The ascension of Rizen: Eric Lynch talks poker

Eric Lynch

By all accounts, Eric Lynch - better known in poker circles by the name Rizen - is Mr. Nice Guy.

The 28-year-old is a devoted father and husband who keeps his afternoon schedule clear for family time and rarely misses weekly gymboree classes. He's also a former software engineer whose only leak - not that you can even call it that - is playing the stock market.

But when it comes to winning at poker, don't expect any mild manners from Rizen.

After topping the Internet Player of the Year rankings in February, Lynch has settled into sixth spot on the leaderboard, but, he says, isn't going out of his way to win the 2007 race. Still, Lynch is no slouch when it comes to tournament play.

One of online poker's most notable fixtures has a consistent string of online cashes of late, the most impressive of which include a $157,000 win at PokerStars.com's Sunday Million, $38,000 at Paradise Poker's $100,000 guarantee, as well as two $22,000 paydays for a first-place finish in the PokerRoom.com Big Deal event and a second-place result in the PartyPoker.com Friday Special.

Not to be outdone at the live tables, Lynch also proved his poker prowess at the 2006 World Series, where he dwarfed his best-ever online tournament winnings by cashing nearly $500,000 for his 24th place finish in the Main Event. He also came two places from WSOP gold by placing third in the $1,500 Pot-Limit Hold'em event for more than $100,000.

Not too shabby for a guy who started playing poker at a home game in 2003 and built his bankroll with a $50 deposit on PartyPoker.com.

On Wednesday, Lynch talked to PokerListings.com about his foray into the world of professional poker.

How did you make the transition from that home game to become a regular player?

My friend pointed me to PartyPoker and I logged on, made the initial deposit, got used to the software, and we'd both log on and play pretty much every night. He'd be on Instant Messenger, and he'd help me if I had any questions. I got really lucky at first. I was doing pretty well at first, and I think that led me to believe that I was better than I actually was at the time.

When things started to go downhill - I never lost that initial $50 deposit - at least I was smart enough to realize that I needed help. For that first year or so I built from $50 to $500 or $600 or so playing God knows how many hours. So I wasn't making a lot of money, but I was learning a lot, I was having fun and it was a hobby at the time.

What gave you the confidence boost to start upping the stakes?

I just started regularly beating the lower-limit games and my friend told me it was probably time to go ahead and move up. At the time Limit poker was more popular than No-Limit poker, so that's what I was playing. I basically worked my way from the 25¢/50¢ game up to the $5/$10 game before I started playing some tournaments and No-Limit. That probably took about a year and a half.

And for a while you were strictly a tournament player?

It's kind of a misconception. I've never been strictly a tournament player, but the tournament play is definitely what I'm most known for. I was still playing the $5/$10 Limit games when I won an $11 re-buy on PokerStars for $14,000 and I parlayed that into playing some higher-level tournaments, but I was still sticking with my $5/$10 cash games. And eventually I won the Friday Special on PartyPoker for $45,000 and it kind of steamrolled from there.

What are you playing online these days?

I still play a combination of tournaments and cash games. I've moved to No-Limit cash games and I usually play $3/$6 or $5/$10 No-Limit. Then I play all the bigger tournaments online all the way up to - when I don't need to spend time with my kids - the $1,000 buy-in on Mondays on FullTilt, but mostly just the regular $100-$150 freezeouts and $20-$30 re-buys.

Are you trying to turn more to live play?

Yeah, I've started playing a lot more live. This year I went to the L.A. Poker Classic and Bay 101 already. I'm going to skip the WPT Championship. But we've rented a house for the World Series so I'm going to play a lot of events down there. After the World Series last year my wife was about six months pregnant and we just spent a lot of time out of town; it was just kind of hard on my son, who is two now. So I just kind of waited until the baby was born - the baby is three months old now - so I've started to do a bit more travel. I anticipate I'll scale it up a bit more as the kids get older and it becomes a bit easier.

You kind of touched on the state of the online gambling industry right now in your blog. What are your thoughts on how online play has changed within the last few months?

It has changed in my opinion. It's difficult to tell; at the upper limits I don't think it's changed as much as it has at the medium-level limits.

Some of the medium-stakes players that I have as friends tell me that a lot of the upper-limit players have moved down to play in their stakes and their stakes have become much tougher. But at the upper limits the only thing I've noticed is that we seem to have a lot more aggressive players that seem to be the ones that are sticking around. The fields haven't gone down that much at the higher limits, but I've definitely noticed a difference in the level of aggression and the overall quality of play is up a little.

But you don't necessarily think it's harder to win?

I don't think it's harder to win. I think you have to adjust. If people who are playing poker are still playing poker the way they were six, seven months ago, that could be a bad thing - they could find themselves at the wrong end of things. If you adjust, at least in my experience, I haven't found it to be any less profitable. I've just had to make adjustments to my game to adjust for the skill level and aggressiveness of the opponents that I'm playing.

So tell me about this profit streak you've been on since 2005. Is this a goal now to meet every month?

It's not really a goal. The $10,000 is a little bit high, but basically when I first quit my real job back in March of 2006 - I've had the streak going a lot longer than then - but I always felt good each month if I made more playing poker than I would've if I'd stayed at my regular job. It was kind of a benchmark for me. And as a software engineer I was grossing about $8,000 a month, so $10,000 was a pretty good number to go off of.

You said you're having a bad month this month; have things improved?

Since I placed in a couple I'm having a better month. Unless something goes really bad I'll have a profitable month this month; whether it will be $10,000 or not is still kind of up in the air.

It the Internet Player of the Year competition a goal for you or is that something you're not too interested in?

It was something I was more interested in back in February when I was in first place. (Laughs) I don't know if I'll be able to do it now. They just added a bunch of afternoon tournaments to cater to European players, but a lot of the American players play those to, and I just can't. That's during the day and that's the time I reserve for my family and kids. I used to be able to play about 80% of the IPOY tournaments and now I can play in about 50% of them, and I just don't know whether at that level of volume whether I will be able to win it all. I'd like to, but I'm not going to sacrifice the other things I have going to make it a goal.

Have you had the chance to meet some of your peers from the top of the leaderboard at some the live events you've attended now?

I talk to most of them regularly online. The ones I've met - I've met phat_cat, I think he's top 10 now, I've met GB2005 - I consider both of those guys pretty good friends.

What's it like meeting them after only knowing them through the poker tables online?

It's nice. The top players - or at least the people who are perceived as the top players - I don't want to say it's a tight-knit community because there are definitely cliques within the top players, but we all know each other pretty well. We talk a fair amount, either over Instant Messenger or whatever. It's a good group; it's nice to know them and getting to meet a fair amount of them at the World Series last year - it was nice to put faces with names.

Why Rizen?

Honestly, I wish I had a great story for the name. Back in '97 I was still in high school and I was playing some online game and all the names I usually used were taken and I figured a name with a z in it would be less likely to be taken than anything else. So it's just kind of a random thing with a z in it.

Does having a recognizable name have any impact on how people play against you online?

It definitely has an impact, especially since the World Series stuff has aired. I get a mixture of things. Sometimes I get players who try overly hard to take me out of a tournament - I don't know if that's for bragging rights or whatever - and other times I get players who just give me way too much respect and always fold when I come in. I don't know if they're afraid I'll outplay them or they recognize the name and just assume that I have something or whatever. So it's an interesting mix of players that either don't give me enough respect or give me way too much respect.

Has it worked to your advantage?

I think it does now. At first I had a hard time adjusting to it because players started to play me a lot differently and I couldn't get away with a lot of the things I got away with before, so I had to learn to play a little differently to keep making money.

How do you define your play or style?

I really try not to define it. If you ask 10 different people who play with me regularly how I play, you're likely to get nine or 10 different answers. It really depends on how the table's set up. I really try and be able to incorporate all different styles. I would say that my natural style is more of a tight-aggressive style and that is probably where I feel most comfortable. But if I feel the table is playing too tight I have no problem opening up and playing a lot more aggressive.

You're known as being a nice guy. Is that part of the strategy, or are you just a nice guy?

(Laughs) Honestly, I'm just a nice guy. That's just me; I don't know. It was the way I was raised and brought up. I don't feel the need to be mean to people. I'll leave that to other people. There are plenty of people who do that well enough.

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To keep up with Lynch's progress, visit his personal blog at rizenpoker.com.

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