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Capture the Flag: Shawn Buchanan

by Erik Fast |  Published: Jan 23, 2013

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Shawn BuchananShawn Buchanan recently finished runner-up in the 2012 World Poker Tour Five Diamond World Poker Classic main event, earning $746,502 and climbing to 26th place in the Player of the Year race. With earnings in excess of $6 million in live and online tournaments, it’s undeniable that Buchanan is a top tournament pro. Perhaps less well known is the quiet Canadian’s prowess at the cash game tables. Despite flying somewhat under the radar, Buchanan has played in sizable cash games throughout his career.

Card Player caught up with him to learn more about how he got his start and the transition to playing some of the highest stakes mixed games around.

Erik Fast: Day to day, when these big tournaments aren’t going on, what do you do to make a living?

Shawn Buchanan: I still play online when I’m home, but the games have died off a fair amount in the mixed games because a fair bit of the player field was Americans, so they don’t run as often. When those games do run they are okay.

EF: When you play cash, as you said, you primarily play mixed games. Which games are in the rotation and at what stakes?

SB: Online I play eight-game on PokerStars and ten-game on Full Tilt, and I play anywhere from $40-$80 up to as high as they go. I like playing $400-$800, which is a level I feel pretty comfortable at.

EF: You seem to travel to a lot of the bigger tournaments, which often have big live games running. Do you ever play live mixed games there?

SB: I don’t play a ton of live cash anymore, just a little bit. In a lot of these mixes, they play about 16 games, including baduecey, badacey and all of that stuff. My friend Greg Mueller plays all that stuff and I’ve watched him and talked to him about them. But it is a lot harder to learn them live, and you can’t really learn them online. People sometimes let you sit out certain games live, but usually they want you to play every game.

EF: So what is your day-to-day like when not on the road for tournaments?

SB: Recently, I just keep an eye on my computer and play whenever games run online, but I don’t play 15 hours a day or anything, like I used to. It used to be nice, you would wake up and there would always be $200-$400 and $400-$800 running. Now, there won’t be anything for days on end, and then randomly a game will go, so you often play it until it breaks.

EF: How did you get into playing mixed games? How did you get started in cash in general?

SB: I started out playing limit hold’em when I first got into the game, $6-$12 and $10-$20. I was working as a landscaper, and I was pretty much clueless. But I remember thinking, If I could just bet what I want, I would just kill these people! At that time, there weren’t really any no-limit games going. From there I found online poker, and just kind of climbed from there.

EF: So then you picked up no-limit and pot-limit Omaha. How did you go from playing the big-bet games back to limit, but this time playing all of the games?

SB: I just saw all of the mixed games running, and what really sealed the deal was that I saw that the $400-$800 eight-game started on Stars and that it had a $40,000 minimum buy-in. All of these good mixed players were making big mistakes in no-limit and PLO, and they had to buy in deep at $100-$200 blinds in the big bet games. So I could make up for not being great at stud or stud eight-or-better by stacking someone when they make a big mistake as a result of not understanding how to value hands in pot-limit Omaha. So that was why I started playing mixed games, and from there I learned more about the other games.

EF: Was there any game in the mix that you had a hard time picking up?

SB: Once you get the idea, your skills do transfer over from the other poker games you know. I used to be a bull in a china shop in those other limit games. In stud eight-or-better I would have 8-3-2 rainbow and think it was good, when in reality you don’t want to play that hand. You want hands that make lows, straights and flushes, but I didn’t know and just went pedal to the metal. But I learned quickly.

EF: Do you have a favorite game?

SB: I enjoy playing triple draw the most, but I feel I play all of the games above average. You learn fast playing them. All of the thinking that goes behind one game can transfer over to the others.

EF: Being a cash game player, bankroll management is important. Do you find that playing mixed games is any lower variance compares to big bet games, or is it just as volatile?

SB: The swings are big in mixed games, almost just as big. And also, when you throw in the big bet games into mixes like they have online, sometime people will lose a huge pot in and be steaming, and then they start gambling more and they make the limit games more high variance as well. Also, with baduecey and badacey, there will be a mandatory straddle and you basically have to call your straddle and draw, even if you are taking four sometimes, because you already have $1,200 out there and it’s essentially mathematically correct. ♠