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Capture The Flag With Dani Stern

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Aug 17, 2016


Poker pro Dani Stern, who plays under the PokerStars screen name “supernova9”, is having a great 2016 at the virtual tables. According to tracking data from HighstakesDB, Stern was up $500,000 before the midway point of the year. “There are still quite a few players willing to battle,” he said of the online game.

Though he spends a lot of his time in Vancouver, Canada these days in order to grind online, Stern still travels south to Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker. He’ll also come back to Sin City from time to time just to play in high-stakes PLO games. He plays all the way up to $200-$400. “Live poker doesn’t seem like its dying or anything; its still healthy,” Stern said of the Las Vegas scene.

He said he logs roughly 300 hours in the PLO cash games during the summer. His path to becoming a regular in those games wasn’t easy. He switched to PLO in 2011, and said the transition “was pretty tough.” It took him until 2013 to become elite at the poker variant.

These days, Stern said he “does not aspire to a specific style” in PLO. It may be slightly counter-intuitive to the average poker player, but in Stern’s eyes PLO actually has less room for creativity than no-limit hold’em. Despite that, “there is always room to improve” in PLO, he said.

Card Player had the chance to speak with the New York-native, who also has $2.7 million in lifetime tournament earnings, about the nosebleed PLO scene.

Brian Pempus: What kind of live games do you play in while you’re in Las Vegas for the WSOP?

Dani Stern: I usually play $100-$200 and $200-$400 PLO when it runs. I’ll play probably a dozen tournaments as well. Sometimes I’ll skip a tournament I planned on playing if I don’t feel like committing to a 12-hour day of play. It is a lot more of a commitment than a cash game. I generally prefer the routine of cash games.

BP: Have you ever been in a tournament, perhaps grinding a short stack, when you heard about a really good cash game forming and you just decided to abandon your stack or go for broke in the tournament?

DS: No, I wouldn’t do that actually (laughs). If I am in the game I am not going to give up and try to do something else. You definitely hear stories of people doing things like that, but it’s pretty degenerate.

BP: How big of a role does networking play in the high-stakes PLO games in Las Vegas?

DS: It plays a role, but for the most part in the games, with a few exceptions, if there is a seat you get to play. If your name is on the wait list, and it gets called, you get to play. The private games aren’t too common in Vegas. I think it’s technically not allowed, but it’s not a fight I am about to partake in. If I can get in a game, I am not going to go file a complaint with the [Nevada Gaming Commission].

BP: You had that fiasco last year playing high-stakes PLO in Barcelona involving a player claiming running it twice only applied to a side pot and you said you were essentially cheated out of €18,000. Has that incident changed anything about your PLO game?

DS: I learned my lesson, and I learned not to put myself in that situation in the future. For the most part, I am playing people I know personally and I don’t have to worry about that type of thing. If I ever think there’s a chance of something like that happening again, I’ll take the safer route and just run it once. Running it twice doesn’t really change anything. It does lower variance, which is nice, but if I couldn’t run it twice I would still play [PLO], and it doesn’t affect my decisions. It was just an unfortunate thing that happened.

BP: If you are playing in a high-stakes game and the recreational player, or just any player who is losing in the game, wants to run it multiple times, do you let them make this decision?

DS: Yeah, absolutely. For me, I always run it twice regardless of situation. But if someone wants to run it like four times I will probably say “yes.” The only time not to say “yes” is when it’s a pain in the ass to chop up the pot four ways. It doesn’t matter if it’s a recreational player or professional player, I am happy to do whatever they want to do to help keep the game moving. I’m not going to make an issue out of something that doesn’t make a difference in [expected value].

BP: Do you ever get annoyed if everyone is wanting to run it four times and the game is slowing down to a snail’s pace?

DS: It doesn’t happen too much. In the high-stakes PLO games in Vegas people run it twice almost every time. If people get into a huge pot they might run it four times, but it’s not like you see people arguing about how many times to run it. They make a decision and it just happens.

BP: Does a play you would make ever depend on how many times you anticipate it being run out? If you are up against a player who you know will only want to run it once, do you do anything differently in a really tricky and marginal spot?

DS: It doesn’t alter my thinking about the hand. There are some people who think that if affects the way other people think. Some people believe others will be afraid to play a big pot against you if you only run it once. I have heard people saying that. It certainly doesn’t change the way I play, though.

BP: What are some of the areas of PLO that are still rich in poker theory research? Where do we have a lot of room to go in order to understand how PLO can be played closer to optimally?

DS: Certainly multi-way pots in PLO are very difficult to play. It’s very hard to put people on ranges. It’s not like no-limit hold’em where you can count the combos of hands that someone will have. It’s much more difficult in PLO. There is a lot of guessing in three and four-way pots. Educated guessing ideally, but you aren’t sure in a lot of spots. It’s hard to think about how people’s ranges play against each other. In no-limit you can usually be more certain on some board textures that someone didn’t hit it, depending on how preflop went. In PLO, there aren’t too many boards where it’s impossible for your opponent to have a good hand.

BP: Going back to the WSOP, do you jump into a cash game right after busting a tournament?

DS: I don’t really play after. If I am playing a tournament all day and bust, I just go home and try to get some sleep. I don’t push it too far if I need sleep. I might make an exception if I hear the game is impossible to miss, like someone is just going all-in blind every pot. Barring that, it’s usually time for me to go to bed if I’ve played a long day.

BP: In today’s high-stakes PLO climate, is it hard to tell when someone is tilting? Or can you pick up on little things that would indicate that they will be playing slightly below their A-game?

DS: It really depends. Sometimes it’s obvious, like if they are getting visibly frustrated. For other people it’s more discrete. You can pick up little things, but it’s the same as it is in no-limit live. It’s a component to live poker that doesn’t really exist online.

BP: Are these high-stakes PLO games uncapped? If so, do you buy in for whatever the big stack has or do you go with an amount that you are comfortable with?

DS: Yeah, always uncapped. I tend to buy in for the minimum and then add chips depending on the stacks at the table. I don’t like to buy in super deep. It seems unnecessary. I don’t have anything against it, but when you buy in short you can always add more. You can’t take chips off the table if you buy in with a lot. You have the option to have whatever stack you want.

BP: Is the thinking that you can get a feel for the table first before committing to a larger stack?

DS: Yeah, most of my experience in PLO is 50-200 big blinds deep. I don’t have nearly as much experience playing with huge stacks, so I’m not looking to play ultra-deep.

BP: What are some of the advantages of buying in with 50 big blinds against tables where a lot of people are limping or calling preflop bets with weak hands? Does it give you a chance to pick up dead money?

DS: Yeah, if everyone is playing loose you can pile money in with a pretty good hand. It’s a pretty good situation for you. It’s not like it’s [a] bad [play] when you are playing deep though. It’s a smart way to play PLO in those situations.