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Online Poker: Interview With David 'DumbHick' Hickman

Hickman Talks About His Recent Win at Full Tilt, How He Climbed the Ranks, and How to Play Low-Stakes Sit-and-Gos

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David 'DumbHick' HickmanDavid “DumbHick” Hickman has been playing poker since shortly after Chris Moneymaker won the incredibly influential 2003 World Series of Poker main event. He had always made a good side-income from his poker playing, but he wanted to sustain a normal, more stable job, as well.

“Then, in January of this year, I was laid off, unfortunately,” Hickman said. “Well … not really unfortunately, now (laughs).”

He laughs because just last Sunday he won the $750,000-guaranteed tournament on Full Tilt, earning a tidy $142,000. All said, the 23-year-old recent college graduate has won more than $200,000 already in 2008, easily trumping his salary as a business analyst.

“After I got laid off, I pretty much decided to try taking a stab at playing poker professionally, and it’s paid off so far,” he said.

Hickman’s recent full-time foray into online poker has vaulted him into 11th place in the Card Player Online Player of the Year standings, and his success so far in 2008 indicates that a top-10 finish is very likely for the young player. Card Player snagged Hickman after his big win to talk to him about his beginnings in poker, his recipe for success, and his advice for low-stakes sit-and-gos, the bread and butter of his early days climbing the ranks.


Shawn Patrick Green:
What was working for you in that Full Tilt tournament?

David “DumbHick” Hickman: Uhh … I ran really well (laughs). I won pretty much most of the big pots I was involved in. I didn’t get my money in bad pretty much at all during the tournament, which was very lucky in itself. But especially toward the end of the tournament, I was involved in a few big coin flips, and fortunately I was able to win. I was able to win, for instance, like two in a row. That’s how I built up my stack initially, and then I was pretty much just using pure aggression. When we were down to the final 100 players or so, I was making the other players have to make the tough decisions throughout the rest of the tournament. And by just being able to steal the blinds and keep the pressure on, that’s now I was able to accumulate my big chip stack going into the final table.

SPG: You said you were using a lot of aggression. I assume this wasn’t in every hand, so how did you choose your spots?

DH: Many times, especially when there are like two tables left, I can get a sense of which players are just trying to sneak into the final table and which ones were trying to accumulate chips, as well. I was able to take their betting patterns and get a read on how they were all playing, and whose big blinds would be easier to steal than others. It was mostly a combination of well-timed aggression and just trying to get a good feel for how the table was playing.

SPG:
You said that getting to the final table was pretty much a case of running good. Now, I would assume that your skill came into play, as well, but exactly how much do you think winning a tournament like that, with such a large field, truly depends on running well?

DH: Playing well is the most important part; it’s hard winning a huge-field tournament if you make too many mistakes throughout the course of play. But it’s also hard to win a tournament without getting your money in bad at least once. So, it’s important to find as many favorable situations as you can. You need to be focused and you need to know the players that you’re playing against.

When you’re navigating a huge field, you have more players to work through, and in order to make the final table, I think there is a little bit more luck involved, compared to a small field, just because there’s much more play. This tournament lasted nine hours, and that’s just more opportunities to take a bad beat or to possibly find yourself in an unavoidable situation. You have to use your skills to constantly accumulate chips to have a little bit of a cushion for when those types of beats or unfortunate runs of cards happen.

SPG: Was there a pivotal moment in your online poker “career,” so to speak? Was there a specific tournament that acted as a jumping-off point?

DH: It actually came fairly early in my poker career. I started playing on PartyPoker back in 2003 or 2004. When I first started playing, I was playing in $5 sit-and-gos for the fun of it. I started off with $50 and played the $5 sit-and-gos, and after a few months, I was able to work up to the $10 sit-and-gos, the $20s, the $30s, and eventually higher than that. But the real moment that I started to build my bankroll was when I entered a $55 multitable tournament on PartyPoker. I don’t remember the exact number of players, but I finished second in that for $5,000, and that was pretty much the pivotal point when I realized, “Oh, there’s money to be make online playing poker.”

SPG: What method did you use to climb the ranks in the sit-and-gos?

DH: I mainly just grinded it out. When I had, say, 30 buy-ins for a certain level, I would move up. When I was playing $5 sit-and-gos, for instance, once I got to $300, I moved up to $10 sit-and-gos.

SPG: Is there a basic strategy that works at the lower-level sit-and-gos that is pretty much standard?

DH: If you play tight early on and don’t get yourself into any difficult situations and then have a proper push-fold strategy when the blinds start getting high compared to the chip stacks, it’s definitely possible to be a consistent winner.

SPG:
What do you consider a proper push-fold strategy?

DH: When you start get below 10 big blinds, you should be pushing a pretty wide range of hands. It’s so situation-dependent, though.

SPG: Well, what kinds of things do you consider?

DH: First of all, I would consider the hand that I have. I consider the stack sizes of the players who have yet to act after me. For instance, if their stacks are even shorter than mine, that would change the hand-range that I would push, because the smaller stacks would be more inclined to call with a wider range of hands. It also depends on how many players are left and how many spots pay.

SPG: What’s the lowest hand that you’re pushing with 10 big blinds or less, regardless of the situation?

DH: Regardless of the situation, I would almost always push pocket sevens or higher.

SPG: And what about unpaired hands?

DH: Regardless of the situation, probably A-10 suited. Actually, also K-Q suited or A-10 offsuit or higher I would probably push.

SPG: Was there anything that you used early on to improve your game?

DH: I started learning about the game by reading many poker books. Like, I have about 15 poker books. Pretty much ever since I started playing, I’ve been trying to read as much about the game as possible and trying to formulate my strategy as a combination of all of the sources that I’ve read over the years. I’ve also ventured into a few online forums just to discuss hands with other players and get other viewpoints on how to play different hands in different situations.

SPG:
Our live player database shows that you went deep in the 2005 World Series of Poker main event, and that was basically your first major poker tournament. How did you get into that tournament? Did you buy in directly or did you qualify?

DH:
I qualified. I actually qualified through a multitable supersatellite on PartyPoker.com. It was a $322 buy-in. I actually satellited into that tournament, as well, for $26. So, in other words, I played a 10-person satellite into that $322 multitable tournament, and then I was able to parlay that into a $10,000 World Series of Poker main event seat.

[To read an article outlining many of the ways to qualify online for a seat in this year’s WSOP main event, click here.]

SPG: Was there much of a learning curve when you switched from online to live poker?

DH: Well, with live poker, you definitely have to be more patient. You don’t get anywhere near as many hands when you’re playing live. Even when you’re playing one table online, you get dealt so many more hands compared to playing live. So, it’s definitely a big adjustment to live play; you have to be more patient when waiting for good hands. You have to try to restrain yourself from playing too many hands. You also have to worry about not giving away the strength of your hand; you have to worry about tells and how other people are acting and what other players are doing in the hand. There’s just a lot more information to absorb when playing live compared to playing online.

SPG: What did it take to get through the field in the main event? Were the players just really bad and you were just sitting back waiting to exploit them, or what was working for you?

DH: There was a good combination of bad players and good players. It was kind of intimidating, at first, because I was playing with a lot of big-name professionals. For instance, I played with Mike Matusow, J.C. Tran, and I also played with Greg Raymer a little bit, who ultimately knocked me out on day three. But yeah, I mostly played a very tight, solid style of poker. I wasn’t very creative when playing the main event, but, fortunately, I was able to pick some spots and accumulate enough chips to make a deep run.

SPG: You had a “normal” job until very recently, and I understand that you’re just kind of looking at this most recent foray into playing poker full time as a temporary situation, is that correct?

DH: Yeah, I mean, it’s a temporary situation, but after my success so far this year, I may have to reevaluate. Maybe I’ll decide to play professionally for longer than a couple of months, just to see how I do.

SPG: Obviously your screen names, DumbHick …

DH: (Laughs)

SPG: … is related to your last name, but do you consider yourself a hick, at all?

DH: No, I’m definitely not a hick.

SPG: (Laughs) OK, so it’s a straight up play on your last name. Good to know.

DH:
I’m originally from Massachusetts, so I’m not a hick at all (laughs).

SPG: Thanks for doing this interview with us, David.

 
 
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