Karl Mahrenholz: The importance of being part of a team

PokerEncore.com’s Karl Mahrenholz remembers how The Hitsquad was formed and how being part of a team can help you on the poker table

In 2005 I, like many others, played most of my live poker at the Gutshot in London. Anyone who was there will have fond memories of being squeezed into a small basement, self-dealing in sweltering conditions and absolutely loving it. Once a month there was a £250 freezeout. There was no doubting that poker didn’t get much more exciting than this. 

One Sunday I was drawn next to a young guy I hadn’t met before. Everyone was congratulating him for a tournament he had won the night before. It turned out this was a WSOP satellite and he had won a $10,000+ package to Vegas. Jealousy/envy/a feeling of awe hit me. He’d hit the holy grail of poker… Cards were in the air and off we went. Time to snap out of it – you won the £5 rebuy last week, let’s show this guy how we play! The action was folded to him in the small blind and he made a raise. I’m not sure what I had – I’m not even sure I looked – before I reraised and he called. The flop was all clubs, I bet and he called. The turn was a blank. He checked again (a sure sign of weakness), I bet and he raised. He might have won his seat to Vegas but he wasn’t about to walk over me. I raised again and he called. The river came and he checked. I set him all-in, he thought for a while and then called with a King-high flush. That’ll sure teach him… 

The first hit

The next time I was at the Gutshot a friend of mine introduced us properly. ‘James’ asked me if I wanted to play a sit-and-go with my friend and two brothers who lived near. James [Akenhead] said, ‘Let’s play with the cards face up and talk through our reasons for the plays we make’. I suspected he just wanted to learn the ‘three street all-in without looking at your cards’ move…but I still agreed that we’d meet up at his house to play. This was the birth of ‘The Hitsquad’, a group of young British players who travelled with each other all over the world, discussing strategy, having fun and generally trying to make as much money as we could. Oh, and with a shit name too. 

The concept of poker ‘teams’ wasn’t a new one. The Hendon Mob guys were some of the biggest names in UK poker at the time. They definitely mastered the commercial aspect of a brand within poker but we took the concept to a new level from a self-improvement and development point of view.

Team player 

Of course, it’s not really a ‘team’ – there’s no shared pool of money and everyone plays for themselves, barring regular percentage swaps. It’s a common shared passion for the game and the fact that poker can be a lonely pursuit that brings people together. We all play the same tournaments but poker events don’t have that same one-on-one environment. That’s why you will find such camaraderie among most of the UK poker community, with players genuinely happy for others when they have success. 

With sponsorship deals harder to come by, less groups of players have gone down the route of branding themselves. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t lots of groups of players travelling together, sharing ideas and helping each other. The online guys have Skype groups, sharing hand histories and asking for advice and opinions on hands they played. Toby Lewis, Jake Cody, Matt Perrins, James Dempsey and Tom Middleton have all had success in recent years that they would no doubt attribute a lot to the group learning effect. There are many other examples of poker groups that spring to mind, all helping each other as they travel the same journey.

While pockets of players are more easily identifiable in the UK, it’s certainly not a UK-only phenomenon. The explosion of talent from Germany in the last couple of years is clear for all to see. If you were to ask regular players on the EPT and high roller circuit today who the best players were, German names would be very prominent on that list. Players like Philipp Gruissem, Marvin Rettenmaier, Ole Schemion, and Fabian Quoss are tearing up the biggest tournaments in the world and it’s no surprise that they are all helping each other improve their games. 

So next time an uber-aggressive run good twenty-something in a hoodie flops the world against you, don’t get mad, get friendly. It could be the best pot you ever lose.

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