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Capture the Flag -- John Monnette

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Aug 01, 2010

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John Monnette

Poker pro John Monnette has nearly $1 million in tournament winnings, two World Series of Poker final tables, and two PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker titles, but his preference has been, and always will be, playing in the high-stakes mixed games that take place in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Card Player caught up with Monnette during this summer’s WSOP to talk about his start in poker, his table demeanor, and a new lowball variation that’s growing in popularity.

Julio Rodriguez: How and when did you get bit by the poker bug?

John Monnette: I was in school in San Diego. Just for fun, my friends and I would head over to the Ocean’s Eleven Casino to play blackjack and whatnot. After a steady dose of losing at blackjack, some of us decided to try poker. I actually enjoyed it, even before I started winning. It became very obvious to me that you could make a lot of money at the game if you knew what you were doing, so I spent some time learning things here and there until I started beating the game. I was playing between 40 and 60 hours a week while I was in school, but I still finished up and got my degree in management science, which is basically economics.

JR: Did you know that you were going to turn pro after getting your degree?

JM: I was making money, but it never really occurred to me that it could be my profession. To me, it was just a temporary solution. The obvious appeal was that I was my own boss and setting my own hours, but I never would have thought that I’d still be playing after all of these years.

JR: What games and stakes were you playing when you first started?

JM: Keep in mind that everything was limit hold’em back then, with the exception of a few Omaha eight-or-better games. I started to play poker just before Moneymaker won his WSOP title, and there just wasn’t a big demand for no-limit hold’em. It was small stakes at first, moving between $3-$6 and $4-$8, but it didn’t take long before I was past $8-$16 and on to $20-$40. So, I guess you can say that I didn’t take the traditional approach of so many of today’s young players, who started with no-limit. Starting in limit made it much easier to pick up the mixed games that are so popular today.

I always enjoyed playing the other games, whether it was Omaha or stud, but I didn’t really get into the draw games until I made my way to Los Angeles. Frankly, after learning the other games, limit hold’em got kind of boring to me. I was still doing well with the game, but I had much more fun in the mixed games, where I could play more hands and do a little more than just sit back and wait to get involved.

JR: Did you come up with any other players, or did anybody help you along the way?

JM: Not really. I had some friends with whom I discussed hands, but there was no one person I came up with. I kind of felt my way through the limits by myself, using a lot of trial and error before I got to where I am today.

JR: And where are you today?

JM: On a normal basis, we are playing mainly around $200-$400 at Commerce Casino when I’m in L.A., or at Bellagio when I’m in Las Vegas. During the Series and at some other big tournament stops, we might step it up and play some $200-$400 no-limit deuce-to-seven or even some $1,500-$3,000 limit mixed games when the lineup is right.

JR: You say “we” as if it’s usually the same players taking part in these games.

JM: You generally know everyone by name. Even when I don’t know someone’s name, I’m usually pretty familiar with his game and playing style when I find out his online name. During the Series, it’s a little different, because you get an influx of international players, but I’m confident that the player pool for mixed games is growing. It’s getting harder and harder to win at high-stakes no-limit hold’em, so you are seeing more and more pros making the transition. Luckily for me, I’ve been in it a lot longer than they have, which gives me the advantage. Those guys will have to pay for their lessons.

JR: Have there been any speed bumps in the road during your career?

JM: Not as many as there could have been. I tried to manage my bankroll as best I could when coming up. I had seen what happened to friends when they got ahold of a lot of money after taking down a big tournament, and I didn’t want to make the same mistakes. That being said, I wasn’t completely immune to playing too high or to taking shots that I shouldn’t have. I was fortunate not to go broke during those stretches, but since then, I have paid my dues and have done much better in avoiding bad games.

JR: I saw you playing a new form of lowball at Commerce Casino a few months ago. Can you explain what badeucey and badacey are?

JM: Badeucey is basically deuce-to-seven triple-draw combined with badugi. It’s a split-pot game, with the best deuce hand taking half the pot and the best four-card badugi hand taking the other half. Badacey is very similar, except that aces are low and straights don’t count against you. In that game, you are looking for the ace-to-five wheel along with four unsuited low cards to scoop.

Part of me thinks that game started casually, with someone just suggesting that they play the two games simultaneously, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was created to drum up some action. Maybe that is the future of poker. No-limit hold’em was mastered by everyone and his mother, so everyone switched to pot-limit Omaha. Then, everyone got good at that game and moved over to the mixed games. Now that everyone is starting to get better at mixed games, maybe we’ll just keep coming up with new games that everyone will have to adjust to.

JR: What is the general strategy for those games? It seems like you would want to draw to a good lowball hand, hoping that you back into a badugi hand, as well.

JM: It doesn’t always work that easily. You generally want to get three or more low rainbow cards to start. I mean, 2-3-4 rainbow is just a huge starting hand. Keep in mind that in badugi, there are going to be times when your three-card low will win you both halves of the pot. It’s tough to make a badugi, so if you are sitting there with a hand like an 8-6 with three unsuited cards, that might be enough. I guess the biggest thing is to tighten up your starting-hand requirements until you get to the point where you can open up your game a little bit. That, of course, comes only with experience and a solid understanding of your opponents at the table.

JR: What should a beginner do to get better at the mixed games?

JM: Obviously, there’s not a ton of literature available on badeucey or badacey, but there’s plenty out there to give yourself a solid base for the eight-game mix. The best way to get better will always be experience. Luckily, there are enough options online that beginners can start at low stakes and work their way up. Who knows? Maybe the best way to become tomorrow’s poker superstar is to come up in the mixed games. There’s obviously not a lot of room left for hold’em specialists.

JR: You got some unfair criticism for some comments that you made during your heads-up match with Phil Ivey in event No. 8 of the 2009 WSOP. Do you think your reputation for being brash at the tables is deserved?

JM: I don’t know if it was unfair or not, to be honest. I’ve been trying really hard not to be as obnoxious or say stupid things at the table. I’d like to think that outside the game, those who really know me understand that’s not who I am. The main issue is that I generally just say what I’m thinking, but most of the time, I’m just messing around with good friends at the table.

With Phil, I was heads up for a bracelet and lost my cool. My only excuse was that it was a really high-pressure situation, and things weren’t going my way. I wasn’t handling it very well, and unfortunately I did it at the worst possible time, when they were streaming the final table over the Web. I’m normally a pretty nice guy, but I can’t really blame anyone for thinking differently if that’s all they have to go on. It’s unfortunate, but all I can do is move forward and try to do a better job of suppressing my opinions in the future. Spade Suit