Poker Pro Joe Tehan: 'Charging Inferior Hands' Is How You Make Money In Poker
Cash Game Grinder Says That The Game Isn't About Bluffing
Joe Tehan has been the epitome of rock solid throughout his poker career. After growing up playing cards against his grandmother, Tehan has moved on to be a powerful opponent. His results are impressive, especially for a guy who plays mostly limit cash games nowadays. The New York native has almost $4 million in tournament cashes and eight titles.
Card Player caught up with Tehan this week, and asked him about some of the ins and outs of his career. He explains how he never imagined being a pro poker player, explains his secret to making money in poker, and why you can’t surprise him at the table.
Logan Hronis: Tell us about your childhood and your introduction to poker. Is there anything that made the game more attractive to you early on?
Joe Tehan: I got started when I was younger, like fourth or fifth grade. I would go home, finish my homework and then I’d just play. My grandmother used to love card games, so I’d go to her house and play her. I played all sorts of card games. I started off with limit cash games because there wasn’t much no-limit poker back then. I’ve always been sort of a gamer — all types of games — and I’m a pretty decent numbers guy.
LH: When you first started playing poker, did you think you would try to make a career out of it, or was it more or less for fun?
JT: It definitely started out just for fun. Poker was totally the last thing I thought I would be doing, career-wise. My brother got a big executive job at a big company, both my sisters have PhD’s in physics and chemistry, and everyone in my family was very strict. When I decided to play poker, my dad wasn’t crazy about it, but he knew that I was going to be smart about it.
LH: Talk about your early career a little bit. Did you pretty much start your winning ways from the beginning, or did you experience growing pains like many other players?
JT: I hate to say it was smooth sailing, because that doesn’t make for a good interview (laughs). I moved to Las Vegas with about $6,000 and played $15-$30 limit. Then I moved up stakes from there. My first couple sessions in the bigger games, I guess I lost quite a bit of money. You’re sitting there saying, “I know I’m better than these guys, it’s just not happening.” But I worked my way up, one limit to the next. Before I knew it, I was playing $80-$160 and then jumped over to some no-limit tournaments. When you’re winning, you just keep playing bigger.
LH: Obviously, 2006 was a monster year for you. Tell us about the year, the emotion surrounding it, and what that big year meant for your career.
JT: I had a really good start to my tournament year. I think I had five no-limit scores of $100,000 or more in 18 months. You still have to run good to win tournaments, but I played well. I became more of a no-limit player at that time, but I still liked limit also. I was going with it. I had played two or three years worth of cash games, then I won $300,000 and it was like, “Wow! I seem to have a knack for this,” so I kept going.
LH: How would you compare your game today to the first few years of your career? Would you say you play less frequently or more frequently nowadays?
JT: Right now I feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been. I’ve always been a bit spewy, but I’m comfortable in almost every situation. I guess that’s from putting in so many hours at the table. I feel like I have it figured out. Maybe it’s because I’m having a good year, but I know how to handle and react to each situation. There’s not much I haven’t seen at a poker table. There are still swings, though. It doesn’t matter how I handle the situations, there’s always variance.
An example of Tehan spewing at the table was perhaps never more evident than when he shoved with 4-2 off suit on the money bubble in a 2012 tournament. The hand is one of the most brazen ever recorded on camera and had the poker world buzzing.
LH: What do you believe has been the best teacher for your ongoing poker education?
JT: For me, it was experience. That was the biggest thing. I would play high-stakes limit, and then go play $2-$5 no-limit. That game wasn’t really that big to me, but I would get involved in like 70 percent of hands, and splash around a bit. I would get in all different types of situations and learn that way. I never read a poker book. I guess I watched a few CardRunners videos, but I always felt like, “Why am I watching this? I’m better than these guys.” If you find a player who you really respect to talk over situations and hands with them, I think that’s actually a good way to learn. As long as you have a few people that understand the game, you can learn a lot.
LH: In your opinion, what is the most important skill or attribute a player can have?
JT: One of the things that a lot of players don’t get is the concept of getting your money in ahead. It’s like getting involved in high-risk, short-term stocks. The only thing you can control is trying to get your investment in ahead. I hear people say, “My hand will look so strong if I do this. My range looks so strong if I do that.” If you get called, you’re going to be in a world of hurt. People don’t fold much. The best players find out how to play against bad players. It’s not about bluffing, making crazy moves. It’s about getting the most value out of your hands, and charging opponents for their draws. That’s where you’re making money — charging inferior hands.
LH: You have a bunch of different games in your results recently, compared to mostly no-limit hold’em events earlier in your career. Is there a strategic reason for this, or are you just switching it up? Please explain.
JT: The last couple years, I haven’t played many no-limit tournaments. I played the World Series and a few others, but not a whole lot. I moved away from Vegas too, so that’s another reason I haven’t played many events outside of the World Series, in general. Back then, it seemed most of the tournaments were strictly no-limit. Now, they have a ton of tournaments, all types of games. Mostly, the lack of no-limit cashes are just because I haven’t been playing (no-limit).
LH: Tell us about yourself off the felt. Do you have many interests outside of poker? Could you see yourself taking time away from poker to pursue other interests in the future?
JT: Well, I just had a son about ten months ago. So I have a new family, I moved away from Vegas. Things have slowed down, as far as tournaments. I’ve been golfing three days a week, playing 20 to 30 hours of poker per week. Like I said, I like all types of games, so I’m in a bowling league, I golf, and I’m putting in a game room at my house. But I still love gambling on anything and everything. I’ll bet sports, and all the stuff that degenerate gamblers should be doing (laughs). When it comes to financially speaking, I’ll take some money and invest it. I’ll invest in businesses. All the money I’ve ever made has come from poker, though.
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