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Learning from Allen Cunningham
Jay Greenspan
August 14, 2006

On Friday, Allen Cunningham completed another amazing World Series of Poker. He made three final tables in the 2006 WSOP, won one bracelet, and finished 4th in the Main Event. This comes on the heels of his 2005 WSOP performance, when he was named Player of Year after making four final tables and winning a bracelet.

During this year's WSOP, I wrote a blog for Full Tilt Poker and, during the Main Event, I decided to focus my coverage on Allen. For four days, I observed his play and, in that time, I came to see some of the qualities that make him so great. For this tip, I thought I would share some of what I have learned about the best WSOP player over the past two years.

Big Pot - Big Hand

The pros often say they're not going to play big pots without big hands, but Allen applies this principle better than most. Over the two days leading to the final table (about 18 hours of play), Allen played a total of four big pots. In two of them, he had sets. In one, he had the nut flush and, in the last, he had pocket Aces and was all-in pre-flop against pocket Kings.

When he had something like top pair, Allen played far more cautiously. He'd simply call bets or check one street so that he could control the size of the pot. When the big money went in, Allen had a hand that would hold up.

Don't Panic

The WSOP Main Event is a grueling two weeks. During that time, there are bound to be big shifts in fortune and Cunningham saw his change several times. On days 2 and 3, he was among the hip leaders. But a bad stretch of cards brought him close to the felt on day 4 and again on day 5. At one point on day 5, Allen had to survive a race to stay in the tournament.

When his chips got low, Allen didn't panic. He didn't push his chips in the pot with dreadful cards. While he had enough chips to survive a few rounds with the blinds, he waited for a hand that could win at showdown.

Of course, it took some luck to survive when his stack got low, but by being calm and patient, Allen gave himself the best possible chance to see another day.

Always the Observer

At the table, Allen is quiet, but friendly. He doesn't say anything during the course of a hand and he never shows his cards unless a hand goes to showdown. In the Main Event, Allen's opponents regularly showed their bluffs or tabled big hands that were uncalled. This gave Allen a distinct advantage that he could exploit. He was gaining knowledge on how they played their big hands and their bluffs, while his opponents were learning next to nothing about him.

Allen was always focused on his opponents, even when he wasn't in a hand. When a big confrontation occurred at his table, he studied the players' actions, picking up information that he could use later.

It's been an incredible year for Allen Cunningham. When ESPN broadcasts his play in the coming weeks, you'll get to see just how well he played in this year's WSOP.

Jay Greenspan
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