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Generation Next - James (Clint) Tolbert

A Master of Disguise

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Oct 15, 2010


James TolbertThe image that you project at the table can affect every hand that you play, both online and live. Dan Harrington and Phil Ivey have totally different images, yet both are able to manipulate their opponents based on their perceived images. This is all part of the many levels of the metagame that takes place during tournaments and cash games. So, beware. The better players at the table are profiling you, from the moment you sit down. So, learn to use this knowledge to your advantage.

Rising poker star James (Clint) Tolbert has built his game around manipulating this information to work in his favor. It’s one of the most powerful tools in his poker arsenal for accumulating chips and confusing opponents. “I try to personify a certain stereotypical Internet-player image at the table when playing live,” said Tolbert.
“When I’m all decked out in Michael Jordan gear, I find that everyone thinks I’m playing more pots than I actually am, mainly because of that aggressive image. I put myself into character and use that image to get a lot of action on my big hands.”

Tolbert, 28, has worked hard on his game this year, and it has shown with the growth of his bankroll and deeper tournament finishes. It began with a 13th-place finish in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event in January, for $115,000, and continued with a second-place finish in the PokerStars Sunday Million in August, for $180,000.
He then chose to take a few weeks off after the Sunday Million event to spend time with his son and take a vacation after a long summer at the World Series of Poker. That rest proved to be just what the doctor ordered. Upon returning to the felt in September for WinStar World Casino’s $2,000 main event, he finished sixth, for $100,000.

Tolbert is quick to give credit for his game’s growth to the friendships that he has developed with some of today’s top tournament players. “I’ve had some great teachers in the game, and I give them tons of credit,” he stated. “Ben ‘Benba’ Lamb and Steve ‘MrSmokey1’ Billirakis have been huge influences on my game. I’m always trying to learn, even when I make mistakes. That’s probably one of my best attributes. If I make a mistake, I’ll admit it and not be results-oriented. It’s why I think I will see a lot more growth in my game in the future.”

Craig Tapscott: How has the game changed since you started playing in college back in 2002?

James (Clint) Tolbert: The game has changed so much since then. Back then, when a person reraised, it represented a great deal of strength. Today, that’s just not the case.

CT: How do you combat the ultra-aggressive play in the Internet games?

JT: The best part of my game is staying one step ahead of my opponents. You really have to evaluate each table and stay ahead of the curve. I am constantly trying to figure out how I can make certain plays, and understand and apply that information to the plays that will actually be profitable.

CT: What are you thinking about while you’re at the table?

JT: I just try to identify what players will do in certain situations.

Inexperienced players will fold to a lot of pressure, especially when you’re deep-stacked. I adjust accordingly to the type of player I’m up against. For example, when I see a player making weird raises from under the gun and then folding to a three-bet, that is a player I’m going to consider very loose-aggressive. So, I’m going to take advantage of that player every chance that I get. I’m going to three-bet him a lot, even if he is raising from under the gun. I will even three-bet him light no matter what his position is in a hand.

CT: What mistakes do you see players make over and over again both online and live?

JT: Players reshove the wrong ranges. Everyone knows that people are reshoving light these days, so I really try to tighten up from late position. If I see that the big blind has a stack of 15-17 big blinds, I’m less likely to try to steal his blind.

CT: One thing that amazes me is that you’ve had this success without putting in a ton of volume, like other players have this year. You obviously don’t play 30 tournaments a day online.

JT: (Laughing) No, I don’t. I have an 8-year-old son, and I really focus on being a good father to him. I want to be there for him and always have him feel loved. That’s why I don’t play every Sunday. It’s very important to me for him to have a good role model. ♠