Interview with Scott "mastrblastr" Seiver

A happy Scott Seiver after his $2M payday for winning the 2013 PCA Super High Roller

HighstakesDB have had the opportunity of interviewing Scott “ mastrblastr / gunning4you” Seiver. He is a 27 year-old US poker pro who is well known for both his ability in the online cash games as well as the live tournament circuit. He recently won the 2013 PCA Super High Roller Championship for over $2 million, his biggest tournament score to-date. Online he can be seen playing the nosebleed limit games on Full Tilt and PokerStars against some of the best players in the world, and in this interview he discusses why he transitioned into those games, online vs. live, and bankroll management amongst other interesting topics.

Hi Scott. Thanks a lot for allowing me to interview you. You have been active within the high stakes community over the past few years playing the biggest games online at NLHE and the limit games. Could you please explain how you started and rose through the ranks to play the high stakes games?

I started playing NLHE MTTs back in 2006 and played only those until around the end of 2007. This is when I started playing small stakes NLHE cash games. I was playing mostly heads-up at the time and was just trying to get a lot of hands in. I moved up fairly quickly through the stakes and was playing $5/$10 through to $25/$50 by the beginning of 2008. I went from $2/$4 to $25/$50 in around a three month span.

You seem to have gone on a really good run at the beginning of ’08. Why do you think that was the case?

I'm sure I ran hot and was lucky but I think back then the fundamental understanding of poker was different than it is now. Very few people were taking a mathematical or analytical approach to the game. Everyone also has a huge ego and it is very hard to ever admit you're wrong. I think that was my biggest strength looking back at the sessions I played. I was always trying to find how I was outplayed and why. The ability to try to look objectively at your own decision-making process is the hardest and probably also the most important trait a poker player can have.

I definitely agree in what you say as being able to analyse one’s own game in a neutral way is essential in improving as a player. What sites did you initially play on and how were you first introduced to poker?

I initially was playing MTTs on Party but when I switched to cash games, the vast majority of my play was on Full Tilt. I first started playing poker in a college home game and I was in the same fraternity as Isaac Haxton whom I learned a lot of poker from.

Being friends with Ike must have certainly helped your game and he is regarded by many as one of the best HUNL players in the world. Who are your other friends in the poker world and how did they help you improve your game?

There were a lot of people that went to Brown that ended up becoming professional poker players: myself, Isaac Haxton, Jared Okun, Quinn Sivage, Noah Stephens-Davidowitz and more. Besides Isaac, I played and discussed poker a lot with Jared when starting off. We would play $5 HU SnGs versus each other in our dorm room, and some of these would go all night. We would play an 8 hour match for $5 regularly just because of how competitive we were.

Wow. You seem like a very competitive person. I understand that you also played Magic: The Gathering, and why do you think many players who have a background in that game have been successful in poker?

I actually didn't learn how to play until after poker; it is something that I have only learned fairly recently. There are a lot of parallels between the two games though, and the way you have to think about strategic decisions and crafting overall strategies has a high level of overlap between both games. Someone that is intelligent and good at one form of high-level game is naturally bound to be good at many others. There is just a way of thinking that overrides any specific game and is just as useful for the concept of how to win at any type of game.

Of course. You have to be analytical in both games and poker is essentially a strategy game to some extent. You went to one of the top universities in the world. Did you complete your degree, and if so, what did you major in?

I completed my degree and majored in Computer Science and Economics.

When and why did you decide to become a full-time poker professional?

Isaac was already making good money by the time I had met him, and I had always been interested in games and competition. It just seemed like the perfect job if attainable, and I was lucky enough to run incredibly hot when starting off and so I just never really looked back.

I guess the freedom that poker offers and the fact that you don't have to do a 9-5 job five days a week is another incentive. What career options were you thinking of if you were not going to become a poker pro?

I was at Lehman Brothers for several months actually, but the financial world and the forced hours just weren't for me. Once you have a taste of a life where you don't have to wake up to an alarm clock each morning its incredibly difficult to ever go back!

Haha that's true. Better than the 12 hour days at an investment bank. How did you move up the stakes from the high stakes games to the nosebleed stakes?

I just took shots when games looked good. Bankroll management is very important and I've taken shots and had to move wildly down in stakes several times. It is important though to be cognizant of when you should move up and down. Sometimes you just have to take a shot at the biggest game there is though!

I guess you can't pass a big game when Guy or someone is playing in it. Do you think anyone really had the bankroll to play $500/$1000 on Full Tilt when the games were running?

No one had the bankroll for that $500/$1k game. Some people got very lucky and it shaped their poker careers going forward, whereas others got very unlucky and that was a defining force too.

When you say no one had the bankroll for that game - do you even mean the likes of Phil Ivey and Patrik Antonius?

I can't possibly speak of the bankrolls of people that aren't me, but my guess is many people underestimate the variance of poker games and the bankroll needed and required. I'm sure some people were rolled for it, but for every one that was, there were at least three that weren't.

Ok that makes sense. What sort of bankroll management rules have you had as you moved up the stakes?

It varied a lot, and it depended on how often games ran and how good the regular games were that I was in at the time. It is such a fluid thing and its different for different people based on personal risk tolerance. When you have a family and kids and a mortgage, you have to be a lot more risk averse then when you're a college kid going for broke.

I think Prahlad Friedman commented in an interview of his that the players who played the really big games on Full Tilt didn't have partners or kids to take care off and thus didn't need to be conservative with their bankroll as they could be a millionaire one day and broke the next. One guy who comes to mind straightaway is Isildur1. Did you ever play him at HUNL and what do you think of his game?

To be honest I hardly ever played him at HUNL, but that's because in my opinion I think he's the best there is. He was doing things that other people had never thought of when he first came onto the scene, and it got him a lot of action because of how different it all looked. He's incredibly difficult to play against and you need to be fearless and just come up with a game plan and stick with it to beat him. You can't let yourself get dragged into the game he wants you to play.

I think many people will agree with that and even a lot of the players knew that he was a favourite in HUNL so they decided to only play him in PLO, which he was very inexperienced in. Who have been the toughest opponents that you have faced in NLHE and why?

Sauce is probably the toughest player that I have ever played. He comes at the game in such a different way from anyone else I had ever played before. He is so well-balanced that he can have the nuts on any street of any hand, and that is incredibly difficult to play against.

Sauce is the biggest winner in online poker so far in 2012. He has said that he approaches the game in terms of a Game Theory Optimal (GTO) strategy. Do you think that that is the way forward in poker over being more of an exploitive player?

As players get better, definitionally it means they'll be playing better and thus are harder to exploit. To beat the very best in the world you have to attempt to come up with GTO strategies that are better than you opponent, but as long as you are playing a weaker player, exploitive strategies will be the heart of the game for years to come.

Do you thus think that it is coincidence that two other world-class HUNL players, Ike and Kanu, use GTO strategies instead of focusing more on exploitive ones? In addition, do you think that the game of NLHE can ever be ‘solved’ as such?

I think to be the best in the world you have to understand the ability to use GT strategies versus the other top opposition, but that it is in no way necessary to win or to even be the person that makes the most money, which is a very significant difference. I'm sure that one day there could be a theoretical solve for NLHE but it is so many years away as to not worry about it yet. An actual fully-solved list of moves to take for all situations is many many years away.

How about for FLHE being solved where there is so little action at the high stakes nowadays? There is an interesting thread on TwoPlusTwo sparked by a statement from Matt Hawrilenko about all top players using game theory, distrubtions etc. There is a discussion between your friend Ike and durrrr about the idea of a Bot playing against the latter with there being a side-bet involved.

I honestly just don’t know enough about this to make a comment.

Ok that's fine. What type of game do you prefer - heads-up or 6-max?

I think heads-up is more fun just because its personal in a way that other forms of poker never really can be. You're in there every hand and it is just you versus your opponent; no other distractions or variables. There's something very pure and satisfying about it all

 You seemed to have not transitioned from NLHE to PLO. Why is that the case when a lot of the big action online is there at the moment?

I just never really played much of the game. I had always focused on different games at different times but now that there's just such an overwhelming action at it, I'll probably have to jump in and get my feet wet!

Haha, so I assume we will be seeing you play those games soon. Are you going to jump straight into the high stakes games (and ‘pay for your tuition’ that way) or grind up from the mid-stakes?

Whenever I've started a new game I tell myself I'm going to learn by grinding up from the mid-stakes but I've never actually done it that way. For all the games I've learned and played I basically just jumped into the highest stakes there was. There's a lot to be said for trial by fire.

That's true. I guess it's hard to take $5/$10 seriously when you are used to playing at least ten times bigger. When did you start playing the mixed/draw games and why did you transition to those games?

I started playing the mix games about 2 years ago and just jumped into the highest stakes that was running at the time. It was something brand new when stars first offered it, and the games seemed pretty good because it was all people like me just trying something new out, but then I actually got in and started playing and just had so much fun with it that I never really stopped!

Which games from the mix do you prefer and why?

They're all fun for different reasons; the best part is how quickly each one changes. It makes the whole thing feel fresh and different at all times. It’s the perfect format of poker for the ADD generation.

Haha. How did you learn the games? Was it from coaching by specialists, reading books, watching videos etc.?

None of those, I honestly just jumped right in barely knowing the rules. I figured I'd pick it up as I played. I had an inkling of people that I had heard through the grapevine were good so I would pay close attention to hands they played while I was playing with them. I basically just tried to model my game entirely form trial and error.

I think a lot of the players who moved into those games learnt the same way. 2-7 triple draw seems to have risen in popularity recently. Who do you think are the top players in that game?

I think so much of that game is both tilt control and adjusting to your opponents, so it feels to me that there's a new top player every session. Anyone can have an off-day and when you catch all the cards you need, anyone can look like a genius.

There is obviously a lot of variance in those games. What sort of bankroll management do you have for them and for the mixed games?

It is more complicated to have hard and fast BRM rules when playing at the highest stakes because the games don't run as often. I have to play such a wide variety of stakes based on whatever game happens to be going that I'm a little more liberal with my bankroll requirements than I would be if I were to be playing the same game day in and day out. The variance is clearly very large and I am definitely playing with that in mind.

 That makes sense, as you can't miss action if a fish is playing at a slightly higher stake than what "by theory" your BRM rule states you can play. Do you prefer playing cash games or tournaments because you have an impressive record in both?

I feel that I like playing cash games more for the day-to-day play but tournaments are special and a lot of fun. I wouldn't enjoy it if the only thing I played was tournaments, but having a proper balance of the two is great and keeps the games enjoyable.

You have played in some big live cash games, most notably in Bobby’s Room. How high have the stakes been in those games and how was the action?

The stakes can vary a lot. The biggest I think I've played was a $1k/2k/4k NLHE game. The action is always fantastic and there's a ton of gambling that goes on in those games. It is a very fun atmosphere and game to play in.

Wow. $1k/$2k/$4k game must have been full of action. Were there any notable players playing in the game and do you enjoy playing live more than online?

They're both just different. Live is great for the ability to get to have social interactions and the rush of gambling it, but there is much more convenience and comfort to playing online. It is just mood and style I guess.

I assume that the big games generally run during the WSOP period in the summer. You have an amazing tournament record with close to $7 million in tournament winnings including a WPT Championship title, a WSOP bracelet and winning the Premier League V. Furthermore, he just recently won the PCA Super High Roller event. Do you play many high roller and super high roller tournaments, and what do you think the future is for those type of events?

I play a lot of the high roller tournaments. I think they are a great and fun atmosphere. No one really takes them too seriously and everyone always seems to enjoy themselves playing them. I feel there are currently a good number of them right now and they follow the rest of the tournament tour, which is how it should be.

Are you interested and thinking of playing in the big cash games in Macau as they are mostly NLHE, which seems to be your 'preferred' game?

I'm sure I'll go to Macau at some point, but I don't have any special desire to go right now. It’s a lot of travel and I'll definitely check it out within a trip to Asia at some point, but I don't have any pressing need to go at the moment.

Hopefully it goes well for you when you go. What are your future plans – do you intend on playing poker for the foreseeable future?

I'm sticking with poker for now. I have a lot of fun with it and there's just so much more to learn which really keeps me interested and motivated. It’s easy to keep setting higher and higher goals.

Thanks a lot for spending your time to speak to me even though there has been high stakes action running at the same time.

No problem, thanks for being flexible with it!

Read more of our interviews with high stakes poker regulars in HighstakesDB's player interviews.

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