World Champion Freddy Deeb explains how he won his title: “It wasn’t easy – I had to work very hard. I definitely played the best poker of my life”

Shelley Rubenstein gets the first word from this year’s H.O.R.S.E. world champion

You don’t seem to play that many tournaments, so why the H.O.R.S.E.?

I knew I’d have a great shot at the H.O.R.S.E. because I play all the games, plus you start with 100,000 chips. The big difference between the H.O.R.S.E. and other events is that when you take a bad beat in H.O.R.S.E. it’s only a temporary setback, but when you suffer a bad beat in other tournaments it’s a knockout.

Do you find it easy to switch between the games every hour?

I do, but on the second day we were playing Stud and we went to Stud Eight-or-Better and three guys in the game were playing the wrong game for 20 minutes! You’ve got to be alert when the game changes.

How was the journey to being crowned champion?

It wasn’t easy – I had to work very hard. I definitely played the best poker of my life. I swear to you I made some big laydowns and had some turbulence in the tournament. The first two days I never had a lot of chips, then all of a sudden on Day 3 I went up to 700,000. The limits went up to 20,000/40,000 on Razz, so now every hand cost about 200,000 to play. I picked up two big hands back to back. I had the best hand and the best draw both times and I lost both hands. I went from 700,000 to 235,000 and I said to myself, ‘If I pick up one more hand like that, I’ll go broke.’ There was about 15 to 20 minutes left in the Razz round so I decided to take a walk.

You were worried about tilting?

Yes, I thought I could pick up a hand, tilt and play bad. It’s just the way I feel sometimes. I’m not superstitious at all but I believe that when you lose a hand or two, sometimes it looks like it’ll never end, so it’s not a bad idea to take a walk. That way, you don’t steam.

That’s a very brave decision when the blinds are so high and you’re relatively short-stacked…

I took a walk for 15 minutes and I didn’t even count how many chips I’d lost. I was afraid to look! I waited for the dealer to change because when that happens they change the game. I sat down for the first hand of Stud and I won the first three hands. I went from around 200,000 to 900,600 in three hands!

So you returned on Day 4 with a huge stack?

We went back and I finished the fourth day with second chip lead. I was just cruising, playing good poker. Sometimes I’d lose a hand or just pick up the antes but I was never in danger like on Day 3.

When it’s like that, are you disciplined enough to sit tight and not get involved too much?

Oh yeah, you have to because, you know, you can’t win the tournament on the second, third or fourth day. You can only win it on the fifth.

What were the crucial turning points for you at the final table?

I started out as second chip leader with 3.5 million chips, and within one hour Barry Greenstein went broke. He played a couple of hands and didn’t win either of them, and he was one of the best players there besides me. I got up to about 4.5 million but then played four big hands and I didn’t win any of them. They were all Stud hands and all big favourites to win but I went down to 400,000 when we were seven-handed.

Sounds like you were in danger…

For about three hours I didn’t win a hand. I don’t know how I even stayed there – everyone was waiting for me to go broke. So I made a statement: ‘Okay boys. I guess I’m going to do Freddy Deeb style.’ My style is to take small money and play the biggest game in the room. Let’s say the minimum buy-in is $100,000. I’ll take the minimum, play one hand and if I go broke, I go broke, but if I win, I’m going to win a lot of money. As soon as I said that, we were playing Omaha Hi-Lo and I picked up A-5-5-3. The flop came Q-J-5, then a Five on the turn, and it was a three-way action pot, so I tripled up. Then they started dealing Razz and I tripled up again, and went from 300,000 to three million in two hands.

And the other players?

Bruno [Fitoussi] was on a rush – he was playing and winning every hand. The only thing he didn’t do was slow down when he started losing. He wanted to finish it off. When you’re playing that fast it means you’re not playing that good. When we were threehanded, John Hanson played badly too – I finally knocked him out in Razz.

Which left the epic heads-up with Bruno…

I had 11 million and he had four million left. I’d only slept for two hours the night before. I played all day the day before from 12pm to 2am and I couldn’t sleep. I went to sleep at 8am and I kept looking at the clock. Finally I fell asleep around 9am and was up at 12pm. I took a steam and sauna and exercised for 20 minutes on the belt. I came to play and I didn’t eat all day. Every time I was hungry, I ate a banana or an apple because I thought to myself, ‘If I eat food now I’m going to get real messed up.’ Even on the dinner break I just had a banana.

You must have had a celebratory meal when you won?

I had a big glass of cognac for breakfast! It was about 6.30am.

And afterwards?

It was a great feeling. It didn’t hit me until two days later and I didn’t realise how much respect and credit you get for winning that tourney until after I won it. A lot of people have come up to me since saying how prestigious the win is because you’re playing with the best players in the whole world, with a $50k buy-in and five different games.

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