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Capture The Flag: Barry Woods

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Jul 10, 2013


Barry WoodsBarry Woods, hailing from California, is an aggressive high-stakes poker player. He’s not a professional, but plays huge stakes with some of the game’s best.

Woods describes himself as a “businessman” who has money from off-the-felt ventures. He plays poker recreationally, but takes it seriously. He wants to win, but losing doesn’t really hurt.

Woods is a regular at some of the big games in the Los Angeles area, and is a frequent competitor at the Live at the Bike cash game show that airs on

Here, Woods took time during a break in action at the 2013 World Series of Poker to talk about his poker life and what he thinks of his own game.

Brian Pempus: Let’s start off with how you got into poker and what brought you to the game.

Barry Woods: I played stud originally 30 years ago, and I didn’t really like it; just when I came to Las Vegas I would play stud. Right around the Moneymaker effect, I took up no-limit and started playing limit to learn and quickly went into higher limits. My wife came with me the first time to the Commerce Casino because I didn’t know what do. Now I play a lot of poker. Then I transferred to the Bike and now I like traveling to various tournaments, Aussie Millions, EPT London; I enjoy the competition aspect of it.

BP: How many years have you been playing poker?

BW: About 10 years for no-limit.

BP: Do you play for a living?

BW: No, if I played for a living I’d be living under a bridge on Harmon [in Las Vegas]. No, I’m a businessman so I just play for fun.

BP: Do you think it gives you some sort of advantage, the fact that you’re not deriving all of your income from poker?

BW: I definitely do. In some cases it’s good because I’m hard to bluff because I’ll call anything, because the money doesn’t mean as much to me as to mostly everyone else who’s playing at the table. I mean, I really want to win a bracelet. I want the celebrity that comes with it and the justification for poker, but the money wouldn’t be life changing for me. Same thing with cash games; I’m willing to put more money in than someone else because essentially, my bankroll is whatever I want it to be. So that gives me an advantage, I think.

BP: Do you think you have an image that goes along with that?

BW: It’s not a good image. I have one image of myself. Other people think I’m good and then if I talk to Dave Tuchman and Bart Hanson and some of the people that know me, they think I’m the biggest donkey in the world — “the fish is here let’s get a game going.”

BP: Do you think you get paid off in some spots that other people wouldn’t?

BW: Yes, especially in tournaments, because of my age or my appearance. I’m the oldest one in the tournament, so they have an image of me that might not necessarily be true, but I’m able to run a couple of different games based on that, and sometimes it works.

BP: With cash games, do you feel like you change your game up based on how other people think of you and then run some huge value bets?

BW: I do. The $5-$10 games at Aria — my casino of choice lately — you get a lot of not-so-good players there. They’re only looking at their two cards. If I’m trying to run something, I’m raising up out of position with 4Club Suit 3Club Suit, and I’m just betting and betting, and they’re just looking at their cards, but they don’t realize that I could have any part of it. What I can do works better with professionals and thinking players. It’s really hard for me to play against players who aren’t that bright or [who don’t] see past level zero. So I lose more to them than I would to pros.

BP: That kind of goes against a lot of common thinking where people want to play against bad players.

BW: If you play a lifetime, yes definitely pick bad players, but since I don’t play that much, in my schedule, it might make you sick because variance plays a big part. With good players you can build up the pot and get them to fold. That I prefer. I just don’t want the players that are drunk and horrible and just throwing money in because they don’t care. That’s not poker.

BP: Do you think part of it is that you can learn a little bit from better players?

BW: Definitely. I’ve talked to Dan O’Brien, Jonathan Little, and Matt Salsberg. It’s not that I can totally pick their brains, but listening to the conversation and throwing things back and forth — they’re definitely at a higher level than I am. I enjoy that banter back and forth.

BP: In cash games, what would you say you’ve improved on over the past ten years?

BW: I still have a problem folding top pair or two pair. Dave Tuchman always says you’ve got to put them on a hand range. So even when I try and put someone on a range, or to think it through, my default thinking goes back to “I might be being bluffed,” and that’s where I lose the most money. I’d rather lose a hand then lose because I was bluffed out. I’m trying to change that part, but I think there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

BP: Does that kind of go with playing with your gut and more on instinct when you’re trying to think more analytically?

BW: Yes, especially in the World Series of Poker six-max tournament (which Woods was playing in during the interview), because you have more time and a smaller group to look at. I had already pegged the different types of people and almost every time I’ve been raised, I can three-bet them and they folded. They insta-mucked. So I’m trying to analyze the players, what their personality is, and what they might be going in the pot with after my raise. So I am thinking about this in tournaments more than I was in the past.

BP: In cash games, do you ever crunch the numbers or is it more on your instincts?

BW: In particular hands against somebody who might have me covered and who is a better player than me, I’ll try and stay away from them and try and pick my seat so I have position on weaker players, and I’ll try and go after them rather than somebody who is better than me. Generally speaking, I’ll compute what my equity is in the pot and also the pot odds based on what their stack is and whether they’re going to risk it on a particular hand or just let it go. I’ve gotten a decent amount of folds.

BP: Given that you don’t like to be bluffed, do you find that people try to bluff you less in cash games based on this tendency?

BW: Yes, people tell me they know you’re going to call so they’re not bluffing you, fold the hand, but that’s hard for me.

BP: Do you think there’s some value in what making that great call can do to your mood during the session — like if you make an awesome call, does it make your entire session more relaxed?

BW: Definitely. If it turns out that all of your analysis was correct it bumps you up. Even if it’s a small pot, you’re pumped because everything you did was correct. The opposite is also true. If I make that call and it was wrong I go on tilt and try and analyze what I didn’t do.

BP: So it seems there’s definitely some extra component that influences the flow of the game more so than the cards.

BW: Tournaments are so different compared to what a cash game is because in a cash game you play the same type of players all the time, so there’s a different element in there. If they go bust they can put some more on and if they’re short buying you get a little more information on them. And small talk — so you’re getting all of this information that they may not realize they’re giving you and that goes into how you’re going to play the hand against them.

BP: Which one do you prefer more these days and why? Cash or tournaments.

BW: I like tournaments because of the real hard competition, because there’s only one winner, but it’s frustrating when you can’t rebuy after you lose with a good hand. In a cash game, if you’re playing well and you have a good table, you would get even or you will get ahead, where in a tournament you can’t.

BP: What’s the biggest cash game you’re ever played in?

BW: $100-$200 no-limit. ♠