How an Amateur Player Beat the Pros to Win the WSOP Monster Stack

Steve Ruddock : June 29th, 2016

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One of the most popular tournaments at the World Series of Poker is the Monster Stack.

The $1,500 buy-in event is both affordable and offers a good deal of play for the price-point, as players begin with twice as many chips as similarly priced events (players being with 15,000 chip stacks), and the event is scheduled for five days instead of the typical three.

Because of the structure, the Monster Stack is supposed to favor skilled competitors. Which is why the winner of the event, Mitchell Towner, saying he doesn’t play much poker was a shock; an upset of Moneymaker proportions.

It’s a trap!

He may not have a lot of poker experience, and he may not be “in practice,” as he only plays poker a handful of times a year, but Mitchell Towner is far from a fish.

When he arrived at the final table, the assistant professor of finance at the University of Arizona realized where his edge was and exploited it to maximum effect. Towner’s edge wasn’t in reading other players, or mental toughness, it was simply the wherewithal to recognize he was not on the same level as some of the other players in the tournament.

And because he knew how these players were likely to attack him (thanks to his one hour a week of consuming poker strategy podcasts and information), he was able to devise a strategy that would help him avoid their direct assaults. Like an outmanned army choosing the field of battle, Towner made the decision to employ what I’ll call Poker Judo, a tactic that requires patience, some skill, and a bit of luck.

“I just tried to play fairly straightforward,” Towner told PokerNews.com. “Everyone on my left was sort of a young wizard. So, I’m not going to be opening light or calling marginal spots. It seemed like people were liable to blast off occasionally, so I figured you never know, maybe I’ll get hit with a deck of cards and run really well.”

Poker Judo explained

Poker Judo is how middling pros decimate the low limit games in casinos.

You simply wait for the goods and play it fast and aggressive when you get them, as most of your opponents are unfamiliar with your style of play and give you action. It’s a terrific long term strategy in small stakes games where you have a continually revolving group of players who are prone to making mistakes.

This style of play is low risk, and masks many potential mistakes a non-expert player might make.

Poker Judo also works in the short-term, in situations where you’re playing above your pay grade. In fact, this was basically the premise for the “All-in or fold” Kill Phil tournament strategy.

In Towner’s case, he was at the final table of a WSOP tournament, the casual player version of winning the lottery. Towner is unlikely to hit the long run in poker tournaments of this scale, so hoping to get some help from the deck is actually a valid strategy to consider.

It’s the equivalent of having to play Lebron James in basketball and talking him into a three point contest instead of a game of one-on-one.

In these situations the short term luck involved in poker is an advantage to the amateur player. In football it’s called “on any given Sunday,” a term that doesn’t mean the lesser team is equally likely to win; rather it means that if they get the bounces and play mistake free, it shouldn’t be a surprise if they win.

Far too many amateur players in Towner’s shoes would have gone in the opposite direction. They want to prove they can hang with the big boys, and they wholly overestimate their skill set, particularly after successfully navigating through a field of nearly 7,000 poker players to reach the final table a prestigious WSOP tournament.

Instead of playing conservatively and limiting potential mistakes, they increase their chances of committing a serious blunder by trying to play a pro-style game against people who are capable of playing a pro-style game.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but if you’re a Mitchell Towner type player and really want to stand a chance, you have to understand your limitations, and recognize your skill level compared to the rest of the table.

Of course, this is easier said than done.

Why Poker Judo works in these situations

The key advantage of waiting for good cards is they routinely come in bunches, so it’s only a matter of time before someone looks you up, and there’s always a chance for a cooler situation to develop.

But even if the cards don’t come, if you’re a savvy player you can still use your tight, ABC strategy, to your advantage by meticulously picking your spots to bluff and make a move. Your tight image makes this easy enough to do. And just one or two wins of this type are enough to get you 40-50 extra hands.

Finally, you can also make pay jumps by not getting involved. As cool as it is to win a WSOP bracelet, for someone who works for a living, an extra $50k (or more) is a really big deal.
*Photo courtesy of WSOP.com

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