Antanas "Tony G" Guoga was born in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1973. It is a historic European city set between the Nemunas and Neris Rivers, a place of great beauty yet tremendous suffering. "Yeah, it is a very old city with castles, a very old history. It is different than most of Europe, most similar to Latvia." In the early 20th Century, Kaunas was 31% Jewish in 1919, and it was a ripe target during the Holocaust with devestating effect. "Lithuania had a big Jewish population, over 1,000,000 Jewish people before the war. Now there are less than 30,000."
During Tony's childhood, Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union. "It was an interesting place as a child. Going to Communist school, having to wear a red tie and an emblem of Lenin. You were taught Communist ideals. Lithuania was different than Russia; you could learn English in school. My mother was quite patriotic toward Lithuania, so she didn't really go with the Communists. I was against it, and I'd get into trouble for not wearing my red tie or other things. My father is Jewish, my mother is Lithuanian. He was more involved in the government at the time."
Eventually, Tony left Lithuania for Australia. "My mother emigrated to Australia as most of my mother's family escaped to Australia or America. My mother tried to go for many years but couldn't get a visa until 1981 after Moscow Olympics. I stayed by myself for five years, just waiting for a visa. I finally went in 1985."
Tony learned poker in Australia. "I started to learn the game in Australia. I was fascinated with gambling and cards, so it was a natural fit for me. I learned the game and played a few tournaments as well. I had a tournament result in Australia in 2000 a final table, I think 3rd, but it was winner take all."
From Melbourne, Tony went to Vienna, Austria in 2001. "I started playing at the Concorde Club Casino. I billed myself as a poker player, but I was quite broke at that stage and struggling financially. I played there every day, and they really looked after me. The owners of the club were very good for me, and I had to get by with German quickly. I had some good results in Austria. That's when I learned I could survive playing poker. My life changed dramatically when the internet started growing poker. I played in France, Russia, even Lithuania."
WPT Paris Final Tablist Ben Roberts said people knew Tony G in 2003 and 2004 throughout Europe. "I've known Tony G prior to that tournament really well," said Ben. "We knew what he was like, and it wasn't a surprise. It was a laughing matter for us, we were enjoying it. If you notice, Surindar didn't react much to Tony's behavior. That was because Tony is one of the boys, we've played in the games with him, and we've laughed at him. It's not serious for us, but for TV it made a great impact. People are not used to seeing that kind of behavior.
"When I was in France, I was playing the Big Game ($400/800 limit games), the biggest games around," said Tony. "I played with Surindar sometimes in those games, so there was a lot of history. I respect Surindar a lot, and he came through. He is a great champion of the WPT. He is very consistent, very solid, and he has a good personality."
Tony directed rhetoric toward Surindar and other players that evening. "I am going to destroy you!" and "I'm going to take everything you have!" are two of the more memorably quotes from the Final Table. It was a back and forth heads-up match with Tony up significantly before Surindar Sunar fought back for the title. Tony's runner-up finish was good for $414,478.
Regarding his controversial table image, Tony was stoic. "It's natural for me. I was very aggressive, at that time in particular. I really wanted to win so badly in Paris. I felt I could behave like that at the table to make a show and also to win the tournament. It was just on the table, it wasn't personal, not how you should act in normal life. I didn't use swear words, and when I slapped the table, there was never a threat of physical violence. We both tried really hard to win. Surindar came on top, and it was a great moment of my life to play that event."
The best tournament results for Tony have come outside of the United States, including his victories in the 2005 European Championship in London ($456,822) and the Betfair Asian Tour event in Singapore ($451,700) in addition to the 2nd place WPT finish in Paris. "It is going to take a long time for poker to grow outside of America, it's not going to catch on quickly. It's one thing for Asians to come to America and become great players. In Asia, there is no such poker culture. People may be very hopeful that Asia will be a huge market for poker. I have my doubts. It will be very nice if it does. PokerStars is setting up an Asian tour, Macau hosting an event, but still a long way to go in Asia."
This year, Tony has played more cash games with some of the wealthiest people in the world. "I've played cash games in Japan, but they're very thin, a very exclusive group in Japan with very rich people. I've played with billionaires there. I didn't expect it, but I've been in that position. It's been fun. I've played in Asia with two guys and Russia with one guy. A guy might raise blind for $20k in a No-Limit game, just to build the pot out of boredom."
This, in turn, has impacted his psyche at the World Series. "It's spoiled me and has affected me at the WSOP, definitely. The desire's just not there. When you play such big games, I just haven't had the feeling to play all day long. I think I don't have so much patience early on, I just don't want to grind it out all day. In fact, I think they should have a different structure, a $1k buy-in at noon for the masses and a 5:00PM tournament for the pros, a minimum of $5k buy-in and maybe up to $100k. There are many people who want to want to play a big game, the bankroll isn't a problem. It's more of a sport for them, and that's what I'm looking for. I'm hoping there will be such an event where we can participate in something good and much higher level of game. We're going to be burned out playing the same thing for so long."
Tony cashed five times in last year's WSOP with one final table. "Last year was good at the WSOP, this year I might do better. The difference is I don't have the fire right now. The way the limit games are set up right now is poor, and it is very disappointing that no one at Harrah's or the World Series has thought about the players. The stars are not turning up for the first two hours of a tournament, and they're losing 10% of their stack. They need to give some thought to the limit structures. It's like a basketball game. In the first quarter, it is one point for one shot. In the fourth quarter, it is forty points for one shot. That's how it is right now."
"Let me give you an example. I played the Seven Card Stud event and started with 100 big bets. By Level 7, I had above average chips but only seven big bets. That's not thinking, there are no excuses there. They had the number of players they anticipated, so that wasn't the problem. Why would you get people burned out in Day 1 with a few players busting out then get a very fast structure where you have to get lucky on a few hands to get deeper in a tournament? It's very disappointing, so I didn't play the $5k HORSE because of the structure. I'm hoping they can change it. There is a cry from every player. Someone has to put their hand up and say, I made a mistake with this. Right now, no one is putting their hand up."
Tony spends more time now with his business enterprises, including PokerWorks and PokerNews "I set up PokerNews.com with my poker winnings, and now we've matured. It's been interesting to be part of it. Everything is pretty expensive with the rights for the WSOP and paying all our people. It's not financially that rewarding; it's more of an investment and about growing the business."
"We're looking at having a PokerNews tour with our first event in October in Melbourne at the Crown Casino. We want to have more freerolls to win seats there and get all the online sites participating. Most of the sites are closed down from American players, and we hope there will be a big shift by online sites to send players to other places where they can do be involved with tournaments legally vs. the World Series of Poker. Everyone in poker needs to give people pleasure and entertainment from poker."Tony has been through the best of times and the worst of times in poker, and he believes too many people are focused on playing professionally. "You can't make it a grind, and it's becoming more of a grind right now. People think they're professionals, and they aren't. They think they can make a living, and it's a very hard business to be in. You need a job and let poker be a hobby vs poker being a revenue stream. That's why I've shifted more into the poker business rather than playing poker."
"I wouldn't recommend just playing poker for a living, because you have this empty feeling after awhile. You have to do more in life. I've always said I'm not a professional player, although I've been fortunate with results. I don't focus as much, nor do I endorse or recommend people becoming compulsive poker players where they play all the time. I see what happens to young kids, they lose their entire bankroll all the time. Poker can be great as a hobby with no pressure, but it can also be unhealthy."
His success has allowed him to return to his native Lithuania and be part of the rebirth of a new country. "It's been good to go back to Lithuania. I've been involved in different kind of projects, helping out and learning from the young people. All my companies are there, doing technological development, web-based work. We've done a very good job to build PokerNews, I'm very happy with the guys. PokerWorks and PokerNews are both built in Lithuania, they're both very profitable websites. We probably have another 100 websites that we operate in different markets. I'm pretty proud of how the country of Lithuania has done, and I hope it can become a technologically-driven country. It has limited resources, but it has support from the government and good universities. Young people are learning about what's happening now in technology, not what happened five years ago. It changes so fast, and I'm hoping the whole society can change and find ways for Lithuania to participate and achieve something."
After the World Series, Tony will leave the United States. "I have no plans currently to come back to America this year after the World Series. It will be interesting to see how the Asian Poker Tour works out with PokerStars. I want to support that. The PokerNews Cup Tour all around the world, we're excited about that and hope all the online sites can support this and send players to a neutral event. They can represent their .com site and do it officially. There are several televised tournaments in the UK which are really fun, so I'll play those. There is a lot of work to do on the business side."
Until then, Tony G will search for the passion and fire that transforms him into a powerful force at the table, with the prospect of his first WSOP bracelet squarely in his sights.
You can follow Tony's travels and tournaments through TonyG Blog.