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Capture the Flag: David Randall

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Oct 01, 2014

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David RandallPoker pro David Randall has for years been one of the most consistent grinders online. He has more than $1 million in career online tournament scores to go along with his more than $800,000 in live tournament earnings. So far this year, he has cashed nine times on the tournament circuit.

The Las Vegas resident also has a cash game background, and he advises players to first pursue that format before getting into tournaments. Cash games teach you the basics of deeper-stacked play.

Randall is also a poker coach with eight full-time students. Prior to Black Friday, he had 23. He does the majority of his coaching online, but he also has had in-person camps.

Card Player had the chance to speak to him about cash game strategy.

Brian Pempus: Can you talk about how you found poker? And what did you like about the game right away?

David Randall: I discovered poker at the age of 17. I started playing in my basement with my friends. What really drew me to poker was the cutthroat competition. It is one of the few places in society where it is okay to be ruthless and even lie if you have to. In addition to that, I enjoyed the social aspect, as in high school I would have get-togethers almost every day. Sometimes these cash game sessions would go until 1 or 2 a.m. in the morning, a true test of wills.

BP: What was it like learning poker through cash games rather than tournaments? Do you think cash games are better for first getting your feet wet in the game?

DR: Well, ironically once I got started online I actually went the opposite route and spent most of my time playing tournaments. I will say in the very beginning of my career it was best to start with cash games. First off, I think it’s important to win sometimes. Even if you are new to the game you can have winning sessions of cash somewhat frequently. I think if you start right off in tournaments it’s hard to deal with the fact that the vast majority of your days will be losing days. In addition, I think it’s really important to be comfortable playing deep stacked. If you develop this as early as possible it is an asset that will be important to you for your whole career. The biggest tournaments in the world have great structures, so you will need to be comfortable playing more than 100 big blinds deep.

BP: Do you also think, from that psychological standpoint, cash is better for a beginner because one can also opt to call it quits when he feels outmatched at the table?

DR: Yes, that’s another great point. Poker confidence can be so fragile at times, so I think it’s important to have great habits to help you build this confidence from the beginning.

BP: In your opinion, how much should you know about poker before first dabbling in a cash game session? Obviously you need to know the hand rankings and how the game flows, but do you think a newbie in 2014 should study things such as implied odds before even starting to play?

DR: The path to being a successful poker player is different for everyone. I have had students who knew almost nothing when they started and invested in multiple lessons before they ever played. I can also see how someone could want to do it the way I did and just kind of figure it out on their own. The decision of how someone should go about their career will come to them organically, and I don’t think they should fight it.

BP: Can you talk about why online poker is important for the overall health of poker — assuming you agree — from the standpoint of a $1-$2 live poker game in a card room perhaps being a bit too large for the beginner? In other words, why are the micro-stakes games important for poker as a whole?

DR: I definitely agree that online poker is crucial for poker. We saw in 2003, when Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker main event after satelliting in online, how much it made poker boom. Personally, after doing well in my game with my high school friends, one of my buddies told me I should try playing online. When I started I was playing like $0.05-$0.10. If I immediately would’ve had to start playing $1-$2 there’s no way I could’ve gotten started, and my interest in poker would’ve likely died off.

BP: Can you talk about the skill set needed to beat $1-$2 in a live card room?

DR: I don’t think the skill set to beat $1-$2 is particularly intricate. You don’t have to find many spots to bluff or try to do anything too tricky. Mainly focus using your creativity to maximize your value in value spots. The most difficult part is figuring out when to continuation bet (c-bet) when you don’t have a value hand, but that can be learned pretty quickly with some studying.

BP: Do you think it is a common mistake to have a polarized continuation-betting (c-bet) range?

DR: I would actually say it’s not particularly common, especially at lower stakes. I think what is more common is running into a player that just auto c-bets with his entire range. This isn’t the biggest leak you can have because often at these stakes players are not going to be playing back at you often enough to punish you. If you have a little more experience you can easily exploit this, though.

BP: Can you elaborate on that last point? What kinds of hands should you be check-raising — for value or semi-bluffs — against a chronic c-bettor?

DR: I think the emphasis should be on what boards we attack a chronic c-bettor. Since they are going to be c-betting any board regardless, there are spots where they will certainly be less likely to have made contact with the board. For example if villain raises preflop and we flat and the board falls 8-3-2 rainbow, it’s not particularly likely that they hit that board, but we know they will c-bet regardless. This is the type of spot where I would consider raising any draw, maybe a 2 or 3, and also complete air occasionally.

BP: Can you talk about considerations to make, on the turn, when your check-raise gets called? Let’s keep going with your 8-3-2 rainbow scenario.

DR: It’s difficult to put this in writing because this is one of those situations that is extremely opponent dependent. The only information we have been given is that they c-bet a lot. The next thing I would have to assess is how often do they call raises and how sticky do they get on later streets. If they are the type to c-bet a lot and then give up if they face resistance I would normally shut down on most turns because they likely have a stronger holding if they call my raise. If they c-bet a lot but never fold to resistance, I actually would have likely not raised the flop and would just wait to get them in a value situation. You could occasionally follow up on the turn and river against this type of opponent (on non-pairing run outs) but that is the higher variance option.

BP: That makes a lot of sense. Could you give some insight into the sizing of these bets in this situation? Generally speaking, as I know it’s opponent dependent still.

DR: Depending on the board, I will generally get an idea about which street I will be trying to take the pot down on — covering how to react on different boards is something I cover pretty thoroughly in my lessons. If, for example, I decide I want to take it down on the turn I will likely use slightly smaller sizing on the flop and then like three-fourths of the pot or so sizing on the turn. The reason for using smaller sizing on the flop is to keep the widest portion of their range still in the hand, which will make my turn barrel more successful.

BP: Can you talk more about your coaching? Also, how valuable is it to get a poker coach?

DR: Getting a poker coach will expedite your learning process. You will be playing at a level, in say two months, that otherwise could take a year or longer. They will not do the work for you, but coaches will give you the tools and make the pathway to success very clear — if they’re good. Then you just have to walk the walk. Personally, I have five main lessons that I teach that I consider the fundamentals, they are: 1) How to handle different board textures when our opponent has the lead, 2) Whether we should be planning to take a pot down in one, two, or three bets when we have the lead, 3) Three-bet spots and how to play them post flop and 4) Getting maximum value against fish with creative postflop lines. The fifth lesson is all encompassing to review the concepts previously talked about. Once I complete this, I generally have a great idea about what leaks the player has and future lessons focus in on their specific areas of trouble. ♠