Exclusive Interview With No.1 HUNL Player Doug "WCGRider" Polk

After weeks on the grind against AI bot "Claudico" Doug Polk is getting ready for a long, hot, summer of tournament Poker

After a gruelling couple of weeks playing in the winning team of human players against Carnegie Melon University's AI bot "Claudico", Doug "WCGRider" Polk would be forgiven for taking a bit of time off. However, it was straight back to the SCOOP grind for the world's best heads-up NLHE player. Despite his hectic schedule, Doug was kind enough to give some time to HighstakesDB earlier this week to talk us through his experience from the "Brains" vs "Claudico" challenge as well as a few general questions about his poker life.

Hi Doug, thanks for talking to us. First off, congrats on the victory over Claudico – although you all had your highs and lows, in the end it seemed like quite a decent win for the Brains, was it easier or tougher than you thought it would be?

It was a lot of what we expected, and a lot of what we didn't. I think overall it was about where I anticipated, a difficult opponent that would have some holes in its strategy. By the end we had a pretty good feel for how things were going. I thought it would react better to various bet sizes than it did, but I now understand due to bet mapping that is a difficult task.

How do you think Claudico would stand up against the average online recreational player and/or low stakes regular?

It's hard to say, I would think fairly well. The problem however is that when players use unusual sizes, it isn't prepared to make accurate adjustments. I think this would give weaker opponents some chance. At the end of the day it is still a well balanced program and I think it would be tough for players at that level to beat.

What did you find to be its biggest leaks, and did you visibly notice many improvements/adjustments in Claudico’s game throughout the match?

The biggest leak of claudico was that it would occasionally map a bet size up or down, to a size that was fairly off what the actual bet was. That would sometimes have it make mistakes like fold good hands for 4k more into 36k, and when you make mistakes like that the pots really add up.

Most of the improvements that we noticed were made preflop/flop. It's sort of hard for us as human players to detect the changes it makes in its river strategy, so those were the most easily observed ones. It got more and more aggressive over the course of the march preflop. By the end it almost looked like an entirely different opponent.

It was fun watching the matches, especially yours – how did you find it basically playing online poker but with a live audience and a camera in your face streaming the action?

Well it was quite a bit different, as hundreds of people could see me but my opponent couldn't ! It was a fun experience, I tried to balance enjoying the air time and communicating with the observers with playing a strategy that could beat the program.

Some people criticized you guys for taking this challenge on which I found pretty strange. How did you find the overall experience, and would you be happy to do it again as the technology improves?

I found it weird that we received some criticism at the start as well. But overall we received by far and large positive feedback. I found the experience to be fun, however I am not sure on future years if I will participate again. It was a very tedious sample of hands, and towards the end I was starting to suffer from fatigue. I wouldn't say anything definitively, but this might be my only time to carry the torch for humanity.

I enjoyed your line “This bot is the Kanu of bots, it doesn't play very well but it likes to make weird raises” – not a fan of Kanu’s game then Doug?

Haha I enjoyed coming up with this one as well. I don't want to say too much about other players games but I think it's kind of sad the way Kanu fell off the map in the HUNL scene, he used to be a battler and now just has some weird strategy stuff. Kanu has been quite successful with his career, and I'm sure he will find good spots for those weird raises.

Bjorn Li really crushed, time for him to step up to the ‘Rider for some HU online action?

Bjorn has historically played me quite frequently. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of our matches. Currently we both have a lot of other things going on but I'm sure you can count on some battles down the line :D.

Talking of online action, we’ve noticed you trying out a new few games over recent months. Is this due to the lack of action you get at HUNL?

Yeah, I've been trying to keep myself busy. I just wish it wasn't so expensive to do so. I've been mainly trying to play hu plo, and oh man, that game has some swings. Hopefully hunl can have some resurgence, but only time will tell if I have to look for some more permanent action elsewhere.

How are you finding the other games, and will we be seeing more of you mixing it up with the other multi-game pros in the future?

They are definitely fun, it's nice to mix it up and to get to play something refreshing and different. However it's also tough as I haven't gotten the time to become as good at a lot of these games as the current regulars. I would hope you will see me battling out more, but for now I will have to be a bit more choosy.

You talked in a previous interview about most people piecing themselves out in the $250k event at the Aussie Millions - are you aware of any players who had 100% of themselves?"

Only a select few players had 100% in the 250k, if we could only be so lucky as to all have the same luxury! The field was a tough one as well, and the format was quick. I think if you are gonna fire big, you might want to wait until an event like the 500k, where the structure is a lot better and there is no rake.

You did pretty well in that event but Ivey, of course, won it again. He’s won around $7.5m (US) in that one event since 2012 which seems pretty insane. I worked out that after buy-ins, his profit from that event have almost exactly funded his pretty substantial online losses in the same time period. Do you think he has any hope of getting back on a par with the best online guys, as he seems to be on an almost (not quite) Gus-esque downswing online at the moment?

Betting against Ivey is just plain and simple a dumb move. Ivey has always historically learned to adapt and find his spots. I think maybe he isn't quite as sharp as he used to be, but with practice I think we could see him just as formidable as before.

Speaking of high-rollers, we're very happy to see you in the $500k Super High Roller at the Aria in July, especially as it's being aired on Poker Central - we need more Doug Polk on TV! I want to see you on the same table as jungleman and durrrr, stirring it up! How much are you looking forward to that event?


I think the event is going to be awesome to play in, and awesome for poker. Getting to see a lineup of all your favorite pros battle it out for millions of dollars, is what the fans really want to see. I can't wait to get to play, and I also think that the format is way more appealing then other super high rollers like the one drop. The rake is amazing, and you can win millions of dollars. I'm pumped!

You just mentioned that something like the $500k with the good structure and no rake would be a better tourney to "fire big". Will you be taking all/most of yourself in that one?

If im having a good summer, I might let her rip. If not, then Ill just play it as I always have, and keep good discipline.


The biggest read news with us this week was Isildur1 winning $1.5m in a couple of days then losing most of it a day or two later - are you frustrated you weren't back in time to queue up for some of that cash being splashed by online poker's biggest degen?

To be honest, I haven't really been keeping up with the ups and downs as of late. Being at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh for 12 hours a day didn't give me too much time to check out the latest scores. Now that I'm back I'm ready to keep my eyes peeled, but last I checked Isildur prefers PLO to NL.


There seems to have been quite a lot of high stakes PLO played this year again, and I recall watching you do pretty well against some tough competition – when will Doug Polk be the number 1 HUPLO player online?

I think it's unlikely this will ever happen. PLO is a tough game and I have a lot I have to learn there. You don't get to be the best at everything unfortunately.

It's WSOP time soon, we take it you will be in attendance this year looking to add to the bracelet you won last year?

Yup, I will be in full wsop gear in a couple weeks. You have to get beyond lucky to win a bracelet, so I realize the deck is stacked against me. Besides, I'd rather win the $500k anyway =p.

Any other interesting poker related projects lined up, or is back to the grind for WCGRider?

For now, it's SCOOP, then WSOP. Usually I follow that up with some Vancouver online grind. Maybe I'll mix it up this year, who knows. For now it's MTT's, HUNL, and life on the grind.

Thanks Doug, and good luck for what sound like a busy summer!

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