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Capture the Flag -- Corwin Cole

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Apr 01, 2010


Corwin Cole graduated from Harvey Mudd College in 2007, but wasn’t quite ready to get a job in the real world. Instead, the 24-year-old hit the tournament circuit and quickly found success by making deep runs at both Bellagio and the World Series of Poker. In just two years on the circuit, the San Diego resident has earned about $500,000 in tournaments alone, but it’s the cash games where Cole got his start and truly shines. Thanks to his winning mentality and unique poker perspective, Cole has proven himself to be a versatile player, whether he’s at a final table or in side games. When he’s not on the road, Cole works as a private instructor for Card Runners.

Julio Rodriguez: How did you get started in poker?

Corwin Cole: I started out by playing cash games, and I’ve kept playing them even though I recently began to play more tournaments. I’ve done well with my tournament play, but cash games have been my strong point throughout all five years of my career. I started out playing 10¢-25¢ on PartyPoker a long while back, and have since moved on to $5-$10 and $10-$20. Depending on how soft the games are, I’ll play anywhere from four to eight tables at a time. I also play live cash games, and have been fortunate to do well in both mediums.

JR: Speaking of online cash games, what are the games like at the level that you’re now playing? Do you still see your fair share of fish at the tables?

CC: Online cash games aren’t great nowadays, to be honest. If poker had been allowed to continue to grow without any barriers to entry and the stigma attached to it, the cash games would be a lot softer and you’d see more new players in the games. Cash games today just aren’t what they could be if U.S. legislation had never occurred.

JR: So with that in mind, what does it take to be a winning player nowadays?
Corwin Cole
CC: You have to be an exceptional player, but you also have to deal with the fact that you’re just not going to have a high win rate. You also must have an extraordinary level of discipline, to make sure that you never make even the smallest mistake during your sessions. In terms of the maximum sustainable win rate that you can achieve in an online cash game, playing at any reasonable level like $1-$2 or higher, a decent win rate would be somewhere in the neighborhood of five big blinds per 100 hands. So, if you make a mistake that costs you a single buy-in — say, twice a month — your win rate plummets from five to three big blinds per 100 hands, taking away 40 percent of your winnings. It’s just an enormous detriment to your results. You must have a lot of discipline and self-control, because throwing away just one buy-in is no longer acceptable if you want to stay ahead in the grand scheme of things. Maybe it was a few years ago, when the average player was still very new to the game, but things have changed, and now only a very good player with virtually no leaks in his game can stay ahead of the curve.

JR: Do you have any advice for our readers, to help them plug some of those leaks? I often hear beginning players talk about raising to isolate themselves against bad players at the table, but they often take the concept too far and wind up bleeding chips. How do you know if you’ve gone too far?

CC: You are going way too far when you are playing hands that are likely to be way behind those of the people left to act. For instance, let’s say that the fish limps into the pot and you raise behind him. You need to be playing a hand that won’t get you into trouble if you get called behind you. A hand like 10-9 offsuit is fine to play in position, heads up against the weak player at the table, but you can’t just isolate from anywhere at the table without being conscious of those who are yet to act.

You don’t always have to raise, either. You also can limp, hoping to hit a flop cheaply. Even if you don’t connect with the board, you’ll still be able to salvage the situation, because you can represent a wide range of hands and steal a few pots. If you don’t have a stop button and are consistently building pots preflop with mediocre hands and letting other good players behind you run you over, you are negating any potential winnings from the bad player. In reality, even if you do manage to win a few big pots off the fish at the table with that style, you’re not going to be getting anywhere by giving it right back to the others. Even worse, you might not even be able to beat the fish, and in essence will become the fish yourself.

JR: What about those who are having trouble opening up their game against the bad players?

CC: It really is a balancing act, and you’ll get better at finding that line with experience. I don’t think players realize how important it is to build a rapport with the mark at the table. The guy who says that he never picks up a hand against the fish needs to be more willing to mix it up and create some action for himself. There’s nothing wrong with playing a small pot and perhaps creating a situation where you can show a bluff. Especially at the lower stakes, you’ll be surprised by how much action this can create by doing it just once. Even if your bluff doesn’t work out, as long as you picked the right situation, perhaps in a limped pot, it won’t cost you that much and you’ll be able to set yourself up for a big win later on. It’s a win-win situation. As long as the fish recognizes that you’re there to play ball with him, regardless of your hand, you’ll be able to get maximum value later on in the session.

JR: Can you talk about bluff outs, and players who have trouble spotting them?

CC: If you find yourself missing opportunities like that, it’s probably pointing to a bigger problem that underlies all of your play. You are more than likely not carefully thinking all the way through a hand. If you talk to one of the best players in the world, someone like Tom “durrrr” Dwan, you will see that he has a plan for every single card and every single action that can possibly occur, no matter how trivial his hand may be. If you want to be a great player, you need to have this level of concentration every time you sit down to play, in order to make sure that you don’t miss a single thing that you can use to your advantage.

The majority of players who struggle with this concept want to play with set guidelines and rules of thumb. They see a flush draw and play it one way, and they see a straight draw and play it one way, but that’s not how you should approach the game. You should be thinking about the hand from the ground up, each and every time. You shouldn’t be looking for just your flush card when you are on a draw. There are lots of cards that can come, and you need to be prepared, no matter what hits on the turn or river. Just because you don’t get there, it doesn’t mean that the card didn’t help you. You can raise when a blank hits or you can wait for a better spot. It’s up to the player to decide when, if at all, it’s the right time, but the beauty of poker is that you have the option. In order to truly play this game, you need to make use of all of your options. Stop focusing on what you need to make your hand, and start focusing on how each and every card can help you win the pot.

A great exercise would be to spend some time every week playing at one table, and really thinking through each hand from start to finish, even if you aren’t involved at that moment. Take notice of the other players, put them on hands, and then ask yourself what you would do on each street with each variable card. The goal is to avoid playing like a robot or having set plays for general situations. The more you practice, the more it will become ingrained in you. Eventually, the more creative plays will be just as apparent to you as the standard ones. Spade Suit