Poker star Phil Galfond explains why its cool to be a poker celebrity: “When I walk around in Manhattan, nobody has any idea who I am; even in Vegas I’m relatively anonymous”

From screwing with opponents’ heads by min-raising, to shunning his celebrity status at PCA, Phil Galfond likes to do things differently…

I’m always thinking about different, innovative ways to play poker hands. One strategy that I’ve been experimenting with is the unexpectedly small bet. Everyone who plays $ 1/$ 2 and up has read the books, watched the videos and heard the standard advice. They know how to play winning poker by making supposedly correct raises and continuation bets. So, in order to put them into spots where they suddenly have to think for themselves, why not make small bets on all the streets, especially preflop and on the flop?

When you min-raise, or even raise only half the pot, a lot of players view that as weakness. So they re-raise in spots that they shouldn’t. Or sometimes they just call and find themselves in unusual spots. They’re not sure where you’re at and find that they have to deal with unfamiliar pot sizes. Suddenly they’re out of their comfort zones and need to think outside the box, which a lot of people can’t do very efficiently. The other interesting thing is that min-raising takes you out of your comfort zone – it forces you to escape from the trap of playing robotic poker.

While the underbet may not be mathematically optimal, it does have the advantage of keeping your opponents in an uncomfortable position, putting them to decisions that they are not accustomed to making. As long as you have it in you to rethink the game a bit, and figure out how to exploit opponents who are suddenly confused, underbetting can be a strong, sophisticated weapon for your poker arsenal.

Maxed out

For a while, in the $ 200/$ 400 pot-limit Omaha game online, everyone was agreeing to max-bet and max-raise before the flop. The pot caps at $ 16,000 per player, so we were basically flipping to win $ 80,000. Among some pros there was an unspoken thought that it would generate action, since players who have swings of a couple hundred thousand, usually want to play poker at higher stakes. But it actually hurt the game. All of a sudden strong players lost their edge because the flip was pure luck – anyone could win.

I didn’t flip very often – that sort of thing goes against my nature and interest – and I ended up down $ 50,000. It was no big deal in terms of winning or losing, but the bigger drag is the effect it had on the game. Suddenly, some of the weaker players were more into flipping for the capped pot than into playing poker for it – that’s bad for business.

Luckily, though, this trend seems to have ended before it got out of control. Full Tilt emailed its pros, asking that they stop flipping for pots. Maybe the people at Full Tilt figured that flipping hurts the games, or else they don’t want their pros to look like degenerate gamblers! Either way, I’m glad it’s over.

Celebrity status

Before attending the recent PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, I figured it would be cool to be famous enough that strangers recognise me. Soon after checking in at Atlantis, though, I found the opposite to be true. When I walk around in Manhattan, nobody has any idea who I am; even in Vegas I’m relatively anonymous. But at the PCA, with a ton of online players there, I was suddenly a guy people recognised. A lot of poker pros love the attention, but it felt weird to me. I like talking to people, but to have strangers staring and pointing and calling out my name as I walked by… well, it was unnerving.

As a result, early on at least, I spent a lot of time in my hotel room. It wasn’t until Di and Hac Dang, the two brothers who play online as Urindanger and trex313, showed up that I started going out and having fun. We went scuba diving and jetskiing, but I didn’t get very far in the tournament and didn’t spend much time playing poker.

I had a taste of fame, within a very small world, but I’m going to think twice before staring at a real celebrity when I happen to see one on the streets or in a nightclub.

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