Colorado player thrives playing quality poker hands

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He might not be the Most Interesting Man in the World. By his own admission, he’s possibly the Least Interesting Man in Poker. But Sam Soni might deserve a different title: the Tightest Hold’em Player in Black Hawk.

Soni, a restaurant manager who lives outside Boulder, doesn’t call himself that. He doesn’t even call himself Sam.

He posts regularly on local poker discussion boards, but no one knows him as Sam. When he introduces himself to fellow players, he doesn’t use that name, either. We’re just happy he let us use his name for this column.

If you play hold’em cash games in Black Hawk and Central City, you’ve likely played with Soni at some point. He doesn’t like to be specific about where he plays, or on what days, or even his usual spreads. That’s fair: Poker is a game of withholding information, not handing it over.

For a guy so full of secrecy and intrigue, Soni couldn’t have a simpler game.

“I don’t really play poker,” he said. “I (sit at the table and) listen to audiobooks.”

Well, that’s not all he does. There are more deserving charities than the house, and Soni’s not in the business of feeding the rake with no return. He said he profits regularly, but he often goes an hour or two, sometimes even three, without playing a hand.

He almost exclusively plays only top hands (A-A, K-K, occasionally suited connectors if in the right position) and has no compunction about mucking them if he gets too many callers and the flop doesn’t fit his hand. Here’s his strategy in a nutshell:

“Great players are doing things on five, six levels,” Soni said. “I see one level. Maybe one and a half.”

Soni’s strategy wouldn’t work everywhere, but when his table selection is solid, he said, it does quite well.

He spends virtually no mental energy on getting reads on other players, trying to calculate their hand ranges, or trying to project any table image other than the one he uses: tight as the lid on a container of sulfuric acid.

“If you get too cute, you lose,” he said. “If you deviate from your strategy, you lose. You keep things as simple as possible: play top hands and push hard.”

He considers position and the other players, but not a lot. If the table fills with too many sharps, he’s out of there. Too many maniacs? Well, that depends. A couple of maniacs are good for Soni, because they never seem to notice he’s virtually never in a pot without the goods.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have a set of kings, nothing scary on the board, haven’t played a pot in 90 minutes, and I’m reraised to the max,” he said. “I might as well have a sign on my head saying ‘Just fold,’ but someone’s always sure I’m full of (it). It’s like they never even noticed I was there.”

Soni’s game hasn’t always been so elementary: “I read a lot of poker books, (Mike) Caro’s book on tells, advanced strategy. I used to be more aggressive, switch it up. But if you pick the right tables, you don’t need all that. … I could never be a pro. They’d kick my ass (at the table). I don’t want to do that. I like the way I play.”

— Rick Gershman is Ante Up’s Colorado Ambassador. You can email him atrickgershman@gmail.com.