Lee Davy sits down with Stuart Rutter to ask him one very specific question. How on earth can two people win 2-7 Draw Lowball No Limit bracelets despite not knowing how to play the game?
In the first half of the World Series of Poker (WSOP), no single player has received more headline space around the globe than Christian Pham. The story of the man that accidentally won a bracelet seems to have captivated the hearts of anyone with a pen in their hand.
But how did it happen?
How did someone who didn’t even know the 2-7 Draw Lowball No-Limit rules, manage to take the chip lead wire-to-wire, and win one of the most prestigious titles in poker: a WSOP bracelet?
And not for the first time.
In 2011, British pro Matt Perrins entered the same event, despite having never played it before, and also romped home with the title. Phil Galfond called it the purest form of poker.
To uncoil my confusion I sat down with Stuart Rutter, a man who knows a thing or two about 2-7, to get his lowdown on things. This is what he had to say.
Welcome to the show Stuart, you have been playing well for the past 12-months, and have started the series well. What’s the secret to your success?
“This is an interesting issue. Everyone in poker believes momentum is a big thing. I have never believed that. I always thought it was a trick of the mind. But it has effectively happened to me. Last year, I did well at the end of the WSOP, and I have done well in most of my tournaments since. After experiencing this ‘roll’ for the first time of my career, I can say that it definitely exists.”
How is it possible for Pham and Perrins to win these events at the first time of asking?
“There are so many things to it. Firstly, they are both great poker players, and all poker games have the same foundation. In both cases it’s also a freak result. Say there are 300 people in that event, and they enter it 3,000 times, they wouldn’t be winning 10 of them. It must be a massive disadvantage to them not to understand the game. But it’s fascinating that there is even a one in a million chance that it can happen.”
What does it say about the standard of this game?
“I agree that both victories can create a negative element for the game. From a mixed game player point of view, there has to be a small amount of embarrassment to it. People take the games very seriously; they get coaching, talk about hands all year round, and then a NLHE player rocks up and takes the event down. I don’t think the mainstream press would pick up on it, and say it goes against poker being a sport though. In reality it proves the beauty of poker. We all know the best players will rise to the surface overall, but anyone can win.”
It could attract more people to the game. Is that a good or bad thing for the mixed game players?
“I think it’s a bit of both. When I first entered the WSOP I was only playing NLHE games. Every now and then I would look at the screens and see all these games I had never heard of. The fields were so much smaller. This is when I decided that the best way to win a bracelet was to learn mixed games.
“I wouldn’t want vast fields in mixed games. I like the smaller fields. Not only is it easier to win, but also you recognize more people and I like that part of the game. On the other hand, weaker players coming into the game is also a good thing for a strong mixed game player.”
How would you compare a complete nobody taking down a 300-player field NLHE event?
“It’s far less likely, but it can happen, that’s the beauty of poker. Matt and Christian, didn’t know the 2-7 game, but they have a better chance of winning that event, than a random unskilled person trying to win a NLHE competition. Ultimately, poker skills are transferable from one game to the next. The key elements in every game are position, playing aggressively, reading your opponents, and thinking logically. If you can do it in one you can do it in others. This is why Christian had a shot. But it’s still a win that is massively against the odds.
“The other thing about these events is that they are won over three days. I saw Perrins grow very strong over the three days, when he won his bracelet. His is a great poker player, and learned the game quickly. I expect Pham did the same. It’s highly likely that they got lucky early, rode that momentum, and then started to learn more about the game.”
Is it possible that they both stumbled on a play that was so left field, the experienced players were hoodwinked?
“There is an element to that. Perrins developed his strategy very early on. He would raise with anything, stand pat and then bet people off everything, because in 2-7 it’s difficult to make a hand. Perhaps Christian did the same thing. That works against a solid player. An expert will pick up on it. When Perrins entered the $10k event, he tried the same thing, got caught and went out very early. So there are elements that can work for them, but it wouldn’t work against the best players in the world.”
What would you have said to Pham had he asked you for advice, moments after learning he was in the wrong game?
“Always draw smooth, make sure when you are drawing one card you can’t be making a straight or a flush, position is more important than probably any other poker game, and you have to be over betting the pot. When you see players who aren’t doing those things, then they are probably NLHE players who haven’t translated well into the game. The best advice for a new player would be to just play solid, and make sure that you have it.”
Dominik Nitsche said he didn’t want to play Mixed Games because there is no money involved – what do you think about that statement?
“I think that’s completely understandable. It seems a little cold, but it makes perfect sense. I would still challenge him on that though. If it was all about making the most money, which is reasonable, then why not stay in Germany playing online? A great live tournament player he is, I reckon his dollar for dollar profit is better online.
“I think Mixed Games are more about prestige than the money. It’s either the prestige, the bracelet, or a new challenge. Take Patrick Leonard for example. He is an amazing NLHE player, and recently told me that he is going to take up mixed games, because he wants a new challenge.”
I suggest he starts by learning 2-7.