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Capture the Flag: Where Top Cash-Game Pros Talk Strategy

Barry Greenstein

by Lizzy Harrison |  Published: May 21, 2008


Barry Greenstein is the consummate cash-game professional, and he has been ever since he entered the scene. He is an all-around player and says that he plays every game at the same level of expertise. Greenstein's cash-game play supports a lifestyle that costs more than $1 million per year.

Lizzy Harrison: What factors make up a good cash game?

Barry Greenstein: The truth is that you want to play with bad, rich players, because that is the best way to make the most money. I notice that a lot of the younger players want to prove how good they are, and because of that, they do not select good games. When I play on the Internet, I am often asked why I don't play the best young players heads up online. It is not that I think that I am an underdog in those games, but I do know that they are good, and I give them respect. I may play them in a live situation, which is better for me, but I would usually prefer to look for a game with bad players. To me, poker is not about proving that I can beat everyone, it is about paying the bills. I want to make money so that I can enjoy my life; I have never felt that I needed to prove myself to anyone.

LH: If you like to play with bad players, why do you play in the "big game"?

BG: When I play there, I am game-selecting. I make sure that we play a set of games in which I have the advantage. There are some games in which my opponents are stronger and some in which they are weaker. For instance, I would not sit down and play shorthanded pot-limit Omaha with Patrik Antonius and David Benyamine, because they are really good at that game. Most of the time I would not admit that someone is better than I am, but in that game, I will give them their dues. I have realized that even if I can beat someone at his best game, it is better to get him to play a variety of games, because my skills are pretty equal. If I make sure to play the right set of games, I will win. Since I started playing with Larry Flynt, my stud game has improved; it used to be one of my weakest games, and now it is one of my strongest. If you see me in Bobby's Room playing with Patrik and David, you can be sure that stud games are in the mix, because I am better than them in those games.

LH: What is your ideal mix if it is all up to you?

BG: I usually just ask that they put in as many games as possible, because all of the games are the same for me. I don't think that I have a best game, but I often say that my best game is my opponent's worst game.

LH: How did you become such a well-rounded player?

BG: If you are going to be a professional poker player, you have to know how to play all of the games. When I first played in poker rooms, I saw that there were wealthy players who would dump money in the higher-stakes games. One month they might want to play hold'em, and the next month Omaha. I had to be able to compete in all of those games. Nowadays, I often see no-limit hold'em players who are one-dimensional. They know that there are bad players who have jumped to other games, but they cannot follow them because they cannot beat the other games.

LH: When you first started playing, what games and stakes did you play?

BG: I have played poker every weekend since I was 12; we played for quarters then, and my wins would be anywhere from $20 to $50. It was the '60s, and I don't even know if hold'em was really played back then. I played five-card stud and seven-card stud when I was young. When I was in college, my favorite game was seven-card stud high-low declare. I was really good at knowing which way the other players were going. In college, I could win $100 or $200 a night, which may not sound like much, but my tuition was only $300 per semester!

LH: So, you were always a winning player?

BG: I was not only always a winning player, I was always the biggest winner in any organized game in which I ever played. I was the biggest winner at all stages of my poker career. I used to play until the games broke up; the other players basically had to quit or go broke before I left.

LH: If an amateur player asked you for advice to improve his game, what would you tell him?

BG: I would tell him that he should not be playing poker seriously. If someone is an amateur, he is already way behind the curve. The people who are making money playing poker are just like me; poker is their passion, and they have been playing their entire lives. They are already trained killers at the tables. It is hard to get into poker late, just like it would be hard to become a professional golfer if you started golfing when you were 25.

LH: You have played lots of tournaments in recent years; do you still clock as many hours in cash games?

BG: The cash games are not the same as they were when I was young. The good ones just don't exist. In California right now, the big games are badugi and triple draw; it is very hard to get a big edge in those games. The good no-limit games are often private, and they do not invite me to play. The young players who have been able to build up their bankrolls in no-limit games have gotten to play in good games. There are weaker wealthy players, I won't name names, who hold games in which I do not get to play because they know that I am a good player. I wish I was invited to those games. It is partly public relations, as you have to be friends with these players; I think the word is "schmooze." I have other things to do with my time.

LH: Have any specific players influenced your game?

BG: No. You have to realize that I was always the top dog. I have, however, learned from players who are worse than me. If someone is winning and someone else says he is lucky, that is probably not true. He is doing something right, and I have learned to watch what he does so that I can figure out what it is. If someone is successful, I will dissect his game to see why. I even try to see what losing players are doing wrong, so that I know what I should avoid and what I can exploit. I often tell my son Joe [Sebok] that we are surrounded by bad players, but if we cannot figure out what they are doing wrong, we cannot take advantage of them.