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Head Games: Leveling Up In Live Cash Games

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Oct 20, 2021

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The Pros: Gal Yifrach, Nick Vertucci, and Jon Cohen

Craig Tapscott: What were some of the struggles and the lessons you learned as you moved up in stakes in live cash games?

Gal Yifrach: Every poker player’s dream is to play for big money. But not every poker player’s bankroll allows them to play comfortably in the high-stakes games. Some players will take shots as they move up stake levels. Even if they do win the first couple of times, and their bankroll isn’t large enough, they won’t be able to sustain a series of loses. I don’t care what people say, there isn’t a poker player that will always win all the time, no matter how good they are. Variance is a big part of the game. And to play with the big boys you have to be able to take the big losses too.

My start in poker began at the lower stakes, like most players. I started playing $1-$3 and $2-$5, and I did pretty well. But the truth is it’s hard to make the transition into the bigger games. There is definitely a different level of thinking that comes into playing big and you must feel comfortable playing pots that will often be equal to the price of a nice Mercedes or much more.

For me, I was fortunate enough to be able to play in an amazing line up of live games. That experience helped me a lot to build my bankroll. And as I moved up levels, I started to feel more comfortable playing at those higher stakes.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing though. I did have losing sessions. And it can take a toll on your confidence at times when you go through multiple losing sessions one after the other. It can really get to you, and you start doubting yourself. But in the end, I realized that it was just variance. I was determined to get through the rough times, survive them and continue to grow my game. In my opinion, the key to success is choosing a good game line up. The trick is not to be the best poker player in the world, but to play against opponents that you feel you can beat on a consistent basis.
 
Nick VertucciNick Vertucci: I’ve been playing poker for many years in the Los Angeles casinos. There was a time I played $1-$2 limit five card stud at the Commerce Casino where you actually took turns dealing yourself. That was in 1984 with my fake ID. It was a fun way to be introduced to all the games. I then worked my way over to five card draw, seven card stud, limit hold’em, and then no limit hold’em. I played a lot of $10-$20 no-limit at the Commerce, but I was in complete recreational mode, playing face-up poker.

In 2017 I got invited to play on a live stream at Live at the Bike in Los Angeles. I stepped up to the big boy game on Fridays which was $50-$100 and up to $200-$400 no-limit. I quickly received a huge education and realized I was the mark in the game because I was getting pretty banged up. But I was intrigued by the level of play and wanted to compete with the best, because I’m extremely competitive. I decided if I’m going to play at these stakes, I needed to get my shit together. I began really studying the game and the players that were successful. I analyzed every hand of poker I played. That’s how I learned.

I started slow and steady and eventually began to hold my own. And best of all, I started to see results. I kept working and over the past four years I’ve totally evolved my game. That was apparent to me because when I stepped down into the lower stakes, I crushed the games. Now I’ve become a winning player in any game.

What I love about poker most is it’s a never-ending journey of learning and improving. I went back and got some deeper training and coaching. I do remind myself on a daily basis that I’m not even close to what my potential could be. In the meantime, I will keep grinding and learning.

Jon Cohen: When I was 23 years old, I started playing $10-$20 with a $10,000 bankroll. I ran it up to $70,000 then busted it playing $100-$200. About three months later I had scrounged up another $14,000 and hopped right back into $10-$20 and never looked back.

What is the moral of the story? Don’t play $5-$10. Just be a man and play $10-$20!
All jokes aside, I was obviously extremely lucky to not go broke again that second time around. I had to learn the hard way (many times down the road in some bigger games) the value of bankroll management.

Bill Gates famously once said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years”. I think this is very applicable to poker. Play within your means and most of the time you’ll get to where you want to be a lot faster.

Another lesson that took me way too long to learn was the value of studying poker away from the tables. When solvers burst onto the scene in 2015, I fell behind the curve. I found that I couldn’t win in the games I had grown accustomed to crushing. After a two-year downswing that made me almost quit poker entirely, I decided to get a solver and start studying. My results improved drastically over the next few months. I realized how dumb I had been my entire career by not working hard to get better each and every day. Now I study all the time, if for nothing else than the fear of one day not being able to win again.

Craig Tapscott: How has poker evolved since you first started playing live cash games? And what kinds of things do you need to do to stay ahead of the curve to be a successful winning player? 

Gal YifrachGal Yifrach: Today there is so much material out there, poker shows and websites that will teach you how to play close to perfect. The game has definitely become harder, as there is so much free or paid knowledge available out there that makes things tough even on players that have been playing for years.

In my opinion I just have to always think outside the box and put myself in games that I have a better shot at winning, rather than go head-to-head with the best players in the game all the time. 

Nick Vertucci: The poker world has changed massively since Chris Moneymaker won his title and the WSOP became so popular to watch. Prior to that, even a recreational player like myself with some discipline could win.

But since the poker craze took off, the way we play the game has changed exponentially. There are so many solid players. And so many young guns who are willing to put in hours of study time. Now if you want to be a winning player you have no choice but to study diligently and keep up. And of course, you need to put in lots of table time.

Most important of all, you need to be open to change. I see so many players who just keep playing the same game and keep losing year after year. The funny thing about that is they still think they’re running bad, when in fact it’s because they just won’t adjust. 

My love for poker grew as I invested more time into the game. And being an entrepreneur, I wanted to focus on poker not only as a player but as a business. That’s why I’ve partnered with Ryan Feldman to create the best possible poker stream in the industry at Hustler Casino Live. Some of the biggest names in poker are playing in our games, and our content is free for anybody to watch and learn from. The game has given back to me so much and I’m ready for this next ride.  

Jon CohenJon Cohen: It’s hard to overstate how different the games are today than they were when I first started playing. Ten years ago, good games were ubiquitous. There were no solvers, the “good players” all had tilt issues, many sat with half their bankroll on the table, and every hand was personal. If someone three-bet you twice in a row, it was war. There were people from all walks of life coming in and out of the games and no one really had a clue about how to play well.

If you were pretty smart and had a knack for poker, you could win in the live scene without much formal study or training. But that is not how the games are today. All the professional players are extremely smart, extremely disciplined, hardly ever go on tilt, and work very hard with solvers and training sites away from the tables to keep improving their craft. A player needs to do all these things well to win at a substantial rate in the high-stakes live games that run today. ♠

Gal Yifrach is a regular in the highest stakes cash games in Los Angeles, but he has had quite a bit of success in tournaments as well. In 2017 he won a WSOP Circuit ring at the Bicycle Casino, and a year later, he earned his first bracelet and a career best $461,798 in the WSOP $3,000 six-max no-limit hold’em event. Find him on Instagram @GalYifrach.

Nick Vertucci is a serial entrepreneur and professional real estate investor. He’s been running various businesses since his early twenties. His last endeavor prior to Hustler Casino Live was a real estate training company, and author of the book ‘Seven Figure Decisions: Having The Balls To Succeed.’ He is married with three daughters. At this time Nick is fully focused on his poker business and plays full time. Find him on Twitter @NickVertucciNV.

Jon Cohen has been a professional poker player for more than a decade and specializes in no-limit hold’em cash games both online and live. He has more than $1.1 million in live tournament earnings, and most recently took part in the WPT Gardens Poker Championship final table that was delayed for more than a year because of the pandemic. When the final table resumed in March, Cohen finished third for $263,090.