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Capture The Flag With Mohsin Charania

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Dec 24, 2014


Mohsin Charania had a solid 2014, cashing in nine major tournaments up through mid-November. The 29-year-old poker pro from Illinois now has more than $5.8 million in career tournament earnings.

When he isn’t traveling the tournament circuit, Charania plays up to $25-$50 cash games at the Commerce Casino near Los Angeles, California, and he does quite well in those. Even though most know him as a tournament expert, he actually got his start in cash games and recommends grinding them even if you one day want to focus primarily on tournament poker.

Card Player had the chance to speak to Charania about some basics for beating your local low-stakes cash game, as well as how pot-limit Omaha might be the future of live cash games.

Brian Pempus: Can you talk about your history playing cash games?

Mohsin Charania: I actually started off playing online cash games, but back then it was much softer. I would play a lot of $5-$10 at my local casino because that was the biggest game. Now whenever I am in L.A., I go to Commerce and play $10-$20 or $25-$50, but I prefer pot-limit Omaha (PLO) now because no-limit is boring.

BP: How has no-limit cash changed over the years? Boring because it’s just a bunch of regulars?

MC: A lot of the action players like to play PLO…and because I’ve just played so much no-limit for years, it’s a nice change of pace. If I play $25-$50 no-limit at Commerce four or five people will be good, whereas if I play $25-$50 PLO, there will only be one or two and the ones who aren’t good are atrociously bad. The bad players at no-limit still have an idea of what they’re doing because it’s on TV.

BP: Gotcha. What are some of the huge mistakes these bad PLO players make?

MC: They play too many hands and they don’t understand betting. Sometimes, if they flop a strong hand, even if it’s not the nuts or close to it, they will still bet pot.

BP: Do you try to bluff these players less? Like, if you are holding a nut-blocker, would you be less likely to try to turn that into a bluff against them because they think their king-high flush is super strong?

MC: Yeah, it’s not smart to bluff those players because they oftentimes don’t know much better. It’s just better to make hands and get maximum value. In these cash games, people think I’m already absurd because maybe they’ve heard of my tournament success. Looking like a young kid doesn’t hurt either, even though I’m 29 now.

BP: What kind of improvements do you think should be made to live no-limit cash games to make them more attractive? I’ve heard some people argue for antes, but that doesn’t seem to have gained traction.

MC: Antes would be amazing, but I don’t think recreational players would like that. I can’t think of many improvements – maybe six-max live cash games – but I don’t see that happening, as casinos couldn’t maximize rake and they would have to hire more dealers, get more tables, and so on.

BP: I suppose I’m thinking that casinos and card rooms might need to do something to spice up the no-limit cash game scene up, but like you said, recreational players might be slow to come around…When you do play those live cash games, it’s usually an uncapped buy-in, right? I know there’s an uncapped $1-$2 game in Downtown Las Vegas. Do you think more uncapped small-stakes games would help poker?

MC: Yeah, that’s not a bad idea. I kind of like uncapped small stakes. The games I usually play are uncapped. Sometimes I’ll play $5-$10 with a $1,500 max, but generally uncapped games are the best because you want to sit deeper. I bet $1-$2 uncapped games would get pretty absurd.

BP: Can you talk about things you take into consideration when deciding what you want to buy-in for?

MC: I usually just look at the strength of the game. If it’s a tougher game, I likely won’t sit too deep, but will still be at least 100 big blinds deep. If it’s a softer game I prefer to cover the weakest players.

BP: How do cash games help your tournament game?

MC: They really help. Low-stakes cash prepares you super well for the World Series of Poker. I feel like a lot of the people who make a final table or get deep are just low-to-mid stakes cash grinders who play super tight for the most part and have experience playing weak players, which is often what you see in the WSOP main event—deep-stack poker versus weaker players. I don’t know specific names, but I bet you a lot of the people who made the final table over the past few years have no good online tournament experience and call themselves cash game players and probably aren’t playing much higher than $2-$5 or $5-$10. But they are so good at playing tighter and deep-stacked versus fish that they do well in the tournament. They’re also used to putting in long cash sessions, whereas online tournament players don’t normally play for 12 hours a day. So, in that sense, cash prepares you really well for big tournament fields where the structure is so good you can sit there and pick off mistakes weaker players make. High-stakes cash also helps just getting comfortable with deep-stacked poker, but not as much.

BP: Yeah, it seems like nits in live small-stakes cash games loathe three-betting with anything less than aces or kings. Do you see this type of strategy in the main event?

MC: Yeah, pot control. Tournament grinders are so used to trying to take every spot, whereas the low-to-mid stakes cash players are just grinding it out, which is the way to go in the WSOP main event. I think they will get eaten alive in something like a European Poker Tour main or WSOP $5,000 buy-in, because the good players will just exploit it. But in the main, when you’re getting four to five players limping pots and giving walks blind-versus-blind, it’s great. My problem is I try to play tight in the main and then get myself in stupid spots where I flat queens preflop, for example, and some guy just bets three streets on a safe board and got there because I played it passively. But that’s over a small sample size. Getting deep in the main event is insanely rare. It takes more luck than skill.

BP: Do you ever wonder how people can grind $1-$2 or $2-$5 for a living and just essentially be employing a pot-control strategy at all times?

MC: I do sometimes wonder, but they must be making good money and planning on moving up stakes when they build a bankroll. In cash games now, people just sit on their phones and iPads and watch movies. It’s easier to grind cash. I have some friends who only play $2-$5 and $5-$10 and they go four or five times a week, making $400-$500 a session. Even if they’re making $50-$100 an hour that’s insane if you don’t have a degree and like setting your own hours or taking weeks off with no boss to yell at you.

BP: Yes. Is learning to combat boredom an understated element to cash game grinding for a living?

MC: Yeah, learning to fight away boredom is just a poker issue. We develop so much ADD in this day and age. It’s hard to just sit at the table and not be bored. I don’t know how to counter it sometimes. I usually just listen to podcasts.

BP: It’s interesting to me that there used to be this mentality to study all your opponents constantly, look for tells and so on, and now conventional wisdom seems to say that you should focus more on yourself—i.e. how you can prevent going on tilt, staying alert and so on.

MC: Yeah, I think tells are important versus fish, but for people in this day and age, if they can’t focus, they will spew. So, to them, it’s more important to prevent that from happening.

BP: Obviously staying within the ethical realm, can you talk about any little things you can do to try to put someone on tilt and make them more likely to spew?

MC: I don’t really do that. Sometimes I’ll show a bluff if I think it will set someone off, but rarely. I feel with the way I look, and sometimes people have seen me play loose on TV, they just assume I’m kind of crazy and spew to me without realizing cash games are much different than tournaments.

BP: That’s interesting. Are you pretty happy with the image you have?

MC: I love the image. Sometimes random young kids will spew to me because the thought is that, if you play and win big tournaments, you must be super aggressive, or at least capable of making plays. Just that capability causes people to make big mistakes against me.

BP: Are you always ready to make a hero call?

MC: I don’t get bluffed as often in cash games where people know me. People usually spaz when I have it. Hero calls in cash games generally aren’t a good idea unless you have a really good read, especially against tight regulars. Since I play casually more often than not, if I sit at a $5-$10, $10-$25 or $25-$50 game, I’m not getting bluffed as often as I think I am. They want to play hands with the weaker players. ♠