Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine

Capture the Flag -- Ray Henson

by Kristy Arnett |  Published: Sep 04, 2009


Ray Henson

Ray Henson has been playing poker professionally since the age of 21, and has successfully learned to balance family life with his chosen career. Although he rarely plays tournaments other than the World Series of Poker, he has accumulated more than $800,000 in lifetime tournament winnings; most notably, he finished 12th in the 2007 WSOP main event.

Kristy Arnett: How did you get your start playing cash games?

Ray Henson: My dad, who passed away a few years ago, was really into poker, and got my mom into it. They ran an underground game in Houston, so I got started playing in that game. Well, I started off dealing, and also played. I was working a job at the time as a manager of a retail store. I played the $4-$8 limit hold’em game at my parents’ house, and then I started playing other games. I played $15-$30 at another underground game, and was making three times more money playing poker than I was at my job. At 21 years old, I decided to quit my job and play poker full time.

KA: How did you learn to become a winning player?

RH: My dad was really good, so I learned a lot from him. When I first started playing, I would see two suited cards and play them, because it’s so boring to fold. It didn’t take long before my dad pointed some things out that I shouldn’t be doing. Obviously, the game has evolved a lot over the last 10 years since I’ve been playing, but it’s been good.

KA: How well did you handle bankroll management in the beginning?

RH: Not well. In the beginning, my bankroll management was just to take all of my money and put it on the table. When you are 21 and making that much money, you feel invincible. I did go through a bad time, and went broke a couple of times. Learning bankroll management is so hard, because to poker players, it’s not about what you have, it’s about where you were. If you have money and then you lose, you feel like you have to get back to where you were. If you are 21, you could be satisfied with having $20,000, but if you had $60,000 the week before and lost $40,000, you aren’t happy. You feel like you have to get back up to $60,000. That’s how I was, and it hurt me. I went broke, and I learned from it.

KA: How did you finally overcome your troubles with bankroll management? Was it through time and maturity?

RH: Pretty much. It took a lot of talking with some pretty good friends who are really good players. We don’t always practice what we preach, but we give each other really good advice. Whether we take it or not is a different story. I just got tired of being broke. When I was younger and single, my bills were only $3,000 or $4,000 a month, so it really didn’t matter that much. Now that I have a family, I have to make money. I’m not playing just for myself anymore.

KA: How did you rebuild, and what advice would you give players who are broke and need to get it together?

RH: I rebuilt by borrowing money from really good friends, or having them stake me. I’ve always had friends who were there for me, even if I didn’t ask for help. They knew I would beat the games, so it was just a matter of time before I was back on my feet again. As far as giving players who are broke good advice, I would say, try not to play above your means, know what you need to make to live, and don’t have too many vices, like playing in the pit and betting sports. Everybody goes through it.

KA: What games and stakes do you play these days?

RH: I usually play $100-$200 limit hold’em at Commerce Casino, but I’ll play the biggest games they have going, up to $400-$800. Sometimes a whale will show up and want to play, and we’ll build a game around him.

KA: Do you think that your background in limit hold’em has helped your growth in poker?

RH: I would say so. The games are so different now. A lot of the kids in no-limit [hold’em] play just preflop poker, whereas when I was playing, you had to be able to play after the flop. It’s helped me a lot, because if you don’t catch any hands, you have to be able to play post-flop. If you are getting pocket aces and kings and are up against other big pairs, yes, you can play just preflop poker. But if all you’re getting is stuff like 6-5 suited, you have to be able to play post-flop.

KA: Speaking of suited connectors, what mistakes do you think players make in cash games with these types of hands?

RH: I think people are generally just way too aggressive with suited connectors. If there is an aggressive whale in the game who takes everything to showdown and you three-bet him with a hand like 8-7 suited, that hand has no showdown value. You are just setting up the hand so that you are going to put a lot of money in, hoping that you hit something. Yes, this guy will pay you off if you hit because he never folds, but most of the time you will miss. You are getting just even money on your odds. It’s usually best to wait for hands that have showdown value. I’d rather have an A-8 offsuit, because that hand is so far ahead of his range. He just might call you down with king high. In no-limit, if you three-bet with that hand against a crazy, aggressive player, he might just shove on you with A-10, which takes away any value of a hand like that. These hands are great for just calling a loose-aggressive player’s raise and hoping you hit. The other thing that happens when you three-bet with 8-7 suited when you think these players are opening light is that they just fold. So, you win only a little bit of money, which isn’t really that important to your stack.

KA: When there is a live fish in the game, what is your strategy? Do you find that a lot of players try to force the action?

RH: Yeah, that’s exactly right, people do force it. The fish will open, like he does every hand, and he’ll get three-bet by an aggressive player; then, someone will be sick of it and four-bet with 8-7 suited, forcing it because he’s not getting any cards. You can’t do that. You really have to be patient and wait for your spots. When people are three- and four-betting every hand, the swings get big and someone is going to get stuck. When people start losing, they start to play badly, and they turn into the fish. Sometimes when people come up to a game I’m in, they’ll say, “What are you doing? There’s not a bad player in the game.” Well, they all might be good players, but they all aren’t playing well.

KA: As primarily a live cash-game player, do you put a lot of emphasis on physical tells?

RH: A lot of it depends on what game I’m playing and my opponents, because some of the players I’m playing against are smart, and they know what you are paying attention to. Then, it turns into a leveling game. Against players who I think are not capable of doing that, like some Internet players who just give their hands away, I’ll go with the physical reads I get on them.

KA: What would you say is the key to playing poker successfully for a living?

RH: You have to keep poker out of your personal life. If you have a bad session, don’t go home and take it out on your friends or family. Life is just one long poker session. Just because you lose one day, it doesn’t matter. As long as you keep winning over the long run, and keep your losses as small as you can and make your wins as big as you can, you’re going to make money. You just have to remember that. Spade Suit