Sam Trickett and the Macau Big Game


06 January 2011

I actually felt my hands shaking as I stacked up the £200,000 profit. Tom just looked at me then texted “Nice bluff” under the table.

Whispers have been reaching us all month from Macau about insane million-dollar pots involving Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey and crazy millionaire businessmen playing for the biggest stakes in the world. When we heard Sam Trickett was fresh back from the “Vegas of the East”, we transplanted him to a South London boozer and got him to spill the beans. Seems like the lad done good.

Tell us about Macau, Sam.

I was in Cape Town and Tom Dwan was speaking to my friend James Bord about the games in Macau and how much he was winning. So I told James I wanted to go and he bought 30% of my action while I was there.

So I sent up $4m HKD (which is about £320,000) up to the cage and ran that up to, like, $6m HKD from the side games, the 300/600 HKD games, and I was worming my way into the big game. Eventually I sold percentages and got into the game and ended up winning about a million pounds over two sessions. This was in a 5k/10k HKD game which is about £400/£800 and there was a straddle on most of the time. The game was massive and pots just got huge. Chinese players like to see a lot of flops, so everyone’s calling, calling. When I finally got a spot, though, it was with Urindanger and Tom Dwan with two Chinese guys, so it wasn’t exactly easy.

So it’s mainly rich businessman in this game?

Yeah, they play poker relatively well but they’re just all extremely wealthy. When the game there is literally full of fish there is no chance of me getting a game. If I’m playing and more fish turn up they’ll ask me to leave; if someone turns up and they want to sit down you have to leave. I’m basically trying to learn Mandarin so I can join in the banter and be more accepted.

Is this going to be an ongoing thing, these huge games?

Apparently they’ve been running for over a year but no one knew about them. The APT Macau went on and they suddenly realised the games existed – so yeah, I’m going to go back some time in the next year and try to do as well as I did in the last session. It was a grind, though, with Tom in the game, he makes it tough for you.

Any crazy pots you can talk about?

I played a hand where Tom raises, as he does 80% of the time, and I flat the button with QhJh. The big blind calls and it comes T-3-2 rainbow. The blind donks out 200,000 HKD, which is about £16,000, and Tom just calls. I the big blind seems really week – like top pair at best. I can’t bluff by raising here because I only really rep sets and it’s not good to only rep sets against a player like Tom.

So I called, as I would do if I had a set, and also because I had backdoor flush and straight draws. The turn was a seven. The guy bet 300,000 HKD which was a little more than his flop bet, a really small bet, and Tom folded which surprised me. I guess he was worried about me behind. So I raised to 800,000 HKD and he called really quickly, so again I knew he was pretty weak – if he had a set or something he’d think about it.

The river was another seven and paired the board, so I jammed. If he calls, though... I’d just lost 3,000,000 HKD to Tom the first time I played the game, so if he calls me I’m out of money. I’m all in for 2,000,000 HKD (£160,000) and I might have to go home and ring James up and tell him he’s lost whatever amount of money. But I just had a specific read on the hand and how it would play out. I went on to win a million pounds so it was a pretty important. I called James on Skype and he was just like, “Why did you call the flop? WHY?!” He said he felt sick when I told him I was bluffing all-in. He’s very ABC and he was just like, “Stop bluffing!”

How do you keep your composure when bluffing for so much money?

Especially in that situation, I’m so sure he’s folding that I’m not giving anything away. I think he’s going to fold, that’s why I move all-in. He folded and I didn’t show my hand because he was the owner of the game and I didn’t want to needle him. When I scooped the chips I actually felt my hands shaking as I stacked up the £200,000 profit. Tom just looked at me then texted me under the table saying, “Nice bluff”. He said at the time he was 100% I had it but saw the hands shake afterwards. He said he used to get that when he first ran his huge bluffs live.

Macau was amazing, though; I won an £800,000 pot with top pair. That was another hand, actually, that could have gone wrong. I got check-raised on the turn to 1.6m HKD and he only had 1.4m HKD behind, so it was a big decision. I knew if I told James he’d be saying, “You only had top pair, what are you doing?! K-Q? What’s wrong with you?!”

When you’re playing with other peoples’ money, it’s harder because they want to know the hands you lost with. Sometimes things look really bad when you’re telling them because they don’t have your reads and if you get it wrong – well, you look like a donk. I did that on TV against Viffer, and bluffed the river because I put him on a missed draw or a medium hand, but then he raised me and I thought, “Well, he’s gotta be bluffing. He can’t raise with anything he’s supposed to have!” But I realised that if I’d bet and called a raise with fourth pair on TV it would just look retarded, wouldn’t it?

Let’s backtrack. Weren’t you destined to be a professional footballer?

Yeah. Well, that’s what I wanted to be. Whether I’d have made it I’ll never know, but I was on trial with Nottingham Forest for a while and played some games for them. I was on Sheffield United’s books as well. I let myself down, though. My attitude when I was younger was a bit shit, basically. I would think I was better than everyone else. If they subbed me I’d be getting moody about it, but I was doing well. I played semi-professionally and was looking promising but then I did the cruciate ligament in my knee. The doctors said I couldn’t play again.

That must have been a massive blow…

Yes, I really had nothing else. No other sights or goals; that was all I wanted to do. I was training for it, I was working for it. I just really wanted to be a professional footballer. Then all of a sudden the surgeon says, “You can’t play again,” – you don’t know what to do.

So you channelled that sporting competitiveness into poker…

Yeah, definitely. I’ve always been a competitive person anyway, ever since primary school, in everything that I do. I always wanted to try and be the best at it. I used to play pool for the county and worked my way up until I was one of the best players in Lincolnshire. There was no money in that, though, so it just seemed pointless. Usually, when I do something I’ll give it everything. If I get it in my head that I want to be good at something then most of the time I’m going to be good at it. I just put all my time and effort into it.

I never went to University, it didn’t appeal to me at all. I wanted to get into the limelight somehow. I’m an outgoing person and a bit of a show-off. I didn’t want to have a nine-to-five and I wanted to really aim high. Poker’s perfect for me because I gambled all the time anyway and I’m pretty money-orientated.

How did you go from being a donk to being Sam Trickett?

I was better than all my friends after only a few months of play. So then I thought I was better than I actually was and started going to casinos. First time I went I came second and got £1,000; most money I’d ever had. Then I started going to more casinos in Nottingham and played a £50 every week on Thursdays and Sundays, won that a few times. Julian Thew was a regular and suggested I start going on the circuit so I thought, “OK then”. He bought 10% of me and I played the £200 and £100 side events on the GUKPT and stuff. I ran really good at the start and it all snowballed.

What qualities do you think you have that make you a good player?

I think – lately, anyway – I’m quite good at working out what level the opponent is on or how he perceives me. Say I’ve been really active and I pick up that he’s noticed this so I tone it down against him. I don’t think people adjust well enough in live poker and you have to adjust all the time. If you’re playing really tight then you absolutely need to start bluffing. Image is a massive part of the game that people don’t work on enough. I’m really aggressive as well and I’m not afraid to put people to a tough decision. They might make the right decision but it’ll be a tough decision. I like to think that it’s tough to play against me.

You’re only 24, but it seems like you’re a different generation from the new guys like Toby Lewis and Jake Cody.

Yeah. The reason why people don’t look at me in the same category as Toby and Jake is because I’ve been around a few years more and also on the live circuit for longer. Also, my friends are people like Julian Thew and Paul Jackson, all the old school guys.

I’ll go out for dinner with Jake and Toby and we’ll talk about hands and stuff like that. This is why I play well when I play with the younger kids; I think they give a little too much away. I played a hand against Toby in the World Poker Open final table where I made a bluff in a spot that it’s impossible for me to bluff in. it’d be a retarded bluff. So I ran that bluff because I knew he’d be thinking that I couldn’t possibly bluff there; and of course I would never run that bluff on an old school player.

How important is like meta-game against the young players?

Massive. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go to dinner with them to pick their brains just so I can try and pull a move on them. Everyone is talking about hands that much so everyone knows what sort of level they’re on. The classic example is of people at the table who will just talk out loud: “I hate playing jacks,” and everyone puts in advice. Just sit back and listen and they will tell you what level they’re on. If you can work it out it makes your game so much easier. Because I am more old school – it was weird, actually, getting the Best Newcomer Award at the British Poker Awards. I understand it’s because I’ve only come up in the past year or so, but it was like, “Newcomer? Been three years!” Now Neil Channing and Paul Jackson always take the piss, like, “Oh, beginner’s luck!”

What advice would you give to younger players?

When you think of young players now, you just think about the Internet. This is where they all go wrong; they get into a routine because they play the same way all the time and think things are standard when they’re not. Things change all the time. Moorman’s a little bit like this – he has 20 big blinds and someone raises in late position and he’ll shove the big blind with a small pair and be like, “It’s a jam, it’s a jam.” Sometimes it’s not, though, because of the table dynamics or because the opener hasn’t opened for a while. They get into a standard way of playing and I don’t think it’s effective in live poker. The younger players need to learn to adjust a bit more and stop going by guidelines. They’re like robots, even when they play just one table live.

Do you play much online any more?

I don’t play tourneys online at all now, ever. I want to have a social life. I don’t want to sit there and start playing from 10am on a Sunday. I’d rather have a life and just play cash games when you can get up when you want.

What’s been your career highlight so far?

I would say my performance in the $5,000 NL in the WSOP this year. I didn’t regret a single hand I played for two days. The final table was really tough; every player was great. It was the toughest final I’d ever seen at a WSOP, so when I came second I was pleased with myself especially since I came in seventh in chips.

It must be crushing to finish second after playing so well?

It’s horrible. It’s actually the first time I’d come second in a tournament, ever. I’d always won if I’d got heads up. It was awful heads up, actually, because I kept having to make big folds on the river. But I knew it was always the right fold. After each hand I told myself that, but I was getting so frustrated because I was running so bad. I didn’t doubt my play, it just wasn’t going right.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that poker players are highly competitive people but have to get used to doing a lot of losing.

Yeah, I hate losing. You’re never going to be happy in a tournament unless you win it, anyway. I’m not, I don’t know about anyone else, but even when I come second or third I’m not happy. The only way I’m happy is if I came into the final with a micro-stack and came third.

Would you rather win a tournament by getting lucky and playing badly or come second playing perfectly?

I’d rather win. Just because... you’d rather win. You play well sometimes, if you get lucky you get lucky, but you always want to win and you don’t care how you do it. Sometimes you play bad and get lucky but sometimes you play flawlessly and get unlucky so it balances out.

What are the best and worst things about the poker lifestyle?

Well, the worst things are the stress of losing and struggling to cope with losing five figures a day. You think about how your average guy works all year for that and, when you look at it from that perspective, it’s like “Jesus Christ!” It’s hard to cope with those kinds of losses. I did six months’ work as an apprentice plumber and I miss the feeling of appreciating lie-ins and getting excited about weekends. You lose appreciation for a lot of stuff, like money and parties and all the things you used to think were really special. The good things are obvious, though – you can relax and be your own man. I wouldn’t change it...

Do you practise bankroll management?

No, I’m pretty rubbish. That’s where I go wrong sometimes. I’m not as bad as some of them but I’ve got a bit of degen in me, like losing some on roulette or randomly playing $200/$400 when I bust a tournament or something. In 2008 I won about $600,000 in three months after never having money and all of a sudden I felt like a millionaire when I had £150,000 after stakes. I just spewed it off.

So you’re bad with money?

Yeah, I’m really bad. I ran up a £3,000 bill at a bar and the next day I thought, “Well, that just wasn’t necessary. Kind of retarded to spend three grand on alcohol.” Little spews like that I probably need to get rid of, but I play poker so I can enjoy those things. I’m not as bad as some; I don’t gamble on anything other than poker anymore.

What are your short-term goals for 2011?

Obviously a bracelet. Frustrating to come close three times, but it’s not massive to me. It’s not everything. I feel like I’ve built my profile and gained respect so I don’t need to prove anything. I’d just like to keep doing better every year.