Doug “WCGRider” Polk: Riding High

Doug “WCGRider” Polk: Riding High

Monday, 11 November 2013

Polk on Sulsky, Galfond, Cates and much,much more.

Douglas Polk, the man famed for playing under the name ‘WCGRider’, has played in some of the biggest online cash games around. When asked whether he thought he was the best Heads-Up No Limit player in the world, the young pro barely missed a beat before answering “yes, currently I think that I am.”

I was taken aback by his answer. I must confess I was expecting chuckling modesty, perhaps even a bashful acknowledgement of flattery. It was foreign for someone to assert so boldly not only that they are good at something – but that they are the best. Perhaps my aversion to blowing your own trumpet is a cultural thing; one of those peculiar Britishisms in the same league as telling the hairdresser you really DO love your terrible new haircut, or absent-mindedly apologising to an inanimate object if you bump into it. Either way, it seemed odd.
But then again, why shouldn’t Polk showcase his confidence? The American pro is definitely no stranger to crushing the high-stakes HUNL games online, winning hundreds of thousands from some of the toughest players on the scene. He hit the headlines recently after agreeing to a Heads-Up Challenge with revered online grinder Ben ‘Sauce123’ Sulsky, and he certainly seems to have successfully put his money where his mouth is. At the time of writing, it is close to its conclusion, and Polk is up almost $600k.

The challenge, which stipulates that they must play 15k hands together at $100/$200, carries an extra $100k penalty for the loser.

“It was actually his [Sulsky’s] idea,” says Polk. “I think that it was for a couple of reasons. First off, in November PokerStars are hosting the AllStar Showdown. I know that he played well in that last year, and historically he’s done very well in No Limit, so I think he wanted to kind of use this [challenge] as a way to warm up for that. To kind of get his NLH game back to a place where he was happy with, because he’s mainly been playing PLO and mixed games. I think it was partially that and also that he thinks he does have an edge on me.”
But Polk had always been sure that he had an advantage against Sulsky. “I actually had played Ben for like 10k to 15k hands earlier this year, and I won pretty convincingly over that sample, so I really had nothing but the best expectations for how I would do in this challenge,” he says. “I was extremely confident.”

His confidence proved warranted, with railbirds watching in fascination as ‘WCGRider’ crushed ‘Sauce1234’ in pot after pot. The pair’s history together highlighted the fact that they favour two incredibly different playing styles – from his atypical limp-or-3x strategy on the button, to his propensity to attempt big bluffs in unusual spots, Sauce has always been unconventional. On the other hand, Rider (Polk) used the challenge to focus on a countering strategy, catching Sauce with his pants down on multiple occasions after making successful hero calls. I make a comment that, to observers, there seemed to have been numerous hands where Polk caught Sulsky with his hand in the cookie jar. “Oh yeah, he’s definitely got a sweet tooth,” laughs Polk. “Some of those bluffs are extremely creative.”

One hand in particular against Sauce sticks in his mind. “I called a 3-bet with K-T, and the flop was J-4-3. He checked, I bet, he called. The turn came a nine. Again, he checked, I bet, he called. The river was an ace and he donk-shoved, and I was trying to go through the hands that he could have in this situation… his A-K, A-Q combos are going to fold the turn, so realistically he needs some kind of nut-flush draw to be able to show up with a value bet there. Considering that he generally either checks or bet-raises those hands, there was a very thin value range of combinations he was trying to represent. So I called [with king-high] and he had the 6-5 straight draw. That was extremely interesting, because I can’t think of anyone else who would have played it like that!”

Polk’s success against Sauce, while gratifying, is unlikely to increase the amount of people wanting to give him action – even before the challenge he struggled to find willing opponents. “I’ve done fairly well versus Ike Haxton this year; obviously against Ben Sulsky this year, and then after that the list kind of deteriorates with regards to the people that are willing to play me,” muses Polk. “The next tier [down] of people I guess is like Alex Millar [‘Kanu7’], and he’ll play me once in a while but not very consistently. There’s another player named Max, he’s ‘altFC’ on Stars, he’ll play me. The Germans as well. But after that it becomes a lot of sitting out. So I guess really it’s not about if there’s anyone that can beat me, but it’s about is there anyone that will PLAY me.”

As well as being someone to battle it out with on the virtual felt, notorious high-stakes wizard Daniel ‘Jungleman12’ Cates has been a friend to Polk in years gone by – the two even lived together at one point. From an outside perspective, their friendship may seem odd – Polk has always been confident and self-assured to the point of arrogance, while Cates has a reputation for social awkwardness, bearing the self-perpetuated nickname ‘Rainman’. “We’ve had kind of an interesting past,” says Polk. Polk recalls the beginning of their friendship, a time when his poker ability was in its fledgling stages. Jungleman gave him some coaching to improve his game, and in return Polk offered tuition in a different kind of skill. “We’d trade poker coaching for picking-up-girls coaching,” he laughs. “But those days are behind me now!”

Their relationship has not been all smooth sailing, however. It is at this point that Polk, having been readily opinionated in the interview up until now, becomes somewhat hesitant. “In the past year, we’ve kinda had a little bit of a falling out over a few issues. There’s a bunch of things that have gone down that have been questionable. I don’t think that Jungle really means bad – I think that sometimes he makes decisions that aren’t very well thought-out. I think he is a good person, which kind of puts me in a difficult spot.”

It is perhaps partly for this reason that Polk does not foresee a similar heads-up challenge happening with Cates, despite the pleas of fans. “[A challenge] is something that is extremely unlikely to happen. I’m willing to play Jungle and we’ve played a bunch. I know he’s on a big downswing and the only reason he’s not on a huge downswing is thanks to my generosity! He crushed me. So basically I think it’s really unlikely to see that match-up. You might see some matches at 25/50 or 50/100 on Stars, but you’re not going to see a 15k hand challenge.”

Like Jungleman, Polk specialises in HU NLH. “What I like about HU is that it’s the most mathematically pure game,” says Polk. “It’s got the most elements of theory, and the least elements of just being a nit and trying to flop a set. I think that is definitely something that plays into my play style – I prefer to have a more loose-aggressive game, where I can counter my opponents. I enjoy the sportsmanship of it, if you will.”

It is clear that Polk is extremely competitive, and this is something that is only further fuelled by his surroundings. He lives in Vancouver, a city becoming increasingly popular among poker players. In fact, he even lives in the same building as high-stakes hotshots Phil ‘MrSweets28’ Galfond, Ben ‘bttech86’ Tollerene, and Jason ‘NovaSky’ Koon. This atmosphere manifests itself in intense competition and camaraderie, something most recently shown by the weird and wonderful array of side bets that Polk and his friends decided on for the PokerStars WCOOP High Roller Heads-Up event.

“Before it started, me and a few of my friends who were all going to play made a list of all the people in the tournament that we knew and we liked, who we thought were good, who we thought were especially horrible. We made a long list of them, and decided that depending on whether you won or lost to them you had be rewarded or punished accordingly,” chortles Polk. “So if you lost to Phil Galfond, you had to dress up as Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings and then take a walk down Robson in Vancouver (the main street). If anyone had even drawn him as an opponent that match would have had a huge sweat!”

“We also had some ones for people we didn’t really like, eg for ‘wilhasha’. None of us are really fans of his, so if you lost to him you had to do everyone’s laundry for a week. One of the other really bad ones – actually, the only one that ended up happening – was if you drew Sauce and lost, you couldn’t eat food that had sauce on it for a week. My friend Jason Mo (Klink10k on Two Plus Two), he lost to Sauce, so he didn’t have any sauce for a week. That actually ended two nights ago and he was really pumped. Sauces are really important for food, like that’s a huge loss!”

Polk himself ended up being unceremoniously knocked out by fellow resident Ben Tollerene. “For Ben, there was actually a bonus if you beat him. We live at the Shangri-La in Vancouver, and it’s the tallest building in Vancouver, so needless to say it has quite the flight of stairs. If you beat Ben you got to make someone else run the stairs from ground floor to floor 40. I lost to him, but we had a separate prop bet on how fast I could run it – the line we came up with was 12 minutes. I actually managed to do it in a little under six minutes, so I won all the money for that. I was exhausted afterwards, and my friends had this bundle of cash that they basically showered on me.”

While listening to Polk’s chuckling recollections of prop bet tomfoolery, it’s hard to believe that much of what he hit the spotlight for in the past six months was rather more serious. In August of this year, he appeared in the centre of what became an explosive scandal after he very publicly accused British player Josh Tyler of illegally super-using him. Polk made an extensive post on Two Plus Two forums about the incident, which stated that he had lost something to the tune of $35k to an unknown player using the online handle ‘Forbidden536’. This mysterious player had seemingly infallible intuition; he called every one of Polk’s bluffs correctly, and folded every time that he actually had the goods. Suspicious, Polk contacted PokerStars for investigation, who reported back to him that they were “sure beyond any reasonable doubt” that Polk’s opponent could see his hole cards.

Polk received a refund, but was not satisfied. Someone would have had to have physically tampered with his computer, and he was sure he knew who the culprit was – English player Josh Tyler. Tyler had stayed at his Vegas home after the two were introduced by Jungleman. Polk’s housemate reported having seen him go into Polk’s home office for no apparent reason. Of course, Polk couldn’t prove that Tyler was guilty, but his carefully-worded presentation of the facts on Two Plus Two sparked an uproar within the poker community.

Months later, the scandal seems to have died down, and Polk is resigned to the fact that it is likely he will never fully get justice. “I don’t really see how it could really be resolved. I don’t have specific evidence that it’s him, and I don’t think that is going to happen. I got a refund, but there were several people that came forward about him doing the same thing when he stayed over at their place.”

Tyler posted a lengthy protest of innocence in the thread, but Polk still remains unconvinced. “It [Tyler’s reply] seemed kind of desperate and didn’t really have too much of a point to it. It’s more like he’s ran out of town and doesn’t have anywhere to go, because I made it my personal goal to try and ruin his image. I actually tried to work with him – I said to him, if you’re innocent then I wanna prove your innocence and let's get together to solve that, but he basically just said no! If someone doesn’t want to work with you, it’s pretty tough to want to be able to help them.”

Whether or not Tyler is guilty, it was a hard lesson for Polk that he needed to properly protect himself. “My security has been upped substantially, in everything. In where my money is, my computer security, having a secure system for my home, even just making sure I lock the door nowadays!”

With regards to the rest of the year, Polk still needs to finish the last 1,500 hands in his challenge against Sauce, as well as play in the All Star Showdown. But he’s still determined to stay on top, despite being slightly put out at the widespread reluctance to play him. “This might be the only [challenge] you’re going to see for a while. The rest of the high-stakes list would never agree to it. I hope some fresh blood comes onto the scene… maybe someone will try to take a step up and I’ll get to knock them back down again!”

One thing that he remains sure of is his own ability – and frankly, I wouldn’t want to be the one standing in his way. “I think that I am [the best] currently. I don’t think necessarily there’s a huge gap between me and the next couple of people, particularly Ike. I’ve put in a lot of hands versus those guys that I’ve mentioned, and I’ve been trying to play the rest. I don’t really think that until there’s somebody that comes up and beats me and gives me consistent action, I don’t think there’s really anyone that can claim to be better than me.”

Tags: Doug Polk, WCGRider, Ben ‘Sauce123’ Sulsky, Phil ‘MrSweets28’ Galfond, Ben ‘bttech86’ Tollerene,