I finally attended a DeepStacks Live Course – You should too
On Friday I finally got to cash in on a DeepStacks Live Course that I won way back in October 2010 when I shipped a prize through a series of poker tournaments with the top prize being a DeepStacks Live Course. I’d been looking forward to the opportunity to attend since before I won the prize, as I’d been yearning for the opportunity to have my game picked apart, and to learn something new for my game that I could incorporate. I love learning, and I love poker, and I like being critiqued so that I can make improvements in my game, so I desperately wanted to attend. But unfortunately, DeepStacks had been offering courses all over the globe and at dates and times that I just couldn’t make work for me until Friday, when I finally had a spot where our two calendars synced with one another. I couldn’t be happier that it finally did.
Jack and I took the 5 hour drive from my place to Turlock, CA in the afternoon on Thursday and headed up the I-99 past Fresno to get there. It was long after dark on Cinco De Mayo by the time we arrived, and there wasn’t a whole lot of partying going on in the tiny city of Turlock. We unloaded our stuff at and checked into the hotel, and went out to enjoy a few beers at the bar at a Red Robbin restaurant while chatting about what we expected from the class, which began at 10am the next morning. Jack was unfamiliar with any of the instructors that were scheduled outside of Mike Matusow, who is one of the most recognizable personalities in the game. Mike “The Mouth” has been on TV playing poker countless times and has a character persona that never stops. But he definitely knows the game of poker having amassed more than $7.7 million in Live Tournament earnings, being one of the most prolific cash game players ever, and holding multiple titles including 3 WSOP Bracelets, and a WSOP Tournament of Champions win in 2005. Mike is one of the great members of the “Old Guard” of poker and a virtual lock for the Poker Hall of Fame sometime soon.
The other instructors included Tristan “Cre8ive” Wade. Dubbed a “Rising Star,” Tristan has only $285k in live tournament earnings, including 10 WSOP Cashes. His biggest WSOP cash came from a deep run in the 2010 Main Event for more than $57k for a 113th place finish (his second career Main Event Cash). But online, Tristan has amassed well over $1.2 million in online earnings and is a force to be reckoned with.
Karina Jett was also on the list of instructors, and has been around the poker industry for more than a decade. She’s made a bunch of TV appearances on shows like Late Night Poker, and GSN’s Poker Royale, Battle of the Sexes. On the live tournament circuit, she’s amassed more than $300k in live tournament earnings and is a writer along with her husband Chip at Cardplayer where the two do a He Said/She Said column that is enormously popular.
The fourth instructor on slate was someone that I wasn’t familiar with. Brandon “XBLAH” Riha is a 21-year old with a bunch of tournament results online. Playing as “BRiha5254” on Stars and Tilt, Riha has ran up about $1 million in online tournament scores. Brandon came to Turlock from Auburn, NY where he’d won tens of thousands of dollars playing live since he turned 18 at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona with a couple of big wins. But this year will really be his first opportunity to play on the live tournament circuit as he’s finally old enough to compete.
On Friday morning, Jack and I left our hotel and set out to the Turlock Poker Room on Main Street, but we apparently had an old address without knowing it. We arrived at this old rundown brick building about the size of my bedroom, and got scared stiff when we saw how dilapidated it was. Jack said “Wow man, this is some real ‘Rounders Stuff’ here,” inferring to the backroom card playing spots that had to take place in secrecy and were often raided by the police. There was an SUV in the parking lot, but nothing else, and we walked up to the glass door to see an empty building. A quick phone call gave us the info that they had relocated to another location up the road sometime ago, and we got back in the car for the real room.
The Turlock Poker Room is located next to a movie theater in what looked to be 2 to 3 suites of a strip mall. The building looked brand new (or nearly new at least) and had great curb appeal. As the security guard opened the door for us, we went inside the room which revealed about a dozen poker tables on one half of the room, and Pai Gow and Black Jack on the other side. We headed to the registration table where Tristan came up and gave us the thumbs up that we were ok to attend, despite not being on the list. Jack and I took a seat at a table along with 8 other players, and Chris Torina, the owner of Deepstacks, began the introductions of the instructors as we got things going. I forget Tristan’s title, but he was introduced as the author of the instruction material that we were going to go through, and the lead instructor for the day, and he walked us through what we were going to work on for the day, spending half the time on cash play, and half on tournament strategies.
The play began with $10k starting chips to every player and blinds of 25/50, and the instructors began with a 35-40 minute observation period where the instructors didn’t play, and instead just observed at each table. If you were folding your hand, you would pull your cards back and put them on the rail, and when the hand was over, everyone turned the cards face up so that we could all see what everyone had. We had Tristan at our table watching every play and every hand, and he picked up a lot more in that first 35 minutes than I could have ever imagined. Once the observation period ended, the instructors conferred among each other to discuss the trends among some of the novice players that were among the crowd, and gave advice to the group about things like opening bet sizing, 3-bet sizing, and post-flop bet sizing in relation to the pot. Pretty basic stuff that you would think that players would be aware of, but I was pretty astonished at how little most of these players were aware of what they were doing.
After the group discussion, Tristan came back to our table to chat with each person on their tendencies, the hands that they played, and broke everyone down one-by-one discussing the rationale for his criticisms. I was SHOCKED at the notes that he had on everyone, including not only everyone’s hole cards, but he bet amounts for every street as well. We got into some hand discussion on several different pots and why certain plays were made and what was profitable and unprofitable. It was a tremendous breakdown in just a short amount of time. Tristan then sat at the table and played along with us breaking down every single hand, and every single action. He identified several players that had physical tells as well. It was an eye-opening experience for everyone at the table in many different respects.
After about another 40 minutes of play we took another break and Chris Torina took over the instructor roll at our table. While not a DeepStacks Instructor, Chris has been around the DeepStacks camps since its inception and knows what he’s doing. Chris has a couple of WSOP Cashes to his name, and has a few more recent final tables at the DeepStacks $2k Tournament in Reno where he finished 7th being the most recent. The instructors just switched tables giving everyone a new voice and a new perspective at their table. There were several things that Chris brought up in certain spots that I plan on incorporating into my game regarding C-betting that I think were brilliant. After about an hour with Chris we took another break, and then were joined by Brandon for more of the same.
Brandon Riha gave me perhaps the biggest nugget of information on the day which came with bet sizing with relation to flop textures and the amounts to try on wet and dry boards. As I let that information stew and soak in, I could see how that would be so advantageous and the rationale behind it. He was soft spoken, but he did perhaps the best job of any of the instructors with providing the hand by hand critiquing of each play, bet, and fold in every spot. He really knew his stuff, and did a magnificent job for his first ever training class.
Once the cash game play finished, Tristan called the entire class over to a TV Screen where he put up a Power-Point presentation for a quick 10 minute seminar to talk about how to calculate pot odds and the “Rule of 4 and 2.” Basically it was a real crash course on how to easily calculate basic poker math and determining the importance of your tournament “M”, the popular term coined from the Harrington on Hold’em Series by Dan Harrington. It was a perfect bridge from cash play to tournament play as there are some basic but important differences in the two games. The simple explanation as we made the transition to tournament play was that the early pre-ante stages of tournaments operate the exact same way that a cash game would. It’s a great point, as the instruction that we’d received at the beginning of the course would play very true for the early stages of any tournament where you’re typically deeper stacked. Then, as the blinds creep up and ante’s come into play, there are different strategies employed that make for different play. We began to get into these at the table.
Karina Jett joined our table as we made the switch to tournaments with 100/200 blinds with a 25 ante. She brought a completely different demeanor than the other instructors and was excellent at picking apart each play. We played several orbits with Karina as an instructor, and then bumped the blinds to 150/300/25.
When our session with Karina was finished, the blinds were bumped to 200/400/50 making most of us shorter stacked as we’d only had 10k chips. Mike Matusow joined the table and was a riot. I was able to get a needle in, as Mike was short-stacked (not by his own doing), and he played right along. He was obviously exhausted having arrived late Thursday evening on a flight directly from Brussels to Sacramento and stepped into the Turlock Poker Room as probably the only person on earth to have ever made the trip from Belgium, directly to the Turlock Poker Room. But he was in a playful mood as he got dealt a deuce for the third straight hand and began tossing cards at the dealer playfully. It was a riot. His criticisms at the table were the most comical of the instructors, and he was the only instructor to field a call at the table to book a bet on the Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks game as well. It was a great way to end the session.
We closed play with a super-turbo freeroll tournament with first place getting entry to the 7pm tournament that evening. I went bust pretty early running my 5 big blind stack into a bigger pair when I shoved 2-2 UTG into 6-6 in the Small Blind, and Jack would soon go bust as well. I was able to shake hands with each of the instructors after the event and engage in some one on one chat with them about a great number of things. They’re all solid people all the way around, and I was extremely thankful for the experience.
I’d highly recommend the DeepStacks Live Course to anyone who is serious about making improvements on their poker game. If you want to get better at poker, these guys can fix leaks in your game as well as provide winning strategies that can make you a lot of money. I want to issue a special note of thanks to Chris Torina and Tristan Wade who really made this a memorable experience. I can’t wait for the next “Advanced Class” to see this course take me to the next level.