Q: Can you talk more about Macau? We hear about the high stakes there. What games are you playing, what stakes, and are you playing against a lot of businessmen? Is that what’s drawing the likes of yourself, Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey, to China?
AT: So, the landscape in Macau has changed dramatically in the past 3 1/2 years since I first went there. It’s been a complete shift. In early 2012, when I first got there, I was the minority, in every sense. There weren’t too many white people, ‘Wilo’s’ as they called us, funny name for white people, and there weren’t too many high stakes cash game pros. There were just mainly locals and the local tourists who would play the game, so that’s how the average game was comprised there then. It was really, really lucrative and a completely different landscape. Now, it’s completely the opposite. In late 2013, we had a huge influx of pros from all over the world. They came from the UK, Scandinavia, Germany and Russia, the best players just started coming from all over the world, and only the best of those best players ended up staying. The games got more and more tough. The older pros, who were making their way in Macau in 2010, 2011, stop playing. They haven’t played that much over the past two years because the game’s got tougher. Instead of being six or seven fish and one or two pros trying to make money in the game, it became seven or eight pros, with increasing difficulty, and less and less VIP’s in the game. Several things contributed to that; one, they banned smoking in Macau, two, they changed the regulations for Visa’s in Macau. They only allow three days for Chinese Visa’s in Macau now, down from seven, which was down from a higher number earlier on. So, it’s just harder to get there, and obviously they’ve cracked down on the flow of money in and out of Macau, so a lot of things have contributed to less tourists in the games. The game’s are tougher with more pros. In a way it’s been good because I feel like walking into the Wynn, trying to play in the big game there, one of the toughest cash games in the world, one of the toughest I’ve ever played. This is at the Wynn in Macau, just the everyday game that runs. There’s still opportunity there because sometimes the game still gets very big if the right person walks in but it’s much less sustainable for most people, I wouldn’t recommend going out there to play in that game only. There are still some good smaller games, at lower stakes, but they’re also smaller now than they have been historically because there’s not as much flow of traffic, which affects things as well. The people who have stayed there over the years have made the games so much more competitive, you’re forced to play on a level that you wouldn’t otherwise challenge yourself to play. You can’t get away with some rudimentary plays that might work in a $2/$5 no limit cash game where you can just three-bet people with impunity and they don’t adjust to you. The people are very, very, very smart, so you can’t even get away with value betting the river thinly in certain spots because people just make it too hard when they play against you. It’s really tough, it challenges you to be at your best, and I think that’s been the best preparation of my entire career.
Q: You came second to Kenny Tran in the heads-up world championship, the big 10k event, one of the highlight events every year at the WSOP. At the time, I’m sure it was disappointing but, when you look back, it must have been so rewarding too? That was a stacked field.
AT: It’s an interesting animal, playing tournaments, and what is hard for a casual viewer to understand is that you’re much more mentally distraught getting second, third or fourth, than you are finishing 200th. Any poker player or professional athlete can relate to that. You’re just much more emotionally invested in the tournament and you lost. When you’re second, let’s face it, you lost, just as if you lost in 200th, but you were that much closer to winning so you’re more mentally invested. So, there’s that expectation of winning, there’s that hope of winning, you’re just so close you can feel it, you can taste it, and when it’s stripped away from you it hurts.
High Roller Radio has interviewed some of the greatest gamblers, casino insiders, sports bettors, authors and poker players. Here, our interview with Alec Torelli, one of the best high stakes cash game players in the world, who discusses the rich poker games Macau, the difference between cash and tourney players, and how coaching has taken him to the next level.
Q: Are the games over there big enough to be dangerous for a guy like you? We’ve heard rumours that some big names have lost some big money over there?
AT: First, I wouldn’t believe any of the gossip you hear. The only people who know what’s going on are the people there and the only people that could tell anyone about it are never going to say anything, share specific private details like that. I think it’s just too much information to reveal and it’s not fair to anyone actually going thought it. About the games specifically? I think there was growth period before feeling comfortable in them. When I first got there I was really comfortable because I was in a situation that was familiar to me. I felt really confident, like I was one of the best players in the game just because of the lack of competition surrounding me at the time. Then, there was a midway point when the competition changed. It wasn’t like I had never played against that competition before but I had become used to thriving in an environment that was easier.
You know, the past year was easy and then it got tough. When the games got really tough, there was a transition point and it was hard to get used to. There were a lot of adjustments to be made, that’s the point where you either sink or swim. I think getting through that bridge, and working harder than I ever had in my career to stay on top of my game, has really made me much more comfortable in the games over there, specially in the games I come back to, which are less competitive like the ones you’ve seen the past few days on Poker Night in America. I was very comfortable at the table there, for two reasons; the game itself and also because the size of the game is in my comfort zone. Even making a big bluff for my entire stack, or making a thin value bet for my entire stack, those things don’t really touch me and I don't have to overcome them while I’m playing. In the game in Macau, I would still try and separate myself from the money and focus only on the decision making. There is energy being expelled trying to do that though because there’s some mental control things you have to do in order to separate yourself from that amount of money, the high stakes you’re playing for, and so it’s much, much harder. When you come back to a game that’s smaller it’s much easier to do that because you have practise. If you were to play a game that’s half the size than the one you’re used to it’s not going to be that hard to make a big bluff because you’re not going to be intimidated by the amount of money. You’re just much more comfortable. So, I think the preparation over there has helped. There was a period when it was really tough. You just have to improve your skill level to rise to that competition. I was fortunate to make friends with, who I think are, the best players in the world out there and being around those people you’re going to improve, you just have no choice.
Q: Why do you think a lot of tournament players struggle in the cash games?
AT: There’s two things; one is what players struggle with generally in cash games and, the second thing is, what tournament players don’t adapt to correctly in cash games. Let’s focus on the tournament one because I think that’s most practical and most interesting for listeners, especially because most players prefer tournaments, for the competition or glory, and then go and play the cash games, which is a totally different animal. In tournaments, if you think about how they strategically work, you play 80% or 90% of your tournament with less chips than you do in cash games. Your average stack in a tournament, unless you play big, premiere events where your average stack is 50 big blinds throughout, is like 20 or 30 big blinds. You’re not forced to make many big decisions if you think about it. The decision may be big in the sense that it’s for your whole tournament life but, your stack to pot ratio is really small, it’s like you don't have a big decision on the river to check-raise or something.You just never get that far in the hand because usually you’re all-in preflop or on the flop. You never play a three street game or get to the point where you’re threatened by a three-bet preflop because it might cost you your whole stack on the flop, turn and river. It’ll just cost you your stack in that moment, so it’s not the same game at all. If you think about it from a strategic standpoint, in a tournament you’re supposed to preserve your chips over pursue your equity, it’s simple math, because in a tournament having a chip and a chair is more important than having more chips. In a tournament, your chair is actually worth something, especially if you’re in the money. So, from a strategic standpoint, it’s much better to preserve the chips you have and that causes people to play passive. If you notice the playing style of a lot tournament players in cash games, they’ll play passively, limp in and just try to flop some hands. They don’t really apply pressure in spots where it would be prudent to do so. In cash games you’re playing with deeper stacks and when you play deeper you have more decision making ability. When you have more decisions there is more skill involved. It makes more sense to push the edges and if you’re deeper there are more decisions involved, bigger decisions, on every single street, and there’s more skill involved. There is more room for better players to maneuver around the table. It’s not like in a tournament where you just wait for a hand and you’re all-in on the flop, you just don’t float people or outplay them as much. In cash games, your goal is to maximize expectations, so you have to push tiny edges and not worry about busting your stack because it’s still a plus EV play and you can rebuy that stack. It’s just a totally different game and it’s played differently.
Q: You’re quickly becoming a popular broadcaster, you’ve jumped in the Poker Night in America booth several times, and people are also enjoying your blog. Do you find the writing has helped your game? And, is that an area a lot of players neglect?
AT: Yes, I think it’s helped me a ton to do my ‘Hand of the Day’ channel, which I put on youtube for free. Anyone can just go on youtube and see hands that I’ve played. Even Poker Night in America, I’m going to put five or six hands out from this session and five or six hands from the last one, big hands that I’ve played for twenty, thirty or $50,000. I’m going to go through my thought process on every single street in real time, so you can watch me playing, see my opponents, and see what I’m thinking. Sometimes, I even get my opponents in the booth to explain what they’re thinking as well. So yes it’s helped me a lot because it forces me to walk through my thought process out loud. It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time, to help my game off the table. It’s always been a part of my study regiment, but the thing that’s helped me even more than that was coaching. I have a private coaching practise, which I do a lot of, I have two clients today, had two yesterday, and that’s helped to improve my game a lot. You’re approaching other peoples situations and you’re giving them blueprint strategies to think about the game in a different perspective so they make all of their decisions better. You’re forced to break down the game in a way that is simple enough for someone else to understand and complex enough where they can take that information and beat players that are better than them now. It’s helped me a ton. It’s made me think about the game in a different way, which in turn has made me a stronger player.
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How Tough are Online Cash Games?
"I can only speak on hearsay since I actually haven’t played a single hand of online poker since Black Friday, but just the simple lack of action at $10-$20 and higher for the big bet games should serve as a pretty good indicator that things have dried up significantly. The reality is that the sheer volume of training content and advanced playing tools out there is going to inherently toughen up your average poker player. The losing players then wind up losing faster and the weak professionals don’t really seem to have the desire to improve their game while taking any sort of equity loss against better regulars. So the games just don’t go the way that they used to."
- Mike Gorodinsky, Card Player, April 2015
5 Poker Thoughts?
1) Why do players blame the dealer? Come on guys and gals; I mean, your bad play or misfortune is not the dealer's fault. Is it?
2) Why is it when you have pocket Kings an Ace always hits the flop?
3) Why do players say 'Sorry' when they put a bad beat on someone in the pot? If they were truly sorry they'd give the money back.
4) Why do so-called 'good' players openly criticize and disrespect an opponent when that player gets lucky and beats them in a pot? Good players should say, "Nice Hand," keep their 'fish' happy AND at the table, knowing they'll win in the long run. Don't scare away the Fish folks!
5) Don't you hate it when a smart-ass opponent says "I knew you had that!" AFTER he sees your cards.
What's in a Name?
Greg Mueller - FBT
One of the best players on the planet, this Canadian is a double bracelet winner at the World Series of Poker, a former professional hockey player and a guy known as FBT (Full Blown Tilt).
"A long time buddy, who's kind of a mentor to me, gave it to me but not so much for the poker table. I'm always antsy, my head's always spinning. You know, 'What's going on over here?' or 'Let's go there.' He started calling me Full Blown Tilt. It went to FBT and the rest is history. When I first started on the circuit people just knew me as FBT, they ddn't even know I was Greg Mueller. It's stuck with me for a long time.”
Did you know?
Popular belief holds that a standard deck of playing cards represents a significant religious and metaphysical meaning. The 52 cards in the deck represents the 52 weeks of the year, the 4 suits represent the seasons of fall, winter, spring and summer, the 13 cards per suit represent the 13 phases of the lunar cycle, and if you add up all of the number value of all the cards in a deck you get 364 days of the year... then you add a joker for a total of 365 days. Coincidence or a significant astronomical relationship?
Did you Know?
The "Dead Man's Hand", which consists of black bullets (ace of clubs, ace of spades) and black eights (eight of clubs, eight of spades), was named after a hand that Wild Bill Hickok was holding at the time of his death (the 5th card was unknown). He was shot in the back of the head on August 2, 1876 at the Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood, South Dakota.
Wild Bill Hickok
He's one of three Poker Hall of Famers to die while playing poker (along with Tom Abdo and Jack Straus.)
Did you know?
After writing a book on the game of Whist, the phrase "according to Hoyle" became synonymous in card games with following the rules. Edmund Hoyle was inducted into Poker’s Hall of Fame in 1979.
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Alec Torelli Interview
Poker Night in America, High Stakes Cash Gmes in Macau & Tourneys v Cash Games
(Full Audio of this Q&A HERE)
Q: Poker Night in America, Florida, you absolutely crushed, pocketing 60k. Be honest, was that an easy line-up for you?
AT: I think relatively to the high stakes in Macau, yes the level of competition in that game was a little easier, yes. I think the games that exists in Macau are tougher and it’s just a function of market efficiency. I mean, anytime there’s a ton of money to be made there’s going to be more competition. The level of competition rises proportionately with the opportunity, so when the opportunity ifs five, ten, twenty times greater, you have to expect the competition is going be there too. I think that’s a relative measurement of what you can expect to find in some of the big games in Macau and that prepared me immensely for the games i just played, the last two Poker Night in America’s, at Turning Stone and this one here in Florida. If you watched the live streams, I think it showed. I think that’s a relative measurement of what you can expect to find in some of the big games in Macau and that prepared me immensely for the games i just played, the last two Poker Night in America’s, at Turning Stone and this one here in Florida. If you watched the live streams, I think it showed.
High Roller Radio
It’s like being engaged and then not getting married as opposed to going on a first date and not getting married. You’re much more invested in the relationship of this tournament, and it’s really tough to do. They’re finicky, tournaments. So much has to go right in order for you to win, even if you’re the best player in the world, you’re not going to win more than once a year, maybe. Phil Hellmuth is a perfect example. He’s one of the best tournament players in the world, supposedly, and he’s won 14 bracelets. How long has he been playing, 40 years? knowing that every thing is structured toward a loss, that you may win only once every couple of years, on average,it takes a lot mentally to be in that spot. There’s more variance than the average person thinks, which means you have to have a lot bigger bankroll than most people think to play profitably with the on the big tournament circuit. It’s not really for me, I much prefer the cash games. I think there’s more to them, they’re more dynamic, and it’s just my wheelhouse. So, I don’t really play many tournaments.
Q: Tourney guys seem to get the television fame. Do you feel some of the top cash game players in the world should be getting more exposure?
AT: Some of them like it that way, the anonymity, and are drawn to cash games because of that. Some people play cash games because there’s more money in them and, because there’s more money involved, it’s more consistent and a better way to make a living as a poker player. It’s one of the only ways to make a living as a poker player. I think it’s really hard to make a living as a full time tourney player. It’s something you accept as a cash game player, that recognition from other people is not something you’re going to get. A lot of people are drawn to tournaments for the glory. If you think about it and ask cash game players at the World Series, why they want to play, it’s because they want to showcase their talents, to shine, or just compete. In cash games, even if you win a lot, you’re never in 1st place. In a tournament you can actually be the winner and that’s an exciting concept to a lot of people. Even though there’s not a huge correlation between victory and skill in tournaments, a lot of players are drawn to that and crave that. More cash games are coming on the market, getting an audience, but I think it’s a long way off before the public starts recognizing elite cash game players. Every occupation has pros and cons and that;’s just part of the game.
Alec Torelli Thank-you.
Alec Torelli tore up two straight episodes of Poker Night in America, winning roughly $60,000 in each session.