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The Inside Straight

by CP The Inside Straight Authors |  Published: Dec 05, 2007

Mark Mendel Helps Antigua Stare Down U.S.
By Bob Pajich

Mark Mendel is the lead attorney who represents Antigua and Barbuda in a World Trade Organization dispute against the United States, a dispute in which WTO panels have repeatedly ruled that the U.S. is violating WTO rules by limiting online gambling.

Instead of complying with agreed upon rules, the U.S. has decided to revise the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which now allows for WTO members to seek compensation. This opened the floodgate for other countries to follow Antigua and file claims against the U.S. Now, the case not only will cost the U.S. government and its companies billions of dollars in sanctions, but is attracting global attention because, according to Mendel, it has "the potential to be kind of the poster case for what's wrong with the WTO and globalization."

Visit's Gambling Legislation section to learn more about the case. Mendel was kind enough to sit down with Card Player to talk about the case.

Card Player: Where are you at with the case?

Mark Mendel: We've won every step of the way, and basically the U.S. has run out of options and ways to claim that it actually won the case, so now we're in the very last stages of the dispute at the WTO.

The U.S. has failed to comply with the ruling, so we're entitled to impose trade sanctions against them to kind of induce them to come into compliance with the ruling, and we're in the very last stages of arbitration to decide how much on an annual basis we can impose on the U.S. until it complies.

CP: In your mind, why is the U.S. taking such a hard stance when basically the rest of the Western world is embracing this new industry?

MM: You know, it's a really strange thing, and if you look at historical parallels, it's not so unusual for the United States to adopt a reactionary stance on something it doesn't understand. I think there's quite a bit of that, "Well, this can't be good, it just has to be bad."

There's also a lot of anti-competitive motivation. I think that U.S. gambling interests as they exist now are quite happy with the monopolies they have, and they're worried about competition. I think the U.S. sees how big this industry can be and doesn't want that much money going out of the country. So, until it can sort things out domestically and come up with a way to have U.S. companies dominate the global business, it could be viewed as wanting to destroy competition.

CP: How powerful are the American gambling interests when it comes to lobbying legislators?

MM: I think they're quite powerful. We, of course, monitored the development of legislation through Congress over the last four years, and virtually all of these people, from (Sen. Jon) Kyl to (Rep. Bob) Goodlatte to (former Congressman Bill) Frist to (former Rep. Jim) Leach, the people in Congress who are long-term antagonists of remote gambling, have considerable financial support from land-based gambling interests; that's public record.

CP: How serious is the WTO when it comes to punishing countries that decide to revise their agreements rather than following them?

MM: Well, I guess we're going to find out, because nobody has ever tried to do it before. And that's the astonishing thing about our little case, as in the young but very active history of the WTO, no country in the 300-some disputes that have come before the WTO to date has ever tried to do this (revise an agreement like the U.S. has). And I don't think it's going to be well-received, but the WTO is a bit hamstrung. It doesn't have an army, it doesn't have a way of collecting fines, it's kind of a voluntary organization. You have to rely on the motivations of all member countries to preserve the institution as a viable working entity.

Despite the dozens and dozens of cases the U.S. has been involved in, it made this the one case that could perhaps ruin the fabric of the WTO.

CP: Do you ever see the U.S. allowing its residents to gamble online?

MM: Absolutely. It's inevitable.

View the entire interview at

Gamers Tread Lightly With Poker Video Games
Lack of Good Artificial Intelligence and Readily Available Free Online Games Keep Sales Down
By Bob Pajich

There's a hierarchy in the sports video game world, one in which football is king and poker is busy taking up space in the bargain bins. Since December of 2004, 10 poker-themed video games for platforms such as PlayStation 2 (PS2) and Microsoft's Xbox 360 have been introduced, and they all have experienced mediocre sales and lukewarm revues.

Out of all the games, which include the World Series of Poker series by Activision and Stacked With Daniel Negreanu by Myelin Media, none would make Sports Editor Bill Barnwell's must-have list. is one of the largest and most respected media outlets in the video game industry.

And judging by's video game sales ranking system, it seems that the consumer agrees. The latest World Series of Poker franchise, WSOP 2008: Battle for the Bracelets (released in October), sits at 2,771 for Xbox 360 and 2,909 for PS2 on the list, while last year's version, WSOP: Tournament of Champions, sits at 7,518 for Xbox 360 and 5,262 for PS2.

For some perspective, the 2008 version of one of the most popular video sports franchises ever, Madden, is ranked 30th on the sales list (Xbox 360).

The first problem is that the artificial intelligence (AI) of these games is not up to snuff.

"If you're going to be going to a casino, most of the people you're going to be playing against are going to be better than even the hardest AI in Stacked or in the World Series games from Activision," Barnwell said. "Even in the best game, the AI is going to be well below what you would expect from even the lowest-level player."

The computer opponents in these games can be easily and quickly figured out, and once that is done, Barnwell says that the game pretty much turns boring. Once you get past the cool, real-casino settings, and the fact that real poker players populate the games, the games as a poker simulator do not hold up.

And then, perhaps, the biggest thing working against console poker games is the large number of readily available free online games, in which players can actually play in freerolls that can equate to real dollars.

And instead of buying a video game, players can easily take the cost of the game and deposit it into an account on a site and play for real. After all, money is an integral component of what makes poker as fun as it is, and poker video games, no matter how slick they look, just don't do it for many poker fans.

Mötley Crüe Lead Singer Raises Money for Charity
Third-Annual Vince Neil Off the Strip Poker Tournament Generated About $175,000 for the Skylar Neil Memorial Fund and the T.J. Martell Foundation
By Kristy Arnett

In rock-star fashion, Mötley Crüe lead singer Vince Neil held his third-annual Off the Strip Poker Tournament recently inside The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The event raised approximately $175,000 for both the Skylar Neil Memorial Fund and the T.J. Martell Foundation.

Festivities kicked off with a live auction hosted by two of the most popular adult-film stars, Taylor Wane and Tera Patrick. The two used their charm and a few sexy antics to entice bidders. A number of professional poker players who were in attendance, including Liz Lieu, took home some of these items.

"I bought the poker table signed by many of the people here. Even my signature is on it," Lieu laughed.

Lieu was not the only big-name poker professional who turned out for the event. Chip and Karina Jett, David Williams, Lee Watkinson, Phil Gordon, Todd Brunson, Hoyt Corkins, and Layne Flack all competed in the $550 buy-in charity poker tournament.

Overseeing the event was highly regarded tournament director Matt Savage.

The tournament was limited to 150 players due to space, and each seat was filled. Shouts for rebuys and add-ons echoed throughout the room during the first hour of play. Since the guaranteed prize pool of $50,000 had already been exceeded from the initial buy-ins, every shout counted as another $200 donated to charity. In all, there were 173 rebuys and 102 add-ons.

The top 10 places were paid, and Greg Severson from California won the first-place prize of $20,000. Severson has played in the event all three years, finishing 12th last year and fourth in the inaugural event.

"My wife of 21 years died last year in October of melanoma cancer," said Severson. "I have been a big supporter of melanoma research, so playing in this tournament, knowing that most of the proceeds go to cancer research, is very important to me personally. I felt her presence with me during most of the day."

Vince Neil was grateful for the turnout to a cause that is dear to his heart. The proceeds went to two charities, one of which is the Skylar Neil Memorial Fund. Neil formed the foundation just after the death of his young daughter, Skylar, who suffered from stomach cancer. She lost her battle in 1995. Since then, Neil has been dedicated to raising awareness of cancer and money for cancer research. The other charity is the T.J. Martell Foundation, an organization supporting the treatment of leukemia, cancer, and AIDS.

See a video from the event at

2008 Heartland Poker Tour Schedule Set
Fifteen Events on Tap So Far
By Bob Pajich

The Heartland Poker Tour (HPT) has solidified its dates for 2008. The HPT features tournaments at casinos around the Midwest. The main events are filmed and broadcast on syndicated TV in markets all around the United States and Canada.

The tour also features a Player of the Year award and is designed for the casual poker player. Players can even find people to share rides and rooms with through its website. The HPT held 11 events in 2006 and 16 in 2007, and will probably top that in 2008. So far, 15 events appear on the schedule, but more may be added.

Each event features reasonable qualifiers. Contact each casino for more information on the qualifiers. Here's the schedule:

Full Tilt Invades Germany
20-Year-Old Wins Finals of a Six-City Tour and Goes on to Defeat Two of Three Full Tilt Pros for a Total Win of €350,000
By Kristy Arnett

The Million Euro Challenge invaded Germany in a six-city tour that attracted nearly 18,000 fans and culminated with the biggest poker tournament ever to be held in the country. Team Full Tilt members were greeted like rock stars as players and fans alike flooded venues in Wiesbaden, Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg, and Stuttgart for a chance to meet the poker celebrities or to play in the qualifying tournament that offered a chance to win more than €1 million. In the end, it was the winner of the Cologne stop, a 20-year-old named Martin Klaser, who won the opportunity to play three Full Tilt pros heads up for a shot at the top prize.

In each city, Team Full Tilt members such as Phil Ivey, Allen Cunningham, Clonie Gowen, Erik Seidel, John Juanda, Andy Bloch, Jennifer Harman, and German poker star Eddy Scharf were there to host workshops, play German challengers heads up, share advice in question-and-answer sessions, and meet thousands of adoring fans. Meanwhile, a 2,100-player tournament took place, consisting of nearly all free online qualifiers.

The winner of the tournament in each of the six cities made it to the final table, which took place in Munich, Germany. Klaser beat the other five finalists and won the first-place prize of €50,000, as well as a shot at an additional €1 million. He played three heads-up matches against members of Team Full Tilt. If he defeated one of three players, he would receive an extra €100,000. For two wins, he would get an additional €300,000. If he beat all three pros, he would get €1 million on top of the €50,000 he had already won.

Klaser played Howard Lederer, Gus Hansen, and Chris Ferguson heads up, and came out on top against Hansen and Ferguson. That day, Klaser made German poker history and took home €350,000 for his accomplishment. The tour was filmed for television and was broadcast on DSF in Germany.

Get Into the Holiday Poker Spirit
Several Big Tournaments Take Place Around the Holidays
By Kristy Arnett

The holidays are coming and people are looking for ways to celebrate. Playing in a world-class poker tournament in a new and exciting location could be a nice getaway that offers a real possibility for making some money and adding to your loved ones' piles of presents.

The next two European Poker Tour stops are right around the corner, and PokerStars is giving away packages for free to both. The annual PokerStars Caribbean Adventure will be held Jan. 5-10, and the packages include the $8,000 buy-in, seven-nights' accommodations at the Atlantis Resort and Casino in the Bahamas, and $1,000 in cash for travel. The other EPT event that players can qualify for on PokerStars is in Prague at the Hilton, Dec. 10-14. The buy-in is €5,000, but can be won for free. Every Saturday at 2 p.m. ET, a $1,050 buy-in qualifier runs for a package that includes a seat, luxury hotel accommodations, and $1,000 in spending money. There are satellites for that direct qualifier for as little as $8.

The Aussie Millions Poker Championship will take place shortly after the new year, Jan. 5-20. Full Tilt is giving away $18,000 prize packages that include $10,500 (Australian), 10 nights' accommodations at the Crown Casino Resort, round-trip airfare for the winner and a guest from Los Angeles to Melbourne, and $3,000 in spending money, plus golf outings, dinners, winery tours, seminars, and a bounty tournament with Full Tilt pros.

For those who do not want to travel abroad, the $15,000 buy-in World Poker Tour Five-Diamond World Poker Classic will be held Dec. 12-17 at Bellagio in Las Vegas.

The Grinder's Tourney at Planet Hollywood
Play With Michael Mizrachi in a $60 Buy-in Event Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday Night
By Kristy Arnett

Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi has cashed 15 times in the World Series of Poker, owns two World Poker Tour titles, was named Card Player Player of the Year last year, has $5.9 million in tournament winnings, and plays in the highest-stakes cash games around. Now, at Planet Hollywood, poker players have the chance to pick the brain of this world-class professional and even play alongside him in a small buy-in tournament.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:30 p.m., Mizrachi is available in the Planet Hollywood poker room for a question-and-answer session. The tournament begins immediately afterward at 7 p.m. It has a $50 buy-in that gets players $1,500 in chips, but players receive an additional $2,500 in chips for a $10 add-on.

"I have a great time being here," Mizrachi said. "It is nice to play against people I've never seen before. When you are playing professionals all the time, it is good to change it up and compete against different kinds of styles."

The player who knocks Mizrachi out of the tournament not only will have a story to tell, but will also receive some extra playing money. There is a $300 bounty on Mizrachi that is paid in promotional chips.

"The players here really enjoy playing with Mike," said Shift Manager Larry Stephens. "They can come in and get autographs and pictures, and can ask a real poker celebrity questions. Plus, the small buy-in and the amount of chips they get is a really great deal for players."

For more information on the Grinder's tournament, call the Planet Hollywood poker room at (702) 785-5555.

Hilton to Host Celebrity Charity Tourney
Tracy Byrd, Justin McBride, and Rodney Carrington Among Those to Play
By Kristy Arnett

It is a theme that never gets old: celebrities using their popularity for a needy cause. In the case of the first-annual Celebrity Poker Tournament at the Las Vegas Hilton, celebrities will converge on Tuesday, Dec. 11, to play in an event to benefit the T.J. Martell Foundation.

Britt Bockius, Tracy Byrd, Rodney Carrington, Lee Greenwood, Justin McBride, and Trent Willmon are among the celebrities who will participate. The event takes place during National Finals Rodeo week and will kick off at 11 a.m. with a charity auction. The $550 buy-in tournament will commence right after the auction, and it is limited to 150 players. Seats can be reserved by contacting the casino marketing department at the Las Vegas Hilton at (800) 457-3307.

Rebuys and add-ons will be allowed throughout the first hour of play. Players will compete for a prize pool of $50,000 and other prizes. All rebuys, add-ons, and additional proceeds over the guaranteed prize pool will be donated to the T.J. Martell Foundation, an organization that raises funds in support of research for leukemia, cancer, and AIDS.

Corporate event sponsorships are also still available. For more information on purchasing sponsorship packages that include tournament seats, hotel rooms, concert tickets, and other exclusive benefits, e-mail

Card Player Player of the Year

Neck and Neck: Little, Clements Charging Toward the Finish Line

With less than a month to go, the Card Player Player of the Year (POY) race has undergone another shift, as two players who have spent the year in around 10th place finished first and second in the World Poker Tour North American Poker Championship in late October.

After finishing second in the NAPC, Jonathan Little is now only 139 points away from taking the lead from David Pham, who has 5,410 points. Little earned 1,600 points for his runner-up finish, as well as $714,905.

And Scott Clements, the winner of the NAPC, now sits right behind Little and Pham in third place in the POY standings with 5,138 points. He earned 1,920 points for his victory in Canada, as well as more than $1.4 million.

But just about every player in the top 10 can end up winning the 2007 POY title with a victory at the Five-Diamond World Poker Classic in December (that is, if none of the other players in the top five make a final table in any of the events).

They also would need to earn points that are available in many of the small ($300 or more) buy-in tourneys that are taking place all around the country from now until the new year, making this race one of the tightest in the history of the POY, and one in which we won't know the winner until probably the very end of December.

Little and Clements have turned up the heat in a major way the last few months. Little has made two final tables in WPT events (he narrowly missed a third by finishing seventh in the Gulf Coast Poker Championship in September), has made a total of nine final tables, won the Mirage Poker Showdown in May for $1.09 million, and has cashed 14 times in events in which POY points were available. He's cashed for more than $2.5 million in 2007.

Clements has cashed 10 times in POY events, winning three times. He won his second World Series of Poker bracelet this summer ($1,500 pot-limit Omaha), and has made five final tables in events with buy-ins ranging from $500 to $10,000 championships. He's cashed for more than $2.2 million in 2007.

The players in the POY top 10 have cashed for a total of $15,621,595.

They Add Up
Between now and the end of the year, there are still plenty of opportunities for players vying for the Player of the Year championship to earn points in tournaments with buy-ins far less than the $10,000 championship events. For example, the Turkey Shootout/Ho-Ho Hold'em series that is currently taking place at The Bicycle Casino until Dec. 9 has 10 events in which players can win POY points. With only a few hundred points separating most of the pack, a win in a $300 event might be enough to secure the title, and it might take place at one of these remaining events.

He Constantly Cashes
As the year winds down, one player stands out with his 14 final tables in 2007, and that's Randy Holland, who currently sits in 16th place in the standings. He's cashed 23 times and chalked up three victories in 2007 for $453,903. He can be found playing everything from $200 Venetian Deep-Stack Extravaganza events to World Poker Tour championship events. He's one of the most consistent players out there for getting into the money and into position to win, and he must be accounted for whenever he sits down to play.

AJKHoosier1 Explains a Leak in Many Tournament Players' Games
By Craig Tapscott

Want to study real poker hands with the Internet's most successful players? In this series, Card Player offers hand analysis with online poker's leading talent.

Event: $1,000 no-limit hold'em Full Tilt Poker Super Monday event
Players: 303
First place: $75,750
Stacks: AJKHossier1 - $3,000; Villain - $2,970
Blinds: $10-$20

Villain raises to $60 with the K K. AJKHossier1 reraises to $288, holding the A A. Villain reraises to $894.

Craig Tapscott: Let's talk about your options at this point.

Alex Kamberis: Flat-calling the four-bet from the Villain is a perfectly fine play, but I don't think he'll fold here. Also, I didn't want to risk flopping an ace or something else that would somehow cause him to find a way to get away from his hand.

CT: If you simply flat-called the $894 four-bet there, it would scream A-A, don't you think?

AK: True. I was worried that just flat-calling about $600 more with only $2,000 left behind would be too obvious a sign of a monster pair. Actually, versus a bad player, I'd be more likely to flat-call the four-bet, because (a) I think he would be more likely to four-bet and fold here with something like A-K or Q-Q, and (b) I don't think he would automatically know I have A-A just because I flat-call the four-bet … when, really, the only hand with which I'd ever flat-call a four-bet here is A-A.

CT: Why did you choose the size of your initial reraise of $288?

AK: That raise looks like I could have A-K. If I make a "standard" reraise to $200 or so, his odds for set-mining are way too good. Also, if I can assume that he's going to seriously play back at me only if he has Q-Q or better or A-K this early anyway, it's worth it to try to build a big pot preflop as quickly as possible.

AJKHossier1 raises to $3,000 and is all in.

CT: The hand is fairly standard up to this point, but it became a huge topic of discussion when the following occurred: Villain folded. One respected player, SCTrojans, commented that this type of thinking is a huge flaw/leak in many players' games. Can you explain?

AK: Four-betting and then folding with K-K here is very bad, and it's the reason why I just instantly went ahead and five-bet all in with A-A, figuring I'd get called every time.

Let's assume that my three-bet range is J-J or better and A-K. Honestly, in the first level of a $1,000 tourney against a good player who opens the pot, my three-bet range is probably more like K-K or better and A-K, but J-J is perfectly reasonable, and opens the hand up to a much better analysis.

So, what does four-betting with K-K accomplish? I am literally never continuing in this hand versus a four-bet with less than K-K, and even then, I'd be hesitant. In other words, by four-betting with K-K, you are literally pushing out every hand that you beat, forcing me to make the correct fold with hands like J-J and Q-Q, which you could possibly stack if you flat-call and the flop hits right.

Four-bet folding with K-K is a line that accomplishes literally nothing, other than defining the fact that you are beat (which you certainly are when I five-bet all in; but it's a good fold at that point, at least), and it completely kills the value of your hand. You basically "found a way" to fold here, which is not exactly the goal when you're dealt K-K.

CT: So, if he had just called your three-bet, and the flop had come all low cards and he had stacked off, it would have been played more correctly?

AK: Yes. A cooler is a cooler, and if we can agree that I will continuation-bet any flop with hands like J-J or better and A-K after I three-bet preflop, K-K obviously plays well against that range.

Alex Kamberis, 21, has won more than a million dollars in online tournaments. He is known for his sharp, tight-aggressive style, and is one of the top-ranked online players in the world.

The Final Dash to the Finish Line
By Shawn Patrick Green

Online poker players have less than one more month to claim their final places on the Card Player Online Player of the Year (OPOY) leader board, and the frantic scramble toward the finish line is apparent.

Every single player in the top 10 spots of the OPOY standings earned points from Oct. 29 to Nov. 11. The most notable changes in the standings involved Scott "SCTrojans" Freeman and Jason "Taknapotin" Somerville.

Freeman hopped from sixth place to fifth place in the standings (bumping Chad "lilholdem954" Batista into sixth, in the process) by winning a $200 rebuy tournament on PokerStars. Somerville made an appearance in the top spots earlier this year, but quietly slipped back out again. But recent final tables in both the Full Tilt Online Poker Series pot-limit hold'em event and the Full Tilt $1K Monday tournament earned him enough points to reclaim his place just in time for the homestretch.

Moneymaker Back to Making Money
Chris Moneymaker has taken down only one live tournament (the 2006 Poker Superstars Invitational tournament) since his big win in the 2003 World Series of Poker main event. Thus, it came as a treat for the virtual railbirds when he not only made the final table of the Nov. 9 Nightly Hundred Grand event on PokerStars, but proceeded to take it down, pocketing almost $27,000. Moneymaker bested prominent Internet player Jason "RagingMensan" Eisele to capture the top prize.

Chatbox Cunning
Strategy from top online pros

Jimmy "gobboboy" Fricke
On trying to avoid all-in situations for fear of drawouts:
"There are a lot of people in poker who want to avoid big all ins so that they can avoid big suckouts, and that's just absurd. You can avoid taking really, really small edges if you think that you're a good enough player to find some better edges. It all comes down to math, and so many people think they're better than the math in poker. There's less than 1 percent of 1 percent of players who are good enough to pass up 5 percent edges in poker. And there are so many players out there who would be wise to take a 5 percent disadvantage simply because they're often putting in their money at much worse disadvantages than that."

On the biggest thing a player can learn to improve his game:
"When I first started playing really, really loose-aggressive, people would just keep folding to me. That was really just a huge epiphany, because it doesn't matter what I actually have; it matters whether or not they're going to call me. That's learning how to be really, really aggressive. Learning how to fold a big hand in a big spot because you think your edge is small, or you have instincts that tell you you're beat, is another big one; you have to trust your instincts as a poker player. Recently, when I discovered that bet sizes [tells] were so huge and so underused, I started trusting them, and that's part of my instincts. I think that bet-sizing is a huge thing, and that no one is taking advantage of it, and that was another huge epiphany."

Steve "stevesbets" Jacobs
On the most common mistakes novices make when playing heads-up poker:
"The two most common mistakes, and they'll sound obvious once I say them, are that some people play too tight and some people play too loose. Some people have the mindset, 'All right, I'm playing heads up now. That means that I have to play every hand aggressively, because otherwise I'm going to get run over, because it's just one-on-one.' So, these people try to make moves every hand, and will never give you credit for a hand. If they do that, they're going to get beaten, because you can afford to fold a couple of times and wait until you get a middle pair and call them down. Those players, though, are scary; anybody who's aggressive has a good chance to win at heads up.

"But it's not nearly as big a mistake as playing too tight. Those are the players I cherish (laughing). If you see someone who plays too tight, play them as much as possible. They literally have as small a chance to win of anyone. The only way that they can win is if they get a ton of hands in a row. They're calling raises preflop and then they're folding on the flop in every hand. But those players are few and far between, because most players like that know not to play heads up. But when they are playing, they're special."

Tournament Schedule
The PokerStars tournament lineup is one of the most robust of any online poker site, and is getting even more jam-packed every day. Here are some tournaments to look out for:

Those interested in signing up for these tournaments can follow this link to see a complete schedule:

Note: Results of all events in the Full Tilt Online Poker Series VI (FTOPS) will be published in the next issue.

Jon Van Fleet
King Kong of Online Poker
By Craig Tapscott

It's never a good thing when Jon "apestyles" Van Fleet sits down to your right, to your left, or anywhere at your table. He's smart, aggressive, incredibly hard to read and pry chips from, and is ranked as one of the top four online players in the world. What's to like.

Actually, over the last few years, the free-spirited Van Fleet has garnered the respect and admiration of the entire online community. In victory as well as in defeat, he's handled himself with tremendous poise and maturity, and humbly considers himself a true student of the game.

"I've played millions of hands of poker," said Van Fleet, "but I'm still learning, and I still love the game. Hey, it's better than working in fast food."

The native Texan graduated from Texas Tech University in 2003 with a psychology degree. During one college poker night, he was bluffed out of a pot. He vowed never to let that happen again, sending his self-admitted addictive personality on a mission. He gobbled up poker strategy from books, forums, and friends. The quest has served him well. To date, Van Fleet has more than $1.5 million in online winnings, a second-place finish in a PokerStars Sunday Million event for $135,000, and hundreds of final-table appearances and big wins.

Apestyles is the 1,000-pound gorilla that can raise, reraise, resteal, and basically sit anywhere he damn well pleases. There's really not much you can do about it.

Craig Tapscott: At what stakes did you begin playing?

Jon Van Fleet: I started with $10 sit-and-gos. Then, if I had a good run, I would enter a multitable tournament.
At the time, I didn't have bankroll discipline, so a friend showed me different tools to keep track of my winnings and ROI [return on investment]. It made me organize my game in a professional manner.

CT: What situations are you looking to capitalize on during a tournament, especially during the endgame?

JVF: I'm good at picking up chips on the bubbles and without showdowns, but not by being a total moron. I pick my spots well. I adjust and play optimally for the table. The reason for my high win rate is that I accumulate so many chips on the final-table bubble that it contributes to my closing tournaments.

CT: I've heard that you're insane.

JVF: (Laughing) People kind of give me this crazy and wild reputation. I think that I have more of an aggressive image than how I actually play.

CT: Many players in no-limit have problems with choosing bet sizes. Can you share some insights?

JVF: I try to randomize my bet sizes. For certain reasons, I'll make smaller inducing bets, or larger bets to make it clear that I'm going with the hand. But many times I'll stick to smaller bets in tournaments. You don't have the luxury of possessing 100 big blinds, and it's easier to play when you make bets of half of the pot size or smaller. It allows you more maneuverability. You can accomplish the same goals with a smaller bet as you can with a big bet, and with less risk.

CT: You're also very proficient at what to do with the size of your stack at any given moment.

JVF: Let's say that I have 15 big blinds. I'm not opening light, but more with the intention of calling anybody. But with that stack size, I'm really looking for spots to resteal from players, which usually adds about 33 percent to my stack. They don't have to fold very often for my resteal to be profitable.

With 12 big blinds, I'm open-shoving. It all depends on the stacks in front of me and, of course, the players' images. And I look to see if they all have good reshove stacks or stacks that have to call me if I shove. You really have to just pay attention to the situations.

CT: I've heard you say that flat-calling with a stack of 20 big blinds is a horrible play.

JVF: Well, unless you plan on shoving on the flop, but flat-calling when you have a reshove stack is just silly. If you're flat-calling only to play if you hit a flop, you're basically just giving away a large portion of your stack over and over. I mean, how often do you hit flops? You have to have a plan. I know the math of the game and players' ranges. I tend to see what people are going to do before they do it.

CT: Do you have a poker pet peeve?

People complaining about their bad beats. Come on. It gets old. Crying at the table annoys me. I just say gg [good game], nh [nice hand], and move on.

Ask Jack

Want to know how a multimillion-dollar poker tournament is run? Have a question about a specific tournament poker rule or past ruling you've encountered?

Card Player is giving you the chance to pick the mind of one of the game's finest - Bellagio Tournament Director Jack McClelland. You can send your questions to, and McClelland will share his 25-plus years of industry experience with you.

John: I play cash games at Bally's Casino, where there's a bad-beat jackpot. I was wondering what would happen if three people were involved in bad beats in the same hand. For example, what would happen if the following situation occurred: Three players see the flop and player A has pocket aces, player B has the 3 2, and player C has the 8 7. The flop comes A 5 4, the turn is another ace, and the river is the 6. How would the bad-beat jackpot be divided, since two players experienced bad beats?

Jack: I experienced this in California. Player B would win the bad-beat jackpot, with player A receiving the second-largest portion. The player with quad aces would certainly have a bad-beat story to tell.

Laura: I witnessed a hand in a tournament in which two players were all in preflop. One player showed pocket aces and the other player said, in a disgusted voice, "You've got me," and tossed his hand facedown into the center of the table. He then proceeded to walk away, and the dealer called out, "Don't you want to see the board?" The man did not answer, and the dealer proceeded to flip over his cards, which were facedown and near the muck, and finished dealing the hand. The aces held up, but that is not the point. My question is, should the dealer have done what he did?

Jack: No. We turn the hands faceup to avoid collusion, but it is the player's responsibility to expose them. The only reason the dealer should turn them up is if another player asks to see them.

Card Player Digital
The Card Player TV team travels the country to provide you with complete video coverage of World Poker Tour events. Its most recent trip was to Foxwoods Resort Casino for the $10,000 buy-in main event at the World Poker Finals. Find the videos at on the Tournament Trail channel. But before leaving Las Vegas, Card Player TV caught up with a few pros away from the table to provide even more exclusive videos for your viewing pleasure.

Todd Brunson's Halloween Party
Todd Brunson's annual Halloween party always attracts a number of high-profile poker celebrities, and this year was no different. Card Player TV secured a special invitation.

Vince Neil's Third-Annual Off-the-Strip Poker Tournament
Adult film stars, poker pros, fans, and supporters of the charities at hand flooded the Hard Rock Casino for the charity event.

Card Player Mobile
Card Player Mobile has provided players with tournament updates, chip counts, tips, ringtones, wallpapers, and poker news. Now, it has become even more innovative with the release of a new application called Poker for Prizes. It is the only mobile poker game that awards real prizes.

Compete against live players across the nation for hot prizes. You can first hone your skills in practice mode while playing against superior artificial intelligence. Developed by the University of Alberta's famed Poker Academy, you can face dozens of opponents in four difficulty brackets who act and play just like the real thing - right down to the smack talk. Then, play in daily tournaments to win.

The service is available exclusively on Alltel Wireless and Virgin Mobile.

Sometimes Aggression Doesn't Pay
By Mike Sexton, the 'Ambassador of Poker' and Commentator for the World Poker Tour

In this hand at the Borgata Poker Open, the antes were $10,000 and the blinds were $40,000-$80,000 with five players left, and top pro John Hennigan (third in chip position with $3.2 million) made it $225,000 to go from under the gun with the A J. Chip leader Joe Simmons (with $6.6 million) called with 3-3, and a former World Poker Tour champ John Gale (second in chip position with $5.3 million) called from the button with the 10 7.

The flop was K-K-4 with two hearts. Hennigan checked, Simmons checked, and Gale opted to bet $400,000 with his flush draw. Hennigan, who I'm sure contemplated check-raising with the nut-flush draw, opted to call, instead. Simmons folded. The turn card was the 5, giving both players a flush. Hennigan checked, Gale bet $1 million, and Hennigan, with the ace-high flush, went all in for about $2.6 million. Gale called, and Hennigan doubled up. This pot led Hennigan to victory and his first WPT title. (Let me add a little trivia here. Hennigan, a well-respected "pro's pro," was at the very first WPT final table at Bellagio - a legendary final that included Gus Hansen, John Juanda, Freddy Deeb, and Scotty Nguyen.) Congratulations, John Hennigan!

In analyzing this hand, you might wonder why Gale would play this hand so strongly. Well, John's an action-oriented player who isn't afraid to play pots. He opted to gamble preflop with the 10 7 because there was a fair amount of money in the pot already, his opponents had a good amount of money in front of them, and he was in position on the button. When he flopped a flush draw and his opponents checked to him, you certainly can't blame him for betting $400,000 to try to pick up the pot ($845,000). I like that bet. When Hennigan called, however (with a player behind him), major caution lights should have been flashing. You should instantly wonder, "What could Hennigan have to call here when he didn't lead out and bet on the flop? Wouldn't he have led out with a pair - something like two tens, for example?" Once Hennigan check-calls on the flop, I believe that you have to put him on one of three hands: A-K, fours full, or the nut-flush draw - period.

Gale didn't take enough time to properly assess the situation, especially after the check-raise all-in bet by Hennigan on the turn. In truth, the only hand he could beat after the check-raise on the turn would be A-K. And if Hennigan had A-K, wouldn't he have bet or check-raised with it on the flop? Would he give his opponent a free draw at a pair or a flush draw here? I don't think so. The way the hand was played, I really believe it's a fairly easy laydown to make after Hennigan's all-in bet. There's no way that Gale should have put in that last $1.6 million.

When you play poker, you should always be looking to avoid trap situations, especially in no-limit hold'em. Anytime someone bets, calls your bet, or check-raises you, the caution lights must go on. You should be working hard to put your opponent on a hand. In this case, you should be asking yourself, "Why did Hennigan check on the flop, call my bet, and then check-raise me all in on the turn?" The answer should jump out at you.

If you want to become a winning player, always remember to review the betting and ask yourself questions. Simply put, take your time and analyze the situation. In doing so, you'll be amazed at how much better you'll become at putting your opponent on a hand, and when you improve at that skill (the No. 1 skill in poker), you will become a more successful poker player.

Taking Advantage of Context
By Dave Apostolico

Poker is not only situational, but textural. By textural, I mean that every game has its own unique dynamics. There will be an ebb and flow that will naturally occur. Everything builds off what has transpired before it. While it's useful to talk about specific situations, it's not enough if we don't completely understand the context of that situation. For instance, is it sufficient to state that I am sitting on an average stack with K-Q suited in the big blind when a loose-aggressive player open-raises for three times the big blind from the button? That may provide a thumbnail of the situation, but we don't necessarily understand the context. What is an average stack compared to the blinds? Had the button consistently raised my blind? Would he fold to a reraise? How many hands had we played together? What happened in those previous hands?

I always find it interesting how many times in a poker game one player will consistently lose to another player. There are many reasons for this. The winning player may be getting the cards, or may be getting inside the head of the losing player. Or, sometimes, the losing player makes a mistake and then compounds it in subsequent hands. Recently a hand came up in which I was able to take advantage of prior information I received and right a previous mistake. I'd like to discuss that here, as it also illustrates the importance of context.

The very first hand of a tournament, I won a sizeable pot when my A-J hit a jack-high flop. The flop had two clubs and I let my opponent chase me to the river before I checked and allowed him the chance to bluff at it when his flush didn't come through. The very next hand, I limped in from early position with J-10 suited before calling a late-position raiser. The flop came Q-9-2 rainbow, giving me an open-end straight draw. I was fairly certain that my opponent had a middle pocket pair, so I checked to see what he would do. He made a nice-size bet and I called, fairly certain that he did not have a set or a queen. The turn brought another 9, which was an interesting card. I had planned to make a play for the pot if I missed my straight, and that 9 had to scare my opponent. I checked again, with the intention of check-raising. My opponent made a big bet that screamed of vulnerability. I was all set to raise, when I called, instead. I can't explain why I did it, other than I just wasn't sure if he was capable of laying his hand down. The river brought a blank, and now I had to fire out if I wanted to win the pot. Instead, I checked and basically forfeited the pot to his pocket tens. While this was on the surface a weak play, I must put it into context. I hadn't played with the villain here, so I wasn't sure if he was capable of folding or not. I also showed him my hand (something I wouldn't normally do), to false advertise that I wouldn't make a play for a pot if I missed a draw.

I didn't like the outcome of that hand, but I was confident that I would have a chance to redeem myself later on. After all, I did correctly put him on the hand that he actually had. I played very effectively against the other players and was sitting on the second-highest stack at the table. My nemesis, however, fueled by the chips I gave him, was getting a rush of cards and was sitting on the biggest stack at the table.

His confidence was brewing. It seemed that the entire context of the game had taken a different course than if I had played that first encounter differently. This led to the critical hand of the tournament for me. With the blinds at $200-$400 (with $50 antes), our villain made a minimum raise to $800 from late position. I called from the big blind with the 10 9. The flop came K-8-7 with two diamonds. I checked, and our villain bet $500. This tiny bet screamed that he had a huge hand, but I was tired of losing to this guy, so I raised another $1,300. He just called, and I knew that I had to give the hand up. Then, the turn brought another diamond, and my thinking changed. I planned on check-raising him, but when I checked, he checked behind me. The river brought a blank. I had about $8,500 in chips. I knew that my opponent was thinking back to that first hand when I played my busted draw meekly. I thought about going all in, but if I was wrong, I didn't want to be eliminated. I had to make a big enough bet, though, to keep him from making a crying-call. I finally settled on a $4,000 bet, which I hoped he would interpret as my trying to find the maximum value-bet I could get away with.

He took a few minutes before finally explaining that he knew I had the flush, and he mucked his pocket aces faceup. This play was risky and wouldn't work in too many situations, but the context in which it came up offered me the opportunity to bluff him out of the pot.

David Apostolico is the author of numerous poker books, including Lessons from the Felt, Poker Strategies for a Winning Edge in Business, and Tournament Poker and the Art of War. You can contact him at

Shorthanded Poker: An Action Junkie's Dream
By Tim Peters

Killer Poker Shorthanded by John Vorhaus and Tony Guerrera (Kensington Books; $14.95)

This witty new book in the "Killer Poker" series is dedicated "to action junkies everywhere," which could describe most poker players, but it is especially apt for devotees of shorthanded games. When you play at a table with six or fewer players, hold'em changes radically. Starting-hand values drop precipitously. Draws become more problematic. Aggression becomes that much more important. And making good reads can mean the difference between a winning session and a losing one.

Co-written by John Vorhaus, Card Player's newest columnist, and Tony Guerrera, the author of Killer Poker by the Numbers, this new volume from Kensington Books reminds us of why shorthanded strategies are essential. First, shorthanded games thrive online and, to a lesser extent, in brick-and-mortar cardrooms. Second, if you are a tournament player and you ever get deep, you have to be able to play shorthanded, by definition. And third - and most important - shorthanded poker is inherently challenging; it demands creativity, observation, and heart.

As Phil Hellmuth points out in his introduction, shorthanded play can lead you to "valuable insight into Texas hold'em … by playing a huge variety of hands." You simply don't have the luxury of playing squeaky-tight poker when the blinds are hitting you every fifth hand (or more often), so you're forced to learn how to play marginal holdings. I know, I know - the vast majority of poker books counsel playing big cards and big pairs, but it's simply a fact that great players can beat you with a broad spectrum of hands (you know, the Daniel Negreanu- or Gavin Smith-type hands). Shorthanded games will help you - make that "force you" - to learn how to play cards that you would throw away in a full ring game.

Vorhaus and Guerrera start with a simple premise: "It's hard to hit a flop." That's especially true shorthanded, which leads to the "essential bedrock reality of shorthanded play - most flops will be contested over little or nothing." In other words, he who bets is probably he who wins.

If only it were that simple! We've all heard that quasi-meaningless phrase that poker players toss around with abandon: "You've got to pick your spots." Vorhaus and Guerrera teach you how to do that, with a particular focus on betting patterns as a way of "hacking" into your opponents' systems and strategies. (Does seat one bet the minimum when he flops a draw? Then you overbet the pot to push him off the hand.) One of the beauties of shorthanded play is that your "data stream" is much deeper; you'll get that many more chances to see how your opponents play their hands.

Those of you who have read Guerrera's Killer Poker by the Numbers will recognize a lot of the analytical thought and the structured hand analysis in Killer Poker Shorthanded. But it's not all about the numbers. Shorthanded play is going to be more volatile than a full game, which means emotions are going to run high - as will the potential to tilt. Here's a superb little nugget from the book: "Treat all bets, bluffs, and confrontations as mere points of information: information you can feed back into your game to improve your performance and your results." In other words, don't get mad; just get the money.

The book is crammed with good information (and it's a treat to read; the authors are blessed with a sense of humor and a facility with words), including what kind of data to mine as you try to understand your opponents' range of hands and range of actions, tactics for dealing with the most common player types, how (and when) to change gears, shorthanded tournament play and heads-up play, and more. There's also an interesting set of brief interviews with some professional players on shorthanded games: Daniel Negreanu, Marcel Luske, Matt Lessinger, and others.

Vorhaus and Guerrera have convinced me that shorthanded games can be a great learning experience. This book is your text.

There are several titles in Kensington's "Killer Poker" series. Which ones have you found valuable? E-mail me at