EPT10 Grand Final: How to win money without alienating people (or your friends)

I confess that I'm no poker player. Anyone who has seen me play will express no surprise at this. After nearly nine full seasons reporting on the European Poker Tour I have learned very little about how to win. When faced with a media tournament my strategy is simple: find a hand good enough to look respectable going out with. While waiting I'll play appallingly bad, declare my intent not to defend my big blind, and say things like "do you have an ace?" in a desperate attempt to fit in.

Then, when forced to move all-in, I'll turn over my queen-jack, make the right tutting noises and tap the table manfully as a German colleague takes all my chips.

But secretly I like it this way. I find comfort in knowing that poker is a difficult game and that the best players really are the very best. That's why I find watching the game so enjoyable. But I lack the competitive instinct and find it difficult, on those rare occasions that I do win, to take money from friends.

These though are media events, kindly laid on by the EPT so the press have a safe environment in which to expel their competitive urges. Across the barricade success requires a very different mind-set, one that puts aside any qualms about money or chips, and focuses only on winning. After all, the greatest sign of respect one player can show to another is to try to beat them.

I put this question to several top pros, whether they were ever concerned about winning money off of friends. Each gave a slightly different answer, but each demonstrated the kind of instinct that's required to thrive. In short, if you're not happy to rinse your grandmother in a game of kitchen table hold'em, you'll never cut it at this level.

George Danzer:

"I don't play that much against my friends for real money. We used to play a five dollar home game, and it really felt good when I won some money off them!


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Feeling neutral: George Danzer

"These days we don't play a lot against each other. And if it's a random draw in a tournament, yeah, you feel a little bad. But because you're winning you feel good, but you're taking off them so you feel bad. So it evens out. So you just feel neutral so it's not a bad thing either!"

Fatima Moreira de Melo:

"I don't play for money against my friends any more. But when I used to I wasn't playing as a Team SportsStar. I was winning off them and because at that time I already knew I had a bit more cash than my friends I started feeling bad.


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"Screw this" -- Fatima Moreira de Melo prefers the big bucks

"We ended up trying to rewind the game into what it used to be, like ten bucks each instead of $50 and then re-buying and then... it became bigger and bigger. So we tried to do that, but then everyone was like, 'well, screw this, it's more fun to play for the big bucks'.

"But yeah it did make me feel worse."

Vanesa Selbst:

"Definitely, if I have a friend whose running bad or something. If I win money I'll feel bad. But usually it's like a lower stakes player. If it's one of the higher stakes players I don't feel bad, it's all in the game."

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Max Silver and Vanessa Selbst

Max Silver:

"Err. No I don't. I think my friends, by playing me in the first place, they're accepting that risk. I don't feel great about it, especially against some friends who aren't professional players. But no, I don't feel bad.

"On a professional level it depends as well. I'll feel worse winning money against someone who is not so fortunate. Whereas my friends, who have done well in poker, I have no issue at all with it. It's quite enjoyable!"


Mike McDonald:

"Hmm. Not really. I mean it depends on the set of circumstances. Certain friends of mine I would feel bad and I wouldn't gamble with them (non-professionals). People who a play poker for a living and know what they're getting into, it's kind of their responsibility to stomach their losses.


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"It's their responsibility to stomach their losses" -- Mike McDonald

"The same goes the other way. If I lose a bunch of money to one of my friends I don't expect any sympathy. We chose this job and we should know what we're getting ourselves into."

All the hand-by-hand action, including chip counts, will be in the panel at the top of the main event page. We will have feature pieces below that.

Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter.