Interview with an MTT Specialist
This week I interview super star Hoyazo player as he soars to some great success in MTTs lately. He is fresh off a huge win as the winner of the Party Poker 40K. Lets find out how all of the success has effected our man.
1. I will start off with the easy question everyone must be wondering, how the hell does it feel to win 9K?
First off, I have to correct you, it was $9737 and change, so it is really closer to 10k than 9k. And as far as how does it feel to win 10k, let me say that it feels Amazing. I mean, the money is great, and frankly at the limits I am used to, that amount of money could fund probably 5 or 6 years of steadily losing poker without requiring any further contributions from me, so that is all good. But to be honest, even better than the money (ok, well, maybe almost as good as the money) is the feeling of validation that the 40k win has brought me. I feel like I now know beyond dispute that my game is working, and no one can tell me I don't really know what I'm doing in this game or in MTTs in general. Clearly a ton of luck is involved in winning any tournament with 2,323 entrants, but I also don't think that bad players just donk their way into winning something like this as a rule.
2. What changes do you think you have made to your game in order to be able to accomplish the many wins you have had lately?
Well, actually the changes I've made to my game recently have been less to my play in the large MTTs, and more to my play in tournaments other than the large MTTs. Basically, a few weeks ago after donking out of the WWdN early for the umpteenth time in a row, it occurred to me that I have been playing every tournament, from the 1-table sng to the 180 sng to the Mookie and the WWdN, etc. all exactly the same way as I play in the large MTTs. And it occurred to me that there is simply not a single one-size-fits-all strategy for all MTTs. Rather, in the larger MTTs, I can, for example, allin reraise a guy on the flop with just an open end straight draw, and have a lot more confidence that my opponent might lay down a hand even as good as TPTK or maybe even bottom two pairs. My opponent was planning on playing this tournament for a while, he just coughed up $22 to enter, and he really has his eyes on that $10,000 prize at the end of the rainbow, so TPTK becomes not so attractive to a lot of people in that situation early on in the party 40k. Meanwhile, in the smaller, $10 buyin blogger tournaments, this is not the case nearly as often. People will call you down with much less in their hands than they are apt to do in the larger MTTs. So, I've adjusted my game in the smaller tournaments, basically to moderate my natural aggression somewhat. I have been waiting for my spots a little better lately, still pushing hard when I feel strongly that I'm ahead, but doing a bit less bluffing and semibluffing, and it has worked out to great results of late.
3. What is your strategy for the beginning of large field MTTs?
In the early rounds of the large MTTs, the #1 name of the game is survival. I've had plenty of MTTs where I donked around the bottom of the standings for 30, 60, 90 minutes and longer even, but then doubled up, doubled again, and before I knew it, I was right in the thick of things for the first time in the event, more than 2 hours after the start. So, goal #1 for the early rounds always has to be survival. At the same time, however, I also use the early rounds to be very observant, take a whole lot of notes on the players at my tables, and in particular to focus on how these players react to the blinds and the situations created by the blinds system. If I can figure out now, when it's cheap to do so, who is likely to try to steal my blind with nothing, and, more importantly, whose blinds I am likely to be able to steal without a fight, then later in the tournament, as the blinds escalate in size and significance, I will be in a much better position to take advantage of those expensive blinds if I know whose blinds to go after and who I can bluff-reraise if I think they are stealing from me with a particular late-position bet. Lastly, it is always vitally important to bet at a lot of pots, and give a lot of action, at all levels of the large MTTs. This is because, when you play an MTT and see, say, 500 hands over a 5 or 6 hour span, you are going to get your share of good cards and monster hands. And it's imperative that people be willing to play with you when you bet up your good cards preflop, and the only way to ensure that is to call, bet and raise with a lot of different hands preflop. Anyone who has played with me will note that I am never one to be accused of not giving action. You need to get the sense out there, in particular if your table is not likely to be broken up any time soon, that you are willing to gamble -- limp, bet and/or raise -- with almost any two cards in a given situation.
4. Have you figured out what you are going to do with you winnings?
Basically. I went ahead this weekend and withdrew 8 grand of the 10 grand of winnings from partypoker. That money is in my bank account now, which I am thrilled about since it means I am significantly up for my career thus far of playing online (about a year now). I don't ever plan to reinvest any of that money in online poker and don't think I will need to, as my other MTT winnings have been keeping me afloat and I expect that to continue. With the other $2000 of my winnings, I will be dispersing that more or less equally among the three sites I play at regularly -- party, pokerstars and full tilt -- to give me a nice bankroll on each site, and possibly to enable me to maybe take a crack at a few of the larger-buyin MTTs as they come about, if I am so inclined. And, in general, I have insisted that the Hammer Wife pick out whatever on the earth she wants, and we will use some portion of the 8 grand I withdrew to buy her that. Not only is she a wonderful wife and mother, but you would not believe the sacrifices that the Hammer Wife willingly and automatically puts up with because of my little online poker habit. I can't count how many times she has given up the computer against her will at 8:30pm for the WWdN, been forced to watch the Sopranos without me because of the wpbt, etc. And, the Hammer Wife has gotten up countless times in the middle of the night to pick up the screaming baby, while I am already awake but sitting at the computer trying to play my way into a final table of an event I had started three or four hours earlier. The Hammer Wife is not into gambling and is in general not into the whole online poker thing at all. But she understands that it's important to me and a hobby that I really enjoy, and she is supportive of that to an almost unbelievable degree when I'm playing. I would say she has worked almost as hard as I have to get that win, including the night of the actual party 40k when the youngest Hammer Girl awoke just before final table time, when the Hammer Wife once again rose to the challenge, no questions asked. So, she can have whatever she wants with our winnings from the party 40k. We're still negotiating the details of that.
5. Do you have plans to play in bigger entry fee MTTs on a regular basis or are you going to keep to the $20 buyin MTTs?
That's a very good question that a lot of people are asking me, but as for now I am intending to play (and have been playing, since last week) more or less the same events that I've been playing in the recent past. In other words, I'm still into the party 40k, and I'm starting to focus a little more on the full tilt 17k nightly guaranteed tournament as well, something I have played many times in the past and that has almost the same buyin as the 40k. I've toyed with the idea of entering some $100 buyin MTTs and things like that, but the funny thing is, as I've posted on my blog several times before, since I'm really not playing poker for the money so much as for the practice and experience of large MTTs, I really don't feel a tremendous incentive to run into any larger buyin MTT events. If anything, one thing I might try a bit more of now that I have such a large roll on a place like pokerstars is some more of the large rebuy tournaments. In general I'm not into rebuys because they reward donkeys for their general donkery, but you simply cannot argue with the huge prize pools that these rebuy tournaments can generate. So, for example, where I have previously only ever really played the $3 rebuy madness tournament on pokerstars, I may branch out into the $11 rebuy at 10:15pm ET nightly, and take a couple of shots at that and see if it seems cost-effective as something for me to play in the future. In general though, right now I'm more than content at the limits I've been playing, and just to keep trying to excel in these MTTs going forward.
6. How did you invent "The Hoy"™?
It's funny. I don't remember a specific time when I "invented" the move. I just know that I started playing online on pokerstars, because that's where my friend V was playing when he kinda got me involved in the whole online poker thing to begin with. And I was very frustrated very early on with this silly rule on pokerstars about no chatting whenever anyone at the table is allin. So after not too long, maybe late in 2005 after I'd been playing for a few months, I thought of leaving one chip behind, just to make sure I could keep chatting in case I wanted to either encourage a call or encourage a fold from my opponents, and just for general trash talking purposes which is also always a good goal to have at the virtual tables in my view. So I actually conceived of the notion of the Hoy before I got to know most of the bloggers in the poker blogging community, etc. But it wasn't until the regular blogger tournaments started happening -- the WWdN, DADI, the Mookie, the WWdN Not, etc. -- that I really started using the Hoy religiously, and actually assigned the name "the Hoy" to the practice of keeping one chip from your allins to preserve your ability to chat to your victim while they contemplate a call. The regular blogger tournaments are a place where trash talk and the like is king, and I want to be sure that everyone sees me belittling my fellow bloggers before I relieve them of all their chips. So, several weeks ago now, this is how The Hoy came into existence as the pillar of pop culture that it is today. The Reverse Hoy -- when you bet enough to put your opponent all-in but for one of his or her chips -- has also worked well for me lately and can in some cases have an even more tilt-inducing effect than the original hoy, so it's something else to keep in mind as well, and the reverse hoy is something that has only really come to prominence in the last four or five weeks or so.
7. What is your strategy for the middle portion of a tourney? How does it change related to your stack?
In the middle of the large MTTs, the focus really changes more from survival and information-gathering, to chipping up and to using the information that I've gathered in the early stages. This means that you can start stealing blinds from people now that they are up to a level where they begin to be worth stealing, and maybe start putting on some moves, bluff-raising for example, that are less important in the early stages of these tournaments. And yes stack size has to come into play of course, in that as a short stack, my options will be severely limited as far as what kinds of moves I can and can't do, and how likely I am to push in preflop or on the flop with a hand that is likely to be the best at that point in time. Similarly, if I am on a large stack in the middle of an MTT, I will try to bully the table a little bit, but I think I actually use more restraint than many people would with a huge stack in the middle of an MTT. I have seen countless examples of people donking off tons of chips from their huge stacks by trying to be the table bully. If the cards just aren't there, or if the Table Bully is not a style that you're comfortable and experienced playing, I would advise against pushing too hard there. There is a real advantage to just keeping your large stack, and slowly building it with your actual good hands instead of on bully moves all the time, in the middle rounds of the large MTTs, so that is a good strategy to follow as well if you're not so much the bullying type. Bullying the table has never been a problem for me, so I tend to get a little aggressive on a big stack, but not too much that it impacts my image or my stack in a noticeably negative way.
8. What book(s) would you suggest a new MTT player read in order to get a better understanding of tournament play?
If you haven't read Super System (Volume 1 is all you really need to read, as far as holdem in concerned), and both volumes of Dan Harrington's books, then I am going to eat you up at the MTT tables and spit you out. Period. All three of those books are absolute musts for any serious holdem tournament player. Super System more for holdem principles in general, and Harrington for his incredible, example-based instruction on innumerable holdem tournament situations and problems. In all seriousness, I have probably read each of those three books maybe ten or fifteen times each, and I have them stored in various places all over my apartment, so there is always one within reach. I recently read Phil Gordon's Little Green Book which is also an excellent source for poker philosophy and analysis, much better than most other poker books out there.
9. Do you have any pre-game rituals in order to pump yourself up for the big games?
None whatsoever. No superstitions, no particular games I like to start with, nothing. In fact I think this is part of what makes me an effective MTT guy. I don't get all "juiced" for every MTT I enter online. I view them all as the same thing more or less, and I treat them all as if it could be my next final table or my next big score. I typically just sit down at the computer, open up my three online poker sites of choice, and check out the upcoming MTTs to see which one or ones interest me the most. All except for the Mookie tournament, in which case I will typically strap on my three or four kevlar cups immediately before the event begins, to prepare for the inevitable junk-kicking that is about to be administered to me.
10. What is your end game strategy? How does it change related to your stack?
I've been down to the end of enough large MTTs at this point in my online poker career to know that, in order to succeed and progress at the end game, you have to be able to be completely and utterly full of crap, just like everyone else. As the blinds grow large, almost every large event eventually deteriorates in the last couple of hours to one big pushfest. I don't mean to make it sound totally random, because there is definitely an art to this as well, but in general, you will see from, say, 100 people left all the way down to the final table, that most pots involve someone allin, often times allin preflop even, and most cases there are either zero or one callers of these big bets. It's a much different game than the early and middle stages of the MTTs. As you get down to the final table, I make two significant adjustments to my game to this end. First, I steal with reckless abandon, even moreso than I might be tempted to during the early and middle rounds. More or less every single time it is checked around to me, almost in every position, it is worth attempting a steal, since the blinds have grown so large by this point in the event. And people will generally fold to you unless they have a strong hand, in which case you will know it from their call or reraise, and you can react accordingly. The second big change I make late in MTTs is actually to tighten up my starting hand requirements, where I'm not in a blind stealing situation. In other words, in the first 30 minutes of a large MTT, for example, if I was dealt QQ or JJ, and saw an allin ahead of me, I would almost certainly call unless I had a strong read that this person might have KK or AA. However, at the final table of the party 40k last week, I folded JJ to an allin move once, folded TT as well, and also folded an AQs, which is another hand that might normally call allin with in the right circumstances. But, when staying alive becomes the most crucial factor, and when every spot you survive to earns you an extra few hundred bucks, and eventually near the end of the big tournaments, an extra few thousand bucks, you learn pretty quick that calling allins with Jacks, Tens, Nines, etc. can be a losing proposition. So, steal a lot without regard to your cards late in the big MTTs, but also, in those situations where you are actually playing your cards instead of just your position, tighten up a bit preflop in situations where someone else has shown a lot of aggression already moving at the pot ahead of you.
11. If you every play in a WSOP will you Hoy people in real life? If so do you expect to get punched? Does it lose something in the translation to live?
I suppose I would hoy in real life, though its genesis really is from online play, and from pokerstars in particular where you just can't chat if you are allin in a hand. But after seeing how easily the hoy tends to confuse, annoy and tilt my opponents, I'll have to give it a try again in a live setting. I don't expect to get punched for doing so, although I do think it will lose something in the translation, since live games basically eliminate the entire need that spawned the creation of this move to begin with.
12. What is the biggest bluff with the hammer you have pulled off?
I have bluffed so many times with the Hammer I can't even count them. My non-blogger friends all think I'm nuts that I play this hand, but I have to say, without a doubt my game has improved from the image boost that a few raised and shown Hammers can give me. I encourage everyone to play the Hammer smartly whenever possible. As far as the biggest Hammer bluffs (if betting the Hammer can ever be a bluff), I remember at a final table in either late April or early May of this year -- it's definitely on my blog somewhere if you're crazy enough to read it all -- I pulled not one but two final table Hammers at the final table of a large MTT. There is very little more invigorating as an online poker player than a Final Table Hammer, and almost nothing infuriates your opponents more than being bluff-reraised by the Hammer. Just the other day on my way to winning the DADI VI event, I bluff-reraised a large preflop raise from Jhartness, got him to fold, and then showed my Hammer, only to find that he, too had folded the Hammer because of my bluff-reraise. You gotta love that.
13. How do you keep yourself excited for MTTs when it can be a while between wins?
I really don't feel that way about it. In truth, I have made two or three final tables in every single month of 2006, with my party 40k victory last week cementing May as another two-final table month for me. So, if you think about that, we're talking about an average of one final table every two weeks, for now five consecutive months. Really, that is not very few and far between. And, frankly, even though the average has been two final tables a month, in reality they can come in bunches sometimes. So, I honestly believe that every time I sit down to a new MTT, tonight may be the night where I hit my stride, get some cards and play everything right, and in 4 or 5 hours I may find myself at yet another final table, in line for another big money score. I never think a tournament won't be exciting because I haven't won for a while, or I just cashed significantly in one of these the other day, etc. If I am ever at that point, I just won't play in the particular tournament in question. But in general, I'm always excited to sit down to a new MTT, any time, any night.
14. Can I borrow .50 cents for an SNG?
I think I'll take Iakaris's line from the WWdN Not a few weeks ago and say No you can't, since I need to keep my last dollar so that I can hoy someone when I have the nuts.