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When I Was A Donk – Christian Harder

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Jan 18, 2017

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In this series, Card Player asks top pros to rewind back to their humble beginnings and provide insights regarding the mistakes, leaks, and deficiencies that they had to overcome in order to improve their games.

Annapolis, Maryland native Christian Harder has been tearing up poker tournaments both live and online for the better part of a decade. Known to many in the poker community as “Charder,” the 29-year-old poker pro started his career as a top-notch online player, reaching a peak ranking of no. 14 in 2008.

He has multiple World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour, and European Poker Tour final-table appearances on his resume, including a fourth-place showing in the 2009 WPT Championship for $571,965 and a fourth-place finish in the 2015 WSOP $25,000 pot-limit Omaha championship for $332,998. Harder has since gone on to rack up nearly $3.3 million in online tournament earnings, along with another $3.7 million in live scores.

Here, Harder talks about his performance at the WPT Championship final table.

I usually don’t have great answers when it comes to these type of interview questions, but this time, something immediately comes to mind. This was back in 2009 at the WPT final table of the [Five-Star World Poker Classic] at Bellagio, which was the WPT Championship at the time.

This was a huge tournament, with huge pay jumps, and it might have been the only time I’ve ever felt nervous. I had played so well in that tournament up until we made the six-handed final table, but on that day, I just wasn’t in the right mental place for that situation.

A hand came up four-handed where Yevgeniy [Timoshenko] raised from the small blind and I called with A-J, which was fine. The flop came down ace high. He bet, and I called. The turn was a brick and he checked. I checked behind.

It was a spot where I should have bet. There are arguments for checking behind that might be valid, but I wasn’t doing it for those reasons. The truth is that I was scared of playing a big pot. He ended up getting there on the river and I called a big bet.

Now, had I bet the turn, he probably would’ve called anyway. So I was more than likely going to lose that pot no matter what. But the fact that I chose to check back the turn really messed with me because I knew that my approach was off. There was another hand later on, where I made a perfectly fine fold, but once again, I did it for the wrong reason.

The money at stake, the cameras, the crowd, something got to me that day. I wasn’t inexperienced as a player, but I had never been in such a good spot before and I think I kind of screwed it up. I ended up getting fourth for $570,000, which is still my biggest score to date, and Yevgeniy obviously won it for $2.1 million. Hopefully, the next time I’m in a high-pressure spot like that, I can look back at that experience and learn from it.