Poker Portal Asia

Reliving the APT Run with Michael Cua

Michael Cua, in the heads-up battle versus Mike Puno during the APT Philippines 2010 Main EventMichael Cua, in the heads-up battle versus Mike Puno during the APT Philippines 2010 Main Event

Poker Portal Asia caught up with last year’s Asian Poker Tour (APT) Philippines Main Event champion, Michael Cua for a very short long chat. And not that we are whining about it because interviews are always, “the longer the better” especially if we’re talking with an outspoken and smart individual who has unquestionable passion for the game of poker.

PPA: How are you Mike! What have you been doing the past year? What’s the poker grind like in 2010?

MC: I’m doing well! Just to give you a background, 2010 was a year of exciting and uncertain change for me. At the start of the year, I decided to risk a promising HP career to pursue my passion for poker. It was fraught with uncertainties and deep concerns from my family.

I had a rough first two months where I was earning significantly less than my HP salary. I even contemplated going back to the corporate life. I decided to give myself one more month. I committed to live and breathe poker in March. This was my last chance. Fortunately, it paid off and I had an excellent month that started a positive trend.

Before the APT win, I have been grinding online quite a lot. I would say I play 80% online and 20% live. I play most of the time at Fulltilt and sometimes at Pokerstars. In the live scene, I also had a bad start similar to online. I did not cash in my first 6-7 tournaments for the year. I realized that I was playing too tight because I put too much value in my tournament life. I experimented loosening up gradually. It paid off and resulted in 2nd place at the Metro FHM tournament in May. However, my first live tourney win was still elusive.

I experienced a breakthrough when I went to Vegas in June. I wanted to try the $1K WSOP event but backed out after seeing the turbo stucture, which is not suitable for my style. However, I found a gem in the Aria daily tournament where I went on a 3-day rush and finished very deep (2nd, 1st and 4th consecutively). Ironically, I had my first live tournament win abroad haha! I was waiting for it for a long time. It felt so great. It also boosted my confidence that I can close out a win.

PPA: We know it’s been told many times already, but for those who doesn’t know and well, because it’s an inspirational story for many poker players, can you give us a summary on how you’ve won the APT title in 2010? What were the more memorable moments from your experience there?

MC: For the APT Philippines seat, I bought in for P5,000 at Resorts World Manila Satellite Series 3 a few days after coming back from Las Vegas. I was just contented to apply my learnings from Vegas. Little did I know, a dream was in the making. Before I knew it, I was the chip leader at the final table. After 9 hours of play, I proceeded to take down the tournament for P69,600 and the APT Philippines 2010 seat.

Lady luck was smiling widely at me that day. The final hand that won me the tournament was the ladies, QQ. It is one of the most awesome feelings to win my first tournament back! I just had to pinch myself to confirm that it was not a dream! That’s what I get for watching Inception the previous day haha!

For the APT Philippines, it was the ultimate fairy tale tournament for me. I was able to slowly chip up until the bubble. That’s when the fairy tale nearly turned into a nightmare. I nearly left with a big fat $0. During the bubble, I still had a decent stack and waited for the shorter stacks to bust out since I have been receiving crappy cards.

However, after 14 different all-ins, I became the shortest stack with 13500 chips and blinds of 1500/3000. Everyone was waiting for me to be eliminated. In one of the most thrilling hands, Bryan Huang raised and I pushed all-in with AJ. Bryan mentioned that he has been busting bubbles. He had A2o with A of diamonds. The flop was 3 different diamonds and it added to the drama. I was ready to be eliminated and told my tablemates:”I’ll take it like a man and make all of you happy.” Fortunately, the turn and river were K with no diamonds. It made them more nervous again haha!

Luck significantly turned for the better. Alan Escano raised UTG 8000 and I received 2 beautiful Aces. I pushed all-in with around 36000. Coincidentally, after counting both our stacks, we had exactly the same stack size. If he called, one of us will be out except if it was a chop. It must have been the most excruciating decision for him. After tanking for a long time, he called with AK. The board blanked and the bubble finally burst after 2 hours.

After the bubble, I was just very grateful to be in the money and I saw every pay increase as a Blessing. I just focused on making the best decision possible.

In the final table of 9, I was the shortest stack at 146k. The chip leader was 1.7m. Since I was the shortest stack, I played with no pressure and just picked the right spots to go all-in. Playing a lot of sit-n-gos significantly helped me in my push/fold decision. I was fortunate that most of the time, players folded when I went all-in. When they called, I doubled up.

The crucial moment came when we were 3-handed. Bryan Huang raised and I pushed all-in with KK. Both Mike Puno and Bryan called with AQ and TT respectively. I hit my set to triple up and make Bryan the short stack. In the next blind vs blind confrontation, he pushed and I insta-called with KQs to eliminate him. I was very ecstatic to eliminate him because he was the toughest player at the final table.

After that, I experienced a rush of emotions. I just couldn’t believe that I am head’s up for the APT title. Fortunately for me, just when I needed it most, I experienced an “in the zone” moment that I have never felt before. Even though there were a lot of spectators and the cash was displayed at the table, I was just so focused on the game. I followed my gut and was able to make the right play at the right time! It propelled me to live a dream and a fairy tale!

PPA: Is there a marked difference on how you play the game now that virtually everyone at the table knows you as the “APT champion” as compared to your 2010-run when you were rather unknown and unheralded from the satellites all the way to the Final Table?

MC: Yes, it is definitely harder to play after the APT Philippines victory. I experimented playing a much looser style and it backfired. I noticed people are calling me lighter. To adjust to it, I have to revert back to a more tight-aggressive style of play. Poker is a game of adjustments so I will just have to adapt to it.

PPA: You’ve experienced playing in Macau, what was the it like? How would you describe the level of play, the quality of competition, the overall atmosphere of the poker room as compared to the Philippine scene?

MC: I would say Macau has a lot more “gamblers” than the Philippines or Vegas hehe! So far, majority of players I play with call long shots without taking the pot odds or implied odds into account. Fold equity is significantly lower so the best way to play is to value bet and extract maximum value. It could be more profitable to play in Macau in the long run but the variance will be much swingier.

Since I am a person who prefers a slow-and-steady climb, my style is suitable for Las Vegas where players up to $2/$5 are nittier. People there fold more and it is not uncommon to see chops. Chop happens when everyone folds to the small blind and big blind and both players decide not to play the hand. It eliminates the rake and speeds up the game for others. In Macau, from recollection, I haven’t even seen a chop except for pork chop haha!

I think poker in Macau has a lot of significant growth ahead. It was great to see that the APT Macau 2010 winner is an 18-year old mainland Chinese. It will serve as an inspiration for more Chinese to play the game! (Editor’s note: Zhang Dan Peng from Guangzhou, China won the APT Macau 2010 main event.)

PPA: What’s your advice to other players who wants to find similar success in the poker tournament scene?

MC: I advice players to play, learn and then apply the learnings in the next tournament. Sometimes, it is hard to differentiate the luck and skill factor of the game. I peg poker at around 80% skill and 20% luck. Although when I’m on a downswing, it seems like 80% is luck hahaha! The only way to combat the luck factor is increased volume so players have to play more.

Aside from the technical aspects of poker, the psychological and emotional part is equally important, or even more important for some. The quote “Poker is a hard way to make an easy living” holds very true! Handling bad beats and downswings is the hardest part of being a poker player. It is the main difference between being broke or a long-term winner if technical skill is similar between two players.

I also advice playing online poker for practice. It significantly reduces the learning curve because of the faster speed of the game and multi-tabling! If you look at the past 3 winners of the WSOP Main Event, they were all primarily online players.

PPA: Can you tell us a little about your bankroll management, the thinking process in selecting which tourneys to join, and your preferred blinds for cash games…

MC: With regards to bankroll management, I am conservative and recommend 30-50 buy-ins. Online, my worst downswing was 25-30 buy-ins. I was able to withstand it because of conservative bankroll management.

For starting players, you have a chance to turn $50 into something big. Actually, I started playing at Fulltilt with just $50 and focused initially on $1 sngs. I was able to keep my deposit afloat thanks to the deposit bonus and refer-a-friend bonus. After getting the hang of it, I was able to build up my bankroll and play up to $100 sngs. However, now, I 8-table mostly from $20-$50 sngs to minimize the variance.

With regards to my preferred type of play, I choose SNGs/tournaments over cash games because of the excitement of the bubble and a victory! Below are my preferred blinds and structures:

1. Tournaments – 10k starting chips with 25/50 starting blinds and 30 minutes or more blind level. I noticed that my tournament results are way better in longer blind levels so I have minimized playing in the smaller tournaments. For tight-aggressive players like me, longer blind levels provide more play and minimize variance. For loose-aggressive players and “gamblers”, faster blind structure rewards them.

2. Cash game – PHP25/50-PHP50/100 in the Philippines. $10/25-$25/50 in Macau. $1/2-$2/5 in Vegas. Ironically, I feel the money more in PHP. I guess it is because when I am abroad, I think of the money as vacation expense so I play better hehe!

PPA: So can we expect you in the next APT?

MC: I am super excited for the APT Philippines 2011 as a whole. I am not particularly a heads up player but I will practice hard for the event I am excited to play and learn from the top Asian poker players! It will be fun! (Editor’s note: Cua is playing in the Asian Heads Up Championship as well as the Main Event)

I would definitely want to win APT Philippines 2011 Main Event. However, I understand tournament variance and it will be a long shot realistically. Rest assured, I will play my best in defending the APT Philippines title!

To my fellow Filipino poker players, the APT Philippines title has been in our beloved country for the past 2 years. I hope more Filipinos join the APT Philippines 2011 so we can maximize our defense of the title. If I don’t win it, the next best thing is that another Filipino wins it!

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