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The Inside Straight

by CP The Inside Straight Authors |  Published: Jun 11, 2008


World Series of Poker Main Event Won't Be Over Until November
Delay Will Keep Poker Fans in Suspense

By Bob Pajich

Harrah's and ESPN will attempt to interject hype, curiosity, and suspense into the World Series of Poker main event this year by making the final nine players wait until the beginning of November to finish the competition.

WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said the 16-week gap between the "end" of this summer's WSOP and the main event's conclusion in November will give the players an "unprecedented opportunity to capture the world's attention," with the help of ESPN and the world's media outlets. He believes it will help create buzz by giving poker fans the opportunity to speculate who will win the main event while it's being broadcast, instead of on who actually won it.

It also will give the players more time to secure endorsements for the final table, as well as line up poker coaches and study their opponents, not to mention rest up for the intense marathon that the WSOP main-event final table is known to be.

The main event starts in the Amazon Room at the Rio on July 3. Players will play until July 14, the day that the final nine will be determined. ESPN begins broadcasting its WSOP package on July 22, which also marks the start of a large promotional campaign.

The final nine players will be flown back to the Rio by Harrah's and the final table will convene on Monday, Nov. 9, when they will play down to two. The heads-up match will begin late on Nov. 10 (Pollack expects the champion to emerge in the wee hours of Tuesday, Nov. 11). Final-table play will be open to the public. It's not yet known where in the Rio it will take place.

Meanwhile, ESPN producers will be busy putting together the final-table broadcast, which will be shown in a three-hour special, starting at 9 p.m. ET on Nov. 11.

The final nine won't be leaving Las Vegas without at least a portion of their paydays, as all will receive ninth-place prize money on July 14. The rest of the final-table payouts will be put into an interest-bearing account. The interest earned will be added to the final-table prize pool as a bonus.

The change received the blessings of the WSOP Player Advisory Council, which includes Daniel Negreanu, Tom Schneider, Robert Williamson, and Jennifer Harman, although Pollack wouldn't say exactly what issues the players had concerning the delay.

A representative of WSOP partner Miller Brewing Company said that it's cooking up a marketing plan centered around WSOP sponsor Milwaukee's Best, the final nine players, and the WSOP, but no details were released. An ESPN representative said that not much will change with the look and feel of its broadcasts compared to recent years, but the final nine players will be heavily featured throughout. It's still being determined as to how.


Greg Raymer: "I am very torn over this proposal. It might be huge for the continued growth of poker; however, the downside is that this long gap allows the players to become completely different people between the time they make the final table and when they play it. You know that all nine will get coaching, and especially will get coaching tailored to each of their eight opponents. If the chip leader is somebody you play against regularly, either online or at your local casino, of course I am going to come to you for advice."

Tom Schneider: "I think it is a fantastic idea, and I can't wait to make a final table like this. Two years ago, who came in fourth? You probably don't remember. In this format, everyone who makes the final table will be remembered. The players will get promoted properly and will get the attention that they deserve for such an accomplishment. I think that they are finally making a big enough deal out of this event. There will be a proper buildup to the most exciting poker tournament in the world. It is really going to put anyone who makes the final table on the poker map and in history."

Bill Edler:
"The main event is definitely the Super Bowl of our sport. It has been a little unfortunate before, when people already knew who won, so it will be more exciting for average fans who are watching. When I finished 23rd in the main event last year, I was exhausted. This will give players the chance to rest before playing in the most important tournament of their lives."

Erik Seidel: "I am very concerned that it changes the entire dynamic. If you are one of the excellent players at the final table this year, the less-experienced players will have four months to close the gap. In that sense, it really changes what the tournament has historically been. I think that Harrah's has done a tremendous job in terms of marketing the World Series, but I would like to see some consideration given to the players. Something like reducing the fees or adding money to the prize pool would be good. There is an awful lot of money being made, and I think that it would be very nice if some of that money made it back into the prize pool."

Other WSOP Changes

Harrah's announced several changes to this year's WSOP. They are:

  • The elimination of the poker tents. Rooms near the Amazon Room will be utilized instead, giving the WSOP the ability to seat 2,740 players at once.
  • There will be no more alternates.
  • Cellphones may be used by players only if they're standing a full table-length from their table.
  • The cage is being moved out of the Amazon Room.
  • There will be no Internet broadcasts of selected final tables, so all final tables will be open to the public.

Still Time to Qualify for the World Series of Poker Main Event
Full Tilt's 150-Seat Guarantee Takes Place June 15

By Bob Pajich

Players from all around the world have been spending the last few months trying to win a seat in the World Series of Poker main event, and many of them will be playing in the flurry of qualifiers that are scheduled for June.

Qualifiers are now being held for Full Tilt Poker's $535 mega-satellite into the main event on Sunday, June 15. Full Tilt guarantees that 150 $12,000 WSOP prize packages will be won in this event.

On Sunday, June 8, a $1,060 satellite will be held in which at least two $52,000 prize packages for the WSOP H.O.R.S.E. event will be awarded. Qualifiers are running for this event, as well. Please check the Full Tilt site for a complete schedule of qualifiers for these events, but be aware that a full schedule of qualifiers in which players can cash their tournament tickets worth $75 and $26 are running daily.

When it's all said and done, PokerStars will have awarded more than 2,000 seats in the main event, which will shatter last year's pool of 616 players. There's no doubt that the PokerStars WSOP step qualifiers will see a bump in registrants as more and more players frantically try to get into the "Big Dance."

Players need to place in each of the six tiers that start at $7.50 and lead to a single-table sit-and-go, in which the winner will head to the main event. Players who consistently place in the top three have an advantage in the step qualifiers, because they continue to win chances to step up and stay in the competition.

Bellagio Announces Deeper Starting Stacks
Triple the Chips for All Major Tournaments

By Kristy Arnett

Upholding its reputation for giving players what they want, Bellagio is introducing deeper starting stacks for all of its major tournaments and daily tournaments, starting in June.

Presently, the poker room's famous 2 p.m. daily tournaments have a $540 buy-in Sunday through Thursday with 3,000 starting stacks, and a $1,080 buy-in with 5,000 in starting chips on Friday and Saturday, but starting on June 1, the dailies will have a whole new look.

A $1,080 buy-in tournament with 10,000 starting stacks will run Sunday through Thursday, and on Friday and Saturday, the buy-in will increase to $2,100 with 20,000 in starting chips. Daily tournaments will be suspended on July 1 for the start of the Bellagio Cup IV, but will return on July 18 with normal buy-ins. The increased starting chip stack will remain at 10,000 for the $1,080 buy-in tournament, and the $540 buy-in tournament will double its starting stack to 6,000 in chips. Levels are 40 minutes long for all daily tournaments.

As a preview for players to experience what the new structure will provide, the Friday, May 30, and Saturday, May 31, $1,080 buy-in tournament will feature the 10,000 starting stack.

For its premier events, Bellagio wants its players to triple up, and who wouldn't want that? As the exclusive Las Vegas casino for the World Poker Tour, and the host of four major events per season, Bellagio will start players with tripled starting stacks for all preliminary and championship events.

The amount of chips with which players start each event is three times the buy-in amount. That means that for the $15,000 buy-in main events in the Bellagio Cup IV, Festa Al Lago Classic, and Five-Diamond World Poker Classic, players will begin play with 45,000 in chips, and the WPT Championship next year will provide 75,000 starting stacks. Preliminary tournaments have 60-minute levels, while championship events have 90-minute levels. The only significant change in structure is that the first level in all tournaments is omitted.

"We decided to increase starting stacks because of the demand from players, and the main goal is always to keep the players happy," said Bellagio Tournament Director Jack McClelland.

For more information, contact the Bellagio poker room at (702) 693-7291.

Cunningham Tops $10 Million in Tournament Winnings
Wins WSOP Circuit Event at Caesars Palace

By Bob Pajich

Allen Cunningham bagged his first victory of the year at the World Series of Poker Circuit event that was held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in early May. He was the last player standing of the 334 who entered the $5,000 buy-in event. He won $499,069, giving him more than $10 million in lifetime tournament winnings.

Cunningham, who turned 31 on March 28, has five WSOP bracelets, finished fourth in the 2006 WSOP main event, won the WSOP Player of the Year award in 2005, and is a Full Tilt Poker Pro. Since 1996, he has won 22 events. His largest cash came in the 2006 WSOP main event, when his fourth-place finish was good for more than $3.6 million. This was Cunningham's first cash of 2008, and the win gave him 1,584 points in the Card Player 2008 Player of the Year race, which is good for 40th place.

UIGEA Opponent Ron Paul Talks With Card Player

By Bob Pajich

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul recently spent some time with to answer some questions about his opposition to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. A staunch supporter of personal freedoms, he doesn't believe in any form of online gambling regulation. The entire interview can be found in the Poker News section at, but here's a preview:

Card Player: You are known as a man who is fighting the erosion of personal freedoms in America. Tell us your thoughts on the UIGEA and how it impedes personal freedoms.

Ron Paul: Well, I object to regulating the Internet in any way. I want the Internet to be free of government regulation and free of taxation, so that principle is very important to me. I think the whole idea of the UIGEA is to intrude upon that, using government regulations. Of course, I also defend the right of individuals to spend their money as they choose. I personally don't engage in gambling, but I recognize that some people enjoy and like it, and can handle it, and they ought to have the right to do it. If they take risks, it should be their own risks, and nobody else's. So, for those two reasons, I strongly object to the way the law is written now, that this is to be regulated. I've taken the position that the federal government ought to have its hands off completely.

CP: What kind of precedent does the UIGEA set regarding government regulation, the Internet, and beyond?

RP: I think it opens up the door, because the motivation there, they claim, is to keep people from gambling. They don't like the personal activities that people engage in, but who knows, it may be different factions who don't like competition or other motivations that are involved. Anyway, they gather up coalitions; there may be some groups who want protection, and other groups want to tell us how to spend our money; other groups like the idea that the government has more control of the Internet, because the more control it has, the more likely it is that it's going to start taxing the Internet.

CP: What should be done about Internet gambling in America?

RP: I think we should just take a hands-off position; I don't think the government should be involved in any way at all. If I take a personal viewpoint that gambling is bad and I don't like it, the way I should attack it is that I personally should avoid doing it and teach my kids the way I think they should act. But I don't want the government coming in and doing this.

First-Quarter Losses Hit World Poker Tour

By Brendan Murray

World Poker Tour Enterprises, producer of the World Poker Tour series of tournaments, recently announced that revenues were up in the first quarter of 2008 by 10 percent, to $5 million. However, the company experienced a net loss for the quarter of $2.8 million, compared to a net loss of $2.3 million in the same 2007 period. That equals a loss of 14 cents per share.

According to the first-quarter report, hosting and sponsorship revenues increased by $900,000, largely as a result of international TV-sponsorship revenues. In the same period, international television licensing revenues grew by 69 percent, to $800,000, as third-party distribution costs fell.

Online gaming revenues fell to $200,000 in the quarter, from $600,000 in the same period of 2007, due to lower levels of player activity on the WPT site on the Cryptologic network.

During the quarter, the company delivered seven episodes of season six to GSN in the U.S., which broadcasts the events, and continued development of the WPT China National Traktor Poker Tour and a U.S.-based online poker site. Spanish- and German-language online gaming sites are expected to launch in June 2008.

Steve Lipscomb, president and CEO of WPT Enterprises, said: "Our first-quarter results reflect the delivery of seven season six episodes, increased international television and sponsorship revenues, and moderate progress in our online gaming … businesses. We are excited about our prospects in 2008 and are confident in our ability to continue to expand the World Poker Tour brand, both in the domestic and international markets, and execute our strategic plan."

The company expects second-quarter revenues of $5.5 million-$6 million.

Justin 'ZeeJustin' Bonomo Joins Team Bodog
World Series of Poker Will Mark His Debut

By Kristy Arnett

Games on Bodog just got a little tougher, with the recent announcement that the poker site signed poker pro Justin Bonomo.

The 22-year-old player from Los Angeles got his start online as "ZeeJustin." He transferred his skills to live play, and in almost three years, he has won more than $1.1 million in major tournaments.

Bonomo joins Evelyn Ng, David Williams, and recently added pro Jean-Robert Bellande on Team Bodog. He says that he is excited to join these players, and is ready to kick off his new partnership at this summer's World Series of Poker.

Players who would like to play alongside the rest of Team Bodog at the 2008 WSOP can qualify through one of the five weekly main-event semifinals that guarantee at least one $12,000 package. The buy-in is $250, but there are also satellites for the tournament for $1 or 100 Bodog Poker Points.

Latin American Poker Tour Names First Champion
Julien Nuijten Wins Kickoff Event in Rio

By Kristy Arnett

Online poker giant is attempting to bring the game to all regions of the globe, and most recently, to Latin America. The site launched the Latin American Poker Tour (LAPT) this May in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with great success. It was 19-year-old Julien Nuijten who claimed the first LAPT title after outlasting 314 entrants in the $2,500 buy-in event, the largest poker tournament ever hosted on the continent.

The second stop on the LAPT was in San Jose, Costa Rica, at the end of May. Check for the results. The last event is scheduled for Aug. 7-9 in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Players can qualify online at PokerStars to win a $5,000 package that includes the tournament buy-in, hotel accommodations, and money for other travel expenses. Qualifiers start for as little as $2.

Interview With a Champion: Erik Seidel

Erik Seidel is having another great year, and currently sits in first place in the Card Player 2008 Player of the Year race with 3,700 points. His recent World Poker Tour victory at the Foxwoods Poker Classic, where he earned almost $1 million, thrust him to the top of the standings, and his runner-up finish in the Aussie Millions, where he went deeper than 778 players, also contributed.

During Seidel's poker career, which began about 20 years ago, he has accumulated a whopping eight World Series of Poker bracelets. His skills and patient nature at the poker table have lined his pockets with more than $8.7 million in tournament poker winnings.

Lizzy Harrison: You are currently eighth on the lifetime tournament-poker-winnings list; when you first took up the game, did you ever imagine such success?

Erik Seidel: Not really. When I first started playing poker, I did not even think about playing tournaments at all. There really weren't that many tournaments; the World Series was the only big tournament at the time. When I started playing, though, the World Series was not even on my radar. I definitely did not think that I would ever play in it. It wasn't until a few years after I began to play poker that I started to believe that maybe I could play in it.

LH: Were you a winning player from the beginning?

ES: I remember winning the first time that I played, and maybe that was part of the problem [laughing]. When you win the first time, you start to think that you know what you are doing. But I didn't; I was really, really bad at the beginning. It took me several years to get any kind of idea about how to play. I definitely did not have the accelerated pace that I see in some of the young kids today. Some of them adapt very quickly and are up to speed within six months or a year.

LH: The first major tournament you ever played was the WSOP main event in 1988, when you finished second to Johnny Chan; how prepared were you going in?

ES: By that point, I had been playing a lot at the Mayfair, so I was an experienced live player. I already had done very well against some very good players. One of those players was Howard [Lederer], and he was the one who told me that I should think about going out to Las Vegas to play in the World Series. He and [Dan] Harrington had been out the year before [1987], and they both had made the final table of the main event. Their encouragement convinced me to play in the main event in 1988. I ended up going out and selling lots of pieces of myself in order to play that first year.

LH: Your most recent win was also your first WPT title. You went to the final table with the chip lead and never relinquished it; what strategies did you employ to do that?

ES: It was a crazy table, so I was really trying to keep the pots as small as possible. I wanted to pick my spots and stay out of the way the rest of the time. I basically waited for good situations to come up. I was still forced to take some risks, though, because there is no "no risk" strategy. I was just trying to lower the volatility at the table, because the chips were really moving around to a lot of different seats.

LH: How did you stay focused for the lengthy 12-hour final table, and did you anticipate it taking that long?

ES: When I sat down, I thought to myself that I had to be ready for a marathon. I knew that I had to be prepared for a long match, but I was certainly surprised about how long it actually took. I never would have thought that it would go for 12 hours. It didn't feel like that, though, because when you are playing, you are thinking only about finding good plays. I was very happy with my performance, because sometimes I have trouble with energy, especially toward the end of tournaments. Before that final table, though, I had slept well, and I got a massage. I was ready, and I felt like I could have played another 10 hours.

Lots of POY Points Available at the WSOP

The sheer number of big buy-in tournaments that take place during the World Series of Poker and the number of quality professionals who show up for them usually mean that the Player of the Year (POY) leader board undergoes revision during the summer months. Basically, every other day during the WSOP, a player will end up with 1,000 or more POY points.

To give you an idea of how many POY points a player can earn during the WSOP, last year's WSOP Player of the Year Tom Schneider earned 2,832 Card Player POY points for his dominating summer. He wound up finishing seventh with 4,470. David Pham won the Card Player POY award in 2007 with 6,562 points (540 came from a WSOP event).

The main event is still where the big points are found. Jerry Yang earned 2,880 points for winning last year's main event, while the second- and third-place finishers got 2,400 and 1,920, respectively. In $1,500 events with 2,500-plus entrants, around 1,200 points were awarded to the winner. In $5,000 events with 450 or more players, the winners received around 1,400 points. The winner of the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, because of the small number of entrants, received fewer than 1,000 points.

With only 2,000 points currently separating 30th place from first place in the POY race, a WSOP bracelet means not only a big pile of money, but a leap up the leader board for these players. Let the games begin.

Honest Analysis

By Evan Roberts

In this column, I will address several common mistakes that players make when analyzing hands they have played.

My opponent was a regular high-stakes player against whom I have played many hours. He is capable of making large bluffs and thin value-bets. Before I started the match, I reviewed my notes on him: "Likes to three-barrel way too much, particularly on f/d [flush draw] boards and early in the match. Often will overbet-shove the river with bluffs/made hands." This hand occurred roughly 15 hands into our match. I was dealt the Q J in the big blind; my opponent open-raised to $150, and I called.

The flop came Q 9 3.

I had flopped top pair, and I decided to check. My opponent bet $250. Sometimes I will check-raise in situations like this, and sometimes I will call. I decided to call and re-evaluate on the turn.

The turn was the 5.

I checked. My opponent bet $750 relatively quickly. At this point, I believed his range of hands was still very wide. I believed he would bet Q-10+, any two pair, any overpair, and any set for value. I also thought he would bet most of his flush and straight draws again, and that a considerable portion of his range was still made up of bluffs. I thought that if I raised here, I would be called only if I was behind (or maybe by a strong combo draw like the J 10), and he would fold any hand that I beat. Given this, I thought calling would be the superior play, even though I risked allowing him to make a straight or flush on the river with a hand that he would have folded to a check-raise.

The river was the J. I checked, and my opponent went all in.

This was a great river card for my hand. I had checked, hoping that he would bet so that I could check-raise all in. Instead of making a pot-sized bet, he decided to push all in. Against some players, this would be a bad sign, as many players will overbet only with very strong hands. However, given our history, I knew that his range here was fairly wide. I believed that he would make this play for value with K-Q+, any two pair, any overpair, any set, and any straight. I also thought he would have a busted draw or complete air a high percentage of the time. Given that the only draw that completed on the river was a gutshot-straight draw, and that I now beat some of his value-betting range, I was more than happy to call. I called, and he showed the K 10 for the nuts.

I believe I played this hand well. I estimated that on the river, I was ahead more than 50 percent of the time, and I unfortunately ran into one of the hands that beat me. If I were to explain this hand to a friend, I would do so in the manner that I presented here, explaining what range of hands I put my opponent on at each juncture, and why I did what I did.

Many poker players, even very good ones, do not do this. When they analyze hands after the fact, they often fall into one of the following three types of traps:

  1. They assume that because they lost the hand and/or got stacked, they played it wrong: "I guess I should have folded on the river when he shoved."
  2. They attempt to determine the optimal course of action in the hand based on the outcome: "If I had only check-raised the turn like I wanted to, he would have folded his gutshot and I would have won."
  3. They make broad, unwarranted inferences about their opponent's style of play: "He overbets the river only with the nuts."

Poker is a game of imperfect information. We attempt to narrow our opponent's hand range and make decisions based on our assumptions. Often, even when we get to see our opponent's holecards, we gain no additional information about whether our assumptions are correct. In my case, I put my opponent on a range of hands that I was ahead of. He happened to have a hand within this estimated range that beat me. Was my estimation correct? I think so, but I certainly can't be sure. The only way to find out would be to play tens of thousands of hands with him and see what he does in similar situations over the long run. I certainly would not alter my estimation of him based on the outcome of a single hand, nor will I attempt to reanalyze my decision-making processes now that I know his holecards. You shouldn't, either.

Good luck at the tables.

To watch Evan Roberts comment on and play this hand, point your browser to Card Player Pro, the complete online poker training site, at

SpadeClub News

SpadeClub will award four main-event seats in the 2008 World Series of Poker* to its Exclusive members. Members will have the chance of a lifetime to risk nothing and play for millions. For a chance to win, join SpadeClub and compete in the June 1 and June 29 $10,000 monthly tournaments for a shot at one of the four main-event packages, valued at $12,000 each. Players who make the final table of the main event will be offered a player contract from SpadeClub valued at up to $250,000 a year for 10 years.

After the main event, SpadeClub also will host a freeroll poker tournament for the SpadeClub community with a prize pool based on how well the sponsored SpadeClub players perform.

SpadeClub offers more than $100,000** in prizes every month, extensive community features, and tools and tips to improve your poker play for only $19.99 per month.

There has never been a better time to join SpadeClub.

To view more SpadeClub promotions, visit

To view a complete list of SpadeClub tournaments offered, please visit

SpadeClub Spotlight

SpadeClub's latest $5,000 weekly tournament winner is Boe "PITTSBURGH" Gillespie of Pennsylvania. Gillespie has been playing poker all of his life, but only recently started playing tournaments. When asked how he got started playing poker, Gillespie said, "Nickels and dimes with a very ratty deck of cards in the back alley; we were just little kids, learning how to gamble our nickels and dimes." Gillespie enjoys playing on SpadeClub because there is usually always a tournament starting, with no buy-in, no matter what time of day it is, which provides a great training ground.

To view complete interviews with SpadeClub winners, please visit


Affiliate Success = Vegas Rewards

Do you want even more ways to win a seat in this summer's Las Vegas poker events? SpadeClub is giving away prize packages that include travel and buy-in to the 2008 WSOP*, Bellagio Cup, and Venetian Deep-Stack Extravaganza to its top-performing affiliates. All you have to do is refer new members to our site and tell them how much you love For more information on our affiliate program, please visit

*World Series of Poker and WSOP are trademarks of Harrah's License Company, LLC ("Harrah's"). Harrah's does not sponsor or endorse, and is not associated or affiliated with, Card Player Media or its products, services, promotions, or tournaments.

**No purchase necessary; see terms and conditions for details.

USCphildo Uses a Loose-Aggressive Image to Disguise a Big Hand

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.

Villain raises from the cutoff to 1,050. USCphildo reraises from the small blind to 4,000 with the A J.

Craig Tapscott: What's your table image up to this point?

Philip "USCphildo" Collins: I had a very loose-aggressive table image, and had been raising and three-betting lots of different hands.

CT: And what was your thinking behind the reraise?

PC: I elected to three-bet my hand, hoping to take the pot down preflop, and if I was called, I could be the aggressor with a hand that plays pretty well post-flop. As a huge stack versus another big stack, I often like to play more aggressively than usual and apply lots of pressure, because he has so much more to lose. Weak players will often see a big bet coming and fold to preserve their chips.

Villain calls 4,000.

Flop: J 7 3 (8,850 pot)

USCphildo checks.

CT: Wow! Why the check?

PC: It really disguises the strength of my hand. I've shown down a lot of marginal hands recently, and by checking the flop, it will be very hard for him to think I have A-J or better.

CT: And he still could have an overpair to the board.

PC: True. All I have is top pair, and he could easily have A-A, K-K, or a set at this point. Even though I'll usually have the best hand, I don't really want to get all in on this flop, because we are so deep. I'm not really afraid of anything but a king or queen on the turn, so unless he has K-Q right now, he probably has two or four outs. A flush draw would almost definitely bet if I checked to him, and if he did bet, I planned to check-raise him.

Villain checks.

Turn: J (8,850 pot)

CT: What size bet are you looking to use to disguise your hand now?

PC: I elect to lead for about two-thirds of the pot. I'm about 99 percent sure that I have the best hand, and now I want to play a big pot.

USCphildo bets 6,400. Villain calls.

CT: What's his range here?

PC: He's basically telling me that he has something with some form of showdown value. I'm pretty sure that a large part of his range here is pairs from 8-8 to 10-10, and I doubt that he gives up with a 7 or even 4-4 to 6-6.

River: Q (21,650 pot)

CT: Let's focus on what bet-sizing you're going to do once again to get value here.

PC: I elect to lead out huge, more than three-quarters of the pot, because the river is essentially a blank for his range. Unless he has a flush draw with the Q, that card couldn't have helped him.

USCphildo bets 17,200.

PC: The only way that he can call with a small two pair is to assume that I'm bluffing. The best way to look like a bluff at this point was to lead out huge, like I'm trying to buy the pot. And, obviously, I want to get the most value out of my hand as possible. He tanks it, and even asks if I really checked my jack on the flop in the chat box.

Villain calls 17,200 and shows the 8 8. USCphildo wins the pot of 56,050.

Philip Collins has won more than $1 million in online tournaments. He has been on a hot run the last few months. He has won the Full Tilt $1K Monday tournament and the PokerStars $100 rebuy event, and placed second in the PokerStars Wednesday $150K tournament, for a combined $120,000. In April, he won the Stars $200 Second Chance Sunday event for $48,020.

So Close They Could Taste It

By Shawn Patrick Green

Card Player recently interviewed the notable online pros who made runner-up finishes in consecutive weeks of the PokerStars Sunday Million. Matt "plattsburgh" Vengrin and Ben "ShankingYou" Palmer finished one place shy of the top spot in the major Sunday event on April 27 and May 4, respectively. Read on to find out what they did to get so deep in the Internet's biggest weekly event.

Enough to Make Vengrin Grin

Matt "plattsburgh" Vengrin has been proving his mettle on both the live and online tournament scenes since 2006. A series of small cashes in live events, including a final table at the 2007 UltimateBet Aruba Classic, have earned him more than $200,000 in winnings. However, he has made even more money online. His biggest score was for almost $210,000 for taking down a shorthanded no-limit hold'em event in the Full Tilt Online Poker Series V. Just recently, he turned up the heat again by taking down a $200 rebuy event on PokerStars and then finishing in second place in the Sunday Million two weeks later for $133,000.

Shawn Patrick Green: Do you still get butterflies or get nervous when you're that deep in a high-profile event like the Sunday Million?

Matt "plattsburgh" Vengrin:
Yes and no. I try not to even bother looking in the lobby; I try to just play every hand as it comes, every situation as it comes. When I'm doing that correctly, I don't really worry about the money; I don't worry about the pay increases. I'm not looking at the lobby to try to move up the pay scale, because I realize that, after playing tournaments for three years, all of the money is at the top.

SPG: You said that you don't look at the lobby. Do you not even look to see if the money bubble is coming up, or anything like that, or do you just tune it all out and play it as it goes?

MV: I've kind of learned to sense it, a little bit. People start to slow down a bit when the money bubble comes. So, yeah, I don't really look at the lobby. Actually, when I won the FTOPS event, I didn't look at the lobby at all, and I didn't know how much first place was [laughing].

It really helps you focus if you're not worrying about the other stuff, because you can't control it. Yeah, it's OK to look sometimes to see what the chip average is, and so on, as that sometimes prompts people to make moves that you can kind of predict already. They might think, "Oh, the blinds jump is coming up and I'm going to have only 10 blinds; I need to make a move now," so it's kind of easier to understand what they're moving with and to get into their heads a little bit.

SPG: What got you to the final table of that Sunday Million?

MV: A lot of luck [laughing]. Well, you do have to run very well to make the final table, of course. The one thing that I will say is that when it's a $500 buy-in or a $1,000 buy-in, it's a lot easier, I think, for a skilled player to make the final table than in a $200 buy-in event, where the blinds go up exponentially. My friend made the final table of the Sunday Million this past week, a $200 buy-in event, and the blinds were something like 700,000-1,400,000 when they were heads up, whereas when I got heads up, the blinds were at 150,000-300,000. You can kind of see that it's a way better structure in the $500 buy-in Sunday Million, so you can bide your time more and pick your spots less frequently than you have to in the $200 buy-in version. It's overall a better structure, and it favors the better players; there were a lot of good players at that final table, for sure.

SPG: You also won the $200 rebuy event on PokerStars recently. What is your style of play during the rebuy period of rebuy tournaments?

MV: You know, I'm tighter than most. A lot of people who do well in rebuy events are very aggressive; they will put in a lot of money. I remember seeing my friend "westmenlo," Isaac Baron, in for $5,000 [laughing] in a $100 rebuy event once; he went all in every hand. I understand why they do it, but I just can't see why it's profitable, even if they get a ton of chips from it. They do it to get more chips than their opponents. They also do it to put more chips in players' hands at their table whom they think they can extract from later, which is probably more of the reason why they do it. When you can amass a big chip stack, it's obviously an advantage, but if you put in $2,000, you're obviously going to have to finish at the final table to break even, and it's a tough field, so it's hard even for a great player to do that every time.

Palmer Shanks His Shot (But Still Scores Big)

The University of Florida has been the breeding ground for many online poker stars, and Ben "ShankingYou" Palmer is one of those who has been representing his alma mater well. He carried that torch all the way to a runner-up finish in the Sunday Million on May 4, making his biggest online score ever.

Palmer, a 24-year-old college graduate from Boca Raton, Florida, dropped out of law school to become a poker player. That was about a year ago, and since then, he's just been playing online for his income. His two-way chop in the recent Sunday Million earned him more than $133,000, which is far more than the average yearly American salary, so it's relatively safe to say that he's not regretting his decision, yet.

Card Player caught up with Palmer after his deep finish to talk about outlasting so many players in such a huge field. He also talked about tournament strategy, including being patient, always making +EV [positive expected value] decisions, the poker meta-game, and how to play small pairs.

Shawn Patrick Green: Can you maybe go over some key moments or strategies in that tournament that led to your runner-up finish?

Ben "ShankingYou" Palmer: Yeah, I would say that just staying patient when the blinds get high, even though you may be short. Everyone else is short, as well, when you get to the late stages, and there are going to be a lot of people who, because of the adrenaline, are going to get overanxious, and they're going to make mistakes and put their money in in bad spots. If you can wait to put yourself in the right position, you're going to have a much better opportunity to survive. A lot of people are going to look down at marginal hands in certain situations and just go with them and bust out.

For instance, look for a late-position raise that you can go all in over the top of instead of going all in with A-J when someone under the gun raises. So, not getting into a bad spot just because you think you have a good hand is what's important. It's really about evaluating the situation and making sure that it's a good spot for you to get it in.

SPG: What is the hardest part of playing online tournaments?

BP: I think the hardest part about playing online tournaments is adjusting to the game. It changes every few months; a while back, the game was full of everyone being extremely, extremely aggressive, and now it's starting to change back to people playing a little bit tighter. It goes through a kind of ebb and flow, and it's just tough to adjust to how everyone is playing, because a lot of people are changing their styles every few months. You kind of have to keep track and watch how everyone is playing, even if you're not getting deep, to keep up with the curve.

SPG: Is it just as simple as playing whatever the prevailing style is not?

BP: No, I believe that there is a certain style that is the best. It's just taking +EV spots all of the time in tournament play. You can't be too tight and you can't be too loose. You need to be somewhere in the middle. You need to have half of the people think you're a complete maniac and the other half think you're tight. If you can achieve half of the people talking about you one way and half talking about you the exact opposite way, you're playing the right way, because that means that nobody really knows what you're doing.

SPG: Can you give us an example of a leak that you plugged?

BP: Yeah, sure. One of the big leaks that a lot of people still have now is playing small pairs, like deuces through fives, by raising them from early position with 15-20 big-blind stacks. Because basically all you're doing is just a blinds steal, you're turning your hand into a bluff. And when you do get called, you're going to hit a set only one in eight times, and you're just going to spew a lot of chips off like that. It's really better, if you're under the gun with a certain stack, to just fold small pairs and not try to play them from that spot. That was one of my leaks that I plugged.

Shaun Deeb: Pumps Up the Volume

By Craig Tapscott

Stand back, people. Clear the way. Shaun Deeb is coming through. This ... could ... get ... dangerous. Well, dangerous might be too strong a word. But, when Deeb pops open more tables across his computer monitors than a rabbit on fertility drugs produces offspring, it certainly looks precarious. Can this type of madness be profitable? Deeb knows it is, at least for him, and deems it a variance killer, at least for the most part.

"It just evens out," said Deeb. "I'll play 30 to 40 tournaments daily, at all different levels of buy-ins -- $3 rebuys up to $1,000 freezeouts. And I want to win them all. I average probably one final table a day and have more winning days due to my volume than most other online pros."

Massive volume, combined with sharp, aggressive play, enabled Deeb, 22, to take down the prestigious PokerStars Tournament Leader Board Championship for 2007. It's a title that he came close to capturing in 2006, when he finished third. Online, Deeb has cashed for more than $1.5 million over the last 18 months, but has yet to make a big splash in live events.

He confesses that patience can be his downfall in live events, where he may see only 30 hands an hour, not 1,000. It's an important virtue that he's working overtime to improve, leading up to this year's World Series of Poker. If he is successful, this easily could be the breakthrough year for the original volume king of online poker.

Craig Tapscott: How can you play so many tables and recognize the table dynamics?

Shaun Deeb: I have a good memory. I'm really good at remembering hands against opponents without note-taking. But a lot of times, I get all in on a table and don't realize till later on if I've doubled up or busted out [laughing].

CT: Why start playing this way in the first place?

SD: I wanted to challenge myself to play as many tables as possible, sometimes 30 tournaments at once. It was trial and error. Doing that put me in a lot of tough situations that I learned from.

CT: Can you play cash games like that?

SD: I can't play more than an hour and a half of cash games without getting bored.

CT: You obviously love the game.

SD: Yes. I love getting deep in a tournament, winning every pot, and knowing that people are frustrated with me [laughing]. It's the best feeling. And when playing so many tables, inevitably I end up slow-rolling someone. I even slow-rolled JohnnyBax once. He stalked me and feigned fury. But it upsets people. I do it so often because I'm playing so many tables. I've noticed that the European players love to slow-roll. They've brought the fun back to poker [laughing]. It's always nice to start a session by hitting quads and getting a good slow-roll in.

CT: What was your biggest leak early on?

SD: Controlling my emotions. I used to always think players were messing with me. So, I would play back at anyone who three-bet me, no matter the cards. I eventually came to understand that they do have a hand sometimes. It was so hard to learn how to fold after raising.

CT: What did you adjust?

SD: My hand ranges. I played very bad ranges and didn't really understand that with 20 big blinds, I shouldn't open from under the gun. Also, when people opened early, I would shove with A-10 offsuit because it looked like a good hand. I basically knew how to resteal, but I wasn't good at picking my spots.

CT: Your live results are not stellar up to now.

SD: I'm getting crushed so far [laughing]. I'm working on not getting bored at the table, and learning to be patient and play my game.

CT: Any "live play" wisdom you can share?

SD: Live, it's easy to steal versus players who you know like to fold a lot. And I'm programmed from online to make a lot of preflop raises of 2.2 and 2.5 times the big blind. Live players aren't used to seeing those kinds of raises. So, they get into the "call-and-try-to-flop-the-nuts" mode. I can win a lot of pots from them this way.

CT: Let's clear this up: Some poker reporters have given Freddy Deeb credit as being your father.

SD: It happens all the time. Freddy is not my father. There's no relation that we've figured out so far.

CT: What do you do for fun when you're not playing 30 tables simultaneously?

SD: Sleep.

Big Versus Little Mistakes

By David Apostolico

There's an old adage that says a lot about human nature. It goes something like this: One's willingness to acknowledge that a painting is a fake is usually inverse to the price one paid for it. If you paid a lot of money for something, the last thing you want to admit to yourself is that you got taken for a ride. That's why so many people hate to admit that a big-purchase item such as a car is a lemon. Yet, for small-item purchases, those same people can remain more objective and recognize a piece of junk when they see one. The more we invest in something, the more we want to make sure that we get our money's worth. When the stakes are high, we will come up with any kind of rationalization to convince ourselves that we made the right decision.

I do not know how many times I have seen the following type of situation at a no-limit hold'em poker table. Player A has about $50 invested in the pot when Player B makes a $200 bet on the river (after the last card is placed down). Player A calls with a hand that he knows should be a loser. When Player B turns over his winning hand, Player A defensively states something along the lines of, "Well, I had to call since I was pot-committed." Huh? A few hands later, that same Player A will call a $20 bet on the river with a pot worth $75. This time, when Player A loses, he says, "Boy, was that dumb. I knew you had it. I don't know why I called."

What happened between the first and second hands? Did Player A find true introspection during that time? Probably not. What is more likely is that Player A has a much easier time admitting a little mistake as opposed to a bigger mistake. It is tough to analyze one's game in an honest fashion. No one likes to acknowledge mistakes, and the bigger the mistake, the harder the acknowledgment.

Have the courage to be honest with yourself when it comes to reviewing your poker game. Anyone can admit small mistakes. The ability to acknowledge large mistakes will give you the freedom to learn and progress. Poker is all about correct decision-making. In no-limit play, where the permutations are endless and the decisions are tough, it is inevitable that we all will make some mistakes. While we get instant feedback in poker, that feedback can be misinterpreted if we are willing to rationalize. You can win a hand even though you played it incorrectly, and you can lose a hand that you played right. Regardless of the outcome, remain as objective as possible.

Additionally, there are plenty of other factors to blame if we wish to remain blameless. We can blame the other players, the cards, and even the dealer if we are so inclined. We're all human. If you don't think the above saying has real meaning in poker, try this little test. At your next poker session, observe how the other players react to losses. Ask some questions if you'd like. I'd bet that you're going to find most players more willing to admit mistakes in a small pot than a large one. Then take a fresh look at your own play, and be brutally honest about your mistakes. It is better to bruise your ego a little than your bankroll a lot.

David Apostolico is the author of numerous poker-strategy books, and hosts a poker-strategy radio show every Thursday night on

A Method to His Madness

By Tim Peters

Every Hand Revealed by Gus Hansen (Lyle Stuart; $15.95)

When Gus Hansen sits down at a poker table, we've learned to expect the unexpected: the monster call, the any-two-cards bluff, the (seemingly) outrageous value-bet. But "unexpected" should not be synonymous with "crazy." In fact, after reading Hansen's fine new book, you may be reminded of Hamlet in Shakespeare's great tragedy, as Polonius says of the prince's erratic behavior, "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't."

There is a great deal of method in the Great Dane's apparent madness, and Every Hand Revealed, his wire-to-wire chronicle of his $1.2 million score in the main event of the 2007 Aussie Millions, should convince the poker world that Hansen is entirely sane -- and a truly brilliant poker player.

The book articulates no overarching theory and very few generalizations. Instead, it takes an entirely different tack to explaining poker strategy: "All the hands that I played are turned face up and every decision I made is explained in my pursuit of the title," Hansen writes. There's a little prose to introduce and recap each day, but most of these 384 pages are devoted to specific hands and situations: the cards he was dealt, his actions and those of his opponents, and the reasoning behind his decisions.

What emerges is a powerful portrait of what successful poker is really about: a series of decisions based on (inevitably) incomplete information. Hansen used a recorder to take notes (see the interview below for more details) after each hand, and they go far beyond the mechanics of the action. We learn about opponents and their capabilities, about recent actions and how they might affect the current hand, about the potential of the bubble (particularly profitable for an aggressive player like Hansen), and about opportunities, like the last few hands of the day or just after the blinds and antes increase.

Over and over, we get to experience Hansen's decision-making process: the good, the bad, and the ugly (like when he turned over what he thought was ace high, which turned out to be the nut flush). It may be easy to be honest after taking down a huge title, but Hansen seems very upfront about his mistakes. As he readily acknowledges, sometimes you make a wrong decision and get a good result, sometimes you make the right decision and get burned, and sometimes you make the right decision and win the pot.

It's a cliché to say that poker is a game of situations, but few books have demonstrated the truth of that adage more powerfully than Every Hand Revealed. That said, Hansen does articulate his core poker philosophy: "My kind of poker requires constantly attacking your opponents, constantly accumulating chips, constantly keeping track of pot odds and winning percentages, and constantly gearing up as blinds and antes increase." That's easy to say and easy to understand, but it's still hard to execute. This book shows you how one pro executes, hand by hand, moment by moment. Aggression certainly paid off in Melbourne: Hansen won 70 pots (from a total of 329 hands that he played) uncontested.

The prose is competent without being brilliant, but that's quite an accomplishment for a native Danish speaker. And I wished for a little more color about the event, a bit more sense of the drama involved in going from 20,000 in chips to nearly 15 million in order to take down another major tournament. But that's just my greed as a reader talking. This is a unique glimpse into the thought processes of a unique player; Gus Hansen has made a rich contribution to the literature of poker with Every Hand Revealed.

Hansen makes the point that "too many books … are solely theoretical." What kind of approach is more important to you when it comes to poker books: practical, situational advice, or a more theoretical framework? E-mail me at

A Q & A Session With Gus Hansen

Just a few days after his oh-so-close second-place finish in the World Poker Tour Championship at Bellagio, Gus Hansen took some time to speak with Card Player about his new book.

Card Player: What prompted you to write a poker book and how did you arrive at this hand-by-hand approach?

Gus Hansen:
I've been thinking about doing a book for quite a while, maybe the last four or five years. I worked a little bit on a "normal" approach, a strategic book like Dan Harrington might write, but then I thought about recording my sessions. I thought it might help me in the "big game," and then I thought that recording an entire tournament could make a good book. Of course, it took some luck; no one's going to want to read a book about a tournament in which you finish in 59th place.

CP: Did you have a specific reader in mind as you wrote?

GH: Every Hand Revealed is really for everybody who wants to learn about tournament poker. You can read it if you're a beginner and get an idea of what it takes to win a tournament, but there are also aspects of my game that will be valuable for more experienced players.

CP: You write in your book about the problems with some of today's strategy books: too theoretical and too cautious for beginning players. Can you talk about the proper role for poker books for aspiring players?

GH: I'm not a big reader myself. Of course, I've gotten some input from books, but I wouldn't say any of the books I read had the same impact as actually discussing poker with friends. That's probably had the biggest impact on me.

In poker, nothing is written in stone; there's no one way to play that's always correct. Books are really good for giving you some new input, some new ideas, but then you have to work those ideas over in your own head and ask yourself, "Can I use this? Is this going to fit into my style of play?"

Actually, the reason I have my own unique style is because I don't take anything for granted. Just because 10 poker players tell me that you are supposed to check-raise if you have a specific hand, I'm saying, "Why do you have to check-raise? Why not just bet out or do something different?"

CP: The portrait that emerges of you in Every Hand Revealed is aggressive but certainly not crazy, despite your image from television. How true is the "crazy Gus Hansen" image?

GH: As far as I'm concerned, it's a label that's been exaggerated, promoted by TV. People see me play 4-2 offsuit, then bet on the turn and river with 4 high, and they say, "He must be totally crazy." Usually, there's a reason behind my play. I might be thinking I can get away with stealing the blinds and the antes, and I might be thinking I can get away with a crazy bluff.

CP: But that kind of play could also be described as aggressive, not crazy.

GH: To have success in poker tournaments, you have to be aggressive, you have to take charge, and I make this point several times in the book. Sometimes you take charge with the best hand, which is obviously preferable, but you can't always have it. Basically, to keep your opponents off guard, you have to throw in a little decoy once in a while. When TV prefers to show that decoy, that's the label that gets put on you. In my world, it's "crazy madman," but as I said, usually there's a reason behind it -- or at least somewhat of a reason behind it. Of course, sometimes I step over the line and it becomes utterly absurd and way too crazy, but then again, if you have to make an error in tournament poker, make the error on the aggressive side.

CP: Is the book going to change the way people view you?

GH: I would think the book would favor the less crazy version of me. But the mark of a truly good player is the ability to adapt to the environment surrounding him. If people are going to view