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Joining us this week is Mike “Mcatdog” Catlin, an extremely successful online tournament professional.  Catlin has had a large amount of success in mid-to-high stake tournaments over the past year, including wins in the nightly Hundred Grand and the $100r on PokerStars.

Bigspenda73: Tell us a little bit about your poker history, how did you get your start?

Mike Catlin: In the summer after my junior year of college [2005], I was doing an internship with the defense department.  My roommate played sit-and-gos in the evening and he had made a few thousand dollars doing this.  I didn’t know that online poker existed before this, but I’m pretty good at doing quick math in my head and I figured that’s all you needed, so I thought I’d give it a try.  I deposited $25 on PokerRoom and played small stakes sit-and-gos during that summer.  By the end of the summer I had made several hundred dollars doing this.

When I went back to school I didn’t play too much poker due to school and my thesis, but once I was done with that I started playing some sit-and-gos and low stakes cash games, and found FTR.  I was pretty bad but the games were easy back then and what I learned on FTR was enough to make me about 20K by the
end of that summer.

Then I moved to California for graduate school right about the time the UIGEA was passed.  During school I didn’t play very much, but I still talked to the people I met on FTR and realized online poker was illegal in name only.  After my first year of school I started again from scratch playing SNGs and MTTs.
I had a lot of success in the Sunday Million satellites and that gave me enough of a bankroll to start playing higher-stakes MTTs and .5-1 and 1-2 cash games.  My cash game results were mediocre but I was doing very well in tournaments so I mostly stuck to them.

A few months later Renton (Thomas Luedke, a fellow mid-stakes professional) asked me why I was wasting my time with tournaments when I was clearly good enough to beat cash games.  Taking his advice I played the 2-4 and 3-6 full ring games for a couple of months, and those were my best two months ever up to that point.  By then I had enough disposable income to travel with FTR friends to Costa Rica, Las Vegas and Uruguay and had a terrific time.

After that summer I tried to move to 6-max and my results weren’t nearly as good as they’d been at full ring. I had a 20 buy-in downswing that left me discouraged, so I decided to play tournaments for a month and then come back to cash games.  Right about then I went on a massive heater, winning the nightly hundred grand and coming in 2nd place in the $100 re-buy three times within the span of a month.  I decided that I’m just much better at tournaments than I am at cash games so ever since
then I’ve stayed there.

BS73: Why do tournaments seem to be a better fit for your game?

MC: I’m very good at the math aspects of poker, but my intuition isn’t as strong.  When the stacks are shorter, it doesn’t require quite as much of that intuition to put people on ranges.  I think a lot of people have a decent idea of what range their opponent is on but they have trouble coming up with the optimal lines to take against that range.  That’s the part of the game that comes the easiest to me.

BS73: Speaking of tournaments, you play quite a full schedule both during the week and on weekends.  Could you run us through a typical “set” you might run during the week and also your schedule on Sundays?

MC: On a typical weekday session I’ll register for all the tournaments from $20 on up that begin within a two or three hour time frame, and play until I’m out of all of them.  Sometimes I add a few cash game tables if I only have a couple of tournaments left, but if I’m deep in a big tournament I’ll usually just one-table that.

MC: I try to play two or three of those sessions a week, usually starting at 5:00 with the 100 rebuy on PokerStars and the nightly $150 on Full Tilt. On Sunday I play much longer sessions, starting with the Sunday Warm-Up at 9:45 and going until I don’t have the energy to start any more tournaments.

BS73: You mentioned traveling around the world to play poker, what’s the biggest difference you’ve found in playing online tournaments vs. live tournaments?

MC: PCA (PokerStars Caribbean Adventure) and LAPT (Latin American Poker Tour) are both full of PokerStars qualifiers.  They’re much more similar to online tournaments than you might expect.  I’ve played some live tournaments in Las Vegas and at my local casino near San Francisco and I guess the main difference is that the players lack a lot of the fundamentals that I learned playing online. For example, they don’t know how to play a short stack, and they make some pretty basic post-flop mistakes like raising the flop with marginal hands to see where they’re at, and then not knowing what to do when they face more action.

BS73: speaking of live tournaments, where can we expect to see you this year?  Big plans for the 2009 WSOP?

MC: I plan to play a lot of events at the 2009 WSOP, and hopefully a couple of LAPT events in the fall.  I had a great time in both Costa Rica and Uruguay so I want to play some more of those.  I’d like to go to Europe but the EPT buyins are too steep for me right now so I’ll probably pass on those.

BS73: Could you list some of the bigger mistakes you see players making in late-stages of tournaments.

MC: The biggest mistake people make is having a sub-par push-botting game.  So much of a tournament is spent with a short stack that it’s impossible to be a big winner unless you’re solid in this phase.  It only takes a few hours of work using a program like SnG PowerTools or Sng Wizard to figure out what you should shove with depending on your position and stack size, and what you should call [others] shoves with.  There are people who play hundreds of tournaments a month yet don’t even take the time to do that, and that’s amazing to me.  When the stacks get a little deeper and you aren’t in shove or fold mode anymore, it’s a little harder to figure out what hands you should shove over people’s opens with, but it’s still solvable with a little work.

When you’re in a tougher tournament with people who know all this stuff, I suppose the biggest mistake people make is to play on autopilot and not adjust to their opponents. This is a mistake that I made often until recently [but] I’ve gotten better about it.  People play the same range of hands against everyone and they miss a lot of opportunities for exploitation that you can notice if you just pay closer attention.

Finally, a huge mistake that a lot of otherwise good players make is that they overvalue their small pairs when their stack size isn’t nearly big enough to set mine profitably.  My VPIP (Voluntarily Put Money in the Pot %) with small pairs is probably lower than anyone I know and it’s because I’m just folding them in a lot of spots where they’re unprofitable.

BS73: Which online MTT players game do you respect the most?

MC: The player I respect the most is definitely busto_soon (Johan Van Til, a top-ranked MTT Professional) just because of how big of a help his posts were to me when I was learning to play MTTs.  It would’ve taken me a lot longer to get decent without his help.  Some of the people I most dislike seeing at my table are Moorman1, Bakes, and The Universe.

BS73: Alright, time for the lightning round, can you handle it?

MC: I’m shaking in my boots but I’ll try.

BS73: Favorite sport to watch?

MC: Basketball

BS73: Favorite sport to play?

MC: Mountain biking

BS73: favorite movie?

MC: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

BS73: Favorite song?

MC: Don’t have one, sorry.  I’m a classical music nerd.

BS73: Poker player you’d most like to bust on TV?

MC: Humberto Brenes was really rude the one time i played with him live, so I’ll say him

BS73: Would you do the whole “sharrrrrrrk” thing in his face?

MC: I’d definitely make a show of it

BS73: favorite quote?

MC: man i’m choking

MC: I don’t know if i have one

BS73: man I’m choking, that from your favorite CPR poster?

MC: haha

MC: I really like that poster that says “not everyone can be an astronaut” and has a picture of McDonald’s french fries.

BS73: One final question before I let you go, would you rather win a WSOP bracelet or see the Pacers win the NBA Finals?

MC: Not even close.  The Pacers winning would be a memory I’d treasure forever.  I’d like to win a WSOP event for the money but the bracelet doesn’t mean any more to me than that.

BS73: A true fan to say the least, thanks for your time Mike.