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Online Poker: Interview with Emil 'whitelime' Patel

Talks About Heads-Up Strategy and Whether Limit or No-Limit Hold'em is the More Lucrative Game

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Emil 'whitelime' PatelEmil “whitelime” Patel recently went head-to-head versus David Singer in the final match of a huge, $25,000 buy-in heads-up tournament on Full Tilt. Patel had outlasted a field of 62 other entrants in what was considered one of the toughest lineups in online poker history. He ultimately fell to Singer, but he still earned $320,000 and a whole lot of extra recognition in the online poker world for his accomplishment to have gotten that far.

Not to be a flash in the pan in heads-up tournaments, Patel then entered the $10,000 no-limit hold’em world championship at this year’s World Series of Poker. The event had 256 entrants, and Patel outlasted 238 of them to finish in the sweet sixteen ($36,000).

The 24-year-old poker pro spent his college years jumping back and forth between poker and schooling. He took a year off from college after three years to focus on poker for a year, but then he went back and snagged his degree this December. He’s now playing poker professionally while he decides what path he wants to take for the rest of his life.

Card Player caught up with Patel after his deep WSOP finish to talk about heads-up poker strategy, how he became good at poker, and whether limit hold’em or no-limit hold’em is the more lucrative game to play.


Shawn Patrick Green: You’ve been doing inarguably well for yourself in heads-up tournaments, lately. What is the key to your success in heads-up poker?

Emil “whitelime” Patel: Well, most of my play online these days is heads up, so I have a lot of experience playing heads-up no-limit hold’em compared to some of the other people who play more six-handed or full-ring and are just entering a heads-up tournament. On top of that, I think the other thing with heads-up poker, compared to six-handed or full-ring, is that you can have a significantly bigger edge over your opponent, because you’re playing that many more hands, and each hand that you play you’re playing against the same person over and over again. So, I think there are just many, many, many different aspects of play where you have an opportunity to have an edge over your opponent.

The two tournaments that I played in, however, had a pretty rapid sit-and-go [blind] structure, so I think it’s pretty hard to even have like a 60 percent edge in a structure like that. But I think in heads-up play in general you can have a pretty big edge.

SPG: But where do you get that kind of edge? What do you focus on, and what skill-sets are needed so that you can have that edge?

EP: I think the biggest thing is just to be able to think about the game from a theoretical perspective. But, as far as individual aspects of poker, I think hand-reading is obviously very, very important. Knowing your player is incredibly important, knowing how he’ll react to a certain situation, knowing what he’s thinking, and knowing whether he’s steaming after losing a pot or if he’s the type of player not to steam but who will maybe make a big bet in a situation where he could be bluffing to try to make you think he’s steaming. There is a lot of psychological stuff that goes into it, as well, I think.

SPG: You played quite a few heads-up matches over the course of those two tournaments. Who was your toughest opponent and why?

EP: I think Taylor [Caby] and Ansky [Dani Stern, an instructor for Card Player Pro], both of whom I played in the Full Tilt $25K heads-up tournament, were probably my toughest opponents. I’m living with Dani right now, and I’m good friends with Taylor, and I think they’re both fantastic heads-up no-limit hold’em players.

SPG: How so? What aspects of their games made them tough to play against?

EP: I think the same aspects that I spoke about before; I think they’re both very good hand-readers, I think they’re smart, they understand the game very well from a theoretical perspective so that their play is difficult to exploit, they’re both aggressive, and they don’t have that many leaks.

SPG: You’ve mentioned hand-reading quite a bit. How exactly do you go about getting better at hand-reading?

EP: I think it’s sort of a memory and experience type of thing. I think that one of the most important things to do when playing online — and for heads up, especially — is that if it gets to showdown and the other player mucks his cards, it’s good to click “last hand” to see what hand they had and how they played in that particular situation. And after having played a bunch of hands, that’s the experience part. But, also, while you’re playing those hands, I think it’s important to take note of the fact that your opponent played a hand in a particular way so that if a similar situation arises maybe a half hour later in the match, you can sort of dial back your memory to that hand that you played against them and how he played his hand in that situation. So, if that situation comes up again, you’ll sort of have a feel for how he will deal with it.

SPG: You mentioned before that you think the most important skills for a poker player are the ability to learn quickly and having a good memory. Why specifically those two skills?

EP: I think there are other skills that are more important when you’re just starting out and learning the fundamentals of poker, but I think that at the highest levels, if you’re constantly trying to get better, it’s going to be hard to get better if you’re not adapting your game. And I think that the easiest way to change your game and improve your game is to realize that in a particular situation when a particular type of opponent makes a play, if you’ve been in that situation 25 times before and 20 of those times your opponents play their hands a particular way, you need to play at that situation when it comes up again. Whereas, if you have been in that situation but you can’t remember it, you’re kind of going to be at a loss when that situation comes up again.

SPG: What is a common mistake people make when playing heads up?

EP: It’s such a player-dependent question. When I’m playing online, it really depends upon the player that I’m playing against. There are some very good players that I play against, and each of them may have a particular aspect of their game that is bad. And, at the same time, if a complete fish sits down …

I think that when stacks get short that people don’t adjust their bet-sizing well enough when playing against shorter stacks. They’ll make a certain raise or reraise without taking into account how much they have in their stack and how much their opponents have in their stacks, and what sort of price they’d be giving themselves if their opponent puts a reraise in. For example, say someone is only in for like 20 big blinds and it’s late in a tournament, I think a lot of people who haven’t played a lot of poker might just keep raising their button to three-times the big blind, which may be the same raise they were making when they were 100 big blinds deep. But, now that you’re only 20 big blinds deep, the effective stacks are much shallower, so I think it’s better to either be min-raising or limping on the button much more often.

SPG: I actually recently had a conversation with someone about heads-up poker and whether or not the 10-big-blinds rule that you always hear about — about how that’s considered being short-stacked and push-fold territory — is still true in heads-up poker, or whether something more like 20 big blinds is short-stacked in heads-up poker, just because there is so much action in every pot and so much variance. Do you think that the short-stack qualifications become larger in heads-up play, or do you think a 10-big-blinds stack is still in the push-fold realm?

EP: I think maybe a little bit more than 10; maybe like 12-15 or so might be push or fold territory. But, again, it depends a lot; say you’ve been playing a match against an aggressive opponent and you haven’t limped the button once yet, but you just lost a big pot and you’re down to 13 big blinds and you pick up aces. I think that’s a spot where either limping or min-raising is infinitely better than pushing, because it’s going to be the first time that you’ll have pushed all in, whereas all of your previous raises may have been three times the big blind. Your opponent is not likely to think that you’re pushing a wide range there, and you’re not going to get a lot of action with your aces, whereas if you just limp the button, your opponent might put you all in for your 13 big blinds thinking that you’ve raised the button for the entire match and now that your limping you may be weak.

So, I think it really depends, but, in general, I’d say that around that size is push-or-fold mode. Twenty big blinds facing a raise is probably push-or-fold mode, also, unless your opponent min-raises, in which case you can probably just call.

SPG: What was the hardest lesson you had to learn when coming up as a poker player?

EP: Definitely dealing with the monetary swings. I mean, it was pretty rough, especially when my bankroll was much smaller three or four years ago, if I had a very, very bad day and lost like 20 percent of my net worth and having to deal with that. Obviously it would not be easy to sleep that night, but you get used to that after a while so that it’s not such a big deal, anymore.

SPG: Early on in your poker career you were switching between limit and no-limit hold’em, is that right?

EP: Yeah, I think I started with no-limit, switched to limit, and then went back to no-limit.

SPG: Which is a more lucrative game?

EP: For me, I would definitely say no-limit is more profitable right now, mostly due to the fact that I’m just significantly better at it. Also, I have a lot of friends who started out playing limit hold’em and then converted to no-limit hold’em, and I really don’t know anyone who is the other way around, who has switched from no-limit to limit, so I’m pretty sure that no-limit is definitely the more profitable game.

SPG: Well, if nothing else, it’s definitely the more popular of the two. How hard is the transition between the two?

EP: I think my limit game is still pretty good right now, but I think limit has been broken down to more of an exact science than no-limit has, and I think that more of the fish are playing no-limit these days. It’s almost to the point where playing a full-ring limit game just seems like a waste of time these days.

SPG: Back in November of last year you were commenting on how you were about to graduate from college and you were wondering where you’d decide to go with your life, whether to continue playing poker or to try to get a job in your field of study. So … it’s been a while since then and you’re still playing poker, is that your decision, then?

EP: I’m pretty sure that I’m never going to completely give up poker. I don’t anticipate poker being my primary source of income for more than maybe two or maximum three more years of my life. I definitely think that there are other things that I want to do with my life, but, for the immediate future, I think that poker is what I’m going to do.

SPG: OK, well thanks a lot for taking the time to do this interview with us.

 
 
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