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Capture the Flag -- Lee Markholt

by Kristy Arnett |  Published: Dec 31, 2008

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Lee MarkholtLee Markholt may be known for his tournament success, which has garnered him a World Poker Tour title and more than $2.3 million in major-tournament winnings, but it's his cash-game play that is really his bread and butter. Since Markholt currently resides in his home state of Washington, he finds some of the best side-game action by following the tournament trail. Perhaps because of having more than a decade of professional poker-playing experience, he says he's one of the best at avoiding tilt. Such a quality is essential when regularly playing high-stakes no-limit hold'em.

Card Player: What do you look for when you are picking which game to play?

Lee Markholt: Obviously, you want bad players, but you really want a mix. If a game is too loose and crazy, you can't control it. I like a mix of two or three bad players who like to splash around and some pros, because that helps me get a better feel for where I am in a hand. Also, you want the bad players to be passive calling stations, not super aggressive.

CP: What is your favorite game, and why?

LM: It is actually pot-limit hold'em, but you can't find those games anymore; they are kind of nonexistent.

CP: When was that game popular?

LM: About 10 or 15 years ago, during the World Series [of Poker], you couldn't find a no-limit game; it was all pot-limit. In my opinion, there is more skill involved in pot-limit.

CP: How so?

LM: There are more decisions to make. It's a lot more about pot control, and there is much more post-flop play because the preflop raises are not as big as they can be in no-limit.

CP: What forms of poker, other than no-limit hold'em, are popular as cash games right now?

LM: I want to learn how to play no-limit deuce-to-seven, because it is becoming really popular. There have been some good games lately that I haven't been able to play in. That is one of my goals, to learn deuce-to-seven, but I haven't done it yet.

CP: When you decide that you want to learn a new game, how do you go about it?

LM: I read books on it and then I start playing small-stakes games on the Internet. I obviously won't jump into a really big game, although I have seen other people do that [laughing].

CP: How did you start out playing poker?

LM: I started out playing really small stakes in local cardrooms in Tacoma [Washington], where I grew up. I was actually underage, about 18 or 19 years old. The first games that I learned how to play were ace-to-five lowball draw, seven-card stud eight-or-better, and razz. So, I learned by playing quite a few games. Those games were really good; it didn't take me too long to become a winning player. At the beginning, I played maybe an average of three times each month, and I am going to guess that it took me about 15 to 20 sessions before I realized that I had an edge in the game. I could beat the games consistently at that point.

CP: What led you to believe you had an edge over your opponents?

LM: After looking at the hands they were playing and their actions, I knew that I could actually make money playing poker.

CP: How did you decide when to move up in stakes, and what would you recommend to others?

LM: It is based on your bankroll. You have to be able to take some losses and not have it damage your bankroll. The biggest thing I noticed when I went from playing $10-$20 blinds to $25-$50 blinds was that I had to be able to relax and make good decisions. The chips and the bet sizes cannot matter to you.

CP: That must be tough when you're playing in a game that is bigger than you are used to playing.

LM: Yeah, it is. It is one of the most important things, though. If you have the bankroll and decide to move up a notch, it will probably take you a little bit of time to settle down and get comfortable. If I play in a really big no-limit game, like $300-$600, I am out of my comfort zone, and I know that it changes my game. I think that I am probably still a favorite in the game, but I know I can't play the way that I want to play.

CP: What stakes are you most comfortable playing now?

LM: Anywhere up to $100-$200 no-limit. I have played higher than that, but, as I said, it took me a little bit out of my comfort zone. Generally, I play anywhere from $25-$50 no-limit to $100-$200 no-limit.

CP: Approximately how many hours a week do you put in at the tables?

LM: I play very little online, so it is almost all live. Basically, I play cash games on the tournament circuit, because where I live in Washington, there are not any no-limit games. I'm on the road about half of the time, so whenever I am on the road, I put in long hours; usually, 14 or 15 hours each day, whether it is in a tournament or in a cash game. When I am at home, I really don't play.

CP: What is the most common mistake that you see players make in cash games?

LM: Inexperienced players overplay their hands. They can't get away from an overpair or two pair, or even top pair with top kicker. In deep-stacked cash games, it is all about post-flop play and decision-making. You just have to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Sure, sometimes you end up laying down the best hand, but that is the way it goes. You always have to try to make the best decision based on the information that you have. As far as the better players are concerned, I think the biggest mistake that they make is going on tilt. You have to be able to just absorb [bad beats] and stay calm. Take a walk, do whatever you need to do, or maybe just cash out. If you can't acknowledge that you are not playing your best game, you are going to have a serious problem. You have to know when you are off your game so that you can quit, or at least take a break.

CP: Is that one of your fortes? Do you get up when you feel like you're not playing your best?

LM: Most of the time. I think I am one of the best at doing that.

CP: Did you ever receive any advice that really changed the way that you played cash games?

LM: Not really. I just read all of the good books. I still read books if I think they might give me something. You never stop learning.

CP: Poker has changed, in that players discuss hands more openly than they did in the past. Have you experienced this, and what do you think about it?

LM: I like to talk about hands with players like J.C. Tran and several others, because I want their opinions on what they would have done in that situation. There is so much information now, and these young players are able to get good so quickly because of it, and because they discuss their plays. In the old days, people did not give any information out; it was like the school of hard knocks, and you had to take your lumps. I took mine when I first moved up to bigger pot-limit and no-limit games in Vegas with the seasoned pros, but I picked up on it soon enough [laughing].