but there is no way he can call. We have a bit of banter - back and forth - and eventually I get him to call.
He went bright red and the whole table was laughing. I remember Vicky Coren saying, 'How did you do that? You are like a Warlock.'
LD: Did your sponsorship deal with Full Tilt have any bearing on your table talk? Did they encourage it?
RR: They never encouraged it, although I knew that my personality was one of the big reasons that they hired me.
When I became a Full Tilt pro I didn’t want to overstep the mark. I didn’t want to come across as a douchebag.
That’s not the persona I want. I have always respected my opponents, and I want them to respect me.
LD: I notice that you wind people up, but always end up shaking hands or giving them a hug.
RR: I want to annoy people and take all their chips but somehow make them love me and want to be my best friend.
I want them to understand it’s a bit of fun and part of the game. I don’t want to create enemies. I care if they like me.
I don’t want them walking away from the table thinking I’m a bit of a prick because I’m not.
I remember a game in the Bellagio about five years ago. I was trash talking a lot and winning a ton of chips. People were laughing, but at the same time I knew I was annoying the table because I was winning every pot.
"There was this lady in the game who overplayed a pot because I had gotten to her. I wiped her out completely, and I stood up to shake her hand and she said, “I’ve never had someone at the table annoy me so much, and make me so mad … but I still really like you.”
That gives me the shivers thinking about it because she knew I was a nice guy even though I annoyed her so much at the table.
LD: Have you ever overstepped the mark?
RR: There have been times where I have overstepped the line - but not for years. It would have been before I was sponsored.
I would push players to the extreme and really make them mad. Then when I got sponsored I felt I had a duty to behave and represent the brand well.
LD: Your lips seem to loosen up the bigger stack you have.
RR: You look down and see a short stack and you feel a little bit intimidated because you don’t have any chips.
I call them the ‘chirping chips’ and table talk can be really effective when you have a big stack because you can wipe them out.
If I think I can use it to my advantage I will use it. But I’m not an idiot. I know when it will work and when it won’t.
The hand with Ben Wilinofsky is shown at around 9 minutes into this video.