“Poison for my soul” – Andy Stacks opens up on poker’s politics after HCL drama

Craig Tapscott
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Posted on: December 6, 2023 9:01 pm EST

Let’s be honest. Poker is tough at the very highest level. And almost every player up there gets put through an emotional wringer every now and again.

The adrenaline rush on either end of the spectrum can be addictive. The game can wreck you, both mentally and physically, and bring your sanity into question.

The answer to that question is often not always helpful — “That’s poker.”

Yet players persevere. One such player is a high-stakes regular, ambassador for GGPoker China, and fan favorite Andy Stacks.

Andy Stacks at the WPT Legends of Poker
Andy Stacks playing at the WPT Legends of Poker in 2022

Andy has endured countless mental beatdowns, introspective moments, and political distractions during his poker career. In addition, there’s the added pressure that much of his journey has been under the bright lights of televised streams.

One such brutal beatdown (admittedly partially self-inflicted by Andy) occurred during last week’s high-stakes games at Hustler Casino Live (HCL), which included a 24-hour marathon session to top it off.

On Thursday evening’s session, Andy was clearly off his game. He folded when his honed instincts said call, and called when he should have folded. Every player experiences these lapses, but probably not to the tune of a bankroll draining $600,000 loss.

What’s worse, the game broke up early, with players leaving and the game turning short-handed. Andy vented in the chat before taking to X on Friday to explain his outburst, where he also said the politics behind high-stakes cash games can feel like “poison for my soul”.

PokerOrg’s Craig Tapscott talked with Andy soon after Saturday’s marathon game ended.

You seemed off your game on last Thursday night’s session with Santhosh Suvarna, Martin Kabrhel, Nik Airball, and the rest. Can you share what was going on with you?

I was definitely distracted, and my game was off that day. I had lost a few significant pots early on. And knowing myself well, that’s one of my leaks. When I begin a session with a rough start, I tend to get sloppy and compound some mistakes. I think it would have been beneficial to take a short break, gather my thoughts, and come back more focused.

Did Martin Kabrhel throw you off at all? He does have a unique way of needling opponents.

Frankly speaking, Martin being on the table didn’t help. I have nothing against Martin. I had never played with him before. But I know of his reputation, and I know of his in-game strategy to tilt the shit out of his opponents. He talks to them constantly to extract information and get under their skin. But I know that’s all fair game in poker.

I’m sure you’ve played with similar opponents.

I’ve dealt with players like him in various forms for many years. I don’t think it’s unethical or anything like that. But at that moment, I was already losing. Everybody could see that my demeanor changed. I was digging a deeper and deeper hole for myself. I think it was best, in hindsight, to not have engaged with him at all.

Martin Kabrhel at the 2023 World Series
Martin Kabrhel at the 2023 World Series of Poker

And then you became frustrated when Airball and Santhosh left the game.

I was. Both players disappeared and I was surprised thinking “what the hell is going on” when the floorman came and racked them up. I was confused. And then another player at the table said Airball and Santhosh were going to a home game. Then Martin left, saying he had a meeting to go to. Really? And then the game broke.

You don’t think he truly had a meeting to attend that evening?

I think he was trolling us and knew what he was doing. He knew this would tilt us even more.

You shared that Kabrhel returned early Saturday morning towards the end of the 24-hour stream and wanted a seat in the game.

He did. He was fresh and carrying his orange juice. The players said no to his request to play. We were all dead tired, and nobody wanted him to sit. But to be honest, I was down in the game. I didn’t care. I wanted a chance to get my chips back.

Regarding the end of Thursday’s stream when there was only yourself, Rampage, the Professor, and Jungleman left at the table. Did you speak with Ryan Feldman about the players leaving early?

I did. It was a miscommunication between Ryan and me. He knew they would leave early and even started the stream earlier because of that. If any of the players are leaving early, I think it’s important to make sure all the players know at the beginning of the stream. And I think it’s only fair for HCL to require players to commit for five to six hours of the stream.

I spoke to Ryan. He acknowledged that he should have informed each player and that he was doing his best to accommodate everyone that day.

Ryan and I have had a long and good working relationship. I understand the politics of how these games work. It’s fine. I did get in the 24-hour game eventually towards the end. I appreciated that. I just think the politics of these games leave a bad taste in my mouth, but at the same time, I accept this is the
reality of how it is.

Do you still love playing poker?

Yes. Despite the complicated politics of high-stakes games, my passion for poker remains unchanged and time will tell what the future holds for me in the industry.

Andy Stacks on Game of Gold
Andy Stacks made it through to Round 3 of GGPoker’s Game of Gold

You’ve built a new army of fans thanks to your appearance on Game of Gold. You’ve just been knocked out – talk us through that.

I did not win Game of Gold, unfortunately. I spent a lot of time on the show, played my heart out and got to Round 3. It was very disappointing to bust out, but I’ve got no regrets, I’m very, very happy I was part of this experience, especially for Season 1 because I think the show is revolutionary for poker. There are going to be more seasons, more shows like this. In Season 2 they’re going to change the rules and no one is going to know what’s coming and they’re going to have to adapt.

When can your fans expect to see you next?

I’ll be in the Bahamas for the 2023 WSOP Paradise next week playing the $5K Main Event. After that, I’ll be back in Los Angeles. And in the short term, they can expect to catch me every week on the HCL stream. I may also play on other various streams in the future. You can follow me on X as well for the latest up-to-date news.

Thanks Andy, good luck in Paradise.