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2015 WSOP Main Event November Nine Profile: Tom Cannuli21 October 2015
A word to the wise. If you can't handle the truth, avoid a conversation with Tom Cannuli at all costs.
Hometown: North Cape May, New Jersey
Chip Count: 12,250,000
Career WSOP Cashes: 3
Favorite poker book: None. "Honestly, I have never read a poker book in my life. I've been given a bunch of them. I think I have some laying around here somewhere. But I've just never had the urge to read one."
Favorite poker movie: Rounders . "Love it. Really can't think of a close second."
Favorite poker player: Stu Ungar. "I've heard so much about him and I just really like the way he played the game. I loved his style. I look up at his banner all of the time at the Rio for motivation. You've got to respect anyone who won back-to-back Main Events."
Favorite poker room: Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa. "Oh, I have to go with my hometown. It's been my stomping ground ever since I turned 21. Have spent a lot of time there. I love the chips; they're never dirty. The room is big and comfortable. Good people running the show. I love it. It's home."
Now, that's not to say you won't enjoy interacting with the affable 23-year-old from North Cape May, New Jersey. In fact, the opposite is true. After spending just 10 minutes or so with him, you're almost guaranteed to feel more energized and invigorated.
Be forewarned, however, that Cannuli tells it like it is. He's the poster child for the cliché "he wears his heart on his sleeve," but at the same time, he oozes with unwavering positivity – almost to the point where you question if it's genuine.
"No, it's the real deal, man," Cannuli says with a laugh when asked about his steadfast optimism and constant knack for throwing around Tony Robbins-like sayings. "For some people, it's a turn-off. Maybe they don't want to hear the truth? But I'm true to myself, and what I say I mean. That's who I am and I'm not going to apologize for it."
Like it or not, Cannuli's strong personality and enduring self-motivation have helped guide him to the biggest stage in poker. In just over two weeks, he will be the youngest player at the table when he sits down at the Penn & Teller Theater at Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino as part of the November Nine.
Since he began playing poker for real money as a 16-year-old, Cannuli has experienced his share of desperate times. He's ridden the wave of emotions that come with being a professional poker player, and there have been many times when people doubted him. But that uncertainty never crept inside Cannuli's head, even after, as an 18-year-old, his bankroll went from $180,000 to nothing and he had to "rebuild it with pennies," on multiple occasions.
"I've always known that the low points in my career would be temporary because of my ability to play the game," he says with conviction. "I realized when I was in high school that this is what I wanted to do for a living. This was my dream and I just never quit in my pursuit to reach it. That word 'quit' isn't in my vocabulary. If you keep pursuing your dream, you work hard and you're motivated, good things will come."
He also credits the support of his family, most notably his parents – Nikki and Tom – who have stood behind his decision to play poker professionally, even though they didn't really grasp what it would involve.
"I was always totally honest with them about my bankroll and they always believed in me," says Cannuli, who lives with his mother and his two younger brothers – Christopher, 14, and Matt, 12 – where he grew up in North Cape May. He also has a 25-year-old sister, Kelly.
Of course, having a strong support system and positive attitude aren't the only reasons Cannuli has now pocketed more than $1 million in lifetime earnings. He also has a keen ability to read people and their instincts. Combine that with thousands of hours playing millions of hands online and a drive to succeed that simply never stops, and success was bound to happen.
"I've probably played 10 million hands of poker in my lifetime, and that has to be top 30 or 40 of anyone in the world," he says, adding that for the better part of the last five years he has played 10 hours a day, six or seven days a week. "Now, I've paid the price for that. I've lost time with my family and friends. But I don't regret it. It's the reason I'm where I am today."
Cannuli says his game went to another level three years ago when he enrolled in a 100-day course at the ChoiceCenter Leadership University in Las Vegas. According to its website, the ChoiceCenter offers "Personal Development and Leadership courses using experiential learning to elevate Emotional Intelligence – the single biggest factor in determining success in life." Cannuli's instructor was none other than Daniel Negreanu, who largely credits his record-setting year as a poker pro in 2014 to the education he received at ChoiceCenter in 2013.
"In addition to allowing me to meet and become friends with Daniel, it also helped me become a much better poker player," Cannuli says of the course, which involved 15 days in the classroom. "I'm not a math guy. I play the game by instinct, and this really helped my intuition at the table and in life in general. I pick up cues better. I can read people much better. It was an amazing experience."
Cannuli has needed the additional mental strength both at the poker table and away from it, where he has suffered a succession of personal tragedies that have taken an emotional toll. Over the last three years he has lost three close boyhood friends. Two of them died in car accidents, the other from pancreatic cancer.
"It's been devastating," he says. "I'm too young to be losing people close to me like that. But it's a shocking reality of life. It has shown me you have to enjoy your time on this planet and be a good person to the people you love, and to yourself. I want those guys to live through me now. I want to go on and do something huge. I want to be in the Poker Hall of Fame someday. And they are the ones giving me that extra motivation right now."
Winning the Main Event next month would certainly classify as "something huge" and serve as a giant first step toward that Hall of Fame goal. But it's not going to be easy. Cannuli, who has two previous WSOP cashes to his name – including last year's Main Event, where he finished 691st – faces a huge challenge ahead as he sits in sixth place, some 51 million chips behind leader Joe McKeehen.
In preparation for the final table, he has been staying sharp by playing a consistent string of tournaments online in New Jersey and playing live tournaments at Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, which is less than an hour's drive away from his house.
Cannuli has also changed his diet and general living habits dramatically, per a recommendation from good friend Antonio Esfandiari – a regular on the rail in support of him during the Main Event, along with Jeff Gross and Brian Rast. He's taken up yoga; he's eating lots of seafood, fish and chicken; and he's making sure to get a lot of sleep. That regime will ramp up even more as we close in on the first weekend in November.
But will it be enough to hang around and overtake McKeehen's big stack of 63.1 million chips?
"It's going to require making some moves that will really get the heart rate racing," Cannuli says with a rise in his voice. "But it's not impossible. Nothing is impossible when you put your mind, heart and soul into it, and that's what I'm going to do.
"I think a lot of guys (at the final table) are going to be making decisions according to the pay jumps, but that's not me. I'm there for one reason and one reason only, and that's to win a bracelet. Winning a Main Event bracelet would mean more to me than anything in the world, so every move I make at that table will be about taking that home."
This article is part of Casino City's series of WSOP November Nine profiles. Other articles include:
2015 WSOP Main Event November Nine Profile: Tom Cannuli is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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