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Capture the Flag: Shannon Shorr

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Feb 19, 2014


Shannon ShorrPoker pro and Alabama native Shannon Shorr is one of the most successful poker players of all time, racking up more than $6.4 million in tournament earnings over the years. He was also once a forced to be reckoned with in the online high-stakes no-limit hold’em world.

In late 2013, Shorr recorded two final tables at the World Series of Poker Europe, including the main event. Card Player spoke with Shorr about his experience there, and we were also lucky enough to grab some basic cash-game advice from him.

Brian Pempus: First off, can you talk about the two final tables you made at the WSOPE this past fall? What were those experiences like?

Shannon Shorr: Those two final tables were a lot of fun. The first final table was the €5,300 mixed-max event…I got off to a good start in that event on Day 1 playing nine-handed. On Day 2 I drew a six-handed table with Phil Ivey, John Juanda, Phil Hellmuth, and Scott Clements. That was a lot of fun. Action moves quickly, and we reached the money and ended Day 2 with 16 players, returning to four four-handed tables on Day 3. The four-handed action was a blast and obviously moved quickly until we reached the five-handed final table. I entered third out of five, but unfortunately got coolered in a huge pot — queens versus kings. I battled for a bit but eventually expired in fifth.

The WSOPE main event was even more exciting as it comes with a lot more prestige. This event went smoothly for the most part. I bagged a decent stack on Day 1A on Saturday…I had a solid Day 2 after memorably running a huge bluff on a player I really respect named Aaron Lim. We grinded to the money on Day 3. Day 4 was super exciting as reaching the final table was a reality…We eventually got to the final table, and I came back from our dinner break fifth out of eight, but perished eighth when I ran kings into the aces of the outstanding eventual winner, young Spaniard Adrian Mateos Diaz.

BP: As you get older, does it get easier to handle coolers like those in huge spots? Or in some sense maybe tougher because of an intensified thirst for a bracelet?

SS: I’m at a point in my career and life where it is definitely easier to handle the tough parts of variance in tournament poker. I’m a radical realist now and accept every situation as it is. I’m as hungry as ever for a bracelet, but I accept the fact that all I can do is play my best and try to put myself in the best situation to win each time out. It is a very liberating state of mind. When it happens, it will happen.

BP: Talk about the challenges you had to endure and overcome in order to reach this state of mind.

SS: It is a slow process, and one that I think is difficult to reach if you haven’t been playing poker tournaments full-time for a while. Things become clearer once one becomes in touch with the reality of the variance in tournament poker. I did some serious growing up a few years ago at which time I learned a lot about controlling my emotions and forcing myself into the present moment. I also developed a strong sense of self-awareness after embarrassing myself publicly in some blog entries I wrote years ago, and otherwise.

BP: Now, let’s say, hypothetically, for some reason you decided to stop playing tournaments and started playing high-stakes cash for a living — do you think this state of mind you have perfected for tournaments would carry over into cash? Or are these so radically different that it would require almost a very distinct form of resistance to the variance?

SS: I can only speculate as the high-stakes cash world is pretty foreign to me. I’ve been away from that scene for five plus years now. I like to think that I would eventually be able to stay entirely even keeled, but I imagine it would be a big learning process. Dynamics such as personal history with other players are a lot more important in the cash-game world. I think it would be much tougher to cope with the fact that the same guy is crushing you over and over no matter how small the sample size. I remember dealing with that and developing actual personal hatred (obviously unwarranted) toward individuals at times if they were beating me when I was playing some high-stakes, heads-up, no-limit hold’em many years ago.

BP: Do you think your background in high-stakes, heads-up, no-limit hold’em was beneficial for reaching the point in your career that you’re at now? Would you recommend new players get their feet wet in cash games first?

SS: It was immensely helpful as it gave me a pretty strong foundation. As you know, cash games are much different in that players have much deeper stacks, so it translates directly to my tournament game when we’re playing the early levels. I would recommend new players to dabble in all forms of poker given that the business evolves at such a rapid pace.

BP: What did those hands playing heads-up cash teach you about the importance of position?

SS: Any newcomer to poker will learn quickly the importance of position, or he or she will be broke. I quickly learned which hands I was going to be able to play profitably out of position, and I learned how aggressively I would need to play them.

BP: Would you ever recommend those who are first dabbling in poker to almost completely avoid playing out of position? Let’s say in a full ring game of no-limit hold’em cash.

SS: No, I think that advice is too drastic and would be unprofitable. I would be more inclined to recommend that they err on the side of playing over-aggressively whenever entering the pot from out of position. The game of no-limit hold’em is getting to a point where most players you play against are competent, and you’re going to be punished playing passively from out of position. You’ll be blown off hands too often when just defending preflop and check/calling. Obviously there are plenty of spots for that though. I often treat the small blind as a three-bet or fold position preflop. Postflop, you should be inclined to check-raise as opposed to check/call with a hand like 8Club Suit 7Club Suit that you defended if the flop comes something like 10Heart Suit 9Heart Suit 2Spade Suit, as you can reasonably continue on a lot of turn cards that don’t actually make your hand.

BP: Talk about the concept of floating, and how that tactic differs depending on if you are in or out of position.

SS: In general, one wants to be floating with some equity. Though, there are some opponents against whom your hand is irrelevant. You should of course be less prone to float against a very aggressive opponent who isn’t likely to shut down on the turn. A player who will bluff the flop but always give up on the turn is a prime candidate to float. Floating the flop out of position is a much different animal as you have fewer ways to win the pot. You must be prepared to check-raise bluff the turn or be fairly certain your opponent has nothing and will fold to your river bet when the turn goes check-check.

BP: What about a double float?

SS: Floating both the flop and the turn is pretty ambitious and is very high variance. Your ways to win the pot are now limited to bluff raising the river — usually all-in — or hoping your opponent shuts down and checks, at which point you can bluff the river successfully. A play like this could be attempted on a player who will give credit every time on the river to his opponent whenever the flush card or four-straight gets there. Otherwise, double floats should probably be avoided.

BP: What do you make of the legalization of online poker in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware? Are you optimistic for a second poker boom?

SS: These states legalizing online poker is definitely a step in the right direction. As a tournament player it doesn’t do much for me as I need the huge fields that draw players worldwide. A second boom could happen but I expect it will be several years down the road. I also feel it would need to be regulated federally in order for a true “boom” to happen.

BP: Now with online cash games, the online pokers sites, historically and of course going forward, provide rookies the chance to play for micro-stakes at first. Did you find this to be crucial for your initial acclimation to poker?

SS: Yes, this was crucial in my development as a poker player. Not only can players fine tune their games at micro-stakes online, but they also get to play multiple tables and exponentially more hands per hour. Getting experience means getting better at poker just like in anything else. Without online poker, I think it would be a very arduous task to break into the business or even get much better at the game over time. ♠