Interview With Heads Up SNG Pro ShortSharpShock

ShortSharpShock is a high stakes heads up sng professional.  He recently won the FTOPS Tournament 33: $300 6-max Rebuy event for over $180,000.  He stopped by to answer a few questions for us.

First off, congratulations on the win.  How's the new avatar treating you?

Haha, thanks.  Avatar is great, I think it fits well for me image wise in tournaments.  I think I play a little different than the standard jersey-wearer so I've noticed getting played back at in a few spots where I normally wouldn't.

There was a little drama with one of the other opponents, can you tell us a bit about that?

Sure.  Okay well, with about 80 players left I had a pretty huge stack and got moved to a new table, then proceeded to lose a few flips to cut me down to an average stack.  Then the chipleader got moved to my direct right (where he would be for the rest of the tournament).  He had a massive stack, over twice as much as second place had, but was what I considered a poor player.  He was calling 20bb reshoves way too wide and just too aggressive preflop in my opinion.  My strategy was largely to get involved in pots with him, especially blind vs blind, as the button was playing pretty tight due to the chipleader's aggressive 3-bet play.  Anyway, when we got to the final 10 players or so he was still on my right and I had won a few pots, doubled a few times in recent orbits and he was basically accusing me of having somebody else play on my account, which I obviously took offense to.

So then we get down to four players left in the tournament, and someone wanted to deal so we all looked at it.  That quickly fell apart because the short stack wanted way too much.  The short stacked got eliminated shortly after, so we look at making a deal again and I basically told them I wanted more since I thought I was a favorite to win if it got heads up.  So the chipleader, the guy I didn't like because of the previous accusations, he starts saying how he's a heads up pro and all this and that he's up $60,000 on PTR.  I basically told him I'm pretty happy taking my chances against him and closed the deal screen.  The chip leader ended up busting a few hands later calling a 6-bet from the tightest player at the table and getting it on with AQ on a Q9x board versus the tight player's obvious AA. 

Apparently the last player didn't want the variance and he was willing to give me a pretty good deal so I took it.  Due to his chip advantage at the time of the deal he actually made a little more from the tournament than I did, despite my 1st place finish.

So a pretty interesting and rewarding finish.

There was actually another anecdote to the night.

I was in my hometown with family when I played the event.  My parents had a been through a lot with a relative passing, and there was no food or anything in the house.  I was short stacked for awhile, probably at least from 9pm to midnight, never really thinking I was going to go deep in the event.  Where I was in New Hampshire, there is literally one place open after 1am and that is McDonalds, which serves dinner until 4am.  Each hour that passed I kept figuring I'd go get something there, that it would never be a problem that I might still be in the tournament and unable to eat.  So 1am rolls around, I'm still in the tournament.  2am rolls around, I'm still in it.  3am break is getting close and I realize that if I don't go soon I am going to not eat tonight and I really hate playing poker if I'm tired, hungry, hungover, angry, whatever.  I really like to be in a clear state of mind. 

So I'm debating whether or not to try to go during the 5 minute break.  There's still 150 players or so in the tournament.  Then right before break, I doubled up my less than average stack hero calling a guy's river shove where he just had total air.  I decided now is worth it and make a mad dash to McDonalds and when I get there there's three teenage kids in a huge van with music blaring, right in front of me (There is never a line at 3am at the Derry, NH McDonalds!).  So obviously I'm texting people telling them how bad I run, etc.  It got so bad I actually considered waking my brother up with a phone call to have him run downstairs and use up all my timebank while I wait for my food.  I ended up making it back to my table after having missed about 3 orbits and the first or second hand back I doubled up 99 vs A8 I believe.  After that I started thinking it might be my lucky night.

I see you at 19th on the "Overall Heads Up" section of the sharkscope leaderboards.  How are heads up sngs going for you in 2011?

I had such a good finish to 2010 that I probably wasn't in the best frame of mind from a motivation standpoint entering 2011.  That being said, I have to play a certain amount each month to avoid feeling useless.  I had a horrible start to the year, really ran bad for a long time, I think I was 40k under EV in around 200 $1,000 buyin heads up sngs for the year going into February, with only 15 or so being super turbos.  I was playing a ton every day (12-14 hour sessions every day for two straight weeks or something) and getting nowhere and was just extremely frustrated.  So I decided to take a random trip to Australia to play the main event there and hang out a bit.  That always helps me when I'm on a downswing, just getting away for a bit and clearing my head and getting a change of scenery. 

While I was in Australia I played Thats the Thing a bit in 5ks and also found some random players sitting 5ks and I was able to make back a good chunk of what I was down on the year.  Since then it's been pretty smooth, been winning the games I'm supposed to win and doing okay vs the better players too. 

What are you plans for 2011?

I plan on getting a little more into MTTs this year and playing a little less heads up, but heads up is still by far the most fun thing for me to play and you really cannot beat not having to play six hours straight.  I definitely plan on playing more live events, two out of three big ones I've played recently have been a ton of fun and I think I play best in them.  I still have a lot to learn in mtts though, I don't really even consider myself good at them yet and still make a ton of mistakes around 40-70bb.

You mention playing high stakes games this year, do you plan to keep playing at the highest buyins in heads up sngs?  How's the traffic and edge in these games for you?

Yea, I'm always looking for spots in those.  I don't get a rush out of playing high stakes or taking shots though.  I'm perfectly happy to sit back and pick my spots in games over $1,000.  Most of those games the players are real good and it takes a long time to iron out that variance, even if I do think I have an edge.  I stake a lot of people online so it's important that I keep plenty of funds in my account in case they happen to need them.  That being said, if I see a random or someone I think is a spot in a high stakes game, I'm willing to jump on it pretty quickly.

Traffic is what it is though.  i will say that I think it's become generally more important to try to play when other regulars aren't on rather than peak hours in today's games, but I don't think there's been any major dropoff of increase in traffic for me in a long time.  Except obviously if I'm in the middle of a battle with someone.

Any good battles against other regulars lately?

Not really.  Lately when I've felt like putting long sessions in I've been playing tournaments instead.  I can't think of anyone I've really got into it with lately.  Kind of depressing.  Might need to go pick a fight soon.

Exactly.  You're kind of known around the heads up world as a guy that gets into those types of battles with other regulars.  How does this work?  Do you just look for players playing above their heads?  Players running their mouths to you?  Do you think you're just that much better than some regulars?

Most of my reg wars have just started by me seeing someone new sitting a lobby, whether it be a $550 or $1100 or FTP or Stars, whatever.  I learned a long time ago never to go off stats alone and always to play people and determine myself whether they're good or not.  Once I play them a few times, if I can spot a leak or two I'll keep sitting.  Then usually what happens is after three or four times of me sitting them, they take offense and say something like "no money here man, I'm a reg," or something equally stupid.  That kind of thing really tilts me, when someone thinks just because they have good results that I should leave them alone.  Just isn't how things should work. 

But there's a ton of small things that can irk me enough to get into a battle with someone.  Something as simple as preventing them from sitting, to being annoyed that every time I log on I see 2 players I consider weak sitting alongside someone I consider good.  It annoys me that the good player doesn't play the bad players.  So sometimes I'll just play him too. 

More so than any other aspect though, the reason I do that kind of stuff is just that I have a ton of fun playing good players.  I've also pretty much always played overrolled for everything.  So the swings of playing regulars has never been something that I'm too concerned about at whatever my normal stakes are at the time.  But it's also challenging, rewarding and most of all not boring.  Constantly thinking and adapting my ranges to best exploit my opponent's ranges is the most fun aspect of poker for me.  Even against donks I think I adapt better than most players, stuff like min 4betting vs min 3bets, betting 1/8th pot on the turn OOP because I know if I check my opponent will pot whatever he has and I want to see the river cheap.  That stuff is what poker is all about, in my opinion.

Speaking of regulars, pretty much every year if you look at the Sharkscope leaderboards, there are more players making 200k+.  You hear a lot of "games are dead" "it's not like it used to be" type stuff all the time.  What do you think something like this means about the overall state of the games?

First of all, people have been telling me games are dying, are dead, etc. since 2007 and I never really agreed with it.  There are days where games are dead, maybe even weeks, but games are certainly not dead.  About what you said about the leaderboards, I'd say there are a lot of reasons, but I'm not exactly sure what they all are.  One that definitely comes to mind right away is the increasingly huge MTT prize pools every year.  It seems like every year there is a new record for largest prize pool ever.  Those are really good for husngs.  I feel like most of the time, when I get a huge fish at $1,000+, I mean a guy that I'll have like a 25% ROI against, they almost always have just binked some MTT in recent past. 

Aside from that, there's super turbos obviously, which have allowed more players to sit higher stakes and even out the distribution of funds a bit, making things less top heavy.  In the old days, you had a few top regs at $1,000-5,000 and not many other people would bother sitting because they'd just get eaten alive by top players.  Now it's such a chore for the top players to weed out the fields in super turbos.  Grinding super turbos vs competent opponents for a 51% winrate to discourage them from sitting is no fun for anyone.  There could also be some random variance causing this, though it is honestly a little puzzling to me.

ShortSharpShock playings a 6 max home game

(above) Friendly Competition?  ShortSharpShock reaches for his chip stack at a home game.

Do you use a HUD at all?  Do you recommend it to low-mid stakes players?

I've gone back and forth a few times as far as a HUD goes.  I used to use it always, then randomly ended up away from home for about 3 months traveling around.  Over that time I crushed without a HUD and have never really gone back.

My best advice for low stakes players is to use a HUD, but not to over use it.  I've always recommended low stakes players to play for an hour or two each day just one or two tabling without a HUD.  You really just want to focus on getting better and reading into your opponent's ranges and timing and everything else.  When you're a low to mid stakes grinder, in my opinion, you should have two clear goals: Making money and getting better.  While I think 3-4 tabling and using a HUD is probably the best way to make money, I think 1-2 tabling with no HUD is the best way to get better.

So you would generally say to make it a priority to get better, or is it goal dependent?

Well yea, it just depends on the goals and stakes.  At the $55s, I think getting better is far more important than making money and that spectrum just gradually evens out and then making money is far more important once you get to a buyin level like $2,000; to use two extreme examples.  But I would also add that poker isn't something I think you can learn super fast.  It's almost better to learn at a gradual pace, so I wouldn't recommend over doing either side of what I said.

How do you feel about low to mid stakes players (the $2-50 range) playing on smaller rooms that have less traffic, but softer player pools than the major sites (Full Tilt, PokerStars)?  Sites like Cake and Bodog used to be sites like this, today it's probably Ultimate Bet and Carbon for heads up sng players.  Do you recommend lower stakes players play these softer sites that often have better rakeback deals?

I don't think it matters that much at those stakes.  The most important thing is just making sure you're getting enough volume and practice in all the time.  Once you get to $50-200 it's more important to play on sites with more traffic, as you'll be waiting a very long time on smaller sites.  That being said, I know a lot of players that grind $50-200 on those sites and do fine.  It's really a trade off, whether you want the easier games and the higher ROI or more action.

I think it also depends on your goals.  If you have a non poker job or you're happy making $3,000 a month, those sites are fine.  If you have dreams of being a $1,000+ regular then it's far more important to constantly work on your game and challenging yourself with more volume and a tougher playerbase that you can only find on Stars or Full Tilt.

ITRIED2WARNU recently concluded his Reg Wars series with a video where he analyzed matches you two played at the $550 level on Full Tilt (Editor's note: Video can be found HERE).  How did you enjoy those matches and what did you think about his play?

ITRIED2WARNU is definitely someone I would never consider spending time playing at $330s, even if I was in a particular mood to grind.  But it's not always about that with me, whether or not to sit someone.  In the past he will typically give up sitting $550s if I sit him enough, so that was my main motivation for sitting him.  Matches with him are usually fun, he's made some really good calls against me in the past and is certainly somebody I enjoy playing and have respect for.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions for us.  Congratulations again on the win, and hopefully we'll be seeing you back on again soon.

Anytime, it was fun.  This was my first interview ever, so hopefully I did OK.  I also want to thank Rumnchess, vmendi123, mastrblastr and Melanie Weisner for the rail and support at the end of the FTOPS. 

As for coming back, we'll see.  Melanie Weisner and I have been thinking of doing a guest pro short series for  Hopefully our schedules align at some point and we can get that going.  Much easier said than done though.  Thanks again.

You can find ShortSharpShock playing on Full Tilt under "shortsharpshock" or "carryhero" on PokerStars.

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