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Tom Marchese’s Transition

From online cash games to live tournaments

by Reid Young |  Published: Apr 29, 2011


As poker players, our points of view on the games we play change as time passes. We learn how to exploit ranges and how better to understand the mentality of the opposition. We even make the transition from game to game to follow the action. For some, like Card Player 2010 Player of the Year Tom Marchese, that point of view shifts because of explosive success in a new area of poker — tournaments.

Marchese’s success has been well-documented in Card Player and around the world. He won or made the final table of so many tournaments in the last year that he’s gotten all of the game’s finest asking the same question: “How did he do it?” People who are familiar with his game know that his success is no accident. He’s been crushing some of the highest-stakes deep-stack cash games online over the last few years, using the screen name “kingsofcards.” So, it was not surprising when his 2010 transition to tournaments began with a win at the North American Poker Tour Deep-Stack Extravaganza in Las Vegas.

Marchese attributes much of his success to his cash-game background and outplaying tournament regulars who are less experienced with deep stacks in the early stages of a tournament. He told me during a break at the NAPT main event in Los Angeles last November, “I just try to build a massive stack early and go from there.” With this statement and a shrug from him, his approach to his transition to tournament play seemed almost laughably nonchalant to me.

However, as the tournament progressed and I was lucky enough to make a deep run, I saw firsthand that his nonchalance was surface-deep. The night before we played day four, I spoke with him, because I figured that he had enough experience so late in the year with making deep tournament runs to give me some valuable advice.

That night, I told him that my regular cash-game play had me a bit lost in shorter-stack situations. I was a bit uncertain of the value of borderline hands with certain stack sizes. He sent me charts of expected-value calculations and scenarios, explaining them to me in detail, with examples of when to adjust what the charts said based on how tough relative to me the other players at the table were. For example, if everyone at the table was less experienced, I might be better off folding in a close situation; whereas, a table full of talented players warranted a bit more gamble to stay afloat in the tournament. It was then very plain to me that it’s no fluke that Tom Marchese has had so much tournament success. He’s examined each aspect of the game, and his hard work is clearly reflected in his results and consistency.
When we both had some time away from the tables, I got to catch up with him and listen to his thoughts on high-stakes cash games online, his high-stakes tournament success, and his wardrobe choice.

Reid Young: You’ve been a successful cash-game player for some time now. I enjoy traveling from time to time with friends, and playing in tournaments in picturesque and exotic locations. One usually can’t argue with the places they’re held: Costa Rica, L.A., Monaco, and Prague. What made you begin to take tournaments as seriously as you have in the last year? What sparked the tournament grind and the shift from the occasional vacation to a buckled-down regimen of playing tournaments?

Tom Marchese: Over the past year or two, high-stakes online cash games have headed in a direction that has made them far less enjoyable. The challenge of playing kind of disappeared, and it was replaced by an arena that rewards unethical tactics and gamesmanship. Suddenly, being a big winner in high-stakes games had little to do with how well you play. Fierce game selection, “bum hunting,” has ravaged the games. Simply put, online higher-stakes games no longer make for a fun environment to play poker. Because of this, I had grown increasingly tired of playing online poker full time, and began looking for another way to challenge myself. I decided to give live-tournament poker a shot, and as it turned out, my first few cashes sparked the adventure that was my run to winning the Card Player 2010 Player of the Year award.
RY: I know that we have a few mutual friends in the poker world, at least in the cash-game realm of online poker. How instrumental would you say your close poker friends are to your poker development?

TM: I’ve been fortunate to have a tight group of poker friends from the beginning of my career, and we rose in stakes together. It’s reassuring to have friends to ask for advice, to make sure that your head is on straight. While I like to tell myself that I have a brilliant poker mind, it is certainly helpful to be able to tap into the heads of other successful players.

RY: What would you say is the most notable difference between higher-stakes online play and tournament play in larger fields? I feel that I see lots of small edges against weak ranges as a cash-game player. My question is about the variance of marginal spots in tournaments, and how much that value is outweighed by significantly weaker competition, and how likely a better player is to find a larger edge to exploit. Have you found a way to quantify these types of spots, and the future possibilities of such spots? When does a marginal spot become worth risking your tournament life?

TM: The biggest difference between most tournament poker and cash-game poker is that the players can’t reload. In a tournament, players have to consider both the profitability of a decision and the repercussions of losing. You must take into account the effect that your plays will have on your stack size, along with future profitability. I haven’t found a way to quantify these situations perfectly. In my head, I have a general sliding scale that seems to be working. As a generalization, the softer the table and the deeper my stack, the more risk-averse I am regarding my tournament life.

RY: Thanks for the advice, Tom. So, seriously, having won millions of dollars in cash games and tournaments, why do you still wear so many white T-shirts?
TM: Hanes just makes a damn good T-shirt.
RY: Indeed, they do. ♠

See videos made by Reid Young and check out his book by looking up SHOOTAA at