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Women At The World Series: Melissa Burr

Mixed-Games Pro Sees Bracelet In Her Future

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When Melissa Burr arrived in Vegas for the 2014 World Series of Poker, she had no idea that in a matter of weeks, she would be playing for $1.5 million in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. By the end of day two of the tournament, however, her game has made it clear she’s not a player to be taken lightly.

The New Jersey native has been playing poker competitively at $20-$40 limits and above for about 10 years now. While she prefers playing cash games back home in Atlantic City’s Borgata, Burr has made the trip to the WSOP for the past five years to try her hand in tournaments.

While she busted in 84th at the $1,000 Ladies no-limit hold’em championship last year, earning $1,923, her phenomenal performance this year couldn’t have made for a better comeback.

The mixed-games maven has already made two final tables this summer, in the $10,000 Omaha hi-low split 8/OB and the $1,500 seven-card stud hi-low 8/OB, as well as busting just short of her third final table in the $1,500 dealer’s choice six-max event. Those three events have earned her a total of $100,893 so far.

Card Player had the opportunity to speak with Burr during a break in play on June 23 to talk about her progress thus far in the Poker Players Championship, poor etiquette at the poker table and her predictions of more women on the poker front.

Elaina Sauber: How is the Players Championship treating you so far?

Melissa Burr: Actually, it’s been a roller coaster, but it fits right in with the theme of the Series. I got down to 52,000 earlier today, on day two, and I had to fight and claw all the way back. It was just like pretty much every other tournament I’ve played this Series, but, I mean, I never give up, so I ran back up and have about 220,000 now.

ES: Has this tournament been different from the other mixed games you’re used to playing?

MB: I was a little nervous coming into it, but once I sat down and I was playing with people I always play with, it just felt like another tournament—I settled down and it felt more normal to me.

ES: How does your technique change up when you play these mixed events?

MB: Everything changes with the table, so whether or not I have other tough limit hold’em players would be indicative of my adjustments to the game. But my initial strategy is to always play solid and not getting out of line with people too often, until I’ve played with the table pretty consistently. But my initial approach is just a tight, solid strategy.

ES: You’ve said that you love cash games—is the WSOP the only tournament series you play?

MB: Prior to this year, I pretty much didn’t play any tournaments until the World Series. This year, I wanted to play the main event at the Series, so I spent some of my off-cash days playing in no-limit tournaments this year at Borgata—a few WPTs; I played the $15,000 WPT Championship. I would say I probably played 15 no-limit tournaments this year, in addition to the World Series, but they were on off-days.

ES: Has the excitement of making two final tables this summer changed your feelings about tournament games now that you’re doing really well?

MB: I’m definitely having the most fun I’ve ever had out here this summer. But regardless, I’ve been playing the World Series…this is my fifth year coming out and this is the only year I’ve done really well, and it never stopped me before.

ES: Could you see yourself winning a bracelet in the future?

MB: I can. I mean, it was hard to see awhile ago, but getting as close as I’ve done this summer, I feel like it’s definitely attainable—it’s definitely within reach.

ES: I saw on Twitter recently that you were annoyed in an event after another player scooped you and updated their new chip count on their phone before even stacking them. Do you see a lot of poor etiquette like that in these tournaments?

MB: Well, it’s funny—that was during the $10,000 Omaha. Without going into too much detail, because I know the player now, they just like, furiously grabbed the phone and updated, and I’m watching it happen right next to me. Actually, last year in the ladies event was really one of the funniest moments at the World Series. This younger girl wins this big no-limit pot, and leaves this older woman with almost nothing—maybe 200 chips. And this younger girl takes out her phone and takes a picture of her chips, and the flash goes off in front of the woman who’s still there—she’s still sitting at the table, and she’s watching this happen. And I was like, ‘oh my gosh, what a fail’ (laughs). But I had to chuckle at that one, though.

ES: Have you ever found that players who spend a ton of time on their phones while they’re playing miss out on a lot of action and create a disadvantage for themselves?

MB: It’s a huge disadvantage. This was heavily debated between me and a friend yesterday, about the effects of playing open-face while you’re playing these mixed tournaments, and I think it’s extremely punishing to an event like this. Maybe in no-limit when there’s tanking and hands take longer, but in an event like this where there’s stud, and up-cards and really watching people peel cards in the draw game, it’s extremely punishing for you to be extremely distracted in this event.

ES: I saw on Twitter that you witnessed an altercation during the dealer’s choice event, when Brandon Cantu tried to fight another player. Is that behavior something you’ve seen in tournaments before?

MB: No, that is totally out of the standard. I have not witnessed a fist fight—but again, I don’t play a lot of tournaments, so I have a small sample size—maybe this behavior is more normal, and I’m not seeing it.

ES: What about in cash games?

MB: No, I mean, at Borgata, there are a lot of regulars that play—it’s the same people that come every weekend. And you see emotions get high, and people get heated and arguments break out, but never really physical violence.

ES: Do you think maybe that sort of thing is more likely to happen in tournaments because they know they’re not going to be kicked out?

MB: I don’t see that behavior catching on because, in theory, I feel like [a one-round penalty] was a pretty mild penalty to be given, and I don’t think people will repeat that behavior, because I haven’t seen it often, and just because it’s OK, I don’t think people will continue on with that.

ES: I also read recently that you’re personally against ladies-only tournaments. Could you elaborate on that?

MB: ‘Against’ is a really harsh word. This is only drawing on personal experience—I think [ladies-only tournaments] are great, in the aspect that it draws female players to the field. In the same sense, I think it also might handicap them to what’s real—what happens in the real environment. And it doesn’t give them the experience they’re going to be shocked by, later on. But I think they’re great to draw women into the game.

ES: Why do you think more women don’t play poker?

MB: It’s an intimidating environment at first, walking into [it]. And it’s abrasive, it’s competitive, and it can be overwhelming at times, so women’s natural tendencies don’t always fit well with that environment. But with that being said, more women are playing. You’re seeing it more and more, and I think it’s only a matter of time, maybe more of a long-term, that more women will play and they will be equally competitive with men in this field.

ES: What was it like for you getting support from all these people buying pieces of you for this event?

MB: Wow, you know, I actually didn’t think I was going to play this event 24 hours before it [started]. I actually registered a $1,500 no-limit [event], not even thinking I was going to play the $50,000, until it had been repeatedly mentioned to me. And I said, ‘You know what, let me just see if I can sell it.’ I don’t charge mark-up on anything, and the response that I got was astounding—and it was fast. I sold it within two hours. It was extremely flattering and humbling, and I was so excited to even be able to have the opportunity to play the event, to be honest.

ES: How are you feeling about your odds from this point when you continue after the break?

MB: I’m in there fighting for every pot, and I realize this is a five-day event—slow and steady wins this race. You don’t win on day two, so I’m looking to stay competitive throughout the days, and hopefully be the last one standing and make history.