Phil Galfond aka "OMGClayaiken" is one of the most respected high stakes players around and also one of the most approachable ones. He was nice enough to sit down with highstakesdb and answer a few questions after his big $1.6M session against Isildur1.
Congratulations! What does it feel like to win $1.6M in a single session?
- Thanks. It feels great to have a session like that. I try not to get overly excited about it as it could have easily gone the other way but it definitely feels good to come out on the winning side.
I know that in general you don't want to play that high, and I have seen that you have been 'negotiating' at times with Isildur1 to play, but you haven't been able to agree on either the game or the stakes. Why did you decide to play Isildur1 now and at those stakes? Was it more for the challenge itself?
- Every player has stakes and games that they feel comfortable playing. From what I've seen, Isildur1 seems to be comfortable playing as many tables as possible and at the highest stakes his opponents will agree to. I think he may get a bit of an edge by getting his opponents to play more tables than they feel comfortable with or at stakes that may be too high. After a little negotiating, we agreed to play a no limit session that I had agreed to a few months before. We switched to PLO after where I felt much more comfortable.
It seems you have a ton of respect for his game, so you must have been aware that if you ran bad the result could have gone the other way. Had you decided on a limit for how much you were willing to lose?
- I didn't have a specific number that I was willing to lose or that I would stop playing if I reached. I decided I would evaluate it as the match progressed and take it from there.
You said in your blog that you were running exactly on EV, but also that you thought you were running really good. I guess that goes to show that there are many factors that go into running good or not. What was it in particular that went your way in this match?
- There was a lot of back in forth in the match. Initially, during the NLH portion, I ran way above expectation even though it seemed like I was running at EV. When we switched to PLO, there were a few large swings which are typical in PLO. Towards the end of the match, I won a string of hands where we got most of the money in either before or on the flop. Those hands could have just as easily gone his way, but fortunately, I came out on the winning end. Overall, I think I just ran really well when it came to flopping sets and huge draws. It led to me getting my money in good very often, which doesn't show up in the EV graphs.
Tilt control. It seemed that Isildur1 did make some strange decisions at times. Do you think it was tilt or is it just his style that looks that way when things are not going that well for him?
- It's hard to say whether tilt influenced his decision making late in the match or if it was just his style. He's clearly a smart, capable opponent. I do think that when the match started tilting in my favor, he began putting more money in preflop which just increased the variance, as we both had reason to put the rest of the money in on the flop.
In general, would you ever feel bad about taking the money from a player on tilt, or is that just a part of the game the same way you will try to exploit a player who, for example, three bets too much before the flop. Have you ever stopped playing someone because you couldn't bear to watch?
- Tilt and tilt control is an important aspect of the game. Edges are hard to come by in the high stakes games and a player that can't effectively deal with bad beats or downswings will end up losing money during those times when they tilt. I don't feel that it's unethical or wrong to exploit people during these times. There are times when it becomes obvious that a player is tilting, either from their preflop play or by how light they are getting their money in but I can't remember a time that I refused to play them or couldn't watch because of that.
For us that watch these high stakes PLO games it sometimes seems like a crap shoot. Both players have a good reason to get their money in, and then leave the rest to fate. This makes me think that most of any player's edge in PLO lies in the hands that do not go to showdown. Is this an accurate observation? Are there anything in particular you look for in a player's game when you consider playing him or not?
- I think that a lot of people view PLO as a crap shoot because they see how often players are getting their money in before or on the flop. If they run the equities on these hands, it's rare that either player will be more than a 65% favorite.
- However, there is a lot more to the game than the times you get it in flipping. Hand reading is very complex, since there are so many hand combinations. Huge bluffs in key spots are very important, and the opportunity presents itself often since the nuts often change on every street.
How many tables do you feel comfortable playing simultaneously? Do you feel that your edge in general is higher when playing more tables?
- The number of tables I can play varies based on the game and my opponent or opponents. At the start of the match, we were playing six tables of NLH. I was a bit out of my comfort zone during that time because I hadn't played HU NLH in quite a while. I was constantly using my time bank and felt out of my element. When we switched to PLO, I felt much more comfortable and was easily capable of playing six tables. I can play up to 14 tables of 6max plo, and maybe 8 tables of HU against the same opponent. Any more than that, and I clearly lose something.
What do you think is the main difference between the players at 5/10, 25/50 and 100/200+?
- I think there is very little difference between players at the high stakes levels. I know a number of people that are successful at 5/10 to 25/50 that I believe would be very successful at the nosebleeds.
If you had to choose one limit today, and you had to play at those stakes for the rest of your life. Which one would it be?
- I'd choose 25/50, I guess, if I couldn't change after picking it. Too risky to pick anything higher.
The high stakes games attract a huge following, something we notice at our site. You seem to be the one who are closest to your, for lack of a better word, fans. Is this a conscious decision you have made, or does it just come from enjoying meeting and communicating with a wide range of people?
- I don't think I've made a conscious decision or actively try to be more accessible to my fans. I think coming up the ranks the way that I did has made me realize the benefit of exchanging information with other players. I routinely update my blog, post in forums like twoplustwo and try to answer questions from fans or interviewers.
What do you think about the future of poker? I saw your friend, Tom Dwan, mention in an interview that he felt regular 100 big blind poker was on Its way to being 'solved', and that he would like to see more antes and deep stack play. Do you agree with this, and if so, are there other things that can be done to keep poker from stagnating.
- I definitely agree with Tom that the caliber of play has gotten to a point where there is very little edge to be had in the high stakes games. There is such a huge amount of information available that allows players to get better and better.
- Poker has evolved so much since I first started playing and I have to believe that it will continue into the future. It is such a dynamic game that it is hard for me to see it stagnating. Whether the future lies in antes/deep stack play, big bet games or something else still remains to be seen. I do think that 6 handed, 100 big blind NLHE has gotten kind of boring.
What are your plans for the near future? Will we see you in any tournaments? Any non-poker projects you would like to tell us about?
- I am trying to play more tournaments and live events. I recently played in the 25k Venetian high roller shootout. I will be in Vegas this summer playing a bunch of the events and probably some of the cash games.
- Aside from poker, I spend all of my "work" time on bluefire. Nothing specific to talk about I guess, in terms of new and exciting projects, but I'm definitely spending time working on a lot of things. It takes a while before ideas and hard work get put into motion, but I've been spending plenty of time behind the scenes to maintain and improve the site. Making a video every week is certainly a big commitment, but there's so much more I need to do than just that. It keeps me busy.