Intro: Really, it’s just a matter of time.
With a killer combo of looks, style, smarts, and some seriously wicked poker chops, Carmel Petresco is in position to be one of poker’s next big things.
Carmel broke through in May with her first big final table at the Heavenly Hold‚Äôem Event at Commerce. She’s also got a cash to her credit in Event #5 at the WSOP (
Wicked Chops Poker caught up with Carmel recently to get the scoop on this young star on the rise.
CP: I grew up in Eastern Europe and New York and traveled a lot with my parents, especially my father, as a kid. I think that this opportunity to experience different cultures at an early age helped me develop an ability to adapt, which is very useful in poker.
WCP: What got you into poker? When did you start playing?
CP: One of my friends was really big on online poker, so because he kept mentioning it, I wanted to see what it was about and watched him play a few times. It looked like fun- I’ve always liked games, so I started playing $5 and $10 SnGs on Party. I was obviously clueless at that point, but loved it, so I ran to Barnes and Noble and spent the day there with an armful of poker books. I took home a couple, the most important of which was SuperSystem, and began applying what I was reading.
I remember the first time I played live, a few months later, because I had just moved to LA from New York, and this guy I had just met, one of those cute actor/waiter types, told me that he and his friends had a tournament-style Wed. night home game and would I like to come. I was really excited, and nervous, and as the time to go came closer, I started making all these scenarios in my head that I was going to look like a total fish due to my lack of experience and that these great poker ‘sharks’ were going to take me to the cleaners. As a result, I ended up playing the super-solid style that is coincidentally the most effective against erm, ‘recreational players’, and I ended up winning it, which was a huge rush. It was sort of confirmation, to myself, that I ‘had IT’. Plus it was really cool to kick the guys’ butt.
WCP: Congrats on your 6th at Heavenly Hold’em…we’ve seen you surge to big chip leads early that didn’t hold. Did you do anything differently/change your strategy this time around to make the final table?
CP: Thank you, although I really feel that I failed at Commerce, because I played very good that entire day and didn’t make, in my perception, any mistakes until the final table. At that point I had been up for over 30 hours (we drove to LA that morning after playing cash games all night at Bellagio), and when it got to the final table I started feeling that I could win it, and the potential impact of that distracted me, so I started straying from ‘the path’, making mistakes.
That aside, I think the one thing I did differently than in other tournaments I’ve played is that I’ve played much tighter early on, and followed instinct and trusted my reads a lot more during the later stages, including a couple of unconventional, somewhat risky moves. The reason why you’ve seen me accumulate a lot of chips early in several tournaments but been unable to hold on to them is because I’ve experimented with an aggressive style, which is how you get those chips in the first place, but didn’t know how to change gears and protect my stack once I’ve got it.
I think I am going to be much better at that, hopefully with visible results during this World Series. In the past few months I’ve made a lot of good observations and improvements to the way I play.
WCP: You play a lot of cash games or mostly concentrating on tournaments?
CP: I used to play tournaments almost exclusively; I didn’t really ‘get’ cash games. So I’ve watched the biggest no-limit cash games for hours, observing what the best players did in different situations, until I started to understand how cash games ‘work’ compared to tourneys.
Recently I’ve been been playing cash games quite a bit, and because I’m winning, I love them. It’s kinda of a double dose of satisfaction, because I used to feel that I sucked at cash games before, and now I hear from a lot of people that I’m good at them.
WCP: Before you started playing poker full-time, what did you want to do?
CP: I’ve always loved the arts and, oh, this is going to sound like such a cliche, fashion. I used to have a small business as a wardrobe stylist and personal shopper. But I’ve never really known ‘what I wanted to do when I grow up’, until poker.
CP: Not a ‘permanent’ one, it changes based on new things I like, so I designate them as lucky as an excuse to have them around all the time. Right now I really like my oversized Oliver Peoples retro sunglasses (at right), they make me look a bit like Jackie O, and because they are so big, make it impossible to get facial tells.
WCP: Have you had anyone mentor you/take you under wing to help move your game along?
CP: I really hate this question, because being a young female, whenever I find myself at the table with people that don’t know me, they automatically assume ‘oh, did your boyfriend teach you how to play poker’. They don’t mean anything derogatory by it, of course, a lot of very respectable players have taught their spouses to play with a good degree of success, like Jenn Harman or Dave Colclough, but I don’t see any of the young guys, all fresh from the internet boat, getting asked that question everytime they sit at the table. I started playing poker because I really ‘clicked’ with the game, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have the support of good people in pursuing it. I’ve learned a lot of things from a lot of people, because I kept asking questions and listened to any bit of information I could.
One person that I can credit as great inspiration and direct help in improving my cash game is Daniel Alaei. He is, in many people’s opinion, one of the best no-limit cash game players right now, and being able to watch him play and discuss the game, among other things, has helped me develop a very good understanding of cash games and become a winning player.
WCP: Obviously, you’re an attractive girl. When you first started seriously playing, did you find that to be an advantage or disadvantage when playing against predominantly male tables?
It’s a disadvantage, hard as that may be to believe, because it is an advantage in so many other contexts. People think that if you’re a girl, you can get guys to soft-play you and things of that sort. That might work in the lower limits, but if you play high enough stakes, the only thing that matters is money. The only respect in which being female in poker is an advantage, is media attention. You definitely get more of that than your male competitors, because of the skewed ratio of guys to women. But being a girl at the poker table makes it harder to be taken seriously, and it makes guys think they have the right to harass you. A lot of it does not stem from bad intentions, but lack of education. It’s amazing how much sexism is still considered acceptable in our society.
WCP: We‚Äôve often said that in poker, color is blind, but gender isn‚Äôt. Do you think it‚Äôs harder being a female in poker than a minority in poker (although in a way being a female IS being a minority in poker)?
CP: Last year, the ratio of men to women in any given (major) tournament room was about 50 to 1. I think this year that small percentage has tripled- I’m getting used to seeing several women ‘still in’ during the late stages of tournaments, but even so, female poker players are still a minority. I don’t know if it’s harder or easier than being any other kind of minority- because I don’t know if other minorities are treated differently based on that criteria alone.
WCP: Do you play differently against women?
CP: This is an interesting question, because I think that yes, sometimes I do. I think it has to do with the preconception that a)women have less experience and b)they are tighter/weaker. So I tend to look for those traits in female players I don’t recognize. If they prove differently, then I give them the same respect I would any other competent player. But the difference is that I do in a way expect them to be weak players, and that they have to prove themselves otherwise. Hopefully as female poker players increase their presence and women cease to be ‘the odd man out’ at the table, this attitude will change, in myself and others.
WCP: What are your goals for this year’s WSOP?
CP: To win the biggest poker competition to date. Considering that an estimated eight thousand others will be showing up at the Rio on July 28th with exactly the same dream, winning any bracelet is my other goal this year.
WCP: How many events are you playing?
CP: I’ll try to play most of the no-limit events, sacrificing some of the smaller ones if the cash games are super juicy.
WCP: Who’s the toughest person/people you’ve played against in tournaments? Any one you just couldn’t get a read on?
CP: I’m pretty confident in my reads nowadays.
There are a few people whom I’m not thrilled seeing at my table, like Alan Goehring or Grinder, but this has to do more with the style they play than anything else. I don’t mind having one or two people I respect, like Alan Cunningham or Eric Seidel, seated at my table, because it motivates me to play better. You don’t want to look like a donk in front of people whose opinion matters to you.
When you first sit down in a game, it’s very important to take your time and observe what your opponents are doing. You can get a lot of valuable information even if you are not involved in a hand with them, and I think every situation you see, all the little mannerisms, get stored somewhere in your mental database, and are automatically used when you need to make close decisions.
For cash games, some quick give-aways that your opponent is not a very strong player are:
-they call a big chunk of their stack before the flop with weak or ‘whimsical’ holdings like AQo or K7.
-they always defend their blinds, even against tight players, and get trapped in the hand if they flop a pair
-they don’t know how to fold top pair
-they play all the crappy aces (ie A6), including unsuited ones, and against a raise
-they make illogical bluffs
-they love to see lots of flops, calling raises pre-, and always muck when they miss.
WCP: Finally, what would be your dream six-person table to play at…can be filled with living, dead, or fictitious people…
CP: Hmmm, if it’s a cash game, it would probably be filled with people I’ve never seen before, those merry, red-cheeked suit-wearing guys that wonder in the no limit game at Bellagio on 4 am on Saturday, all of them having just received their Christmas bonus.