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Mike Watson - The Fundamentally Sound Super Star

Mike Watson The Fundamentally Sound Super Star

He’s ranked number four on the Canadian all-time money list, has almost $6.4 million in live tournament earnings and a WPT, two Aussie Millions and a €50,000 High Roller title. These victories are just the tip of the iceberg, as the man known as SirWatts has 11 six-figure cashes and two of which are more than $1.3 million. Online SirWatts has been a High Stakes MTT regular since 2006 and he granted time to dig into who he is, what drives him and how he became so successful on the highest level. Watson is currently ranked fifth in the GPI Player of the Year race and has not been outside their overall Top 10 since October of last year. Watson seems focused more than ever, but it started all for him back in 2008 when he had a breakout win in the WPT Bellagio Cup for almost $1.7 million.

Front page photo credit: Neil Stoddart for during the 2013 PCA High Roller final table.

Does win tilt exist, that when you win a lot you can become complacent about your game?
Yes, absolutely. I definitely think that it exists. Back in 2008 I had an amazing year and I was winning both live and online. I was crushing. In 2009 and 2010 I didn’t really do much at all, and I definitely got a bit complacent. I was running bad but I also think I got a bit unlucky as well. A couple of bad years in a row I was just not putting in the work. That is a big part of it I think, of having a couple of bad years. Recently I’ve been getting back into studying more, and trying to really work on my game. I think that it’s a combination of, both me starting to run better again, and playing better. I’ve been winning some crucial coin flips deep in high rollers over the last year or so. It’s also just about playing a lot better and patching up a lot of leaks, I think that’s what happened. The last year and a half I played a lot better and ran a lot better at the same time, and all of a sudden I’m on a pretty big run.

What is the point where you start realizing that you’re getting complacent, and how did you approach the game from that point on?
It’s hard, and I think that at some point I realized that I wasn’t putting in as much effort to work on the game as I used to. I also thought that it didn’t matter that much because I thought I was good enough to win, playing the way I did. I’d had a lot of success in poker and at that point I was trying to balance other aspects of my life a bit more, and poker had become a lesser priority. It was still pretty important to me, but not the all-consuming game that it was for the first few years when I started grinding and playing for a living. It can just take over and become your whole life. I felt like in terms of me being happy I was a lot better off that way, but definitely my poker slipped a bit. It’s hard to be really honest with yourself about something like that. Even for poker players, who are supposed to be the most open and honest with themselves, who require being almost ruthlessly objective, struggle with that sometimes. I don’t know if there’s a secret to make it easy, but I think you ideally need to have some friends who are looking out for you; who are always keeping you on your toes and bouncing new ideas off on you. You need to trust to talk to them and be objective with them.

Has someone ever told you, “Mike, you’re playing really bad. How about you step it up?”
Definitely. I credit a lot of my success recently to talking a lot more about the game, mostly with Dan Smith. He’s probably the guy I’m closest to and I’m talking the most poker to. There are also other people in that group that I’ve lived with in Vegas and talked a lot of poker with like LuckyChewy (Andrew Lichtenberger), aejones (Aaron Jones) and all kinds of bosses. I started talking poker a lot more with them and they helped me to get back up to speed in a pretty short amount of time. I think I always had the fundamentals there, but there was some stuff I was missing out on. It helps a lot when people kick you in the ass and say, “You need to step your game up. The way you were playing in 2008 is not going to get it done anymore.”

Do you think fundamentals are less important nowadays because there are so many players now with very sound fundamentals, especially in the High Roller events, and it’s more about adjusting?
I think fundamentals are still very important, but it’s more about to which degree. Obviously in a lot of common spots in terms of open-raising or re-raising versus calling, I still feel like some people are not perfect. Especially in terms of which hands they choose to re-raise in certain situations. A lot of it is adjustment based, depending on type of player you’re up against. You do want to have a little bit of a different strategy and I don’t think people necessary fully understand how to adjust. Then also, every tournament you play you’re going to see someone open a hand in a position where it’s just unacceptable to open that hand. I see it all the time, and people try to use the excuse, “It’s a soft table.” While there’s obviously some validity to that, I’ve seen them raise hands 20% away from being an open. When it’s a spot where they should be able to get away with it by opening 35% of the hands, they are opening something like a 60th percentile hand or something insane. There are always people who are making very basic fundamental mistakes in that regard. Blind versus blind I feel like has become a thing that you need to play super accurately. Every little blind battle matters, and I think that there are people whose strategies in that situation are not the best.

You’re known as a tight player, does that mean you rely more heavily on your fundamentals or on other player’s mistakes?
That’s not a one-or-the-other situation. I think my fundamentals are one of the strengths of my game, and staying close to a more theoretically correct strategy is important. Especially since tournaments are getting tougher. At the same time I’m aware of what’s going on around me. I’m definitely going to open my game up if I feel like it’s the right situation to do that. I’m also going to tighten up when I’m at a particularly tight table, or when there’s someone extremely crazy on my left. I’m going to adjust either way, and of course everything you’re doing is based on taking advantage of your opponent’s mistakes. Even when you’re playing more theoretically sound.

Bad player’s fundamentals are worse. They are going to make mistakes and that’s where you’re going to profit. Specifically when I see somebody make a certain type of mistake a lot, I’m going to adjust in a way to try to exploit that. I’m not always just going to stick to a game theory-ish type approach. I realize that it’s obviously a lot more profitable to exploit something that they’re doing wrong.

Interview by Remko Rinkema
Remko Rinkema - Interviewer

Remko Rinkema has covered the biggest poker tournaments in the world since 2008, including many WSOP, EPT, Aussie Millions, APPT, MCOP and Unibet Open events. As an in-depth interview and story enthusiast he tries to do things a little differently. Besides the usual writings Rinkema grabs every chance to appear on podcasts, live streams and in the occasional video.

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