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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Interviews

Bill Ivey - Going Pro

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Lee Gaines turned 19 this month having just moved into a new house in Tucson. Poker fans know him as Bill Ivey, having quickly become a well known player in online no-limit holdem. With a screen name like Bill Ivey, you know where his aspirations are. He brings a youthful confidence with a candor and willingness to acknowledge his shortcomings and a recipe for long-term improvement.

CC: What is your name and where do you live?
Lee: My name is Lee Gaines and I currently live in Tucson, Arizona.

CC: Tell us about how you started playing poker, as well as how long you've been playing.
Lee: I was introduced to poker (five card stud) when I was about 12, I started playing Texas Hold Em around the time when Chris Moneymaker won the main event and it was the beginning of the poker boom. I have been playing online professionally for about a year now.

CC: My impression is that you play mostly ring games with some tourneys thrown in. Is that the case?
Lee: Yes, I play mainly cash games, most frequently on PokerStars. I like to play the larger buy-in tournaments online as well.

CC: You seem to have progressed very quickly to NLHE games of significant stakes . How did you progress through different levels of the game?
Lee: The first game I played online was $.50/$1 limit holdem. I would deposit my paychecks from OfficeMax every week and just lose it eventually. I made many more deposits before I decided to switch to no limit holdem. I played $.25/$.50 and pretty much started to win right away. I had my ups and downs but eventually just slowly moved up the ladder to the highest of $25/$50. I would consider myself to be a $5/$10 no limit player right now, because that is my most comfortable game.

CC: For someone so young, you seem to bring a real blunt candor to your game and play. First, tell us about your $100k in 100 days challenge. How did it go?
Lee: The $100k in 100 days challenge was basically something I thought of doing to help out my game. The goal was to make $100k within 100 days, or $1k a day for 100 days. I won $100,000 in 77 days playing mainly 5/10nl and tournaments. I was about breakeven from tournaments so most of the winnings came from cash games. It got pretty big, there were a lot of readers and it was a lot of fun to complete that goal.

CC: What did you learn from the challenge?
Lee: I played about 150,000 hands during those 77 days so I got a lot more experience and I think I developed my hand reading skills. During the goal I did some reading too and I went over some hands that I had problems with on poker forums, just to get some input. I also asked players, that I think were good, for help on some hands. I learned a lot from the challenge, it was rewarding in many ways.

CC: You spent a good bit of the summer in Las Vegas during the WSOP, both playing online with other players from around the world as well as playing cash games at the Rio. I'm assuming it must have been quite a rewarding experience to live with players you've chatted with and played with.
Lee: Yes, I was really lucky to be asked to live there with them for the summer during the WSOP. The people that I got to hang out with were some of, if not, THE greatest online poker players in the world. It's great to put a face on a name of someone you play with online. Just chatting with some of these guys is great because you can learn so much. One of the most helpful things for me was to watch them play online. I was watching H@LLINGGOL play on his computer and it was awesome to be able to see his hole cards and see how he thinks through a hand. Also in Vegas I got to play some live action, even though I was 18, I got to play at the Rio and the Wynn with no problems.

CC: I was at the Rio for most of the World Series, mainly covering the event. Tell us what it was like first just to be at the Rio amidst so many great players.
Lee: In one word: overwhelming. It's amazing how big poker is now. I will admit I got a bit star struck when I saw Phil Ivey playing a prelim event. I got to stand right on the rail and see all the pros up close, I even got to see Freddy Deeb's hole cards for a few orbits. The whole scene was great and I can't wait to actually play the events in 2009.

CC: You weren't able to enter any tourneys, so you were confined to the juicy cash games. Was this your first live experience?
Lee: No, I have played live before in a few Indian casinos. It was my first time live in Vegas and yes, the cash games were very juicy. I probably only played about 24 hours of live poker during the summer and didn't have too good results. Personally I would rather play online cash games rather than live cash games.

CC: How did the live games at the Rio go for you?
Lee: Not too good. I lost a $5500 pot at 5/10 (no cap), with a set over set. Online I would just probably brush it off and click "add more chips" and reload... But it felt so much worse live, because he actually busted me! I couldn't reload because I didn't have anymore cash, so I just had to say "nice hand", pat the table, and take the walk of shame back to the taxi cab stand. I plan on playing more next time I go to work on my live game and bluff people.

CC: You recently abandoned a $200k in 100 days challenge due to quite a significant tough stretch. First, tell us about the slide.
Lee: A-h-h yes... Well I quit the goal because it would be nearly impossible for me to make that much money without some huge tourney score. Also, it is very hard mentally, to try to meet your goal and you keep getting deeper and deeper into the hole. You start getting desperate and doing dumb stuff that will only cost you more money. So despite how much I hate just giving up, I figured it was the best thing for me to do at the time. I hate that I disappointed all the readers, but you have to understand the circumstances.

CC: Did you feel the challenge caused you to stretch your bankroll, especially as things started turning sour? And how did the challenge impact your play and decision making?
Lee: Yes, I was stretching my poker bankroll which was terrible decision-making. When you run bad in poker it's just a vicious circle. You run bad, which leads you to play bad and play in bad games to try to make some quick money. Some players won't admit that they are victims of the circle, but I am willing to admit I make that mistake. Even though I gave up on this goal, I can take it as a lesson. There is always something positive that comes out of something negative. I learned the important lessons of game selection, tilt control, bankroll management (again) and more.

CC: You've mentioned that you made some bad decisions during this down stretch, especially with game selection. Tell us about that.
Lee: Like I said, I learned a lot about game selection. It is something that is praised by all the most successful cash game players. You will always hear them say "practice good game selection". During the last goal, I was 4-tabling 25/50 shorthanded with Ozzy 87 and captZEEbo. Was that smart? NO! That is not a good game. I think I can easily beat 3/6 and 5/10 on stars, so why don't I just play those games? That is what I should have been doing, but I chose to practice bad game selection, and proceeded to lose a lot of money.

CC: There are many, many players who have gone bust during times like you've had, but it seems as if you've dropped back down to levels appropriate with your bankroll. It is a very difficult thing to do, not to chase losses and to have the discipline to drop back down. Has it been hard for you?
Lee: That is a good point... This is the point where most players go bust. Fortunately I have learned that lesson, and I can discipline myself to move down no matter how bad I want to play 25/50. Some players can't do that because they don't have enough discipline, or they have too much pride. It's important to just have no ego when it comes to poker. When I was playing 2/4 one night, I got a bunch of questions from everyone saying "Hey Lee, why are you playing 2/4, are you broke?" It sucks to have had to explain to them that I have to move down in limits because I lost a lot of money, but who cares? It is not a race to the top. Success comes in long-term results and you never know when you will be broke, or rich.

CC: You had some great insight into the difficulties you experienced moving up to $10/20 NLHE on Stars. Better, more aggressive players for more money. What did you take away from that experience and how have you adapted?
Lee: My successful move from 5/10 to 10/20 is one of the things I am most proud of. This was the absolute hardest thing I have done in poker in my short career. It's like learning a whole new game. One thing I noticed is how much 10/20 changed me as a player. I am so much more loose and aggressive from playing with LAG players like the ones at 10/20. Moving from 5/10 to 10/20 took me on a higher level of playing.

CC: Do you have a network of other players that you share ideas and learn from?
Lee: Yes I do. I have friends online and in real life that I talk poker with all the time. We use instant messenger so we can go over hands real quick, or just ask questions. This is by far the best way of learning, in my opinion. But it's important to separate the good advice from the bad advice. Not everything everyone says is necessarily correct, so it's good to get a few different points of view on each hand.

CC: Where have you seen the greatest improvements to your game?
Lee: I would say game selection, hand reading, and thin value betting.

CC: What players do you respect the most, both online that you play with as well as professionals?
Lee: Oh man, I have a lot of respect for so many players because I can totally relate to their struggles and triumphs. I could name off a ton of online players that I have met in real life that I have loads of respect for. I have respect for a few pros, but not all of them. Obviously, I respect Phil Ivey because he's the best in the world. I always like watching him play and how focused he is in everything he does.

CC: I'm assuming you've made a decision not to attend college, pursuing poker professionally. Other successful players, like Jeff Williams and Jason Strasser, have become successful during college. How did you come to the decision and what are your thoughts about it?
Lee: Your assumption is semi-correct. I am currently not going to college, but I still left the door open if I want to go back. I also put away a set amount of money that I will use to go back to school and pay my bills in case I go broke. Right now I think it's the best decision because of how many options poker has given me in my life. I'm so grateful to be able to do something I love for a living at a young age. Personally there are a lot of things that turn me off about college, which I won't go in to, but I just don't think it's for everyone, and it's definitely not necessary to be successful in life.

CC: What would you tell others in their late teens who are looking to play poker professionally?
Lee: If they are in college, I suggest they leave themselves some options in case it doesn't work out. Just be realistic about it. If you are a late teen and you got lucky in one major tourney, you shouldn't drop out of college to be a pro. If you have played over one million hands, worked up a good bankroll, have good discipline, and know what you are doing, then you should consider it. Also, the lifestyle of a pro online poker player has a lot of freedom which can be good or bad for a young person. I am trying to keep a balance in between poker and my social life and it's hard. It is important to stay in touch with "the real world" and realize poker isn't life.

CC: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Lee: The next few months there are a few live events I am considering. I am most likely going to the BC Poker Championships in November in Vancouver. I would really like to go to an EPT event, but I haven't won a seat yet (still working on it). Also, I will be playing a few events in this year's WCOOP.

Lee bounced back nicely from his recent tough run, taking down the $40k guaranteed at PartyPoker for $19,552. He's still focused on working for an EPT seat as well as playing WCOOP events on PokerStars.

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