Grinding it out to a big win--26,000 and counting

PS Women logo.jpgTeija Halkosaari has played poker for just over two years, but in that time, she has logged an incredible 26,000 tournaments. . . Long pause. . . That's right, it's not a typo; I said 26 thousand tourneys. Go ahead, grab your calculator. Like you, I had to figure that one out. 26,000 divided by 24 months equals 1083 tournaments per month. Divide that by 30 days and you come up with 36 tournaments per day. That is a huge number for most of us, but not for someone like Teija, who sometimes plays as many as twenty tables at one time. And an EPT title proves that she has put all that experience to very good use.

Teija's biggest win so far is the EPT Tallinn PokerStars Women Live event this August where she competed against some of poker's best female players to win the title. Her first live event was in January when she won a package to attend the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas (flying for over 30 hours from her native Finland to attend). Most recently, she placed second in the Women's Sunday, on August 28, along with two wins there previously.

She is here today to tell us how she does it.


Can you tell us a little bit about your background in poker, Teija?

I played my first poker game less than two years ago, but I started to put more effort into my game last autumn. My fiancé, who is now a poker coach, taught me poker from scratch, and now we both grind mainly the sit and gos. At the moment I play mainly online, so I am really new to the live games. My win in Tallinn was my biggest single win so far. I love traveling, and live poker is something I hope to do more of in the future.

I have played altogether 26,000 tournaments online. I played 4300 last month, a particularly busy month.

Can you share a couple of tips that you use playing online?

I think that the single largest mistake people make when playing poker online is to do other things at the same time. Even though it might be easy for example to wander around the Internet during your games, don't. If hands just seem to come too slow and you constantly have time to do other things, you can always add more tables. Concentrating just on poker without interruptions makes it easier to get a right mindset on the tables.

Playing online you can easily become complacent. You might just play the same games every day, the same amount of tables, and do the same things every time. I think sometimes you need to get slightly out of your comfort zone to learn new things. For instance, try playing differently against familiar players or add a table and see how it goes. Don't give up and stay on the safe side. You can always improve your game.

And take advantage of the many good resources to learn more about poker. When you play online, you can also have your hand histories sent to you, and use replayers to see how you and other people played. It's very profitable to go through your games afterward for your own improvement.

Do you play many of the women's tourneys?

I won two Women's Sunday tournaments last year, and I plan on playing more of them. I like playing on PokerStars because there are always enough players for the games. Recently I have played more than 20 tables at the same time and I couldn't do it anywhere else.

How many live events have you played and where?

I have played only five live tournaments. First the PCA Women's Event in January, and then four other live tournaments in Tallinn. The EPT Tallinn Ladies Event was my fourth live tournament ever.

What was the most interesting thing about the tournament in Tallinn?

Meeting other female players at the tables. I'm sure I'll meet some of them in the poker games later in the future. After the game I learned that I have played with some of the final table players at PokerStars Women's events.

Was there one particular thing that really contributed to your success in that tournament?

My poker background is mainly from the sit and gos and I think I had a huge advantage at the final table because of that. I knew what to do and I wasn't afraid to use my stack as a weapon against the other players. I might have seemed like a maniac at times, but when we had very large blinds and antes it was profitable to take a risk to steal them.

I think that the local casinos in Tallinn did not have many tournaments with antes and knowing how to adjust for the large antes gave me another edge. I knew I was going strong and I wasn't going to let anyone scare me. As the game went on, I got more confident. Somehow I found myself being really calm and making good decisions even though I was playing a larger tournament than I usually play.

Was there a particular player who stood out as being tough and hard to beat?

There was one player with team patches from the largest Baltic casino chain who played a lot of hands during the game. I noticed she was opening with a large range and playing really aggressively from the beginning. At first, I tried to avoid getting into difficult situations with her. When I got to know her playing style better, I pulled a couple of successful moves against her. After some aggressive hands between us, she started being more passive when I was acting behind her and my game got considerably easier.

Halfway through the final table when I had a large stack I heard that the other large stack on the table was the most successful Estonian female player. Knowing that I was playing against an experienced large stack on the bubble restricted my play a bit, but she didn't really make me have to make that many hard decisions. Considering ICM, it would have been highly unprofitable for me to play big pots against her with two small stacks on the bubble.

What mistake did you make (if any) that you will be sure to correct next time?

Keeping track of the big pot sizes and other players' stacks is sometimes very challenging in live poker. I might have made some bet sizing mistakes because of that. It gets easier to keep track of the pot the more I play live, but it isn't second nature yet. Otherwise, I don't think there are any hands I would have played differently, to be honest. I asked my fiance's opinion about a few hands after the game, and he agreed with the decisions I made. That gave me more confidence for future live games.

What kinds of mistakes did you see other players making?

In my opinion, the most critical mistakes were made when people were short stacked. You need to be able and ready to risk your tournament life to stay in and win. Generally people are too afraid of risking their whole stack, both in pushing all-in and calling someone else's push. I would also suggest that the new players should think more about proper bet sizes.

What was your morning like the day of the tournament? Did you get up early and have a good breakfast, for instance?

I got up early to have enough time to get myself prepared. I wasn't as hungry as usual, but I tried to eat something since I hoped it was going to be a long day at the table. Just before the game I was a little nervous, but after seeing my first cards I put my whole concentration on our table and its players. The next time I felt a bit that way again was during the break when we were at the bubble, but I just kept on playing. I didn't like the idea of being a bubble girl, so I had to talk myself into making good actions, no matter what. Luckily it paid off. During the heads-up I didn't even have time to be nervous, since I busted the third and I was still organizing my newly won chips when the game was suddenly over.

For information on upcoming tournaments and to read more interviews with winning players and pros see the PokerStars Women site.

Rebekah Mercer
@PokerStars in PS Women