Triple Crown winner – EPT, WPT and WSOP – Gavin Griffin answers reader’s questions
Gavin Griffin’s record in live tournaments doesn’t quite seem real. Just four years ago he broke Allen Cunningham’s record as the youngest player ever to win a World Series bracelet (Annette Obrestad now holds the record). What’s more, his mastery of the final table – especially his ability to outplay opponents on the flop and pull off stone cold bluffs – showed that he was an emerging talent.
By March 2007, he had also added the EPT Grand Final title to his tally, bossing the 706-strong field and pocketing the mammoth $2.4m first prize. Just when it seemed like he couldn’t possibly surpass this triumph, Griffin went on to win the WPT Borgata Open at the start of this year. In doing so, the 27-year old became the first player to achieve poker’s coveted triple-crown, by holding titles in the WSOP, EPT and WPT – he could remain the only one for quite some time. Who better to turn to for live tournament advice?
How do you start trying to pick up live tells. Is there anything in particular to look out for? Karen,Gillingham
I don’t think tells is a good word in general. I actually had a conversation about this recently. I don’t look for someone’s eyebrow twitching! You look at a person and get a general feel about whether they look comfortable, whether they’re happy with their hand or not. Then you take that information and you apply it as a small percentage of your read. Most of the time, a physical read is a small portion of what you’re going to do with a hand. Someone will say something or give off a lot of information with the way they’re holding themselves every once in a while. But for the most part, you really have to pay attention to betting patterns and then apply a small measure of, ‘He looks really uncomfortable, so I’ll do this.’
Why do you think you’ve been so successful in live tournaments? Simon Tully, Northampton
I think one of the things that really benefits me in live tournaments is my fearlessness. I’m not afraid to look like an idiot when I’m playing. If I feel that a certain play is the best play, I’m going to make it no matter what. If it goes poorly, it goes poorly. I think I’ve always had that sort of attitude, always really trusted my instincts. After the World Series win but before Monte Carlo, I actually went through a stretch where I wasn’t trusting my reads – I’d make a read and go completely opposite. And I was struggling for a while. I had all the information there for me but I wasn’t acting on it and that really affected my success and started to affect my confidence.
People always say that you shouldn’t take into account going up the money spots when you play. Are you the same? Terry Lawson, Manchester
There’s a few key elements to the prizepool. The two numbers I really concentrate on are the bubble money and first place. However, paying attention to the big money jumps is important not because I’m interested in going up the pay ladder but because other people are. And you can exploit that.
Which one of your Triple Crown wins (EPT, WSOP, WPT) was the most satisfying? Ross Carter, Rochester
They were all obviously satisfying! The World Series was cool because it was so early in my career. The World Poker Tour was great because it completed the triple-crown. But the EPT in Monte Carlo is such a spectacular place to play – there’s nowhere else like it. It was my first huge win, €1.8m is a lot of money, so that’s the one that stands out most in my mind.
I read that you studied speech pathology – what is that, and does it help in any way at the tables? Andrew McCormack,Dumfries
Speech pathology in layman’s term is speech therapy. I wouldn’t really say it comes into use because I tend to play more instinctively.
How do you deal with the pace of live poker compared to online poker? Every time I play, I get stupidly bored and start playing too many hands. Kobe Aritoga, Chobham
Funny thing is, I’m the opposite. When I play live poker I’m so keyed in on everything that I never notice that it’s slower. When I play online with six games, it’s nowhere near enough. I have to have the TV on and surf the internet at the same time. When I play live, I am focused on what’s going on and don’t to let my mind wander at all. Once my mind starts to wander, I start to lose that edge I have. Getting into conversations at the table can help with reads. If you talk to someone for a while then you notice his or her body language and apply that information to a physical read during a hand.
I’m trying to save $10,000 to take to my first WSOP next year but I’m not sure whether to blow it all on the main event or play three or four smaller events. What do you think? Chris Birridge, Exeter
I think value-wise you have to play the main event. Plus if you make the final table, there’s so much money that comes with that now. If it’s your first World Series and you’re not really that comfortable playing live poker tournaments, then the main event can be pretty intimidating. You show up on one of four starting days and there are 2,000 people there! In 2004, when I played my first main event I remember calling my friends and saying, ‘I don’t even know whether I should play it – it’s a lot of money!’ And that was after I won my bracelet! So it may be better to play a few of the side events – you could even win your buy-in to the main event.
What do you remember about your first WSOP? Arnold Spelling, Leeds
My first World Series was back when it was at Binion’s. It was such a different experience. Back then it was a much smaller room and casino, but it had a homier feel than the Rio, which is such a massive place that you are awed by the size of it when you walk in. At Binion’s you are awed by the history of it because the first 30 years of the World Series were all there.
Who’s the most annoying player you’ve ever faced? (You can say Phil Hellmuth…) Archie Hillingsborough, Suffolk
I get a kick out of playing Phil, to be honest. I know why he does what he does. It doesn’t really affect me at all. His antics are successful against weaker players and I don’t let it bother me. This is a tough question! Even playing against Mike Matusow – he’s such a good guy that you just let it slide. So there’s no specific person that annoys me but the thing that annoys me the most is when you’re on Day 1 of a tournament and some guy wins a pot for 30,000 chips and starts running around the room. I understand you’re excited, but it’s day 1. That’s whether it’s against me or not. If you’re winning a pot that is probably going to be worth one chip by the end of the tournament, you should probably tone it down.
Is there anything you specifically do to prepare for a big tournament? Alistair Morton, Cumbria
Not really. I like to get plenty of sleep. Unfortunately, before a big event, because I’m so excited to play it, I don’t sleep that well the night before. It’s weird – you’d think after 50 $10,000 buy-in tournaments, I’d be numb to that but I guess that’s why I’m calm towards the end of the tournament, because I’ve got all my nervous excitement out!
Is money still a big part of playing poker for you? I mean, you could live off the interest, right? Katie Henshaw, Portsmouth
It’s not like I’ve got hundreds and millions of dollars and can just sit back. I guess money’s a big part of it, as is competition. As a semi-serious ex-athlete (I used to play baseball), that void has really been filled by poker because it’s such a competitive, individually-driven sport. Poker is very much a meritocracy – the best person’s going to win the most amount of money. You can obviously win once and be at the top of the all-time money list. But let’s say you take the World Series main event out of the equation, you’re going to know every one of the top 30. You don’t win $10m in poker being a slouch.
We interview legends like this every month in PokerPlayer magazine