Leave It To Seiver
With the WPT World Championship just around the corner, we turned to reigning champ Scott Seiver to find out the secrets of his success.
It can be a lonely place when you’re on top of the world, but that’s never been a problem for the eminently likeable Scott Seiver. The 2011 WPT World Champion reached the game’s pinnacle at the Bellagio last year, but far from his success inspiring envy among fellow players, Seiver became one of the most popular winners in recent years and received ringing endorsements throughout the poker community.
His final table appearance alone was testament to how quickly the American’s stock has risen since he won his first bracelet in 2008, with an army of over 40 fans arriving to cheer their man to victory. However, it takes more than just a dedicated following to win the WPT’s most prestigious tournament and in our exclusive interview with Seiver, he told us about all the factors that lead to his first tour win.
From using the deep stacks to his advantage in the early levels to profiling his opponents for the long-haul, Seiver lays bare the strategy and preparation that took him all the way through this week-long poker odyssey and out the other side as a newly-crowned WPT World Champion...
Going into an event with stacks as deep as they were at the WPT World Championship, what was your approach in the opening levels?
A lot of people play very tight in the early levels and wait for big hands. I like to get in there, mix it up and try to build big pots and play big pots. When everyone has a lot of chips it’s easy for someone to make a big mistake and I feel confident enough that that person won’t be me.
When you take your seat in an “endurance” event like this, you must know that you’ll be sat with the same players for long stretches at a time. How do you go about profiling your opponents in the first few levels?
I feel one of my biggest strengths as a poker player is knowing how other people play and in a tournament like this where you have so much information on all the players because you’ve played with them before, it really helps. You can establish a good mindset for how they’re going to play and you can then use that to really construct an image of how any particular table is going to turn out.
In those early stages, 3-betting seemed to be a major facet of your game. What considerations do you take before deciding to 3-bet an opponent and how to you know when they’re starting to adjust to you?
I like to play a very aggressive game because I think when a player is forced to respond to raises when you’re playing very deep, you get to find out who they really are and how they really play. I trust my reads not on a particular hand, but on who they are as a person, to know how they’re going to respond to each situation. It’s just a case of giving them the stimulus of pressure and I feel that I know all of these people well enough that I know how they’re going to respond and I can use that.
You won a lot of coin-flips en route to the title. Are you someone who generally tries to avoid these marginal EV situations or do you recognise winning races as a necessary gamble that you have to take?
I think you absolutely have to take these gambles and anyone that says you don’t probably doesn’t understand the actual maths that is involved in a large-field tournament. Unless you’re literally the best poker player to have ever existed, you can’t be turning down 55/45 or 60/40 coin-flips because these are just edges that you can’t make up in other places. You have to get lucky to win a 600-person tournament and there is no way that anyone can win one of these events by skill alone. Even if you win 15 straight with aces versus kings, that’s still unbelievably lucky because it’s 80/20 and the 20 is going to get there sometimes, so you just have to take your chances and hope for the best.
You really picked up some momentum on Day 4 by eliminating players such as Steve O’Dwyer and Taylor Von Kriegenbergh. Was this around the time that you actually started to think seriously about winning the event?
I remember the exact moment when I thought I was going to win the event very clearly. I believe there were only two or three tables left and I got it all-in with aces versus Ashton Griffin’s A-K. Some people may not know Ashton because he doesn’t play many televised tournaments, but he’s one of the all-time best poker players. He’s an unbelievable talent and I got very lucky to have this great cooler spot against him that was worth a load of chips. My hand held up and it was at that moment when I thought, “I can win this, I can do this, I can beat him, I can beat anyone else.” From there on in something switched and I really did push for the win.
At the end of Day 5 you got a ringing endorsement from the now-eliminated former champion David Williams on Twitter. Did receiving that kind of support give you any sort of boost before the final table?
David and I are good friends and we hang out a bunch. I know he’s pulling for me and all of my friends are pulling for me and that’s what really gave me the boost. At the final table, I must have had 40 friends in the audience screaming and cheering the whole time and that’s really what does it for me, knowing that I have that support.
My dad and my grandfather actually flew out from New York that morning just to come and watch and I loved hearing the cheers and the rowdiness and the loudness – it was great. Maybe it was a hindrance to the other players, but that just makes it all the better for me.
Before the final table itself, players got to take a one-day break. Did you feel that this was a good thing for you as it allowed you to properly recuperate or did it interrupt the momentum you’d built up at that point?
I remember at the time that I thought it was a bad thing for me. I felt much more refreshed but I also noticed how tired the other players had looked before the break and how they’d started playing poorly. They were sluggish and slow and I thought this day off is great for me, but it’s probably even better for them, so I would have liked to keep going and just turn it into an endurance contest. I clearly can’t complain now that I’ve won, but I really wanted to just keep going.
You started the final table virtually neck-and-neck with Galen Hall. Did you consider him to be the biggest obstacle between you and the title?
Galen is a great player and he was always the one that I thought I would end up playing heads-up. Galen and I had all the chips the whole way through; we were making a lot of moves and he was definitely the one I was looking out for.
The elimination of Tony Gargano in fifth place put you well out in front for the first time at the final table. Did being the overall chip leader have any bearing on the way you played and the risks that you were prepared to take?
I feel that I played a pretty similar style throughout the final table. I knew what I wanted to do and I was trying to press the action. The elimination of Tony helped me do that even more by solidifying my position, but I wouldn’t say it was a giant momentum shift.
You took a commanding chip lead into the heads-up with Farzad Bonyadi, but having played so many WPT events without taking home a title, were you at all worried about missing out again?
Honestly, I wasn’t nervous or worried at all. As silly as this sounds I really just thought I was destined to win. I had a big lead, I was feeling great and I was making the right moves. People may joke about this but I felt that I was “in the zone” – everything I was doing was working out and I was playing great poker, so I just thought there is no way that this could go wrong. I felt unbelievably confident and was very certain I was going to win.
Were you thinking about the title or the money at that stage or were you just focused on finishing the job off?
I definitely wasn’t thinking about the money. I was thinking a little about the title, but mostly just about getting the job done. I was just saying to myself, “Ok, I know what I’m supposed to do. I’ll just keep playing my game it will be over soon enough, because I know that I’m doing the right thing and sooner or later it’s going to pay off.”
Having been made to wait for a good three minutes in the final hand while you were sitting there holding the effective nuts, how did you feel when Bonyadi finally announced “call” and the match was over?
The last hand I thought was just a moment of inevitability. I had won almost every hand up until then and I had been very aggressive, so when I finally got an unbelievably strong hand and he raised, I got to go all-in knowing he would probably call. He was looking at me like he didn’t want to be bluffed by this kid one more time. I was pretty certain that he was going to call so I was just waiting for the inevitable.
Given that you’d had to wait so long for your first WPT title, did the fact that it came in the tour’s most prestigious event make it even more special?
Probably not as much as people would think – but it has earned me a lot of respect from my peers and that’s what matters to me. People came up to me and complimented me on how I played and that meant a lot because I get into any business, job or activity to prove myself. I want to be the best and I strive to be the best, so to try and achieve that at the highest level is what I’m always hoping to do.