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Capture the Flag: Jason Lavallee

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Jun 26, 2013

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Jason LavalleePoker pro Jason Lavallee is a familiar face on the live tournament circuit, amassing more than $1.7 million in career cashes. He is also a force to be reckoned with online in the high-stakes cash games.

Lavallee calls himself “everyone’s favorite second-place finisher.” He finished second in the 2009 Bellagio Festa al Lago main event for nearly $800,000, second in the 2012 European Poker Tour San Remo main event for nearly $700,000 and second in the 2010 Venetian Deep Stack main event for just over $100,000.

In the online world he grinds primarily on PokerStars, throwing in a mix of high buy-in tournaments and cash games at the $100-$200 level.

Card Player caught up with the young Canadian grinder to talk about a plethora of things poker.

Brian Pempus: How did you get started in poker? When and where did you find the game?

Jason Lavallee: I guess it would be the standard answer for most players of my generation; I found poker in college and enjoyed the competitive aspect of it and the challenge. In regards to what I’ve played and how I came up in the game, I played $5 sit-and-gos to start, quickly progressing to the $100s and $200s on PartyPoker at the time. Then I transitioned to six-max cash games, before eventually finding heads-up cash and making my niche there. This was in the “glory days” of heads-up cash, where the lobby was cluttered and there were not 400 bum hunters per site.

BP: Why did heads-up cash become your thing?

JL: I enjoyed playing more hands and putting myself in tougher, more marginal spots. I just felt like there were more possibilities for adjustments, and I also really like being in touch with the game flow. This awareness is one of my main skill sets, which turned out to be a pretty good one to have in heads-up.

BP: Can you elaborate on that concept of game flow? Some beginners might have a hard time with that term and what it all entails.

JL: The best way to sum it up would be being conscious of your opponent’s emotional state and the adjustments he’s making. I’ll try to keep it brief without going nuts on that one, as I could give you an essay on the matter. Poker is just an emotional game; understanding how people react to certain things, be it getting check-raised a lot, losing all-ins, getting bluffed or being on a heater, is crucial. It’s important to understand how people react to these things, and have a feel for it, that’s what we would call having a feel for the game flow.

BP: Are there occasions when you might make a super-hero call on an opponent, for example, with part of the justification being that if you are right they could go on tilt? Are there other types of spots where you might make a certain play with the intention of making someone rattled?

JL: Sometimes it’s good to get people out of their comfort zone, so for a match let’s say we’ve been three-betting about 10 percent over 100 hands, which is very reasonable, I might three-bet four or five hands in a row or start check-raising a lot of dry flop textures just to throw him off his game. Poker is a game of adjustments. Someone who wants to adjust has be rational and think clearly

BP: What is the skill set needed to be a good heads-up cash player?

JL: Well, the flipside of being conscious of your opponent’s emotional state is also being good at controlling your own emotions. That is the downfall for a lot of very talented poker players. At some point, you’ve got to grow up, check your ego at the door, and see poker as a game of decisions. It’s hard to do that when you’re playing the most personal war gauntlet form of poker.

BP: Did you struggle with this for awhile?

JL: Of course, it is a constant struggle. I’ve been playing eight years and I have not quite mastered it and doubt I will in this lifetime.

BP: You have had amazing success in tournaments as well. When did you start venturing into those? And what are some of the main, perhaps obvious, differences between the two formats of poker?

JL: When heads-up started to die off in late 2010, I started playing a bit. I think tournaments aren’t the most profitable form of poker, not even close, but they are fun and challenging. The main difference would be the situational adjustments you have to make based on stack sizes and table dynamics. At heads-up cash games or six-max cash I would always play at 100 or more big blinds; so understanding how to adjust, and how other people adjust to their stack size, what it does to their range [in tournaments]. Overall, it just adds a few more variables into the mix, but also making it less skillful because of the shallower stack sizes.

BP: Right. Now do you ever feel that 100 big blinds deep in a cash game really isn’t a whole lot? Are there situations where you are just committed because of the nature of the buy-in cap?

JL: Yes. People’s adjustments in regards to balance have made 100 big blinds feel shallow in some line ups. During the WSOP summers, I would play 300 plus big blinds deep often, sitting to cover, so going back to 100 big blinds online or my habitual 30-40 big blinds in multitable tournaments always feel short.

BP: Which games do you put most of your volume in at cash? Is it no-limit hold’em, pot-limit Omaha, others?

JL: No-limit and pot-limit probably half and half. For the past two summers mostly pot-limit Omaha because no-limit hold’em games seem to have dried up a bit and slowed down at the higher stakes. Plus, the Rio pot-limit Omaha games are always fun.

BP: Can you talk about bankroll management for cash games?

JL: I stick to the 100 buy-in rule, but more toward 200 buy-ins in general. I’m pretty over-rolled for what I play.

BP: Is that a conscious decision to be over-rolled? Which stakes do you play and why?
JL: I’ll play up to $100-$200 on my own dime. I think anything higher just doesn’t really run that much and for the value that I would be getting playing it, I would rather do more valuable things with my money and not keep seven figures or more aside liquid, just for poker-related stuff.

BP: In terms of multitabling online, what types of things do you factor into the decision to fire up x amount of tables? Should beginner players start with less and work their way up, you think?

JL: I think it’s tough to find the right amount because you don’t want to become too robotic or straightforward, or not creative, but you don’t want to sacrifice value. It all boils down to how efficient you think you can be if you find yourself not going through the entire thought process of a hand, or just not taking into consideration certain variables, it might be best to cut down your number of tables. Not only are you lowering your winrate, you’re also impeding your progress as a poker player.

BP: What is the live cash game scene like in Canada, where you are living?

JL: Unfortunately, the Montreal casino isn’t best suited to host higher stakes games because they don’t really have any clue what they’re doing. But in Kahnawakee, we are blessed with poker clubs such as Playground Poker and VIP Poker, to name two, which host good games.

BP: Elaborate on what they are doing poorly with regards to running the high-stakes cash games.

JL: Loto-Quebec, as a whole, is cursed with terrible decision making. They just don’t care about poker. They fired their main spokesperson after she went to play a tournament — a WPT tournament on the reserve in Kanawakhee. Laurence Grondin, who was, for the record, a great ambassador for poker in Quebec and embraced her role. It was mind boggling to see that happen. ♠