Optimal play with Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler
By Sean Chaffin
Poker is more than just bluffing and betting. It involves a mental and physical approach – especially for long hours in major tournament series. Longtime tournament pro Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler knows the scene well and has plenty of experience as a traveling player, having amassed more than $3.5 million in tournament winnings and numerous titles and final table appearances.
Chainsaw may be known among many tournament pros for his frequent “critiques” of tournament rules and player structures, but there are some pretty sharp poker chops he brings to the table. He knows first-hand the need to stay sharp mentally – fatigue can bring mistakes.
Play Like the Pros spoke with Chainsaw about how big a role staying in top shape both mentally and physically can shape one’s game. He also offered a few tips on some unique situations at the tables – and how to use them to your advantage.
Casino Player: How important is it to be in the right frame of mind to play your best?
Allen Kessler: “Staying focused is extremely important,” he says. “I let my guard down once and folded queens pre-flop once because I so close to bagging.”
Kessler said it’s important to remember that, “it’s all one tournament,” and moves like that caused by fatigue can be missed opportunities to accumulate more chips. It may seem like a way to extend yourself in a tournament, but those tournament chips are valuable and opportunities missed may come back to bite a player down the line.
How can being in good shape physically help a poker player? Does physical health really matter in a card game?
For Kessler, a healthy lifestyle includes taking plenty of downtime and getting plenty of sleep. “You need to be well rested,” he says. “Playing tired makes you miss things you wouldn’t otherwise. In key spots, I turn off all electronics.”
What is a scenario that many non-pros don’t take advantage of to accumulate chips?
Many beginners may be more passive at the table, especially those new to playing a casino or big tournament. Playing passive in certain situations causes many players to miss out on opportunities where others with inferior hands have no interest in taking a stab at the pot.
“Often there’s an ‘orphan pot’ no one seems to want,” Kessler says. “Be the person who goes after that pot.”
Rather than checking the action in these types of situations, a savvy bet can take down extra pots here or there and help build that chip stack. Good players look for these kinds of opportunities throughout a tournament. Cash game players can also benefit from this advice, but be weary of check-raises and get a good read on your opponents.
What are some general guidelines for players to keep in mind playing on the button or close to it? How can they take advantage of this position?
Playing in position is a huge part of poker and understanding that is a key to being a successful player. Well-timed raises and bets can be key in accumulating chips throughout a tournament.
“If you’re on the button you act last, so you can call multiway pots in position or three-bet a balanced range, especially versus active opponents,” Kessler says. “Against tighter blinds raise from the button nearly every time. Versus competent or sticky players, open the button larger to charge them for seeing the flop.”
Anything else players should keep in mind?
Kessler has plenty of experience in tournament play. He plays about 100 tournaments a year and has seen it all on the tournament trail. Despite the trend in legalized marijuana, Kessler is amazed at the number of players focused on grabbing a quick toke on break rather than focusing on cards. He sees that as the opposite of staying healthy in regards to card-playing.
“People whose first priority on break is to smoke weed amaze me,” he says. “They can’t be playing optimally.”
And for players like Chainsaw, playing optimally is key.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Texas. His work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions. He is also the host of the True Gambling Stories podcast, available on iTunes, TuneIn Radio, Stitcher, PokerNews.com, and HoldemRadio.com.