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Online Poker: Interview With Jon 'Apestyles' Van Fleet

Apestyles Talks About Online Tells and Why Live Players Aren't Very Good

Jon 'apestyles' Van FleetJon "apestyles" Van Fleet has been a staple on the online tournament "circuit" in recent years, and he continues to decimate the opposition. He has made Online Player of the Year-qualified finishes in 21 different tournaments this year, earning almost $200,000 from those cashes alone (and well over $1 million online, to date). In 2007, he has made the final table of the Sunday Million, the Sunday Warmup, and the Super Tuesday (all at PokerStars) all of which are, on their own, incredible achievements.

Van Fleet, a Texan and graduate of Texas Tech University, has kept pretty quiet in the live-tournament scene (for reasons that he explains in this interview), but he's looking to ramp up his image and catch up to his friends, whom he said he has watched "blow up" in live tournaments this year.

Card Player caught up with Van Fleet to get into his head. Once we'd cracked that noggin open, we found the answers to more than a few burning questions, including his take on why the average live poker player is just no good:

Shawn Patrick Green:
I usually start with the question, "Where did your screen name come from?" for screen names that are cryptic and interesting, but I'm afraid of what might be said here. (Laughing) You've always responded to the question by saying that the story isn't G-rated. How about we get the story from you but warn the readers of graphic language and let them read at their own discretion?

Jon "apestyles" Van Fleet:
It's really not that bad. It's not what you think, it's just … I'm a big, hairy dude, you know? (Laughing) Actually, I'd really rather you not put it in print, though. [Van Fleet then tells us the entire story behind the origin of the screen name. We can see why he'd rather keep the story under wraps.]

SPG: What tournament type are you best at, online?

JVF: My ROI [return on investment] is naturally going to be higher in any tournament that has a deep-stack structure. Rebuys provide that, so my results are probably the highest in rebuy tournaments. I don't think that it's necessarily because I rebuy that much more, although I do rebuy quite a bit; I think it has to do with the deeper stacks that we have. I can get myself a huge stack versus other players who can make bigger mistakes deepstacked. So, my results are going to be better.

SPG: About how many rebuys do you make, on average?

JVF: It really depends. In the $100 rebuy and the $50 rebuy, you're playing against relatively strong players, so you're making an error if you go all in or call all in with seven-six suited. It's definitely going to hurt your ROI in the long run, if you do that, because you're just not good enough compared to the field. But I am pretty loose; I'm much more active during the rebuy period. I won't fold a draw, I won't fold very many pairs. In the $100 rebuy I would say that I average about $600 to $700 spent, at the most.

In the $10 rebuy and $20 rebuy, sometimes, especially if I'm having an off-night, I'll use the rebuy period to blow off steam and pretty much go all in every hand. But that's not necessarily because I think it's the correct play to make, I just think that it's not as bad of a play because the fields are bigger and the players are worse. If I give my chips to a bad player, it's not that bad for me. It comes back to me more often than not.

This guy "Andy McLEOD" and I spent what I think was $2,000 each in the $20 rebuy one time. (Laughing) I was not happy, I had $6,000 at the break. [A standard double rebuy (when out of chips), and add-on will get a player $5,000.] Six of the top 10 players in the tournament were sitting at our table. "Andy McLEOD" - who is a pretty well-known rebuy donk, like me - and I were going all in pretty much every single hand against each other. I told myself that I was going to quit when I got to $20,000 in chips, I just never got to $20,000.

SPG: Is that also your favorite to play?

JVF: I think so. I like rebuy tournaments because generally I have a big stack versus other players, and I think that the added leverage I get with my big stack is something that I'm pretty good at using. If there's anything that really separates me from the rest of the players, it's my ability to adjust to other players and also that I use a deep stack pretty well.

SPG: Online poker players have a pretty unique way of living. What does a typical day consist of, for you?

JVF: Honestly, I'm pretty boring. Recently, what I do is that I wake up, I work out, I play poker, I make sure that I eat really healthy - I eat a lot of lean meats, fruits, and vegetables - and I go out one night a week. That's pretty much it. (Laughing) I've been really focused though, recently, that's why; I mean, that hasn't been my lifestyle the entire time. I wake up late and I go to sleep late, because those are my hours. Usually, at the end of the night, I'm watching all of my friends who are deep in tournaments, and those tournaments don't usually end until around four in the morning.

For a little while I got out of control because of a lack of structure and I was just partying way too much and drinking nonstop. Basically, it affected both my poker and my outlook on life, so I did a kind of 360 from there. Now, I work out like five to seven days a week, and it has totally improved my game, because I feel like it has increased my ability to focus and my endurance.

SPG: Do you have any advice for dealing with the online poker player's lifestyle? You've already mentioned working out and eating healthier. Is there anything else?

JVF: I think that having some sort of hobby, something outside of poker - something that gets you outside or something that makes you feel productive other than poker - is important, just because sitting at your computer every day just to play poker is not a very rewarding lifestyle. Just having something else in your life, having balance, is important.

SPG: You have only one live tournament cash to speak of. Are you simply not interested in playing live or do you run bad in the brick-and-mortar cardrooms?

JVF: I really haven't played a lot of live tournaments. Honestly, I just like playing online, where I can sit there in my underwear. Really, what it is about playing online that I like is that there's so little variance in it. With live tournaments, you sit there for nine hours just to bubble. You have so much emotion invested in a single tournament live because you've been there and you've been trying so hard to play well. Online, I can play 30 tournaments, and if I bust out of one in a bad beat I can move on to the next one, no big deal.

But I actually will be playing live a lot, coming up, because I've won quite a few satellites into live events, recently. I'll be playing Aruba, Foxwoods, Australia, and a couple EPT [European Poker Tour] events, and I'm actually pretty excited. I'm 100 percent on top of my game, right now, and I'd be surprised if I didn't make a major final table pretty soon.

I ran pretty terrible during the World Series, but I also wasn't as focused as I could have been. I lost six times with sets in big pots for my tournament life, and I played something like 11 tournaments total during the Series. So, yeah, I couldn't make a set win, basically. (Laughing) I made some mistakes, for sure, especially regarding patience, but there were just hands that were pretty much unavoidable when I just got really unlucky. People could not miss flush draws versus me. I'm not a person that, when they're playing badly blames luck, and there are a lot of things that I could have done better when I was there. One of them is not drinking while I'm playing. (Laughing) That's a leak that I won't have, anymore. I'm also going to make sure that I have my iPod so playing 30 hands an hour doesn't get to me like it did. I'm used to playing 400 hands an hours. When a game is playing slowly, it's hard for me to deal with.

I actually think that I'm pretty good at picking up on live tells and at not having tells myself.

SPG: What tells do you think are the most reliable to go off of and, conversely, what tells are the most misleading?

JVF: The most well-known one, with some players, is that strong means weak and weak means strong. If somebody's staring you down and acting like they have a big hand, a lot of times they don't have anything. Also, if they look at a flop and their eyes sort of dilate, that usually means they hit. If they look at the flop for too long, it usually means that they have not hit. If they look away from the flop immediately, it usually means that they hit. I look at people's hands quite a bit. It's hard to explain what I see, exactly, when I look at their hands, but I feel like I do subconsciously pick up on the manner in which they place their bets.

I'm reading this book on tells by this FBI agent, Joe Navarro. I haven't really gotten into it, but I plan to read it all before I go to Aruba because my friend J.C. Alvarado said that reading that book was a big step in improving his game.

SPG: You said that a lot of these tells that you mentioned are pretty well known, but doesn't that also mean that you have to be extra cautious of them because other players know that they can throw out that kind of tell?

JVF: I think you're right, and I don't put that much reliability in tells. One thing that some people may disagree with is that they average live player is just not very good. (Laughing) They're not. Compared to online poker, I see so many errors made live. You're much more likely to get someone who is just a rich guy who wants to have a fun experience and other people like that. So, you have to know who you're dealing with.

I'm not trying to play a ton of pots with [Michael] Mizrachi or someone like that. There are some players, like Daniel Negreanu, who are so tricky and mix up their tells so much that you probably shouldn't worry about the physical tells and should stick to the betting patterns. That's what I'm best at, anyway, is betting patterns, because that's what I know from online.

SPG: Speaking of which, what do you think of the notion of online tells? Are there any reliable ones?

JVF: There are quite a few online tells. The speed at which people make bets is huge. Let's say, for instance, that a player instantly moves all in on the river, and the river card was totally not a blank, like it completes a four-straight and a flush-draw or a four-flush. If they instantly moves all in on the river there, it looks like they were already planning on bluffing before the card even came. So, I might look somebody up in that spot. Quick usually means weak, online, although it's not always that way.

Also, if you're using your time bank when thinking about calling somebody and they say something in the chat box, they're almost always strong. They're trying to convince you to call them. Bet sizes and betting patterns are also tells, in their own ways. Some people are obvious enough to bet a third of the pot with a flush draw, given certain stack sizes, but make a pot-sized bet with top pair or an overpair. You just have to watch people's patterns and whether they play their draws aggressively or passively. A lot of people have a set way of playing a hand, and they don't change it. So, if you can just figure out what that way is, you can play effectively versus them.

SPG: What's the biggest laydown that you've ever made?

JVF: There have been plenty of spots where I've made big laydowns. I'm starting to get to the point where I can lay down two pair or a set pretty easily, in a lot of spots. In tournaments, especially online tournaments, you're really not going to get anywhere for making big laydowns. Online tournaments reward aggressive, loose play. In an online tournament, in my opinion, a bad laydown is much worse than a bad call. That's because tournaments mainly reward the top three spots and the levels move up so quickly and I value my big-stack play. There are definitely spots where I'll lay down a hand, but it's not very often that I'll lay down a set when I have 40 big blinds.

SPG: Thanks for taking the time for this interview, Jon.
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