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Capture the Flag With Chris Tryba

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Jan 07, 2015


Chris TrybaDenver-based poker pro Chris Tyrba has been traveling the tournament and cash game circuit for about a decade now and, in that time, he has amassed more than $1.6 million in earnings. Tryba won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 2012 in a mixed hold’em event for $210,107.

Tryba beat out a star-studded final table that included Phil Ivey and eventual runner-up Erik Cajelais.

This year, Tryba has recorded more than 15 cashes in poker tournaments, bringing his lifetime cash total to more than 160. He is one of poker’s most consistent grinders, and he generally flies under the radar.

When he’s not traveling, Tryba has found a home playing $50-$100 mixed games in Denver, Colorado. He recently bought a home there, at least in part because the games have been so good to him.

Card Player had the chance to speak with Tryba about his poker career and how poker has changed over the past decade, starting with the poker boom that began when Chris Moneymaker took down the World Series of Poker main event. We also got him to talk about some of the leaks his competition has in the mixed games.

Brian Pempus: Can you talk your history with poker?

Chris Tryba: I was always around games growing up—board games, sports and so on. I’ve always been a rather competitive person, whether it was hockey or just Monopoly. The first time I can remember playing for anything of value, I was nine or ten. It was some form of poker, but I can’t really remember the game…It has taken me a long time to learn how to accept losses. Poker will teach you that, regardless of whether you want to learn it or not. I didn’t find casino poker until the late ‘90s and early 2000s. It was basically by accident. I walked in from the Foxwoods pits and pretty much never left. By 2003 or 2004, it was pretty much determined that it was going to be a major factor in my life.

BP: Even though you were just starting out and didn’t know the games as well as you do these days, did you feel like everyone was much less skilled than you were?

CT: Oh, I thought I was the best thing since sliced bread. But, in all actuality, I sucked. I did everything we aren’t suppose to do as poker players—playing for days on end, playing through mad tilt, playing too high for what I could afford. I made all the classic mistakes. In cash games, I just played every hand. I also had the problem of underestimating some players and overplaying hands against them.

BP: Can you talk about playing cash games that weren’t hold’em?

CT: Yeah, it was mostly stud. It’s hard to say exactly how they were back then because I wasn’t very good. Once I met some people who seemed interested in learning and getting good, we started reading and trying to get better. That was around 2003 or so. There was a group of us that decided that this is what we were going to do. There were a few years before that when it was basically trial and error as the method for learning the game, but that eventually changed.

BP: You were in the thick of it during the Moneymaker boom. Can you talk about how Chris Moneymaker winning the main event in 2003 changed the cash game scene in the United States?

CT: Well, it affected the tournament scene the most, but the cash games became really big too. It was crazy. There was a huge influx of new people. It was when the cash games at Foxwoods started changing. There was more and more hold’em and then no-limit became prevalent.

BP: Did it seem like the new players didn’t know what they were doing?

CT: Yeah, you saw a lot of that. I wish I had taken more advantage of it, but it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. It hard to see what’s going on until it’s over. We thought it would go on like that forever. No one predicted the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act or Black Friday years later [in April 2011]. We just thought it would boom forever. It’s pretty obvious now that poker is spread out so much that we are witnessing decreasing numbers.

BP: Do you think it’s bad for the cash game scene that a bunch of states on the East Coast are getting casinos? I’m asking in the sense that there is no longer a place that is considered the spot for poker, especially with the downfall of Atlantic City that we have seen this year.

CT: It is going to get worse as soon as Massachusetts opens its casinos, and same with New York. It is just going to get worse and worse. It’s going to get so thin.

BP: What’s your regular game?

CT: I play $50-$100 in Denver. There is nothing bigger. The max bet is $100. They don’t have no-limit. I don’t like no-limit cash anyways. I’ll play bigger mixed games at Foxwoods or at the Commerce.

BP: What is the scene like over in Denver? Is it pretty vibrant and healthy?

CT: Yeah, it is actually one of the best spots in the country, in my opinion. I like that it’s under the radar. It’s not big enough to where people would move there to play, but it’s also big enough that not everyone can go there and play it. It’s a perfect spot for me. There are always a lot of fresh faces in the game, as well as your traditional regulars. It’s a really good game.

BP: Does it ever feel like an adjustment to jump back and forth between mixed cash games and no-limit hold’em tournaments? You seem to play a lot of tournaments as well.

CT: No, it’s a pretty easy transition. I am not the best at anything. It’s pretty easy to be average in any game I play (laughs). I am good at picking my spots that I think I’ll do better in. It’s always important to pick your spots and step off the gas when things aren’t going well for you. Of course, step on the gas when things are going your way, too.

BP: Can you talk about how people generally play in the mixed games that you grind in?

CT: Well, it doesn’t matter where you play mixed games, there is always going to be someone who doesn’t really know what they are doing in all of the games. It is just kind of the nature of mixed games. It seems to happen a lot. There are very few people who are good at all the games. It is interesting, because I have found that people are less than adequate at the basic games like stud and stud eight-or-better, but they are actually decent to okay at the more uncommon games badugi and badacey. They make really basic errors in the basic games. It’s kind of odd to me.

BP: Which games are your strongest?

CT: Stud and stud eight-or-better for sure. You know, razz is also pretty straightforward. I have been playing those games a very long time and feel very comfortable in them.

BP: What kind of basic strategy tips would you give to someone who is just starting to try to learn how to play stud or stud eight-or-better in a cash game format?

CT: Well, first off: Make sure the rake is beatable. Don’t play $5-$10 with a $7 rake (laughs). After that, you should definitely play ABC hands. You need to learn how to fold. If you are playing stud and you have a ten [as your up-card], and a jack raises, and a king reraises, fold your ten. It’s pretty basic. I am always shocked when people continue with their hand in these spots.

BP: Do you think it’s fair to say most of the money to be made in cash games these days is in the mix?

CT: Well, let me say this: I think the range between poor players and good players is bigger. I think the gap between those two groups in hold’em is far less, especially no-limit hold’em. It’s a pretty studied game. In the mixed games, there are very limited resources out there, so people are forced to figure it out on their own.

BP: What kind of goals do you have for 2015?

CT: Well, I have been looking for a project outside of poker for a long time. I’m going to be working for a fantasy sports site as an affiliate. I’ve been going at poker pretty hard for a decade, so I’d definitely kind of like to find something a little different to do. I am hoping that it takes off. That and winning more bracelets is always good. ♠