Jake Cody and Toby Lewis - Generation III

October cover

01 October 2010

Jake: “Being young we don't really have bills or mortgages to pay or any major debts so it is much easier. Basically money isn't a problem for us, which is fortunate. We're in a situation where we can play poker all the time with no pressure.”

While 20-year-old Toby Lewis was busy finishing off the EPT Vilamoura Main Event final table early last month, his good friend, EPT Deauville Champion Jake Cody, was just settling into the inaugural WPT London. Two days later he’d won his second major title of the year, completing an extraordinary week for British poker. Bluff Europe hails the emergence of the new UK Poker Wunderkind. Meet the Third Generation.

Such success so young, guys. What do you put it down to?

Toby : I put the success down to hard work, just playing a lot, basically, putting in a lot of hours. After I put the work in online I started playing live tournaments and cash games which is totally different to online, obviously. Every time I won I would try to step up in the stakes; not beyond my bankroll, but just taking shots all the time. I was lucky enough to have a few decent scores along the way.

Jake : For any up-and-coming player there is a learning process where you have to put in the hours upon hours and play so many hands. Online is good for that because you can really put the hands in and improve quickly. Having a group of friends that are all good poker players is probably essential. It’s probably the main reason for my success. We’re all talking about hands and improving at the same pace. It’s a lot easier when you have friends to fall back on.

You mention putting in the hours. What kind of volume are we talking?

Toby : I left college two summers ago. I didn’t leave my computer desk for, like, ten hours a day for a year or more, just playing cash games and a few tournaments online. I built a bankroll up, not a huge one, and started playing live tournaments. I had quick success and got a real buzz for them because tournaments are – well, if you win a live tournament it’s much better than winning an online cash game isn’t it? Even in a live cash game I don’t think you would get as much recognition as in a live tournament. I got the buzz for those and thought “they’re easy”. Turns out they’re not so easy but with a bit of luck... I just sort of moved up the stakes, tried to keep going and won a few tournaments.

Jake : When I was just starting out, I was reading, talking, posting in forums for about 18 months to two years. Poker became almost my whole life. I was playing twelve plus hours at a time most days. It's not as easy as people think, either. It's a lot of hard work.

How did your parents feel about it?

Toby : At college we played recreationally, and once you start winning money you don’t want to give it up. When I left college I started playing at the casino and hung around there a lot and then I started playing online. My mum didn’t like that much as a lot – she associated poker with all the -EV games like roulette. But I moved out and went to live with my dad who’s always been really supportive and helped me out. I help him out now, so I’m grateful to my dad really.

Jake : I was still at college so it wasn't the end of the world... until I quit college. Understandable, really; there was a bit of an uproar and I can see, from their point of view, that I had just quit education for gambling online. From my point of view, I felt it was an OK risk to take because I was making a lot of money at the time and I could always go back to college. When I started winning a lot of money, they did come round and hopefully they're happy now.

Tell us more about the learning process as a third-generation player.

Toby : My friends and I talk poker a tonne. The group we have at the moment is quite a big chunk of lads, at least five or six of us travelling and staying in hotels, so we’re talking about hands and different situations that you come across. Without even thinking about it, you learn a great deal through that.

So talking to your peers is a big part of the learning process?

Jake : Ninety-nine per cent of third generation players have an online background. Shoving ranges and aggression – it’s all online play. Toby and I have that same background. Talking things through speeds up the learning process massively. We talk about hands in real depth and, even though you may think you know what is right and wrong, talking about it helps you cement that in your mind. It's good to get a different perspective, especially from a player you respect. Everyone thinks about things in a different way.

Is it more important than books and training sites?

Jake : Far more, I think. Those are important for learning the basics but you need to talk to people and voice your opinion and go through hands.

Toby : I never really read books. I tried reading Harrington and stuff but they’re kind of outdated now. Training sites helped a lot. But yes, I think the biggest thing that’s helped me is just talking to people who I knew were better than me and that I looked up to.

Something that defines “third generation” players is the frequent use of 3-bets and 4-bets…

Toby : Yeah. With the second generation [Negreanu, Ferguson, etc], they’re more post-flop players, whereas it’s a pre-flop game now, which is where all the 3- and 4-betting comes into play. Through trial and error, people online have begun doing that because they see a lot of people winning big non-showdown pots with any two cards. Now it’s coming into the live game a lot more.

Online, especially in cash games, a high percentage of people use Poker Tracker 3 or Hold’em Manager, and applications like that. I don’t use them for tournaments but you can get a feel for the player even without it – if you see him 3-bet in a spot where you also think it’s a good spot to 3-bet, then you’re on the right wavelength and you might consider it’s more likely to be a bluff. If you see him open limp then call a raise and check-fold the flop you assume he’s an easier target.

Jake : Acknowledging that other players are raising too much means you can 3-bet light. It's all about stack sizes and what you think that player is capable of. Most players can raise without a big hand pre-flop but will they 3-bet or 4-bet? You can put players to tough decisions. You want to avoid a spot where your opponent calls and you're priced in with middle pair when he shoves the flop. Four-bets get more marginal as stacks decrease. Some people might not 3-bet light but they'll do it with 6-6 or K-J and just end up turning their hand into a bluff and folding to a 4-bet.

What advice would you give to players who are trying to make a living playing tournaments? Without a big score, it’s tough, isn’t it?

Jake : I've run well in the bigger tournaments so I've done well, but for a full time living you can go through months of nothing. In live poker you could probably go a year without winning which is tough for anyone. I think it would be close to impossible to make a living from just live tournaments.

Toby : Always play within your bankroll, especially with online tournaments. If you’re playing live tournaments as well, I think you can take more shots because the variance is so much less. People tell you what they have a lot more and the player type is a lot less aggressive as a rule. You’ll be risking your stack a lot less because the tournaments are a lot deeper in starting stacks and structure. That obviously makes a big difference in terms of staying in if you have a bad start. I’d advise playing within your bankroll online and then taking shots live when they come across.

Jake : You don't want to take shots all the time but as long as you can go back to your bread and butter game and redeem your bankroll, it’s fine.

You say that live players tell you what they have? What kind of thing are you looking for?

Toby : It’s hard to explain, but I try to get a feel for the table to start with and once you’ve done that they sort of – I don’t know, some are talkative, and they talk a lot during a hand, then when they’re not comfortable in a hand they go really quiet. That’s a big tell. You can take something from that and maybe raise them in a spot where you wouldn’t online. There are loads of different things like that. It comes down to playing volume live as well.

Jake : It comes naturally to me now – the more you play live poker the more you get a feel for the table and you can abuse your image a lot more.

Tell us about building your bankrolls in the first place. Did you always practise bankroll management?

Jake : I went through stages. At the start I was careful. I actually deposited just $10 once and that's the only deposit I've ever made. I guess I must have run well but I played really carefully and only played really small stakes.

Do you think people need luck to build a bankroll and move up the stakes? Are there great players who had bad swings and just gave up?

Toby : Well, personally, I think I’ve been really lucky. Some people... they probably don’t give up the game if they know they’re good, they’ll just keep plugging away and plugging away. I know a few people like that, some of my friends, who aren’t there yet but will get there eventually. The people that give up probably just aren’t good enough or haven’t put enough work in.

So, Jake, tell us about the WPT. Any key hands?

Jake : Honestly, the experience from winning the EPT Deauville helped a lot because I had a lot more experience playing for a lot of money than some players there, despite my age. Most of the key hands up to the final table were pre-flop decisions, putting people to the test. One of the things live players are worst at is stack sizes. They'll call 3-bets when they can't really afford to. It leaves them with awkward decisions with one pair and stuff. I like to abuse those spots. Being really aggressive helps.

And Toby, tell us how you pwned the EPT…

Toby : There were a few key hands. I had a really good starting table with an Italian gentleman splashing his chips around. He left within half an hour which is difficult to do when you have 300BBs to start.

Table draw is an often overlooked factor, isn’t it?

Toby : Table draw is a massive factor. On Day 4 it affected me again with a few tables left. I won a huge flip with Q-Q versus A-K and, after winning that pot, I got moved to the other table and got sat down to the right of the best player there. Then the tournament director told me to take the other vacant seat, which was to his left. That’s lucky. I got moved from a table where I won a big pot and the guy to my left was very good. From previous experience I thought that this table looked a lot softer – with three tables left in an EPT, there’s rarely a soft table left, so that was fortunate. That gave me the confidence to play well and run well with cards and I managed to chip up a lot on Day 4.

One key hand came at the end of Day 1. I got moved to James Dempsey’s table, who I’m pretty good friends with. So we have a bit of meta-game going on all the time, even if we haven’t played in the tournament yet. He opened the CO and I called in the SB with 3-3. It came A-3-2 rainbow and I check-raised his 2,700 to 7,000. He made it, like, 11.5k and I made it 16k and he made it 24k and I jammed. He called with A-9, so that was a 140,000 pot on Day 1 at 400/800. That was obviously a crucial pot.

You’ve obviously had to make high pressure decisions for loads of money. How do you keep your bottle?

Jake : I try not to look at the prizes and pay jumps because I don't want to think “Oh, if I'd folded that A-K I could have made £1,300 more” when it was a good play. It might be one of my biggest strengths; you don't want to be making plays based on a three buy-in pay jump. I only look at the board to see how many are paid so I can abuse that.

Do you think your youth helps or hinders you in those decisions?

Jake : I think it helps. Being young we don't really have bills or mortgages to pay or any major debts so it is much easier. Basically money isn't a problem for us, which is fortunate. We're in a situation where we can play poker all the time with no pressure.

Toby : I guess being younger helps. I always think of it as a tournament, and tournament chips aren’t money, if you know what I mean. I didn’t even know what first prize was until there were two or three tables left. It’s all about winning the tournament; the money that comes from it is a big thing but I always try to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s a £100 freezeout or a €5,000 EPT. I would still treat them the same way through being competitive and always wanting to win. Poker is the same as any sport.

How do you keep a level head, amassing wealth so young? We’d have gone off the rails…

Toby : I try and keep a level head with things. I appreciate that my family never had tonnes of money so I appreciate its worth. It would take my dad ten years to earn the money I won in one tournament. I have a few non-poker friends at home and I’m totally normal around them and my family. I go out and party and spend a lot of money but not in ridiculous proportions.

Jake : I'm not saying I don't party but I try to be sensible, even more so over the last year. I know how lucky I am and that the money is ridiculous to a normal 22-year-old, so I feel lucky and don't want to throw it away and splash out too much.

Do you think it's important to have a life outside poker?

Jake : Yeah. You need poker to be your life if you want to be good but at the same time you need other things in life. It helps to get away now and then.

Toby : I think it’s really important. Poker can take over. A lot of my friends play online every night and they’re not going out and relaxing for drinks or a meal. In my opinion they’re going wrong and going to burn themselves out eventually and despise the game. You don’t want to despise your job, do you?