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Capture the Flag -- Michael DeMichele

by Kristy Arnett |  Published: Dec 12, 2008


Michael DeMicheleMichael DeMichele is regarded as one of the most talented cash-game players on the scene. He's well-versed in nearly all variations, and is only 23. He consistently plays and crushes the biggest games in the house, up to $1,000-$2,000 mixed and $100-$200 no-limit hold'em. He's adequately bankrolled for these games, so playing the 2008 World Series of Poker $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event was no stretch for him. He placed second in that event for more than $1.2 million.

Kristy Arnett: When you first started playing cash games, what games and stakes did you play?

Michael DeMichele: When I was 18, I made a $50 deposit into a poker site and started playing $1-$2 [no-limit hold'em]. I lost that very quickly. I really didn't know what I was doing at the time, and, of course, $50 was only 25 big bets, so that's only a small loss to take. Some friends of mine started to become addicted to poker, and they pulled me into it. My buddy Jake Abdalla would play me in $1 heads-up freezeouts and destroy me. My ego at the time couldn't stand losing, so I started hitting the books. I picked up Super System along with Theory of Poker, and some buddies invited me up to Turning Stone Casino to play poker. I sat down in a $1-$3 limit hold'em game with my sunglasses on [laughing] and cleaned that game out for $230, which was a lot of money to me at the time, and I never looked back.

KA: What helped you improve to become a consistent winner?

MD: I started to talk poker with everyone who seemed to understand something about the game that I didn't. Most people always seemed to enjoy speaking with me, because I was completely open and honest with my thoughts on hands. In turn, they would be open to sharing their opinions, and it enabled me to devour so much information through my social network.

KA: What is your strongest game?

MD: When I started playing a lot of poker on the Internet, I would play eight tables of limit hold'em at the $15-$30 level. I was a limit hold'em specialist for a very long time, and most of the poker discussions I've had in my life have been related to that game. I've logged far more hands in limit hold'em than any other game, and for that reason I would have to say that limit hold'em is my best game.

KA: What stakes do you play on a day-to-day basis?

MD: I play a lot of poker at the $50-$100 no-limit hold'em level and the $300-$600 limit hold'em level.

KA: Why and how did you start focusing on becoming proficient in mixed games?

MD: The first time I came to Vegas, a bunch of my friends got together to play some low-limit mixed games. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing, but I had so much fun playing different variations of poker other than hold'em. Later on, I felt that I was beginning to plateau in my hold'em skills, so I started reading Ray Zee's High-Low Split Poker and the rest of the chapters in Super System that most people just skip over. I began to table-hop a lot after a few hours at each table, from one form of poker to the next, which kept the flow of my day from becoming stagnant and allowed me to enjoy putting in longer hours. Poker has been evolving for decades. Stud high was popular before limit hold'em was popular before no-limit, so I've tried to stay ahead of the trends. I got into poker right before no-limit took over all of the limit hold'em games, and I began seeing many limit hold'em specialists struggle to find good action, and I didn't want that to happen to me.

KA: What is the most common mistake you see inexperienced cash-game players making?

MD: Most inexperienced players seem to make moves based on their mood, their frustration, or just a plain old whim. They often pick unwise spots to get creative. Creativity in poker can be based only on a rational foundation. When you become frustrated or angry, your primitive brain, also known as your medulla, takes over your cerebellum and cerebrum and prevents you from making rational decisions. From what I understand, that is the basic scientific explanation for tilt, and it takes tremendous experience and discipline for a human to fully detach decisions from emotions.

KA: What skills are more important in cash games than they are in tournaments?

MD: There are many more variables to consider in tournaments than in cash games because of the differences in the players' stack sizes. When you have short stacks on your left, you are forced to tighten up a lot because of the possibility of being shoved on. It also creates many new dynamics when you are short-stacked yourself. Knowing what hands to play in various situations is totally related to how many blinds you have in your stack. Good preflop play is much more difficult and important in tournaments, whereas in cash games, it's important to know how to properly play your hands after the flop, because deep-stack play often makes it difficult to get all the money in before the turn.

KA: What is the best piece of poker-related advice you have been given?

MD: Always pay close attention to what is taking place at the table. Never pass up on an opportunity to learn. It's better to realize your shortcomings than to pretend that you have none. I would rather be confused as to what the correct play is, because it offers a great chance to improve. There's nothing wrong with getting mad at yourself for how you played a hand, but you can't hate yourself for it. No one plays perfectly, but at least you can learn from your mistakes. Sometimes people get mad at me for how long I take to make a decision, and I'm sorry for that, but it's the only way that I can live without regret. Even if I make the wrong decision, at least I know that it was the most informed decision that I could make at the time.

If you recite your hands to others with confidence instead of inquisition, all you'll receive in return is their bad-beat stories. In order to come to better conclusions, you have to build extensive logical cases for each option that could have been taken. This will enable others to see the shortcomings in your thought processes, and since you were so kind to share those thoughts with them, the true students of the game will gladly lend their help to you in exchange for additional thought-provoking conversation. If they don't, find new people to speak to.

KA: What advice would you give a successful tournament player if he wanted to move into the cash-game arena?

MD: Because short-stack play is a common characteristic of tournaments, you have to learn how to properly protect your chips when you are playing deeper. When you have a short stack, there are less reverse implied odds in a hand because you won't have to make huge turn and river decisions. It often makes sense to get the chips in faster and lighter when short, whereas when you are deep-stacked, you need to take into consideration what is going to happen if you get check-raised and have to face a big bet on the next street.

KA: What characteristics do great cash-game players share?

MD: I believe that poker exercises your analytical brain in ways that most activities on this planet don't. Poker players have spent so much time in their lives analyzing things that I think the mental stimulation becomes an addiction. Many poker players have very dorky hobbies, because it provokes them to think about things thoroughly. I personally enjoy activities that allow me to have unlimited amounts of time to deliberate over a problem. Games of speed were never my cup of tea.

KA: Which cash-game players do you most respect, and why?

MD: David Benyamine, Patrik Antonius, and Phil Ivey seem to be the kings of the jungle these days. They must have an undying thirst for knowledge regarding the game, and it's hard not to be inspired by that sort of mentality even if you aren't a poker player.