Exclusive Isaac Haxton interview: Winning €1m pots, battling with Isildur and high stakes strategy

PokerStars Team Online Pro Isaac Haxton isn’t afraid to play anybody for any stakes, as Marc Convey found out

Ask any poker player who the best players are and the same names will crop up: Ivey. Negreanu. Isildur. You can now add Isaac ‘Ike’ Haxton to the list. The 28-year-old cash specialist may not have the fame of his peers, but after years at the top of online poker he’s finally getting the recognition his skills deserve.  

Naturally quiet and studious, Haxton concentrated on his game while others concerned themselves with image as much as poker. It was a good decision for the American who has over $8 million in live tournament winnings (despite only playing a few events per year) and many more dollars earned from his bread and butter of heads-up online cash games. Despite more regular forays into the high roller live circuit, it’s online where Haxton continues to thrive at the highest stakes imaginable. 

With the ripples from Black Friday still being felt across the online poker world, we caught up with Haxton to talk about how the high-stakes games have changed in the last few years, who the top dogs are now and just what it feels like to win a €1m pot…

Isaac haxton: 'I wouldn't say the nosebleeds have slowed down but the edges are smaller'

Isaac haxton: ‘I wouldn’t say the nosebleeds have slowed down but the edges are smaller’

PokerPlayer: Is there much action at the high stakes online at the moment?

Isaac Haxton: There’s always some action but exactly what has a tendency to shift around a good bit. Very recently there’s been a lot of $50/$100 six-max NLHE running with all professional players [but] I haven’t had a lot of heads-up action in 2013. I’d prefer to get more heads-up action if I could, as that’s what I believe I’m best at. It will always be my first choice.

How do the games get started and who pushes the action?
The regulars in the recent $50/$100 games are: myself, Timothy Adams (Tim0thee), Alex Millar (Kanu7) and several Russians whose real identities I don’t know. Sauce1234 (Ben Sulsky) has also been playing a bit.

Are there big edges between these top level pros in the ring games? 
The edges are smaller than in a heads-up game just because of the structure, though I do think there is some distance between people in that group who I consider to be the toughest and those I consider the weakest. There are significant edges and significantly different approaches to the game, and somebody’s got to be right and somebody’s got to be wrong. I wouldn’t rule out that I’m the one who’s wrong – my results in ring games haven’t been outstanding for a long time.

Who are the most skilful players you’ve faced?
Everyone I’ve mentioned is an extremely good poker player. I think it’s obvious to a careful observer that I have more in common with players like Kanu7, Sauce1234 and WCGRider in my approach to the game, so naturally I think we’re doing it right and the other players are doing it wrong.

You talked about being closer to some players’ style of play than others. Have you met any of these people in real life and found that your personalities match up as well?
That’s an interesting question! I met Kanu7 very briefly at EPT London [in 2013] and I’ve met Sauce1234 in person very briefly – that might give you a pointer to the similarities in our personalities. We’re all more inclined to stay in front of our computers and are less gregarious than other players. We’re studious players and we’ve talked a lot more on Skype than in person.

Do you talk strategy with each other?
It’s tricky, not that much. It’s a difficult balance to know when to talk strategy with such a great opponent. I tend to be pretty conservative when it comes to that.

Who do you talk with about strategy?
I go to a handful of friends I’ve had for a very long time: Scott Seiver, Justin Bonomo and tournament guys like Steve O’Dwyer, Dan Smith and JC Alvarado. [Now that many online games play with an ante] there’s not that much difference between the early stages of live high rollers and the online cash games.

Before Black Friday there was a lot of action between the likes of Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey and yourself. Do you miss that and are the games as much fun now?
There’s been a lot of action since actually and a lot of the highest stakes I’ve played have come in the last year. I’ve been playing $500/$1k cap with Viktor [Blom] and  $400/$800 NLHE was also running regularly this year. I wouldn’t say the nosebleed games have slowed down since Black Friday but I would say the edges are smaller. The regulars have got better and even the amateurs have.

Most of those $400/$800 games were running around a specific account in Macau, with the game only running when he was online. And he was just not that bad. Maybe in the first two weeks of him playing online he hadn’t adjusted to the climate of those games, and was getting stacked too light preflop but after playing a while, he was as good as a winning reg at $25/$50 a couple of years ago. He was a pretty strong player, but still the weakest in the line up and the game would run around him, but it wasn’t like there was a 30-name waiting list or anything. It was just those who consider themselves to be the best no-limit ring game players in the world in the game. The standard of play has continued to go up each year, especially at no-limit hold’em.

How do you see the game developing in the next couple of years?
The biggest games don’t run unless someone thinks they have a pretty big edge. So that means heads-up games between two people who think they’re among the best in the world or ring games with an amateur. People who overrate themselves, or people who are underrated by the community at large, or amateurs, are going to be the driving factor as to whether or not there are nosebleeds online in the next couple of years.

What are your aims for 2014?
To continue to play online in whatever games I feel are good. I feel like my PLO game is getting stronger so I may be playing more of that, if that’s where the action is. I’m also going to play some live tournaments, starting off at the PCA followed by the Aussie Millions. There have been more and more $100k [super high rollers] with each passing month lately and they seem to be great value so I’ll play as many of those as I can. [Note: Isaac Haxton came second in the A$250k buy-in for over $2.5m, so that’s worked out well for him already!]

Isaac Haxton: How to win €1m in one hand

Talal Shakerchi lost a €1m pot to Haxton at the 2013 EPT Monte Carlo

Talal Shakerchi lost a €1m pot to Haxton at the 2013 EPT Monte Carlo

At the 2013 EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo a huge €1m buy-in cash game (with €1k/€2k blinds) broke out. Haxton was inevitably there, alongside an all-star cast including Sam Trickett, Isildur and 2013 PokerPlayer Player of the Year Niklas Heinecker. It was Haxton who grabbed all the headlines when he shipped a €1m pot from British businessman Talal Shakerchi…

Isaac Haxton: It folds to Shakerchi in the cutoff and he opens to €7k. I make it €22k from the button with Q-T suited, which is a fairly aggressive three-bet. It’s a hand I’d normally call with but he’d been playing fairly aggressively and wasn’t folding to many three-bets, so it was a hand I thought I could three-bet him slightly lighter for value. It folds back to him and he four-bets pretty small to €52k. I call as I think for that price, there’s really no other option. 

I flop a flush on J-8-5! He c-bets for half-pot. I call. The turn is an offsuit Ace and he checks to me. There was a bit over €200k in there with €400k to play. I feel like I can get stacks in there with betting half pot, half pot and that’s what I did. I flopped the ‘nuts’ in a four-bet pot and took the standard line to get the stacks in. 

The hand is more interesting from his side; I can only guess what he had. I think it’s very likely he turned a set of Aces, and probably had the A to go with it. He didn’t seem to seriously consider folding the river, and I think he played it well. There’s not a lot else he can do. It is very possible I would bluff with something like K-Q with the K in this spot. It’s even plausible that I could be value-betting a set of Jacks here. It’s really just a big cooler [but] the fact that it’s by far the biggest pot I’ve played makes it pretty special.

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