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Tournament Trail Q and A -- Paul 'uclabruinz' Smith

Smith Talks About Keeping His Composure at the Tables

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Paul SmithRecent World Poker Tour final tablist Paul Smith has been having an impressive year on the tournament circuit. First, Smith turned heads with a deep run in the L.A. Poker Classic last February. Then, in April, Smith won event No. 9 at the Five-Star World Poker Classic for more than $200,000. He followed up that performance with five World Series of Poker cashes and then set his sights on the WPT. Just last week, Smith finished fourth in the 2008 Legends of Poker main event, earning nearly $250,000.

Despite his live success, Smith is primarily an online player, grinding it out as uclabruinz. Smith frequents the big Sunday tournaments and rebuy events on most sites and has had no problem making his mark in the online world.

Card Player spoke with Smith midway through day 4 of Legends of Poker to talk about mentally adjusting to unexpected wins and losses.

Paul SmithJulio Rodriguez: You’ve had a pretty solid year, so far, as far as live tournament play is concerned. In April, you had a big six-figure win at Bellagio. Would you say that you were locked in and playing your best?

Paul Smith: It’s more a case of things going your way. I was pretty short, maybe 20 big blinds or something with three or four tables left, and I just went on a huge rush. Most of it was just catching hands and one big gift. Well, I wouldn’t say a gift, but I won a huge hand with 10 or so left. I had pocket kings and Mark Seif had A-J. I was second in chips, and he was the chip leader, so after my hand held up, I had a pretty dominating chip lead for the final table. I do feel like I played well and ran well at the same time, and it felt great to get that win.

JR: Ironically, I wanted to talk about a similar situation in this tournament.

PS: This tournament feels like an incredible roller coaster. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way in a tournament before. I’ve lost set over set for a huge pot, I somehow split a pot holding A-K against my opponent’s A-Q for a big pot, and then, more publicly, I won a huge pot when I sucked out with pocket kings against pocket aces.

JR: Let’s talk about that hand. You were coasting along with a big stack and you got into a confrontation with one of the chip leaders, Justin Scott. You saw his aces and you saw the flop and turn offer no help. At that point, did you resign yourself to your fate and begin to pack up your things?

PS: No, not really. Everybody has their little things that they do when the money gets in preflop. I don’t like to think too much about whether I’m ahead or behind. I just sit there and wait for the entire board to present itself. I don’t stand up or yell for my card. My fate is my fate, and I have no control over that. This time fate was on my side.

JR: Well, you hit a pretty big card on the river for a monster pot. I know it must have felt great, but did you feel any guilt for what had just happened?

PS: After the hand, I had to adjust to my new position. I had just gone from one card away from heading out the door to the chip lead. I’m one of those guys who can honestly he say had mixed feelings about the situation. Particularly, every once in a while you run across a guy, you give him a bad beat, and it’s a little gratifying. Let’s face it, there are some less-than-pleasant people in the poker world.

Justin ScottBut when it happens to a guy like Justin Scott, I mean, I just met him at this tournament and played with him for the better part of two days. This guy was just an amazing player and didn’t deserve that bad beat at all. He played nothing but optimal poker, as far as I could tell, and I definitely wouldn’t want to see him at my table in the future.

The funny thing was, we spent about half an hour talking poker before the tournament started, and then we found out we were at the same table again. So, there were all of these sort of interesting dynamics involved with the hand. Long story short, there were a lot of mixed feelings after that river came down. I was happy to be alive, but at the same time, I felt bad for Justin, who would’ve had a great chance at a big score.

Of course, once the next hand is dealt, you have to stack your chips, get yourself under control, and get on with the rest of the tournament. That’s the name of the game.

That put me in the chip lead coming into today, and in the first two hours, things have gone in the other direction. I had my tens run into jacks to start the day to lose a few hundred thousand, and then I topped it off with two questionable plays where I could have saved some chips. So, my stack has gone from about 1.2 million to 400,000, definitely not the direction I wanted to go.

JR: How do you cope with a rough start like that?

PS: It’s a big part of tournament poker. The more you play, the better you get at handling it. You know, the beats I can take, or even the coolers. But it’s the mental mistakes that really bug me and get me down. Making questionable decisions, bluffing when I shouldn’t, and generally just getting involved unnecessarily, that annoys me.

Smith went on to ride his short stack for the next few levels. He picked his spots carefully and got maximum value on his big hands, eventually surviving to the final table. The next day, Smith’s A-7 suited ran into John Phan’s pocket eights in a battle of the blinds to end his tournament in fourth place, good for $246,450.