What's it like to be the #1 all-time poker tournament money winner from your home country?
Lebanon's Nicolas Chouity knows.
A member of a small but elite group of poker players from Lebanon, Chouity is most renowned for his win at the EPT Grand Final in 2010 but his cashes around the globe run much deeper than that.
Coming off a third-place finish at WPT Cyprus in September for $140,000 Chouity rolled into London for the EPT festival last week with momentum on his side.
"Lebanese People Love to Gamble"
PokerListings caught up with him during the break of the £10k high roller event, where he scored yet another solid cash for his nation-leading resume.
PokerListings: Nicolas, German player Dominik Nitsche flew in directly from Beirut to London. He played a tournament series there but didn’t want to talk about it as it seems to be an insider tip.
Nicolas Chouity: (laughs). He definitely has a point. Until three years ago, when the current political situation fell back into chaos in the Middle East, Beirut was a fast upcoming poker venue for big casino poker tournaments.
But most of the casinos are shut down now because of shrinking numbers of tourists. So there is only one casino left, which is run by the government.
They organised this $5k tournament last week. It had about 150 to 160 players and probably a very soft field.
PL: What kind of players would you meet there?
NC: Mostly Russians and local players.
PL: What about the cash games?
NC: Not so well organised, but juicy (laughs).
PL: Does Beirut have a special gambling tradition?
NC: Yes. Half of the Lebanese are Christians. That makes Lebanon an unusual place in the Middle East.
The interesting thing is Christian Lebanese like to play and gamble officially; Muslim Lebanese like it also, but unofficially.
The Christian authorities have never prohibited gambling. And they have a strong influence on Lebanese politics.
In general I say: Lebanese people love to gamble.
PL: A number of Lebanese poker players travel to major tournaments and finish with descent results. You lead the Lebanese money list with over $3m in tournament winnings. Is poker mainstream Lebanon?
NC: You have to know that most of the Lebanese players who show up at major tournaments are businessmen. They don’t want to show their gambling habit. That is how it is in the Lebanon.
It is respected, but more for the gambling than for the mathematic rational parts. We as pro players are actually just a few, and we are known only in the poker community.
And there is another unique thing about Lebanese reality. There as many Lebanese abroad as (there are) in Lebanon. If you look at Lebanese players in a major tournament, chances are that half of them don’t live in Lebanon or aren’t even born there.
PL: Would you say there is a typical Lebanese poker style?
NC: Yes, and it’s easy to explain. Either they are very tight or they are over-aggressive. There is not much in between.
PL: Is there a Lebanese poker community, players who travel together and swap shares?
NC: I have some good friends in poker, Jeff Hakim and Eddy Maksoud. But were are not together all the time.
PL: Can you play online in Lebanon?
NC: Yes, no problems with that.
PL: What is your personal and educational background?
NC: I come from a normal middle class family in Beirut and I have a university degree in finance and economics.
PL: And where do you see yourself in the future?
NC: I am doubting more and more if I really want to keep playing poker professionally.
It is getting more and more stressful. Unfortunately, professional poker has been deteriorating since Black Friday and I only enjoy it when I am happy playing and when there is no tension at the table.
PL: What would be you second option?
NC: The other thing that we Lebanese really love and where we might be the best in the world is trading (laughs). I think I would like to found my own business and see poker more as a relaxation and a hobby more than as a profession.