Jeux Viens à Vous Gabriel Nassif Part I
I met Gabriel Nassif 20 years ago at Ostelen, the mythical Parisian game store, a place all old school french Magic: the Gathering players have fond memories of.
Gabriel tells us about his fortunate path, parents open to his unorthodox career, the luck he had being at the right place at the right time with the right people and how all of that allowed him to always do what he loved and make it work.
No false modesty, it's just the way Gabriel is.
It’s a good guy’s interview.
Thanks to Matthias Lamoureux for English version
1) Gaby, hello, would you be kind enough to introduce yourself?
Hello everyone, my name is Gabriel Nassif, I’m 35 and I am a full-time Magic: The Gathering streamer. I also produce strategic content (articles and videos) for Channelfireball.com.
I discovered Magic in middle school, in 1995 I believe at the time of Ice Age, and I quickly became obsessed with the game. I even played in secret for a year in high school.
I qualified for my first Pro Tour (Chicago) in 2000 and in 2001, with my teammates Amiel Tenenbaum and Nicolas Olivieri, I finished second in team Pro Tour in New York a week after finishing in the London Grand Prix, bowing both times against Kai Budde in the final.
In 2004, I won the player of the year title and in 2006 I won my first team Pro Tour with two Canadians Gab Tsang and David Rood. I won a second Pro Tour, individually this time, in 2009 and I entered the Hall of Fame in 2010.
In the meantime, I discovered online Poker in 2003 and then played professionally for several years, leaving a bit Magic behind. I mostly played poker online but I also went to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas every summer for many years, reaching several final tables but I never won a bracelet.
About a year and a half ago, I decided to turn the poker page. Playing live still pleased me as much but the daily online grind had become a real hassle. So I decided to go back to my first passion and see if I could live as a full-time Magic player. The Magic tournaments are not particularly well endowed so I decided to start streaming via Twitch considering the Pro Tour I still join in as a bonus. I was lucky not to have to start from scratch and after almost two years, my streaming adventure is going well. And my results on the circuit were affected by playing a lot Magic. Regarding results, I made my best season last year in almost ten years. I recently finished second at the Lille Grand Prix and I am much happier in everyday life than I was towards the end of my poker career.
2) What does the game represent for you? Playing, but also having people play or giving the desire to play with your streaming.
The game is for me, I think, first and foremost the incredible opportunity I had, and I still have, to be able to make a living and to meet great people while doing something I love. It was the case at the time of l’Oeuf Cube and Ostelen, I made a lot of friends sharing the same passion, then when I started to travel to the Pro Tours and thereafter with poker.
Today, I stream and I love sharing my passion and my knowledge. If I do it partially to make a living, it's cool to think that anyone can watch the stream for free. There is a lot of people watching it to relax when they get home from work (there are also a lot of them watching from work :) and it can also be a way to take their minds off things.
It was clearly something I was missing in poker, which is a pretty lonely game.
I also feel like we have become pals with a lot of my viewers, there are several that I can’t wait to meet. And now, before every tournament I join in, I try to motivate a maximum of them. At the last Lille Grand Prix, one of them came from the Netherlands to play sides events, we had dinner together on Saturday night, it was very nice and I think that at the next Pro Tour in Cleveland, I will meet a lot of my subscribers for the first time.
As Gabriel is having a hard time answering in writing, we keep going with a phone interview.
3) We will return to poker later. But let’s start with Magic, where it all began. You told me you quickly became obsessed with Magic.
For those who do not know this game, or only by name, or even for those who do not like it for different reasons we can discuss later, can you explain what fascinated you in this game?
I started in middle school with friends that I must have seen play in the playground... Before that, we played cards with my father when I was younger, and with a friend we collected Dragon Ball Z cards. We went all through Paris to collect cards...
When I discovered Magic, one did not have to twist my arm to make me play it!
I do not remember too much from the very beginning but it quickly became an obsession. What I remember though is that it was the pre internet era so you could not know all the cards directly like today, you gradually discovered new cards, a new shop...
Near the school, there was a video club having a card binder, the guy did not know anything, there were common cards for 40 Francs... [~$4/$5]
Then Jussieu, l’Oeuf Cube, the first tournament ... the first black Lotus magazine with the Pro Tour decks lists inside. You start having your first real game.
Then Ostelen, what I enjoyed a lot was the deck building side. I spent hours doing my lists in progress, notebooks filled with lists of games!
At home cards were scattered on the floor of my room to rethink any side card, the various possible build and then the people you met, and friends that I made!
The game is amazing, in fact, you never get tired of it!
And then also competition...
When you start qualifying for Pro Tour, you travel with your buddies to international competitions... and when you're good at something it's cool! Tell yourself that you've been one of the best in the world in a field...
We’ll come back to it.
You’ve mostly answered the next question, but I’m asking it anyway.
4) When you discovered the game, you were going to l’Oeuf cube, mythical place of Jussieu where the first French champions appeared, like Bertrand Lestrée, Marc Hernandez and many others...
Then you moved to Ostelen, an also incredible place where a generation, which you are a part of, exploded: The Ruel brothers, Amiel Tenenbaum and so many more...
What did you discover there? The desire to play? The competition? The desire to reach the best level?
I would say it's a second or even a first home! (Laughter)
After school, I was right to Ostelen, the Ostelen weekend, the Ostelen holidays ...
When there were no school the next deay, I was often in someone's home to "cube".
So much that my parents forbade me to play, I had to secretly play for 1 year. (Laughter)
I ended up getting caught...
The luck we had in Paris, if you look at all the big players of the 90s and early 2000s was those who had a community of players as good or better against whom to play, it was either New York or Paris or the United States university campuses... we had this chance in Paris to have this place and the players!
You can’t progress alone it's almost impossible! And then there were not only Magic, but also Warcraft 2 games on PC! (Laughter)
Being able to play a tournament every day, making a draft every night with good players, even in the United States I do not know if it was that much!
And as you recall, there was no internet then...
Yes, Magic online is 2002/2003 I think, Ostelen was late 90’s
5) I could see excellent players back then, desperate to win, and it could reach very far: hours of testing every night, intimidation of beginners, extremely full respect of the rules to find the least flaw, even cheating… According to you, what are the qualities between a good Magic player and an excellent one as you have become? Stubborn obstinacy? Hours of testing? A different vision of the game?
I think there's no secret, you have to be passionate, so I don’t know if that makes the difference between a good player and an excellent one, but Magic was always on my mind... maybe a little more obsession.
I think there must be a little something within the genes, we cannot all be good basketball players, I guess I was lucky on that side too, my brain worked well for that kind of stuff.
But when you're passionate, it's almost easy, I mean there is almost no merit...
Originally, I loved card games, I loved the game, and having Ostelen, other players around me, my friends who were very good, it really was the perfect mix!
Ostelen , mythic workshop in Paris, 2000.
Were you under the impression of seeing the game in a different way than other players?
I had to have this little trick, I always had good ideas for the game, even if later on I have never been the best player, I always made little stupid mistakes, and a bit more when I was less playing, but I was good at building games, some like Farid (Meraghni) preferred drafts and he was the first player to win a limited Pro Tour, that’s no coincidence!
I was more into built games, as I told you: lists of games... I must not be the only one, but I had full notebooks of deck lists!
The same list of games was written 10 times by changing 1 card! Some people describe poetry, some people draw, I listed decks!
I just have been a bit further, I had not necessarily a different vision.
Did it affect the level of your studies back then?
I had good grades in primary and middle school, a little less in high school… I passed my high school degree with honors, but I did not really work! Revising the degree, without bragging, was done in the subway between high school and Ostelen.
And then I quickly understood that to pass a high school degree specialized in mathematics, if you get a good grade in mathematics, you had your degree, that’s it! Coming out of the mathematics test, the first test, I knew I had my degree whatever else happened...
My mathematics teacher was regretful, I did not work and she was frustrated.
But it's true that it did affect my studies, I passed an associate’s degree and then tried 5 times a 3 years university degree... but that was more due to poker...
It’s the next question!
6) Like many Magic players, you have become a professional poker player.
6 A) Are the qualities of a good poker player the same as those of a Magic player? Isn’t it required to be even stricter with oneself? Several weeks’ gains of can vanish sometimes in a few hours during a tilt.
I think there are common qualities but the most important thing to me is the network.
When I started playing poker, I already knew people who played well and could help me at a time when coaching sites did not exist. There were some good books, good for the period by the way... I don’t know what are they worth now! (Laughter) A bit like Ostelen, good players could help me. This is one of the reasons why the transition was smooth for a lot of Magic players. Do not start from scratch.
With Magic, never were we really strict, we did what entertained us.
Now it may be a little more serious because the level is higher, there is Magic online, there are big test teams so it's more difficult but back then it was enough, you showed up with your game, there were not a thousand lists, there were not dozens of tournaments before the pro tour, there were no published lists from Magic online.
I don’t know if you play Magic online?
(Now...yes...Thanks Gab'! ^^ )
Basically now, they have the Pro Tour a month and a half after the release, back then the Pro Tour was the first big tournament, with Magic online if you do 5-0 in a league, your list may be published, so you can access to a lot of data.
You seldom show up on the Pro Tour with a game that no one knows, you try to find the best game, you sort, this part is less fun than before.
At first poker was for me a video game, I was not especially rigorous but taking it as a game, without seeing the sums involved, also having money earned with Magic, I was not tilting too much, the pressure came may be later when I had financial obligations or someone in my life.
Now poker has become very hard to win, in the end it became a real job.
There are lots of jobs that are not very funny but when you can lose your money, it gets intricate, you enter a vicious circle where you don’t want to play but you have to... it impacts your results...
It was the next question…
6 B) Tell us the life of a poker player that could make some people dream when you think about the trip but that is mostly hours alone in front of your screen?
Besides the last two years, I did love that, staying in front of my PC for hours didn’t bother me, I could play 8/10 hours in a row, it really was a game for me!
When I started going to Las Vegas every summer it was great, there were the old players of Magic, my friends, it was a summer camp for poker players and you played the world series...
As much as I don’t miss online gaming at all, so much as the live always gave me a lot of pleasure, even in the end.
I was playing a month in Vegas and an EPT here and there, a little cash game on the Champs-Elysees.
It was clearly an incredible chance! The last two years, really, when starting a session every night became a hassle, even with another screen to watch TV series at the same time, really were like working in a factory.
I kept playing a bit because Pokerstars sponsored me still and it was not too bad, I still won, I thought that until I found something else...
Prerelease, Las Vegas, during wsop
You did not enjoy it anymore because you earned less? Things had changed in your life?
It had become harder. And after 10 years, whatever your job is, it starts to last too long, may be it was always the same thing... I don’t really know...
It should not be, it's not the end of the world to click a button while watching a TV series!
It may be the swings... I maybe accepted them less… maybe the mind, I feel that it worsened over the years.
It's a job I did not do at this level.
Life mode too…
My wife Liz was coming back from work, we were having dinner fast and I had to start the tournament session, so it might be the schedule too.
7) Could you tell us a funny or moving story that you lived with Magic or poker?
Hmm ... (thinks for a long time) A story... I don’t know if there is one especially. It is mainly the nostalgia of the time of Ostelen ...
There is a story I like to tell
The year I had to play secretly, my mother did not want me to go abroad. So I was doing QT (qualifying tournaments) without being able to go to Pro-tour.
For example I drove 15 hours to go for a QT in Montpellier knewing I was going to concede! (Laughter)
I was 4-0 and I lost against (Florent) Jeudon or Antoine Ruel who made final table without qualifying.
It was my life! I didn’t care, staying 15 hours in a car to enter a useless QT! I was playing and helping my friends.
It was the same in Paris, I was 6-0, I concede against (Frédéric) Courtois, then come the QT to the European Championships in Paris, it was Mercadia built block, I play a white blue control, I play the QT in the same state of mind, I only play against guys I don’t know, I reach the semifinals, there were 2 qualifying places, and there again a guy I don’t know.
I call my brother telling him that if I win the match I qualify for the Pro Tour in Chicago, and I ask him:
"If I win, will you help me convince Mom?"
He answers me: "Don’t worry, win the match, we'll make it!"
And I entered my first pro-tour!
Pro Tour New York 2001
Precisely how did your mother live with your life around Magic and poker cause it's not a classic life?
Honestly, rather well! I think it must have scared her but we never talked about it.
My brothers are journalists and musicians, we have not chosen the safest jobs, she has always been behind us.
You don’t understand Magic very well, and your kid is obsessed with it... I understand, you freak out!
Poker has always been ok, once she accepted Magic poker was good!
Even when they caught me secretly playing Magic, she figured she could not prevent me from doing it so they did not cut me off from my pocket money.
Overall for that I was very lucky.
What about wider family? Uncles? Aunts?
No ! In my family they used to play bridge, a grandfather of mine was a bridge champion, my uncle plays, my father plays...
It’s never been a problem...
There's some "Be careful" but you try to explain that you don’t play all your money at once. They are rather intelligent so they have rather understood.
And what about your stepfamily?
My wife used to play Magic, she knew Magic and poker players before we met.
Her parents accepted me. I guess it's not easy when your daughter gets married to a poker player... (laughter) But they're smart enough and trusted their daughter not to make bad choices.
I remember when we took our first apartment in Paris, we were just married, we were looking to buy through private individuals, the woman had some doubts about our income but we had a good feeling, we were lucky.
I didn’t have a fixed income, but I already had some pretty full bank accounts for someone my age, we locked money on an account to show our good faith, it was not blind trust.
Gabriel, young, play to Backgammon
8) Let's talk about a sensitive matter in Magic: cheating. Without mentioning anyone, people we both had known had cheated. Some people have a bad memory of Ostelen because of that. As a very high level player, what part does this phenomenon take when you reach the top where money and glory are at stake? Did you talk about it with the people you were close to and whom you saw practicing?
Back then in France in comparison to other countries, I think cheating was widespread unfortunately.
Besides, I grew up a bit with it and in my mind, the professional players used to cheat!
When I think about it, there were crazy vibes in France toward it.
For my first big prize, in London, everything was fine and but the second day I get paired against Brock Parker.
For me, an American player coming in Europe to play a big prize really meant he had a huge edge!
I asked Olivier Ruel if he suspected Parker cheating, he answered me:
"Surely, he’s from the United States!" I resigned myself to my fate! I thinked I was going to make Mulligan 4 and do double death mana! (Laughter)
I sat, and we started to play the first round, but he he made mulligan 5 and did not play anything. For the second round, the same and then I thought that one reckons that the pros may not be what one thought.
In my head I was convinced that I was screwed, that the guy was going to do some hocus-pocus. That was my mentality as one of the best French players of this time.
For instance to counter this fear of cheating Pierre Calendini, on the other extreme side, applied very strictly the rule because he thought he had no choice!
During Pro Tours, cheating was very seldom, really. Some famous players got caught, for sure, but it is not omnipresent.
Compared to other areas I think it is not more developed, it may even be less.
There was a Pro Tour semifinal where a referee came to me and said: "I'm glad you won, because I think your opponent did something."
There is cheating, there will always be, I think, even if with Magic arena it may be harder.
Franck Canu, Ostelen
And hence, did you discuss it with your friends who could do it?
I once cheated in Ostelen, during a small tournament, I did not want to lose, and I felt so guilty that it really did undermine me!
I don’t really remember if then I tried to lecture them, but I was one of the youngest, they were my friends.
With poker, I always tried to be mega clean, I had a few friends doing borderline stuff like sharing their hands when they happened to be at the same tournament table but nothing really malicious or premeditated. I just told them that I didn’t think it was cool and that if we were to meet at the same table, we should play like with anyone else.
9) How would you define in one word, yes only one, each of the following people
To be continued...
Others interviews and my Facebook :
English Version :
Richard Garfield :
Bruno Faidutti 1ère partie
Bruno Faidutti 2ème partie
François Haffner 1ère partie
François Haffner 2ème partie
Vincent Dutrait 1ère partie
Vincent Dutrait 2ème partie
Christophe Boelinger 1 ère partie
Christophe Boelinger 2ème partie
Roberto Fraga 1ère partie
Roberto Fraga 2 ème partie
Bruno Cathala 1 ère partie
Bruno Cathala 2ème partie
Yahndrev 1ère partie
Yahndrev 2ème partie
Docteur Mops 1ère partie
Docteur Mops 2ème partie
Juan Rodriguez 1ère partie
Juan Rodriguez 2ème partie
Docteur Philippe Proux
Franck Dion 1ère partie
Franck Dion 2ème partie
Franck Dion 3ème partie
Carine Hinder et Jerôme Pélissier
Djib 1ère partie
Djib 2me partie
Farid Ben Salem 1 ère partie
Farid Ben Salem 2ème partie
Jean-Louis Roubira 1ère partie
Jean-Louis Roubira 2ème partie
Philippe des Pallières 1ère partie
Philippe des Pallières 2ème partie
Julian Malgat Tome 1
Philippe Tapimoket 1ère partie
Philippe Tapimoket 2ème partie
Igor Polouchine 1ère partie
Igor Polouchine 2ème partie
Marcus 1ère partie
Marcus 2ème partie
Michel Lalet 1ère partie
Michel Lalet 2 ème partie
Michel Lalet 3ème partie
Gaelle Larvor / Nam-Gwang Kim
Nadine Seul 1ère partie
Nadine Seul 2 ème partie
Guillaume Lemery 1 ère partie
Guillaume Lemery 2 è me partie
Jérémie Fleury Tome 1
Claude Leroy 1ère partie
Claude Leroy 2 ème partie
Marie Cardouat 1ère partie
Marie Cardouat 2ème partie
Gabriel Nassif 1 ère partie
Gabriel Nassif 2 ème partie