Amateur poker players usually don’t fare very well when they sit down with the big boys and play high stakes poker on TV. Whether they’re rich businesspeople or simply overly optimistic dreamers with 75% of their net worth on the table, there aren’t many cases of amateurs besting the pros in televised cash games.
Actually, there is one exception.
A specific subset of amateur players, qualifiers from 888 Poker, have a pretty good track record on Poker Night in America, as five of the six players who’ve qualified to play in the $25/$50 No Limit Holdem game that is Poker Night in America have walked away winners – and the two players who’ve lost money happen to be a well-known poker pro with a World Poker Tour title on his resume, Asher Conniff, and a tough New Jersey poker player named Christopher Horter, who finished 57th in the 2015 WSOP Main Event. Other than Conniff and Horter, 888’s handful of qualifiers are 4-0 on Poker Night in America.
In November of 2014, 888 New Jersey sent two players to the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh to appear on Poker Night in America. One of those players was Conniff, the other was Andrew Hanna.
Hanna finished his session up $1,575.
A minute to learn and six months to master
In January of 2015, Christine Pilcher played in the PNiA game held at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. Christine won $3,575.
Easily the most improbable story of all the qualifiers, Christine not only won the 400 person qualifier tournament and came out ahead on PNiA, she did so just six months after her husband first taught her how to play poker.
Fear the beard
In August of 2015, Poker night in America landed in upstate New York at the Turning Stone Casino, where 888 qualifier Dominick Christiano finished his session up $5,575.
888 qualifier Christopher Horter appeared on the November 2015 episodes of Poker Night in America at Rivers Casino and was felted when a loose aggressive spiked a two on the River for a well-disguised trips that cracked Horter’s Pocket Kings.
The most recent 888 qualifier to appear on Poker Night in America was Anthony Pagan, who Matt Glantz knows from the New Jersey tournament scene. Pagan walked away from his PNiA session at the Thunder Valley Casino in California up around $4,300, after he successfully dodged a nine after getting all-in pre-flop with Tom West holding KK to West’s 99.
A couple other amateur players
The poker media has a good track record on Poker Night in America too.
PokerNews.com reporter Chad Holloway appeared on the show when Poker Night in America went to SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia in April of 2015, and Chad turned his $5,000 buy-in into $12,850 after two days of action – Holloway was up over $15,000 at one point.
In August I played at Turning Stone Casino (the day before Dominick Christiano) and left with a modest win of $1,700. Like Holloway, I was up even more, but gave some of it back when I made a controversial lay down in a six-bet pot against Shaun Deeb.
So why are these qualifiers and amateur players performing so well?
I have a few theories on this.
Theory #1: The amateurs are wrapping the pros’ rocks in paper
As I learned firsthand, this game is intentionally played at stakes that these players can afford, and most treat as a friendly home game (how sick is that!?!?!) where they can laugh, drink, and gamble.
So what you have is the perfect convergence of playing styles, where the amateur qualifiers are playing tight ABC poker (for the most part) and the pros are playing what I would generally term as a loose, slightly aggressive style. If you want to beat a loose aggressive player just wait for the nuts, and since they’re having fun and gambling the pros tend to pay these amateurs off in spots they probably shouldn’t.
Theory #2: He bet, he has to have it
Furthermore, the professionals in the game (and the whales) give you way too much credit for having a hand. They suspect that because you’re almost certainly playing over your head you’ll be intimidated to the point of playing tight ABC poker exclusively.
From what I’ve seen, this is basically how most of the amateur qualifiers played, but even nitting it up, the pros gave a lot of respect to the continuation bets from these players.
Theory #3: The incomplete information factor
Finally, the amateurs are complete unknowns.
The amateurs can watch tape (if there is any) on their likely opponents, but the pros are going into the game with no knowledge of what the amateur’s skill level is, or what kind of style they play.