There are a slew of examples of players winning their first ever hold’em tournament, a couple of examples of players winning a WSOP bracelet the first time they played a variant – think Jennifer Harman and Matt Perrins in no-limit deuce to seven – but Charlie Combes has one upped them all. For Combes, who plays on PokerStars under the screen name JIZOINT and has won over $4,000,000 on the virtual felt, has two SCOOP titles in a rarely played format of hold’em.
“People call me the ante up king,” says Combes smiling as he relaxes in the sun during a break in play of the EPT Barcelona Main Event. For the 28-year-old has, erm, scooped two SCOOP titles in the ante up format of no-limit Hold’em in which there are few, if any, high stakes tournaments outside the ‘COOP series. He won his first in 2011 and second in 2013, defeating some high quality players like Chris Brammer, George Lind and Kyle Julius along the way, so what’s his secret?
“I don’t know where to start really. My first SCOOP win was the first time I’d played that style of tournament,” he tells the PokerStars Blog. “It’s silly to fold any hand at the beginning, when the antes are low but as the tournament goes on you need to mix it up. I’ll just call with my monster hands because people will see there’s 600 in the pot and it’s only five to call. They then try and make a play, then someone will three-bet light so there’s a lot of levelling. I’ll also raise my monsters because it looks more bluffy as well because people are trying to steal the pots so often.”
Like many young poker players Combes has done his share of globe trotting. He’s previously lived in Spain and Australia but is now based in East London. He made four trips to play EPTs last season making Day 2 on each occasion but with less than his starting stack. This time things were different though as Combes bagged 172,400, good for fourth overall going into Day 2. “This is the first EPT where I’ve felt that I’ve run well,” he states. “I played well at most of them but just not had the luck. This makes up for it.”
So how do you go about making a 170,000+ stack on Day 1, roughly three and a half times the average. “I made a few good hands early on and got up to 45,000, went back down to 30,000 and then Olivier Busquet moved two to my left. He won pretty much every pot in the first hour he was there, he was up to 70,000 and I thought ‘this is going to be tough,’ but managed to get back up to 45,000 once more.”
At this stage there was no need to panic or tangle with Busquet. “With the exception of Andrew Chen, the rest of the table was quite soft so there was no point in getting involved when there’s easy chips coming from elsewhere. I then had one level where I absolutely blitzed it, hitting hands, making good floats in position against the weaker players who were always folding that sort of thing. I didn’t get gifted any chips though, but I was running well, making hands – flopping flushes always helps – and I just felt mentally in the zone.”
So having put himself in a good position does he feel having a big stack is an advantage when the blinds are still relatively low? “In the last two levels having a big stack just makes it so much easier to pick up pots as everyone’s trying to make Day 2 and you can bully them. The 20k stacks are just trying to make it through, which in my opinion isn’t a good idea, you’ve got to play to win.”
But poker isn’t always plain sailing and his Day 2 hasn’t gone entirely to plan, with a hiccup in the first level when blinds were 400/800 with a 100 ante. “I started well and got up to 190,000 just winning pots pre-flop. Then I had this hand, under-the-gun raised, there were three or four callers and I’ve got 8♠5♠ in the small blind. I call, which is a bit fishy but with the callers and my stack it’s ok, but I prefer folding. The flop was [K] with two spades.”
So not a bad flop then…”I’ve got the up and down with the flush draw so I’m loving that. I thought about leading out but checked, it went round to the last guy to act, he bet about two thirds of the pot. I think about trying to get it in but there are other stacks who could’ve been trapping so I just called. Then the big blind, who flat called pre-flop, shoves all-in for about 22,000. It folds round to the other player who shoves all-in for 37,000. It sucks but I’ve got to call really with the odds and what I’ve got. Anyway it was the worst outcome as I was up against a flush draw and a set and didn’t hit.”
That wasn’t the end of it though as he was soon haemaroghing more chips in another tricky spot. “I opened nines in the cut-off, the button – who was calling in position loads and had a big stack – called and then the big blind, who had about 20 big blinds jammed. I’m pretty sure he has smaller pairs there, rag aces and king-queen and the like. So, I jam and the button has trapped me with kings, which I never expected to be honest.”
After another loss he was down to just 22,000 with the blinds at 800/1,600, ante 200 before the recovery started. “The small blind shoved on me with [Q] and I had [A] in the big blind and then I won three pots against the same guy. I called him on the river with ace high which was good and in another I had queens and he called all the way with middle pair.”
At the time of the interview Combes had recovered to 100,000 and he’s not the only member of the Combes family with poker talent. His Mum, Jan, is also an avid player and a successful and supportive one at that. “At first when I didn’t finish my university studies because of poker she wasn’t too pleased but saw I was winning, she started playing, I taught her, she started loving it and she’s kept the faith with me throughout, which I really appreciate,” beams Combes.
And Jan joins him on some trips, which has proved a wise move. “She comes on some of the trips and she won an EPT Ladies event in her second ever live tournament which she’s really proud of. She still grills me that she’s won more live events than me!” And the other woman in his life, girlfriend Becki, is also supportive and Combes is starting to teach her too. “She’s set up a poker account, but mostly to rail me in events, although she’s played a few poker games. I’m teaching her, or trying to.”
So who knows, there might be another EPT Ladies Champion with some Charlie Combes tutoring in the future. As for Combes he says. “I can’t wait for WCOOP.” No doubt he’ll have one eye on Event#11, the $320 no-limit Hold’em ante up.
Follow all the action from the tournament floor on the main EPT Barcelona page. There’s hand-by-hand coverage in the panel at the top, including chip counts, and feature pieces below. There’s also EPT Live, which is streaming action from Day 2 of the Main Event.