A while back PokerStars School’s own Ross Jarvis sat down with Team PokerStars Pro Chris Moneymaker to talk poker tournament strategy, preparation, and handling one’s self at the tables. We’ve captured some of the words of wisdom that came from this interview to share with you here.
Ross asks Chris about the general landscape of tournaments today, both live and online, and if he feels they are beatable:
Ross Jarvis (RJ): I guess first things first just generally about tournaments and before you play tournaments, now what’s the scene like these days both online and live, are loads of mid-stakes tournaments beatable, or are they really tough? What’s the landscape like these days?
Chris Moneymaker (CM): Lower/Mid-stakes tournaments live are definitely beatable, there’s a lot of opportunity, so most of them don’t know push fold spots and don’t know correct post-flop strategy. Mid-stakes online tournaments are definitely more difficult because with online you get the good players that will drop down and play lower stakes because it’s easy to do. You can multi-table online and, so therefore you really get people playing a lot of variety in tournaments, where obviously when you’re playing live you can only play one tournament at a time generally. Live there’s more opportunities there to pick on people that, when you know there’s a skill drop off. Against good players online I think it’s harder to exploit the odds with these guys because they’re more fundamentally sound, where the live guys have so many leaks, they just play ABC poker, you’re going to do just fine in a low level live tournament.
RJ: What are the best ways to spot players who may have big leaks both online and live? How can we tell quickly who’s going to be making big mistakes?
CM: The biggest way to tell live is when someone limps, you’ll see especially in the lower to mid stakes tournaments the person that opens the pot with a limp, they’re almost automatically going to be fundamentally unsound, they’re never going to be a really good player. So that’s the first indication to me that someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. Also, looking at the player and seeing how they manipulate their cards and their chips, sometimes these guys are online guys but for the most part they’re recreational players so you can tell by just looking at a guy and looking at how he looks at his cards; is he picking his cards at the table, does he look at them how he’s supposed to? There’s so many different ways that, if you’re playing poker live you’ll be able to spot someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing pretty quickly. But the most tried and true way is just watch for the open limp. It’s really the easiest way.
RJ: So one thing that I think is interesting, can you take us through a bit about, let’s say there’s a major tournament which you’ve been looking forward to for a month or so coming up, do you have preparation, a routine a week before the tournament or even further out these days?
CM: Honestly I don’t and it’s not because I don’t want to it’s the fact that for me, I’m on the road from one spot to the other so often that, I’m not going to be able to have any kind of standard routine. But I would say, as a general rule, you want to make sure that you’re doing, the biggest most important thing that you could ever do is get good sleep the night before the tournament. I was just a RIU Reno and I was talking to a guy at the end of day 1, we were ready to start day 2 we both had heaps of chips going into day 2, it was about 9:30 at night and I was ready to go to bed and he was headed to the bar to go drinking. You know, especially the younger guys, poker’s a great game in the fact that you don’t have to follow what you should do, I mean poker is supposed to be a fun game, there’s supposed to be something enjoyable and you’ve just got to look at your opportunity cost. Like I told them, you can always go out drinking tomorrow night after you’ve won the tournament. So the most important routine is to get a good night’s sleep.
The other thing that I always try to do, now obviously I don’t do this as often as I like, is I try to get up a couple hours before the tournament and go to the gym, do some exercise and get my blood flowing, and then do some meditating beforehand, and then finally about 30 minutes before the tournament starts, I usually eat a meal, give myself about 30 minutes so it can sort of settle in and digest. Then I usually won’t eat except for small snacks throughout the day because when you get towards the end of the day, you don’t want to be sluggish. That’s when you really need to be you sharpest. That’s when the decisions really start to add up. In the early part of the day, if you eat a big meal you’re going to come in a little bit sluggish but it’s going to be ok because again you’re not going to be making the tougher decisions early on in a tournament generally.
Online’s a little bit different. The fact that, if you’re playing online, obviously there are going to be a lot of tournaments throughout the day, Sunday for example. You usually start with the Sunday Warm-up, and then you roll into the Sunday Million and then you have the Sunday 500 and, you know, basically you have tournaments going all day. So one of the things I would recommend is to find the tournaments you want to play, and set a time schedule where you cut them off after a certain point. And once you’re running super deep in something you don’t want to be playing for 24 hours. Knowing what the schedule is, what your targets are, how much you’re going to spend first of all, I mean bankroll management is obviously very key to when you’re determining, especially online when there are so many opportunities, but the biggest thing is not wearing yourself out, you don’t want to be, you know, dragging as your starting your last tournament of the day.
RJ: Presumable opponents play differently against you because of your name than they would do against a random Joe blogs player so, if for example you’re 3 betting a lot, what is the standard response players have to you?
CM: More times than not, the good thing about (that is people) do play polarized against me and this is something that we won’t need to cover too much because not many people are going to have this but, people will either go out of their way to play against me and I’ll figure that out, or they’ll go out of their way to stay out of my way. That’s pretty easy to figure out after about 20-30 minutes, who’s doing what. The general response is, a guy will sit there not doing anything for a long time, and then all of a sudden he’ll just pull a random 4 bet out when I 3 bet and then show me a bluff, and that’ll be his whole day, his one move. And I’ll fold my hand which will end up being A3 of clubs or something and I’ll just move on to the next hand but he’s thinking, you know, I laid down some monster hand and he’s a little happy. Someone wants the story that they ran a bluff, so they’ll make a stand and so that’s something I have to deal with periodically.
RJ: And if not you make someone happy so everyone’s a winner right?
CM: Exactly, I mean if someone bluffs me or someone beats me in a hand, that’s the one thing, you know, one of the best pieces of advice I can give to a new player or any player is to think of your opponent as your customers. Whenever you’re playing poker you want to be nice to your opponents. If they make a bad play, if they put a bad beat on you. Whatever happens, have a smile on your face and say good hand and be as genuine as you can even though you’re steaming on the inside, you don’t want to make the person to feel bad, you want them to have a good experience. Every time I bust or I bust somebody, I would say 90% of the time that they shake my hand and they tell me how it was great playing with me, because I treat everybody equally and I want everybody to have fun. You want these guys to come back, even if they’re good players or bad players. You want to see them again, you want to keep this game going, and that’s you know, there’s been a big resurgence of people trying to handle themselves better at the table. That’s one of the most important topics I can get across is, you know this game is supposed to be something fun. It’s supposed to be something that the majority of us are doing as a hobby not as a profession, and we want this game to continue to grow and to be around for a long time, and the best way to do that is to treat people with respect and not downgrade peoples play or get upset at the poker table because someone played a hand in a way that we disagree with. There are obviously bad players, there are obviously bad plays. That’s just part of the game, and the longer you play the more you realize that those plays happen and they’ll happen for years, you won’t remember them when you put the bad beat on somebody, but you’ll sure remember when someone puts the bad beat on you, and that’s just the nature of being human.
In Part 2 Ross and Chris get into distractions at the tables, bankroll management for recreational players, and preflop strategy.