Fixing Leaks in Your Game; Playing Games at Home and Casino; A Poker Life – Chris Reslock

 leaksHead Games: Fixing Leaks In Your Tournament Game

Bryan Piccioli, Scott Sitron, Peter Jetten, and Jonathan Tamayo Break It Down

by Craig Tapscott

The Pros: Bryan Piccioli, Scott Sitron, Peter Jetten, and Jonathan Tamayo

Craig Tapscott: What are the biggest leaks you see players have in tournament play?

Bryan Piccioli: A mistake I see a lot of players making is not adjusting properly to certain stack depths. This is especially true in live events when you don’t have the person’s exact chipstack right in front of you like you do in online play. In live poker you should be paying attention to where the chips are moving around the table because it could be very detrimental to base a decision on a person’s stack when they had either won or lost a big pot the hand before without you realizing it. Another common leak I see quite often is not paying attention to timing tells. I’ve always thought timing tells were extremely important, both live and online. Try to start noticing what it means as far as hand strength when a player acts slow in one spot, and fast in another.

I think timing tells are very important, especially online. If someone is checking very quickly on each street, often times they could be on other tables and on autopilot. Small pots add up and you should be trying to pick up as many of them as possible when you can.

Scott Sitron: I love it when our opponents play passively out of position with average hands. When they take this approach it allows us to get maximum value when we make hands, forces them to make difficult decisions on multiple streets, and be bluffed out of too many pots. For example, we are the fish deep in a tournament on 30 big blinds. We open K-10 offsuit preflop and it gets raised for the second or third time in a row by an aggressive Russian twenty-one year old. Our ego takes control and instead of four-betting or folding like we should, we decide to call. Of course we brick the flop and the Russian kid bets tiny and we fold our king-high and he wins the pot with his nine-high. Another big leak that I see beginner players doing is making huge bets with overpairs when the scare card hits the turn or river. Another example, the beginner bets 300 with black kings at the 50-100 level from middle position and gets called by the button and the big blind. The flop comes out 8-6-3 with two hearts, the big blind checks and beginner bets 600 and the button folds and the big blind calls. Now we are heads up and the turn brings a 7(hearts), completing the straight and flush, and the big blind checks to him and he bets huge or all-in because he panics. The big blind either folds his one pair to the huge bet and beginner loses value or calls with zero outs. It is pretty basic, but I still see it happening all the time.

Peter Jetten: The biggest leak I see in players, especially ones who are newer to tournament poker, is lack of confidence. This can manifest itself as a leak in many ways, especially if you are lucky enough to be playing for big money towards the end of the tournament. Try to stick to your game, and not depend on gut instincts as much if you start feeling intimidated at the table.

Jonathan Tamayo: The first big leak that I see are that players basically play too conservatively late in tournaments. They tend to wait too long for an ideal spot. They would much rather get it in very good with six big blinds than get it in as a flip or slightly bad with 21 big blinds, for example. I think there are far too many instances of people registering tournaments 3-4 hours late, particularly $1,000 events where much of the value comes from awful players at the beginning who won’t last long and late registration means starting with 30 or fewer big blinds. I think return on investment (ROI) is significantly lower for those missing the first few hours. Also, registering late eliminates the ability to get a truly random table draw and impacts a tournament player by putting him at generally tougher tables. This is a larger mistake than most tournament players realize. The last leak that I see is not properly planning out meals and staying hydrated. Most players don’t understand how difficult of a grind a tournament is physically. Playing hungry or thirsty adversely impacts the brain’s ability to function.

Craig Tapscott: What did you struggle with in your tournament game the most as you were moving up the ranks? And how did you go about solving the problem?

Bryan Piccioli: One thing I definitely didn’t take advantage of when I first started playing and moving up the ranks was utilizing all the resources available to me to help improve my game. There is just so much information out there to take advantage of on forums online and some of the best players in the world are posting some incredible insight to certain situations. All of this information is just out there and free for anyone to read. When it’s as easy as just signing up for a forum and having instant access to all of this information, it’s tough to find an argument for not using it to improve your game. Another thing that definitely helped my play was going back and reviewing hand histories from online tournaments I played. Online sites make it very easy to keep all of your hand histories and access them at any time. Learning from your own mistakes is probably the most beneficial thing you can do. You can even do this easily with live poker. Just type out the action on your phone of certain hands you played and then review them the next day. Discussing hands with some friends who have open minds to different situations that arise is also very important. Try and surround yourself with people who are also trying to improve their games and the rate at which you’ll improve is remarkable.

Scott Sitron: My biggest weakness was always in the very first few levels. I was playing too tight preflop and too passively after the flop. I was just sitting back waiting for big hands, trying to flop sets and never bluffing when I missed flops. I was playing most of my hands face up and very exploitably. It was especially annoying in live tournaments because I could run into some Munson on the first break, he has to ask me what my chip count is just so that he can brag about his awesome double up right before break. It was so mortifying that I had no other choice but to improve my deep stack play or forever be known as “Scotty Shortstacks.” Now on the first break I am sometimes busted, but more often I have a double stack asking all the nits what their chip count is on break. Another weakness I struggled with was after I had achieved a small taste of success; I let my ego control my business. Instead of sticking to the roots of what had made me a great disciplined professional I became slightly reckless.

This is not only a poker lesson but a life lesson. I believe that in order to win tournaments and life you must be hungry and want to win as well as be prepared for victory on and off the felt. It doesn’t have to be for the money, but something must drive you to win or you don’t have a chance. I was entering every tournament that was plus expected value (EV) even though I wasn’t mentally prepared to win.

Peter Jetten: As I was moving up the ranks in poker, the thing I struggled with the most was finding a balance between playing and taking time away from the table to work on my game. At times, I wouldn’t play enough and other times I wouldn’t think away from the table enough.

Jonathan Tamayo: As I got better, I started playing larger and larger schedules, and I thought it’d be like playing Candy Land. I used to look at a schedule such as the WSOP, and think I could play everything every day. Burnout is a huge issue, and most people are not capable of putting in 16 hour days for two months straight. This is why actual working people take days off, and don’t usually work every hour. Most people don’t equate poker with work, but that’s what it really is, even if it isn’t your day job.

Each subsequent hour you play comes with diminishing returns in comparison to your true skill level, and most think they could just truck through a session only because playing 20 hours straight is just a number to them. It is fine to do something like this over a two or three day span, but any regular routine that involves such a heavy amount of hours becomes detrimental to your bottom line. It is much better to play less with a higher quality of play than more and start having the attention span of a goldfish. ?


poker home gameGavin Griffin — Poker Questions Asked And Answered

Griffin Talks About Playing In Friendly Home Games and Private Casino Games
by Gavin Griffin

Gavin Griffin

People in the poker community often come up to me and ask about whatever is on their mind. Some of these questions are good questions, and some are bad beat stories in disguise. I’ve been through quite a few things in my poker career and I like to help whenever possible, and in this new Card Player series, I’d like to share my experiences and knowledge. Feel free to ask any poker-related question, and I’ll do my best to answer it in the space below.

Question: I got my start playing in home games with my friends and have since moved on to playing professionally. All of the other guys that I started in the home game with still play on a regular basis, but they all have regular jobs and don’t take poker that seriously. I’m heading back home for a visit and they’ve asked me if I want to play. I really want to, but I kind of dread the comments that I know they are going to make about me being a professional. What should I do?

An interesting question, and one that not many other professions have to deal with. Can you imagine if you were LeBron James and you went back to play basketball with the hacks from your neighborhood? They wouldn’t have any fun because you’d carve them up without trying and you wouldn’t have any fun because, honestly, there would be no competition. One of the great things about poker is the fact that you have luck as an equalizer. No matter how much better than them you are, they can always get lucky and beat you.

I would suggest trying to get into a mindset where you are just having fun and enjoying the company of your friends. Don’t take the game too seriously, revel in the silliness of the kitchen table games you guys play, and avoid strategy talk at all costs. If your friends are anything like mine, you would get endless crap for bringing your ideas about poker to the table.

Finally, presuming you are playing at much lower stakes than the games you usually play in, make sure you gamble it up plenty and screw around some. You don’t want to cause resentment because of that one time you came back to the home game, played like a nit, and took everyone’s money. Play goofy hands, show your ridiculous bluffs, needle, have fun.

The truth is, these guys are your friends and you shouldn’t dread anything you do with them. If they give you some grief about being a professional poker player, I’m sure you can find something to needle them about to. Just make sure you keep it civil and fun.

Question: There has been quite a bit of debate about Greg Merson’s tweets regarding “private” games at the Aria, care to weigh in?

The story goes like this: Greg Merson showed up at the Aria to play in a game that was going and was stonewalled by floor and players alike. He complained about it, somewhat loudly, on Twitter, and the internet has taken sides.

I don’t live in the world of high-stakes poker games anymore, but I spent a little bit of time in it a few years ago. It’s always been a question of who you know being just as important as your skill as a poker player. The best players are sure to keep the pockets of the floormen lined with tips so that when a whale walks in the room, they are the first to get a call. They might even get a seat locked up for them before they get to the casino. It’s a dirty little secret of live poker, but it’s how it’s always been done and it’s most likely not going to change.

In Greg’s situation, I can understand both sides of the issue. I’ve certainly been upset when a name gets put ahead of mine on a list because that person tipped the floorman more than me, but there isn’t much that can be done about it. Conversely, I understand that the people who spend the time year round to get these whales into the game and keep them happy while they lose their money don’t want some guy who’s only in town for a few weeks, coming in and taking money out of the game.

The truth is, at the live high stakes, there is more sales and customer service needed to keep your players around than at lower stakes or online. I remember playing with a couple of guys in L.A. that when they walked in the door, the table filled up and when they left, the game broke. People would come rushing in from other tables to fill seats. It was disgusting to be fair, and if I were that player, I would certainly be turned off by the behavior of those around me.

If the pros that play in these “private” games have been working hard to keep their players happy and have hustled to find new players and keep them around, I support not allowing other players in the game. The problem I have is when the casino makes it seem like the game is public when it actually isn’t. If someone had just said to Greg “Listen, I know you want to play in this game. The reality is, these guys get together, play a few hours, and then quit. They don’t want new players in the game and they especially don’t want someone coming in to the game that will only be around for a few days or weeks. I hope you understand and I’m sorry for your inconvenience,” I think things would have gone much smoother.

Finally, I think Greg should have handled this better as well. Instead of taking to twitter and badmouthing the people in the game, he could have talked to them civilly and/or tweeted with a little stronger filter. He is, after all, the current world champion, and a flag bearer for the poker world. A little less whining and a little more decorum would have been advisable.

If you have a question for Gavin, send it to



chris reslockA Poker Life: Chris Reslock

Jack Of All Trades Finds Success In Poker
by Julio Rodriguez

Chris Reslock is a World Series of Poker bracelet winner and current record holder of the WSOP Circuit with seven gold rings. He’s also a former cab driver, fire fighter, factory worker, fruit picker, busboy, steel grain tank builder and welder.

The jack of all trades grew up in North Dakota before attending school in Michigan. Then, after climbing to the top of the competitive Scrabble world, Reslock moved to Delaware before settling in New Jersey, where his poker career really took off.

Since turning pro, Reslock has earned more than $1.8 million in tournaments. While not competing on the circuit, the 65-year-old sits down in some of the bigger cash games Atlantic City, New Jersey, has to offer.

Here is a look at his story.

A Prolonged Education

To say that Chris Reslock spent some time at Michigan State University is an understatement. A career student, he studied philosophy, literature and dozens of other subjects over the course of 12 years without ever getting his diploma.

“I regret not getting my degree,” admitted Reslock. “To this day, I still have anxiety dreams about finding my classes and making sure I get there on time. I’d like to say that I avoided graduation because I was in love with learning, but that’s probably too romantic of an idea. The truth is that I was just really unorganized. I liked going to classes enough to keep going, but I wasn’t really concerned about grades. There were many classes that I sat in on, but never received credit for.”

While in school, Reslock’s jobs were as varied as his studies. He drove a cab and also spent four years with the Lansing fire department. But when asked if his jobs contributed to his inability to get his degree, Reslock admitted that poker and substance abuse played a role.

“Poker is one of the villains why I never finished college,” Reslock said. “Really, it was gambling and drugs. I started playing poker very seriously in my early twenties. Another cab driver invited me to a poker game and being the competitive games player that I was, I jumped at the chance. After that, I started playing the games more and even hosted my own game. Back then, our game centered around creative dealer’s choice. The challenge was to invent a game that was simple to understand, but still gave you an edge. I was always pretty good with figuring out the math of the games quickly and intuitively.”

Good With Words

Before his career in poker began, Reslock satisfied his competitive drive by mastering the game of Scrabble.

“I didn’t even like Scrabble until I discovered that you can bluff,” recalled Reslock. “Essentially, bluffing in Scrabble occurs when you put a made-up word down on the board. Your opponent can either accept the word as real, or challenge the word, risking their next turn. Losing a turn is huge, so bluffing happens a lot more than you would think because players don’t want to take the risk.”

A voracious reader since childhood, Reslock discovered that he had a natural talent with words.

“When I look at a word, I instantly know if it’s spelled right or not. Of course, playing Scrabble, you learn that there are numerous variations in spelling that can all be considered correct.”

Though modest about his abilities, Reslock did reveal just how highly he was ranked at the peak of his Scrabble career.

“Scrabble players are rated similarly to chess players. For a brief period of time I was the highest rated player in the world. I was an active player for most of the 1980s, and during that time, I was almost always ranked among the top 10 players in the world.”

Driving A Cab

A relationship brought Reslock to the Northeast before he eventually settled in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The original thought was that Reslock could continue playing Scrabble with his friends in New York, but the games never materialized.

“I guess I just kind of drifted away from it. The biggest problem with Scrabble is that there was no money in it. My lifetime earnings in the game were right around $1,000. If you got lucky and found someone who was willing to play for cash, then you could make some money, but that was tough to do once your reputation got out. Today, the players can make a little more, but not by much.”

Instead, Reslock turned to a past profession. He wound up leasing a friend’s taxi cab and then used his earnings to buy his own. For him, driving a cab wasn’t just a job, it was a pleasure.

“When I was in high school, my one ambition in life was to have my own car,” said Reslock. “I was in love with the idea of being able to cruise around town with my friends. Driving a cab, in many ways, was the fulfillment of that ambition. The hours were long, but it was an incredibly fun job to have. I got to be the modern day version of the Old West trail guide. Work was like being the star in my own novel, never knowing what would happen next or what kind of interesting person was going to jump in. Others may not understand it, but I still have euphoric dreams about being back in the taxi cab.”

A Switch To Poker

When it came time for Reslock to try his hand at professional poker, he found that his past experience in a taxi cab had prepared him for a career on the felt.

“I’m pretty good at understanding people and finding out where their heads are at,” said Reslock. “I guess a lot of that comes from my time in a cab, but it’s a skill that has definitely helped me at the poker table.”

Furthermore, Reslock believes that his penchant for friendly customer service also extends to poker, a trait that other poker pros often don’t bother to adopt.

“One thing I firmly believe is that if you are making money playing poker, part of your job is entertainment. Your opponents are paying you for that entertainment. In a way, you can compare a really good poker player to an artist. It’s not enough to just win someone’s chips. A good poker player can take all of your chips and have you back the next night to do it all over again.”

Incredibly, Reslock holds the distinction of being the player with the highest percentage of wins who holds over 100 cashes. He has totaled 107 cashes on the tournament circuit and has won an astonishing 25 of them.

“I guess I know how to close them out. If I go deep, I’ll usually win it all. If not, you can find me on the rail relatively quickly. You could call me an all or nothing player.”

Reslock’s first tournament cash came back in 1996 in a no-limit hold’em event, but the crazy mixed games played back in Michigan prepared him to dominate mixed-game tournaments over the next 17 years. Of his 25 live tournament wins, 15 have come in a non-hold’em event, including his WSOP bracelet win in the 2007 $5,000 Seven Card Stud World Championship, where he defeated Phil Ivey heads up.

“I play as little no-limit hold’em as I can get away with,” Reslock said. “I dream of a day when I can play no-limit Omaha hi/lo and no-limit baduecey tournaments instead. Hold’em is a game that somebody invented for the gamblers to play who weren’t smart enough for poker but who wanted to play cards. The biggest criticism that no-limit hold’em specialists have about mixed games is those games lack any creativity. That could be changed, however, if we start playing mixed games for big bets. If you play these games with progressively higher stakes after each street, then the game changes entirely.”

The Record Holder

Reslock has been on a tear in 2013, having won three different WSOP Circuit events. Ironically, all have come in no-limit hold’em. He took the first in March at Caesars Palace in Atlantic City and the next two in May at Harrah’s Philadelphia.

The wins give him a tour record seven titles, breaking a tie with Alex Masek, Ari Engel, Mark Smith, Kurt Jewel and Kyle Cartwright, each now tied for second place with five wins each.

“There is a lot of gratification in winning a tournament. I think it goes back to my history as a games player. It’s incredibly satisfying to win because it means that I have successfully figured out the problem I was presented with.”

For now, Reslock is living happily in Atlantic City with his wife, who is also a poker player. Though the gambling market in New Jersey has taken a serious hit over the last seven years, Reslock says that it hasn’t really affected his action at the tables.

“The games are still pretty good,” he said. “There are still plenty of options for me if I want to find a good mixed game. If not, I can always sit in a no-limit hold’em game until a seat opens up. When the tournaments come into town or nearby, I’ll go, but it’s nice to be able to stay close to home and be with my family.” ?

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