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Cybex's John Aglialoro holds all the cards, no bluff.

Cybex CEO John Aglialoro has raked in big winnings at the poker table.He said the game has taught him life lessons that he applies to his business life.

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You can blame Cybex CEO John Aglialoro’s poker hobby on his Sicilian grandmother. She’s the one who babysat him and taught him to play the game more known for smoky backrooms and gangsters a la Hollywood than grandmas and grandkids.

Thanks, grandma. Aglialoro not only stuck with the game, but got dang good at it, perhaps due to one of grandma’s habits that still cheeses him a bit.

“That woman used to keep the money!” Aglialoro said of his grandmother’s teachings.

We suppose he’s forgiven grandma since the game that has experience skyrocketing recent growth has taken him around the world and put some impressive change in his pocket, but has also taught him subtle lessons that translate to life and to business.

Not chump change
His earnings in the last couple of decades playing on the circuit — as often as he can between corporate business meetings — have well made up for his childhood pocket change that was taken as winnings by grandma. Of the championship tournaments he’s played since the mid-90s, records show nearly $800,000 in winnings, with his biggest jackpot just over a year ago with a victory in the 2004 U.S. Poker Championship, No-Limit Texas Hold’em game to the tune of $691,096.

“I’m a serious amateur,” Aglialoro — known as “The CEO” in poker circles — told SNEWS®. “I know what to do to win.”

But running day-to-day business has kept him away from as many tournaments as he’d like since the late ’90s, he said. Poker standings on the Internet don’t show a thing between 1994 and 2001. That all changed in 2004 when he got in the money a few small times then landed the big one in October, putting him 32nd on the top 100 money list for that year. But wait, don’t get too cocky: No. 1 on the list had $5 million to his name! Filling out the top 100, you find Ben Affleck in 98th with total winnings of $356,000. Things also change overnight: For 2005, Aglialoro was 3,121st in the overall standings as of late November. That’s the beauty of poker: It’s all about life and reality, and things can change overnight.

Clean-Cut John
Aglialoro — formerly known as “Clean-Cut John” and, no, we didn’t ask where that came from — has been “in the money” twice this year — 14th in the World Series of Poker Seven-Card Stud game in Las Vegas in June ($12,635) and 30th in the New England Poker Classic No Limit Hold’em game in April ($8,797).

“I remember that game well,” The CEO said of the April 2005 game in New England. “He had aces and I had queens, and he started to walk away and a queen came out.” Aglialoro nearly gloated over that win and how cocky his opponent was that he had taken the game.

Aglialoro scoffed at Lady Luck being the deciding factor in any poker game.

“The standard deviation on the luck factor is 30 percent,” he said. “Anyone can have a great night, but over time, the luck counts for maybe 30 percent.

“Poker is a skill, and if you apply the skill over and over,” you can win, he explained. “It’s a lot of discipline.”

Although a poker lover, he finds the growth in popularity of poker with TV broadcasts and entranced audiences in casinos a bit, well, loony. “Watching poker live is like watching paint dry,” he said without mincing words in his stereotypical Aglialoro-esque way. And watching televised games? “It’s like watching the Super Bowl three weeks later and you know who won,” he said. OK, maybe you’d watch a few plays, he conceded, but not the whole game.

“I would never have expected TV poker to be what it is,” Aglialoro said.

That hasn’t stopped the growth. Aglialoro said the World Series of Poker in 1994 had 280 total entrants. In 2005, there were more than 5,500.

Life lessons applied to business
About those life lessons: “What poker does, is it’s a leveling experience. Reality is reality. The secret is, if you get good cards, you can win, and if you don’t, you get out.

“The skill is not sticking around with bad cards,” he added.

And when life or business hands you bad cards? Same thing, he said. You have to recognize reality and know when to stick around and when to get out.

“It’s given me a baseline of reality. I may hope orders will pickup for a so-so product, but you may have to fold the tent and pull up the product,” he said.

“It teaches you not to get overly optimistic, not to get overly pessimistic, to see reality, to see life and business as it is, not as you want it to be, but as it is.”

All those life lessons aside — and the fun of playing cash games in casinos with his wife Joan Carter who also plays for fun — Aglialoro would like to get back to more tournaments. He wonders aloud about turning pro, noting he has the patience and discipline, but his sentence trails off.

“I’m hoping to have more time,” he said. “I’d like to get back to the World Series of Poker.

“When I have time, I do it,” he added, “and I’m having as much fun as if I were a pro.”