Roland de Wolfe


04 August 2009

Fresh from winning his first WSOP bracelet, Roland de Wolfe gives us the low down from this years World Series in Vegas.

Despite his relative inexperience in the game, Roland De Wolfe is the World Champion of Pot Limit Omaha Hi-lo Split 8 or Better, which means he may have the longest title of any world champion of any sport ever. We caught up with him to talk about his bracelet, the nature of getting lucky and why he thinks Phil Ivey will win the Main Event.

Congratulations, Roland. Is it true you’d barely played PLO Hi-lo Split 8 or Better before?

I might have played it once for an hour. It was a new game to me.

Why play it all? It can’t have seemed like a +EV proposition...

I’d played a lot of Omaha and I’d played 8 or Better, so I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to put them together. Plus, I didn’t think the field would be huge because it was quite a big buy-in. So I thought it would be fun and fitted into my schedule and it was one more chance to win a bracelet, so I did it. I think I played well and felt confident because I’d just had the 2-7 Lowball tournament and I’d done well in that...

You’d barely played that game either had you?

I’d only played it at last year’s event, so not long at all.

Be honest, did you get lucky in these events?

Well, to win any tournament you have to get lucky and to not get unlucky. You’ve only got one life and you can’t really afford to have a bad beat and you have to get good hands to keep the momentum going. But I thought I played well and I thought my strategy in the Omaha final was pretty good. I knew that the others were probably more experienced so I had to play big pots and force them to make big decisions. I knew they wouldn’t want to gamble and I wasn’t going to let them outplay me.

Does it offend you when people call you a “lucky player”?

Well they say that about Phil Ivey too – that he’s the best player but he’s also very lucky. I think most of the top players are slightly more lucky than average – lucky at the right times. It’s definitely an image I’ve tried to foster for myself as well – some people don’t want to play with you because you’re “lucky”, so you have more fold equity. Some people are superstitious like that, although they shouldn’t be, of course. Yes, I am lucky. To win big events you have to be lucky at the right times. If you changed, like, six river cards in any tournament player’s career, their lives could be completely different.

But this year I’ve only played the World Series and the EPT Monte Carlo. Apart from that, I’ve been in London playing cash games, and I’ve been beating those games. I’ve beaten pretty much every NL game I’ve ever played in, and that’s not luck, that’s the long term.

Do you think there are lucky and unlucky players?

Every player is going to have pretty much the same amount of luck over time; it’s about when that run of luck happens. Greg Raymer got all his luck in the WSOP Main Event, while someone of equal may have got his luck in a much smaller event. It all evens out, it just depends on when.

Does the bracelet have meaning to you or was it all about the money?

Well, the money wasn’t that big. I mean, $250k is nice but it barely covers all the buy-ins and expenses for the rest of the Series. Cash games, for me, are more of a money thing; tournaments I just like to win. They’re more about the kudos. And to win a bracelet was good – every poker player wants to have one.

Was it sweeter to win a bracelet than it was to win the WPT and EPT events?

Hard to say, really. I mean, the WPT was my first big one so that was really special, but to get a bracelet was so cool, especially because it was in an event I hadn’t really played, and to complete the Triple Crown was massive. I think the first one is the sweetest but this was amazing, so it’s hard to compare.

You’re only one of two people in the world to win these three titles...

Yes, and I feel very privileged and blessed to have achieved that. Hopefully now I can be the first to win two of each and have a double Triple Crown (laughs).

What are your thoughts on the Main Event and the November Nine?

I spoke to Phil Ivey yesterday and I think he can do it. The structure’s still great, so he’ll have about 30 big blinds when he starts off, and he’s going to be the guy who’s playing to win. He’s the only one who won’t be concerned with hanging around and trying to move up a level. To everyone else it’ll be a huge deal to move up one spot, but he’ll be playing solely for the win and that’s a big advantage. He’s also the guy who’s not going to be under pressure; the others might get fazed by the circumstances but he’ll just take it in his stride.

I think he’s the favourite and I hope he wins. I think it’ll be so good for poker if he does. It’ll show it as such a game of skill. If the guy who they say is the best player in the world goes ahead and wins the world’s most prestigious event and ploughs through 6,600 people to do it – all those people who say poker’s just a gambling game, they can shut up now.

How about James Akenhead?

He’s not so short that he doesn’t have a chance. I haven’t really played against James much, but he’s a nice guy. If Phil doesn’t win then I’d like James to. I know that those guys in The Hit Squad all work really, really hard on their games and they all play very good poker, so it’s nice that one of them has got into the final, and I think they deserve the success that comes with that. It’s good that another British player’s doing well. It was getting lonely out there (laughs).

We saw you sporting the union colours. Is there a sense that you’re playing not just for yourself but for your country at the WSOP?

Yeah, of course. There are so many great players in the UK right now and there are so many enthusiasts up and down the country, so when you go to America you do feel a sense that you’re representing everybody. We’ve had a great World Series too. John Duthie was in a final, Peter Gould was in a final – anyone who made a final you were rooting for them. This year JP Kelly won a bracelet – he’s a fantastic young player, a really talented, hardworking guy and his success is overdue. John Kabbaj, who’s been around for years, won one of the $10k events – he’s a great all-round poker player, in both tournaments and cash games. He’s been knocking on the door for a big win for years and he finally got it – and just one week after I stopped taking pieces from him in events! It was great to see Jeff Duvall go so deep in the main event as well. There are so many good players and we are like a team, I guess.

There are definitely a lot of younger tournament specialists who have learnt their game on the internet coming through now. Chris Moorman’s been having a lot of success and he seems to be one of the top online tournament players out there. I think Jamie Roberts, Ben Roberts’ son is a really good player. David Tighe is very good, so is Sam Trickett... they’re all very serious about improving their game, which is what you have to keep doing.

A few years ago, the Scandinavians came along and they were very aggressive, but I think people adjusted to that, then the game passed them by a little bit and a lot of them went broke because they couldn’t beat the tournaments anymore, which shows how you have to keep on adapting your game. If you don’t adapt and improve as a poker player, then you’re going to struggle.

Did you go out and splurge on anything after you won the bracelet?

I hardly went out for the whole six weeks I was there. I was just focused on the poker, on playing every day and getting ready for the next tournament. I didn’t even play that many cash games. When I’m in London I play the big cash games and you can win or lose, like, a quarter of a million, so it wasn’t about the money, it was all about winning the bracelet.

Has Vegas and its earthly delights been a problem at past WSOP’s?

I think everyone has that issue with Vegas and with tournaments in general. If you go out there for the side games, then it’s hard to go into the tournament and focus, and so a lot of players only find themselves playing well when they get deep in a tournament. Then there’s all the drinking. I know well-known players who went out and only ended up playing five events because they were going out partying every night. If you turn up to an event hung over, then bust out early, you have the evening free, so you go out again and repeat the process and it becomes a cycle. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to go out there and get a bracelet.

And now you’re a world champion of PLO Hi-lo Split 8 or Better, could you give us some tips, because, believe us, we need some...

Jeff Duvall gave me some good advice before the final table. He just said, “Don’t overplay the low hands.” If you’re in position, just call with the low hands pre-flop because they can be very valuable after the flop, but you can also flop dead. So, with three or four low cards, wait until you hit the flop before getting frisky. That’s just for tournament play. If you want to know about cash games – I don’t know, I’ve never played any. Ask Jeff.