Chris: What’s up, Jake! By the time you get around to reading and responding to this you’ll be in Vegas. Every year since I first went in 2012, I feel a jolt of excitement when the WSOP tips off, but most years it turns out this jolt is actually a warning signal piercing my body that I am about to get rekt for five figures in Vegas yet again. Let me start off this interview by asking: what is the one thing you most enjoy about transitioning from playing poker at home in Portland to the bright lights of the WSOP? When that feeling burns off, what do you miss most about the poker life in Portland you’ve left behind?
Jake: The big score. That’s what we’re all looking for out here. You got the biggest, juiciest tournaments in the world during the summer in Vegas and that’s what brings us out every year. With that said, burnout is a very real thing. It’s hard to avoid – especially when you’re on a downswing. At least once a week I’ll get the feeling that I need a day off.. and finding stuff to do in Vegas (that doesn’t involve money or drinking) isn’t really that easy. Especially by yourself. Exercise is key – so getting to the gym and playing basketball or something is one of my go-tos. I guess what I miss about playing in Portland the most is just being able to take a day off and completely leave poker out of my brain. There’s plenty to do to take my mind off the game.
Let’s talk a bit more about the Portland scene. I moved to Brooklyn last fall, so I’m not as up on legislative issues as I would be if I were still an Oregonian, but I would theorize that the sun is quickly setting on the era of poker clubs and poker as a publicly spread social game in Portland. Where does that leave you? If your options were to a) follow the games as they go back underground, and absorb the shadiness and rake that goes with the private scene, b) play exclusively online when not travelling or c) be a casino player at a theoretical Ilani poker room — which I believe they have a license for even though it doesn’t exist yet — which would you choose?
Between those 3 options I would likely suck it up and play the raked home games. They aren’t incredibly shady (though you hear about over-raking and collusion from time to time).. however as of a few days ago it looks like the social clubs are in the clear! Pending some rule adjustments. That’s what I’m hearing at least. I think Meadows is still in deep water with Oregon lottery but most of the clubs should be fine.. and most importantly our precious strip club games.
Wait, what? [Does research.] Oh wow, the bill died in committee. How is there not more about this in the NW Poker thread? I have to say, I’m skeptical that this cloud hanging over you guys will just evaporate, but it seems like maybe Portland social gaming is in the clear for at least the rest of the summer. In that case, what’s your favorite club to play in? You don’t have to pick one that boasts the performing arts, but you do have to just pick one. Do you know that if I want to play 1-2 NL in Brooklyn the rake is 10% up to $12? Feel lucky.
Damn. I’ve never even been to NY, more less played poker there, but I definitely know how it goes ridiculous rake in non-Portland games. We really are spoiled. Believe me, if you still lived in Portland you would have heard all about it, hah. A big group of us went down to Salem to sweat the hearing a couple months before the ruling/decision was decided. Coincidentally, Portland Meadows is my favorite place to play in Portland, and it happens to have the most hurdles to jump through at the moment. Not only were they dealing with the infamous bill hanging over our heads, but the Oregon Lottery has been giving them shit on top of it. They’ve had to make serious adjustments to their “shootout” games. With that said, Brian Sarchi (Meadows’ owner), has been the leading voice in opposing the bill that was trying to bring the whole thing down. There were others, but I think we all owe Brian a lot of gratitude for battling so hard for all of us.
Who are some of the toughest competitors you’ve encountered in the Portland poker scene? Is there anyone you foresee making a name for themselves this summer in the bracelet events?
Max Young is a fantastic tournament player and has the resume to back it up. Jeff Mitseff is solid at any limit mix games and has a history of playing 10k events (smaller fields). Jeremy Harkin is always in there mixing it up. If I had to bet I’d put my money on those three (barring myself of course 😉 )
I forget where we met for the first time, but in my recollection our friendship solidified around playing private games and then going out to Pendleton, where we discovered we had a shared contempt for a few of our poker peers — who will remain nameless — over their lack of ethics and general scumminess. Sorry for the loaded question, but how do you go about choosing your poker friends and choosing who to keep at arm’s length? I’m not sure if you do any staking, loaning or swapping, but that can certainly compound the problem of maintaining friendly relations with your poker peers. Any advice there?
Yeah unfortunately you hear quite a bit about people owing money.. staking deals going awry.. but all in all I really do think that Portland, as a whole, has more integrity than most communities around the country. I could just be super biased, but the stories from around town are pretty tame compared to the horror stories I hear from other parts of the country/world. Honestly the best advice is just not to lend money at all. Only stake your very best friends that you know are winners. Basically just be a total nit when it comes to any of that stuff. Everyone knows who the shady characters are and they’re easy to avoid. It’s not worth calling anyone publicly but privately everyone knows.
Okay, let’s end on a happier subject. I have to admit I have a bit of envy for your tournament resume! As stated above, my lifetime results in Vegas aren’t great, mostly because I have a truly atrocious track record in tournaments. Maybe I’m just a cash game player used to plucking low-hanging fruit, but I feel like there’s some aspect of tournament play I’m not paying enough attention to. My latest guess is that it’s something to do with lifestyle. How do you drag yourself through the 110 degree desert week after week, surrounded by so many tough opponents and so much human misery, and still have the ability to access your A+ poker game when it matters most?
Let’s see.. well my broad advice, which is pretty obvious, is just to treat poker like a business. Develop a routine, eat right, get your exercise in, try to stay fresh.. put in your hours but be sure to take breaks when needed.. try not to drink and party too much (my personal vice). Just know that you’re here to grind and don’t rush it. You’re going to go through swings but as long as you can look back and know that you played well you’ll be okay. GAME SELECTION is huge. Don’t play that 2/5 Big O game just cause that’s what you do. The game is going to suck sometimes so move to something else – be it holdem or elsewhere. A lot of the time a $600 hold em tournament at Planet Hollywood will be softer than the 3k 6-max at the Rio. Make good decisions and the money will fall where it should.
Chris Leslie-Hynan is a friend of mine as well as a brilliant poker player and author. Check out his work at http://chrislesliehynan.com/ as well as Amazon.com.