The PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship (PSPC) wrapped up in Nassau earlier this month; a high-stakes poker tournament hosted by the world’s largest online poker site. The 2023 PSPC was a huge success, attracting more than one thousand players from around the world, offering a massive prize pool of $24,843,000 paid out to the top 175 finishers. The field of entries contained a number of the usual suspects, including Pokerstars Team Pros and a number of high profile names on the poker circuit.
Unique to the PSPC, however, was the inclusion of Platinum Pass winners; more than 400 of those players competing on the felt had won their entries via online and live tournaments, as well as community promotions and giveaways. The Platinum Pass package is worth $30,000, which includes tournament buy-in, travel, and accommodation expenses, and so more than $10.2 million was already guaranteed in the prize pool even before the registration had started.
The atmosphere around the PSPC was nothing short of incredible; poker looks great on TV, but it’s difficult to really appreciate the excitement and the tension until you’re walking around the tables as entrants challenge for that $4m top prize. After four days of hard graft, there were just six competitors left on the final table. All guaranteed millionaires (sixth place bagging a cool $1,001,200), it was still time to fight it out under the bright lights and the gaze of the cameras. Two Platinum Pass winners were there until the end, but ultimately it was Aliaksandr Shylko who walked away with the $3.1m prize courtesy of a final table deal.
While in Nassau, I caught up with PokerStars Team Pro-turned-commentator Nick Walsh, to discuss strategy in poker, as well as who he was looking forward to seeing at the second ever PSPC…
You’re known for playing Heads Up; is there a golden rule you follow when it’s just two of you left at the table?
When you’re Heads Up, don’t forget that there is absolutely no reason to calculate player equity in a pot. In layman’s terms, you have to win every single chip and every moment where you have the opportunity to make a profitable play you should probably take without any consideration for your tournament life. You can absolutely just go heavy on learning your Heads Up charts and, for the most part, they will work. In those situations, you should just be learning those and exploiting every single opportunity you have to win chips.
The other thing you have to remember when you’re Heads Up as well is, if you haven’t studied your charts, you’re going to be playing like 95% of hands. You’re going to be playing a huge amount of hands. You need to become comfortable with the fact that you’re going to play with some really garbage hands, otherwise you will bleed out extremely quickly. If you’re more than 25 Big Blinds deep, you can probably play everything down to a 9-2 off-suit. If you’re playing an inexperienced player, you can play 100% of hands profitably from the button, and then obviously defending depends on what your stack depth is.
If you’re fatigued and in the money already, what’s your mindset? How do you focus on winning?
I think the most important thing that you need to remind yourself is if you’re playing tournament poker and you’re playing it for a meaningful amount of money, it is actually very rare that you will be in these big spots to win huge sums and you can feel very satisfied when you win say £100,000 rather than millions. If you’re not extracting every moment and every piece of information you can in those moments, it might not come back.
What strategy do you employ when you’re assessing hand strength with no information to hand?
Having a really strong GTO (Game Theory Optimal) plan pre-flop is important because you always have somewhere you can default to that is never going to be bad. As soon as you play even three, four, five hands with an individual, you could almost immediately start to pick up on certain aspects of their game where you can find out whether or not they’re weaker or stronger. The stronger they are, the more persistent you need to be in playing GTO, the weaker they are, these are the ones you can start to exploit.
What do you enjoy most about heads up as opposed to larger games?
I think it’s that there is nowhere to hide. I’m a bit of an action junkie, so I really don’t like the feeling of waiting for too long. I think that when you play full ring, and particularly like full ring cash, there’s so much folding that you have to do just as a part of a good strategy. Just skip to the chase in my opinion. Let’s actually play the game of poker where you are forced to play hands that you don’t want to play, put people in uncomfortable situations, be in uncomfortable situations yourself that are advantageous, and learn how to play those best. I mean, if poker was a game of just patience with absolutely no consequence, then we would just wait for Aces all the time.
Do you have a favourite hand that might surprise me? One that maybe performs better than I expected to?
I think mine is probably Queen-Nine of Hearts. I don’t know why and I’d love to say that I won $100,000 with it or something like that, but… I just see it and I go, this hand is going to work out fine. There are other combinations that I see. Like everyone loves Jack-Ten. I feel like those never connect for me in the way they’re supposed to, but Queen-Nine of Hearts always creates like weird double gut shot draw and stuff like that I really appreciate and I’m like, yeah, we’re going to have a good time with this.
The final one. What are you most looking forward to commentating on at the tournament now? Who should we look out for any dark horses, anyone you’re backing to go a long way?
I hate to be a fanboy, but I’m a huge Sam Grafton fan. It also might surprise people to know, but until I started doing more commentary, I don’t think I would consider myself much of a poker fanboy. I would watch the poker tournaments and stuff, but I don’t feel like I really idolised anybody in a huge way, and I don’t think that really fits the bill for Sam either, here. It’s just that since I’ve been working with him, with PokerStars, he’s just such a character off the table. I think he’s a great ambassador, but also obviously unbelievably accomplished. Of late, he’s just had some huge scores, so I really like watching him play.
All the players on the final table crushed it; nobody made any real mistakes. It was pretty unbelievable to watch, but I guess he is the one that stands out right off the bat. I would love to see more Team Pros go deep as well, too. I joked earlier that it would be perfect if we had four Team Pros in the final table and four Platinum Pass winners. That’s the absolute perfect outcome for me and for PokerStars and for everybody involved. It would be incredible if we could pull that off somehow. If the poker gods would allow it.