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Poker Question And Answer: Daniel Buzgon

Online Poker Player Talks About Black Friday

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Daniel Buzgon

Daniel Buzgon played some solid poker in 2012, with more than $275,000 in live tournament winnings, and a consistent pattern of cashes. Five career titles, 154 career cashes, and more than $2 million in winnings are no small feats in the poker world.

Buzgon is hoping to continue the productive play, whether it be in the US or abroad. He talked to us this week about this decision, the differences between online and live games, and what he has learned from previous tournaments. No matter the situation, Buzgon aims to be prepared and poised for productive play in the future.

Logan Hronis: Tell us about your early poker career, how you got started, and why you are drawn to the game of poker.

Daniel Buzgon: I got my introduction to poker like many else in my generation with the combination of Chris Moneymaker and the movie, Rounders. Seeing how much money could be won in such a short period of time really got me interested in poker. That summer, my friends and I spent numerous nights playing micro-stakes cash games and the occasional tournament. A few months later, I started attending Arizona State University, where my interest in poker really started to grow.

We would play in the dorms a few nights a week and also take trips to Morongo Casino in California where the legal gambling age is 18. Around this time, I was introduced to online poker by one of my friends. To this day, I’m still not sure how I was able to graduate after finding online poker. I spent the next few years trying my hardest to not let online poker consume my life. And as many of you know, that’s easier said than done.

After graduation, instead of looking for a “real” job, I spent the next few months back home in New Jersey grinding low stakes multi-table tournaments and sit-and-gos online. It took me about three months to realize this might be a lot harder than I originally had thought. This poker dream of mine just wasn’t panning out like I thought it would. I was down to my last few hundred dollars on PokerStars when their annual WCOOP series was starting up. Luckily I managed to chop the very first event for a life changing $96,000. Without this score, I more than likely would have gone back to pursuing some kind of position in the golf industry.

LH: Talk about poker in New Jersey. How has the poker scene there affected or formed your poker game, if at all?

DB: Growing up so close to a major stop on the poker circuit has given me the opportunity to play a lot more live tournaments than the average online player. For the past five years now, I have played almost every tournament held at the Borgata and the majority of WSOP events. Getting to play with some of great players from around this area has definitely made me make some changes in the way I approach live tournaments. The majority of these players are from the online world, and have successfully made the transition. However, there are more than a few successful local players out there who do not have an online background. I think having a mix of these two styles is extremely important if you want to have success in live tournaments.

LH: Being an online and a live player, how do you approach the differences in the these settings? Which game would you say you have the bigger advantage in, personally?

DB: Online and live poker really aren’t that much different. There are only a few key differences. The first is the actual physical presence of your opponents. I find it a lot easier to figure out how my opponents are playing live, versus online. It is a lot easier to focus on one table of players as opposed to multiple tables that you would be playing online. Picking up on live tells is also a key difference in the two. A lot of recreational players give off information that you would not be able to gather online.

The stack depths in live poker are usually much deeper than online. This is usually true for both cash games and tournaments. Online tournaments usually play a lot more shallow, and it’s a much more preflop game than it is post-flop. It was very difficult for me to make the transition from online to live because of this major change. I used to have a much bigger advantage online because I just wasn’t as comfortable playing live yet. Over the past few years though, I have a bigger edge live just because the tournaments I usually play in are more passive. I’m curious to see how the online game has changed since Black Friday, and see if I can make the adjustments needed to succeed there now.

LH: Describe your feelings about the controversy that is online poker past and present. How has your lifestyle changed because of Black Friday, if at all?

DB: It was such a huge part of my life for about seven years. I devoted so much time and energy to it, that it doesn’t seem fair that it could be just taken away from me one day, just like that. I think the worst part for me is just the uncertainty of it all. No one knows what’s going to happen over the next few years with online poker, and when you play poker for a living, that kind of poses a bit of a problem. I almost am to the point where I don’t even care if online poker comes back in this country or not. I just want someone to tell me that though so I can move on and stop thinking about it.

LH: Your biggest cash in 2012 was at the $5,000 buy-in WPT main event in Jacksonville. Talk a little bit about that tournament, and your mindset as you approached the final table. Is there anything specific you try to keep in mind as the field starts thinning?

DB: The WPT Jacksonville was one of the craziest tournaments I probably will ever play in my life. We were down to the final two tables, and all I could think about was making good decisions. I was in this same position at WPT Borgata a few months before, with a good stack with two tables to go. I didn’t play very well leading up to the final table. I managed to get to the final table but was last in chips. I didn’t want the same thing to happen and was focused on being patient and picking good spots.

Playing online poker prepares you for these situations. You are going to take your fair share of bad beats and coolers because you are playing so many hands. You become numb to the pain. You move on. It’s over. One positive about being this short is that you almost have nothing really to lose. The pressure is kind of off you and you can kind of use that to your advantage.

There are a few ways you can play it once the field starts to thin down. You can be the one trying to accumulate all the chips or the one playing a more patient style. Both can be effective in the right situations. The two biggest factors will be your chip stack and your table draw. The times you get a favorable table draw you really need to take advantage of it.

LH: You seem to have played a decent amount of live tournaments in 2012. Do you rely on investors to avert some of the financial risk for these tournaments? If so, was that an adjustment for you, coming from online, or did you have investors online as well?

DB: During my first few years as a professional, I was sort of naive to the whole backing world and didn’t realize how prevalent it actually was in poker. A few years went by, and I was just tired of the swings. It was affecting my play and my mood away from the tables. Luckily, I was able to find a backer for online and live tournaments, which is a lot harder to find in today’s poker world. Right before “Black Friday,” my backer and me decided to part ways, and I started being backed by one of my closer friends in the poker world, Chris Klodnicki.

Being backed is a mixed blessing. It’s nice not losing all the money directly when you go on a downswing. But at the same point it’s not that fun sending them a big chunk of your winnings.

LH: As you look forward to online poker possibly becoming legal again in the US, how will you approach the change? Now that you have been playing so much live, do you think you will try to mix in more live events, or do you just prefer online no matter what?

DB: After almost two years of not playing a single hand of online poker I must admit that I am really starting to want to play again. In a few weeks I will be moving to Costa Rica for a few months to get set back up online. I figure enough time has passed with no real word on when we can expect online poker here in the United States for me to keep waiting for it. I have no idea how rusty I will be, but I look forward to the challenge.

I am not really sure what I consider myself in terms of online or live. Maybe a hybrid of both. I think I will always prefer live tournaments and online cash games over their counterparts.

After my trip to Costa Rica I will have to make a decision on whether or not I want to move away more permanently to play online, or go back to traveling the country for live tournaments. I really don’t know which side I am leaning towards at this time. I guess time will tell.

LH: If you had one piece of advice to give to an amateur poker player contemplating going the professional route, what would you say to him/her?

DB: The first thing I would tell them is to be sure that this is what they really want to do. It’s not as glamorous as a lot of people seem to think it is. Tournaments players usually lose nine times out of ten. This is hard for a lot of people to deal with who are not used too much losing in their normal life. Poker is not as easy as it was four or five years ago.

Oh yeah, and learn to play cash games as well.

LH: Tell us about yourself outside of the poker world. What do you do in your free time? Could you see yourself doing anything else besides poker in the future?

DB: Traveling around the country for poker tournaments does not give me the most free time these days. When I do get it though I try to golf as much as possible. That was my first real passion before I found poker. I have found it to be a great way to take my mind off of everything poker related as well.

I also like to watch sports and hang out with friends. Nothing too crazy. I have no idea where I see myself in the future, but I will probably always be playing poker at some capacity. Hopefully poker is just a starting point for the rest of my life.