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Capture the Flag -- Eric Buchman

by Kristy Arnett |  Published: Oct 01, 2009

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Eric Buchman

Eric Buchman is a member of the “November Nine,” and he will take his seat at the 2009 World Series of Poker main-event final table in a couple of months. He’s accumulated almost a million dollars in live-tournament winnings, and is guaranteed at least another $1.2 million for the championship event. Since graduating from SUNY Albany with a degree in business, he has been playing poker professionally, making most of his money in high-stakes cash games on the East Coast.

Kristy Arnett: How did you get started playing cash games?

Eric Buchman: I started when I was 19. I played in clubs in New York while I was going to school in Albany, upstate. When I came home during the summer, I would go with my brother. We also would go to Atlantic City once in a while.

KA: Were you a winning player at first?

EB: I would say that back then, I was a break-even player or maybe a small winner. I wasn’t taking it that seriously. I started out playing $1-$5 stud in Atlantic City, and pretty quickly jumped to $5-$10 stud; I remember thinking it was a huge game at the time. In the clubs, they’d usually play $5-$10 stud or limit hold’em. Sometimes a bigger game would go at $10-$20 or $20-$40.

KA: Did you ever consider dropping out of college to play poker for a living?

EB: No. I knew that I didn’t want to drop out of college. I wanted to finish. I’d already gotten so far, it’d be a waste to quit. When I was a senior in college, I started going to the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, which is about a three-hour drive from Albany. I played middle-limit games like $20-$40 and $30-$60, and was able to build. I had a little bit of money by the time I graduated. That’s when I started taking it more seriously. There was a decent amount of money at stake.

KA: After graduation, how did you make your way up in stakes?

EB: I was still playing middle-limit games like $30-$60, maybe $40-$80, and once in a blue moon, $50-$100. I remember that right after I graduated from college, I went to a big tournament at the Tropicana, which was held every month. It had a $300 buy-in with $300 unlimited rebuys for the first two or three levels, and I won that tournament. I won like $14,000 or $15,000. It wasn’t a whole lot of money, but it definitely helped. Obviously, the more money you have, the more it’s to your advantage in games in general. If you are playing on scared money, you really aren’t playing your best. Having a little bit more, I was able to play a little higher. Instead of playing $50-$100 only once in a blue moon, I was able to play it basically all the time. Then, I moved up to $75-$150, and sometimes $150-$300.

Back then, $75-$150 was a very popular game. At the Taj Mahal, they always had at least three games — a main game and two must-moves. They had a ton of regular players, many of whom were just wealthy people; they weren’t necessarily great poker players. There were, obviously, a few pros in the game, but there was a lot of opportunity to make money.

KA: What was your edge against the other players who also were regulars?

EB: I read hands pretty well. Also, at the time, I felt like the competition wasn’t very strong. It’s a mindset thing with poker. If you have a lot of money, you’re going to spend money. If you don’t have money, you are going to find a way to get money. People who have a lot of money are going to get involved in more hands than maybe they should, because it’s not fun to sit there and just fold. It was a game in which I felt like anybody who sat back and waited for good hands could win. You were going to get action on your hands, regardless. It wasn’t like you were playing against really tough guys who were going to notice that you hadn’t played many hands. You’d get action anyway.

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

EB: They used to have a regular game at Borgata that was $600-$1,200 stud, stud eight-or-better, and sometimes limit hold’em. And sometimes they’d do a round of no-limit hold’em with $100-$200 blinds and a $12,000 cap. Usually, though, they’d take the limit hold’em out. That game doesn’t run very much anymore, though. It used to run every weekend, but now it’s like once or twice or month. It’s not as good a game, either. Most of the time, I play $200-$400 mixed games, usually H.O.S.E. and sometimes H.O.R.S.E. at Mohegan Sun. It goes all weekend long without breaking.

KA: For beginning cash-game players who want to play for a living, what advice would you have?

EB: You definitely have to play your best all the time. It’s easy for people with a lot of money to get in there and gamble when they don’t need to, but if you really want to win, you have to be patient. It’s going to take time to get really good. If you have a little natural ability, are willing to work hard, and have some money to work with, you should be OK. Let’s not kid ourselves, you definitely need money. Those are three things that you need to be successful in playing cash games for a living.

KA: Did you have pretty strict bankroll rules for yourself, knowing that it was easier for you to play well with money behind you?

EB: Yeah, definitely. When I was playing $75-$150, I’d take a couple shots at $150-$300; there was a $300-$600 game that was really good, but I knew that I couldn’t afford to lose. As I built, though, I was finally able to play in that game. It’s about patience.

KA: Did you ever slip up and play above your means?

EB: Yes. One time I had maybe $40,000, and about $10,000 of it was in the bank. There was a $300-$600 game going, and the next-biggest game was $15-$30. I didn’t really want to play $300-$600 because it was a little high, but I definitely didn’t want to play $15-$30 because that was way too low. I decided to take a shot at the big game. Anyway, it was awful; I ran terribly, and lost $25,000, which isn’t even that big a loss in that game. I had only $5,000 left to play with. I went to another casino and played $75-$150, and ended up winning $20,000. Then, I stayed a couple more days and actually ended up winning like $500 for the trip. I was really close to going broke, so I knew right then and there that I had made a mistake. I needed more of a bankroll to be taking a shot in that game. That was a learning experience.

KA: When considering whether to take a shot, what are you looking for in a game?

EB: You should be looking for rich, weak players. If you see a good opportunity, and a seat is open, you might want to take a shot if you can afford it. If you can’t, you might want to try to find someone you trust to take a piece of you. If you don’t have enough money, that just sucks, but you really shouldn’t play. What can you do? You have to grind it out a little longer in smaller games, and know that if you are good, you will get there eventually.

KA: Now that you are guaranteed at least $1.2 million for making the final table of the World Series of Poker main event, will it affect your play in cash games?

EB: No, it won’t. I’ve been through this before. I hit a Caribbean Stud jackpot in 2002 for $200,000. That was a year after I graduated from college. The next week, I went to the Taj Mahal and played $75-$150 stud. I noticed that I was playing terribly, because I had so much money. It really wasn’t that much money, but I thought it was. I ended up losing $10,000 in a game that, if I had played well, I should have won. I realized that I couldn’t do that. I had to stay sharp all the time, because if I kept playing that way, I was going to go broke. You have to stay disciplined and play your best. Spade Suit