Haxton has been crushing high-stakes heads-up No-Limit Hold’em for years and in addition to participating in this latest online challenge, he was recently named to PokerStars' Team Online Pro.
Living in Malta after relocating from the US post-Black Friday, Haxton has been breaking up his online grind with trips to the world’s biggest live events.
He cashed six times at this year’s WSOP, and picked up a small score at the recent EPT San Remo main event. And that’s all after finishing third in the $25k High-Roller at the 2012 PCA for $380k.
We spoke to him from his home on the Mediterranean to find out more about one of the greatest heads-up No-Limit players on the planet.
PokerListings.com: Now that the first All-Star Showdown is done, please tell us about the experience and how it played out.
Isaac Haxton: I loved it. I'd do it once a month if I could for sure.
I think people were surprised at how long the matches took. I wasn't, honestly. Going into my first match, Kanu and I both noticed while reviewing our hands against each other that in the last 7k hands we'd played no one had swung up or down 10 buy-ins.
Haxton at the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo.
If we do something similar again in the future, it still might be better to reexamine the scheduling. Either make the matches shorter or plan to play them out over multiple days.
PL: Like you said, you’ve had experience against these guys before. Did anyone in particular stand out as rising to the occasion in this Showdown?
IH: Everyone really rose to the occasion.
I was just recently reviewing my match with Kanu and it was obvious he put in a lot of work, several things I had identified in my preparation as spots in his game I wanted to attack had changed.
Sauce was doing some crazy stuff I hadn't seen before. Most obviously he was playing absurdly loose from the big blind and I think he overdid it but there were some subtle postflop things that really impressed me, too.
And obviously Cates put on a very impressive performance. I haven't seen much of him lately but it's clear he hasn't gotten rusty. He made pretty quick work of all three opponents.
PL: Since each player in the Showdown is a top-level pro, we’re curious about how your edge works. Is your advantage over these players a static thing that you just bring into the match, or is it dynamic to the point where it’s changing before and during play?
IH: It's very dynamic. You might be able to say something like "I think I beat player X for Ybb/100 on average," but in most cases the size of that edge and exactly where it's coming from will vary from hour to hour.
It's easiest to see looking at something like the preflop raise, 3-bet, 4-bet, 5-bet game.
Over the course of a match you might progress from thinking your opponent is opening too loose and not defending enough to the 3-bet so you start 3bet-bluffing him a lot and that goes well for a while.
Then he notices and starts opening tighter and calling more and for a little while you're making some losing bluffs. Then you notice his counter-adjustment and you start 3-betting a less polarized range with fewer bluffs and more thin value like QJo or even 98s and playing the 3-bet pots really aggressively post-flop and that goes well for a bit because he expects you to have more bluffs and not make as many top pairs as you actually are.
"You have to pick up their shifting ranges and frequencies quickly."
Then he figures out what's going on and starts to adjust by 4-betting you a lot. Now you're 3-betting and folding to a 4bet over and over with JTo and that's no good at all, so you start 3-betting more hands that can 5bet shove, etc, etc.
The same sorts of things are going on in every line of the match post-flop, too.
PL: So in a given match the player who is able to make faster, better adjustments is going to have the edge?
IH: Yeah. You have to pick up their shifting ranges and frequencies quickly but you also have to understand the implications of those changes so that you can make appropriate adjustments.
PL: Switching gears a bit, you were recently picked up by PokerStars Team Online Pro. What does that mean to you and what are you hoping to do with it?
IH: It's an honor to be selected as a member of Team Online. It's a group of really strong and hard-working players who are at the tops of their respective specialties.
I'm so glad to give them another player, in addition to nanonoko, who plays HSNL.
PL: How will joining the team change your poker career? Does it bring any new goals with it?
IH: I've previously been pretty reclusive in the past. Now that I'm part of Team Online, I'm going to be making an effort to be much more of a presence in social media. I'm going to be a lot more active on twitter and I'll be starting a blog soon.
I'd been thinking about shooting for Supernova Elite already but now that I'm Team Online I'm definitely going to do that.
PL: In addition to the Team Online nod, you’re held in high esteem by a lot of top players. Do you feel like you’re one of the best?
"I'm really happy Full Tilt is being resurrected. Unfortunately, I'm American so my money is with the DOJ rather than Stars/FT."
IH: It's not like I've made a point of trying to prove anything. I've just played a lot of HUNL and at this point there aren't that many people who want to play me.
PL: Do you have trouble getting action at high-stakes? What are you able to do to overcome that?
IH: Somewhat, though I've been getting a decent amount of action this year. When I can't get HUNL cash action I've been playing a lot of HUSNGs which is a nice solution.
PL: How happy are you about the PokerStars/FTP deal going through? We’ve heard you have some money on the site.
IH: I'm really happy that Full Tilt is being resurrected. Unfortunately, I'm American so my money is with the DOJ rather than Stars/FTP and I'll have to wait that process out and see what happens with it.
PL: Post-Black Friday you moved to Malta to continue playing online. What’s that experience been like?
IH: I love Malta and it's given me the opportunity to spend some time in some other places I've really liked, too. I spent about 6 weeks in Hong Kong and a month in Vancouver last year in addition to 6 months or so in Malta and had a great time in each of those places.
This year I plan to spend a couple months in Melbourne after PCA and will be going to Vancouver again in the summer. It's been expensive and I miss the stability of having a single full-time home in a country I know well, but it's been a really fun experience, too.
PL: Thanks Ike. Good luck on Supernova Elite.
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