Ike Haxton Talks Isildur1, the Full Tilt/PokerStars Challenge & Life as a PokerStars Online Pro

Ike Haxton is one of the three Pokerstars Team Pros that will face the Full Tilt Professionals in the Stars vs FTP Challenge

This Sunday (10th March), we see Team PokerStars battle the Full Tilt Professionals in an eagerly awaited challenge. Isaac “Ike Haxton/luvtheWNBA Haxton is one of the most respected HUNL players in the world. He has faced some of the toughest opposition and has managed to beat them more times than not. Ike is a member of Team PokerStars Online and has been selected by Daniel Negreanu as one of his picks for the challenge. You can read more information about the Challenge in our article. In this interview, Ike discusses what he has been doing recently, his thoughts on the challenge and his predictions for the matches amongst other topics.

Hey Ike. Thanks for letting me interview you once again. It’s been about a year since our last interview with you. What have you been up to since then?

It’s been a very eventful year: I’ve signed with Stars, I’ve been having a lot of success playing online and I have also done a lot of traveling as well.

That sounds both interesting and lots of fun. When we last spoke you said that you were "open for sponsorship but it depends on the deal". How did the deal with PokerStars come about and how has that impacted your poker life?

I had had an on and off dialogue with Stars ever since the 2007 PCA about sponsorship. Joining Team Online, specifically, came up around the time of my million-dollar match versus Isildur1. That’s something I was enthusiastic about right away, but it was a couple months of getting details sorted out before we reached an agreement and the announcement went out

I'm very happy to be part of the PokerStars team. I think they're far and away the best brand in online poker right now and it's great to be working for a company that is genuinely the one I would most recommend to a friend who wanted to start playing online.

The changes to my poker life from being a Stars Pro have mostly been small and good. I was already traveling to lots of EPTs and such, so there's no real change there, though I do often have a few extra responsibilities when I'm there. Mostly it's fun stuff though, like this upcoming HU match in London. There are also things like the HUSNG happy hours that we're running this week; it’s a great promo and fun to be a part of.

We will definitely discuss the FTP vs. Stars Challenge a bit later on. I see that you are a member of Team PokerStars Online. For our readers who may not know, please could you explain the difference between that and being a normal member of Team PokerStars?

The "normal" members of Team PokerStars are what PokerStars calls "Team Pro". They are pretty much all people who made a name for themselves in live tournaments, and that's mostly what they play now. This is how they get their names out there and promote the brand, by showing up to live tournaments around the world and doing well.

Team Online are all people who are primarily online players. Some of them, like Shane Schleger or Mickey Petersen also play a decent amount of live stuff, but all of us are online players first and foremost.

I see that you are often sitting on Full Tilt waiting for action at the HUNL tables under your famous screen name luvtheWNBA. Are you allowed to play on FTP even when you have a deal with Stars?

Yeah. I do have what's called an exclusivity agreement with Stars, but since FTP is now owned by the same people, I'm allowed to play there as well. I can't play on Party or iPoker for example, though.

Ok that makes sense. It sounds like a good situation to be in for you, being able to be signed with one site but play on another big site. You said earlier that you have had a lot of success playing online during the past year. Please could you explain this in more detail.

Yeah, I’ve mostly been playing HUNL cash and HUSNGs. I have done great in the cash games, mostly playing $50/$100 against a handful of guys: wilhasha, KTPOKP, Raul Gonzalez, altiFC and there are maybe a couple others that I am forgetting.

I have actually struggled a bit in the HUSNGs, but the volume I’ve been able to get in has been great. I made SNE last year which is worth a lot and I'm more than on pace to do it again.

It’s very impressive that you are able to play both HU cash and SnGs against the top players in each of the formats, and have success in doing so. Will you still play anyone at HUNL?

Yeah. I think Sauce tops my list of people I am most afraid of and Kanu is very good too, but I’d still happily play either of them. I am pretty confident that I have a big edge against anyone else. Oh, I guess I’m leaving out jungleman. He’s an enigma; he’s played so little in the last couple years that it's hard to guess how good he is. I thought he was very tough the last time I did play him, which was pre-Black Friday.

He seems to be back online recently on both Full Tilt and Stars so you may have the chance of playing him again soon. I think it is widely regarded that you guys are four of the best HUNL players in the world. Some may add Isildur1 to that list. What do you think of his game in HUNL?

I think he's very good and should definitely be on a top 10 list, if not top 5. He confuses me a bit. I think I've identified significant things he does wrong, more so than other people I've listed, but my results against him (and those of other players I respect) don't line up with how I expect things to play out, so I've gotta take seriously the possibility that I'm missing something.

He seems to confuse a lot of people and seems to approach the game in a different way to, for example, yourself, Sauce and Kanu, who use GTO as the fundamental strategy. You were quite vocal in the Two Plus Two thread  started by Hoss about GTO, and do you think that 'feel' players will be profitable at the higher stakes in the future?

I think it's going to get harder and harder to get by without working hard away from the table. "Feel" only gets you so far without a strong fundamental understanding of the game. Having the feeling that someone folds too much to 3bets isn't worth anything if you're just wrong about what an optimal fold to 3bet frequency is. As the harder working, more game theory oriented players get closer to having good answers to those kinds of questions, it's going to be very difficult to compete with them on the basis of experience and guesswork.

In a world where no one is playing very well, staying one step ahead of your opponents in the guessing games is very important and that's what "feel players" excel at. If I'm not playing a guessing game with you, if I'm just making what I think are optimal plays, trying to outguess me doesn't get you anywhere.

Could you please explain a situation in which a weakness of a ‘feel’ player is shown?

It's easiest to think about this sort of thing relative to simple river spots: Suppose I sometimes have the nuts and sometimes have air and you always have a bluff-catcher and there's one pot sized bet left to play. If neither of us understands the underlying math of a situation like that, I'm just going to guess if you're going to fold or not and if I think you'll fold I'll bluff and if I don't think you'll fold I won't, and you'll call or not on the basis of what you guess I've guessed about you.

Right now, most of heads up no limit is still in that state. The more math/GT oriented among us might be able to quantify some simple stuff like "Folding 70% to a pot-sized 3bet at 100bb is certainly too much and 10% is certainly too little" but in the abstract nuts/air situation above I can tell you that you're supposed to fold exactly half the time. As we move toward having more exact answers, feel players will be in trouble.

Thanks for going into detail about that. It seems like the top players in the world at the moment are using more math/GTO strategy. Two of the players of the Full Tilt Professionals are ‘feel’ players and Gus is a combination of both I guess. When you first heard about the Challenge between FTP and Stars, were you really hoping to be part of it?

Yeah, I definitely wanted to be a part of it. I think it's going to be a lot of fun and I also think the Stars team has a nice edge.

ElkY has an amazing tournament record and it’s hard for you to answer as to wanting another player instead of him. The first match is between him and Isildur1. We have already discussed Isildur1 a fair bit. Who do you think has the edge in this match?

I think Isildur is the favorite. I think even Elky would be willing to say so. At least it's a tournament format though, and I think Elky might have an edge as stacks get shorter. Elky does have a bunch of experience in HUSNGs, albeit a few years back, so I think he'll be able to make it closer than a lot of people might expect.

Isildur1 played quite a lot of HUSNGs when he was part of Team PokerStars and did relatively well in those against the specialists. ElkY's tournament experience should definitely help, as you said, with shallow stacks, so this match will be a great way to kick off the action. You are in the next match facing none other than Tom "durrrr" Dwan. Have you played him much before and what do you think of his game?

It's been a long time since we've played, but we did play a fair bit back in 2008-2010. He never really impressed me then and in the interim, while he hasn't been playing much online, the game has evolved and I've gotten a lot better. I think I have a big edge.

I understand that the game has progressed since 2010 but you said even back in 2008, you were not too impressed with him. Do you not rate Dwan as highly as most people do and why is that?

I guess I don't. I'd rather not go into any detail about specific mistakes I think he makes, I just don't think he plays HUNL very well.

Let's move onto the final match then. Gus vs. Daniel. These are the two who battled with each other on Twitter and it is that which led Daniel to issue the Challenge in his video blog (and then Gus accepted the offer quite quickly). These are two "old school" players of the game as such. Daniel plays very little online but Gus hasn't been doing so well recently (though he plays mostly PLO and Omaha Hi/Lo online). Who do you think has the edge in this match?

This is the trickiest one to call, I think, but I'd give the edge to Daniel. He doesn't play a ton online, but when he does he plays NLHE against the toughest opponents he can find. A couple years back when he played the challenge against Isildur, he warmed up by playing a bunch heads up with Sauce, Jungle, and me in the week leading up to it and I thought he played pretty well. I'm pretty confident he has an edge over Gus when it comes to recent experience playing HUNL against tough opposition.

I think Gus gets way too little credit overall though. You don't just accidentally end up one of the best backgammon players in the world and there's no reason to think he doesn't work equally hard at poker. He's certainly more than smart enough.

This is certainly going to be a battle of egos in my opinion. We certainly look forward to all three matches and good luck in yours against durrrr. Have a good trip in London and thanks for sparing your time at the moment to talk to me as you are currently on holiday.


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