Interview with a Blind Poker Player

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Just last month, Full Tilt Poker signed poker pro Hal Lubarsky to their roster of Full Tilt pros. For those of you who don't know, Hal Lubarsky has been an active poker player for about 20 years in both land based poker tournaments as well as online. In 2004, Hal lost his sight and for a short period of time, gave up on playing poker. After being asked to play in a charity poker tournament, Hal began to hit the poker circuit again with the help of a reader, someone to relay information about the game to him.

In recent years, Hal has been seen on TV most notably on ESPN's World Series of Poker coverage. In fact, Hal placed 197th in the 2007 WSOP. Hal sat down with to talk about his poker career and the recent signing with Full Tilt Poker. is the first poker site to sit down with Hal after the recent Full Tilt Poker signing.. Interview with Hal Lubarsky (AL): First off, I would like to thank you for taking the time to tell a little bit more about yourself Mr. Lubarsky.

Hal Lubarsky: You are welcome. I appreciate your interest in me.

AL: How did you get started playing poker? How did you get started playing professional poker?

Hal Lubarsky: I started as a young boy in Brooklyn NY. I turned professional about 20 years ago when I moved to Las Vegas. I have always loved the game and it came naturally to me.

AL: What are your strengths as a poker player?

Hal Lubarsky: I use good money management and I have excellent patience.

AL: How would you describe your playing style overall?

Hal Lubarsky: I am a tight - aggressive player.

AL: How did loosing your sight change your outlook on life and on your professional career?

Hal Lubarsky: At first it depressed me greatly both in my life and as a poker player. But luckily there was Internet poker and I was able to find people who were willing to read on line for me. Later, I discovered that, with the help of a reader, I would be allowed to play in casinos in Las Vegas. So, I went back to doing what I loved best. The live play all came about at the suggestion of Donna Harris, the Poker Manager at the Mirage Poker Room.

AL: You finished in 197th place at the 2007 WSOP. The best finish ever for a legally blind person. I know you have a reader that helps you, but certainly there can be some challenges. What are some of the challenges that you face when playing in live poker tournaments?

Hal Lubarsky: Obviously, it is much harder than when I could many ways. My concentration level has to be at a max at all times. I cannot let myself be distracted by anything.

AL: What advantages do you have (if any) of the other players at the table?

Hal Lubarsky: None that I can think of. If anything I am at a disadvantage.

AL: Being able to read your opponents (poker tells) is an important part of the game. Obviously you are not able to see your opponents, but can you pick up on anything your opponents are doing that may give you an idea of what kind of hand they have?

Hal Lubarsky: For the most part I do not use tells. I just go by how much they bet.

AL: You use a "reader" to help you play poker both online and at live tournaments. For those readers not familiar with how a reader works, can you please explain?

Hal Lubarsky: My reader tells me everything that a sighted person can see and nothing else. They whisper my hand to me and then narrate the flop, turn, river and action. They cannot give me any advice. All decisions are mine to make.

AL: Are you ever concerned that your reader will give away any tells?

Hal Lubarsky: Obviously, this only applies to live action. But I have trained my readers very well. They concentrate on other things to keep them from giving any tells.

AL: Do you have different strategies and shortcuts that you use with your online reader that you don't normally use while at a live poker tournament? What are some of the differences in terms of your strategy with the reader when playing online?

Hal Lubarsky: First of all, he is able to talk out loud. Second, we use abbreviations when giving information. Third, we have some playing guidelines that make things easier.

One simple example is:

I come into Omaha h/l NL with the hand A234. Flop comes JQK. Someone bets all in to me. If we are involved in another hand, my reader folds without ever saying anything to me. He does this because we have missed the flop totally and we cannot bluff because the guy moved all in already. This is only one of many short cuts that we use. I would rather not give more, because it might alert people to how I play.

AL: How are you able to multi-table online?

Hal Lubarsky: In addition to what I just explained we use the cascade method of playing.

AL: Can you tell how the Full Tilt Poker sponsorship deal came about? What attracted you most about Full Tilt?

Hal Lubarsky: I was attracted to Full Tilt because I felt that it was the best and most reputable. It also has the most big name players associated with it. As to how I got sponsorship on Full Tilt, I gained a good bit of notoriety during the 2007 WSOP. Many of the players associated with FTP have known me as a pro in Las Vegas over the years. FTP knew that since losing my sight, things have been tough for me. I think they saw this as an opportunity to do something good for a person with a disability. I appreciate, so much, everything they have done for me.

AL: What are your goals professionally for the future?

Hal Lubarsky: I hope to continue to play live poker and Internet poker well into the future. I also hope to win a WSOP bracelet or a major tournament.

AL: What poker player(s) do you admire or have influenced the way you play?

Hal Lubarsky: I have played with many of the well-known pros over the years. Each and every one of them has taught me something in their own way and I admire something about each of them. Some of the greatest players in my mind are, Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Eric Seidel and Doyle Brunson. I could list many more.

AL: What is one thing you wish people would know about you that they don't currently?

Hal Lubarsky: I think that people might suspect how difficult it is to play without sight, but I am not sure they really know. Many people have told me I inspire them, but what they don't know is that when they stop to say such things to me, I am inspired by them.