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Tournament Trail Q & A: Roy Winston

The Defending Borgata Poker Open Champion Dissects His Strategy

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Roy Winston at the Borgata Poker Open final tableRoy Winston scored his first major victory at the World Poker Tour Borgata Poker Open last September and won $1,575,280. He also finished in 26th place at the 2007 World Series of Poker main event to earn a cool $333,490. Those major victories, along with some consistent play on the tournament trail, have taken Winston above $2 million in career winnings. Card Player caught up with Winston, who is also a resident blogger at CardPlayer.com, at the Borgata Winter Open. Winston gave insightful anaylsis of his tournament poker philsosophy (shared below) and then went on to cash in 39th place:

Ryan Lucchesi: What is your approach to a tournament field on the day of the money bubble?

Roy Winston: My goal is to be above average in chips. Well, you always want to be above average in chips, but really going into the bubble, if you can have a decent amount of chips at your table, it allows you to dominate the bubble play. So, when you’re fortunate to be one of the two or three dominant chip stacks at your table, then you can attack the mid-stacks. You want avoid the small stacks, because they’ll be pushing all in, and you want to avoid the [other] big stacks, but you want to attack the mid-stacks. Last year at the Borgata I was able to go from 650,000 to over a million during bubble play. And Lee Watkinson, who is sitting next to me today, during the main event of the World Series chipped up 100 percent; he’s a very good bubble player when he has a lot of chips.

RL: What would your advice be to novice players when they are approaching the money bubble? That seems to be something that beginners have a lot of trouble with.

RW: It is, and I think what you have to do is be a little fearless, and you have to be in a situation when you raise and the people who are aggressive during the money bubble are going to play back at you; you’ve got to be able to sustain a reraise. So, I wouldn’t raise with any of the cute hands that you couldn’t sustain a reraise with, but you can also use it to your advantage when you have a very strong hand. You make a little bit of a weak raise and you know they’re going to pound you, and then you’re able to go all in, and then they’re put to the test whether they can call or not. So, in playing back at them I think you have the ability to make things happen. But you have to be respectful of the big stacks. Last year at the World Series, where I went deep, Rep Porter was the big stack at my table, and he had a lot of chips. It was brutal sitting there for two hours during the bubble while Rep was raising and raising. I was able to stay neutral during the bubble, and if you’re only a medium stack and you can stay neutral, you’re doing OK.

RL: When the play of a tournament field adopts an open-shove preflop philosophy, and not too much post-flop play is taking place, do you like to stay away during those periods or do you like to capitalize on certain people in that situation?

RW: In late position, with a defendable hand, I will attack the antes and blinds, and I don’t really hate that under the right circumstances. But in early position I don’t want to play when I can’t sustain a raise back at me. You know, I’m not going to raise in early position with 7-6 suited or something when I’m going to be faced with a reraise that I don’t want to call. Because when those short stacks push all in on you, they’re looking for any opportunity to do it. Now, sometimes I’ll get lucky and I’ll get a short stack that looks at his cards early and you can tell that they’re going to push, so I’ll avoid that. If I’m able to get a read on them, then I can play a little bit more. In general, you’re lucky if the short stacks are on your right, that way, when you wake up with a good hand to the short stack … . And an interesting follow up to that is something I did in one of my blogs … where people say I have to call — I think that is one of the biggest mistakes in tournament poker, when a short stack who has enough chips to hurt you, a little bit but not too many chips, pushes all in on you and you look down at K-10 and you say I call. I think you give away a lot of chips like that. And I see good players ... two guys today did that in two situations when they had a lot of chips to start the day and now they’re below average. Maybe I have a little bit lower threshold, but I’m not calling them with A-6 or K-10 and hands like that; I want to call them with a good hand. I’ll give up some chips, but I don’t want to give up a lot of chips.

RL: You always seem to do well here at the Borgata. Are you really comfortable here, really focused?

RW: I will say that there is a little luck of the draw. You’ve got to get in the right situations; in tournaments there is some luck — more than some, sometimes. But I think my game has improved this year. I think the two biggest things — and I got asked this at the table today by somebody — the two biggest changes in my game are that I throw away a lot more hands when I think I might have a winning hand instead of making a dumb call and that I don’t put myself in bad situations. I just had a hand where there was one raiser and two callers and I looked down in the cutoff seat at A-J offsuit and I threw it away, because even though there were a couple people in the pot, it was a multi-way pot with A-J, so what do you do when you hit the ace after the flop? I remember Lee Markholt got caught in that hand at the Bellagio Cup when he had a huge amount of chips; he had A-J versus A-Q and he lost two-thirds of his stack when he was second in chips with 80 people left. So, I think I try to look down the road and not put myself into a situation that’s going to get me clobbered. When I play games like chess and things like that, if you’re not thinking three, four, five, or six moves ahead, you’re gone already. And I think here people will do something on the flop and not see ahead what’s going to happen on the river, and they call these silly [bets], they know the bets are going up and they have no intention of calling, and maybe they’re looking for a miracle gutterball, one card or something. I can’t tell you that I never take a card off in a situation, but …

RL: Do you feel any added pressure to defend your final-table win after the last WPT Borgata tournament?

RW: Really, I think that John Hennigan is defending, and actually we played at the same table a lot yesterday. [He's] such a solid player, I mean, so impressive, so many impressive players here. I don’t feel any added pressure, you know, I feel like I really wanted to make the money. Let me step back a little; I want to win every tournament that I enter, but my initial goal is to make the money with some chips and then make the final table and win. I was playing with Jamie Gold the other day in a cash game and Jaime said to me, “Well I only want to play in a tournament if I can win it. If I can’t get chips early and move on and win the tournament, it means nothing to me.” And I disagree, because I think, and you hear this said when people bust out in the first 10 minutes of the tournament, they say, “Well, better that than play 12 hours and bubble.” And I bubbled a $2,500 event here, so those 12 hours I made no money for, but you know what? I still gained experience. And I think in these tournaments I’m learning constantly, so I’d much rather go deep and not make the money than go out in the first two minutes, because I think that’s how we get experience. But I’d much rather go deep and win [laughs]. Noah “fourUhaters” Schwartz — who is a very good friend of mine, a great player, and a terrific online player — he came down here second in chips today, and he got crazy in a hand with Hennigan where he raised in mid-position with K-6, which in the old days I might have done that a little, take a shot. But suited, not suited, it doesn’t make any difference, why put yourself in that position? And, he wound up losing a couple hundred thousand in chips in a hand he never should have been playing. Those are the hands you need to eliminate from your repertoire. That doesn’t mean you don’t take a shot with 10-8 suited sometimes, in the right situation, when you’re closing the betting in a multi-way pot. Or, you know, sometimes I’ll raise with something like that, but I throw them away easily; I don’t get hung up on them, which I think is the mistake that people make.