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Online Poker: Interview with Mark 'dipthrong' Herm

Talks About His Win in Two Majors in Last Sunday, Using Aggression Correctly, and How Confidence Affects Poker


Mark 'dipthrong' HermLast Sunday, Mark “dipthrong” Herm took down the Bodog Poker $100,000-guaranteed tournament, earning $23,600, which is certainly an exciting accomplishment. Two hours later, however, that accomplishment was magnified when he also took down the Full Tilt $750,000 guarantee. It is fairly unprecedented to take down the flagship tournament on two sites on the same day, but it doesn’t stop there; just one week earlier, he had taken down the Full Tilt Sunday Mulligan, another huge Sunday event. Herm earned more than $215,000 within the first two weeks of July in Online Player of the Year-qualified finishes alone.

Herm’s career as a serious poker player started off with a punch — literally. It all started when he was kicked out of college in his hometown of Philadelphia during his second semester.

“I got in a fight at some party. It was a drunken … I don’t even remember,” Herm said, laughing. “At the time, I had been playing poker. After I got kicked out, I got back in, and I had planned on going back the next semester, but then I had been playing poker and doing really well. So, I just haven’t been back.”

That was about three years ago, and now the 23-year-old poker player is making hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not that punching a guy in a drunken rage is the best way to make a positive life change, but, hey, it seemed to work out all right for Herm.

Card Player got the chance to talk to Herm about his accomplishments, what role confidence plays in playing good poker, and strategies for playing big-field tournaments and using aggression.

Shawn Patrick Green: So, congrats on your two big wins last weekend, along with your Sunday Mulligan win the week before. That’s a pretty good run for a week, huh? [laughs]

Mark “dipthrong” Herm: Yeah, I was running pretty sick.

SPG: Well, the two that you won on Sunday were two very similar yet significantly different types of tournaments. What kinds of strategies brought you victory in each of them?

MH: Early on in tournaments I play pretty nitty, pretty tight. But then, later on, especially in these Sunday tournaments, you can really take advantage of people because they don’t know how to play, and you can use some absurd ultra-aggression to pretty much own the field. I do a lot of three-betting, a lot of reraising preflop, including three-bet shoving on people. I also just open up a ton of pots around the bubbles, like the money bubble and the final-table bubble.

SPG: So, does your strategy depend upon the blinds structure getting high and both you and your opponents getting short-stacked? Is that what you’re saying is kind of key to your strategy, to take advantage of the incorrect play of others in that situation?

MH: Yeah. The big thing is that when people get short-stacked, anything under 15-20 big blinds, and I have a really big stack and I’m in late position and only have to get through a couple of guys, instead of trying to steal by raise-folding, if they are short-ish, I’ll just shove anything that looks decent, like an 8-6 suited or any ace, any king. My shoving range is really wide compared to a lot of people, and a lot of people don’t like that kind of style, because it is obviously super-high variance. But, it is also a positive EV [expected value] play, in most cases.

SPG: So, in a sense, you’re almost biding your time until you can get into that situation, take advantage of people who can’t play very well under those circumstances, and, from there, playing a more deep-stacked game?

MH: Exactly. If you’re deep-stacked and in position against opponents, you can really make it tough for them. You can three-bet them in position where they either need to call for their entire tournament life, four-bet shove you, or fold, [the latter of] which is what they usually do. And all of these guys in the Sunday tournaments, they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s not like you’re playing the daily $100 rebuy or the nightly $150 [PokerStars Nightly Hundred Grand], where there is a good amount of decent players. In these tournaments, people really don’t know what they’re doing.

SPG: And so what happens once you get caught?

MH: [Laughing] Hopefully you suck out! I actually did that in the Full Tilt $750K. A guy three-bet me, and I had been raising every hand when there were like 15 players left. The guy three-bet me from the button, and I didn’t believe him at all, because the three-bet in position is the play, nowadays, I guess; people do it a ton. So, I four-bet shoved on him with 5-4 suited, and [laughing] he snap-called me with queens, but I wound up with two pair.

That was a huge pot in the tournament, but, even looking back at it, I like my play. I can’t believe that he woke up with a hand, there. It just looked like a great spot for him to be re-stealing light, but, unfortunately, he had a monster, but I had a hand that played pretty well against it. And that was one of the only hands in which I sucked out huge in that tournament, and suckouts are key to win a tournament like that.

SPG: Well, what I was also getting at was that if you get caught, how does that change your play in subsequent hands?

MH: If you get caught, you have to open up less, obviously. It all depends upon the players at your table, really, and how much I really want to test them. If I know that there are going to be a bunch of players playing back at me, I’m going to tighten up a lot, I’m not going to be opening every hand. But, usually in those Sunday tournaments, there are a bunch of people who are just going to fold, fold, fold, fold, and I’m just going to raise every hand. So, if you get caught, and people are playing back at you, you’re going to tighten up a little bit — you’ve got to.

SPG: Bodog’s final table ends hours before Full Tilt’s even starts. Did having a guaranteed $23,600 in your pocket affect your play at all in the Full Tilt tournament?

MH: Not really. I wasn’t really paying attention to the Full Tilt tournament as much during the final table at Bodog. I really don’t even remember what I was doing at Full Tilt. But it gave me some confidence, for sure, after I won at Bodog, to go on at Full Tilt and do what I was going to do. It was kind of like I was freerolling; it didn’t really matter what I did at Full Tilt. So, that was probably my benefit. I was using more aggression, probably.

SPG: Well, and, again, you had won the Sunday Mulligan the weekend before. What are your opinions on the notion of playing the rush or playing better with more confidence? Do they really factor in that much?

MH: Yeah, with the confidence, I was playing really crazy. I was going with my reads on a lot of hands, and it worked out, for the most part; I was making pretty good reads. And the aggression was working out, as well.

They definitely factor in a ton. Without confidence, I play tournaments really differently. Confidence is huge, and I think it is a really under-rated thing. That’s why you see people go on big strings of cashes. You’re more confident in your reads and you’re more willing to play aggressively and kind of gamble. I don’t know if gamble is the right word, but you’re more willing to push the envelope, a little bit. You’re more willing to get it in. You need that kind of thing to win these big-field tournaments, you need that kind of gamble. You can’t fold to a win, obviously.

SPG: Can you go over a few hands from either tournament that illustrate the key kinds of decisions that you made to lead you to victory? You already talked about the 5-4 re-shove that you made; is there anything else kind of like that that will demonstrate how you play in a tournament?

MH: Yeah, there was a hand when we were already in the money, and I was three-betting people preflop. There was one particular hand wherein I three-bet a guy in position, he flat-called from the cutoff, and then he donked [on the flop], he led into me for about a pot-sized bet. In these Sunday tournaments, a lot of time when they lead-donk into you — like, say they’re out of position, you raise preflop, and they lead into you on the flop — it’s almost never a hand. I just raised a ton of his flop bets with about 200 people left in the event. I raised a ton of flatcallers’ bets with air, and it worked every time. There were a ton of pots that I picked up doing that.

SPG: Do you satellite into major live events?

MH: I play the online World Series satellites and the Aruba [Poker Classic] satellites, for sure. I think they’re great; there are so many soft players in them, but I don’t satellite into the [online] Sunday majors, if that’s what you mean. This past year, I won two World Series seats or something like that. I don’t even know if I was up money after winning them, but I do play the online satellites.

SPG: What is the best kind of satellite for that kind of event, in your opinion, and why?

MH: I think the multi-table ones on Stars and Full Tilt are the best. I like those the most. They have the steps sit-and-gos that people do, but I don’t think that your return on investment is really that big with those. The weekly Sunday satellites on Stars, the $650 to the main event, that’s a great one because it has a lot of soft players, and one out of 15 wins a seat, so it’s not that difficult. Any of the multi-table ones are soft.

SPG: How did you progress to where you are now in poker?

MH: I started out playing full-ring limit hold’em online, grinding like $2-$4 on PartyPoker at 12 tables back when I was in college. I was kind of a bonus-whore type, I would deposit money on sites to try to clear bonuses. So, I put money on Absolute Poker and played limit hold’em, and then I started playing sit-and-gos. I really liked them, and I started playing a ton of them and going for the weekly leader board that they have. I went through a string where I won the leader board for a couple of weeks in a row, and back then you used to play Mark Seif heads up for like 1,000 bucks.

So, I did really well at sit-and-gos, and I did that a ton, and then I started playing in tournaments. And back then, a kid that I met online named djk123 [Daniel Kelly], he played on AP with me back in the day, like three or four years ago. I started talking to him on instant messenger, and he pretty much taught me how to play tournaments. He was a crucial, instrumental factor in my getting good at MTTs [multi-table tournaments]. He would always give me advice, and he has taught me a ton. And I think that I have contributed a little bit to him simply by talking about hands. I think that is what made me really good, talking to him and other people.

SPG: What was the most valuable lesson you learned on your way up?

MH: Just that aggression, in tournaments, is crucial to win. I think that’s the biggest thing.

SPG: You hear about aggression a lot. How do you make sure that you’re using aggression correctly? Because it can be killer for some people who over-apply the concept.

MH: I’ll give you an example. In tournaments, when I had a re-steal [sized] stack, I used to just shove it in with pretty much any two cards without a good read. More recently, I’ve gotten good at watching the table and understanding bet-sizing from people. Like, say the big blind is 1,600, and someone makes it 3,800 when they’re weak and 4,800 or 5,800 when they’re strong; I think that is crucial to recognize. I still re-steal a lot, but I won’t do it unless I have a pretty solid read on someone. So, I have toned it down and adjusted a little bit. You really have to pick your spots pretty well, and you can’t just do it [be aggressive] every time or it’s going to bust you in too many tournaments.

SPG: Thanks for doing this interview.

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