People always say winning a World Series bracelet is the most important thing to a poker player. Now that you’ve won one, has it really changed your life?
If you play a sport or a game professionally you’re going to have certain goals. I can’t imagine anyone who plays professional poker who doesn’t have that one near the top of their list. For me the top of my list is the main event, without doubt, and then somewhere on the list pretty high was to win some kind of bracelet. And the one I won I was particularly proud of, so I would rank it as my No. 1 accomplishment. … So what does that mean? It doesn’t make me a different husband or father or friend, but if you play tournament poker it’s nice to have that accomplishment.
You came to Florida to play in the heads-up tournament at Sarasota and you won the inaugural heads-up championship in 2007 in Compton, Calif. Do you prefer heads-up play or did you come here as a favor?
I’m here because Sam Minutello’s my boy. So I’m here to support him and in some small way support poker in Florida, which is a marketplace that hopefully will keep on growing. And hopefully the laws will liberalize and that’s why I’m really here. … What I feel about heads-up, it’s my favorite type of poker. I think the shorter you get the more interesting it gets. So I love playing heads-up; my bracelet was in six-handed. Sometimes in poker it’s correct to be the tight guy at the table and sit around and wait for the deck to hit you. But it’s never correct in heads-up and rarely correct in six-handed play. The more correct it is the less interesting the game is. You gotta do what’s correct, but when it’s correct to be the tightest player I’d rather not even be playing. To me then it’s a job. I’d be here to support Sam if we were playing 15-handed, but I’m thrilled that it’s heads-up.
Heads-up tournaments are popping up all over Florida. Do you have a strategy tip for heads-up play?
The golden rule of heads-up poker is you must be the aggressor. The only exception is when you’re playing an opponent who is an absolute maniac. … and then you can do some counterpunching, some trapping. But generally non-professionals will play far too conservatively. The first thing to ask yourself is: “Who’s winning most of the small pots?” When no one has anything who’s winning that pot? Ask yourself that, and if you cannot be certain that you’re winning more than your share of those you must play more aggressively. That’s the biggest tip I can give.
The second tip, which I would say is related, is if you feel you’re outclassed, it’s more important in heads-up than in anything else to play big pots. … If you feel he or she is better than you then put the pressure on with big bets. … Make the pots big when you’re outclassed, keep them small when you’re the better player.
What kind of strategy would you recommend to the Florida player who’s stuck here with the maximum $100 buy-ins and is playing $5-$10 no-limit?
You always need to play within your bankroll, but if you’re going to play $5-$10 no-limit with only $100 behind it becomes two-card poker. You’re going to need to learn who is going to lay down a hand preflop and who won’t, and then run over those who will lay down. And I think what you’ll learn is to get in there and gamble. It can teach a good lesson, which is to always play your hands according to the blinds and according to the stack sizes.
While it doesn’t translate to real-world in cash games where you can be hundreds of big blinds deep, it does translate to late tournament situations. When we were three-handed (in an $80 tournament at Sarasota where he finished second) the blinds were 50K-100K and there was only 1.8 million in play. So it was gonna go in awful fast and that’s the way these cash games are. But it’s two-card poker; it’s not real poker.