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Home > Poker Pros > Articles > TJ Cloutier

Articles - TJ Cloutier

It's About Time to Bury Dead Money
by TJ Cloutier

We're seeing lots of final tables in tournaments these days at which several of the finalists have played only online poker and are playing their first brick-and-mortar casino tournament. Today, it's not unusual for half of them to be faces you've never seen in the poker world. To many people, it might appear to be a fluke that they're at the championship table fighting for the title against well-known players.

In the old days when there were fewer than 200 players entering the main event at the World Series of Poker — in 1985 when I finished second to Bill Smith, there were 140 entrants — we all used to remark that there was more "dead money" in the $10,000 tournament than in any other event. We meant that most players had practically no chance of winning, and that's how the expression "dead money" got started. But if you still believe there's that much dead money in today's big tournaments, you're dead wrong. In the old days, you could bet on a core of 25 to 50 players to win the "Big One." These days, you could pick the top 150 players and give somebody else the field — and the field would be a big favorite.

With all the poker books, poker seminars, and opportunities to practice online these days, there is no longer any room for the dead-money concept in poker tournaments. Today, everybody can play on a certain level, although some players, the so-called pros, obviously are better than others. What the pros sometimes forget is that anyone with some basic knowledge of how to play the game can pick up a hand here and there, and suddenly have a whole lot of chips. And on any given day, lots of chips combined with some old-fashioned horse sense can lead you to the winner's circle regardless of your level of experience.

Should you adjust your play according to the experience of the players you're up against? That's a good question. I'm not sure you should adjust it to their level of experience, but you certainly must adjust it according to how they're playing right now, what you've seen them do, and how you visualize their probable play. Lots of these young players are pretty experienced as a result of playing on the Internet. Their problem is that now they have to look at you eye-to-eye. Many of them play multiple tournaments online and have developed a lot of skill in how to play, but it's a little bit different when you have to look your opponents in the eye, knowing they're looking you in the eye, too.

Several people have asked me whether it's easier or tougher to play against inexperienced players. I admit that it's nice when I get to a final table and already know how everybody plays — the way it was in the old days — because then I don't have to figure it out. But I also like going to a table that has three or four players I haven't played with before and having to figure out how they play. It's a challenge I enjoy.

Isn't it more likely that a pro will take a bad beat at a table like that? I've been asked that question a lot. Yes, it is. But playing against people you don't know keeps you alert, because you have to learn how they're playing. Instead of just sitting down, relaxing, and getting into your comfort zone against a bunch of players you already know, your juices start flowing, and you're on your toes learning how they play. Once I learn what they're doing, I'll never forget it, so the next time we play together, I'll remember them. I certainly don't think of them as being dead money, which brings me back to my major point.

The television commentary of the 2003 World Series of Poker aggravated me, because I thought the announcers were out of line by putting so much emphasis on dead money. They showed Bob and Maureen Feduniak and referred to them as being dead money. What?! Maureen had just finished fourth on a PartyPoker cruise tournament, and had beaten Howard Lederer heads up in a Bellagio tournament; and, of course, Bob is well-known as being a successful tournament player. I just didn't appreciate it. No matter who it is, I believe that labeling people as being dead money is bad for poker. What about this businessman who wants to play? "I know I don't have much chance of winning, but do I want everybody in the world to think I'm a fool, that I'm just giving my $10,000 away?" he asks himself. Shouldn't we be encouraging people to play poker instead of driving them away?

Chris Moneymaker was ballyhooed as being dead money throughout the opening segments of the 2003 WSOP coverage. He set that notion to rest — and it's about time we bury it forever.


Editor's note: T.J. Cloutier is the co-author (with Tom McEvoy) of Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold'em and Championship Tournament Practice Hands.






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