Allen Cunningham

Make some life-changing money in the deep-stack tournaments

The player

With tournament winnings of over $8m Cunningham is one of the best deep stack specialists in the game. He’s currently fi fth in the all-time tournament winnings money list and would have topped the pile by a country mile if he’d won this year’s Main Event. Considering his achievements in the game – he’s already won four WSOP bracelets – it’s almost criminal that he’s not more of a household name.

What’s your advice for playing in deep stack tournaments like the Main Event for the first time?
One thing to remember is that a lot of the people you’ll be playing against aren’t necessarily any better than you. There’s probably only one well known or world class player every four or five tables. That’s not to say the other players you’ll face aren’t good but there’s certainly no reason for you to think they have any more experience. Also, you start with a lot more chips so to begin with it’s vaguely reminiscent of a deep stack no-limit cash game. You have to realise that while you want to get some chips early on you shouldn’t over-commit yourself to any pot. Try not to get them all-in without a very strong hand. A lot comes down to experience so play deep stack tourneys whenever you can.

If you’ve qualified through an online tournament how do you make the adjustment to the tempo of play?
You really have to take in the fact that you’re playing in a long event and you don’t have to win it this hour, or even this day, just as long as you’re still in it with chips. You shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to make some chips but you should wait for them to happen. Don’t try to force them if the opportunities aren’t happening immediately. If after six hours there are people next to you with 50,000 chips and you only have 12,000 you’re still fine. You’re allowed to win the 50,000 the next day as well. Don’t panic.

Should you play more or less hands in a deep stack tournament?
If everyone’s playing very tight and conservative, play a few extra hands. If all kinds of bets are getting raised and then called you need to have a fairly strong hand to stand all that action. Generally, you should play about the same amount in a deep stack tourney as normal but you’re looking to play hands that might put you in the position to take a lot of chips off someone. Play pairs or good connectors in position rather than raising the big blind with K-10 like you would in a small tourney. As the event progresses go back to how you’d play in a smaller stack tournament by getting a little more aggressive and stealing some pots before the flop.

How do you keep your cool when you take a bad hit in a crucial situation?
In the Main Event I folded almost every hand for the first hour [of the final table] and then the first hand that I played I lost about half my stack. During the break I spoke to my family about the hand and said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got them all set-up.’ [Laughs]. I just had to readjust to the situation. Before I was second in chips and looking strong, but after that hand I just had an average stack like the other players. But I had many times the big blind and plenty of play, so there was no need to panic; I knew as long as I kept my head I was going to be fine. You just have to settle back. You’re always going to lose some chips – that’s why you have them. But you just have to move on.

What’s the secret to getting paid off in a tournament?
Maximising your winning hands. There was a hand during the Main Event I played, which was a good example of how not to do things. It was the third day and I’d raised the best player on my table from early position with pocket Fours. He re-raised over three times my bet, which equated to about seven percent of my stack, so I was convinced he had A-A, K-K or A-K. I called, trying to hit a Four at the price of a small percentage of my chips. The flop was something like 9-7-2 rainbow and we both checked. I thought he might have A-K, was trying to trap with Aces, or was saving some money in case I’d hit a set. The turn gave me the Four for a set. So I checked, hoping he’d take a stab at the pot or check it and hit a card. He bet a fairly small amount, maybe half the pot, and I re-raised him three times that – about 25 percent of my stack. He called and the river was a blank so I pushed in for the size of the pot, at which point he mucked his Aces face-up.

The problem was he was good enough to recognise that my check-raise on the turn may have been because I put him on A-K for checking the flop and betting the turn. Once he’d called my checkraise he knew that I’d got to put him on Aces or Kings because he wouldn’t have called with just Ace-high. So the large bet I made on the river either had to be an insane bluff or his big pair was beaten. A better play by me may have been to put in a larger raise on the turn, when he couldn’t be sure that I’d got him beat because I didn’t have the information from him making a call. My mistake was trying to take a small amount of chips from him in case he only had A-K, where I should have been trying to win a big pot in case he had a big pair. If you can’t decide if they have nothing or something, but you can beat the something and think you’ll get paid off, then go after all their chips.

Tournament highlights

37th World Series of Poker 2006 $10,000 No-Limit Texas Hold’em World Championship; 4th, $3,628,513
37th World Series of Poker 2006 $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em; 1st, $625,830
36th World Series of Poker 2005 $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em; 1st, $725,405
33rd World Series of Poker 2002 $5,000 Deuce to Seven No-Limit Draw; 1st, $160,200
32nd World Series of Poker 2001 $5,000 Seven-Card Stud; 1st, $201,760

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