The Online Fox
Playing With Kenna James for 18 Straight Hours
He Thought I Was a Fish, and That Is Something I Can Use Against Him
By Chris “Fox” Wallace
During the World Series of Poker this year there were poker tournament series happening everywhere and I mixed it up quite a bit, playing $1,000 or larger events at seven different poker rooms. During a $1,000 event at the Golden Nugget I had an interesting series of hands with long-time pro Kenna James, who was seated three to my left both days. Kenna and I played at least 18 hours of poker together over those two days, and by the end of it I think we each gained a little respect for the other’s game.
I was fairly active early in the tournament, getting a few hands and playing a few more pots than most of the table, as I often do early on to try to play hands with bad players before they’re busted. Kenna pays close attention to the table, even stepping away often to dictate notes into his phone, and I’m sure he noticed that I was playing more than my fair share of hands.
Our first confrontation came when I was dealt kings under the gun. The deep stacks early in the tournament meant that a lot of players were calling raises and trying to out-flop the raiser.
With deep stacks and being out of position, open-raising with my kings under the gun was going to get 1 percent of my stack in and notify everyone that I had a big hand they could crack. Not a good place to be. Limping was often triggering raises, and no one knew who I was, so I decided to limp and go for the limp-reraise with my kings.
I limped and Kenna raised from middle position. This was disappointing because I figured a solid player would probably just fold as soon as I reraised, and there were no other callers. I raised to about triple Kenna’s raise, and to my surprise, he called. Immediately I wondered if Kenna figured me for a fish. We were putting in too much money preflop if he really believed I had aces or kings, and if he thought I was limp-reraising light in this spot he must assume I was a weak player.
An ace flopped, I bet it once and then we checked it down and he won the pot when he showed ace-king offsuit.
Saw Me as a Target
I had never played with Kenna before, and I’ve run into a number of well-known pros over the years who are very weak players, so I considered whether Kenna might be a weak player who actually thought that calling a limp-reraise with ace-king was a reasonable play. I watched him carefully for the next hour or two and he didn’t appear to be making a ton of mistakes, and he was smooth-calling a ton of my raises, so I knew he saw me as a target. This would be a source of frustration for much of the day.
An hour or two later I raised with king-queen from middle position and Kenna called my raise on the button. The flop was K-K-J with two diamonds, and since I was pretty sure Kenna would reraise with jacks or ace-king, I now had the effective nuts. I also knew that Kenna had very little respect for my game and that I might be able to win a medium-size pot here even if he had nothing or a small pair. I bet out for two-thirds of the pot and he called, as I expected. The turn was a small rag, and I checked. Kenna bet about two-thirds of the pot and I made a similar size raise. He looked unhappy and folded, probably thinking about how he had just invested thousands of chips to win a pot that started at less than a thousand. My hope was that this would slow him down a little as the bet/check-raise play often does. It didn’t.
Half an hour later Kenna raised from middle position and got one caller. I made a big reraise with K-K in the small blind and Kenna called again. The flop was ace-high (again! grrr!), I bet, and Kenna called. I checked the turn intending to fold to a bet, and to my surprise Kenna checked behind.
The river was a queen, giving me a chance to use my fishy image to my advantage. I figured Kenna very likely had an ace, maybe ace-king again, but he may have had nothing at all. Now I could represent aces, queens or ace-queen. I would never actually have ace-queen in this spot, but a fish would and Kenna had me pegged for a fish so I thought I might get a fold. I bet, Kenna called, and I showed my kings. To my surprise Kenna mucked and I won the pot. I still have no idea what his hand was, though king-queen suited is a possibility. To be honest the whole hand confused me when I saw him muck his hand.
Our biggest confrontation came right before dinner break. I raised with a pair of eights in middle position and Kenna called in the cutoff, at least the tenth time he had flat-called one of my raises. The blinds were 300-600 and my raise was to 1,500. After Kenna called, a short stack in the big blind pushed all-in for 7,600. I thought the raise to 7,600 would be enough to push Kenna off whatever speculative hand he had called my raise with, so I just called it, and to my surprise Kenna raised to 20,000.
We were both deep-stacked at this point, each over 50,000, and I had some thinking to do. Many players just muck their hand immediately here, but I had some thinking to do. My first thought was that with deep stacks, there is no way that he had a premium hand. He had been pretty solid all day, and flatting a raise there with a top-three hand just didn’t make sense to me. If he didn’t have a big hand, then why would he be reraising here? The only answer I could come up with was that he didn’t have a hand, but he figured I didn’t have one either. I figured he thought he was taking advantage of a weak player (me) and trying to force me out of the hand.
I couldn’t picture him trying to force me out of the hand with a small pair or a suited connector, so he must have a middle pair from sevens to jacks or a big ace, maybe ace-queen or ace-jack suited. Since I could win a 12,000 side pot if I made him fold, and have a good shot at winning the 22,000 main pot as well against the short stack, pushing all-in is a great play if I think there’s a good chance that Kenna will fold. The only problem is that I hate to put in 90 big blinds without a big hand, especially if I have a big advantage in the tournament with a weak field.
I thought for a minute or two, going over the hand in my head and thinking about different ranges that Kenna might have and how he had played hands against me in the past few hours, and I thought I had a good chance of making him fold, so I pushed all-in for 54,000. He thought long and hard, which made me nervous. Anything he has to think that hard about is either ahead of my 8-8 or is a close race, and I really don’t want to be racing for my stack right now. I had shown enough strength in the hand that I expected him to fold, but what if he thought I was such a fish that he called here with tens or ace-queen?
While I didn’t know Kenna before this tournament, I do know a lot about old-school live tournament pros. Many of them pride themselves on making big folds and will preserve their chips to survive and build them back up when they think they are behind, even when they are getting good odds with a reasonable hand. Trying this play with a 22-year-old online player would have been insane, but against Kenna I thought it was correct. Obviously, I look like an idiot if it goes badly, but that’s the risk you take when you are trying to accumulate chips.
Eventually, he folded a pair of jacks face up and then nearly exploded out of his chair when he saw me flip over my pair of eights and the big blind showed ace-jack. Clearly he thought I was a fish if he was just calling my raise with jacks and hoping to outplay me rather than reraising preflop, and now that he had seen me make this big play with a pair of eights he was sure that I was a complete idiot. I won the hand, and we went on dinner break a few hands later.
I imagine he told the story to everyone he talked to at dinner break, and in every retelling I was a bigger idiot.
Over the next few hours Kenna and I talked and I think he began to have some respect for my game, which forced me to change the way I played against him. It was a fun battle against a worthy opponent, and one he eventually won as he piled up a big stack and went on to make a deep run in the tournament. It won’t be our last battle, Mr. James, we’ll meet again.
So You Want to Be a Sponsored Pro…
Better Read This First!
By Chris “Fox” Wallace
So you want to be a sponsored pro? You want to be the guy with the patch on his chest and $50,000 in prop bets on every tournament? You want to be a baller? A lot of younger players want exactly that. They say they want to be a professional poker player, but what they really want is the lifestyle, the fame, the piles of cash, and the famous friends.
Time for a reality check, folks. Allow me to offer a quick peek behind the curtain.
The first fallacy is that the most famous players are the best players. While some of the famous players are excellent, fame has very little to do with being a world-class player, and being a world-class player does not necessarily bring fame. While I think it would be rude to name famous players who aren’t particularly strong players, I’ve played with an awful lot of them and I can assure you that players with patches on can be excellent prey for a real pro. I won’t spend time belaboring the point as it’s fairly well accepted that there are some sponsored pros who aren’t strong players.
What you may be surprised by, if you are able to play with a good number of famous players, is not that a few of them are less than stellar players, but the sheer number of them. It’s almost as if being a famous poker pro doesn’t have anything to do with being a truly great player at all.
Getting a “pro deal” does require some skill unless you are already famous. I have no idea if guys like Bruce Buffer, James Woods, or Chuck Liddell are good players, but no one is claiming that they got their deals on the merit of their poker abilities, and their presence is certainly a good thing for the game. But if you aren’t famous for something else, how do you become famous as a poker player?
1. Be Wealthy
With enough money, you can play all of the biggest buy-in events, and with a little skill you are bound to win some of them. You can also gamble it up with the biggest names, play the biggest games, and learn from those big names who become your friends. Win a WPT event or an important bracelet, play in the big game for a few months, and the poker world will label you a pro no matter how much money you have lost.
Of course some players who took this route became very strong pros. Richard “Quiet Lion” Brodie and Abe “Easy Peazy” Mosseri are good examples of pros who made their money with their brains and work ethic and applied those things to the poker world to become excellent players. But not all the players who take this route are strong players at all, and many of them are an excellent source of income for strong players you’ve never heard of.
2. Be Good-Looking
A number of players who don’t fit the mold of young, good-looking, hip gamblers have found themselves on the outside looking in. Greg Raymer said exactly that after he left PokerStars. Greg’s one of the nicest guys in poker, a very strong player, and an excellent ambassador to the game, not to mention a world champion, but he gets lower offers than much weaker players because of his weight, his age, and his conservative approach to life. I can assure you that if Greg was a good-looking 24-year-old known for womanizing, making huge prop bets and driving expensive sports cars, Greg would still be with Stars and his contract would be huge.
Some of these young and good-looking players are in fact solid. Scott Clements is a good example of a young, good-looking player who fits into what the sites want and who also plays very well. So does former male model Patrik Antonius, and Jennifer Leigh is both stunning and dangerous at the tables. But most of the players who fit the mold simply aren’t fantastic players. Their sponsorship deals make up for their losses or their time if they are break-even players, but they aren’t who you want to be, and most of us couldn’t be them if we tried. I myself just don’t have the cheekbones for it.
3. Be Lucky
Of course, we know there is a lot of luck in poker in the short run, while in the long run it all comes out in the wash. But are any of us going to play poker long enough to win the Main Event at the World Series of Poker or be featured on camera fighting with a big name pro on your way to a final table? One good run can mean everything, especially at the right time. Joe Cada and Peter Eastgate won a lot of money, but their win was at the wrong time to achieve the kind of fame that Chris Moneymaker has. A few well-timed scores at the beginning of the poker boom could make a player famous and give him a nice sponsorship deal that allows him to play enough tournaments to stay that way.
The time is gone when a few final tables could make you a big deal, but there is always the possibility that you’ll have a really great run and be catapulted to fame. If that does happen, and you manage your career well, you will probably be able to stay famous, get a sponsorship deal, and make a few more dollars. But don’t count on an incredible run of luck, and even if it comes in for you it doesn’t pay what it used to.
4. Be one the greatest players in the world and prove it
Guys like Phil Galfond, Freddy Deeb, and Erik Seidel don’t need anything but skill. They crush the games, make enough money to play in the biggest games and live whatever lifestyle they like, and their winning records are too large to ignore. They will make enough final tables, win enough cash in live games, and play enough with the big names that they are going to be well known as long as they are playing. While they may not get huge endorsement deals, they can definitely make some money from their notoriety. But who needs to wear a patch or make commercials when you can win piles of money at the tables?
That leads us to a much more realistic view of being a pro. Most of us aren’t good-looking enough, rich enough, or lucky enough to hit the big time, and it takes a lot of time and work to become a world-class player, even if you have the talent. You have never heard of the vast majority of professional poker players because they don’t fit into any of the groups I mentioned above.
The typical working pro makes money because of a few very different reasons.
1. They study the game and work hard
You won’t make much money if you aren’t a serious student of the game. Reading books and magazines, joining training sites, talking about hands with other strong players and working with a coach can all be a big help in improving your game, and you will need to be a very strong player if you’re going to beat your opponents, the rake, and the curves that life throws at your bank account.
2. They play a lot
You will need to put in the hours if you want to make the money. Playing a few tournaments a week or heading down to the local cardroom on weekends isn’t going to cut it, and if you haven’t played 50 hours a week for a month straight you really don’t know what the grind is like. Don’t even consider quitting your job until you know what that experience is going to be like, and most people who experience it decide that poker is better as a part-time hobby.
3. They are careful with their bankroll and their habits
The image of the crazy prop-betting, craps-playing, club-going, wild lifestyle that people think of when they hear “poker pro” is not conducive to making a living at the tables. Successful poker pros don’t play other casino games with any frequency, they don’t blow their money on an extravagant lifestyle after a nice score, and they manage their bankroll carefully to make sure they don’t go broke every time there is a bump in the road.
I almost apologized for taking the wind out of your sails just now, but I thought better of it. This is your financial future we are talking about, and being honest and smart about it is important. More important than that silly dream of being a rock-star poker pro with a model girlfriend, a private jet and Durrrr on speed dial.
Dreams are great, but take care of real life first.
Buy Chris’ new book on no-limit hold’em at http:www.nolimitbook.com and check out his new site at pushfoldcharts.com.