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Gavin Griffin: From Poker High Roller to Low Stakes Grinder

Poker's First Triple Crown Winner Swallows Pride To Rebuild His Bankroll

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Monte Carlo – April 2, 2007

Gavin GriffinStarting the hand roughly 100 big blinds deep, I raise the button (small blind) with KDiamond Suit 5Club Suit to 150k with blinds of 25k-50k. Marc Karam three bets out of the BB to 400k. If this were today I would either reraise or fold. I’m a much better tournament player now than I was back then. In addition, this was the fifth day of a grueling and extremely high pressure tournament with a $1 million difference between first and second, I was sick, and Marc was annoying the hell out of me by playing really well. I make a small mistake and just call. The flop is 4-3-2 rainbow.

Marc leads for 500k. There really aren’t many better flops for me in the deck. I have, at the very worst, eight outs. More likely I have 11. This also isn’t the type of flop that smashes Marc’s range. I decide I’m ready to play for stacks if he’s willing. I put in half my stack, 2 million. He moves in very quickly and I get a count to make sure I didn’t misread our stacks. It’s about 2.5 million more, so I call.

His face dropped. “You call?”

“Don’t worry, you have the best hand.” I said.

He shows 7-4 offsuit and I couldn’t be happier. I have 14 outs and a nearly dead heat. This is the biggest moment of my life up to this point but I feel calm and collected. I have nothing left to do. They do the obligatory pause before dealing the turn, a board pairing trey. Things are slightly worse now, I’m a 3-to-2 dog with one card to come.

The dealer pauses for an eternity, burns one, and turns over a life changing KHeart Suit. One small fist pump and I shake Marc’s hand and congratulate him. He played a super tough match. I head over to my girlfriend Amy, now my wife, for a big hug and a bit of a cry.

The rest of the night is, oddly, crystal clear. Fireworks at the trophy ceremony. Pictures for an hour. Interviews. A press conference? More pictures. Filling out paperwork. Begrudgingly going to the bar (remember I was sick and we had a 6 a.m. flight home). Champagne poured on my head. Flaming shots.

Los Angeles – Jan 4, 2012

It’s my first time in this poker room with the beach murals on the walls. I came here to avoid familiar faces. I’m embarrassed. 2011 shattered many of my dreams and most of my ego. I was in a bad place mentally all year and that made for some bad decisions in my poker career. I managed my bankroll poorly and by the end of the year was playing some uninspired poker. I need to find a way to fix this. So, I’ve decided to drop down in limits, fix my game, and rebuild.

It’s humbling to be where I’m at but I got here through my own doing and I’m going to get myself out. I put my name on the board for $8-$16 Omaha eight-or-better and take an empty seat in $8-$16 hold ‘em. I’m grateful for some things. I’m grateful that I’m not a specialist. I am competent at all of the games and very good at some of them. I have the luxury of varied game selection and I plan to use it.

I’ve given myself some questions to ask each day.

1. How well did I control my emotions?
2. Everyone makes mistakes, but did I learn from the mistakes I made?
3. Did I game and seat select aggressively?
4. Did I honestly evaluate my mental state and energy level?
5. Did I go on “auto pilot” at any point or did I actively think about decisions?

These are important pieces of information to consider during and after each session. There can be no improvement without thought about the things we plan to do and reflection on the things we have done.

I’ve also committed to transcribing every hand I play during the day. Of course, there are some that I miss because I raise and the blinds fold or because I play a significant and interesting pot and then lose the next hand I play in the shuffle as I attempt to record the details and thoughts of the previous hand. Nonetheless, it’s a struggle to train myself to record all of these hands. Not to mention the fact that they are somewhat hard to record because low limit games tend to have more multiway pots that make transcribing much harder. Another factor that I didn’t consider is that as the night goes on and I’m feeling tired or losing focus, the hands get harder to transcribe.

I take my seat in the Omaha eight-or-better game after playing a few uninteresting orbits of hold ‘em. Not surprisingly, I’m the youngest in the game by 20-plus years. The Omaha table at your local casino is usually populated by the oldest and crankiest individuals in the room. I’m not sure whether Omaha draws these types or if you just age faster and get crankier the more you play the game. Luckily though, this game is not filled with your usual group of curmudgeons.

Before long I’m reminded of the main difference of high and low limit Omaha and most games in general. The game is slower paced, less aggressive by an order of magnitude and multiway action is the norm. This is the type of game where drawing to anything other than the nuts is death, a bet on the river means a real hand and a raise on the river means you should fold. Surprisingly, given that information, people call the river way too often. I saw a second overcall on an A-8-6-8-6 board by A-J-5-2 when there had been a bet and call four or five ways on every street.

My plans to take advantage of these weaknesses are to value bet the river thinner and bluff in key spots when heads up because I’m quite sure these players are vastly inexperienced at playing heads up.

My life journey has brought me through some incredible times and into dark days. I had incredible poker success at a very young age when I became the youngest World Series of Poker bracelet winner ever at the time. Then I went on to add an EPT and WPT championship to my resume, making me the first Triple Crown winner ever. Not long after that I was brought on by PokerStars to be a Team Pro. After a couple years of less than stellar performance, we parted ways. Now I’m working with a startup poker site and trying to restart my game. I’m going into this year with a plan that I expect to execute to the best of my ability. I’m going to work my way through these lower limits and share the things I learn with Card Player readers in an interest to better my game and yours. Here’s to a knowledge filled new year. ♠

Gavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by HeroPoker.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG

 
 
 
 

Comments

THEJOEF
over 2 years ago

I'm sure the story is worse then you are letting on. I give you credit for realizing that you mismangaed yourself. I hope you are able to make a living in the business of poker instead of playing. .
I discuss life with many young poker dreamers and you will become just another example.You cashed 5 million and it seems to be all gone. The upside of playing poker for a living is not very high. The "life " can rob you blind and cause much pain. It is almost impossible for a 20 something year old to understand.Only because he or she has not lived enough life yet. Yes you can take down a big tourny and be flush for a few years but we all know the cost. If a person is not a fully backed tournament player with no make up the odds are he or she will go bust. The beauty of the online poker world is "a PRO" at STARS could burn through 500,000 with no make up, cash one tournament and look like a hero. In the real poker backing world the pro gets in the make up to deep and looks for another backer to keep the action going and so on and so forth.
When does the "life" overtake the "job" because that's all it should be seen as is a job. 99.9% of people trying to play poker to pay the bills have done or are trying to do exactly what you listed above. It will not work. You must earn off the felt because the price is too high on the felt. PHIL IVEY would have a hard time earning $40 per hour in the lower stakes.
Through this entire 9 year poker boom I can only think of one guy that has played his hand perfectly and that's PHIL HELLMUTH. He has made a fortune in the business of poker. He made himself into a brand. He also did win in a couple large fields. I'm sure there are others but im not telling you anything you don"t know by now. Good Luck with your climb and hopefully you"ll win the main event because that"s what it takes these days.

 
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Skuzzer
over 2 years ago

Correct. The majority of the players who win a major tournament, or get on a heater for a few months and rack up good finishes, get an impression that they now are great players better then the rest of the feilds when ever they play. Many say, Im turning pro! Etc. Well if you haven't played for long enough time to see all sides of the game it's very easy to think, because you have done well in the begining, a couple of years even, that you got what it takes to be a 'pro'. B.S. The real test of being a player is how you handle losing steaks which can run for months.
Playing tournaments won't make you a pro no matter how you do in them, it may improve your ability to play tournamnets but thats a different game then playing cash games.
Who ever thinks he has mastered the game because he has been lucky enough to win 15-20 coin flips in a touranment, have the best hand stand up for all the money against a straight and flush draw on the flop, or draw out for all the money against a set, is a fool.
A pro has mastered the odds of hand situations /& pot or money odds, mastered the 'value' of a hand in situations which can be very different depending on conditions surrounding the hand,(the type of players in the game, how much money is on the table, position, the type of game that is being played at the moment, etc, etc). He has mastered the management of his money, knowns if and where his edge is in the game and most importantly he has mastered control of himself, his reactions and emotions as they arise in the game, and his reactiopns and feelings to long losing spells and a series of bad luck which is as much a part of the game as anything. If you handle these ups and downs with even maturity, like chip did and barry does, with a similar demeanor in stride with your winnings you would say you have what it takes to be a pro.
Winning $5 million in tournaments means you got lucky, not skillful necassarily, this is life changing money for 98% of players, but if you lost it back it shows how little you really know about the game and yourself.
In 5 -6 years the 95% of the ones whos names comes up today for winning millions in tournamnets will not be heard from again. It's the nature of the game...don't believe all the BS thats put out by media and those who run tournamnets and the Tv coverage and what announcers say about players being great, making grerat plays and lay downs, and the glamerizing in magizines. They do all this mainly because they want to present the right image to the millions watching, that will get new money into the game and sell the commericals. Thats what thier about, fact.
Many of todays young players reading this think who's this guy, hes out to lunch. Good for you. But i have a question in that case. When is the last time, and how many times have you layed down KK before the flop in NLH in a cash game or the main event in the WSOP, because you thought the play back was AA?? How about doing it 7 times and it being the right paly 6 times. Or how about laying down the middle set on the flop to the better hand becasue you had one out twice, or about 21 to 1 underdog??

How many times have you seen a 'big' cash game being played where the best players usually play and you realize they are good players and you might can find a better game else where that you are good in and can therfore beat? (Im excluding the players in this big game that are independly wealthy that are in the game because of their money are desire to play it. The others are the ones who have learned their skills from the trenches and are the best). If you have seen these games, and players , the real pros...ask yourself do you belong in that game...are you as good or better then there are? Know youself... know how you match up against the feild...play accordingly.
Puggy told me once, and he was a master...
1)know your edge,
2)manage your game and money.
3) manage yourself.

good luck. doc

 
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Andrew4
over 2 years ago

You sound real smart now, bro.

 
 

HeyZues
over 2 years ago

Would you be able to give any advice on low limit, limit omaha hi-lo, I looking to get more of a feel before playing PLO hi, and I want to play HI LO at a pro level

 
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paul7777
over 2 years ago

Easy come, easy go, welcome to poker.....

 
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CraigBerger
over 2 years ago

Good for Gavin for being brave enough to talk about the reality of poker, especially for young players who succeed quickly. If you go back and look at some of the names that were hot at the beginning of the poker boom, most will probably seem unfamiliar today. Some of these young players could stand to learn some humility. It might save their careers in the long run.

 
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Dan4
over 2 years ago

Good article and thanks for writing this Gavin. Forget the negative people's comments, you know what you're capable of doing and I wish you the best. Hope we get to keep reading more of how you work to get back to the top.

 
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Neo-Vigilante
over 2 years ago

Good luck Gavin. I hope you succeed with your new strategy.

 
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