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Nick Abou Risk: Risky Business

Nick Abou Risk Pushes The Limit

by Rebecca McAdam |  Published: May 01, 2012

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Nick Abou RiskIn just a few years Nick Abou Risk has gone from studying in Canada to working in Dublin to just recently taking the leap to full-time poker player. Risk was picked up by the poker radar when he topped a field of 400 to take down the UK & Ireland Poker Tour Edinburgh in August 2010 for a £50,000 payday. A few months later he was back on top again, becoming the first player to win two UKIPT titles, with an impressive victory at the UKIPT Galway earning €67,100, and cementing his name in the “one to watch” category.

The 27-year-old Canadian recently final tabled another UKIPT and is now hungry for more. Hitting the poker scene full-time, it shouldn’t be long before the friendly and intelligent goal getter makes something happen. Card Player caught up with him to find out more about how he found his way to the felt, why he has an edge in limit hold’em, and to discuss poker achievements, past and future.

Rebecca McAdam: How did a Canadian young man come to be playing poker and living in Ireland?

Nick Abou Risk: As soon as I finished my Masters in the UofA’s [University of Alberta] Computer Poker Research Group, I was referred by a friend to come work in Ireland as a software developer in the poker domain. It seemed like a great opportunity to move to a foreign and magical land and work in the poker world as poker really is a true passion of mine.

RM: So you came because of work opportunities. Were you playing much poker at this stage?

NR: Yeah, while doing my masters I had a lot of free time to play during the nights. I went through phases where I would grind either no-limit hold’em MTTs (before synchronised breaks were invented) or limit hold’em [LHE] cash games. Yes, that’s right, I still play that poo-flinging variant! I played over 600,000 hands of LHE and over 2,000 MTTs I believe.

Take It To The Limit

RM: Why limit hold’em?

NR: Partially due to laziness and complacency. It’s the game I started playing online, by accident, and I just sort of stuck with it. However, there are lots of characteristics about the game that I really love — you can play very loose preflop (looser than the no-limit variant), you get to see a ridiculously high amount of showdowns, and the game is very mathematical! Getting to see so many showdowns really helps out with hand reading — it’s definitely helped out my no-limit hold’em game! Unfortunately, the game isn’t that popular anymore so I will be transitioning to other games.

RM: When was it that you discovered poker then? What drew you to it?

NR: It was a pretty standard introduction to the game, my friend Craig taught a few of our friends poker while in university and we started weekly $5 freezeouts. He mentioned how he had won $3,000 in one night online! That was obviously a ridiculous amount of money for broke students. He also mentioned how there’s a world championship that happens in Vegas every year where first gets over five million dollars!

Aside from these monetary incentives, I was drawn to the game by discovering just how much skill is involved (math, logic, psychology). The fact that my friend could guess the exact two cards of players completely baffled me. It gave me something to strive towards!

RM: Do you feel you have more of an edge in limit than no-limit then?

NR: Probably limit hold’em but I plan on changing that. I feel pretty comfortable playing in pretty much any limit hold’em six-max line-up that runs nowadays — although I guess that’s more due to the fact that people bumhunt so hard so if a game is running at all, it’s a good game.

I haven’t really played much no-limit hold’em cash at all but have a decent amount of no-limit hold’em MTT experience. There’s definitely tons of room for improvement in both cash and tourneys but that’s a great motivator for my competitive personality!

RM: What do you think you need to improve on no-limit hold’em-wise then?

NR: Bet-sizing is definitely an area I need to improve on. There are lots of people who use under-betting and over-betting in lots of cool spots. My game is pretty un-evolved in that respect. I plan on doing lots of video watching and hope to improve that soon though.

Science of Poker

RM: So was it largely computer/maths experts playing in these games?

NR: [Laughs] We weren’t experts yet… but yeah, we were mostly all studying undergraduate math, physics, engineering, and/or computer science. We held the weekly games in the physics department.

RM: Right, so would you then be of the mathematical approach to poker rather than the gut feeling/people reading?

NR: I would say a combination of the two weighted more towards the mathematical approach. That being said, I definitely love playing live though and there are lots of spots where I just go with my gut feeling even though it might be logically contradictory. There are a lot of tells/ behaviours/expressions/mannerisms that the brain just gets really good at subconsciously figuring out. It’s quite amazing and intriguing!

RM: Do you think that the limit format means people can be aggressive without the fear of being put all in… so that those who then move to no-limit from limit might be a bit more apprehensive/afraid to make moves, at least at first?

NR: That’s a really good question! I can’t really speak from experience because I was also playing no-limit MTTs so you learn pretty quickly that you need to get all in quite often, especially in turbo formats. Thinking about it a bit though, I don’t think limit players would be too apprehensive/afraid to make moves since it’s a game which is played quite loosely, there’s tons of semibluffing, and it’s quite high variance.

RM: Thinking about it that way it actually might make them scarily loose?!

NR: [Laughs] Quite possibly. It would be quite a big leak to play as loose in no-limit hold’em as they did in limit hold’em while making the transition!

RM: How different would you describe the bet sizing in the two formats? Does no-limit open up more levels of thought?

NR: The bet-sizing is quite different between the limit and no-limit variants. In limit, you just need to decide whether to bet or not. In no-limit, not only do you need to decide whether to bet or not, but also how much! That seemingly simple question of “how much?” actually makes the game much more complex and interesting. It’s a beautiful game!

The Pot Of Gold

RM: So you were introduced to the game live with friends and then started playing online. When did you hit the live scene? Did you play anything major live in Canada or was it only when you came to Ireland?

NR: I didn’t really play live at all in Canada (outside of my circle of friends). My first real introduction to live MTTs was after I moved to Ireland. My friends, Max Silver and Colum, went to play the montly Dusk Till Dawn tourney where I happened to meet mutual friends David Vamplew and Andrew Ferguson. It was a good start, Andrew chopped the main and I won the side event!

After that, I satellited into my first UKIPT event in Edinburgh and was fortunate enough to ship that too. That started the live tournament bug for me.

RM: So you knew Max and Colum outside of poker?

NR: Yeah, I worked with Max and Colum.

RM: Ah I see! So did you all get into live poker together? Did you help each other out and discuss hands?

NR: Yeah, we all sort of got into live poker together. Max actually final tabled the same UKIPT event in Edinburgh and then shipped the next one in UKIPT Dublin! We actually started a weekly live home game format which we called the “Learning Game”. It’s quite neat, we have small blinds of 25c-25c and we each typically buy in for 200bb (€50). At the end of every hand, we can ask any player to reveal their cards (or reveal our own) and discuss anything and everything related to the hand: ranges, bet-sizing, timing, tells, etc.. The goal of this format is for everyone to improve and it gives an opportunity for beginners to gain knowledge and experience from the better players.

Brag: our home game has done pretty well on the UKIPT circuit with eight final tables, including three titles and two runner-ups!

RM: Wow, I have to get in on that game!

NR: We’d love to have you! We play two orbits of pot-limit hold’em, one orbit of pot-limit Omaha, and one orbit of dealer’s choice.

RM: Sounds fun! And that hasn’t changed since all the success?

NR: Nope, we’re still playing for the same stakes and on a weekly basis. It’s a fun way to have a few beers with the lads!

Maniac On The Tournament Floor

RM: Shipping your first UKIPT event must have been amazing. Did it give you confidence that you could continue to play such major events and do well?

NR: Yeah, winning that was definitely a confidence boost. I spent most of the first day on the same table with Liv Boeree and Jesse May. After a few hours, Liv was discussing some hands with me so that gave me a real confidence boost as well! That said, I know just how much variance there is in poker (and just how big of a luckbox I am) so it wasn’t until I won UKIPT Galway that my feelings were really solidified.

RM: You obviously didn’t need to adjust your game that much from online MTTs to live major events, normally there is a period of adjustment!

NR: Well, when I look back now, I remember I was a complete maniac! However, a complete maniac that can hand read is probably not a bad approach to the day 1s of these really soft fields. I’ve changed my game quite a bit since then (after lots of discussions with Max) and am constantly trying out new things.

RM: In what way have you changed your game?

NR: Mostly preflop, I used to play super high variance preflop with tons of three-betting, then switched to a lower variance style with lots of flat calling. I’m still trying to find a happy medium. Of course, it’s always stack, position, and table-dependent as well.

RM: What do you think it is about the UKIPT that just seems to suit you?!

NR: I would say it’s the really soft fields. A lot of people playing them are qualifiers with very little experience with deeper stacks in the live arena.

Future Is Bright

RM: Have you given up the day job?

NR: I have, I officially went “pro” less than two weeks ago [at time of writing].

RM: Oh wow! Congratulations and good luck! So you’re going to fully concentrate on poker now or have you a back up plan?

NR: Thank you very much! Yep, the plan is to fully concentrate on poker now. If things go horribly wrong, I can always go back to the workforce.

RM: So did Ireland turn out to be that magical land to live in? I suppose it may have brought you some luck with those wins!

NR: Yep, Ireland did become the magical land to live in. We love it here, amazing people! The weather gets a “room for improvement” though… not that I can really complain being from Canada.

RM: Final question — What would you like to achieve in poker?

NR: It’s a pretty huge goal but I want to become one of the best all-around players in the world… the way that guys like Ivey and Antonius will play pretty much anyone in the world at any form of poker. I love the competitive/sport aspect of the game! ♠