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When I Was A Donk – Ian O’Hara

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Feb 01, 2017


Ian O'HaraIn 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.

Shortly after graduating from high school, South Florida-based Ian O’Hara decided to become a professional poker player. But, he was just 19 and confined to Native American casinos and pari-mutuel facilities around the state. He still managed to rack up quite a few final tables and wins, earning just over a quarter of a million dollars before his 21st birthday.

When he was finally old enough to compete on the tournament circuit full-time, O’Hara began to really put up some numbers. In August of 2015, he took second at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open $25,000 buy-in high roller event for $527,313. Later that year, he final tabled the Five Diamond World Poker Classic $10,000 event for $89,875. In September of 2016, he won the Coco Poker Open for another $212,830.

Here, O’Hara talks about the leaks in his short-stack game.

In 2012, back when I first started playing tournaments for a living, I think I struggled with my short-stack game. You might think that’s not possible, because there’s really not a lot you can do with a short stack, but I managed to mess it up often enough.

I had a lot of leaks with stacks between 12 and 15 big binds, such as calling preflop raises with suited connectors or small pairs, hoping to hit big hands. Sometimes I would even limp in. If you have 15 big blinds or less, you really can’t be limping or calling unless you are closing the action. It took me a little while before I realized how much I was hurting myself with these small mistakes.

The funny thing is that nowadays, there is a lot of room for creativity when it comes to short-stack play. You still can’t be passive, but there are a lot more options other than waiting to go all-in.

Stop-and-gos (when you call preflop out of position and then move all-in on the flop) are still a thing, but now players are kind of abandoning the play unless they connect with the flop in some way, either with a pair or some kind of draw. I think the reason for that is because players are more comfortable these days with a stack of less than ten big blinds.

I still like to be the aggressor when I’m short stacked. Since I look young, I don’t tend to get much credit for having a hand so it’s fine for me to just put in 12 big blinds preflop. There’s usually no need to get tricky.