Natasha Barbour on a Chip, a Chair and the One That Got Away

Alex Weldon : June 7th, 2016


Natasha Barbour’s been playing poker for years now, but captured most people’s attention at last summer’s World Series of Poker when she was the runner up in Event #20 – $1500 No-Limit Hold’em. Whenever a woman player makes it that deep into a final table, it gets noticed, as most years the number of women winning bracelets (outside of the Ladies’ event) is either zero or one, although 2004 saw three going to Cyndy Violette, Kathy Liebert and Annie Duke. Although she came up just short that time around, she’s got her eyes on the prize this year, and seems to be off to a lucky start, having managed a (just over) min-cash in her latest tournament despite having lost 99% of her stack to a bad beat on the second hand of the first level. I had a chance to chat with her about that result on Twitter, as well as last year’s near miss and her relationship with Jason Mercier. The interview has been (very) lightly edited for clarity.

Alex Weldon: So, you’ve proven the “chip and a chair” theory by managing a small cash in WSOP Event #6 after being left with only 50 chips at one point. I read that happened in the second hand of the tournament. How’d that go down?

Natasha Barbour: It was a small vs. big blind situation. I had AA and lost to my opponent’s 88. My opponent thought we didn’t need to count down the stacks since it was his first hand, but I insisted that I had 50 chips left, since he had folded his big blind the hand before. After that hand, I was all-in in the small blind and the same guy doubled me up, so I had 150 at that point. Folded a whole round, then was all-in again in my next BB, tripled up and it went uphill from there.

AW: Being down to 1 BB after two hands and coming back to cash is a hard record to beat, but do you have any other memorable comebacks?

NB: Right after being crippled, I texted Jason “busted,” because I expected to bust in the following hand or two. Its almost a “thing,” when you’re down to 1 BB, everyone at your table starts saying that they’ve won tourneys before with just a chip (the “chip and a chair” thing) and I’m always thinking “yeah, sure you did.” I never had a real chip-and-a-chair story of my own until now.

We joke that whenever he tells me I played a hand badly or that I’m playing bad, I end up running my stack up, so before this event he jokingly told me while dropping me off, “you’re really terrible at poker.” So I was sure I was going to cash after he said that!

AW: Haha, that ties into a couple of later questions. But you first tweeted about it when you got back up to 1250… is that the point at which you started to think it was going to happen?

NB: I wanted to play perfect short stack poker and not give up. When I got up to 1250, I felt like it was possible for me to get back to the starting stack, so yeah, I kinda saw hope at that point.

AW: So, regarding your joke with Jason, I was going to say, as poker players we’re not supposed to be superstitious, but my experience with giant comebacks in my online days was that it’s hard not to start feeling bulletproof at a certain point when you’re running that good. Do you feel like that kind of thing affects your game at all, for better or worse? More confident, more willing to try risky plays, etc.?

NB: What he thinks of a move I made, my game or some hands I played really matters to me because I respect his game so much. So after most tourneys I’ll run hands by him just to make sure my game is on point and to try to improve. His opinion really matters, so him telling me I played badly, even if it’s a joke, makes me wanna crush the next event I play to prove him wrong and increase my confidence. I’m not really superstitious but sometimes poker players lack motivation and I know I can count on him being my motivation when I start lacking it.

AW: How about the comeback, though? Obviously, you need to win quite a lot of races in a row to get back to a reasonable stack. Once you’ve come back from that kind of deficit, do you start to feel like it’s just going to be your day?

NB: I ran the 50 chips into 13,000 in 3 hours. Won some flips, 2-outered the nicest person at my table and felt bad about it… but once I reached that stack size I felt like I was never going to bust that day.

Aces was such a weird hand for me the 1st two hours, I lost with them on that 1st hand, cracked AA myself to double up later on, then got dealt AA twice more in the next 2 hours. I think I played it differently each time too, alternating between 3-betting preflop and flatting opens, and it worked out that way.

AW: Yeah. That sense of invincibility is great. So, I assume you’ll be playing a fairly full series this year. You came so close to winning a bracelet last year, but ended up trying a big bluff when your opponent had the hand you were repping. Now that it’s a year later and you’re back at the series, how do you feel about that moment?

NB: I wish I didn’t get it in with 0% equity! Ha ha ha. I don’t know why, but last year the bracelet mattered way less than the money, and this year I just really want the bracelet. I ended up feeling like I left something behind last year and now I really want to get it back!

AW: It was a rough way to go out for sure. I remember in my first deep run in a big online tournament I went out in 3rd in similar fashion, except in my case, I was semi-bluffing a straight and flush draw when my opponent turned out to have a better made flush, so I feel you. I expected that you’d be bracelet-hungry this year as a result. Is there a specific event you think is going to be your best shot?

NB: Well, I think it’d most likely be a No-Limit event, even though I’m playing a few mixed events this year.

AW: Any event you’re particularly looking forward to?

NB: Yes! The 2-7 Triple Draw! It’ll be my 1st time playing that game, but I must have watched Jason play 100 hours of it, so I feel pretty confident.

AW: Nice. I hated that game when I first started playing 8-Game, but came to love it. So, final question I think, back to you and Jason. You talked about how supportive and motivating he is… I feel like a lot of poker couples have that, but also a bit of rivalry. Do you do any fun prop betting with him? You win a bracelet, he does the dishes for a month or something?

NB: I’ve been wanting to go to Machu Picchu to do the 7-day hike for a while now, so that’s usually what I bet on with him. But there’s no rivalry, really just support and encouragement. It’s motivating to see your partner do well. We do have some fun bets on the side, but dishes are and will always be 100% on me, ha ha… I would have to redo them if I let him do them, ha ha ha.

AW: Oh, just a couple of quickies to finish, just for fun: What’s your over/under on number of bracelets won by women this year? Over/under on the age of this year’s Main Event champ?

NB: I’ll set the line on 1 for women and 24 for the Main Event champion!

AW: I think I’d take – and am hoping for – the over on both. Let’s get someone’s grandma winning the Main. That would be good for poker, right?

Anyway, thanks a lot for your time and good luck for the rest of the series. Hopefully I’m interviewing you again in the coming weeks after you get that bracelet.

NB: Thanks a lot!

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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