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Capture the Flag With Doug Polk

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Dec 21, 2016

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Doug “WCGRider” Polk has two World Series of Poker bracelets and more than $5 million in lifetime tournament earnings, but he’s best known for being the game’s toughest heads-up no-limit hold’em player.

The 27-year-old California native won the tag team event at the 2016 WSOP with fellow Upswing Poker coach and founder Ryan Fee. Polk’s first bracelet came in a 2014 $1,000 no-limit hold’em turbo event.

Polk is popular on the live streaming site Twitch, and he’s currently in the middle of a micro-stakes bankroll challenge. He’s trying to build up a $10,000 bankroll at the games he last played a decade ago. He is also in charge of strategy at Upswing Poker, which offers strategies and courses that will take your own poker skills to the next level.

Though it doesn’t seem like he gets the online nosebleed action like he once did, Polk is still making a huge impact promoting the game of poker to players of all skill levels.

Card Player had the chance to speak to Polk about how he climbed the ladder in the online poker world and what it’s like to attempt that these days.

Brian Pempus: What’s it been like returning to the micro-stakes in an effort to complete your bankroll challenge? You are trying to build a five-figure bankroll from almost nothing.

Doug Polk: I originally built my bankroll in 2007 playing the very small-stakes games, starting with $10 and running it up to where I am today. It’s definitely a walk down memory lane to be back in those extremely small-stakes games. One of the problems that I don’t have that a lot of people thought I would is me being able to take the stakes seriously. Obviously whether I win or lose at $0.05-$0.10 or $0.01-$0.02 is not going to matter very much to my life. I guess I am just a competitive person, so I am in it to win either way. One of the things about the micro-stakes is that you have to play a different game just because the rake is such a large consideration. The players in those games are going to play a much different style. They are going to play a more conservative style, and a less aggressive type of style. There is definitely a lot of checking back certain hands that are too strong. It’s a little harder to do some hand reading, and you have to play a little tighter in some spots because of the rake. But I am sure I can beat this over time. I have played a few weeks of the challenge, and I am up about 60 percent of the original bankroll. That’s not too bad, but I am hoping to do better going forward.

BP: Do you think the micro-stakes online player is tougher these days than when you were playing them?

DP: It’s tough to answer, because I played these games so long ago, so it’s hard to remember the difference. I would say my experience is tougher because of the people I am playing. I would think the micros are still quite soft, but maybe not quite as soft as they were before.

BP: Can you talk about betting for thin value in a small-stakes game versus a mid-stakes game?

DP: Generally speaking, in the lower stakes I think players tend to not like to feel like they are paying people off, whereas in a higher-stakes game, most people realize that part of the game is having the worst hand and calling just to prevent your opponent from bluffing. Thin value betting is worse both in a player’s ability to call you down light and sometimes there are just hands where players check back a ridiculously strong hand for no reason. I have seen tons of hands in my bankroll challenge where someone had a really strong two pair and bet the flop, and then on the turn checked. So, the combination of players either undervaluing their hands or playing too conservatively, compounded with playing less of a correct game theory style on the river, makes betting for thin value not quite as strong.

However, with that said, bluffing is still somewhat good in a lot of situations. I think there is a common misconception that you can’t bluff people. That’s simply not true. There are certainly more players you aren’t going to want to bluff. But at the same time, bluffing is still part of the game and a lot of low-stakes players are definitely not calling the right amount on the river in some spots. I think you should value bet thin less, but you can still play loose aggressive and pick your spots.

BP: Some players might be starting off at the micros with a dream of reaching the nosebleeds and having a career like yours. What do you think it’s like trying to climb the ladder these days?

DP: I think a lot of players sort of wonder if it’s possible. People love to come into my stream and say that I can’t even beat the smallest stakes. I always think when that happens, “Dude, we are up 60 percent of the bankroll, let’s calm down a little bit.” I think some players expect that you get to walk in and win every time you play if you are a good player. That’s just not the case in poker ever. If you put the best poker player in the world against someone who is pretty bad in a heads-up format, the best player is only going to win 55, 60 or maybe 65 percent of the time. It’s not like chess where you put a grandmaster against a decent player and the grandmaster wins 100 percent of the time.

Let’s say you are playing against someone who hasn’t played poker before and you tell them to go all in every hand, the better player can only beat that strategy 55-65 percent of the time. That’s actually not that great considering that their strategy is just go all in blind every hand. You have to be a little bit more realistic in poker. The answer to this question is of course it can be done. Is it harder than it used to be? That’s for sure. Players have gotten stronger. You can’t have as many glaring problems nowadays. For example, if you just tilt really badly, you aren’t going to be able to put yourself in a situation where you can move up in stakes. You can’t afford to have those blow-up moments where you lose a ton of money for no reason. The games are still beatable. I think we will still see people come from nothing and make it to the top ranks in poker and play the nosebleeds.

BP: What kind of advice would you give to someone looking to take shots in bigger games?

DP: It’s a tough question because it’s really important how good of a game you get, rather than the stakes. If you have an opportunity [on a bankroll] with like 20-25 buy-ins [for the game] to play in a truly phenomenal game, you should have probably built up some connections to sell some pieces. But in the situation where you have to play with all of yourself and it’s should you take that spot or not, I would say you should probably take it if the alternative is to play in a smaller, worse game. You have to be conservative with that situation nowadays. Heads-up no-limit is the best example of this.

Players used to have sessions where they would lose like 50 percent of their roll, but the thing is that players were much less scared to do that because you weren’t worried about finding other action to get back there. Nowadays, it’s not like that. If right now I had to start over on the ladder in heads-up no-limit I would be in a really bad spot because there would be very few players who would play against me. The point is that you have to be a bit more careful compared to the past because of the ecosystem, but you should still look for spots to get your money in good. You just have to be more responsible about it. ♠

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