Olivier Busquet

Olivier Busquet

Friday, 10 October 2014

We meet the EPT Barcelona SHR champ.

Olivier Busquet is many things – a fearsome heads up specialist, a man with over $5.8 million in live tournament cashes, and a regular player of the richest tournaments around – but most of all, he is someone who is not afraid to speak his mind. After his sensational victory at EPT Barcelona's Super High Roller event, we catch up with Busquet to see what he really thinks.

Hey Olivier. You live in New York, so what do you do in terms of playing heads up online? Do you just head up to Canada for a few days here and there?

It depends. Most of the time I like to go out for as long as possible. The struggle for me is that my friends and family are based in New York. At the same time, heads up Sit and Gos have become so competitive and so tough. If you don't put in a consistent amount of time and work, then you're liable to fall behind. Even the inexperienced amateurs have gotten pretty tough. There are very few weak spots. A lot of the top cash players are getting little action in their primary games, so they're looking to make some additional money in heads up Sit and Gos. Guys like Ike [Haxton], Jungleman [Dan Cates], WCGRider [Doug Polk], and OTBRedBaron. These guys are really tough to beat. For that reason, I try to make sure that I don't ever take too much time off because I could fall behind.

Do games run often?

They don't run that often, frankly. One obvious reason for why the games have gotten tougher is that the online markets have become isolated from one another – especially the US, but even France and Spain and Italy etc. – that's a big issue. Also, hyper-turbo heads up Sit and Gos have taken over in terms of action. In those, there are groups of players at different levels who agree not to play each other, and are forced to play any outside competent player who sits their lobby. It's become very profitable for those players, and that's where the majority of the action takes place.

A lot of amateurs like to play those games: the games are faster, making the edges smaller, meaning a lot of them feel like they have a better chance. They're shorter games, so it's more fun for people who like action and want to gamble. I'm not really in any of those groups, and I'm wondering if I should be, or just try to beat the regs themselves. But beating the regs is tough – it's such a small edge game. In comparison, in the turbos the action is either dead, or really tough. I can easily sit for four or five hours and not get a game. It can be frustrating.

Busquet 2

Some people are sceptical of online hyper-turbo Sit and Gos, classing them as the same as flipping a coin. Could you explain how they work, in terms of how people get an edge and make money from them?

There are a couple ways that I use to try and explain. One thing is, the edges are really small. What you can do, though, is play an enormous amount of volume. The way that people do get a very small edge – and this is why I think hyper-turbo heads up Sit and Gos can be really interesting learning tools for poker theory in general – is by being very exact. You have to be extremely precise with all of your hands. There's a difference between K-4 offsuit and K-2 suited. There's a difference between Q-T suited, and K-8 offsuit. You have to know how to play each hand differently and try to maximise your profit with every hand in every situation – for example, knowing whether you should bet 50% of the pot, or 60%, or 65%. These guys are studying all these different bet sizes and all these different hand ranges, as well as the advantages of triple barrelling and calling down different spots, and so on. The only way you can really create an edge is to be extremely precise with how you play each hand, and that is a really good exercise to do when applying general principles to any kind of poker. At the same time, a big way that these guys make money is by agreeing not to play each other, so they can take turns playing against less experienced players. That's the way that the big money is made in these games. If they played each other, some of them would win and some would lose – but the big winner would be the site, from rake. Some people might view that as a sort of collusion, and to be honest, I don't blame them.

Would you be in favour of randomised table seating online, so you don't choose who you play?

I would. The way it is now, it's a bit of a social club. You're either in it or you're not, and if you are it's a huge advantage. You could take two equally skilled players and if one has this agreement with other players, their profitability is just massively more than the other. This starts to mean that other skills become related to your profit – your ability to be friendly, and have people like you! That exists a little bit in live cash games, in terms of getting invited to good private games. But that never used to be the case online!

If there was also a way to enforce having no third party software and no HUDs, I'd definitely be in favour of that too. I might be a little bit biased since I don't use a HUD, but again I think this is an instance of rewarding a different skill set: the skill of analyzing and interpreting HUD stats. But that's going to be a natural turn-off to amateur players when they're thinking about their opponents having these advantages over them. Sometimes you'll talk to amateur players and they'll say things like, “Oh, online poker is rigged,” and other things that belie their ignorance of the situation. But this type of complaint – to do with HUDs – I think is totally legitimate and justified, because players do have an advantage with these types of software. It creates a much bigger gap between an experienced and an unexperienced player than there otherwise would be.

If you were giving advice to someone about whether or not to play a High Roller, at what point would you say it becomes profitable to take a shot, considering the buy-in is so big?

That's a tough question. There are so many depending factors in that situation. Obviously, bankroll management is key, but you probably hear that from every poker player you interview. I think for me, in terms of shot-taking, people need to be focusing on themselves. How are they doing, how are they feeling? You only want to put money at risk when you are at the top of your game. Most people, when they're running well, will have higher confidence and self-belief, and that can give them a temporary edge that they wouldn't have otherwise. You might even get into this state of 'flow' that psychologists talk about. If you can get into that mode, then that's the time you should be taking shots. If you're running poorly, or don't think you're playing that well, and your inclination is to get the money back by taking a shot, that's obviously not the type of thing you want to do.

One of the keys is to be self-aware, and to understand where your motivation for taking shots comes from. If it's a gambling motivation where you're chasing losses out of frustration, try to avoid it. If it's a legitimate sense of growing confidence and bankroll and sense of purpose in the development of your poker career, then I think those are the good times. In terms of making a cut-off when it comes to buy-ins, I think that's a very individual thing. Some people find that they play better when they have their back against the wall financially, while others play too recklessly when they have too much money. That's a very individual thing.

EPT Barcelona, for example, had the Super High Roller as the first event on the schedule. Do you like to get the big one out of the way first, or is it dispiriting if you bust and immediately drop €50k?

Hmmm... I think I prefer it that way. If it's towards the end of the series, there's a chance that you won't get to play it, or that the field size will be a little bit smaller if some of the guys who would play it are still in the Main. If it's in the beginning, you're guaranteed to play it. If you bust and lose that money straight away, you've just got to deal with it. It wouldn't end your trip well if you lost it at the end of the week either! It's just a disproportionate buy-in relative to the other buy-ins, so if you bust it it's going to be tough to have a winning series if you don't get a decent cash somewhere else. That's just the reality of the Super High Rollers. It also depends on how much you have of yourself, or whether you've sold action. Some players go for it, while others prefer to sell bigger pieces of themselves to reduce this kind of risk.

One thing I realised about myself very early on when I started playing poker was that from a strategy point of view, I was very natural to poker – but from an emotionally disciplined point of view, it was a very unnatural fit for me. It was a real struggle for me originally. I found that it was good for me to have certain rules for myself. So while breaking certain rules may at some points increase my EV, I know that my natural tendency is to be a little bit reckless and emotional. One of the rules that I have is that I don't double-barrel Super High Rollers. I just put one bullet in, and if I bust, then that's it – I'll just wait until the next one. I've never had the situation of playing a Super High Roller and putting multiple bullets in, then losing and feeling terrible for the rest of the series. I think I tend to take bigger pieces of myself compared to other people because of that. That's just the way that I prefer to do it.

Busquet 3

You seem so logical and pragmatic when talking about hands, yet you've spoken about suffering emotionally from tilt in the past. Is that still the case?

I think it's still the weakest part of my overall game – my emotional stability. At least regarding online play, anyway. I don't really get upset live, for a combination of reasons. One is the time – online is so fast, whereas playing live I get an opportunity to reset and relax. Two, there's a little bit of vanity. Online, nobody sees me, but live, if I were to noticeably tilt... there's a level of self-consciousness that prevents me from losing it. But it's still a little bit of an issue for me. I'm much better than when I was younger – I'm more self-aware and emotionally enlightened than when I was 25. But a lot of it has come from just working at it, gaining experience, and getting better. I found poker when I was 24, and while that's older than a lot of other players, I was still pretty young and trying to figure out who I was, and what was going on in my life. For a long time, poker filled up a big space in my life. It still does, but in the beginning it filled up way too much. I can also tell from when I interact with other high stakes players that I'm just dispositionally a little different than most other players. I think I'm considerably more extroverted than a lot of the internet-based players are, and I'm just a little bit more of an emotional person. There are some good aspects to that, and some bad aspects. Definitely one of the bad sides with poker is that I can fluctuate more emotionally, and that I can tilt more. I've gotten a little better at it, but it's still something that I try to work on.

You've previously said that you don't play against Dan Colman. Was it weird when you got heads up with him?

A lot of poker players have this ability to play people and still be close friends with them, but when it comes to heads up play I've never had that ability. Right now I play some people that I'm friendly with, but nobody I'm close friends with. I would have a hard time being very close friends with someone and playing them on a regular basis. I'm not sure if Dan is also like that generally, but he is with me. Our friendship has gotten to the point where we're basically family, and I would never want to play my brother for any money. It would just be weird and I'd feel too bad if I won, and even worse if I lost. I think Dan feels the same.

When we got heads up, we knew we were going to chop. We didn't even have to discuss it. I'm sure a lot of good friends fantasise about getting heads up in a big tournament, but it's very rare that it actually happens. When you add the fact that we were both wearing these t-shirts at the same time... it was pretty surreal. We basically felt like we'd won the tournament together. Obviously we didn't, because we both wanted that trophy, and the EPT forces you to play for some money, which is fine. We also both have enough pride and our approach to the game is mostly theoretical more than anything else, so I don't think that it affected play much at all. We're able to pretty dispassionately explain how we would approach hands, and we played those hands in the same way versus each other. Obviously the tone of the match was much more relaxed because we're friends and the amount of money at risk was less, but I don't think the actual play itself was really affected.

Moving on to the controversial t-shirt saga – if Dan hadn't made it to the end, would you have worn it solo?

To backtrack and explain the t-shirts... the reality is, my wife picks out something for me to wear if I ever make a TV final table [chuckles]. She is my fashion coordinator. So I actually already had something I was planning on wearing for the final table. I got out of the shower and Dan was wearing the shirt, and he was like, ''I have an extra shirt, why don't you wear it with me?'' My first reaction was just like, ''No! I already have what I'm going to wear.'' He was like, ''Oh come on, let's wear it together – it'll be cool.'' So I thought about it for a while, and I decided to wear it.

Busquet 5

There were a couple of different motivations behind me wearing the t-shirt. One, I wanted to support Dan, who was going to wear it regardless. Two, I think it's a really important issue that I care about. However, if I were to make a list of all the issues I would have addressed in that way, this probably wouldn't have been at the top of the list, for two reasons. One is that I know a bit more about other issues than I know about this issue. I've read a lot about it, but it's not the issue that I'm the most engaged in. The other is because it's such an overwhelmingly controversial issue, and from a strategic point of view... it's cool and I like the idea of using the final table opportunity as a platform, but I thought starting with such a controversial issue might be a little bit counter-productive. At the end of the day, I didn't have the opportunity to put any of those ideas to work, I just had to play the hand that I was dealt.

It ended up being that I had made this final table with my best friend, who had these two t-shirts and was asking me to wear them with him, and the final table was starting in 20 minutes. I made a decision to wear it because I support him, and I believe in this issue. So to directly answer your question, if Dan wasn't there, I obviously wouldn't have worn the shirt – it was his idea. If I wasn't at the final table, I'm almost positive he would've worn it anyway, as he would have done if I'd refused.

Aside from the actual message on the shirts, it brought up an interesting argument – should poker be used as a platform? Is it correct that you originally agreed with the EPT, but then changed your mind after seeing a blog by Nolan Dalla?

Well, not really. I can tell you what my personal experience was. A Pokerstars representative came up to me the day after the tournament and told me that Pokerstars had made this change regarding dress My interactions with him have always been really positive. He's a professional and decent guy. He came up to me and said that PokerStars had made this change regarding dress, and they didn't want to make an issue out of it the day before, because they didn't want to create an emotional situation at the table. My reaction to this was: on the one hand, from a business point of view, I understand why PokerStars was doing that.
There's a profit motive – they don't want to offend anyone, especially potential customers. They want to stay non-controversial and apolitical. That's pretty straightforward for me to understand. I also really appreciate the wherewithal that they had to deal with the situation the way that they did – intentionally not making an issue of it during the final table. They didn't have to do that, but I genuinely appreciate that they did. So my reaction was basically to say thank you to PokerStars for doing that, and that I understand why they made their decision.

After thinking about it, and reading Nolan's post – I still understand why they're doing it, but I don't think it's the correct decision. If you're looking at it strictly from a shareholder point of view, which I guess PokerStars is obligated to do as a business, they have to do what's in their interests. However, beyond PokerStars, I don't think it's the best decision in the interests of the general poker community. I like the idea of being able to use poker as a platform in some way. If I wore a patch that said Pepsi on it, and Pepsi was paying me some money to wear that patch, nobody would bat an eye at that. So people understand that I can use the platform to shill for a corporation to put money into my pocket, but not to wear a t-shirt that expresses solidarity for a group of people, or more directly, to make a political statement. I just find that distasteful. I don't agree with that stance, and the general community's acceptance of that distinction. I just think, I've made this final table on my own. It's not like PokerStars has selected me to be on this table – I earned my way here. I don't think it would be appropriate to have uniforms, and as long as I'm not directly abusing or offending people, or wearing something that's really vulgar or obscene, I think I should have the right to express myself in the way that Dan and I did.

Busquet 4

I think the biggest part of the reason for this happening was because the issue itself was so controversial. If I had worn a t-shirt that said, 'Hands up, guns down', expressing solidarity for the people of Ferguson with the police brutality, the overwhelming response would have been positive. I don't think anybody would have been saying to PokerStars, ''How could you let him wear this? You should be ashamed.'' It would have been left alone. I feel conflicted, because Scott Seiver said something to me about how he wouldn't have chosen this issue. He would have chosen the Ferguson issue instead, for example. I understand that, but part of the reason that it's interesting for me to use poker as a platform is that I'm interested in the controversiality of the issue. If I said something that everyone agrees with, then I don't think that I'm really accomplishing much. That is basically just like, ''Hey guys, why don't you applaud me for the thing we all agree on?'' There's no point.

I think it would have been interesting if this had been done more strategically to show a series of events or situations, where the controversiality of the issue had started to grow and grow. The first one that gained any attention was so controversial and emotional, that PokerStars immediately went to ban it. In the Monte Carlo Super High Roller, Ronald Lo wore a Communist Party pin and no-one said a word about that. I would think that some people could be offended by that pin, but it was obviously a less emotional issue than what we addressed, so nobody asked PokerStars for a statement, and they were happy to let it continue. Finally, I want to make it clear that this was Dan's idea. That's not to say that I regret it or don't take responsibility, it's actually the opposite. It's just that a lot of time the narrative painted of me and Dan is that I'm the mentor or teacher and he follows me, whereas in this instance, Dan was the leader.

You and Dan [Colman] of all people know about the variance involved in heads up play. With that in mind, how much did the win mean to you?

I try not to generalise my point of view to other players, because they might view it differently. For me personally, I think my view of it is a lot different now compared to what it was. The first time that I got heads up in a tournament was at Borgata in 2009, and I somehow got to a 19 to 1 deficit before coming back from it and winning. It was an incredibly special and meaningful moment for me in my poker career. Then I got heads up three other times after that, and I lost all three. The experience of losing those three tournaments heads up, and essentially not winning a tournament for five years, really changed my point of view on winning tournaments. Now, I just see it as another element of additional luck that you need, and if you don't get it, it doesn't really mean much.

There are a number of people in the spotlight in poker who have had a disproportionate number of tournament wins, and that can really affect two things. First, it skews the general public's perception of the player as a 'winner', or a 'closer', or just a better player because they have wins rather than second and third places. I think that's just inaccurate, wrong, and people being influenced by variance. The same effect also happens to the player themselves – and this is not just true of winning tournaments, but is true of running good generally, especially in live play where it takes a lifetime for variance to balance. It's very, very difficult for people to not be seduced by running good. When I say 'seduced', I mean overestimating their abilities, getting over-confident, and generally puffing themselves up. One of the players I think is the most impressive at not doing that – besides Dan [Colman] – is Mike McDonald. Mike has obviously had a ton of success, and is still very young, but he has such a dispassionate way of looking at and thinking about these situations. That's not to say that he's an overly humble guy – he's very good, and he knows he's good – but that's not the point. He just doesn't get ahead of himself, or let the success go to his head. He still understands that he's been incredibly lucky, and he'll need to be incredibly lucky in the future to maintain a similar level of success.

At the end of the day, I'm looking at this trophy right now, and it's awesome! I think it's really cool, and I'm really happy that I have it. My wife loves it. It's a cool thing to have when you win a tournament, and obviously from an exposure and press point of view, people very rarely remember the guy who got second place. That extra value definitely exists, and I acknowledge that – but I still try to keep a level head.

Tags: Olivier Busquet, Dan Colman, EPT Barcelona