Most of us aren’t competing for a six-figure score at a televised final table, we’re grinding out the daily tournaments in our local poker rooms and online. Red Chipper Nick Graphia is one such tournament grinder, and he drops by the podcast this week to talk about how he used our training material to hone his game into some great cashes. In this episode, you’ll hear a down-to-earth story of modest tournament success the likes of which any of us could imagine achieving.
Zac: Nick Graphia, welcome to the podcast today. How’s it going?
Nick: Hey, thanks, Zac. Good to be here. I’m having a pretty good day. How are you?
Zac: Doing all right here. Love talking poker so I’m into this conversation because you’ve got a pretty interesting poker story. You had a good summer it sounds like at the tournament tables. Why don’t you tell us about how you got into poker and how you ended up where you are today cashing deep in these daily tournaments and also on Micro MTTs online?
Nick: Okay. Well, I guess we’ll just start from how I got into poker. It was the Moneymaker boom I guess. Poker was all over TV with the World Poker Tour, etc. etc. I guess that’s a standard story at this point. Started playing with college buddies and wasn’t really good.
At that point I got some books, studied up, and started playing Limit Hold ‘Em in my local casinos. The first time I went was a $3/$6 limit Hold ‘Em game. I played at Harrahs, New Orleans for three days and I won. At the time it was a lot of money to me. I was in college. I want to say it was like $700. It might have been $500or $600 but it was a nice chunk of change. After that I was hooked.
Zac: Nice. Were you playing cash or tournaments at the time? What were you really focused on? Did you do both?
Nick: Then it was the Micro Stakes. It was the $3/$6 limit Hold ‘Em games. I played those. Then I realized that the rake was really high. I really just quit playing for a while. Then I remember buying textbooks for school and I saved a few hundred dollars one day and there was a new poker room by my house in Baton Rouge. They had a $10/$20 limit Hold ‘Em game. I went and took a shot on that and I won. That was a fun year or two of playing limit Hold ‘Em. I played a handful of times a month and really enjoyed it.
Zac: Wow. Talk about transitioning as the whole poker world did from that limit-centric approach to just no limit taking over. How did that transition happen?
Nick: Yeah, that was tough. I quit playing for a while. I did a study abroad in 2005, went to Europe for summer school. When I left all the games around me were limit Hold ‘Em. I was playing a lot of $10/$20 limit Hold ‘Em. Sometimes $8/$16 and $6/$12 I want to say was around then.
Then when I got back everybody was just playing no limit and I didn’t really know how to play. I thought I did but I would do the classic mistakes, overvalue top pair. I didn’t really know about pot control or SPR and just basic no limit concepts. Yeah, actually for a while I quit playing and then I went to law school. I didn’t really play hardly at all except for a home game with friends. We’d play about once a month or so.
Yeah, there was probably a three or four year period where I didn’t play much poker at all. Then once I graduated from law school I picked it back up and started taking it more and more seriously.
Zac: I’m curious. What would you say were some of the biggest strategic changes that you had to make or the concepts that you really had to master that you didn’t need to have in limit but in no limit they were absolutely essential?
Nick: It’s been a while since I played a lot of limit Hold ‘Em but let’s see if I can think of a few. One would just be if you have top pair in limit Hold ‘Em that’s just a really good hand. You just value that like crazy. No limit, not so much. You have to think about pot control and other things.
Zac: You mentioned SPR, bet sizing, those types of things aren’t really present, right?
Nick: Oh, right. Yeah, limit Hold ‘Em is just a mechanical game. If you know the odds and people know say it’s solved and I’m like, yes, it is but a lot of the spots are just standard and you just play a discipline game and know what you’re doing and you’re fine whereas when I started playing no limit at first I didn’t know what I was trying to accomplish with my sizes. I would just come up with a number and bet it.
I didn’t realize the bigger you bet in general the opponents are going to call with a smaller range, tighter range. If you bet smaller they’re going to call with a wider range. Just really the basics. I had no idea what was going on.
Zac: You come over from limit to no limit. Everyone is playing no limit. I assume this is where you start getting into studying some of these concepts. Where do you find the study material? Who were you looking at? Were there specific coaches or authors or websites?
Nick: Yes. I’ve had some help from Gareth James. He’s an RCP coach. I guess people listening would know that. He’s reviewed a tournament for me and we do some live sessions. That’s been really helpful, especially with three bet ranges.
Zac: That’s an amazing list of resources. I know a lot of our listeners tune into the podcast and are taking notes and are going out and checking these things out. We’ll definitely put links to all of those things you mentioned in the show notes so people can access them because I think a lot of Red Chippers are nodding their heads when they hear you go down that list. That’s how a lot of us got into studying seriously.
The great thing, though, about studying is that results come from it. This summer it sounds like you really had some of the best results of your entire poker life. I just want to go over these. You said you went to Vegas in June. Set me up for this trip and what you were planning on doing in terms of playing in tournaments out there in Vegas.
Nick: Well, at first I was hesitant about even going. I didn’t think I had the right bankroll to be going and taking shots in tournaments. I had a poker buddy Mark, who he had a room comped at the Bellagio and he was like, “Hey, you can come if you want and just pay my resort fee and you’re good.” I’m like, “Okay. Why not?” That was like two or three weeks out. I want to say it was closer to three weeks out when I agreed to go or decided to go.
From there it was like, “Okay, game on. Let’s get ready to play.” First thing was really just taking care of work. I wanted to make sure I did everything I needed to do there so that I could free up time to actually study for poker and prepare. Yeah, I got a game plan together and executed it. Got the work stuff out of the way to free up my time, like I said. I was playing a ton of the Micro Stakes online, ACR, and Ignition, and just I really wanted to get the reps in with the hands and then reviewing my hands was really, really helpful.
Zac: How did you review your hands?
Nick: Just use software from Poker Tracker 4. If I would play and play a hand that I wasn’t certain about I would tag it and just go back and analyze it. Then I would use Flopzilla to really go deep into some spots that I wasn’t sure about or really wanted to get good on. Yeah, that’s how I did that.
Also, videos. I think mixed in there I had stopped watching the ratchet videos so much but then I want to say I got a month membership back and then I started a bunch of those videos and took notes, added it to my poker outline, and just was prepared to play.
Zac: Now this idea of a poker outline I really love that idea and it’s something that’s come up again and again in the podcast. Tell me a little bit more about this outline and your notes on your studying.
Nick: Yeah, basically if I watch videos normally, not all the time but a good bit of the time, I’ll take notes on the videos and then go back and review the notes later. I might glean the highlights from the notes and transfer them to another set of notes. I was just doing that. I had a whole bunch of, not random pieces of paper, they were all scanned in on PDFs. Then I was like, “Well, I have all this information. I should probably compile it and put it together in a useful way.”
Yeah, I got some contractors on Upwork to type all the notes up and I started making my outline. Yeah, just combined everything topically. Bet sizing, three bet ranges, when to call, raise or fold. Just various spots. Just really everything, all the information in poker videos and books, etc., just compiled in a way that’s meaningful to me.
Zac: Did you find that to be helpful? Did you find those concepts were now present in your mind when you were playing because you had those notes?
Nick: Yeah, I’d say so. It’s just a good thing to do because, for one, when I’m compiling everything I’m reading it again. Then trying to figure out what concept goes where it’s helpful. Then I’ll go back and edit. Some of the notes that I wrote might not be the best sentence or might not be as clear as it could be. I’ll go back and change it. Yeah, it’s really helpful.
Zac: Excellent. You got the comped room at the Bellagio. You’re already running good. Now you’re going to play in some of these ARIA daily tournaments. Tell me about your decision to play in those and how you approached them and ultimately how you ran through them.
Nick: Well, first, I remember landing on a Monday afternoon at the airport. My plan was to go play satellites as the Rio for the WSOP but there was a flight delay so I didn’t get to really play. I think I was just really tired so I took Monday off. Then Tuesday I woke up and I wasn’t even going to go straight to tournaments. I was going to go play cash. I played cash at the Bellagio. Didn’t do anything. I think I lost a buy-in during a set up spot.
I was pretty tired but I was only there through Saturday so I was like, “I want to maximize my playing time.” Headed to the Rio. Played a couple sit and go’s. I made a couple bad decisions and lost. Then I realized that I was just really tired and it was not doing me any good to play, not good for my bank roll. I took the rest of the day off and went back to the hotel and chilled out and was hanging out.
Then at that point it was Tuesday night. My buddy Mark needed me to get out of the room because he was having a date over. I just took a walk to the ARIA and the tournaments were on my radar to play there but I wasn’t 100%. I had this cash in my pocket and I didn’t think I should be playing cash games at that point because I was really tired and it was a long day. I just bought into the tournament. Yeah, it started at 11 A.M. the next morning.
Zac: You start in this tournament and describe the field, what’s the size of the field, and what kind of level of skill are you playing against? Is it a fishy field? Is it a tough field? Walk me through it.
Nick: Yeah. I want to say the first one was about 200 players. Yeah, there was a mixture of competent players and fish. There was a handful of grinders and pros. There was some good recreational players and some people that are just, “Let’s go gamble in the poker tournament.” It was a good tournament, well-run, they do a good job at the ARIA.
Yeah, it was a nice deep stacked tournament with I want to say it was like a 20K starting stack. They didn’t skip any levels. I think they were 30 minute levels. Yeah, I just got to playing and mainly at that point I had studied a lot and reviewed a lot of hands. I felt pretty prepared. I just remember really trusting my instincts a lot. I was well-rested from the night before. I showed up ready to play. Yeah, I just basically played in the zone the whole time.
Zac: Did you run into any interesting spots? Did you run into card deadness? What was the dynamic in the tournament?
Nick: Yeah. Like I said, I really just trusted my instincts. There was one key hand that I remember. Let’s see if I can remember the board. I raised in early position. The button calls and then the big blind he calls. The flop comes king, six, seven maybe. With two spades and I can’t remember if the king was a spade or not. Anyway, I think I had seven, eight suited. What board did I tell you? King, six, seven?
Zac: Yeah. Spades.
Nick: I had middle pair. I thought the guy on the button he would be set mining a lot. He also would have called with a lot of broadways. I thought if I bet he would fold out a lot of those hands, the lower pairs would be scared of the king, and the over cards would just fold, which I want him to do.
I bet and he folded and then the big blind called. I was just pretty much down with the hand. Oh, also I thought I could get value out of the straight draws and flush draws. Then the turn came like an off-suit ace and then my plan had been to check but I could also represent the ace I thought.
I bet like two-thirds pot. The guy calls pretty fast. If he had a king he would have at least thought about folding when the ace came. I really put him on a draw. Then the river was another ace. This was post-ante levels. Like kind of late in the day. Then out of nowhere he puts out a pretty big bet. I don’t know if it was pot size or not. I have third pair and I just really didn’t think he would do that with an ace. I didn’t think he would do that with any pairs. The straight draw missed and the flush draw missed. It was kind of close but I called anyway because my instincts were like, “Call” and I had a lot of good reasons to. I was right and then that was like a giant pot. That gave me some momentum for the rest of the day.
Zac: Wow. Yeah, that’s a huge confidence boost. Incredible. Tell me about your results in the first tournament.
Nick: All right. For the results for the first tournament it was a $400 buy-in and the cash was $1200. We got to the final table and I’m sure I had some suck outs during the day. I got it all in with pocket jacks versus ace jack and the guy called for 20 bigs. We were both the bottom stacks and It was ninth I finished. We were both at the bottom two or three stacks. It was a spot where we had to get it in. He raises on the button. Then we get it in, I have jacks, he has ace jack, and he spikes an ace.
I get knocked out but it was a nice little cash for about I think it was $1200. I’ll take it. I looked up later online that they made a deal after me and everybody got like $10,000. Kind of like a $9000 beat but it was fun anyway.
Zac: Nice to make the final table. That wasn’t the last time you made the final table, right?
Nick: No, it wasn’t. That was Wednesday. Thursday I played … I want to say the ARIA was running a mix game tournament or Omaha or something that I didn’t really want to play. I went and played at the Planet Hollywood. They had a big guarantee going. I just had a crappy day. I barely won a pot. Played for like six hours and then went home because I lost a flip. Got some R&R for the rest of the day. Hung out at the pool.
I said, “Well, let’s just go back to the ARIA.” It was a well-run event and I did well. Let’s go play again. Yeah, it was just more of the same. The next day I felt like I was on my game. I was rested and prepared for the tournament. Yeah, I felt like I was playing well. Really like probably the best I’ve played in a while.
Yeah, I don’t know what to say. I felt like I really trusted my reads and my instincts. If I felt like it was a good bluff spot I’d take it. If I needed to make a light call I’d go ahead and make it. Everything seemed to work out. At one point I got down to two or three big blinds. This was towards the end. Yeah, somehow spun it back up.
That’s another thing I didn’t mention about the study is the push/fold charts I was studying that on the plane over. That really helped in a lot of spots. Yeah, ended up making the final table for that one. Chopped for like third place money. That was like $5500 I think.
Nick: $5600. Yeah.
Zac: Two really juicy cashes on your trip to Vegas. Judging from everything that you said it was very much a direct result of the studying that you did and also of the mental game. You mentioned a lot having the confidence to go with your reads and put in those bluffs and also just being well-rested. That’s something that I think some players underrate but would you agree that mental game is key to your success in these tournaments?
Nick: Yeah, 100%. Before the tournament I just really do anything that a winner would do before anything that’s important in their life. If you have an important meeting you’re going to eat a good breakfast and you might meditate and just be really prepared for the day. That’s what I did.
Zac: Cool. Before we leave you I want to talk about your continued success because it didn’t just end at the live tournaments. You also won a Micro MTT recently. I know a lot of our listeners that’s the kind of player they are. They’re not out playing the main event. They’re playing those Micro MTTs and to win one of those is still a dream for a lot of our listeners. Tell me about how that went down and how that’s different, that dynamic between online and live.
Nick: Yeah. I play a lot of anywhere from $3 buy-ins up to $15 buy-ins. I try to keep less than $1000 online. Yeah, recently I got a third in a $5 tournament for about $250. That was fun. Then the Micro tournaments, the $3 ones, I’ve been making some deep runs in those. Those are just teaching me a lot about variance and the importance of putting in volume. They’re also helping me sharpen my game just to see so many hands over and over again.
Zac: Could you elaborate on the variance concept and what you’re learning about variance and doing this at a higher volume?
Nick: Oh, yeah. I just realized a lot of times I’ll go deep-ish and be almost to the money and lose or bubble or sometimes I’ll get into the money and go pretty far and bust before you get to the final table. Or just really have everything go poorly even in the early levels. You just realize it’s just variance. People can say that and you can know it in your mind like, “Oh, yeah. Anything can happen.” Just the experience of seeing a barrier, feeling variance firsthand is really helpful.
Zac: Right on. You’ve seen the nice side of variance this summer. I hope you have continued success at the tables. If people want to reach out and say hi, you’re on the Red Chip Poker forums. What’s your username?
Nick: It’s SaintsTigers.
Zac: Cool. You can reach out to Nick Graffi there and pat him on the back for these results. Like I said, man, keep running good. Keep playing as well as it sounds like you’re playing at that high level. Thanks for joining us on the podcast today.