There’s never been a poker player quite like Andy Black.
The Irishman has been cashing at the WSOP since the 90s but after busting the 1998 Main Event he promptly discarded all his possessions, traveled to England and lived in a semi-monastic Buddhist environment for the next five years.
Black came back from his self-imposed exile from poker to record the most profilic score of his career. He finished fifth in the 2005 Main Event for $1.75 million and rocketed to poker fame earning the nickname “The Monk.”
Black: I Don't Need to Meditate Anymore
Since then Black has been in-and-out of the poker world but recently started playing a fair amount again.
Black is one of the dwindling minority that still remembers playing at Binion’s before the WSOP hit the big time, which gives him a unique perspective on the current game.
PokerListings caught up with Black on a break from the $1,500 Millionaire Maker at the 2017 WSOP.
PokerListings: How much poker are you playing these days?
Andy Black: Quite a bit but it’s in Ireland mostly. I have a one year old back home.
PL: Are you still enjoying the game?
Yeah I am. I actually went through a period where I didn’t enjoy it that much for a few years. In the last couple years I’ve started to like it again.
PL: Do you think it’s natural for players to get a bit burnt out on the game?
I don’t know if I would say natural but I’d say it is very common. You’re doing just one thing, in a way. If you don’t bring significant creativity to it then — like anything — it’s liable to become a bit of a grind. I think that’s what happened to me.
PL: Do you think the game is in a good place currently?
Yeah in some ways. I think the number of bright, young kids playing at a very high level is amazing. The mathematical nuance they brought to the game is something else.
The quality of the game these days is just astonishing. I mean I feel like a bit of a fool out there sometimes.
"Don't be a dickhead."
In terms of how people treat each other at the table: It’s gotten better recently.
I mean there still is a certain ignorance that is still prevalent. It’s simply because people who come from an online background don’t actually have to engage with people. Quite a lot will suffer as far as their social skills go.
I think that’s gotten better in the last few years though. There’s been a leveling out. A lot of those online guys have turned into live players.
The incidences of people calling someone a fish directly to their face at the table has been reduced I think.
PL: Any other wins for poker in the last few years in your opinion?
The recent introduction of the time rules was well overdue. In a sense it’s just not about time, it’s about people having the right to be a dickhead.
The old time rules encouraged people to be more of a dickhead. It sort of legitimized it.
Generally I think the game is in a pretty good place. I just wish people weren’t so smart, you know?
PL: Is it going to be a problem going forward that the skill level is so high?
It makes things difficult but I suppose not having online poker legal in the USA has made the WSOP softer.
I think the standard of play in European poker tournaments is much higher. Higher than here.
PL: You’ve always been really into meditation. Is that still a big part of your life?
Andy Black back in 2007
I don’t really need to meditate anymore. [Laughs]
No. I’ve continued doing it. I’m actually going to be teaching over here in Montana of all places for a few days just before the Main Event.
It’s more like guiding. I’m not really into all this “teacher” kind of stuff but I can’t think of a better word.
I think I’ve hit the point in fairly recent times where instead of needing something, I’ve got something to offer.
That’s interesting to me.
PL: Is it fulfilling to get to that point?
I guess yeah. I suppose the true nature of any real spiritual path is letting go of your bullshit or confusion and I don’t think that’s exclusive to Buddhism.
So paradoxically one feels less like you’ve actually attained anything. If that makes any sense.
Anyone out there who is looking for something… There’s preliminary stuff you can do where you try and develop and learn and explore but at a certain point beyond that, it’s not about that anymore.
PL: You’ve been coming to Vegas for a long time. Is there anything you miss about the old days before Moneymaker and the boom?
The late David "Devilfish" Ulliott.
Being younger? [Laughs]
PL: Anything else?
In some ways maybe that sums it up. I remember when I first went to Binion’s and you had Devilfish selling jewelry at one of the tables. You just don’t get that now.
The local coke dealer would also be one of the dealers at the table. I had a giant nose, funnily enough.
There was lots and lots of that kind of stuff, yeah? But maybe that’s just about age. To people who are in their early 20s everything is all here.
One of the funniest things I remember is that there was this bar at Binion’s where all the girlfriends would wait and hope that one of their blokes would win something so that they could get a few quid to have a few drinks or something to eat.
Things were pretty tight around then. I mean in Ireland if one guy entered the poker room and you didn’t actually know him the entire room would turn around and look at him.
If that guy ended up winning we were all fucked.
PL: How much of the WSOP will you play?
I’ve actually booked a couple of flights because I have a one year old at home. I was actually only going to come over for like 20 days and make two trips but my wife and kid are doing well so I’m hoping to stay for the whole thing.
If I get a call, I’ll go back, though. It’s really good to be here. I feel like I’ve got a chance at something, you know.