He’s known to be an online cash player, so what is ‘Durrrr’ doing playing live tourneys and high stakes chess?
Tom Dwan may be the greatest poker player you’ve never heard of. The 21-year-old, better known by his screen name ‘durrrr’, has made millions from online cash games and is a hero to a generation of poker players who think tournaments are for fish. But all this is about to change.
Since turning 21, Dwan has devoted a big chunk of his time to slogging around the live tournament circuit. He’s already found some early success, with a fourth-place finish at the WPT Foxwoods event. It’s a slightly odd decision for a guy who already wins millions from ring games, but it seems Dwan is yearning for a more steady lifestyle than the world of high-stakes online cash play.
‘I’m hoping to gain more notoriety and start a poker-related business. So I’m doing a few interviews, playing more tournaments. It seems like a good idea,’ says Dwan in a drawled accent that sounds part Daniel Negreanu and part Doyle Brunson. It’s a reasonable description of Dwan, who somehow comes across as simultaneously immature and worldly-wise.
He ambles into the Casino at the Empire in London for our photo shoot roughly five minutes before he is due to play on day three of the WSOPE main event. When I mention he’s playing on the TV table with Gus Hansen, Ram Vaswani and Jennifer Harman he looks crestfallen. ‘Shit. We’ll get like ten hands an hour,’ he says. When you are used to betting $200,000 on a bluff there isn’t much that fazes you.
Dwan is an amazing talent. He has a killer combination of fearlessness and raw intelligence reminiscent of Phil Ivey. And while he is friendly and easygoing, he exudes a fierce intensity when money is at stake. I watched him play a $2,000 game of rock, paper, scissors with tournament star Sorel Mizzi and he spent an eternity staring fixedly at Mizzi before making each move. The winner of that game? LDO (like, durrrr, obviously).
Dwan’s introduction to poker came aged 17 at home in New Jersey. He started out on play-money tables on Paradise Poker, before borrowing his father’s Neteller account to deposit some cash and play some $6 sit&gos. He chose a screen name designed to tilt people, and found right from the beginning he was a winner. ‘I never really worried if I was good at it, I just thought everyone else was bad and it seemed like an easy way to make money.’
It’s tempting to say Dwan has a gift for the game, but he’s quick to stamp on that idea. ‘I think the natural talent thing is pretty overrated. I think anyone can learn to play poker and do pretty well if they are intelligent and open-minded.’
Two months into his poker career he had ditched the sit&gos and moved to the cash tables. By the time he turned 18 he had won around $15,000 and was looking for bigger games to play in. ‘I started playing $40/$80 limit and I went on a really sick heater and won about $35k. Then I lost $20k back and switched to no-limit.’
‘At that time I had maybe $40k to my name and I was playing $5/$10 no-limit, so I wasn’t really bankrolled, but I was close. I played a little $25/$50 and I think I lost about $10k. So I didn’t jump back into $25/$50 until three months later and by that time I was playing pretty much anyone.’ It’s an amazingly quick rise to the top, but Dwan is keen to downplay it. ‘I run good – what can I say?’ he says with a laugh.
Dwan’s poker career was in full swing when he left New Jersey to attend university in Boston. He lasted two semesters before dropping out to take up poker full-time. Today he will regularly multi-table at levels up to $300/$600, taking on anyone foolish enough to sit down opposite him. In fact, so well known is his reputation now that he sometimes finds it hard to get a game.
He still lives in Boston, and comes across as your typical US college kid. He admits to only playing poker when he feels like it, and rarely plays for more than 40 hours a week. The rest of the time he will go out drinking or bowling and relaxing with his mates. But there is one big difference. Most college students don’t have a seven-figure bankroll.
‘It can be awkward,’ Dwan admits. ‘I have friends in Boston who will say, “Let’s go here, it’s cheaper”, and I’m thinking, “I just won or lost $100,000 today, let’s go to this fucking place.” But instead I just say, “Okay”. You don’t want to flaunt it in front of friends who don’t have money.’
Dwan also has a second home in Texas, where he shares a house with fellow high-stakes pro David ‘Raptor’ Benefield during the winter months. ‘I couldn’t deal with Boston from November to February,’ he says. Benefield seems to bring the wilder side out of Dwan, with the duo having a propensity for high-stakes prop bets. During the 2007 WSOP they had a $50,000 prop bet where Dwan had to play a series of chess matches against an International Master who started minus one rook. Dwan lost. ‘I was a little too confident, and overestimated how much of a handicap losing a rook would be. It was a bad bet, but oh well,’ he says.
His winter home leads to Dwan living something of a double life. Down in Texas his lifestyle is more suited to an online poker millionaire. The house has a pool table, huge plasma screens and a personal assistant, who makes sure his laundry is done and there is food in the fridge. ‘I don’t need to justify it, but I could if I wanted to,’ Dwan says evenly. ‘If I make a better decision on one pot, then it’s worth spending the money.’
His ability to make great decisions is legendary. On one much talked about hand he called down Patrik Antonius’ $100,000 river bluff with third pair. ‘In that hand I had a timing tell on Patrik,’ Dwan says. ‘But most of the time it comes down to putting your opponent on a range of hands and deciding what they would do with that range a percentage of the time. Against a really good player I can never be 100%, but if I am 75% sure I am always going to make the call.’
As Dwan breaks down his thought processes he adds layer on layer of analysis, describing how he looks at something such as a player betting the pot when it was only 5% more to go all-in, then plays back earlier hands. ‘You think about the fact that you called four bluffs before that hand, and then you think that he knows that you know that,’ he says.
FINDING THE EDGE
Dwan’s ability to deconstruct the action in a poker hand and work out the right move based on past action, hand ranges, timing tells and a mass of other information is what sets him apart from 99% of poker players. But he is not the only player capable of this type of rapid high-level analysis, and he admits the online games are getting tougher and tougher to beat.
‘Most of the worst players you find playing $100/$200 no-limit hold’em are really good. The difference between them and me is pretty small. There are going to be days when you’re being outplayed no matter how good you think you are, because the people you are playing against are very smart.’
It’s the main reason that Dwan is playing a lot more pot-limit Omaha. ‘I think my edge is bigger, even though I am better at no-limit, because the people I am playing against are worse. You get more cards, you get more good hands and it’s easier to think you’re amazing. It’s a better game to make money from.’
It’s a good summation of how he looks at the game. Like all great poker players he’s not smug enough to think he’s got the game cracked, he just wants to take advantage of his edge.
‘I have tons of flaws. There are times when I make really bad decisions – even against bad players,’ Dwan says with a shrug. ‘Poker is not a game where you can play anywhere near perfect, you just come as close as you can.’
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