On the Button: With poker pro Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler

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Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler is a 40-something poker pro (he won’t admit his exact age) who has played around the world for nearly a dozen years. He also admits to being a polarizing figure; he said people love him or hate him. Our Big Dave Lemmon had a chance to chat with the Chainsaw.

Can you share some tips for players when they travel? When I schedule flights, I use travel sites to identify prices but buy the tickets at the airline site directly, so I get all the advantages and perks. If you buy two weeks in advance, you can save lots of money, so you need to plan ahead. And always look for tickets that are refundable. You never know when you are going to get knocked out of an event and may want to go play in another city.

You had a great 2013, recently earning Heartland Poker Tour Player of the Year. I had a pretty good year other than the WSOP. I think I led the poker world in final tables, making 12 or 13 of them. For the most part, I play in $1,500 or higher buy-in events, up to $10K, so it was a great accomplishment. On the HPT, I played about 10 events, cashed in six and made four final tables. The HPT suits my style; they have really good structures.

So what makes a good tournament structure? I’ve been considered an expert on tournament structures by a lot of the players. Several times, if I see something wrong, even if I’m playing in the event at the time, I’ll talk to the director and if they agree they’ll make adjustments on the fly. Basically, it’s about the number of chips most of the players have at a certain point of an event. It doesn’t really matter how many chips you start with, but midway through the day, the average chip stack should not be below 25 or 30 big blinds. Otherwise, it turns into an all-in fest; to me, that’s not even a real tournament.

You’ve been outspoken about tournament re-entries, mostly against the guys with lots of money that buy in several times in each day, simply because the money doesn’t mean that much to them. My opinion is if they’re going to have re-entries, put everyone on equal footing by limiting it to one entry per day. I’ve seen a guy like Brian Rast buy-in seven times in one day for a $10K event; that is just ridiculous.

Let’s talk about your association with Ivey Poker. There were only 30 players or so selected to be on Team Ivey, so it’s a great honor since everyone is familiar with the names of these players.

Haven’t you used your reputation as a tight player to be more successful? Yeah, whenever I three-bet, people automatically believe I have kings or aces, so I can get free chips at any time by just reraising somebody. If I raise someone on the river, they just think I must have the nuts.

Over the years, people have agreed with many of your ideas, but labeled you as a complainer. However, you seemed to have softened your approach. I was a little too combative, and guys like Matt Savage and Jack Effel told me to just take them aside privately and not just use social media to attack them. I’ve realized a tactful approach gets more accomplished.

Back to tips for poker travelers. One quick tip you gave last year on my show is the first thing you do when you get to your room at the hotel is put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, so that the maids or other employees are not looking around or letting others in your room. In Barcelona this year, several players had their rooms broken into, and software was loaded into their laptops so other people could identify their hole cards while playing online poker. I just don’t want anyone going into my room, and usually you are only there three or four days. I don’t give out my room number to anyone. If no one has access to your room, there’s less chance of something being taken or your belongings messed with. If you need towels, or want to have your bed made and the bathroom cleaned up, just summon the maid while you’re there. Because of the big amounts of money involved, poker players are often targets. You need to make an effort to cut down the risks.