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Online Poker: Interview With Jeff 'Yellowsub86' Williams

Williams Talks About Life Since His Big Win, How His Game Has Evolved, and What it Takes to Be a Poker Pro


Jeff 'yellowsub86' WilliamsIn 2006, Jeff Williams packed his bags and headed to Monte Carlo. When he returned, his bags were heavier — $1.1 million heavier. From that point forward, the then 19-year-old poker player’s life would change forever.

Williams had won the European Poker Tour grand final, but both his age and his drive to finish school prevented him from taking too many shots at live tournaments in the aftermath. But he is now 21 and very close to finishing up a history degree at the University of Georgia in his native Atlanta, which means the live tournament pros have cause to be on the lookout.

In the meantime, he’s been biding his time by tearing up the online cash games and tournaments under the screen name “yellowsub86.” As far as online tournaments go, he has earned more than $220,000 in Online Player of the Year-qualified events, including taking down the $200,000-guaranteed tournament on UltimateBet for $45,000 and a $100 rebuy on PokerStars for $32,000.

Williams got his start in his junior year of high school while playing micro-stakes with friends.

“I worked fast food when I had just started working in high school, at Chick-fil-A,” he said. “When we started playing our home game, I was able to quit. I haven’t gone back since. (Laughs) It’s been nice.”

Card Player got Williams on the phone to see how his game, and his life, has evolved since his big win. We also talk about what tools he uses to improve his game, what the most overrated hand in poker is, and whether he thinks it’s feasible to make a living playing big buy-in tournaments.

Shawn Patrick Green:
How did winning the 2006 EPT grand final affect you as a poker player?

Jeff “yellowsub86” Williams: Well, it really gave me a lot of freedom as a poker player. I took a couple of shots with my bankroll that I probably couldn’t have done before; those were very big learning experiences, if not terribly profitable (laughs). It also allowed me to stake a lot of players now, because I don’t need to cash out. So, I’m able to keep a lot of my money online and invest in other players, and I’ve actually done pretty well doing that. That’s probably the biggest change, in poker.

SPG: What was your poker experience before that win?

JW: I’ve been playing since junior year, just things like 25¢-50¢ with my friends in the basement. I did well in those little games with my friends and was able to deposit online probably my senior year. I lost that, deposited again, lost that, deposited again, and I finally found a site and a game that I liked, and I’ve done really well since then.

SPG: So, did you ever use any of the training tools, the books or the training videos or anything like that?

JW: During my formative years, I got a couple of books and read some of the [Tom] McEvoy stuff — which is funny to look back on, now. You know, I actually think it helped a nascent poker player like myself.

SPG: Why do you say it’s funny when you look back on it?

JW: Well, it seems really basic (laughs), really straightforward now, when I look back and it’s telling me how to play two aces in the hole and stuff. I’m just like, “Yeah, I got that now.”

SPG: What do you do as far as training or building up your game nowadays, then?

JW: I’m a member of [poker forums]. A lot of good players offer a lot of great analysis on hands there, so that really helps. I think the biggest tool that I use now is instant messenger; when I get into a tough spot, I can hit up a hundred guys on my [buddy] list, and if there’s somebody on who I think is a great player, I just shoot them the hand and say, “What do you think about that turn play?” or “Against this guy, how would you play this preflop?” You know, it’s really good to have a network of friends to discuss hands with, and such.

SPG: Can you give us some advice for how to handle yourself after such a huge win, like at the grand final — or, possibly, how not to handle yourself, depending upon how it went for you?

JW: (Laughs) The grand final was obviously crazy, and a lot of fun. My parents surprised me and flew out to the final table all the way from Atlanta, so that was really cool and it really helped. It was really nice that they did that for me. But, as far as the money’s concerned, I took all of it and invested it and put it away. And, you know, for a lot of players, they want to take that money and maybe play bigger or something, but my skill level at the time really could not have sustained … I wasn’t good enough to play at that level. So, it was a good idea to just take the money and put it away and keep playing games that I could beat, because that’s what poker is all about, finding a niche that you can beat.

SPG: Well, and like you said, you probably learned your lesson a little bit about jumping up the stakes and kind of getting reamed.

JW: Right, and I didn’t actually have to deposit any money, I just took the money I had online, ran it up, and then lost it back down. It actually didn’t cost me anything aside from what I had online before, which was not all that much.

SPG: How has your game changed since then?

JW: From talking to a lot of other players, you get a lot of influences. And, while you have to separate the good from the bad, it’s mostly been a real net positive from talking to all of these really good players. I think my game has improved a lot since then.

SPG: Improved in what ways? Can you clarify that a little more?

JW: Sure, yeah. Before, when I was first playing in tournaments, I would call with too many marginal hands from out of position and just do silly stuff like that. I had always heard that you could put in 10 percent of your stack with 7-6 preflop and stuff. There were things that were just completely wrong and not applicable in the right spots, and I was basically being an idiot and a fish. So, my preflop game has gotten a lot better just from talking to these players.

SPG: Well, kind of speaking of what you were saying about tips that you’d heard that were actually stupid, are there any poker maxims that you particularly disagree with or think are overrated?

JW: People late in tournaments play small pocket pairs really ineffectively in different spots, and sometimes I’m guilty of this, too. They’re either a) playing them too fast or b) calling and trying to flop a set or something without proper odds. People think that every time they flop a set with a small pocket pair, they’re going to immediately take their opponent’s stack, and they factor that into their calculations when doing pot odds and such. What they don’t realize is that their opponent has two cards that they might not want to get all in with on any flop, so you’re not always going to stack somebody when you flop a set. You need to factor in the times that you flop a set and don’t take their stack into your calculations along with the times that you don’t flop a set and have to just fold the flop. Stuff like that.

SPG: Do you still prefer online poker, especially since you don't have to go overseas for live poker?

JW: It’s a lot more convenient than live poker, and they both definitely have their merits, but for now I really have been enjoying just playing online and going to school.

SPG: What kind of advantages does playing online have, aside from the convenience factor?

JW: The really big thing, besides that, is the multitabling. I really enjoy playing six or eight or however many [tables at once]. If I’m going to play tournaments one night, I enjoy playing in as many tournaments with reasonable buy-ins as I can get my hands on. I can go play cash games and pull up eight cash games at once. Whereas live, while you obviously can’t multitable, the interaction … it’s just a different form of gambling. I like it just fine.

SPG: Since you do so much multitabling, is it kind of hard to adjust when you’re playing live and you’re only concentrating on one table?

JW: It is. When I first started playing live cash games, when I first turned 21 — and before, elsewhere, not in America — I noticed myself really spewing in live cash games, just because I would try to play every hand because I was getting bored. “I know the 9-8 was not suited, but I still want to play it because I haven’t seen a hand in 15 hands, and it’s been half an hour that I’ve been sitting here.” But the last couple of times that I’ve played live I’ve played a little bit tighter and really concentrated on that, which I think is a problem for a lot of online multitablers. [It’s hard] going from 12 tables or eight tables at once to one table with a bunch of slow old guys who like telling stories and drinking beer; it’s like, “(Sigh) Oh my gosh, hurry up … .” And then Q-3 starts looking good, and it’s a downward spiral after that. But if you really concentrate on keeping your good preflop standards, the standards that make you a winner, then I think live cash games are great.

SPG: Has there been anything consistent with how you’ve played the tournaments you’ve won?

JW: Besides getting lucky in a couple of key hands?

SPG: (Laughing) Yes, besides getting lucky.

JW: (Laughs) In the tournaments that I’ve done really well in, I’ve noticed that I’ve run well in the first couple hours, before the blinds get to 100-200 or whatever, and I’ve gotten a pretty good stack by then, so I’ve been able to keep putting pressure on people. With tournaments that you don’t do well in, you just sit there and wait for hands, wait for hands, wait for hands, don’t get any, don’t find any good spots to steal the blinds, and then you lose one coin-flip and you’re out.

SPG: What’s your primary motivation for finishing up with your schooling?

JW: Well, I’ve always wanted to get a degree, and my parents encourage me in that. So, I really only have 20 credit hours left; it’s close enough that it seems like the right thing to do.

SPG: Aside from being the right thing to do, though, do you ever envision yourself using it, especially with something like history? What’s your long-term plan for life, at this point?

JW: Well, (laughing) you’re not the first person to ask me that. And this is not the first time I’ve said that I really don’t have any idea. But, because I know you can’t write that …

SPG: No, I’ll definitely write that.

JW: (Laughs) I’m definitely going to have to say that I’m really enjoying playing right now, and staking is going well, and I really like talking to the guys that I back and stuff. I’m just growing as a poker player and having a great time here at school. I really can’t say that I’m going to get a job right after I graduate, but down the road I’d really like to get involved in either politics — which I’ve always had a thing for and really like — or, with this staking that I’m going, I’ve started thinking about doing something with venture capital. Backing poker players is basically like some sort of venture capital, just in a poker sense, by choosing players and investing the money and time.

SPG: What kind of edge can someone realistically expect to have in the big buy-in live and online tournaments, nowadays?

JW: Well, if you’re talking about just playing the Sunday majors — which a good online player will have the biggest edge in — you can possibly see ROIs [returns on investments] of maybe even 100 percent, which, when you can win $200,000 for your $200 buy-in doesn’t seem like that much — only averaging $200 a tournament — but that actually is a very big return on investment. But you’d have to be playing your top game every Sunday to maintain that kind of ROI.

SPG: What about things like the $1,000 buy-in online events or the $10K buy-in live events?

JW: Those have so much variance in them that I don’t know. True sample size, in tournaments like that, is going to be ridiculous. I don’t know many players, outside of the old-timers, who have even gotten close to achieving anything close to a decent sample size. As far as live, I couldn’t really say for sure; it’d just be a speculation or a guess.

SPG: Is that why you personally play cash games, then?

JW: Well, I really think that cash games are a lot steadier than tournaments, and tournaments can be really frustrating sometimes, especially if you go on a cold streak — both from tournament to tournament and from level to level in a specific tournament. You can play for three days or something and get near the money and then get it all in with kings versus A-K and lose, and you just feel like you’ve accomplished nothing, even though you know you have. You had equity in the tournament, but it’s just very frustrating. While in cash games, every hand is changing your bankroll; it’s actual money going into your pocket and leaving your pocket. It’s much more short-term rewarding.

SPG: What limits are you playing nowadays for cash games?

JW: I play anything between $5-$10 and $25-$50, and I take shots at $50-$100 sometimes, when things are going well and I’ve got confidence behind me. And I’m playing a lot of PLO [pot-limit Omaha] now. I think that’s pretty exciting; it’s the wave of the future, where a lot of the action is going to be. I’m trying to get skilled enough at that to be able to compete in some of the bigger games in the future.

SPG: What is the most over-valued hand in poker?

JW: I have to say that probably the most misplayed hand is going to be like an A-J kind of hand. Yeah … probably A-J; you see people with an M [the number of rounds you can last by making only the compulsory bets of big blind, small blind, and antes] of six under the gun at a ninehanded table just shoving it in because they’re really desperate for chips, when they’re only going to get called by hands that they’re flipping against or that have them crushed. People also make a raise there and call all in with A-J and stuff. Off of the top of my head, I think that’s a hand that is misplayed pretty commonly.

SPG: What’s the most under-valued?

JW: I think that, while we were talking about small pocket pairs being so deadly late in tournaments, early on they are a really good way [to accumulate chips]. In cash games, obviously people know to call with their pocket pairs trying to flop a set and bust a big hand, but I think that even in tournaments calling a raise with a low pocket pair to catch an early double-up is a great way to prepare yourself for a deep finish.

SPG: Thanks a lot for taking the time for this interview, Jeff.

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