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Capture the Flag: Gutter23

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Dec 01, 2013

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The best cash-game players in the online world aren’t always just the ones you find playing the highest stakes available. Sometimes you can find a world-class grinder opting to make a very comfortable living not taking huge risks in games that can result in six-figure, or even seven-figure, swings.

A man who plays under the screen name “gutter23” on PokerStars is one those grinders. The 30-year-old Canadian has put in more than 10 million hands during his poker career, and has managed to record massive winnings despite the stakes being just $1-$2 no-limit hold’em.

Gutter23 has achieved Supernova Elite on PokerStars the past few years. “It would be hard to find someone who has had more success than me,” he said of where he stacks up against other low-stakes regulars on the Internet. According to Poker Table Ratings, his profit at $1-$2 in 2011, before you factor in rakeback and other bonuses for playing so many hands, was around $100,000.

In order to reach his level, gutter23 plays 20-to 24-tables at once.

Here, he talks about his poker career and how to make it at $1-$2 no-limit hold’em online.

Brian Pempus: How did you get started in poker? What brought you to the game?

Gutter23: Like so many others, Chris Moneymaker brought me to poker. I was in university at the time and a friend mentioned that he had been watching poker on TV and asked if I wanted to play in a home game. I was 22 years old. Thinking back, the home game was pretty comical. It was a cash game, and we had no idea what we were doing. Luckily, I had immediate success.

BP: Why do you think you did well right off the bat?

Gutter23: I’ve always loved card games, from euchre, to gin rummy, to cribbage. My father taught me chess at an early age. I ended up becoming a strong chess player in my teens and early twenties and played chess for both my high school and university.
BP: You realized poker was a game of skill right away?

Gutter23: Immediately. The strategic thought process, the lines of thinking, anticipating moves and how to counter moves. I saw the logic behind poker very quickly.
I noticed right away that poker was a math-based game. From the beginning I was trying to figure out how often someone would hit a flush draw or straight draw. I attribute my success in the early days to patience, and I realized the value of waiting for premium hands. Poker is an instinctual game. Some people just have a knack for strategy and logic games, but that doesn’t mean that either you have you it or you don’t. People who “have it” tend to gravitate towards these games. I do believe that someone “doesn’t have it” can be taught to play poker at a high level, but the learning curve will be steeper

BP: What are some of the best ways to improve at cash games?

Gutter23: I’ve always worked very hard on my poker game. I’ve had top-notch coaches throughout the years to help me improve. I’ve watched countless videos online and studied winning players in my database. There is a great deal of poker information available online. The problem isn’t learning poker; it’s learning how to learn. It’s about gathering all the right information, organizing it and studying it. Too many players focus on insignificant parts of their game to study.

BP: Can you talk about how you adjusted to playing so many tables?

Gutter23: I didn’t start mass multitabling immediately. I started with four tables and slowly started adding more as I felt comfortable. I remember watching a video of I believe Ryan Daut playing 24 tables on PokerStars. After watching that video I thought to myself: If he can do it, there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to. I was also playing a lot of speed chess at the time, sometimes games as short as one minute. I was very comfortable with making decisions quickly.

Mass multitabling is profitable because of both the rakeback aspect and the increasing rate of return of adding more tables. As long as my hourly rate continued to go up, I would add more tables. If my hourly started to decrease, I would decrease tables. It’s all about finding the balance of profit from the tables and rakeback dollars to maximize earnings.

BP: Is it an issue that when you make a play at one table you can’t wait around to see if you were right?

Gutter23: Honestly, I really don’t care during the session if I’m right or wrong. I’m going to make the best decision possible at that moment in time. I will usually go over my session afterwards to look for mistakes and see how I can improve. It’s like a golfer making swing adjustments mid-round. It just doesn’t happen. The training is done before and after.

BP: Would you advise all players to review their sessions? What kinds of things do you want to look for?

Gutter23: Absolutely. I advise all players to review their sessions. I generally look for big pots that I played and try to find mistakes. I’m not a results-oriented player. If I made the right decision, it doesn’t matter whether I win or lose the pot. Also, going back to the chess references; during tournament games the moves are recorded. To improve at chess, you go through the game, usually with a player stronger than yourself, and analyze the moves to find mistakes. Poker is no different.

BP: What basic advice would you give to someone who is looking to do what you do, playing many tables of $1-$2 for a living?

Gutter23: Start off slow and build your way up. Start at the low limits or micro-stakes and become a winning player. Slowly add more tables; move up in stakes. Playing $1-$2 online is no joke. The games are very difficult and becoming harder by the day. Getting to the point of multitabling $1-$2 requires a lot of hard work and effort. Also, I really advise someone looking to do what I do to get coaching or a poker mentor. The strategies that a good coach can provide you with are invaluable.

BP: Can you talk about how $1-$2 has changed over the years in terms of the skill level of the regulars and the average player who sits down?

Gutter23: The skill level of the regulars today is very high. An average $1-$2 no-limit hold’em game online is comparable to a $10-$25 game live. The majority of the tables online are filled with eight regulars who play for a living and one recreational player. A few years ago, they were more recreational players, so a regular didn’t have to be especially strong to be profitable. Now that there are fewer recreational players, all the regulars had to improve to continue to be profitable. Even the average player who sits down at $1-$2 has improved over the years. With all the resources online and the fact that online poker has been around for a while now, the average player isn’t clueless anymore. Instead of losing 50 big blinds per 100 hands, they might lose 10 big blinds per 100. That’s a huge difference. Sure, they are still some terrible players looking to gamble and donate money, but the skill level has improved across the board.

BP: Do you have any desire to one day play the nosebleeds? Is it extremely hard to make a break into these games?

Gutter23: I really have no desire. If I knew online poker would be lucrative and profitable for the next 20-30 years, I would gladly take shots in bigger games that were within my bankroll. I’m not convinced that this industry will continue to be as profitable as it currently is for the foreseeable future. I’m going to continue to beat the games I play in and save as much money as possible. And yes, it’s extremely difficult to make a break into these games. Maybe one out of a thousand winning online poker players can break into those games.

BP: How did Black Friday affect you?

Gutter23: In a positive way. Although I felt the pain for everyone that was negatively affected by Black Friday, it forced me to make improvements in my life. Prior to Black Friday, I would often play the vampire shift on PokerStars all night. Black Friday forced me to start playing on European time due to the limited games during the night. I started waking up around 7-8 a.m. to make sure I would be in the best games. It also opened my eyes to the volatility of the online poker industry. I started working harder on my game, knowing that it could be taken away in a heartbeat. It was a much needed wake up call and helped motivate me to improve and put in more hours.

Due to the fact that I started waking up early to play the day shift, I had a lot more time on my hands. I started helping a good friend coach youth basketball, and that’s been a very fulfilling experience. Luckily, I was able to turn such a bad event in poker into really constructive life changes.