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Gabriel Nassif: Magic: The Gathering Champ Turns WSOP Grinder

French pro Gabriel Nassif has been dominating card games for over a decade but it wasn’t always poker.

In the 2000s Nassif crushed the professional Magic: The Gathering circuit winning two Pro Tour title, making numerous top 8 finishes and even winning 2004 Player of the Year.

For those unfamiliar, Magic: The Gathering, or MTG as it’s sometimes known, is a collectible card game with fantasy elements that eventually fostered a competitive professional league.

From M:tG to High-Stakes Poker

There have been many MTG players who have successfully transitioned into professional poker including David WilliamsEric FroehlichJustin Bonomo, Isaac Haxton and Adam Levy.

Now 28 years old, Nassif has made over $400k playing live tournaments but makes the bulk of his profit playing online poker.

Last year Nassif made the final table of the $2,500 Limit Hold’em Shootout event and this year he will attempt to improve on that finish with a gold bracelet victory.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you made the transition from Magic: The Gathering to poker?

Sure, in 2003-04 before the MTG Pro Tour, I went over to William Jensen and Brock Parker’s place in Maryland. I didn’t even know what poker was. They were playing small stakes on Paradise Poker and they showed me how to play $.50/$1. I went home and immediately opened accounts on partypoker and PokerStars.

I started playing Limit Hold’em and I had a bit of money from Magic: The Gathering. I figured I’d give it a year and see if I could break even. That’s how it all started for me.

Gabriel Nassif Wizards
Gabriel Nassif playing MTG. Wizards.com.

How did it go at first?

I think I was playing mostly on PokerStars and usually win like $500, then cash it out, then lose my roll and re-deposit. I did that a couple times. I think I really started winning when I deposited on partypoker. It seemed like the games were way softer.

I didn’t have any sort of bankroll management because I had money from MTG. There were times where I pretty much had my entire bankroll on two tables. The games were great though.

There are so many good poker players who got their start in MTG. In your mind what skills are transferable between the two?

I don’t know if it’s specific to MTG, I think you see a lot of people coming from backgammon or even sports, and a lot of them are successful. What helped me a lot was that I knew good poker players. That was a huge advantage, especially when no one had access to a lot of information, besides Sklansky’s book and talking with people on IRC.

There are some skills you learn from MTG, however. I think mainly it’s the competitive spirit. We hate to lose.

Why do so many MTG players switch to poker? Is the money a huge part of it?

Yeah, I also think a bit part of it is the lifestyle. A lot of these players don’t do well at university because they’re spending so much time playing MTG. It becomes a natural transition if you’re not doing well in university. Obviously the money is a big part of it. I don’t think it’s necessarily a positive thing.

I think a lot of MTG players like poker because it means they don't have to get a job or have a boss.

Brock Parker
Two-time WSOP bracelet winner and former MTG player Brock Parker.

Are there any skilled MTG players that you’d like to see at the poker table?

Yeah there are a few. Obviously Jon Finkel, he used to play poker and was pretty good. I don’t think he enjoyed it that much though.

It’d be fun to see some of the Japanese players out here like Shuhei Nakamura. It would be interesting to see if they could make that transition. They were recently in the area for a Grand Prix MTG event in Anaheim too.

How much MTG do you play these days?

Very little. I played two tournaments this year and I’ve barely played MTG Online. I’m pretty sure I’ll get back to it at a certain point.

What do you enjoy more between poker and MTG?

I actually enjoy poker more, which is somewhat unusual for former MTG players. I think most of them like MTG more but I really like poker and making money is nice. That’s definitely a factor and I’ve been doing quite well lately.

Do you play a lot of online poker?

Yeah I play mostly on PokerStars. Mostly the PLO cash games as well as some tournaments. I play very little live besides WSOP, WSOPE and a few tournaments in Paris. The travel costs certainly add up. I think my time is better spent grinding online.

How many events do you usually play at the WSOP?

I usually play like 20-25 events. I pretty much buy into whatever is next. I play most of the games including PLO, Limit Hold’em, No-Limit Hold’em and the mixed games.

The 2012 WSOP continues through July 16, 2012. For in-depth coverage live from Las Vegas check PokerListings' Live Updates brought to you by 888poker.

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