2008 World Series: A silent masterclass

July 09, 2008

How do you define a top poker pro? What are the skills you need?

Of course, most commentators will differ on the nitty gritty, happily spending hours discussing the multiple facets of the all-round player, placing their emphasis on the various skills in the multiple variations, adjusting their opinions based on deep-stack play versus turbo tourneys, ring games versus freezeouts. However, no matter the specifics, there are certain universal truths. You need to be able to play all variations of the game; show aggression where necessary, patience at other times; you need to know how to play the big stack and the short stack; you need discipline and focus.

In two words: you need to be Barry Greenstein.


Out on table Green 42, the furthest from media row, sits the Team PokerStars Pro who goes by that name. And as ever, he’s giving a masterclass in at least three of those skills mentioned above. Unfortunately for Greenstein, those attributes most on display are the final three: knowing how to play the short stack, discipline and focus. He has never been higher than about 20,000 in chips for the best part of two days. But he’s still in there and still fighting. Several thousand other players are not.

Watching Greenstein at the poker table is never going to remind you of a fireworks display or a Scandinavian-only double-flop eight-card Omaha hi-lo sit & go with a bonus prize for the most outrageous all-in move with the least connected cards. But there’s so much more to learn from watching his play: apparently impassive and uninterested, it couldn’t be further from the truth. He is watching and waiting; he is listening and scheming. If there is a more redundant piece of electrical equipment in the room than the boom mic that the TV crew has hovering over his head, I’m yet to see it. Greenstein says nothing, and is unlikely to even if he doubles up or busts out. It’s just not his style.


Instead, he has four towers of chips: two of the dark blue kind, worth 100 each, a half-tower of the yellow 1,000 chips and a quarter stack of the 500s, used primarily for riffling. He’s waiting for a moment to push them all in; he’ll double them up or he’ll bust. If he does the former, he’ll probably be here for another couple of days. If he does the latter, he’ll sign a copy of his book for his vanquisher, he’ll shake their hand and he’ll head silently into the night.

Either way, he has nothing to prove. Greenstein won another bracelet this year. He made the final table of the $50,000 HORSE event, his second in succession and third cash in three attempts in the event that supposedly determines the best players in the world. You know, scratch that “supposedly”. The fact that Barry Greenstein is the only name on every single cash list from that tournament is enough to prove it beyond doubt.

Look up “Top Poker Pro” in the soon-to-be-published “Poker Dictionary” and you’ll see a picture of Barry Greenstein.

Update: There is, of course, something inevitable about this, but before the ink was dry on that last post, Greenstein bust. He did exactly as predicted when the moment came, a signed copy of “Ace on the River” lies beneath seat three, and now its author is off. And yet all that written above still stands. He still has nothing to prove.


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