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Capture the Flag: Doug “WCGRider” Polk

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Nov 13, 2013


Doug “WCGRider” Polk is among the select group of poker pros to recently make a big break from the mid-stakes online cash games to the nosebleeds. In a very short time, he has made a name for himself as one of the best heads-up no-limit players in the world.

Polk, a 24-year-old from Las Vegas, splits his time between the U.S. and Vancouver, Canada, where it is legal for him to grind on PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.

In early September, Polk and fellow high-stakes regular Ben “Sauce1234” Sulsky agreed to a heads-up no-limit challenge at stakes of $100-$200. With just around 1,500 hands to go in early October, Polk was up around $600,000 on his opponent and was a near lock to win the additional $100,000 side bet bonus the two decided upon.

Card Player spoke to Polk about how this challenge developed and to learn how he has risen through the stakes over the years.

Brian Pempus: Can you talk about how your battle with Ben Sulsky came about?

Doug Polk: He was the one who asked me to do a challenge. I was already heading to Vancouver to play some online poker, and he said he’d be pretty interested in doing a challenge. I am not totally sure what brought him to that conclusion. I know he wanted to get some warm-up in because the All-Star Showdown is coming up on PokerStars. He probably wanted to get some higher level play in before that. But other than that, I am not really sure why he decided to do this.

BP: Do you guys have a long history together online?

DP: Yeah, before the challenge we had played between 10,000 and 15,000 hands and that had gone quite well for me. I don’t remember the total that I was up, but it was certainly several hundred thousand [dollars]. So, my win rate was good, but I did run plus EV (expected value) overall against him. I would say that this all made it a little bit peculiar that he wanted to do a challenge, but he’s definitely no stranger to my game.

BP: Was it a pretty easy decision to accept?

DP: It was pretty much a no-brainer move. Whenever you have a good sample size of beating somebody, you have to capitalize on it when you have it. I did feel he was going to bring some new strategy to the table. I had seen how he was playing some other people recently. He had totally changed his button strategy. He completely revamped that. Historically he would min-raise about 90-to-95 [percent of the time], but he changed to a strategy of limping about half his range and raising about half his range. He was trying to play 100 percent of hands off the button. It was much a different strategy, and I had to come up with some new counters that I wasn’t originally planning on having to use. But once I got the feel for how he was playing, I came up with my own ranges to play against it. It didn’t end up being too difficult for me.

BP: He has been on a big downswing this year. Did this come into play when considering accepting the challenge?

DP: To my knowledge, the money he won last year was primarily in pot-limit Omaha (PLO). It might have all been in PLO. We are playing a very different game type than what his strengths have been historically. Of course, he has won a lot in no-limit hold’em lifetime, but he hasn’t in the last couple of years. When you try to move from one game where you are the best to another game where there are players who are constantly working hard on their game, and you try to take them on, that’s a tough move. You are definitely going to be at a disadvantage until you become reacclimated to how that game is played. Frankly, as poker moves forward, it’s going to become a bad move in general to take on a specialist. I think because of that we are going to see fewer battles like this going down.

BP: It does seem like the “challenge” style of poker allows players to obtain bragging rights over someone. Is that an important aspect to this?

DP: That plays a role. It definitely has a taste to it when every hand is going to get criticized by like 50 people in the poker community. There is a little more stress and pressure, but it also makes you bring your A-game and work a bit harder than if it was just an ordinary match against another high-stakes regular. It has more allure in terms of what you want to watch. A lot of people were predicting it to be a lot closer than it has been, but I am pretty happy it hasn’t (laughs). I think the general public wanted more of a battle, but I guess I just brought too much thunder.

BP: Are there times when you just do really well or really poorly against someone and you just can’t explain why?

DP: Well, there are some styles that just naturally counter other styles well. You can take a traditional example; like the guys who [bluff a lot] can be countered by the guys who hero call light. The guys who get run over tend to lose to the guys who bluff all the time. The guys who give up a lot tend to beat the guys who don’t believe. There is always going to be this circle of styles. There are also guys who play kind of weak in the small pots, but really go for it in the big pots. So, there are some match-ups that favor certain players. I think [Sulsky] is a good match-up for me, and I match-up reasonably well against [Isaac Haxton]. My worst match is probably [Dan Cates]. When you take two heads-up players and look at their styles, before you take into account the adjustments, there are definitely some natural advantages one player can have over another.

BP: Are there cases where you might view some opponent’s behavior as a leak in their game while they might look at it as a strength in their game?

DP: Well, I think the guys who have leaks don’t often view their leaks as leaks (laughs). I don’t like to talk too much about my strategy against other players. That would be kind of hard for me to know, too. But there are some things that clearly everyone disagrees to some extent on. I think preflop is probably the most concrete example of that. There are just a lot of different types of play preflop. You have everything from opening 100 percent of hands with a min-raise, opening 85 [percent], opening five times the big blind, limp half/raise half, and so on. Preflop is where you have different types of conclusions on the way poker should be played. I imagine when you ask anyone about their preflop play they have some sort of reasoning behind what they do. I see a lot of flaws preflop all the time against some people. There are certainly elements where some players don’t map out the math behind what they are doing [preflop].

BP: That’s interesting because preflop there is less money in the pot and one would think it might be more straightforward than on the river with decisions for big money.

DP: I think preflop is the most important street because you play it every hand. Even though it’s a smaller pot size, fundamental leaks in your preflop game will be mirrored throughout all later streets. Those mistakes are going to be the most consistent and the most common. They might be for smaller amounts of money, of course, but I think, generally speaking, preflop tends to have the highest number of mistakes. If you look at river spots, as long as you bluff with some kind of frequency and you have your value bets, you can only be so bad. Sure, there can be spots were you should probably never bluff or spots were you should bluff way more than normal, but as long as you have a reasonably balanced approach it won’t be that bad for you. But preflop mistakes get compounded because they happen every hand. I think it’s the street I play the best.

BP: Do you ever play six-max or full-ring, and what kind of adjustments do you make when competing at that format of poker?

DP: I play six-max occasionally, but my results haven’t been as good. You have to play a little tighter, value hands a little bit less, and then go from there. There was a $400-$800 six-max game earlier this year on Full Tilt that I played. Overall, my six-max game is fairly solid, but it’s not something I feel as confident in.

BP: Can you talk about how Black Friday affected you?

DP: Right after Black Friday I was in a fairly bad spot. I was in the middle of a large downswing and I was grinding out [Supernova Elite], which obviously didn’t happen. I had around $30,000 on Full Tilt and had whatever else on PokerStars. I have a house in the United States; it was pretty devastating. I lost a bunch of my bankroll and my property value was definitely worth potentially less to me. I spent a couple of months moving around looking for EV answers, debating quitting poker. I really wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in. I decided almost exactly two years ago that I was going to give [poker] one more shot, and try to run it up, work as hard as I can to be successful. From the moment I got to Vancouver everything clicked. Since then I have been crushing. I guess in a way Black Friday was almost good for me. I’m not sure I would have worked as hard to get to where I am now if it hadn’t have happened. ♠