PokerStars Championship Bahamas: Charlie Carrel makes it look easy while knowing it's not
We're watching top-of-the-toppermost in action again today when it comes to tournament poker players, with the start of the $25K High Roller. The number of entrants has already exceeded 100 during the early levels, with late registration open all of the way until the beginning of Day 2 tomorrow.
It's such a strong field, made up of players who succeed with so much regularity they make the game seem easy.
For example, Charlie Carrel is among those in action, having just a few days ago earned a seven-figure score for his runner-up finish to Jason Koon in the $100,000 Super High Roller. Looking only at tournaments with those words "high roller" in their descriptions, that marked the eighth final table in such tournaments Carrel has made in the last year, and he made it to the top three in seven of those.
It would hardly seem out of step for us to single out Carrel as a "favorite" in the $25K, would it?
Even so, Carrel himself would be quick to suggest that we not get too carried away doing just that -- at least not based solely on his string of recent successes in high rollers.
Carrel made that very point in a Facebook post not long ago. The message was occasioned by his having offering pieces of himself at a staking site and being almost alarmed at how quickly those Carrel shares were being snapped up.
"Despite my ridiculous run these past few months, I have been subject to extremely good fortune and this won't continue forever," Carrel noted in the post. "Please don't put large percentages of your net worth on one or a few tournaments."
As Carrel explained during a break from the $25K, there were at least a couple of reasons why he wrote the post. One was a concern that those investing avoid reckless risks. Another was his understanding of the nature of tournament variance.
"You know the kind of people that are just gonna bet $50 are the kind of people that have seen me win consistently over the past few months which is obviously a kind of statistical anomaly," Carrel begins. "They're just going to assume that that's going to be a continuing trend and be like 'well, I'll get on the bandwagon while it's going.'"
But Carrel knows better -- as he noted in the post, "the way tournament poker works dictates that, more often than not, you will lose the money (and when you win, you tend to win big)." And he also doesn't want anyone investing in him to do so with unreasonable expectations. It's something he can keep an eye on when it comes to deals made in person, but when staking through a site he realized he couldn't know for sure his backers' situations.
Such concern for others' welfare distinguishes Carrel somewhat in the necessarily self-interested world of poker.
"I find that poker is a seriously difficult environment to stay ethical in," he says. "It's a lot of clashing interests and a lot of the time if something's good for you is extremely bad for someone else, even if it's indirectly. So I try and check myself on that kind of thing."
Message received. We might still call the 23-year-old a "favorite," but we're taking to heart his point that just because a player has enjoyed a string of deep runs in tournaments, that doesn't mean another one is coming in the next one he enters.
Still, though... he says he's experienced "good fortune" in these events to do as well as he has. But there's got to be something else, right? What else has he been doing that's helped him accumulate more than $3 million in tournament cashes over these last 12 months?
"I'm going to think about my answer," he begins, as though telling a table full of opponents he needs a moment to consider a big decision.
"I think that tournament poker strategy is extremely primitive in comparison to how it could be," says Carrel. "And I believe a lot of the high stakes regs are missing a lot of crucial information about how to play."
"But that being said, I'm definitely in a position where the average person -- and, probably, me -- is going to be extremely biased into thinking that my way of playing is going to be better than it is, because of the success I've had and the confirmation bias I've had."
It's a bit like hearing a philosopher explain how he knows knowledge is limited. But he knows as well there's much he, too, doesn't know.
"Part of running good is making a river decision and getting it right, and then feeling like you've just owned the person, whereas you might only be getting that decision right like 1 in 3 or even like 1 in 2 times," he says. "It's really difficult to stay away from those biases."
"So... I'm going to be hesitant to give any kind of strong answer," he decides.
It's true -- he hasn't explained the secret to his success. But Carrel's answer is hardly a weak one. In fact, it's enlightening, recalling for a moment his online nick "Epiphany77."
I'm tempted to call it a "weak means strong" situation.
As noted, Carrel was part of that $100,000 Super High Roller final table, finishing second to Jason Koon while outlasting Daniel Colman, Daniel Dvoress, Byron Kaverman, Connor Drinan, and Bryn Kenney.
Having watched that talented group play that final table, it was hard not to think every move being made was "optimal." And to think that, well, if everyone is equally skilled, then doesn't it just come down to who catches the cards -- that luck prevails, after all?
"It was an extremely strong line-up," Carrel confirms. "But I think the thing is with tournament poker, specifically, is that there are so many variables and so many different playing styles that can be good. Even on that final table there was a huge variety of different playing styles."
So no, they weren't all playing the same, seemingly "perfect" game. As he explains, some styles "are more suited to certain parts of the tournament than others." So, too, do different ways of thinking and different strengths apply differently at different stages.
"Even though it looks like people are playing pretty similarly, which definitely over time is going to be happening... [although in truth they'll] never, ever reach [being] anywhere near the same, there is still just a huge variety of different approaches to the game."
An appreciation of so many variables seems a crucial first step toward understanding tournament poker and the many strategies and approaches that can translate to success -- for a single tournament, or for longer runs such as Carrel's of late.
It helps as well when watching players like Carrel and others we consider the top-of-the-toppermost -- those who make it look easy, not least because they know it's not.
For live updates from the $25K High Roller, visit PokerNews.
Take a look at the official website of PokerStars LIVE, with tournament schedule, news, results and accommodation details for the PokerStars Championship Bahamas and all other Festival and Championship events.
Also all the information is on the PokerStars LIVE App, which is available on both Android or IOS.
Martin Harris is Freelance Contributor to the PokerStars Blog.