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Capture the Flag: Alex Millar

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Apr 30, 2014


Alex MillarBritish online poker pro Alex “IReadYrSoul” Millar is up around $4.5 million lifetime playing the nosebleed stakes on Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, which makes him one of the biggest winners in history.

The 28-year-old started off playing $0.25-$0.50 no-limit hold’em while in school and quickly found that he had a knack for the game. These days he plays as high as $400-$800.

Card Player had the chance to speak to Millar about the high-stakes action and how he looks at the game.

Brian Pempus: Do you feel like poker can be a job in the classic sense? Do you try to approach it that way? Or do you try to avoid schedules and routine?

Alex Millar: Poker can be whatever you make of it, I think. You can definitely grind it out 9 to 5, five days a week if you like, but you’d be costing yourself money by doing so if the games aren’t good at those times. Especially when you get to high stakes though, you tend to have to fit in with whenever games run rather than choosing your own hours. So I would say it’s unlike a “normal” job in a lot of ways. I do treat it as a job in that I plan to make money and keep good bankroll management to avoid any risk of going broke, though. It’s probably somewhat similar to a mix of being a trader and running your own business.

BP: Who are your toughest opponents now? Who are the soft spots?

AM: The toughest guy I played heads-up against recently was Daniel Cates. I tried very hard to beat him for a few sessions, but he probably still had a small edge against me. I’ll probably have another attempt at him at some point in the not-too-distant future, but I definitely have a much higher expectation, a positive one is always nice, just playing some six-max or playing against a slightly weaker opponent. It doesn’t make financial sense to devote the amount of time and effort to playing Cates that winning would require, if I even could win. There are some very good six-max players out there at the moment as well. All the guys who fight for tables at $25-$50 are very good.

BP: Can you talk about how important it is for the health of the high-stakes online games for wealthy amateur players to make appearances and lose some money? Or at least drive some action.

AM: Yeah, it’s very important, of course. The money coming into any level of poker is mainly from recreational players. Often at the highest stakes these won’t be particularly bad players, as they’ll be players who are good in another game type or they’ll be good live players who want to try online. For example, some of the guys who have been losing at high stakes online recently are from Macau, and they are quite possibly winning players in the games over there. They are playing online, probably at lower stakes than they play live, in order to sharpen up their game and improve their win rates for the live games. You will occasionally get a pure wealthy amateur who wants to challenge himself in the toughest games around. That’s obviously great for the liquidity of the games if they are basically prepared to pay for the enjoyment of it as well as it being the fastest way for them to learn to improve.

BP: I saw you won one of your largest pots ever in a hand versus MalACEsia this past fall. Was that player pretty sweet to have in the games for a bit and are you disappointing that they are gone from the tables?

AM: Actually, he was pretty good, especially by the end. To start with there was a bit of a feeding frenzy as everyone thought he would be bad, and it was really hard to get into the games. But he improved a lot as he played and by the end there were even times when I was playing three-handed with him and one other and nobody else would join. I think I even played a few hands heads-up once before he quit because no game was starting. He did lose quite a bit overall, but I’d say that was a mix of bad luck, not being too good when he started playing and also of course he was playing in basically the toughest line-ups that have ever ran at stakes that high. I am disappointed that they stopped running because it was really fun playing in those games, but it’s definitely not the case that he was a whale who would get crushed at low stakes.

BP: Do you ever struggle finding balance between poker and other things in life?

AM: Yeah all the time. I am very motivated to be as good as I can be at poker and to beat players that I think are currently better than me, but the time needed to do that and to get as many hands in as I think I should isn’t easy to balance with doing other things. I always feel that I could do with a few more hours in the day. I think that’s a fairly common feeling across a lot of professions though, and I’m in the fortunate position where anything poker related I do is done purely through choice, because I could easily work a bit less hard and win a bit less or even retire somewhat comfortably. I still really enjoy the game and the competitive nature of high stakes online though, so I just do the best I can to work as hard as I would like to without sacrificing too many of the other things that I want to do with my time. Then it’s just a case of making adjustments if I feel I’m neglecting any aspects of my life.

BP: Can you provide some basic advice to players who are playing like $1-$2 right now and trying to decide how to improve and move up in stakes?

AM: Use all the resources that are available. Poker is too tough nowadays to do everything by yourself. Watch videos from the best pros and people who are beating the games you play in or just above. Don’t accept things without question because then even if they are right, you won’t understand it and won’t apply it properly. Always try to increase your understanding of the game and don’t be too stubborn to change your mind. Finally, always focus on how you expect to make money and what contributes to that and think about how you can improve your approach to each aspect of the game. For example, you may think about bet sizing and really think about how to size bets to your advantage in different situations. Or you may think about how well you are exploiting your opponents’ mistakes and think about ways to do so better.

BP: Could you summarize by saying that just playing poker is not good enough?

AM: Yeah, for sure. Maybe a very small percentage of people can just play and learn only from playing, but, in general, if you don’t put in some work away from the tables then you’ll be holding yourself back.

BP: How do you feel when a pot is more than $300,000 and the spot is a bit tricky? Do pots that big get you stressed these days? Or is it all pretty much standard now for you in some sense?

AM: I mainly just try to ignore the money involved and make the best decision I can, but certainly I am rooting for my decision to be right this time a little bit more when the pot is that big! There is an awareness when playing the highest stakes I play that there’s a good chance that I won’t get any action that high for quite a while afterwards. So, a big losing session or even losing a big hand can hurt a bit more because rather than being able to win it back pretty quickly, there’s a decent chance I could have a great next few months at my normal stakes and still not have made it all back. I’m OK with it though. It’s part of what I do, and I’m fairly used to it by now.