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Tournament Trail Q & A: Mike 'Timex' McDonald

McDonald Recaps a Stellar Start to 2008


Mike McDonald wins EPT German OpenMike “Timex” McDonald may have learned the game by sitting in front of a computer, but over the past month he has proven himself to be more than capable on the live tournament circuit, tearing up January with three final tables, including a win in Germany for nearly $1.4 million. McDonald has only been playing live for three months, but at 18 years old, he didn’t have much of a choice. Card Player was able to catch up with the young up-and-comer after his big win, right before he traveled back to his home in Waterloo, Canada, to talk about success, life outside of poker, and his plans for the future.

Julio Rodriguez: Mike, the last time we spoke, I asked about your PokerPro win at the Aussie Millions and how you felt about your first live win coming on what basically amounted to another computer. You said that it didn’t matter, and that a win is a win. Now that you have taken down the EPT German Open in Dortmund, has your view changed?

[Click here to read more about the EPT German Open.]

Mike McDonald: I'm still quite happy with the PokerPro win, but I'm obviously a lot happier with this one. Many people may not consider PokerPro “live” poker, but those are the same people who think that online poker isn’t “real” poker.

JR: What differences did you notice between the PokerPro tournament and event No. 1, where you finished second? Were you able to pick up any tells at the table, despite the fact that your opponents weren’t handling chips or cards?

[Click here to read more about the PokerPro event.]

MM: I think people defended their blinds a fair bit less, but the lack of antes played into that a fair bit. I guess one of the main differences is that people forget that they are being watched. Like when playing in a traditional live environment, very few people will pull out 10K in chips, then pull back 2K and only bet 8K. Here, if you watch what buttons people are considering pressing, you get information that they didn’t plan to give out. Betting patterns are a large part of it, even live. I also try to factor in game flow. For example, aggressive guys who haven’t opened in a while are more likely to open light. I’m also pretty good at figuring out strength. It’s not like they touched their nose, so I can deduce weakness, it’s more of a vague sense of things that I factor into my decision-making process, but I don’t really let it dictate all of my decisions.

JR: Shortly after your win, you decided to play in the $100K buy-in tournament. What made you pony up the cash?

MM: I bought in directly, but my friends expressed interest in buying pieces of my action, so at the end of the day I only had 25 percent of myself.

JR: What did you think about the field?

MM: While some of the best players were indeed playing in this tournament, it still wasn’t a tough field. The $5K on PokerStars has definitely had tougher lineups, and the $10K heads-up tournament almost always has a tougher field. I thought it was pretty interesting playing and was amazed by how much respect people were giving Phil Ivey, despite the fact that they know his range is wide and they should be fairly confident playing back at him.

JR: To wrap up the Aussie Millions, you finished sixth in the heads-up event, and then jetted off to Germany. You came into the final table with the chip lead, struggled a bit fivehanded, and then came back to run over your opponents to take it down. Can you remember any key hands that brought you back?

Mike McDonald Coolers His CompetitionMM: To be honest, in the most crucial hands, it was me just coolering people in huge pots. A couple of times they made big moves on me when I held big hands. One guy who did give me a bit of trouble, however, was Johannes Strassmann. We played most of the tournament together and took turns putting each other in tough spots.

JR: How would you compare the WPT to the EPT?

MM: I’ve only played in two WPT events, and one was the small field of locals in Turks and Caicos, so I’m a little biased. Dortmund was a bit softer than the other EPTs I have played, but it didn’t hurt to start it off with a great table draw.

JR: You were heads up with a 3-1 chip lead, and you found yourself holding trip kings on the final hand. How did it feel when he moved in on you?

MM: Andreas Gulunay was more or less trying to run me over, so I was waiting for a hand that he could bluff his stack off to me with, and I trying to play small pots otherwise. I was never completely sure that I had him, but when I called his all in, I figured I was good the majority of the time [in that situation].

JR: You’ve become the youngest EPT winner in history. How long do you think the record will stand?

MM: I definitely take pride in that achievement. I think I was 18 years, 3 months, and 22 days old when I won, so I doubt the record will last forever, but I expect it to hold for at least a few years.

JR: Who was there to support you?

MM: Matt “Ch0ppy” Kay and Tommy “skier_5” Pavlicek railed most of the final table. I saw a few others I recognized — like Richard “ronaldkosh” Fohrenbach, Johannes “psier” Strassmann, and Danny “THE__D__RY” Ryan — but the majority of the crowd wanted to see Andreas win. My family was watching it live at home, and I honestly think they were more excited than I was.

JR: So, to what do you attribute your recent success? Has your game improved, or is it just a combination of variance and running good?

MM: My game has definitely improved, but variance is ultimately the main factor in tournament success.

JR: What’s next for you? More of the European circuit?

MM: For sure. I expect to stick with this game for at least one World Series of Poker, and I don’t really mind the idea of being a grizzled old veteran playing in my first main event. Until then, I’ll stick with some more EPTs and I’ll finally be able to play WPT Niagara next year, since the legal age in Canada is 19. So, at least for one event, I won’t have to travel far.

JR: Speaking of travel, you’ve had to go to some far off, exotic places to play poker. Are you the typical online shut-in, or have you gotten a chance to get out and explore your surroundings?

MM: I think, overall, I’ve seen less than a typical tourist on vacation would experience, but my friends and I go out most nights. When we were in Australia, we watched some of the Australian Open, took a tour of the Belgian beer gardens, and even had a kickball match. I got pretty sunburned, which may be a first for a poker trip, so at least I can pretend like I’m always outside.

JR: Well, you’re just three years away from seeing the beautiful sights in places like Tunica, Reno, and Atlantic City. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us.