Richie Rich: Breaking the Bank

Recently I sat down with the 4-Time 4SPT winner Richie Rich to find out his views on his current 4SPT hot streak, changes he’s made to style, and other various topics.

I would first like to congratulate you on your recent run of victories. You just accomplished something that has never been done on the 4SPT before by winning 3 games in a month. You also just completed back-to-back wins, which has only been done once by Mr. Pick. Now you have a total of 4 wins, with 3 of them coming in the current season and yet your first win on the Tour was over 7 months ago, way back on Dec 16 th, 2004. To what do you attribute this recent surge of success?

Thanks, Jeff. I’ve really worked on my tournament game lately. I think what really sparked my recent run was seeing Vaughn and Dino kick butt at this year’s WSOP main event. The experience of just being on the rail was overwhelming. I could only imagine what it must have been like to play in that field. I was awe struck by their performance and, also, eternally jealous. That whole experience has driven me to work on my tournament game in hopes of taking my shot at some of the 2006 WSOP events.

When you first joined the Tour you had a very aggressive style that allowed you to accumulate chips early in the tournament. Most of the players weren’t used to playing against that type of aggression. However, I know you had to change this up to a tighter style after some time because people were catching on. Now it seems you are back to the old aggressive play you first displayed when joining the 4SPT. Can you talk about the adjustments you’ve had to make and the role that played in your tournament strategy?

4th   Street Poker Tour was my first experience playing tournament poker. Increasing blinds, antes, lack of rebuys, etc were all concepts that, while I understood them, I had no experience with. I came to the 4SPT as a successful cash game player. An aggressive style in a cash game will get you a lot of small pots and get you paid off on your monster hands. It can also break you, but you can always reach in your pocket and buy more chips. You can’t do that in a tournament.

So when I first started the 4SPT, I just played the game how I knew, aggressively. I think I was able to get chips because players weren’t used to this. Once they caught on, I was busting out early in the tournament. I needed to change something. So I studied a tighter style of play and gave that a try. I often found myself busting out late in the tournament, but short of the final table. If I did make a final table, I didn’t have enough chips to make an impact, and we all know how much I love to have chips. So I had to find a compromise between the two styles.

You always read/hear about changing gears. Like many players, I thought I did. But after gaining a better understanding of when to change gears, I’ve had more success in tournament poker. Now with a mixed bag of tight and aggressive play, I can gain the chip lead and put myself in a position to be a force at the end.

Let’s talk about the importance of changing gears. A key factor for any successful poker player is the ability to change styles without the other players realizing you have changed it up. When do you realize you need to change styles, is it a hand by hand assessment, table by table, tournament by tournament?

Changing gears and being aware of your table image is key to winning in tournament poker. I used to change gears randomly, but, like driving a car, that makes for an uncomfortable ride. I finally learned that you need to change gears based on many factors.

How large is my chip stack relative to the rest of the table? The blinds? How do my opponents perceive my play? Are we close to the final table? The money? Who is in the blinds? How often do they give up their blinds? How strongly do they defend them? Who is in the pot? How are they playing right now? Loose? Tight? What’s my position? Who’s still to act behind me?

These are all questions I ask myself before deciding how to play a hand. I’ll play tighter or looser on a hand to hand basis based on these questions. The most important thing is to evaluate your opponents based on how they’re playing right now. Is it different from their usual style of play? Are they on tilt? You need to recognize when your opponents have changed gears so you can make the right adjustments yourself.

Also be aware of how your opponents perceive you. You might be playing tighter, but if you’ve gotten AA, KK, and AK three hands in a row without getting to a showdown and betting with them, people are going to think you’re playing loose. Remember what hands you’ve shown down because you can be sure your opponents do.

From watching you play, I have noticed that you really value position. How important is position? And what are some things you look for when playing in position?

No-limit hold ‘em is about betting. You can bet with any two cards in your hand. Being in position gives you more control over the betting. If you’re in early position and bet, someone can raise you and now you’re stuck with a decision. If you reverse that and you bet/raise behind someone, then you’re putting them to a decision.

Poker is about making the proper decisions, regardless of the results. Let your opponents make the tough decisions and you’ll not only make fewer mistakes, but you also give yourself an opportunity to win the pot without the cards. If you’re just calling, you have to have the cards to win the pot.

Position also lets you have more information about your opponent’s hand. How did they bet/check? How much? Do they seem happy about the flop? Does this all tie in with my preflop read? If you have to act first, you have to act without this information. The more information you have on your opponent, the better the decision you can make on how to act on your hand.

Do you have a set game plan coming into each week? Does this game plan change depending on your table draw?

I don’t have a set game plan when I sit down at the poker table. I do try to focus on a part of my game that I think is weak so I can improve it, but I bring the whole bag of tricks every week.

Table draw has a huge influence on how I’m going to play my hands. Am I at a table with aggressive players? Well, then I’m going generally tighten up. Passive players? Here come the big bets. It’s good to have a general idea of they type of players you’ve got at your table (loose, tight, aggressive, tight, etc) and to adjust your game accordingly.

You were one of the top vote getters for Most Talkative. How do you feel this plays into your game? Do you think others play you differently when you are more talkative?

I have fun when I play poker and I like to talk. I never really thought about it as something I could use in poker until I saw Daniel Negreanu use it to gain information on an opponent’s hand. He was able to figure out that his two pair was beat and lay down a big hand.

Getting a player to talk about a hand (whether they’re in the hand or not), you can gain information on what they’re thinking. You just have to be careful that you’re not giving away information by talking, either. For the most part though, it’s just me being social. The people on the Tour are great and I enjoy their company.

Vaughn wrote about those moments in a tournament when you catch a bounce and how you really need to take advantage and push for the win from that point because those bounces don’t come along very often. I’ve seen it every single week, there is usually one hand that defines the tournament for the winner. Was there a defining hand/moment for you this week where you felt like the bounces were going your way?

The hand that stands out for me was early in the tournament. I believe the blinds were at 15/30 and I was first to act with pocket tens. I raised to 90. Folded to Justin in the big blind, he called. Turns out he had pocket jacks. With a board of T 9 8 T 6, all the money could have well gotten into the middle preflop or on the flop. Being a 4.5:1 dog preflop, I was lucky to win. I was even luckier to get all his chips in that hand. From there I used the big stack to take down quite a few pots and arrive at the final table with 1/3 of the chips in play.

I know you like to play online as well at some of the local card rooms. What are some of the differences of playing online vs. live casino vs. 4th Street? Does your style of play vary from online to cash game to tourney?

I used to hate online poker. At the limits I’m comfortable at, you’re mostly playing cards and not the players. Aside from betting patterns, you don’t have much in the way of tells. It does make you more aware of betting patterns which helps you in live games. The most profitable way for me to play online is to generally play tight, but aggressive with the hands that I do get.

At live casinos, playing no-limit, you see a lot of physical tells. The betting, however, is more erratic. Now you need to be more aware of the people part of the game. I generally play loose and aggressive and have had success this way.

At 4SPT and tournaments in general, you need a mixed bag of these strategies. I feel like the online game helps with the tighter side of my game and live cash games help with the loose aggressive side. By being able to play both styles, you can adjust to how your opponents are playing.

Now that you are approaching Sandman status, do you find it harder to go out in public without people stopping you every minute asking for a picture or autograph?

Realize that I pushed my Card Player interview back to give you first crack. Felt that’s the least I could do for all you and Jenn have done. Channel 7 News calls every 15 minutes; it’s annoying. Those Wicked Chops boys seem to have missed the boat, though. My autobiography should hit the shelves before Christmas and make for a great stocking stuffer. Black-haired “Richie Rich” logo gear should hit Nordstroms and Bloomingdale’s within the month. Between the photo shoots and parades, I’m exhausted. Oh shoot, I still need to call Evelyn Ng back.

Seriously, though. There are many players on the Tour who are much closer to Sandman status than I. The Tour has cultivated many good players. I’d be happy to gain respect for my game from the players on the Tour.

The Too Beaucoup Crew is really tearing up the Summer Season. Of the 8 games played you guys have won 5 of them. I think we all felt it was only a matter of time before April took down a win but the Mad Dog came in and won after only a couple of times playing on the Tour. This has to be a pleasant surprise for your Crew.

I’m very proud to say that we’ve done well this season. April finally brought one home and Mad Dog’s win with so little time on the Tour was definitely unexpected. Jun has also made a good amount of final tables on the weeks he plays. We usually play together once a week outside of the 4SPT. Jun and I can be found at various LA card rooms, too. Gotta get that seat time in.

I think this is a great example of how much you gain from experience. No matter how many books and magazines you read or how many players you talk to, you need to gain experience playing poker with players that challenge your skills. It’s this experience that will help you develop that sixth sense on whether you’re beat or not. You can’t get that online. You also can’t get that playing once a week.

I noticed in your player profile you took the time to shamelessly promote your cash game before gratuitously thanking Jennifer and me. Would you like to take this opportunity to correct that now?

You mean my Tuesday night $20 buy-in no-limit hold ‘em cash games featuring a custom table, real Paulson clay chips, and Kem cards where all you need to do is e-mail me to get in?