UK Poker News continues with its illuminating interview with WPT winner and successful poker professional, John Gale.
In Part 1 (16th March 2006), John recounted the big WPT win that launched his poker career in 2005, and the emotions that went with the experience.
In this Part 2, John describes his heartbreak at narrowly missing out on a WSOP bracelet in 2005 and gives some candid views on the WSOP festival, the F-Bomb rule and players who go out of their way to make life uncomfortable for others. Essential stuff!
In Part 3, to be published later, John chats about the UK scene and imparts some advice to the less experienced of us. Be sure to check back to UK Poker News for this.
UKPN: Following on from the WPT win in the Caribbean, you almost capped the year off spectacularly by coming mightily close to winning a WSOP Bracelet. Tell us more about that tournament?
JG: It was the $5,000 pot limit hold'em event at the World Series. On my opening table, there was Daniel Negreanu and Humberto Brenes and I thought "great, I could do without this so early in the tourney!". So I was overjoyed when they broke the table after a couple of hours. I had built my stack up substantially and was now looking forward to an easier table.
No such luck. At my new table was Dave "Devilfish" Ulliot, Huck Seed, Hoyt Corkins, Tony Cousineau, Annie Duke, Amir Vahedi, and John Juanda. It got worse; within about an hour, Barry Greenstein joined the table closely followed by Joe Sebok. You could realistically have called it the table from hell! Things were still going well. I was still aggressive but a lot more selectively. Anyway, after two long gruelling days' play, I made the final table.
I went into Day 3 as the second short stack on the table and I think, with all modesty aside, I can say I played the best poker of my life. Admittedly, I got lucky early on when I hit a flush against Cindy Violette's trip queens, but after that, I was almost totally card dead and just utilised the marginal and moderate cards I was dealt advantageously. By the time we got heads-up, I had a very slight chip lead and by the time my opponent went all-in with his pocket sixes, I had built my stack to a six-to-one chip lead and had hardly shown a hand.
I called Brian Wilson's all-in with A J. The flop came 4 7 8, the turn was a J. I celebrated prematurely - something I will never do again - and the poker gods punished me with a 5 on the river snatching the bracelet cruelly away. Never mind, I still had a significant chip lead and you can imagine my joy when all the chips went in the very next hand. Brian turned over pocket fours and I turned over pocket tens. "This must be it" I thought but, no, it wasn't to be. Brian's voodoo had worked again. He called for the four of hearts on the flop and, lo and behold, there it was. It was a sickening blow from which I didn't recover and the rest is history. Never mind, maybe this year I'll get luckier.
UKPN: Apart from that particular contest, you cashed in three other WSOP events with impressive placings. With so many players competing in those tournaments, why do you think you were able to do so well? What is your edge?
JG: I honestly don't know, hold'em is a game of playing your opponents and your opponents' cards more so than playing your own. For the first two weeks at the World Series, I did nothing in the tournaments but was cleaning up in the cash games. I then decided to call it a day cash-wise and concentrate more on the tourneys so I subsequently got a lot more sleep and became more focused on the tournament side of things and of course I had some luck along the way. I am actually more comfortable playing with top players than some of the internet qualifiers, although I appreciate that I was one myself not too long ago and there are certainly some great players on-line. There are sure to be a lot of major breakthroughs by some, but on the whole a lot just play the cards, aren't able to read some of the more subtle plays and are prepared to gamble a lot more than the established pros. Whereas a lot of the time they will just give you their chips, they are also very dangerous and can easily take you out. I try not to gamble with these players but can't stop them gambling with me.
UKPN: Several players have said that they found the whole WSOP experience a bit of a circus with it being such a huge, corporate vehicle, and generally not too enjoyable. It clearly helps to get some success there but what is your view of the WSOP festival in its current format, its size and especially the Main Event?
JG: As it was my first World Series, I may not be the best qualified person to comment, however whilst I thought the atmosphere at the Rio was absolutely fantastic and the general standard of floor people and dealers were excellent, the facilities left a lot to be desired. The toilets were farcical with about 15 urinals and closed toilets for, some days, 2,000 plus people. Personally, I used to go during play rather than stand in line for ages.
Also, getting a one hour dinner break during a tourney when it took 15 minutes to walk to a restaurant and 15 minutes to walk back was rather stupid. The cash desk was less than helpful and then they decided to withhold 30% of a player's money if they didn't have an ITIN number. This caused a lot of bad feeling amongst the European players.
So, whereas the facilities and hospitality issues most definitely need addressing, I only have the highest praise possible for the structuring of the events and the friendly and professional way Johnny Grooms and all his team handled everything.
As for the Main Event itself, I personally feel it is too large to be an accurate reflection of the World Championship. They are talking in excess of 8,000 players this year, so it is becoming more of a crapshoot. Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying; I think Joe Hachem is a great player, a worthy champion and a great ambassador for the game, as were Greg Raymer and Chris Moneymaker before him. But personally, I would like to see the structuring altered to something along the lines of Wimbledon or the US Open where anyone can enter but have to play pre-qualifying and qualifying matches to play in the main tournament. This could work along the lines of say the top 400 players in the world over the last 5 years getting automatic entry to the main event and then as many internet qualifiers or other entries as you like playing down to 400 to create a main event of 800.
UKPN: The WSOP introduced the "F-Bomb" rule which came in for a lot of criticism because some dealers were reporting players for using the F-word in a non-threatening manner and penalising them with a 10-minute penalty, yet other players got away with all kinds of "ungentlemanly behaviour". What is your take on the arbitrary way poor table behaviour is dealt with? Do you have a view on what consistent rules are needed, both at the WSOP and generally at casinos?
JG: The F-bomb rule to me is the most stupid rule ever created, whereas a lot of gentlemanly players will use this word in good natured banter or as a general usage word and get a penalty for doing so, it seems to me that other players are getting away with murder just because they don't use the actual F-word. Penalties should be given at the discretion of the floor according to the context in which the word was used.
I feel it would benefit the game considerably if a general rule book were in force and adhered to and enforced by a governing body of poker. There are a number of players on the circuit who will use any means at their disposal to bring both a bad atmosphere to the table and generally ensure that no one at that particular table enjoys the day's play. For a start, there should be a rule on hygiene. I know this sounds silly but there are some players who deliberately do not wash or clean their teeth and make sitting next to them, for sometimes 15 hours or more, exceedingly unpleasant. A lot of these people do it deliberately and should be seriously penalised for it. I recently, at the LA classic, had the misfortune to sit next to one of these people on Day 2 and it took me all my self control not to throw up. The smell was odorous and made play very unenjoyable for everyone else.
The abuse some players throw at dealers and other players should have a zero tolerance rule implemented and lead to disqualification after two penalties have been issued. Discussing hands or commenting on other people's play during play should be equally punishable. There is one player - Davood Mehrmand - who is probably the most hated person in poker, who is continually abusing players and dealers alike and forever commenting on play and possible scenarios during a hand and for some reason is never penalised because he refrains from using the F-bomb!
Many players have received penalties from losing their rag at a table with this guy and yet nothing is ever done about it. At the Festa Al Lago IV at the Bellagio in October, a very good friend of mine, Harry Demetriou, was given a 40-minute penalty due to Mehrmand's intolerable provocation and anyone who knows Harry would agree you couldn't hope to meet a nicer, more laid back and easy going guy than him. Personally, I'm proud to say I have never got a penalty but I came pretty close at the Five Diamond Classic in December where I actually told Mehrmand if he didn't stop his abuse, that I would gladly get a penalty but there was a good chance he would get hospitalised!. I promise you I never lose my temper or abuse anyone at the table, but this infuriating, provocative, idiot could make the Pope take a swing at him. It is about time this unwanted and unwelcome element was taken out of the game permanently.
Part 3 will follow soon on UK Poker News
Ed note: Get a huge $500 bonus at London Poker Club