Mark Rumbaugh had one heck of a summer. He finished first in two local $110 tourneys vs. smaller fields. Then, with a profitable poker wind at his back, he traveled to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and did not disappoint his bankroll. He ran deep again and again, nabbing three cashes in the four events he played: 295th/2020 in the WSOP $1K, 24th/1368 in Planet Hollywood’s $600 Goliath, and 208th/2320 in the Wynn $1100 classic. Hear how he studied his way to tournament success this summer on the podcast this week.
Zac: Mark Rumbaugh, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.
Mark: Well, thanks for having me, and it’s going to be some fun.
Zac: Absolutely. I was looking at the results that you sent me. You had one heck of a tournament streak this summer. I wish I had a summer like you did when I went out to Vegas. Tell me just in general, what happened?
Mark: Well, I usually go out to Vegas for the series for a week. I’ve been going since about 2009, and I’ve actually been playing poker since about 2003. I think it could have been a little bit of variance, but I think there’s also a little bit of preparation involved. To give you a little history of how I got there, and … Let me restart here. Let’s start with, what were my results? In May and June, I played maybe seven tournaments. Before I went out to Vegas, I actually won two at my local casino. Now, they weren’t big ones. They were about $120 buy-in tournaments for about 60 or 70 players, but I did those as preparation for the World Series, and then when I went out to the series, I played four tournaments, either Deep Stacks or WSOP tournaments, and I was lucky enough to cash in three out of four, and that was kind of a personal best.
My first tournament I played was the senior event, and that was the one tournament that I actually did not cash. I actually didn’t even make it to the first break. I ended up getting knocked out flush over flush like that, but I was happy with the way I played. The next day, I entered the Win $1100 Summer Classic, and that one I ended up getting 208th out of about 2300. Then I followed that up with, after that, entered the Goliath tournament at Planet Hollywood, which was a $600 buy-in, and in that one I went really deep. I got 24th out of about 1300, and then the following day, I entered a $1K WSOP event, and I got 295th out of 2,000 for about $1500.
Zac: Those are incredible, incredible deep runs, all in succession. Were you just in the zone? Were you feeling it? Was it the preparation? Tell me about the experience of just having that run. What did it feel like?
Mark: It kind of felt like I deserved it in some ways. I do feel like I was prepared. Most of them weren’t super deep, but they were good cashes, but preparation-wise, I was probably prepared this year better than any other year I’ve been. The way I’ve studied has been pretty independent, although two years ago I started watching Red Chip videos. I’ve probably watched every Red Chip video there was, and had a little bit of coaching. I had, between Ed Miller and Doug Hull, I had about six hours of coaching a couple years ago, but the real key to where I think I started to really improve this year is I went to Solve for Why in December, and that was a fantastic experience. It gave me confidence in what I was doing right. Then subsequently after that, I had coaching with Jordan Young, who was just phenomenal.
Zac: Excellent. Yes. That whole crew. Jordan Young, Christian Soto, and Matt Berkey — a lot of people on this podcast talk about how much they learned over there at the Solve for Why Academy. When you decided to really watch all these videos and go through the coaching and through the seminar there, were you making a conscious decision that you were going to take the game more seriously, try and get more results? Is this a professional pursuit for you, or do you have a day job? How does that all work out for you?
Mark: Well, my employment history is up until about a year ago, I was an electrical engineer for 32 years or so. Then the site that I worked at actually closed down, so I kind of foresaw that. I thought I’d saved up enough money I could take some time off, maybe even temporarily retire, so I do remember one day sitting at my desk saying, “You know, I am going to take poker seriously.” I was on Red Chip right from the start. I said, “I’m going to watch these videos.” Then I said, “I’m going to post to the forums, because I need to learn and get better. I need to stick my neck out. I need to be able to find people that I can trust, that have good opinions that I can bounce ideas off.” It started from there, and then through the forums, I went to a meetup, and I met Christian, and SplitSuit, and all the coaches. I feel like I took advantage of everything I could. I like to see opportunity and say, “I’m going to take advantage of that.” And I said, “Here are coaches that are willing to talk to you. You might as well get as much as you can out of them.”
Then of course, through Red Chip, I found out more and more about Matt, and I think going to Solve for Why is kind of like the next step, where you feel like you’ve gotten quite a bit out of Red Chip and the videos there, and you’re ready to make a next step and really, really start thinking for yourself. It’s just fantastic that someone of his caliber is willing to take time to teach. It’s kind of like rock and roll fantasy camp for poker players.
Zac: It sounds amazing. What did you learn there that really changed your game in this way that sounds pretty earth-shaking? What were some of the strategic ideas that you discussed and studied there, that you really carried on to make these deep runs?
Mark: Well, the main thing that I really got out of there is that I got a lot of confidence in making the place that I made. I wanted some sort of validation, and I wanted to see what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong, so for cash games, it was more of a focused aggression, a more of a planning style, more of an attacking style, and I think taking control of the game and making people play through you is kind of what I learned there. It can be an exhausting style, but I’ve found that it really has upped my game since, and I think that studying cash does prepare you for tournaments, because a lot of tournament players don’t have as much post-flop experience, so when I studied for tournament play, it’s more where I would work more was on pre-flop play.
Another thing that I would say is I did attend, they had a tournament seminar as well that I did attend, too, and that I picked up some good nuggets out of that about planning for phases of tournaments, and having a dynamic style based upon where you are in the tournament, and your stack size.
Zac: You talked about playing some of these smaller tournaments in your local casino to warm up. What else did you do to prepare for the WSOP? What did your study schedule look like? Were you analyzing hands? Discussing them? Walk us through that.
Mark: What I’ve done over the years is actually create my own set of notes. I almost wrote my own book, with my own strategy, my own philosophy. I had some PowerPoint slides that I always break out, I always restudy, I refine, I create Word documents. I try to figure out what I would do and give different situations. One of the tournament books that I’ve used as a base is some of Jonathan Little’s books. I’ve found they were good for an overall preparation. I wouldn’t say that they’re the only thing you should be doing, but I think they were kind of the next step after … Well, years back, remember when the Harrington books came out? They seemed groundbreaking at the time, and all they really did was introduce M-theory and squeeze plays.
I felt like the Jonathan Little books, the professional no limit series, there were three of them, had a good outline for a strategy to start, for playing in stages. I based my notes off of that, and some of his other books. I based it on, a lot actually, recently, with discussions with Jordan. Just a few nuggets that he said really stuck in my mind when I played tournaments. Coaching with Jordan was seminal for me in some ways, because I think I had been overplaying my hands in the past, thinking I could overrun the fields in these 1K events, whereas he had actually pointed out to me that a lot of the pros tend to not do as well in these tournaments, because they’re trying to squash the amateurs, and they create a dynamic where actually you want to tighten up a little bit more. I tightened up more in the early phases of the tournament, and I found that I had a vision of when I would be in the money, and what I had to do. What I had to do to keep ahead of the curve, and so I kept hearing his voice in the back of my head.
Zac: Right on. One of the interesting things that you mentioned there was, you really created your own study material, your own notes, and that’s something that’s come up time and time again from pro poker players that I’ve spoken to, is they’re not just passively watching the videos and listening to podcasts and reading articles. They’re integrating all of that information into really a personalized method of not just studying, but fundamentally understanding the game, and almost developing their own style. Would you feel that it would be fair to say that you started to develop your own style as you worked through the serious study?
Mark: Oh, absolutely. One thing I’ll point out is, books will never get you where you want to be. They’re just kind of like data points in the universe of poker knowledge. I think the best poker players couldn’t write a book that would make you a good player, even if you thought you could implement it to a T. Mostly, the thing about books is, they’re written for the masses, and they’re also written so that you’ll play safe, but the best you’ll ever do is rise to the level the book targeted, so you really do need to think for yourself. You really do need to get into the math. You need to play around with Flopzilla. One thing I like to do is come up at least with one unique poker thought a week, you know? Create a problem in your head, and then work it out, and you kind of go down a rabbit hole. You internalize a lot more by doing that than you do by skimming over a book passively.
Zac: Absolutely. In these events, when you were at some of these pivotal moments, do you have any hands that you recall as being either a mistake that you made, or a really nice play that you made, or just a cooler? Are there any stories from the actual events that really stick out in your head?
Mark: I’ve got some general comments, and I can think of one where I know I felt like I played bad, but I got lucky. The thing that I learned is that I played with some people that had gone deep in even the main event, and you don’t need to be intimidated by them. There’s one person that had gone deep, and I’m not going to say this person’s name, but they did not play what I considered a good game. They were kind of … You would have thought they were fish if you didn’t know who they were. Maybe they were leveling me and I need to check their HendonMob, but I didn’t feel intimidated playing against this person. This person was just raising junk hands early on, and then rivering. This one person rivered a straight on me when I was betting a top pair all the way to the river, and he had like two five or something ridiculous.
But I do remember one hand that I played bad, if you want a hand that I played bad that I got lucky.
Zac: I mean, any hand is a popular thing for people to listen to on this podcast. They just love talking strategy, so if there’s some strategic insight, share it for sure.
Mark: Yeah. What this hand’s going to illustrate is what I was thinking at the time. This was in the Planet Hollywood Goliath, and we were down to about three tables. What I was thinking at the time was that the payouts were really flat until the final table, and so I was either going to go out in a ball of flames, or I was going to go ahead and go to the final table. I ended up making a call that I thought was bad against someone I shouldn’t have, but it was when I was down to about 10 big blinds and the blinds were going up, so Dennis Phillips had opened under the gun, and I had Jack, 10 of clubs on the button. Actually, he had about 15 big blinds, and I had 10 big blinds. I ended up calling, and sucking out, and doubling on him, but that’s not a hand I would normally have called in that situation. It was just to the point that the blinds were running so hot, and I was willing to gamble at that point.
Zac: When you’re assessing players at the table, that’s obviously a huge part of this game. Were you surprised at the level of play you encountered at the WSOP? You had mentioned that you had seen one person in particular that was not quite playing up to standard. Is the play kind of all over the map, or were you challenged?
Mark: I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I think at the lower buy-in tournaments at WSOP, you’ll find enough what we call fun players there that you’d be surprised. I remember the first time I played a WSOP event, I was so nervous, and people were making these bad plays, and I thought I was getting leveled. I thought, “They’ve paid $1,000 to play a tournament, and how could they be playing like this? I certainly must be missing something.” Then you realize, “No, some people just have money. Some people saddle on in, and you just have to have confidence in yourself.”
Zac: Right. Speaking of confidence, one of the things we talk about a lot on this podcast is mental game and how essential it is, how underrated it is. Can you talk about your mental state going into this WSOP and what you did in terms of mental game to make sure that you were playing your A game?
Mark: Well, people who poo-poo mental game are missing out on a lot. In cash games, I can unequivocally say that that is the biggest source of losses for me, absolutely. I try to go into a game with a plan, and say, “I’m not gonna get outside of my ranges. I’m not gonna try to get creative. I’m gonna play solid, and I’m gonna play when I know I’m making the right play.”
For mental play, actually I meditate a little bit. I listen to Elliot Roe’s MP3s. One thing I do also is diet-wise. I’m 56 years old, so I’m worried about my brain falling apart, so I take EPA, DHA, fish oil supplements, and vitamin D3, because they’ve been linked with better brain performance. Now, I’m not sure how much they’re helping me, but I’m willing to give them a stab, and I tried doing that this year. I haven’t played worse, so at the best, they’re not hurting me, and they’re also helping me maybe.
Zac: You’re breaking even at least, right?
Zac: You had mentioned that one hand you could have played a little differently. If you had to go back and look at your WSOP and this great streak of cashes, what would you do differently knowing now what you know? Would you change any sort of approach in terms of a general strategy? Would you make specific adjustments? Would you study something more?
Mark: I would trust my reads more, and not worry so much about … I’m thinking of a hand where I was more worried about future game. I folded a hand that I should have been an instant call, but I thought, “Well, if I lose with this hand, I’m out of the tournament, but I have a really good chance of going deeper.” We were down to 25 people or so, and I thought, “You know, I’d like to see how far I could go.” I lost that, “I’m just going to win it no matter what” mindset. I’m embarrassed to say that I folded AJ of diamonds to a shove when normally that would have been an insta-call for me.
Zac: Yeah. In the moment, that kind of colors the decision making, and one of the toughest mental game aspects is to kind of phase that out and think just in terms of theory, and like you said, your reads. When you talk about reads, are you talking about frequencies, and picking up on player frequencies of betting, and so forth, or live tells? What are you looking at?
Mark: In this case, I didn’t even need to do a read. This was just a case of, “You just call in this situation.” In terms of my live reads, it’s more frequencies. You could pick up on that. I made a final table at a deep stack last year, where this guy was just going and raising every other hand, and you just know at that point that the guy is just an over-aggressive player, and then you can play back with a weaker range.
Zac: Right. You’re not just typing these players. You have all the counter-strategies preloaded and ready to run once you identify their tendencies.
Mark: Yeah, and at the start of a game, I like to be friendly. I like to talk to people. It’s amazing just the subtle information you can pick up against them, and you can say things just subtly that kind of imprint into their brain. It’s like you’re programming them, they’re going to play a little differently, and sometimes to the way you want, just by the way you’ve presented yourself.
Zac: That sounds like that whole Solve For Why ethos of playing the meta-game, playing the player, really getting in someone’s head and dictating not just that player’s action, but the whole table has to go through you, right?
Mark: Well, what I’m really addressing is that I’m manipulating people, and I’m manipulating them psychologically. I think that’s more something that I do on my own, less than I learned at Solve For Why in this case.
Zac: I got you. That’s interesting. That’s great. I mean, that seems like a higher level of actually reading someone, or even exploiting the read, is to actually now manipulate them and get them to change the way they play in a way that benefits you.
Mark: Yeah. I mean, I present myself as kind of a goofy, friendly player. They have no idea how much I study. They don’t know how many hours a year I put in, and at the same time, they volunteer things. They start to like you, and it changes the way they play against you. In some cases, you get information back about yourself that you were unaware of. I befriended one guy in the Planet Hollywood tournament, and during one break he kind of hinted at a tell I had, and I’ve eliminated that tell.
Zac: Wow. They’re really helping you out over there. Well, that’s something that I guess the people who have the earbuds in, or are staring at their tablets are missing, keeping their customers happy and getting that kind of information you can get when you’re friendly at the table.
Mark: Oh, yeah. You pick up so much information, and it’s kind of funny the way I’m perceived. I almost just think I’m perceived as some old guy, but in one tournament, one of the deep stacks a year or two ago, one guy was playing against me way differently than he normally would have. I had a Seattle Mariners hat on, and then he finally realized when he heard me speak, he said, “Oh, I thought you were Scandinavian.” He thought it was some sort of Scandinavian hat. Really, your perception, you can really model and affect the way people play against you.
Zac: Well, I know if you hit Dennis Phillips again at the next table, he’ll recognize you probably. Speaking of that, what’s your plan for next year? You had a heck of a summer this year. Are you going to try and repeat that success? Are you going to study more? I mean, what’s your plan going into next year?
Mark: Of course, I’m going to study more. I’m going to revise my strategy, and my notes. I hope that Solve For Why, they mentioned that they might have a tournament academy, and I would love to attend that if they did that. I also have a good group of people that I’ve met through Solve For Why. We’ve got a chat group that we have, and they are very good for feedback on my play, and strategies. It’s very important to me to have some people that I can trust. I think a lot of times you talk to your local players at your local casinos, and it’s a lot of groupthink, and they’re saying things like, “Oh, pot odds,” or whatever. Just kind of the lines they’ve heard, but they really aren’t deep thinkers. It’s good to have people that are better than you, that you can talk to. I plan to talk to them a lot.
As a matter of fact, I think two of the people from my academy actually have already been on your podcast.
Zac: It wouldn’t surprise me. It’s a streak through a lot of the people I’ve been talking to lately, and I know that we have a close working relationship between Red Chip and the Solve For Why crew, so it’s always good to hear good stories about that. I take it you’re going to be back at the WSOP in 2018?
Mark: Like I said, I go every year. I don’t know which tournaments I play until they get the schedule out. Someday, I’d like to play the main. I would have to be staked, or have pieces of action sold. I think I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like I wouldn’t be intimidated to play. As a matter of fact, one of the guys in my home game in 2008 satellited into the main event from a local casino. He paid $300, and he ended up making about $115K, so pretty much anybody can do it.
Zac: Nice. You mentioned talking poker a lot, and how important that is to you. Can people get in touch with you on the Red Chip Poker forum? On Twitter? Where can people reach out to you?
Mark: Oh, yeah. On the forum, I am ArtArtBobart.
Zac: Excellent. I would definitely encourage listeners to drop in and there’s always a good conversation going on in the forum, and it’s so amazing to talk to one of our Red Chip members who has had so much success, and had all these deep runs. Mark Rumbaugh, I wish you all the luck in 2018, and it sounds like you’re not going to need it that much, because you’re studying the heck out of this game, so thanks again for joining us on the podcast today.
Mark: Hey, thanks a lot. It’s been a pleasure.