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World Series of Poker Q and A -- Allen Kessler

Kessler Talks about Cashing in Seven Different Variations of Poker Last Summer at the Rio


Allen Kessler at the 2010 World Series of PokerIf one were to glance at the results for Allen Kessler at the 2010 World Series of Poker they might think that he was running down a checklist to attempt to cash in every form of poker. His impressive run last summer included eight cashes overall and he spread them out among seven different forms of poker. The events he cashed in included no-limit hold’em, pot-limit hold’em, seven-card stud eight-or-better, Omaha eight-or-better, pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better, triple draw lowball, and H.O.R.S.E. “I’m the only player in the history of the World Series who cashed in seven different games at the same World Series,” said Kessler.

Card Player caught up with Kessler before this year’s WSOP to talk about what he thinks that achievement means and how he learned to play so many different forms of the game so well.

Ryan Lucchesi: How have you added so many different forms of poker to your repertoire over the years?

Allen Kessler: I was playing stud hi-lo, Omaha hi-lo for many years with Phil Ivey and a couple of people in Atlantic City. Basically when I came out to Commerce Casino a few times they always liked to play triple draw so I got into triple draw there, and from there it is just a lot of variations with the limits, pot-limit Omaha and pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better, hold’em, etc…

RL: It sounds like you learned each game out of necessity as you traveled to different regions of the country.

AK: The only one I haven’t studied too much is pot-limit Omaha high. I really haven’t gotten into that game. It seems to have a lot of coin flipping and I like to know exactly where I am in a hand. In pot-limit Omaha there is too much variance.

RL: What about another game with a lot of action like triple draw?

AK: There is a lot of skill in that game though; you can try to raise people to draw if you’re last position. There is a lot of skill to it. What cards you start with, where your position is, how many raises there are, how many people draw, if you’re last to act…there is a lot to that game. I really like triple draw; I don’t like the single draw. That is way too much skill for me; it’s too much bluffing and skill and reading people. I like three draws, I know where I stand. If they have the 10 I want them to break it.

RL: Do you really enjoy a game where your mind is forced to be engaged throughout the whole hand? Rather than going on cruise control in a major no-limit hold’em tournament?

AK: We were playing the eight-game mixed tournament and I was rolling along. I raised with queens in no-limit and one guy calls with two hearts in his hand. I flopped the nuts with three queens and I’m basically going to go broke on this hand because it was the no-limit part of the eight-game. I really don’t like eight-game just for that reason. If we’re going to play H.O.R.S.E. then that’s fine, you’re not going to go broke on one hand. I just don’t like to go broke on one hand just because they mix in no-limit for the eight-game. I lost to that guy when he made his flush on that pot because the pot was so big I couldn’t fold at that point to get away after I raised on the flop.

RL: When you play the big mixed-game events are you trying to maximize your edge in all of the other games so you can stay away from the no-limit rounds?

AK: I play really snug in pot-limit and no-limit because the other games other people don’t play. Some people just enter that tournament to play pot-limit and no-limit and those people, the hands you see them play in razz or stud eight-or-better is mind boggling.

RL: Do you think there are a certain group of younger players that fit that mold?

AK: Yeah, a lot of them have actually come up to me and asked me if I would coach them.

RL: Where do you think your achievement from last summer stands in terms of WSOP history?

AK: Considering that no one else has ever cashed in seven different games at one World Series I would have to say it would have be in the top five for last summer. I think I got snubbed last year by Card Player. If I had really set my mind to it I could have had 11 or 12 cashes. If I ever had chips in a tournament I wouldn’t enter anything else the next day. I wouldn’t play another tournament the next day I would just focus on what I had. I really didn’t have my mind set on playing in as many tournaments as possible. I’m not one of those people who is just going to throw money around and play in every event. I usually play in 20-21 events each summer.

RL: Would you like to see the WSOP establish a non-hold’em player of the year at some point?

AK: Maybe not that, but I talked to Jack [Effel] and they’re going to bring back some of the mixed games that they took out last year. Like they took out Omaha eight-or-better/stud eight-or-better mixed. Why would you take that out? There is only one tournament like that and they took it out to run another $1k no-limit hold’em event. There is another event I was talking to Jeffrey Lisandro about and he liked it also and it was to have a three-way stud tournament. One tournament a year that has stud, razz, and stud eight-or-better. I think that would be really popular.

I don’t care about Player of the Year; the way they have that is fine. I think I’m a favorite in it because the people who only play no-limit have to come in so high in so many events. Tom Schneider won with two bracelets in mixed games and Frank Kassela had two bracelets in mixed games, Lisandro won with three. Unless you win two bracelets in two no-limit tournaments it is almost impossible to win playing no-limit. It is skewed toward mixed games as it is.

RL: Since you are a connoisseur of mixed games what advice would you give to a player who wants to branch out from their initial no-limit hold’em skills?

AK: You have to be really cognizant of what hands other people are playing and how the cards help or don’t help their hand. Especially in stud eight-or-better, if they hit a high card and you’re representing a low hand, if you have any low cards on the board you have to keep betting. It’s a hard thing to explain because you learn most of it from experience.

Omaha eight-or-better I have played for so many years that it is second nature to me. You have to sit down and watch the hands and put in the hours to learn that timing. If you watch Phil Ivey give an interview he has always said ‘I’ve put in my time and I have learned.’ I have played with him for so many years in Atlantic City that it is now amazing to see what he has done. But I have watched him put in that time and that is his whole philosophy. He is also a great reader of people; I don’t put myself anywhere near his category, but that is his main thrust, putting in the time to learn, so it becomes second nature.

That’s why I really don’t enjoy no-limit and pot-limit, it’s such a crap shoot kind-of-a-thing; you never know where you stand in the game. Even if you have 10 or 12 bets you know you’re going to get your money in good in a limit mixed game. If you have a really good low draw and a straight draw and you miss three times in a row then that is just the way the cards fell but at least you know you’re going to get your money in good. You’re going to set yourself up for the best spot.