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Online Poker: Interview With Danny 'THE__D__RY' Ryan

Ryan Gets Down and Dirty About Sit-And-Gos

Danny 'THE__D__RY' RyanDanny "THE__D__RY" Ryan went to live in Spain for a short time during his junior year of college. He then moved back to Minnesota, found online poker, finished up his finance degree at Gustavus Adolphus College in 2005, and then picked up and moved back to Spain permanently. Living outside of the U.S. was one of the only ways to get unrestricted access to the game he loved and, more importantly, the gold mine he'd struck in online poker.

Ryan certainly picked the right major, as his finance degree will likely help him manage the hundreds of thousands of dollars he's won playing poker online. He's currently 13th in the Card Player Online Player of the Year (OPOY) standings, and he has earned $344,000 in OPOY-qualified finishes, alone, which include only the top-20 spots of multitable tournaments with prize pools of more than $100,000. When combined with his success in smaller multitable tournaments and his positive win-rate in high-stakes sit-and-gos, he has reaped plenty of profit from his decision to forego a more conventional job and go pro straight out of college. He has made the final table of events in both the 2007 PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) and the Full Tilt Online Poker Series III (FTOPS), and he came in second place in the Full Tilt $500,000-guaranteed event on July 22 of this year, earning more than $75,000.

Card Player got ahold of Ryan in Spain, recently, to talk strategy. He is considered quite adept at sit-and-go play, and he gave us the inside track on how to beat the single-table tournaments at both the highest and lowest stakes:

Shawn Patrick Green: First off, I want to put an end to this: Is your screen name pronounced The Dee Rye, as in "The Danny RYan," or "The Dry"?

Danny "THE__D__RY" Ryan: The Dee Rye. Thank you, thank you. I'd really appreciate if you'd put that into the interview, because everyone thinks it's The Dry. I would never pick a name like that. [Laughs]

SPG: That's exactly why I asked, because as soon as I knew your real name I knew that it wasn't meant to be The Dry, and I figured it must kill you that everyone calls you the wrong name. I just had to clear that up somewhere publicly. [Laughs]

So, we've kind of been focusing on sit-and-go strategy in our interviews with online players, lately, and you frequent the high buy-in sit-and-gos online, so it makes sense to start there. What's so great about sit-and-gos?

DR: The last couple of months I've actually been getting back into them a lot. I've been playing the $1K and $2K buy-ins on Stars, and now Full Tilt has $5Ks, and I've been playing some of those, but they only run maybe two a week or something like that.

But yeah, I love the sit-and-gos. I think the variance is really low; you're not going to have too many big losing streaks. It's pretty steady money without too much risk.

SPG: How can you be sure to keep such a consistent win-rate, especially since, at the higher buy-ins, you have to assume that more of the players are going to be good. I mean, there are going to be donkeys at every buy-in level, but you have to assume that the fields are at least tougher at the higher buy-ins.

DR: Yeah, definitely. I think they're definitely tougher at the higher buy-ins. The strategies are different in all of them, but I think that once you master it, you can play almost on autopilot, where you're concentrating on knowing the players and knowing their hand ranges toward the end. Things like, "This guy's going to push almost any two from the small blind, but this guy is pretty conservative in a $2K with four players left. So, I start knowing who I can value-call and who I have to fold those kinds of mediocre hands to. I think most of the people who play a lot of sit-and-gos, who really concentrate on those, can be pretty comfortable at almost any level.

SPG: What kind of ROI [return on investment] can an above average sit-and-go player expect to achieve at the level you play?

DR: That's tough. I think I have like 2,000 sit-and-gos, or something like that, played on PokerStars, and I think I still need a few thousand more to be completely accurate about my ROI, but right now I think my ROI is around 9 percent. But I don't know if that's maintainable or if that's a little high - if I've been running good. I think like 5 percent would be a very good ROI, because that's still a lot of money if you're playing $2K buy-ins and you can play four at a time. I don't think you can get 10 percent at that level; I don't think you can for the long term.

SPG: What about for the lower stakes?

DR: I don't have an idea on the exact percentages down there, but if you concentrate on those and really try to master them, you could just crush them, in my opinion. Especially with the $55s and early $100s, and those in that range, it seems to me that the players really make a lot more folds when there are five players left, so you can really abuse the bubble when there are four or five left. You can almost get to the point where you make them play for second. Not always, but if you're able to build your stack to around $8K and there's a $4K second-place stack, or something like that, and a couple players really close to going bust, with about three big blinds … . Say the blinds are at $200-$400 and there's a guy with $1,100, you can just really take advantage of that situation and make the others fold, unless they pick up a monster. So, you just really utilize your chip lead.

I think you could manage 20 percent ROI or so, if you were good.

SPG: Did you start at or near the bottom in sit-and-gos, or did you not really venture into them until you had already had a larger-than-average bankroll?

DR: Originally, I played limit cash games and stuff like that. It was about a year or so later when I started playing in sit-and-gos, and I want to say that I was playing in $11 and $22 buy-ins for a while, when my bankroll was around $1,000 or $2,000. And then, as I made some wins in multitable tournaments, I would move up, accordingly. I would always leave myself at least 100 buy-ins. So, as my roll got up to $10K, I started playing in $100 buy-in sit-and-gos.

SPG: What's the single most important play or concept that you learned that has helped you be successful in sit-and-gos?

DR: I guess playing on the bubble is the most important concept. Knowing how to play for first and trying to put yourself in a situation where you really have a good chance to get there. To not be worried about getting fourth is very important, because really, if you get fourth a couple of times, but then you get first a couple of times, that's so much more of a return than getting third, third, and second. So, really, really going for first is probably one of the most important concepts, because it doesn't matter if you get fourth. There are times where you have to try to just make the money, but, in general, you have to always go for first with your overall strategy.

SPG: You're obviously going to be playing heads up more often in sit-and-gos than in multitable tournaments. What are some key strategies for playing heads up?

DR: Well, the strategies can't go too deep for heads up because, since it's a sit-and-go, the blinds structure is pretty bad. Well, I shouldn't say "bad," it's how it always is, but the blinds structure is pretty fast. So, if you get heads up, you're usually not going to have more than like 10 or 12 big blinds or so. So, it's kind of standard play; you're waiting for hands that you can push. If the big blind is at $600 and you both have about even stacks of $6,000 to $7,000 each, you're going to be pushing with most of the hands that you decide to enter with. And if your opponent's the first to act, he's going to be pushing often enough; sometimes he's pushing around 90 percent of his hands, so you just wait for a hand where you know you're ahead and you can make a good value-call.

But just get to know that player. If he's kind of conservative, you can just wear him down. If it's someone aggressive, you might have to wait and pick him off when you know you're good.

SPG: If you have around 10 times the big blind, like you were saying, what kind of hands are you pushing with there, optimally? Are you pushing with any facecard, then?

DR: You kind of have to push most of your pretty hands. I don't push every hand, like some people do. I'll fold the garbage ones; I don't want to get called holding nine-four offsuit and have him be holding an overpair and have almost no outs. I prefer to push when I still think, against his calling range, that I should have maybe two overcards or be in at least a 60/40 situation. So, not every hand, for me.

SPG: In the lower stakes sit-and-gos it usually gets down to heads up a lot more quickly, so the blinds may be more lenient at that point. So, what do you think in that scenario? If you do have some room to maneuver, what's the best strategy against weak opponents like you'd find in a lot of the lower stakes sit-and-gos?

DR: I would raise it up with position, usually. Raise it up on the button and play to find out how he's playing. You might notice if he's calling you all of the time and then check-folding on the flop. So, that would be a good opportunity to raise it up small or medium on the button, and if he checks to you on the flop, you might take it down with a small continuation bet. Or, if you notice that he's kind of a wacko guy, if you raise and he's shoving back at you, you just have to adjust and tighten up against those guys. You're not in a hurry to end it; you can still be patient and wait for the right moment when the best opportunity comes along.

SPG: How many sit-and-gos do you play at once?

DR: It depends on whether I have multitable tournaments going on at the same time. If it's the beginning of the night and I don't have any multis, yet, or I only have like one or two started, then I'd probably play up to five or six sit-and-gos. If I'm playing in multis it'd be closer to three or four.

It seems like a lot of my friends start three or four sit-and-gos at the same exact time, and so the sit-and-gos all have the same blinds schedule the whole time. And then, when they get down to fivehanded in four tournaments, and they're trying to concentrate on the bubble in four tournaments at the same time … . I think it's smarter to start one every 15 minutes, so you're not getting heads up at the same time on three tables or something like that.

SPG: A lot of people have been saying that, in order to be successful, players should focus on cash games, sit-and-gos, or multitable tournaments individually and not mix it up for long spans of time. Do you agree?

DR: I would actually disagree. I took a few months off from sit-and-gos - not for any particular reason, I just kind of felt like playing in multis at that time - and then, a few months ago, I got back into sit-and-gos, and I really realized how much they had helped me for multis. In a sit-and-go, you're so used to playing as a short stack, because that's just how the structure is, and you're going to be playing push-or-fold poker a lot of the time. You really have to refine how to play that out, things like which hands are definitely a fold in a certain position. Which hand do I definitely fold in this position with this many people behind and this size big blind and this much to gain and this much to lose, and so on. And then, this other hand is definitely a push in this spot. So, sit-and-gos really help me feel comfortable at the end of multis, when it's so important. Like, for instance, when there are 15 people left in a multi and I lose half of your stack for whatever reason and am left with half of the average, sit-and-gos really help me play well in those moments.

For me, though, it seems a little bit harder to combine multis and cash games at the same time. They are just such very different concepts. It might confuse people a little bit and they may make a few more mistakes. Obviously, if you're really used to playing both, then you'll probably be fine at it.

SPG: Turbo sit-and-gos seem to be overpopulating the lobbies, either because of the poker sites' self-interests, since they end more quickly, or because of player demand. Do you play in turbos?

DR: It's actually interesting that you said that, because I would much prefer it if we just played the regular sit-and-gos instead of the turbos. But I agree, it seems like everybody wants to fill up the turbos more than they want to fill up the regular sit-and-gos. For the $1Ks and $2Ks, people play six or seven times more turbos than they do regulars, it's not even close to even.

I think it takes away from the skill. I don't know why everyone is in such a hurry; they're still going to be at their computers four hours later, anyway. [Laughs] I think people's RIO would go up more if they only played in regulars, but that's just how it is, there aren't enough regulars starting up. I just kind of have to play in the turbos, because at that level there are no regulars starting, really.

SPG: Do you have any turbo-specific advice?

DR: I think in the hands where it's really close and you're debating between a fold or a call for your whole stack, I'm a lot more likely to make that call in a turbo than in a regular, just because of the structure. Also, open up and start moving your chips around a lot earlier. You have to prepare for the next level. You have to notice, "Wow, we're one minute from $400 big blinds. I have $1,400 at the $200 big blinds level, which isn't that bad, but now it's going up to $400." That's a huge difference for your stack. So, sometimes you have to prepare for the next level in a turbo more often than in a regular.

SPG: You're currently in 13th place in the Online Player of the Year standings. What makes that even more interesting is the fact that, despite having a ton of solid, deep finishes to have accrued so many points and to have won more than $340,000 in OPOY tournaments, you have only one first-place finish in an OPOY-qualified tournament. You've made 17 final tables in OPOY tournaments, but only one of those resulted in a win - although you finished as runner-up four times. Any idea what's preventing you from sealing the deal at those tables?

DR: I have no idea. I think it's just random variance. I think I'm getting my chips in in good situations, when I have a good chance to double up. I don't remember any specific situations, but there aren't many scenarios where I'm disappointed with how I got it in. So, it's probably just random variance.

SPG: Well, and that would actually make sense, because, obviously, if you have a good ROI in the sit-and-gos - and those are basically final tables, and you pretty much have to be good at taking them down to achieve a decent ROI - then you should be getting first at a lot of the final tables you get to. So, based on your success in the sit-and-gos, it would seem that you know how to take control of a final table.

DR: I'd like to think that I do. In my overall stats for multis, I have something like double the amount of firsts than seconds. So, I think that I do a good job of putting myself in a good position to take them down.

SPG: You're obviously an amazing multitable tournament player to have placed in the top-20 spots so consistently and to work your way up the OPOY standings. How would you describe your playing style?

DR: I think I'm pretty tricky. I lean toward the conservative side, definitely, but I make a lot of tricky plays. I like to really play weird, or in my mind I like to think it's that way, but other people may see it differently. I just like to play my hands in a really weird way so that no one can really put me on anything. I'll get away with a lot of bluffs and I get paid off a lot with my value bets by people with medium hands because they think I don't have it for some reason. They just keep bluffing at me or they pay me off in weird ways because I slow-played it for a long time.

SPG: A lot of people say that they rely on betting patterns for reads online, but how realistic is it to be able to notice betting patterns if you're playing in four or five tournaments at once?

DR: I'd say that a lot of that depends upon your history with the specific players. Just knowing all of the specific players and their playing styles helps he a lot with my reads. If it's a kind of unknown player, I might get information from an online poker database to see what his biggest multi win is, how many final tables they've had, and just how they're doing, overall. That gives me some idea, although it's not 100 percent, obviously, but some idea.

There are other things, like this guy may have been playing really conservatively and he typed into the chatbox that he folded jacks when there were 12 people left and you had raised in the cutoff and someone else went all in. You can think, "OK, wow, this guy's not willing to put it all in right now, I can tell he wants to move up."

But people can leave a trail of information in a single hand which can usually be accurate, although some players are tricky. But, in general, by looking at the betting patterns, looking at the cards on the board, and looking at the amount of the pot that they bet at certain moments, you can think something like, "Why would he raise preflop and then bet the flop but check the turn - when there are a ton of draws on the turn - if he's trying to protect his hand?"

SPG: Thanks a lot, Danny.
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