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Online Poker: Interview With Randy 'Randers' Haddox

Randers Talks About Short-Stack Play, Folding Kings Preflop, and How Eric 'Sheets' Haber Helped Him Grow

Randy 'Randers' HaddoxRandy "Randers" Haddox went from teaching eighth-graders pre-algebra calculations and commanding junior-high football players on football fields to calculating pot odds and commanding piles of chips on the digital felts of online poker tables.

The job-change, which he made in the summer of 2006, let Haddox remain in Houston, Texas, where he's lived his entire life - save for a stint at North Texas University, just north of Dallas - but his income changed substantially. The 28-year-old budding poker pro has earned $265,000 in Online Player of the Year-qualified finishes in 2007 alone, far more than a conventional teaching job could earn him. Nevertheless, he says that he hasn't "really had a huge breakthrough score to justify doing it for a living … or for the living that I want, you know? But I'm still doing it. That's what I do; I play tournaments online."

Haddox has taken down three completely different OPOY tournaments this year: a $100 rebuy tournament on PokerStars (Oct. 28, $41,000), a Nightly Hundred Grand tournament on PokerStars (July 5, $28,000), and a $1K Monday tournament on Full Tilt (Jan. 29, $45,000). The differences in these tournaments - things like the buy-in, size of field, quality of players, blinds structure, and so on - illuminate just how versatile of a player Haddox is. You can throw him into pretty much any tournament and he has a better-than-average chance of taking it down. He has also proven his mettle in the brick-and-mortar world; he recently made the final table of a preliminary event in the 2007 World Poker Finals at Foxwoods, in Connecticut. He earned $38,000 for fifth place.

Card Player recently got on the phone with Haddox to talk about how he got his start, his advice on short-stack play, and whether he's ever folded kings preflop:

Shawn Patrick Green: How did you get started playing poker? Was it the Chris Moneymaker Effect or did you start playing with friends?

Randy "Randers" Haddox: I think you can pretty much directly attribute it to the whole Moneymaker thing. It was just the competition and everything about it [that got me into poker], and obviously the dollar signs are an draw for everybody. And I've always loved game theory and competition, so it seemed like a natural progression for me.

SPG: What stakes did you start at? And did you play live, online, or with friends?

RH: I played pretty much strictly online. There was this site called Bugsy's Club, and I started playing $10 MTTs [multitable tournaments] there. I would just get killed [laughing] by the players in these small buy-in events. I would just get killed and killed and killed until I made a breakthrough score.

You could do phone deposits on PartyPoker, so I would deposit $109 at a time every Sunday for one tournament a week [laughing], just for the late Sunday $109 buy-in tournament that paid like $9K for first. I took third in it one time for like $4,000 or $5,000, and I was like, "Whoa!" I thought that was the greatest and coolest thing ever. And then I took two grand of it and put it in Stars, and I lost $1,000 immediately playing in $20 and $50 tournaments and a Sunday event. So, I just took a step back and said, "OK, what am I going to do?" And I started playing $1-$2 no-limit and I built it up to like $4,000, and then I won a 180-man tournament - they had just started them, I guess, about two years ago. So, I won two of those, and then I played some $3-$6 [limit hold'em] and built my bankroll up to like 10 grand. And then I won a PCA [PokerStars Caribbean Adventure] seat, which I chopped and got like $8,000 more. I went and played in the Sunday Million the next week on my own for the first time, without winning a satellite in, and I won 86 grand. And I just started going from there.

SPG: What do you consider an all-in-or-fold-preflop-sized stack, and how do you play it?

RH: Well, one thing about MTTs is that I don't think there's one correct way to play. If you're talking about three-betting, everyone knows that 15 to 25 BBs [big blinds] is somewhere where you're getting it in. You're not going to make a three-bet and fold. At 15 to 25, I'm three-betting all in, or open-shoving, I guess, in late position. But there's no one correct way to play; it depends upon who's in the blinds and whose calling-ranges are huge. I mean, you can shove anything from 15 down to just six or seven.

SPG: Say you have 10 big blinds; are you ever making a raise that's not all in?

RH: I have before, but I just don't know how I could justify it. I don't know how I could justify raise-folding with less than 10 big blinds. I've got to pretty much make it clear that I'm going broke. I don't think that I've ever encountered a situation wherein I've limp-folded or raise-folded with 10 big blinds.

SPG: Well, I wasn't assuming that you would necessarily fold, I was asking if there was any situation wherein you would raise without going all in with just 10 big blinds, fully intending to call all in, if necessary.

RH: I did that deep in the [PokerStars] Sunday Second Chance, and I got some really weird shoves. I got a shove from this guy named C.K. I did a little min-raise with eight BBs or nine BBs; I had A-Q. I wanted a little bit of action, but he just shoved 7-6 on me for his whole stack. That makes you take a step back and wonder, "Maybe I should be doing this more often."

But in the higher buy-in tournaments, I just go ahead and get it in. I don't think your strategy can be compromised if you're making that play with that stack in the higher buy-in tournaments. I just don't see you making a standard raise; maybe there's an argument for it, but I just don't have it in my game, I guess. There are opportunities that I don't know about until they pop up; it just depends on what's going on at the table.

SPG: Is there any upside to playing with a short-stack?

RH: If you're not good at it, then you're not going to be good at tournaments. I guess the upside of it is that you're going to get called light. There are people in tournaments that are not familiar with your shoving ranges, and they aren't familiar with their own calling ranges, so you can be shoving a very tight range and they just see you as shoving wide. They haven't made the adjustment, yet, and I think there are a lot of people that haven't made the adjustment for calling. Being good is knowing your ranges and knowing the ranges of the other people calling. It's a skill that winning MTT players have and they keep getting better at - I mean, you have to.

SPG: It seems like poker pros always tout the virtues of being more aggressive and pushing people around when you have a big stack. The trouble is, they often leave it at that and don't really get into just how much more aggressive is appropriate without going overboard and endangering everything that you've won. What's your take on big-stack play?

RH: [Laughs] I … I suck at it. I had a huge stack in the $5K event at Foxwoods. I had a final-six stack with 60 people left, going to dinner. I had this monster stack going to dinner and then, "Weeeeee … " Within a half hour, I was down to 90,000. I was just splashing in pots with 10 high or making reraises with A-Q and committing myself to pushes. There are some bad things that I do, but I do like to stay aggressive - you have to. You've got to accumulate every chip in the tournament.

But you have to maintain, as well, and that's one of the things I've really worked on. Last year, I was just a maniac, and I tried to get every chip at every opportunity. You can't really just run over a high buy-in field. A high buy-in field is going have players that are going to temper you down if you don't want to slow down.

SPG: In my interview with Jimmy "gobboboy" Fricke last week, he mentioned some discussions online about whether you could, or should, ever fold aces preflop. Can you think of any situation in which it might make sense?

RH: There's the standard [David] Sklansky satellite situation that would justify it, a situation in which you're pretty much guaranteed a seat, wherein you can fold to a seat and there's no reason to call off all of your chips. I don't even fold it in that situation, though. But in normal play, I don't think folding aces preflop is even a discussion. I don't think rational people talk about that.

SPG: What would it take to make you fold pocket kings preflop?

RH: Whew … well, I guess playing about 200 BBs deep, really deep in a big tournament and the only player who has me covered I know has to have aces. And I say that, but we were 10-handed in New Orleans this year at a $2K final table. I was second in chips with 200,000 and the other guy had 210,000, and nobody else had more than 60,000. I had raised in the first six hands of day 2, which is the final table day. In the seventh hand, I get kings, and I raise from under the gun. And, of course, the guy with 210K makes it 20 times my raise; he puts in 120,000 in chips and is left with 90,000 behind. And I'm like, "There is no way he makes that play with aces." But he pretty much told me, he said, "Everybody in the room knows what I've got." I just looked at him, and I thought about how many times I'd raised, and I just said, "Screw it. I've got kings, and I'm not folding." I'm not a big folder preflop, I guess. It takes a lot for me to lay it down.

SPG: So, what'd he have?

RH: He had aces [laughs]. So I went home and cried in my pillow like an idiot. I raise to 6,000 and then stack of for 200,000.

SPG: Have you ever folded kings preflop, then?

RH: I did. This summer at the [World Series of Poker] main event I folded them to gbmantis, Nick Niergarth. We had just swapped 2 percent and the main event was just starting. He raises from under the gun - we're both playing with 20K stacks - he makes it 325, and I make it 975 with kings from the small blind. I probably should keep the pot small out of position, but it's gbmantis, and his range is so wide that I can probably get him to flat-call light and then fold the flop. He makes it 3,800, and he's looking at me sternly, and I was just like, "Wow, I don't want to stack off in the third hand of the main event for 20K." I thought about it for like three minutes and then decided that I didn't want to flat-call and then fold all flops, here, except for king-high flops. So, I mucked, and he showed me two queens and said, "Are those good?" And I was just like, "Oh, my God." So, I'm not going to fold kings preflop again, but I think that was the only time I've ever folded them preflop.

SPG: What kinds of situations give you the most trouble?

RH: Underestimating opponents. They have hands, you know? I like to keep the pressure on, and sometimes I overestimate how much they're playing back at me. That's one of the things that I've really tuned down a lot, because people are just playing their hands. They don't care if you're overaggressive, they're aggressive, too. But sometimes they have a hand, and you just have to back off.

SPG: To what do you attribute your success in online poker?

RH: Being lucky at tournaments [laughing]. Being extremely lucky in some of the largest-field events there are. That pretty much can sum it up.

SPG: [Laughs] You don't think you have any specific aspects that a poker player should have that are working particularly well for you?

RH: Yeah, I think you interviewed Scott "SCTrojans" Freeman, and the thing that he said about when you get deep in a tournament and your equity gets higher, that's when my focus turns way up. And that's something that I have to adjust, because I need to be doing that for the whole tournament.

I think focus and not being afraid to go broke in a tournament are my good qualifies. I really don't mind putting all of my chips in just to make a move or to let you know that I don't mind going broke. I think being super-aggressive and not minding going broke are two things that I have.

SPG: Well, you mentioned the comment that Scott Freeman made. I actually thought that was kind of interesting, at the time, because it struck me that maybe that is a good way to play because you don't wear yourself out by over-thinking things or thinking too much and going brain-dead by the time it matters. Do you actually think that that may be the case, that that is the best way to play - not focusing until your equity is higher?

RH: It just might be something that your brain does, subconsciously. It's a muscle, and it has memory, and your brain does the same thing over and over again. So, I'm sure that when the situation arises, that's what your brain turns to doing. It's probably what it's doing the whole time.

SPG: What do you still have to learn?

RH: [Laughs] Well, basically, I'm learning every day. There's nothing that I know for certain in this game. People are getting better every day, so if you don't, you're going to fall to the wayside. But one of the big, big things that has changed in my game is my 10 to 15 BB short-stack play that sheets [Eric Haber] has really helped me a lot with. I didn't really have that last year, and that's increased my equity a lot in tournaments.

SPG: How did sheets help you with that?

RH: I was just going to his site and talking with him about some hands. My range was way too wide before, and I would pretty much give up on tournaments if I had 10 to 15 BBs. I'd say, "Pfft, here they are," and jam it up in there. He really slowed me down on doing stuff like that.

SPG: Well, say you have A-9 suited, are you a lot more likely to fold that kind of hand preflop when short-stacked, then? Is that what you're saying?

RH: Yeah, depending on where I'm at on the table, what my stack size is, who's behind me, and what tournament it is. Before, if I was under the gun and I had 15 to 18 BBs, I would just be like, "Whoa, here you go," with hands like K-Q, Q-J, sixes, fives, and things that wouldn't even make sense. I wouldn't just open, I'd open-jam, and that's totally $20 freezeout/$3 rebuy donkey stuff that I've gotten out of my game.

SPG: What tournament do you look forward to the most every week and why?

RH: I used to like the Sunday Million; I used to do well in that. I like the $200 buy-in Omaha eight-or-better tournament on Sundays, it's pretty fun. I've only played in it a couple of times, but it's pretty fun at the end of a Sunday to play a game that you know nothing about [laughing] and to deliver bad beats and have people berate you.

SPG: Thanks a lot for doing this interview with us, Randy.
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