One of the best big-tournament players in the world, Carlos Mortensen shares his starting hand secrets
Ecuador-born Carlos Mortensen won the Big One in 2001 aged just 29. Since then, he has shown himself to be much more than a one-hit wonder: he added another WSOP bracelet to his wrist in 2003 in the $5,000 nolimit event and picked up a cool $1 million at a WPT championship event in 2004, which means he’s only the second person ever to have won both WSOP and WPT main event titles (the other is Doyle Brunson).
It always depends on how the table is running. Sometimes it’s good to limp because there’s no action. There are so many tight players out there that a raise will simply scare a lot of them away. I’ve played plenty of tables like that. When the blinds are high and the table is very aggressive, it’s good to raise because someone could come over the top, which is exactly what you want. Getting all your chips in before the flop is perfect, as that’s when Aces have the advantage. A good example of this was during the final hand of the WSOP in 2001, when Dewey Tomko, who had Aces against my K-Q in the hole, let me draw to a flush and straight draw by just calling my $100,000 raise before the flop came J-10-3. Okay, I was lucky to hit the straight on the river, but it does show that you can get caught out – even with Aces.
It might sound completely crazy, but I think it’s sometimes quite good to imagine that you have a hand like A-K even if you don’t. You feel much more powerful and you act better because you’re not swayed by your cards. When I first started out, it was something I practised a lot, and it’s important because it means you’re playing the players and not the cards. The problem was people eventually found out how I played – basically, lots of bluffing before the flop – so now I really do need to find a hand. If you’re new to the game, make sure you take advantage of the fact that people don’t know your playing style!
I don’t usually like to play A-2 through A-6 unless I’m in position. At that point, I raise and if I get called, I just play it slowly. I might not hit the flop, but my opponent might not, either – maybe my Ace-high is good enough to win. If I catch two pair – Aces up – then I can commit more chips, but an Ace on its own is likely to get me into trouble, and that’s why I don’t like to play it. You end up playing like a chicken and check, call or even check, check. So why would you want to play that card? I’ve seen people call all their chips with A-7 even when the blinds are very small. They’re risking too much and most of the time they have the worst hand.
If I have quite a lot of chips and the blinds are quite small, I raise in position to find out what everyone else has. I think my consistency in tournaments comes from this ability to read players and put them on a hand. As such, even though a pair of 2s or 3s might not seem so strong in the face of three of the same suits on the flop, I can generally tell if they’ve made their hand or not. If they make it cheap to see the turn, I’ll try to take the pot away from them by coming over the top.