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Capture the Flag: Allen Bari

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Feb 05, 2014

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World Series of Poker bracelet winner Allen Bari, who has more than $2.8 million in tournament winnings, has scaled back on his poker playing as of late to focus on a business he recently started. However, he still finds the time to play mixed games up to $200-$400 in the Northeast. He resides in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Card Player had the chance to catch up with him and ask him about his part-time poker life.

Brian Pempus: First off, what have you been up to lately with poker?

Allen Bari: The past year and a half or so, I haven’t been traveling for poker at all. I play cash games at Parx Casino outside of Philly every Tuesday. I come around 10 a.m. and leave around 2 or 3 a.m. I play at Borgata on the weekends once a month just about as well. So my hours are pretty limited, but I am doing well playing cash and enjoying doing so about one day a week. Besides that I am working on my business that I have been trying to get off the ground for the past year and a half. It’s a recreational culinary studio where people will come and take cooking classes and watch chef demonstrations. It will also be an event space and, hopefully in the future, become the center for all things related to cooking in my area.

BP: Can you talk about how that challenge compares to playing poker for a living?

AB: Well, it is completely different, and I haven’t even gotten into all of the challenges that I know I will face just yet because we are still in the early stages. We are just about to sign a lease. Poker was something I knew and something I was very good at and experienced at. I was doing it pretty much my whole life. I know I have a good business sense, but there are so many things in this field that I don’t know. Knowing the intricacies of signing a lease is something that a person won’t truly get even after they have negotiated 200 leases, just because every lease is so different. So I guess that is kind of like poker, in that even after 15 years of playing a new interesting hand or situation always comes up and you have to use your best abilities to solve that problem.

However, this business will be a lot more fulfilling than poker in that I will be providing something to society, rather than basing my entire career on taking advantage of other people’s flaws and the mistakes that they make, which gets really brutal when you play with the same people a lot of the time.

BP: Do you think having all this experience playing cash games might help you have a stronger stomach for any swings you might experience with starting and running your own business?

AB: Definitely. Poker has taught me to be able to handle variance in all aspects of life better than I ever would have been able to without that experience. It has taught me to plan on these swings and always be ready.

BP: Now how does it feel to be playing cash pretty infrequently? Do you feel rusty at times when you sit down nowadays? Or is it all super easy to get back into it after taking some time off?

AB: I mean, I play once a week for 10 to 15 hours. I have never once felt rusty. I grew up playing mixed games and stud games, and that is in my blood. I always feel like I am far and away one of the best mixed-game players, at least on the east coast. If I ever thought I wasn’t, I would quit the games and find a full-time job while I work on my business.

BP: Oh, so even though you aren’t full-time anymore, it’s still about making money more so than playing once a week just because you missed the game? Or a little bit of both?

AB: I play poker entirely for money. I don’t enjoy playing poker for a living. I do it because right now it is my best option in terms of dollars per hour. I love the game of poker, but if I never had to play again I wouldn’t have such a hard time like everyone else would. Not being able to watch poker would be a lot harder, because I enjoy that so much more. I haven’t really played poker for the enjoyment of it in about five years. After about three years of traveling 10 months out of the year, dealing with all the nonsense, you quickly gain a hatred for the lifestyle and the swings.

BP: How have mixed cash games evolved in the past year or so? Have they been getting tougher?

AB: I have only been playing mixed cash games for about four years in the casinos, but I don’t believe that they have been getting harder at as quick a rate as no-limit cash and tournaments have. The speed is probably one-fourth the rate, if not slower.

BP: What are some of the leaks you still see people making in the mid to higher-stakes mixed games?

AB: I don’t really want to discuss that to be honest. I will just be general and say that, in limit cash, the best players don’t let big hands affect them for as long as the bad players do. Usually it takes one hand to pull everything back in and play normal even though you just lost a big pot. But in terms of actual leaks in hands, I would rather not discuss that because of obvious reasons. The information is so limited out there for mixed games, and for now I would rather keep it that way.

BP: Can you say whether in 2013 and 2014 people still have bad games and good games in the mix? And is it a matter of pounding people in games that you know aren’t their best?

AB: There’s no real general theme except that people are mostly worse at draw games and better at hold’em, Omaha, stud, stud-eight, and so on, and as long as you play more hands in games that you are good at, the rest will fall into place. You can’t play more hands in a game that you suck at just because you think the others are bad too. Then there will always be someone else who is better and punishing you at the same time, too.

BP: Would you recommend, as a general rule, that beginners try to play snug in games that they know are their weakest, rather than worrying about more complex things like if their opponents are in fact worse than they are in said game?

AB: Yeah, definitely. When I first started playing more mixed cash three or four years ago, I would just fold and play super tight in the games that I didn’t know, and then pay attention to every detail and watch the players I thought were good, just to understand the flow and what they were doing. Then I would pay attention at showdown, and a lot of the time people talk strategy at the table because there is always a need to prove that these people know what they are doing. So you can always pick up stuff.

BP: Do you think it’s OK to think of new games in terms of games that you already know, as in trying to incorporate and test strategies that have worked in other games? Or is it better to think of new games as something radically different, and thus sort of start from the ground up in terms of how you approach learning it?

AB: Taking a game as going from the ground up, for the most part, is better. However, a split-pot game is a split-pot game, and those strategies are transferrable. So a lot of skills you would use in stud-eight or Omaha-eight would be applied in badeucey or badacey since they are still split-pot games.

BP: You said you haven’t played online poker in New Jersey yet, but what are your thoughts on the state getting into these games?

AB: I think it’s awesome and it’s great for poker in general. Some casinos worry about it, but if someone wants to try out poker they aren’t going to go to Borgata and play $1-$2. For one, the stakes are too big for a person trying out poker, and secondly, even at $1-$2 people are really rude to new players. I played $1-$2 with my aunt-in-law a while back, and these people, who were “regs” at the $1-$2 table at the Tropicana and probably couldn’t beat a $.25-$.50 full-ring game online, nor a mediocre $2-$5 game anywhere else, were being so rude and obnoxious to my aunt-in-law, who was clearly lost.

She wasn’t handling her chips right, and, at many times, bet the minimum into pots just because she didn’t know, and they treated the situation so poorly. It made me realize how awful live poker is for a new player. Everyone thinks they are a genius, and I have definitely been a culprit too, but I am more the type to tell “full-time” poker players that they suck as opposed to amateurs. ♠