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World Series of Poker Bracelet Winner Tommy Hang Shares His Poker Origin Story

Hang Explains How He Got His Start And Shares Some Mixed-Game Tournament Tips

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Tommy HangThe average poker fan might not recognize Tommy Hang, but one look at his poker resume shows that he’s been a force in the poker world for over a decade. The 34-year-old poker pro from Seattle, Washington was a regular low-limit hold’em grinder like everyone else until a bad beat jackpot kick started his bankroll.

After surviving a tumultuous early foray into the world of high-stakes cash games, Hang broadened his skill set to mixed games and quickly became one of the best in the business. At the 2008 World Series of Poker, he finished third in the $10,000 limit hold’em event for $194,674 and then followed that up with a runner-up finish in the $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. event for $158,933.

In 2012, he took third in the $2,500 10-game mixed event for $97,884. The next year, he finished in 13th place in the prestigious $50,000 Poker Players Championship for $128,620. This summer, Hang finally got his bracelet by winning the $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. event for $230,744.

When he’s not playing tournaments at the WSOP, Hang spends about half the year playing in high-stakes cash games in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The rest of the time he spends with his family back home in the state of Washington.

Card Player caught up with Hang to talk about his shaky start in poker and to get a couple tips about playing in mixed-game tournaments.

Julio Rodriguez: When did you catch the poker bug?

Tommy Hang: I went to the University of Washington and majored in business administration. I was only a recreational poker player back then, watching Rounders and dreaming of moving beyond the low-limit tables. Honestly, I was just playing for the bad beat jackpot back then. The thought was that I could hit it, pay off all my bills and then go from there.

Believe it or not, I hit it. It was a $100,000 jackpot and because I had the best of the two hands, I got $25,000. I had quad jacks and this guy, Chris Shaler, had aces full. Forget paying off the debts. The next day, Chris and I, we didn’t even know each other, but we flew down to L.A. together to play cards. It was spooky because on the flight we became friends and found out that we even shared a birthday.

We got to Commerce and I immediately jumped into the $80-$160 limit hold’em game. I wanted to play with the pros more than anything and nothing could stop me from doing it. That was the big game at the time and I was just horrible. I played a little over two days straight and lost all $25,000 in that one first session.

JR: That has to be one of the most sickening feelings ever.

TH: Here’s where it gets even crazier. I go to Chris, borrow $3,000 and without stopping to take a break, I jump back into the game. Two days later, I had won back all of the money plus an additional $3,000. That was my degen side back in the day, but obviously I’ve learned my lesson since then.

JR: When did poker become your actual career?

TH: It wasn’t until about 2004 that I began to take poker more seriously. I was making decent money as a mortgage broker in Washington, figuring it was a good back up in case poker didn’t work out. I was basically flying to L.A. or Las Vegas every month for a week or two at a time to play poker.

JR: Before Black Friday, you were one of the biggest winners in the online high-stakes mixed games playing under the name tdanger00. When did you first learn to play mixed games?

TH: I’ve always been the ambitious type. I’ve never been the kind of guy who learns by reading a book or whatever. I’m very good at studying the game on my own, but I definitely learned by doing.

When PokerStars introduced the eight-game mix, I found myself watching the $100-$200 and $400-$800 games that were running. I really only knew how to play limit hold’em, but I was able to figure out the rest of the games on my own. I learned by playing mostly. I jumped into the $100-$200 game and won a little bit and then moved up to $400-$800.

JR: Now that you have years of experience playing all of the games, do you have a game you can call your best?

TH: I really don’t think I have a best game. Honestly, my best game is whatever my opponent’s worst game is. I’ve gotten really good at exploiting the weaknesses in the other player’s games.

What happens is that the specialists in these tournaments, whether they specialize in hold’em, stud or Omaha, they give away a lot by avoiding their weak games. Then, when their strong game comes up, they overplay their hands because they need to make up for their shortcomings in the other games. They end up pressing too hard and as a result, you can really maximize your value when you have a real hand.

JR: A lot of the limit games in these events force players to call down simply because they are getting the right pot odds, even in spots where they are almost always losing. How do you avoid situations like this?

TH: My play is definitely unorthodox and I try to not adhere to any particular established tendencies in these games. I take the standard lines that everyone else is used to and change it up to give them a different look. Yes, the math says call on seventh street when you’ve called the whole way down, but I’ve never been much of a math guy. The really great mixed game players know how to save a bet here and there when they’re beat. I think I have a knack for stuff like that.

JR: When you are short stacked in a mixed game event, would you rather be playing the big bet games or the limit games?

TH: If you get the hands, then you got to play them accordingly, but I would much rather be playing the eight-or-better games if I was short stacked and really try to grind myself back up. Some guys like playing no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha when they are short so they can get it all back quickly, but those are much higher variance. One added benefit is that in the limit games, the bigger stacks will often pick on the shorter stack with weaker starting hands, so you have a little bit of an edge to start with.

JR: Now that you are a bracelet winner and have a stellar record at the WSOP, do you have any plans to grind the tournament circuit during the rest of the year?

TH: I love cash games. I need that instant gratification. I can’t stand playing for days and days only to bubble a tournament. During the series, I have no problem playing tournaments, but the rest of the year, I really try to stick to cash games. I’d say I’m working about six months out of the year. When I want to play, I travel to either L.A. or Las Veags and play. When I’m home in Washington, I’m all about the family. That’s what’s been working for me, so that’s what I’ll stick with for now.