Today’s treat is an interview with professional poker player Force O Will. Who is Force O Will? I’ll let you figure this one out. Trust me, this player is the real deal. His answers to my questions below are anything but uninformative, as he gives a lot of valuable poker information, and some of the best advice I’ve ever seen on how to become a professional poker player. Enjoy!
Suber: Who is Force O Will? Can you give us a little bio, including how and when you got into professional poker.
Force O Will: Well, I’ve always been competetive in different types of games like card games, board games, video/computer games, and often fantasy-based games. During college in the late 90s a friend of mine introduced me to Magic: The Gathering, a strategy card game closely related to Dungeons and Dragons. I became involved with this game, eventually reaching higher levels of play and playing the international Pro-Tour circuit. It was during these Magic tournaments that I observed people playing Texas Hold’em for the first time – such as David Williams, Thomas Keller, Noah Boeken, Eric Froelich among others.
Then in 2003 I started playing at Foxwoods casino and achieving small wins at 3/6 and 5/10 limit holdem games. I opened accounts on UltimateBet and Paradise Poker and spent some late nights in online poker games. After the first six months of playing online, I may have been down a few thousand dollars, but was determined to be a winner, and perhaps even professional. After another year and a half of playing, things turned around and I semi-retired myself from a job in computer programming and focussed solely on poker. Despite some rough patches, I haven’t looked back to this day.
Suber: What is your favorite type of poker? And why?
Force O Will: My favorite type of poker is the NL cash game, preferably 10-handed. I’ve always excelled in this type of poker more than other games. I like that the game is somewhat slow, so I can have many online windows open at once. I believe I’ve done well at it because the nature of this game fits my playing style. I also enjoy NL tournaments, short-handed NL, Omaha Hi/Low, and to a lesser extent, Stud Hi/Low, and Pot-limit Omaha.
Suber: How would you characterize your game? Is it like anyone else’s game?
Force O Will: I would characterize my game as being able to adapt to many styles of players (loose/passive, weak/tight, semi-loose/aggressive) including beginners and experts alike, and also being able to adapt to many types of games. Online NL games can be tough and knowing your opponent is usually key. I feel I can never track my opponents closely enough, but when I get to know them, I try to get inside their minds so I can exploit their weaknesses. If I had to pick a name pro who has a similar style, I’d say Phil Ivey.
Suber: What are some of your poker strengths and weaknesses?
Force O Will: My other strengths include being able to put players on a very narrow range of hands or an exact hand, as well as being able to make correct value bets, laydowns, or all-in plays at the right situations. I can make rough odds estimates by feel and generally can stay off tilt through bad streaks.
My weaknesses are perhaps playing it too safe in tournaments, and not paying enough attention to individual hands during a game. These faults probably keep me from doing well in larger buy-in events, but I’m working on improving them.
Suber: I understand that you enjoy online poker. Where do you like to play? If so, what stakes? Do you play more than one table at a time?
Force O Will: Lately I’ve been playing about 6 games of 5/10 NL, and often one tournament on the side. For tournaments, I prefer PokerStars and for ring games, I like Full Tilt. Last year PartyPoker games were crazy, and I was playing up to 8-10 games of 10/20 NL or 4-5 games of 25/50 NL. Things have settled down since then, so I’m concentrating mostly on 5/10 NL until the legislation changes.
Suber: If you’re in a cash game or playing online, how long will you normally play? Do you set goals for how much you want to win? Or do you play until you get bored or lose a certain amount? How much can you feel comfortable losing?
Force O Will: I often do set goals, but I don’t believe it’s correct to do. Generally, it’s more profitable to keep playing when you’re winning and to quit when you’re having a hard time. Despite that, I often stop either when I feel I’ve made enough progress for the day or when I’ve lost a few buy-ins and am extremely frustrated. I also tend to play for a few hours, quit for a few hours, play for a few hours, etc. I seldom play super-long sessions lately.
Suber: Do you think playing against women is different than playing against men? If so, who do you prefer to play against?
Force O Will: For me there is a slight difference which I think lies not in how you perceive them, but more in their perception of how you perceive them. For instance, a woman at the table who plays well may think you are trying to bluff her because she believes you think she’s weak. Other than that I usually treat the genders equally.
Suber: Who do you think the really good poker players are? And what differentiates these folks from just the good players?
Force O Will: The truly good players are extremely intelligent, tricky, and most importantly have no regard for money – it is just pure game. These are some of the online players that consistently compete at the highest levels of play (ex. “sbrugby”, “David Benyamine”, “Grimstarr”, and “durrrr”), and the young crop of poker players who have yet to enter a casino. I have more respect for their gameplay than many live-poker professionals since online games are much tougher and many live professionals have been blessed with enough luck to win a million-dollar event. Regardless, in many ways you have to respect Barry Greenstein, Chip Reese, Phil Ivey, and a handful of other cash-game players who have amazing poker skills.
Suber: Any advice on how to become a professional poker player?
Force O Will: Professional poker is a struggle, just like any other serious endeavor. It’s been said that only 1 in 10 who try actually succeed because of the risk and the challenge involved. Before you start, you need to figure out what you want from poker.
If you’re the type who prefers a leisurely and flexible day-to-day schedule, start by focussing on small to medium-sized online games in your spare time for one year. If your game develops and has proven to be profitable, perhaps you could become a professional.
If you wish to travel and have an adventurous and social lifestyle, then the tournament circuit is probably right for you. Study tournament concepts, discuss tournament strategy with good players, and plan to live near a casino for a while (or play many online tournaments) before making it onto the professional circuit.
If your only aspiration is to make it big time as fast as possble without going bust, I’d recommend holding onto your job, buying in for a small amount, then moving up in gradual steps (once you’ve mastered a limit, move up). Use your financial leverage to challenge the higher games and bigger tournaments as you improve.
Realize that no matter how good you are, how big your starting bankroll is, or how much you currently enjoy playing, professional poker is a serious time and energy commitment. Not only is there a risk of going broke, but you often have to give up some other enjoyable things in life. Regardless, once you’ve achieved such a feat, it’s great knowing that your efforts have been rewarded.
Suber: How do you give other players the impression that you have a hand stronger than you actually have?
Force O Will: If against a weak player, fire a bigger bet than normal, unless they are a calling station. Against a very tight player, you may be able to bluff on the river more often than usual. Some very good players may fold to a smallish bet because your bet may look like a value-bet to them.
Suber: Any advice about bluffing, both online and in general?
Force O Will: Online you often can’t bluff a calling station, so be sure to know your players well. Know who is going to call you and who might make a laydown. In a live game, try to bluff the people who you often play with – they will be the least likely to think you’re bluffing them, and they’ll start paying you off more often when you make hands. Don’t talk too much during a hand or they may be suspicious, but if you needle them enough they may decide to start calling you down.
Suber: Are you good at reading people’s tells? Any stories you’d like to share about tells you’ve figured out?
Force O Will: At most levels, players tend to act strong when they are bluffing. I don’t think the big-name pros have many tells; poker is like second nature to them, so they’ll usually act relaxed during hands. To me, betting patterns are much better tells than physical cues. Suspicious bet sizes often raise a red flag, or if they check in spots where you know they’d normally fire a bet.
Suber: Do you recommend any poker books, either strategy or stories?
Force O Will: I’ve only read a few of the poker stories, but for cash game strategy books (mostly limit holdem), Super System (by Doyle Brunson) and The Theory of Poker (David Sklansky) are good starting points. For NL cash game strategy I’m disappointed with the books available – I recommend to just read and absorb online articles about NL. For NL tournament play, I like Harrington on Holdem volumes I and II, and especially World Poker Tour: Making the Final Table (Erick Lindgren). Lastly, Zen and the Art of Poker is a great resource to strengthen the mental game.
Suber: Any poker story about yourself that you’d like to share?
Force O Will: I’ve got tons of bad beat stories, but nobody wants to hear them.
Suber: Anything else you’d like people to know about you that’s poker-related, or even non-poker related?
Force O Will: Nothing specific, but I’m glad I could provide some advice- say hello if you see me in a tournament, I’m generally pretty friendly and can always use the support.
(Thanks for a great interview, Force! – Suber)