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You Know What Time It Is - Mike McDonald
We've reached the final table of the 2008 PokerStars EPT German Open and when things get rolling at 3 p.m. German time Saturday, 18-year-old Waterloo, Canada resident Mike "Timex" McDonald will start as the clear favorite.
The online phenom has the chip lead and after making two final tables at preliminary events during the Aussie Millions last month, he's also got the experience. On the eve of his first EPT final table he sat down with PokerListings.com to talk a little poker strategy, personal history and whether he'll be trading in that Timex for a Rolex if he manages to take the German Open down.
So Mike this is the big time. Are you excited?
I'm pretty excited yes. This is the biggest final table I've made.
You did make two final tables at prelim events at the Aussie Millions and managed to win one so I suppose you are really running good right now...
Things have been going well lately. I've definitely improved my play, but I'm running hot as well. When I first started playing live tournaments I was like 0 for 11. But lately it has been picking up. I'm winning the crucial flips and getting cards at the right time and my moves have been working.
You just turned 18; when did you start playing live?
I turned 18 September 11, 2007 and WSOP-E started Sept. 10. But Day 1b was Sept. 11 so I played my first live tournament on my 18th birthday. It was kind of sweet. I busted to Jamie Gold on the TV table. Not really happy with the birthday present, but I guess it was a good experience.
I suppose it gave you your first taste of playing under these hot lights. Does it make you nervous?
It doesn't make me really nervous, but it annoys me that they are so hot. I'm sweating out there and I'm not nervous; it's just that the environment is so hot. Casinos are usually cold so I was wearing a hoodie today. It's hot, but overall I'm not nervous and I'm not trying to make moves to impress the TV cameras or anything. I'm playing the same game I would normally.
With $862,000 you will come into play tomorrow as the chip leader. What's your strategy with the big stack?
I'm going to play this just like I would if I wasn't at a final table. I'll be opening for a lot of raises making similar moves.
[Fellow Canadian online pro Sorel "Imper1ium" Mizzi walks up and hands Mike €2,000.]
Wait a second here. Why is Sorel giving you money?
Oh, I lent it to him at another EPT - he's just paying me back. Um... what was the question?
What's your strategy coming into tomorrow?
Just to make the right decisions at the right time. I'm not going to come in and bully people, but I'm not going to be super-tight and try to move up in the pay structure either. I'm playing to win, but at the same time I do want to maximize EV. I don't want to make any unnecessary gambles.
You gambled in the one big hand on Day 2 that earned you that big stack. I believe you shoved with K-Q and got called by jacks and managed to out-flop your opponent. What were you thinking there?
In these live tournaments most people are really passive. Most people only three-bet with tight ranges. But he and I are really aggressive online players and I've played with him like 5,000 hands online and everyone I tell I four-bet him says "oh well, he's a nut." He's probably more aggressive than I am.
So you put him on any two cards there?
Maybe not any two, but like 25% of hands when a lot of guys would only be three-betting 2% of hands. Against him I think I made a good call.
How about today? Any big hands?
Early on in the day I had kings against fours and won $80k and then I got lucky - a short stack shoved for $35k, another guy called and I call in the big blind with tens. The flop comes 4-4-2 and I'm really not sure what shape I was in against the other player in the pot.
He could have a big hand. So I figured the best thing to do here is bet a small percentage of the pot. I bet a fifth of the pot and he called. I figured he might have A-K and the turn came a three and then he would have a gut-shot. I bet small again, 33k, and he calls. Then the river was a ten (laughs). I bet $75, he called. And he looked disappointed so he probably had jacks or queens. I got it up to like $830,000 early in the day and then lost a bit. I did lose A-K to A-K all-in pre-flop.
We know you started online, but what spurred your interest in poker in the first place?
I got into poker a lot differently than most people. I used to play chess and my chess teacher told me it was a good way to make like $40 or $50 an hour without any education. So I started playing small and worked it up from there. I guess I really didn't realize I was that good until I started playing tournaments online. In my first year and a bit of playing I made $10k or $12k. Then in my first three months of playing tournaments I made like $100k. Over the next six months I made like $500k so I figured I was getting pretty good.
And you learned to play by reading a bunch of books?
Not really. At my university (Waterloo, Ontario) there are lots of poker players there and I learned from them. I also post on the forums on 2+2 and there is a lot of good information there. I just learned there.
What are you studying at school?
I was studying math, but now I'm taking time off. I plan on getting my degree at some point, but I'm enjoying poker right now and doing well and it seems like the games aren't getting that much tougher, so I want to get as much as possible out of this over the next few years.
And online people can find you playing as Timex. Where did that come from?
When I first started playing online, I was playing under my dad's name. Then when I signed up for my own account my parents didn't want me using my real name in case people found out who I was, because I was under 18 when I started playing. So I just decided to use the first thing I could think of. I looked down at my watch, and I didn't have much money at the time so I had a Timex watch, and I just used that.
Well I guess if you bank a win here at the EPT we can start calling you Rolex.
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It's exciting to see fresh young faces do well in the poker world and if Mike McDonald is anything, he's fresh and young. But, with the amazing reputation he's made for himself through online play, there's no doubting his abilities. This may be the first time we've seen Mike McDonald at a televised final table, but PL.com is betting it won't be the last.