Melissa Burr is a high stakes mixed games cash pro based in Atlantic City. Burr has several nicknames including "Mellicious", for her approach to other people's stacks and her twitter handle, "burrrrrberry", alluding to her appetite for fashion. Burr, who regularly plays the biggest Mixed game in AC, 400/800 is constantly expanding her expertise in everything from Baduci to Open Face Chinese poker.
"Melissa is amazing at pretty much any game" said three-time WSOP bracelet winner Matt Matros, "The first time I played Chinese poker with her, she picked up on small mistakes I was making almost every hand. And the first time in Scramble (with friends) she nearly doubled my score."
Melissa talked to PS Women about her second place finish at last year's PokerStars Caribbean Adventure H.O.E event, how it felt to play in Phil Ivey's room at the Aria, and just how much getting to Fantasy Land is worth.
PokerStars Women-Tell us about playing in Ivey's Room at the Aria for the first time.
Melissa Burr- I got a phone call out in Vegas from Eric Wasserson that a H.O.E (Hold Em, Omaha Hi Lo and Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo) game was going on. Those are my three best games, so it was perfect for me. I played for just a short time, and I won. It was thrilling to be among the pictures of all the greats. I've played that big plenty of times (400/800), but this was different- I felt, I'm 31, I'm playing in Ivey's room and I won. I was walking on air. It was one of the few times I felt really proud in poker.
PSW-Who else was there?
MB-Eli Elezra, Jen Harman, David Baker, Bryan Devonshire and a really big fish.
PSW-Are there any women besides you and Jen that play that big?
MB-That's all I know of. Vanessa Selbst of course plays mixed games tournaments and Cyndy Violette plays smaller.
PSW-What do you think of Selbst's ability to pick the mixed games up so fast on her way to the ten-game mix bracelet this WSOP?
MB- I think she has an excellent general tournament game- whatever deficit she has in knowledge of the games, she makes up for in tournament strategy. She knows the right timing, whereas someone like me, is in the zone of "let me win a bet an hour." I'm adjusting a bit to tournaments but I need to adjust more.
PSW-What are the pros and cons of being one of the only females at the table?
MB- It's really hard to be the only woman and I wish more women did what I did. Sometimes people get angry and aggro in the games, they forget that you're a female and not a 200 pound guy.
But it's also fun because I have friendships where I'm just one of the guys, where we bet sports and watch football.
PSW-What do you think makes you such a strong player?
MB-One reason I'm so successful is I've tried to learn from everyone, when bad players play a hand, I think about "why were they doing that?" Too many poker players think that bad players can't do anything right and just dismiss them. I used to play pool, I would watch bad players and often they would accidentally hit a ball very correctly. I would just learn so much from watching people bang balls around.
I think about a lot of things, a lot of people spend a lot of time talking about poker; I spend a lot of time thinking about it.
PSW-What aspects of poker are you working on recently?
MB-Learning all these new games like Baduci and Open Face makes me feel challenged. When I was (playing the same games for too long) I almost felt like I was getting dumber, so I started reading more often. Now I feel I have to be sharper, learning all the time is more and more essential (in the current poker environment) if you want to be a really winning player.
PSW-Your fiancé Ryan Miller is also a poker pro specializing in mixed games-do you play in the same games?
MB-There's really only one game at that limit (400/800) in AC, so we rotate on and off- I didn't always play the mixed games, until a few years ago, Ryan told me "If you want to play bigger, you have to learn the other games." My favorite game is still Limit Hold Em but there are higher stakes at the mixed games.
PSW-Why is it important to you to play the highest stakes?
MB-There are weaker players at the bigger limits, and you don't have to play as many hours.
PSW-What mixed games would you recommend for NLHE players hoping to get their feet wet?
MB-If you take on all eight games at once, you're going to be confused. The goal at first is to be a good player in some of the games and mediocre (or competent) at the others. Omaha Hi/Lo is a good one to start with because it's always going to be a part of mix games. I also think Deuce to Seven Triple draw is good it helps instill a lot of typical concepts that can apply to all draw games.
MB-Position, drawing to a smooth draw, making nut hands. And things like, you should always have a deuce in your hand that also travels to Baduci.
PSW-Tell us about your trip last year to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.
MB-Getting second in the HOE tourney was cool, the weather was really nice, and we had a great dinner at Nobu. It was a really nice vacation.
PSW- When you were deep in the HOE tourney, did you get a glimpse of the adrenaline rush so many of us MTT junkies are after?
MB- Yes, even though the difference between 1st and 2nd was only $4000, I wanted to win really badly. The person I was with heads-up was rude to another player who bubbled when he played a hand in Stud Hi-Lo questionably and lost the hand. Getting on a player when he plays a hand badly and loses is pretty rough. I was at a 4:1 chip deficit going into HU so it was hard to overcome.
PSW- Isn't it fun how when you go deep in a tourney, you find out that a lot of people who you've just meet in passing are rooting for you?
MB- Yeah, that is really cool. It's sort of similar to a birthday .
PSW- Doesn't a good luck deep in a tournament mean more than "Happy Birthday"?
MB- Yeah. I do plan to play more tourneys in the future, though I'm always been drawn more to cash games. I don't like the idea of someone telling me "you can't play here anymore" and that's how I feel when I get knocked out of a tournament.
PSW- When I first called you, you were in the midst of a $50 a point Open-Face Chinese game. How'd you get into Open-Face?
MB- My friends and I used to play regular Chinese but it got old after a while. Open-Face caught like wildfire though, we play all the time. I think it's very skill oriented, but it's slower than regular Chinese.
PSW- The first ever Open-Face Chinese tournament will be held at the PCA this year. (Read more about the tournament, as well as the rules of Open Face here.) It's a $2500 rebuy, how do you think that will go?
MB- Sounds like a lot of fun! I guess the rebuy period will encourage a lot of gambling to go for royalties.
PSW-Do you have any strategy tips for people just getting into Open-Face?
MB: In the start I think people foul a lot, because they're thinking of regular Chinese. Since you're getting one card at a time, the average hand values decrease a lot. It's not so easy to make a flush in the back, but people think about how easy it is to make a flush in regular Chinese and just go for it. In poker, I'm renowned for being tight-aggressive so when I started out in Open-Face, I was actually playing too tight. I was trying too hard not to foul my hand, so I was not fouling but getting scooped anyway. My friends made fun of me, "You're a nit in Open-Face too!"
PSW-What about all these Open-Face variants?
MB-One variation we do to make the game go a little faster is playing with the final three cards face-down. Fantasy Land is another variation--if you get queens or better up top, you get to play your next hand closed (while your opponents play open-face). If we have a question about Open-Face variations, we usually call Shaun Deeb or Jason Mercier (Jason explains why he loves Open-Face on the PokerStars Blog). It's pretty difficult to get to Fantasy Land four-handed cause queens up top doesn't happen much.
PSW-But you got to Fantasy Land just the other day when I called you! How much did you win from that?
MB: The hand that got me into Fantasy Land (pictured) won me 35 points. Once I was in Fantasy Land, I won another 30 points. One of my opponents offered me a buyout for 12 points....I'm not sure if that's a good deal or not.
PSW-What stakes should people start out playing Open-Face?
MB-When I was learning I started with $5 to $10 a point. You should not be losing a buy-in from Open Face Chinese--a standard loss is about 100 points. Now that I play $50 a point, I can lose $5000 whereas I can easily lose $20,000 in my regular 400/800 game. So if you're a $1/2 NLHE cash grinder you should probably be playing for something like $1 a point.
PSW: Sounds like you are friends with a lot of the people you play with in Open-Face. Does that cause any tension?
MB: I've gotten used to it. In the mixed games, I also really like everyone I play with. I even almost quit poker because I felt like I was making people miserable and didn't want to. Then my fiancé Ryan told me, "If it's not you, it's going to be someone else -- at least people like playing with you." It's true that I'm sort of a "Miss Congeniality" at the table. People want to start with games me, people don't mind losing to me.
Jennifer Shahade is a senior writer for PokerStars Women.