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The Inside Straight

Reviews, News, and Interviews From Around the Poker World

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Oct 03, 2008


Electronic Poker Tables Enter the Vegas Market at Excalibur
By Kristy Arnett

Electronic poker tables have been popping up all over the globe, and it seemed to be just a matter of time before the innovation reached Las Vegas.

Excalibur Hotel and Casino, an MGM Mirage property, recently installed 12 PokerPro electronic tables, completely replacing its old 12-table poker room. It's the first poker room in Nevada to have electronic tables, and will serve as the official trial site for PokerPro in the state.

At Excalibur, there are no more chips, no more cards, and no more dealers. So, in a city that is used to change, where construction never stops and casinos change more times than the superstitious guy at the poker table asks for a new setup, what will the reaction be?

According to Chris Halligan, CEO of PokerTek, the company that produces PokerPro tables, it's been great. "We were looking for someone who viewed this innovation as a way to attract new players and invigorate their poker business," he said. "Once we met with the Excalibur people, we knew they were the right people."

PokerTek now has more than 250 tables in operation all over the world, dominating the E-table market. As in every new market that PokerTek enters, there is a trial period that takes place. Halligan says that field trials usually take about six months.

With, perhaps, the future of PokerPro in Nevada hanging in the balance with the results at Excalibur, PokerTek is taking steps to ensure its success. Durning the first few months of the new poker room's operation, $500 freerolls are held at 9 a.m. every day. Whether it is the free money or the attraction of the electronic tables, the seats are selling like hotcakes. Every day, all 60 seats for the tournament are reserved within an hour of registration being opened.

There is no set tournament schedule right now, but the Excalibur plans on running a few events a day at low buy-ins. Cash games are available, including 50¢-$1 and regular games include $0.50-$1 and $1-$2 no-limit hold'em, and $2-$4 limit hold'em. Occasionally there is a $2-$5 no-limit hold'em games, and $3-$6 and $4-$8 limit hold'em games. Seven-card stud and Omaha variations, including pot-limit Omaha, also are offered. The rake is capped at $3 per hand.

While PokerPro tables provide fast, error-free play, there are some vocal critics of the transition.

"Personally, I don't think it is good for poker. It would put a lot of people out of work," said Orleans Tournament Supervisor Marlin Berland. "Why bother coming to Vegas to play poker on a machine? You could stay home and play on the Internet."
Berland said that he hopes that electronic tables don't catch on, and he doesn't think they will. However, it seems as though PokerTek has plans to expand, pending successful field trials.

"We have had a lot of inquiries about opening rooms elsewhere in the city," said Halligan, "but right now, our focus is on satisfying the conditions of the field trial and making Excalibur as successful as we can."

World Poker Association Pushes for Universal Rules
Jesse Jones of the WPA Speaks With Card Player
By Bob Pajich

Jesse Jones is so passionate about legitimizing poker as a worldwide sport that he is spending a good portion of his retirement focusing his energies on the World Poker Association, a nonprofit organization he founded to protect the rights of poker-playing professionals and semipros.

He believes the most pressing issue for big tournament venues like the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour is for them to accept and universally enforce the WPA-approved tournament rulebook, which would not only establish a gold standard, particularly concerning player behavior, but also ensure that all major events are run the same way.

"I believe it's the number-one item by far," Jones said. "Can you imagine going to an NFL football game, and they play four quarters, and then you go next week, and they play five quarters. That's what we have in tournament poker now - standards that are not uniform."

The standards not only are not uniform from tournament to tournament, but it also seems that the rules are not universally enforced throughout even the same tournament, with favoritism seemingly and dangerously becoming the norm.

Scotty Nguyen's behavior and the lack of action by the Harrah's tournament staff during the $50,000 WSOP H.O.R.S.E. event serves as the freshest example. Nguyen repeatedly harassed, badgered, and taunted his opponents, breaking several of the WSOP's own rules on his way to victory. Never did tournament officials step in and penalize Nguyen, even though, by written rules, he should have been penalized.

"When you taunt a player in any shape or form during play at the table, that is out of line. That is why they don't allow it in any professional sports," Jones said. "Particularly in poker, when you're trying to intimidate a player with your trash-talking and your taunting, you're taking the focus away from the play at the table, and it now becomes about the person. What we want is it to be able to play the sport itself."

The final table of the H.O.R.S.E. event was broadcast on ESPN and was an embarrassing moment for tournament poker, Jones said, not only because of Nguyen's behavior, but because nothing was done about it.

The WPA has had some conversations with officials from the WSOP and WPT, but its lack of numbers - only around 1,400 - makes it harder for it to be heard as loud as Jones would like. With around 10,000 to 15,000, that would change, he said. He acknowledges that the people who would benefit most from a strong WPA are professional and semiprofessional players, rather than the casual fan, giving the WPA a smaller group from which to try to recruit members.

So far, besides one WSOP qualifying event that was held under the WPA banner, no events have used WPA rules. Instead, rules vary from venue to venue, from tournament director to tournament director, and that's just not good enough for Jones.

"That's one of those things that is certainly an important aspect of the WPA, to establish a uniform set of standards that addresses player conduct, so that we can represent and present tournament poker as a professional sport," Jones said.

Another issue that the WPA eventually hopes to address concerns tournament buy-ins. Jones and the WPA simply believe that there shouldn't be any for televised events. Like the PGA Tour, the prize pools for televised events should be funded by major sponsors and not by the players themselves. This clout would further legitimize the game of tournament poker as a sport, and would only work to expand its popularity and ensure that the players are treated as professionals.

"We'd like to see the same thing happen for our professional tournament poker players. In order for that to happen, the players have to support it, and once they support it in large enough numbers, I can assure them that the WPA has people interested in creating a series of events that would be televised for them, using the WPA standards, and they would not have to pay an entry fee or a buy-in fee to participate."

But right now, increasing its membership numbers is the organization's top priority. Players can join the WPA by visiting Membership levels range from $20 to $2,000.

World Poker Tour May Lose Spot on NASDAQ
Stock Exchange Sent WPTE a Letter Warning of Possibility
By Bob Pajich

World Poker Tour Enterprises informed its investors recently that there's a chance that the company will lose its listing on NASDAQ, thanks to a recent history of its stock trading at less than $1.

WPTE received a NASDAQ Staff Determination Letter on Aug. 14, informing the company that unless its stock trades at more than $1 for 10 consecutive days during the next 180 days, it will be delisted from the stock exchange. WPTE got into this situation because its stock has spent 30 or more days trading at less than NASDAQ's limit of $1.

The last time WPTE stock closed the day at more than $1 was July 1, when it closed at $1.04.

To avoid this, WPTE could perform a reverse stock split, which would cut the number of its offered available shares in half, doubling the value of the shares. This maneuver is usually done by firms to avoid delisting.

In a financial disclosure concerning NASDAQ's warning, the company gave no signal that it will do this in order to double its stock price, and company officials did not respond to a request for comment recently.

If WPTE fails to meet NASDAQ's listing rules as noted here, it will be booted off the exchange and its stock will enter the world of Over-the-Counter (OTC) stocks, or Pink Sheets. Its shares will still be available to buy or sell, but serious investors tend to avoid Pink Sheet listings, as they are deemed risky and unstable.

WPTE went public on Aug. 10, 2004, and opened at $9.15 a share. That day, it closed at $6.86.

Judge Sides With Investigators in South Carolina Poker Trial
He Refuses to Dismiss the Case; Jury Trial May Come
By Bob Pajich

A judge refused to dismiss the charges levied against five men who were fined for playing home poker in South Carolina, sending the case on a collision course with a possible jury trial, or another go-round at dismissal.

Bob Chimento, Scott Richards, Michael Williamson, Jeremy Brestel, and John Taylor Will believe that the law they're accused of breaking - a law that makes it illegal to play any kinds of games in the state that use cards or dice, and that law enforcement agencies have used to stop home poker games - is unconstitutional.

"Our next step is to go into an appeals process on the dismissal or move forward and ask for a speedy jury trial," Chimento said.
Judge Larry Guffy refused to dismiss the charges on Aug. 22, which allows for state prosecutors to push on. This pretty much is standard protocol for any trial, and cases are seldom dismissed at this point, but the judge could've waited for years to rule if he had wanted to.

Defendant Chimento, a contractor by trade and one of the 65 people who were served warrants after police investigated several home games in South Carolina, said the group will evaluate what to do next.

According to Chimento, arguments were heard for about an hour. Prosecutors are defining the houses where the games took place as casinos, yet admitted that they couldn't point out a craps or a blackjack table.

The goal of the group is not necessarily to be found innocent. They're only facing fines of between $154 and $257. The men's goal is to take this fight as far up the state's judicial ladder as possible, in hope of forcing state officials to redefine the century-old law that is being used in one part of South Carolina to go after poker players.

Chimento was thrilled that the judge ruled, and was excited at the prospect of being able to use the system that busted them to try to change the poker law in South Carolina.

Also, if local newspaper and radio polls are to be believed, public opinion clearly sits on the side of the players, despite being in the heart of the Bible Belt.

Olympian Would Join Long List of Poker-Playing Athletes
By Bob Pajich

Michael Phelps, the darling of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, recently told his hometown newspaper that after things at the pool wind down, he'd like to play in a World Series of Poker event.

"I think it would be cool to play in the World Series of Poker," Phelps told the Baltimore Sun's Kevin Van Valkenburg. "My game is a little off right now, so I'll have to start improving it a little bit. But I think that would be cool, and it would be cool to meet some of those poker guys."

If Phelps winds up at a WSOP event, he'd join a list of current and former professional athletes who feel compelled to play in major poker tournaments. That list includes Rocco Mediate, Jose Canseco, Orel Hershiser, Josh Beckett, Gilbert Arenas, and Tony Parker, just to name a few.

Phelps is perhaps the greatest Olympian who ever lived. His eight gold medals won at Beijing's "Water Cube" are the most ever at a single Olympics. His total of 14 gold medals is also an Olympic record.

No Calls on Scotty Nguyen Magnify Flaw in WSOP Rules
Tournament Rules Concerning Player Behavior Often Ignored
By Bob Pajich

The exhibition of vulgarity that Scotty Nguyen showered on his opponents on his way to winning the World Series of Poker $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event not only helped alter his reputation in the minds of fans, but, more importantly, highlighted a severe flaw in the WSOP rules system.

Rules are written, but the implementation of penalties - the most severe of which is disqualification - is always left to the tournament staff, and they do not always enforce the rules the same way, even in the same tournament.

When contacted, the WSOP admitted that the matter of rules enforcement and consistency needs to be addressed, and promised a re-examination of its protocol. WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel was on vacation and unavailable for comment, but Harrah's released the following paragraph concerning this issue:

All players at the WSOP must conduct themselves appropriately. We obviously have some work to do on this matter. With that in mind, a process has been under way since the end of the WSOP to re-examine the rules related to player conduct and the enforcement of those rules. We will have something more substantive to say on this matter well before the start of the 2009 WSOP.

The rules on player conduct are clear, but how to punish violators is up to interpretation. Two of the rules that Nguyen was allowed to repeatedly violate were as follows:

No. 35. Any player who directs any profane and/or abusive language at another player, dealer or tournament staff member or who makes any profane and/or abusive comments about another player, dealer or tournament staff member will be penalized in accordance with Rules No. 31 and/or No. 51. In particular, the use of the so-called "f-bomb" and "c-bomb," as well as derivatives of those and similarly offensive terms, will subject the offending player to penalties if they are directed at or refer to another player, dealer, staff member, patron or official of Harrah's or the WSOP. In Harrah's sole and absolute discretion, it may impose at any time a zero-tolerance policy for profane language whether directed at another person or not.

No. 38. Player or staff abuse will not be tolerated. A player may incur a penalty up to and including disqualification for any abuse towards another player or staff member, and player could be asked to leave the property. Repeated etiquette violations such as touching another player's cards or chips, delay of game and excessive chatter will result in penalties.

But tournament officials did nothing, and Nguyen drank, swore, and taunted his way to the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. title, receiving more than $1.9 million and a trophy named in honor of David "Chip" Reese, who was known to have a steady demeanor, respect for the game and its players, a kind and humble attitude, among many other things, none of which were displayed by this year's $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. champion. And according to the rules, there should have been penalties.

John Phan Passes Erik Seidel for the Player of the Year Lead
By Ryan Lucchesi

The 2008 World Poker Tour Legends of Poker no-limit hold'em championship event attracted 373 players to The Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, California. All of the players in the field were looking to win more than $1 million in first-place prize money, but they also were looking to join other legends such as Doyle Brunson and Dan Harrington as a champion of this prestigious event, which was being contested for the seventh time on the WPT schedule.

At the event, John Phan needed to finish in at least seventh place to pass Erik Seidel on the Card Player Player of the Year (POY) leader board. Late in day four, he was close to his goal with eight players remaining, and that was when he moved all in against Layne Flack. Flack called all in against him and they turned up their hands. Phan held pocket sevens against Flack's pocket aces, but the board brought not one 7, but both that remained in the deck, to give Phan the pot. With Flack out of the tournament, Phan was guaranteed the POY lead, but he was not done there. He continued to play well and made the TV final table with the second-most chips in play. At that final table, Phan finished in first place and now has 6,401 POY points. Seidel now trails Phan by 1,821 points.

Phan is on one of the hottest runs that tournament poker has seen in the last couple of years. He started this amazing performance in March, when he made the final table at the WPT Shooting Star tournament and finished in sixth place to win $135,000. Up next was the World Series of Poker, and this was where Phan really took flight. He won his first gold bracelet in a $3,000 no-limit hold'em event, and then one week later, he won his second gold bracelet in the $2,500 deuce-to-seven triple-draw lowball event. Phan was the only player to win two gold bracelets at the 2008 WSOP, and he didn't slow down when the Series concluded.

He made the final table of the WPT Bellagio Cup IV, finishing in fifth place and taking home $193,915 in prize money. He then became one of the few players in history to make back-to-back WPT final tables, joining Lee Watkinson (2004) and Danny Wong (2007), when he made the final six at the Legends of Poker in August. Phan now has won $2,024,778 playing tournament poker in 2008, and he has increased his career tournament winnings to $5,321,451.

WPT Legends of Poker Championship Recap
Buy-in: $10,000
Players: 373
Prize Pool: $3,545,738
First-Place Prize: $1,091,428

Here is a look at the final-table chip counts when it began:
Seat 1: Trong Nguyen - 980,000
Seat 2: Amit Makhija - 3,225,000
Seat 3: Paul Smith - 1,130,000
Seat 4: John Phan - 2,415,000
Seat 5: Zachary Clark - 2,025,000
Seat 6: Kyle Wilson - 1,425,000

Things started very slowly, as it took more than 10 hands for the first flop to hit the table. When that flop did come, it was disastrous for Kyle Wilson, whose pocket kings were unable to hold up against the A-J of Zachary Clark when Clark hit an ace on the flop. Wilson was out in sixth place, and he took home $176,035 in prize money for his troubles. Trong Nguyen was the short stack after that, but he put up a fight and doubled up before busting out in fifth place ($211,245). Amit Makhija sent Nguyen to the rail, and increased his chip count to almost 6 million.

John Phan struck his first blow immediately after that, when his pocket eights made a 10-high straight on the river that sent Paul Smith out of the tournament in fourth place with $246,450. Makhija still held the chip lead, but Phan now had more than 3 million. Almost three hours later, Phan took the chip lead when he doubled up against Makhija with pocket aces against Makhija's pocket tens. A few minutes later, Makhija took back the chip lead by knocking out Clark in third place. Clark was awarded $281,645 for his finish, and Makhija went into the heads-up battle with 6.44 million against Phan and his stack of 4.76 million.

The heads-up battle was both a chess match and boxing match, with head games, drastic lead changes, and some jawing back and forth between two formidable opponents. First, Phan took a huge lead when he doubled up to almost 9 million by spiking a king on the river to beat the pocket deuces of Makhija. It appeared that Phan would wrap up his first WPT title and cap off an amazing six-month run of tournament poker when he held the Q 9 and the board read K Q J 2. Makhija was all in for his tournament life with the A 6. The river brought the A♣ and both opponents dug in their heels for the long battle to come.

In the end, Phan pulled out the victory after a heads-up battle that lasted for more than three hours. Makhija was able to double up two more times, but he eventually fell to Phan's pocket threes after a nearly 10-hour final table and took home $563,320 for his runner-up finish. Phan took home the $1,091,428 first-place prize and his first WPT title.

Look Out!
By Julio Rodriguez

Splashing onto the poker scene in a big way in late August was Zach "CrazyZachary" Clark. The 23-year-old poker pro from the Bay Area took the 2008 WPT Legends of Poker tournament by storm with his third-place finish, good for $281,645. This was by far Clark's biggest live score, although he has made some noise at the World Series of Poker the past two years, cashing seven times for more than $100,000.

Clark gravitated to poker because of a major influence in his life, his late uncle, Chip Reese. "I did a lot of 'investing' with Chip while growing up," said Clark. "We'd bet baseball all the time. Chip staked me in last year's WSOP. Then I won the FTOPS main event right after that. He wasn't big on staking people, but I don't think he had a choice, inasmuch as I was his nephew (laughing). At least I made him a little money."

A natural gambler, Clark took advantage of some loose California gaming restrictions to run a mini-casino from his home. "When I was in high school, I ran a little casino out of my house," he recalled. "We had blackjack and craps. We were legitimate. We had a six-deck shoe and everything. We had the poker table in the corner, with no rake, of course. That's pretty much how it started."

Clark did his best to talk his childhood friends into trying poker - most notably, Marco "CrazyMarco" Johnson. Johnson had a much easier time making the switch to tournament poker. "We both grew up playing limit hold'em, and he made the transition to tournaments much easier than I did. He was so naturally aggressive to begin with, and I had to be pushed. [Dan] Harrington explains it perfectly. During the last two minutes of a football game, you can't be handing the ball off when you're down big; you have to throw the bomb. My limit-hold'em style just didn't naturally carry over as fast as I'd have liked. It took about a year for me to get aggressive enough to have a positive EV in these tournaments."

When asked what Reese would think of him making the final table of a major televised poker tournament, Clark shrugged off the notion that he was in some way following in his uncle's footsteps. "I think he'd be proud either way," he opined. "I mean, I love being here, and I'm going to make the most of it, but it's not for Chip. I think about Chip every day, and I miss him dearly, but this is for me, and I have no doubt that he would agree with that."

2008 Player of the Year Standings

John Phan Uses a Cautious Approach to the Home-Run Play
By Julio Rodriguez

Skimming back through the hands that played out at the 2008 Legends of Poker final table, it's no secret that the high-drama all-in play will be heavily showcased when Fox Sports Net airs the episode next year. Having said that, a closer look reveals that the all-in madness was much more under control than the screaming spectators may have realized.

John Phan came to the final table with a solid stack in front of him, but he clearly was in no hurry to use it. Despite having five opponents, Phan focused his game plan on one player in particular, the only player who could hurt him, chip leader Amit Makhija.

"I told myself that I wasn't going to play a big pot with Amit," Phan said. "I didn't even want to race with him. I could sit back and pick better spots around the table, which I did."

Phan's first couple of attempts at pots went well. He was able to pick up the blinds without too much interference. Then, a suddenly active Zachary Clark made it his mission to come over the top of Phan as often as possible, temporarily shutting him down. After Clark built up a large stack on Phan's immediate left, Phan made the proper adjustment and relegated himself to making small stabs at unwanted pots to bide some time.

As Makhija continued to open every other pot, Phan patiently waited his turn, sticking to his game plan of keeping the pots small and avoiding marginal situations. He was so cautious, in fact, that he had to talk himself into what many believed should have been an automatic call.

Everyone folded to Paul Smith in the small blind, who moved all in. Phan, sitting in the big blind with pocket eights, took three minutes weighing his options, knowing he'd be playing for all of his chips. After the clock was called on him, Phan made the call, and with more drama than a paternity test on Maury, his pocket pair held up to put him firmly in second chip position.
Phan took some criticism for his slow, methodical decision-making process. Undeterred, he soldiered on and defended his actions once play had concluded.

"Even though I knew I was probably going to call the guy right away, I still took my time with my decision," said Phan. "I thought out even the most simple things, so I wouldn't make any mistakes, and took the time to analyze my hand and what I thought he held. That's how I play. I don't care what they think. There was a lot of money on the line, so I had no problem taking a few minutes to think about the hand."

Armed with a new fortress of chips, Phan opened up his game to a new level, taking down more than his fair share of pots and making sure that his opponents worked overtime for theirs. Throughout it all, he maintained his careful, time-consuming approach. So, when he was dealt pocket jacks against Makhija's pocket aces, his focus allowed Makhija to win the absolute minimum. A few hands later, Phan's aces enabled him to double up to the chip lead.

Heads-up play began a short time later, and Phan found himself outchipped by a small margin. When his A-K connected with the river just 12 hands in, Phan was suddenly the big stack, looking for the final knockout blow to seal the deal on his first WPT championship.

What occurred next could not have been scripted any better. Makhija doubled up with a river of his own, and was suddenly threatening to put himself back into the match. Phan took care of that with a huge river call while holding just a suited 9 on a four-flushed board. The blow claimed more than half of Makhija's stack and put a sudden halt to any momentum the young online pro was feeling beforehand.

"I made sure that I made him gamble instead of me," recalled Phan. "I got him to pay me off when I hit hands, and I tried not to pay him off when he was ahead. You always have to go with your reads. I think I read players very well. It's like a gift. Not a lot of people can call down with bottom pair or king high. For the past few months, I've been going with my reads and been right."
The barrage of all-in plays continued many hours into the night, until, finally, Makhija succumbed when his K-7 failed to catch up to Phan's pocket threes. Although the home-run play served Phan well that evening, it was his careful, alert examination of each situation that kept him out of trouble and ultimately gave him the title.

Of course, there's always another factor to consider: Phan said, "It really helps that I'm running so well."

What's My Line?
Amit Makhija
By Julio Rodriguez

Amit Makhija plays online as AMAK316 and is no stranger to the grind that playing 10 tables on a Sunday can be, and he has earned more than $350,000 in Online Player of the Year-qualifying events alone. He already has proven himself on the live-tournament circuit, as well. After going deep at the EPT Grand Final, Makhija followed that up with a final table at the World Series of Poker. He recently bagged the largest cash of his young career, finishing second at the WPT Legends of Poker, good for $563,320.

Card Player spoke to Makhija about the hand that gave him the chip lead heading to the final table.

Event/Blinds-Antes: WPT Legends of Poker; 6,000-12,000 with a 2,000 ante
Player: Amit Makhija; Ron Jenkins
Chip Count: 850,000; 750,000
A J; 9 7

Philip Stark raised to 36,000 from the button, and Ron Jenkins made the call from the small blind. Amit Makhija reraised to 110,000 from the big blind, and Stark got out of the way.

Jenkins called, and the flop came down J 6 5. Jenkins led out for 120,000, and Makhija raised to 260,000. Jenkins called.

The turn was the 5, pairing the board, and Jenkins moved all in for 380,000. Makhija, having Jenkins covered by just 100,000, instantly called and tabled the A J. Jenkins showed the 9 7 for a gutshot with a flush draw, and the river 9 wasn't enough for him.

Makhija took the pot and increased his stack to 1.65 million, which gave him a dominating lead at that time in the tournament.

Julio Rodriguez: You repopped it from the big blind. Were you squeezing or just getting value from your hand?

Amit Makhija: Well, it was a squeeze, but I also knew my hand was good. The guy on the button [Philip Stark] had about 30 big blinds, and he was raising pretty wide. So, I thought by reraising from the big blind, I would call if he decided to shove. The other guy [Ron Jenkins], I had position on, and I figured he was flat-calling with any two cards. I'm holding A-J suited, and that is so far ahead of his range in that spot.

JR: What's your opinion of your opponent at this point?

AM: He was playing a lot of hands, and playing them passively out of position. I knew he was kind of looney, and would stack off to me pretty light.

JR: He leads the flop for 120,000. Doesn't that seem like a kind of funky bet, considering his action preflop?

AM: Uh, no. That's pretty normal for bad players. When they flop nothing, they try to lead and take down pots because they don't want to risk too many chips with a check-raise. The problem with that thinking is that they have a hard time representing something big, because if they had a monster, they would check it, hoping to get maximum value.

JR: What kind of hand were you putting him on?

AM: I figured he was holding a weak draw, or maybe air, and I wanted to keep him in the pot, so I decided to raise pretty small. I made it 260,000, which was just over a min-raise.

JR: Do you think that your small raise forced him to stay in the pot, given how much he already had put in?

AM: No, he snap-called me. His chips went into the pot immediately after I raised. He snap-fired out and then snap-called my raise. I knew at that point that he had nothing, and was planning something weird on the turn to try to take it away.
JR: Well, you were right. He open-shoved the turn.

Yeah, he open-shoved for about the other half of his stack. I didn't even have to think about it. I called, knowing I was way ahead.

If I hadn't played with him before, it may have been a tougher spot for me. The entire day, he was making bets that just didn't make any sense. It was like he wanted to be aggressive but just didn't know how.

JR: Would you ever use his line for a situation like this?

AM: Not for this situation. If I were him, I would've moved all in on the flop. That way, he actually might have shown a little strength. I was calling anyway, but it would've been a bet that made much more sense.

I might use his line when I have a strong hand against players who don't know me and think I'm some random person. It looks really weak, and sometimes aggressive players will sense that.

JR: So, it's not too terrible a line if you have a big hand?

AM: Exactly. He just did it backward [laughing]. He did it like every bad player does it … with a bad hand.

Jason Gray Dissects the Button
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 Full Tilt Poker no-limit hold'em tournament
Players: 300
First Prize: $75,000
Finish: First
Stacks: BUBBLESftt - 9,370; Villain - 6,895
Blinds: 80-160

The action is folded to the Villain, who raises to 480 from the button. BUBBLESftt reraises to 1,600 from the small blind, holding the K Q. Villain moves all in for 6,415. BUBBLESftt snap-calls. Villain shows the 10 8.

Craig Tapscott: Did I just hear that right? You called off almost 75 percent of your stack, early in a big buy-in event, with the K♣ Q♣ from the small blind? If most players made this move with that particular hand, they would be berated as a huge donk. Care to explain?

Jason "BUBBLESftt" Gray: The Villain is a very well-known and successful tight-aggressive high-stakes player. Up to this point, he's been very active. My image is about the same. So, I reraise his button open-raise from the small blind, because I think I'm way ahead of his opening range.

CT: So you're saying there's a method behind the madness?

JG: Well, before I made this move, I really thought he would want to four-bet me all in, mainly because we both had a great start with good stacks in this long-structured tourney. And he would have enough fold equity, not giving me 2-to-1 to call, thinking that I was either light on my reraise or would fold bigger hands, thinking he had a monster.

CT: Do you have a history with this player to make this kind of speculative call?

JG: Well, I know this regular is a thinking player, and the week before, he went deep in a major live event. It was all over the forums how he had raised and four-bet all in with a total bluff preflop, and then showed the hand. So I know he was capable of this play.

CT: Capable is one thing, but aren't you risking a big portion of your stack on a speculative read when you don't have to do so at this point? And is this really a positive EV situation against a known winning player?

JG: Good point. If 10-8 offsuit is in his range, this can't really be a negative EV play. Online tourneys move along fast, and it's important to find good spots to accumulate chips. Before I even made the reraise, I had to think if he would four-bet me here light or not, and if he did, what I would do. Since I know the Villain's capable of making this play, I thought that he was thinking: "How can BUBBLESftt call here? He's got a good stack early in a big buy-in tourney. He's not going to call this four-bet all in unless he has J-J+ to A-Q+. So, if I believe that's his thinking, it makes it a 'good' or 'correct' play often enough to four-bet shove here."

CT: So, metagame comes into play this early in an event?

JG: When you start to play bigger tourneys with a larger percentage of pro players, the exact cards become a bit less effective, as a battle of the minds and fancy plays occur much more often. Once I can kind of figure out how a player thinks, I can counter that.

CT: What factors go into your preflop decisions?

JG: First of all, the stack sizes: How big is my stack in relation to the blinds? How big are the stacks of everyone else at the table compared to the blinds? Then, my position comes into play. Then, player images come into play, as to how my opponents are playing and thinking, and also how I'm being perceived. Also, it's important to remember that people usually have an overall style, but the image is not exact at all times. It fluctuates all the time due to moods, positions, tilt, cards dealt, which hands you get away with and which ones you get caught with, and so on. I think it through first: What's the action before me and what do I think an opponent's range is? What are my opponents trying to do? How many chips do I have? What's my image? What's my goal with this hand, and the plan for the hand as it develops? What are the stacks and plans of the players yet to act behind me? It can be very complex, but most of us who play all the time make all of these decisions almost subconsciously from so much practice.

CT: Pros like John Juanda and online phenoms djk123 and Annette_15 are known as great preflop players. In your opinion what attributes do they possess that other players don't?

JG: They have no fear. They really understand what the other players are thinking and trying to do, and then they put pressure on them at the right times more frequently. They definitely play to win. Sometimes they get in some bad spots, but when they get out of them by luck or other circumstances, they really know how to close.

CT: What leaks did you used to have in your game?

JG: I used to be way too tight at all stages of a tourney, which would make me easier to exploit. Once I started to switch that up, I would remain active or maybe too active at times during the later stages.

CT: What adjustments have you made to improve?

JG: I'm always studying the game. I try to keep my mind stimulated and figure out different ways to play similar situations, and I also listen to other players I respect.

CT: Online multitable tournaments have gotten very hyperaggressive, with so much three-betting and four-betting preflop, and with marginal hands. Your very successful brother, Craig "MrCasino" Gray, recently made a forum post that he was getting shoved on over and over again when he three-bet in position. He was curious how to defend against this and not continue to get himself into 60-40 confrontations. What's your answer to this dilemma?

JG: Good question. Well, first off, he's definitely guilty of three- and four-betting extremely light himself (laughing). We all should be at times, or else we won't be as tough to read and handle at the tables. Online, with shallower stacks and faster structures, it's hard to truly avoid a few 60-40 or 50-50 situations.

CT: And how do you defend against the craziness?

JG: Well, you need to learn who these players are who are capable of making these plays and counter them. If I know that I have a maniac or someone who uses these high-variance plays too often behind me, I'm going to tighten up a bit more and let him commit too many chips when he's behind. Also, I'll widen my hand ranges that I'll use to call or four-bet all in against them.

Flop: J 8 2 (13,950 pot)
Turn: 7 (13,950 pot)
River: Q (13,950 pot)
BUBBLESftt wins the pot with a pair of queens.

Jason Gray is a professional poker player from Portland, Oregon. He's won more than $1 million in online tournaments, including two wins in the Full Tilt Poker Monday night $1,000 buy-in event. He also has several $100 rebuy wins and many others. He's had success live, with several cashes in big events, including a fifth-place finish last year in Aruba for just over $105,000. For the last four years, he has been traveling and playing poker with his group of friends from

Spade Club Spotlight
By Lisa Anderson

Exclusive member Vinnie "Spcldelivery" Taylor is no stranger to SpadeClub's $5,000 weekly event. In fact, Taylor is SpadeClub's first member to win two $5,000 weekly events. He is excited to be able to say that he is the only member who has accomplished that feat. Taylor has been playing poker for about 14 years and thinks SpadeClub is a great place to try to step up a player's game and improve for only $19.99 a month.

Exclusive member Chris "jakeeight" Herder took first place in the Aug. 17 $5,000 weekly event. Herder lives on a farm with his wife and six kids on the outskirts of Chicago. He plans on using his winnings to take his family to Disney World in December. "I really like the SpadeClub premise," said Herder. "It's nice to have something to shoot for at the end of the week. And I really like how SpadeClub listens to the players and their ideas. It's the only site I play on, anymore."

To view complete interviews with SpadeClub winners, please visit

Tournament Schedule
$5,000 Weekly
Sept. 28 4 p.m. ET
Oct. 12 4 p.m. ET

Bellagio Monthly Qualifiers
Sept. 28 6 p.m. ET
Oct. 26 6 p.m. ET

$40,000 Mega Monthly
Oct. 5 4 p.m. ET

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

SpadeClub Gets Involved

Oct. 1 marks the first day of preliminary events for Bellagio's Festa al Lago Classic in Las Vegas. Play in the $540 buy-in SpadeClub no-limit hold'em event at 2 p.m. on Oct. 1 for your chance to win big. SpadeClub members who play will receive a badge to display on their SpadeClub account, based on how well they do during the Bellagio event.

SpadeClub will be awarding one Exclusive member a seat in the Oct. 1 event, along with a room at the luxurious Bellagio and travel expenses. If you would like to learn more about SpadeClub and play in the Bellagio event, come down on Oct. 1 and join the club.

For more information and to view the tournament schedule, please visit

Tips From the Table

User Ricky "rickc192" Chaney says: Avoid playing too loose, and tighten up against loose players. Remember that even if your opponents play more hands, in the long run, disciplined and tight players are always more successful than super-loose players who play even weak hands. Keep track of wins and losses and you will see that tight players always earn more than even the luckiest loose players.

Submit your own tips along with your SpadeClub screen name to:

Benefit of the Club

SpadeClub has added a new partner to its growing list of Club Rewards, Spinetti's. Spinetti's is a poker-accessories store located in Downtown Las Vegas, with everything to improve your home game at prices every poker enthusiast can enjoy. Exclusive SpadeClub members get a 10 percent discount online at or at the store location. Check out SpadeClub's Club Rewards page for even more ways to save on various partner offers.

Blair Hinkle Steamrolls the Final Table for a Gold Bracelet
By Craig Tapscott and Blair Hinkle

In this series, Card Player offers an in-depth analysis of the key hands that catapulted a player to a top finish, online or live. We also will reveal key concepts and strategies from the world's best tournament players, as we venture inside their sometimes devious and always razor-sharp poker minds.

Blair Hinkle began playing poker in 2004 after watching Chris Moneymaker on ESPN. His first big online score was winning an championship event at the end of 2006, and then he capped off 2007 with a Full Tilt Online Poker Series win. He then took a break from studying finance at the University of Missouri to play poker professionally. This year, Hinkle finished 11th at the WPT L.A. Poker Classic for $61,610, and made his first live final table at the WSOP Circuit event at Caesars Palace, finishing sixth for $80,495.

Event: 2008 World Series of Poker $2,000 no-limit hold'em
Players: 1,344
Buy-in: $2,000
First Prize: $507,563
Finish: First
Key Concepts: Position, getting maximum value out of hands, and heads-up aggression

Hand No. 13 (Hands are numbered as they occurred at the final table.)

Stacks (approximate):
Blair Hinkle - 1,400,000
Chris Bjorin - 108,000
Dustin Dirksen - 1,200,000
Blinds: 10,000-20,000
Antes: 3,000
Players: 8

The action is folded to Bjorin, who open-shoves for 108,000. Dirksen calls from the cutoff. Hinkle moves all in for 1,400,000 from the big blind. Dirksen folds.

Craig Tapscott: You had to be a bit afraid of Dirksen's smooth-call there of Bjorin's shove.

Blair Hinkle: Bjorin shoved for only five-and-a-half big blinds. So, I was going to be calling with a fairly wide range, considering that I would be getting laid around 1.8-to-1 before Dustin called. I figured Bjorin was shoving with a fairly tight range, probably any pair, decent aces, and maybe some Broadways. When Dustin called fairly quickly, I knew that he wasn't trying to trap anyone with A-A or K-K. So, when I look at the K J, I know that I have to shove if I think Dustin is going to fold, in order to get a great overlay in a heads-up showdown. The only problem was working up the nerve to actually shove 1.4 million in when Dustin was sitting with 1.2 million.

Bjorin turns over 10 10.

Flop: 10 5 4 (378,000 pot)

Turn: Q (378,000 pot)

River: 6 (378,000 pot)

BH: I was ecstatic to see that I was flipping, but unfortunately I was unable to win. This hand was important for me because it allowed me to get rid of some nerves, and also because I was taking chips from Dustin while sending a message to the table that I was insane.

Bjorin wins the pot of 378,000.

Hand No. 36

Stacks (approximate):
Blair Hinkle - 1,600,000
Dustin Dirksen - 1,200,000
Blinds: 12,000-24,000
Antes: 3,000
Players: 5

Dirksen raises to 75,000 from under the gun. Hinkle calls from the button with the A 9.

CT: What were you thinking when you called Dirksen's under-the-gun raise with A-9 offsuit?

BH: Well, the good news was that two of the players to my right between Dirksen and me had been eliminated, which gave me better position on him. At this point, he'd been opening quite a bit, so I decided to call.

Flop: 7 6 3 (201,000 pot)

Dirksen checks. Hinkle checks.

BH: Because Dustin is a tricky player, I decided that I would check behind for pot control.

Turn: 3 (201,000 pot)

Dirksen bets 121,000.

BH: The turn is a good card for me because I had a feeling that Dustin would fire to try to pick up the pot with whatever he had. I actually thought I'd just call the river if he fired again, but that changed.

Hinkle calls.

River: J (443,000 pot)

Dirksen bets 200,000.

CT: What's the read off this bet-sizing?

BH: His river bet seemed really weak to me, but I also thought it looked like he might actually want to get a cheap showdown with a big ace, or possibly 2-2, 4-4, 5-5, or any pair of sixes. Since my hand can't beat any of those hands, I decided that a raise was best. I could represent the backdoor flush, A-J, or a slow-played set. I also figured he would never bluff-shove for only 400,000-500,000 more, so if he does have air, he just folds and I don't give him any information as to the hands I'm playing.

Hinkle raises to 500,000. Dirksen folds. Hinkle wins the pot of 643,000.

CT: Did you think about showing the bluff?

BH: I decided not to show my bluff, even though I really wanted revenge. Earlier when we were 10-handed, he pulled a nasty bluff that crippled me, and then showed his rags. Along with winning the chips in this hand, I really hurt the player I was most worried about. Now, his post-flop play was going to be very limited with the short stack that he had. I went on to eliminate Dustin an orbit later, A-8 vs. A-2.

Hand No. 45

Stacks (approximate):
Blair Hinkle - 2,100,000
David Steicke - 2,700,000
Blinds: 15,000-30,000
Antes: 4,000
Players: 4

Steicke raises from under the gun to 90,000. Hinkle fires in a reraise from the button to 220,000, holding the K♣ 7♣. Steicke calls.

BH: Well, in this hand, I decided to make a small reraise preflop just to test Steicke. I had position, but I really thought he would just fold a lot preflop. I was surprised at his call, but I hit a very good flop.

Flop: K 4 3 (501,000 pot)

Steicke checks. Hinkle checks.

CT: With your aggressive nature, I'm very surprised at the check.

BH: When he checks to me here, I'm worried about only an ace on the turn, and I also thought the best way to get two bets out of him would be to check behind.

Turn: 3 (501,000 pot)

BH: The turn is perfect because it's not a scare card for him at all, and when he checks, I'm pretty sure now that I have the best hand. So, I decide to make a bet to get some value if he does indeed have anything.

Hinkle bets 200,000. Steicke calls.

River: 2 (901,000 pot)

CT: What range do you have him on?

BH: At this point, I've narrowed his range down to probably 7-7 to 10-10. So rather than make a big bet that might scare him away, I made a bet of less than half the pot, just praying that he would make a crying call.

Hinkle bets 300,000.

BH: That value-bet on the river was probably one of my best bets of the night, mainly because a lot of times, I would just check behind, worried that I would get called by only a stronger king; but by this point, I was in the zone.

Steicke calls 300,000 and mucks when Hinkle flips over his hand. Hinkle wins the pot of 1,501,000.

Hand No. 134

Stacks (approximate):
Blair Hinkle - 4,100,000
Mark Brockington - 750,000
Blinds: 30,000-60,000
Antes: 5,000
Players: 2

Hinkle raises from the button to 155,000. Brockington reraises to 510,000. Hinkle moves all in with the 6♥ 6♣. Brockington calls and shows the A K.

Flop: A 6 2 (1,500,000 pot)

Turn: 8 (1,500,000 pot)

River: 2 (1,500,000 pot)

BH: I'd worked Mark down to around 10 big blinds by raising all of the seven hands we played heads up. He'd been playing extremely tight up to this point. But when he's that short and decides to reraise, I can't ever fold 6-6 heads up.

Blair Hinkle takes down the bracelet and the $507,563 prize with the full house.

Win a Tournament With Adam 'Roothlus' Levy
By Shawn Patrick Green

It takes a lot of things to win a poker tournament: perseverance, good luck, a cushion for overcoming bad luck, gutsy calls, and spot-on reads. Online poker star Adam "Roothlus" Levy checked pretty much all of those boxes on his way to taking down a recent $200 rebuy event on PokerStars, a tournament known for its stacked fields. He won $51,250 for being the last player standing in the event.

Levy, a 26-year-old former University of Florida student, has earned more than $1 million in online and live tournaments. In 2006, he made the final table of the PokerStars Sunday Million twice within a five-week period, and he has since taken down numerous high-profile online events. Card Player spoke with Levy about some hands that he played that were either key to his win or that illustrated key components of his poker strategy.

Hand No. 356

Info: Blinds: 3,500-7,000 with a 700 ante; Seven-handed
Player: Adam "Roothlus" Levy; exposabre; sacker
Stack: 230,608; 175,017; 134,866
Hand: A K; Not Known; Not Known

The action is folded to Roothlus in middle position, and he raises to 16,250. Exposabre calls from the button, and sacker calls from the small blind. The flop comes 9 3 2. Sacker checks, Roothlus bets 37,500, exposabre folds, and sacker folds after using some of his time bank.

Adam Levy: Interesting hand here. Given exposabre's stack, I know that he likes to see a fair number of flops with Broadway cards, and might be set-mining here, but he probably isn't going much further than that with those pairs. Sacker is pretty tight, but I would hope that he would be shoving pocket sevens-plus here, although he could be set-mining with the rest, as well.

It's just a weird spot. The flop is kind of weak. I have the A, so I know that no one has the ace-high flush draw, at least. My overcards could still be the best hand, and sacker can't be super strong here. I thought about this continuation-bet for like 10 seconds before I made it, because I was trying to decide whether it was a profitable continuation-bet or not. People think that you're supposed to continuation-bet all of the time, but in this spot, I actually had to think it through.

There's always a chance that expo has aces, but I thought it was a good time to take the chance. Expo quickly folded what I'm assuming were Broadway cards, but sacker thought for a good 30 seconds. I know sacker grinds high-stakes limits, so I did not feel good about it when he started thinking. But, luckily, he folded. I'm really not sure what he had, possibly 4-4 or 5-5, and maybe even an ace high of some sort, thinking I would fold to a shove, which I would've, but I highly doubt that, because sacker is very tight.

Hand No. 400

Info: Blinds: 4,000-8,000 with an 800 ante; Three-handed
Player: Russ "Sooners" Floyd; Adam "Roothlus" Levy
Stack: 236,154; 467,186
Hand: Q 7; K 3

Sooners raises to 20,100 from the small blind, and Roothlus calls from the big blind. The flop comes K Q 5, and Sooners leads out with a bet of 24,000. Roothlus raises to 64,000, and Sooners pushes all in for a total of 215,254. Roothlus calls and shows the K 3 for top pair. Sooners turns over the Q 7 for second pair. The turn and river bring the 4 and the 10, and Sooners is eliminated from the tournament.

AL: While Sooners had not been very aggressive on my big blind when he was in the small blind, he gave me good odds to call with an OK hand from the big blind. He made a smallish continuation-bet, but at this point, top pair is like the nuts when it is small blind versus big blind, so I am never folding. The only thing I can do is make my raise as fishy as possible to get him to shove lighter than normal against me. So, I made it 40,000 on top of the 24,000, which was not even three times his initial bet. I liked the bet because it still looked to him like he had fold equity to shove whatever he would shove in here. He shipped, I snap-called, my hand held, and now I was heads up. For what it's worth, I think Sooners is a great player, but in this hand, I probably would've check-called the flop here and re-evaluated on the turn.

Hand No. 404

Info: Blinds: 4,000-8,000 with an 800 ante; Heads up
Player: Adam "Roothlus" Levy; exposabre
Stack: 731,440; 668,060
Hand: Q Q; 7 5

Exposabre calls from the small blind, and Roothlus raises to 24,000. Exposabre calls, and the flop comes K 9 8. Roothlus bets 33,500, exposabre raises to 67,000, and Roothlus calls. The turn brings the 9, and both players check. The river is the 4, Roothlus checks, exposabre bets 104,000, and Roothlus calls. Exposabre shows the 7 5 for missed flush and gutshot-straight draws, and Roothlus' pair of queens, along with the board pair, are enough to take down the pot.