Commentary

Heinz adjusts to live play at WSOP

Updated: October 21, 2011, 1:36 PM ET
By Bernard Lee | ESPN.com

Editor's note: You can watch Pius Heinz make his way toward the WSOP main event final table as Day 7 coverage continues on ESPN on Tuesday, Oct. 18 from 9-11 p.m. ET.

Most players have a specific reason they choose their starting Day 1 flight for the World Series of Poker main event. Some players feel a certain day has fewer pro/online players. Some want to play in smaller or larger fields. Some specifically choose Day 1D so they can have the least amount of time between days of competition.

However, 2011 November Niner Pius Heinz had his own, honest rationale for choosing Day 1A.

"I kind of wanted to get out of Vegas, just in case I busted out," the 22 year-old German online professional poker player candidly explained. "I was in Vegas since the beginning of June … I had stayed five weeks and I was just tired. I was looking forward to going home and seeing my friends and family. So, if I busted [on Day 1A], I could get out of there and go home as soon as possible."

[+] EnlargePius Heinz
AP Photo/Isaac BrekkenPius Heinz enters the final table seventh in chips

During the first level of Day 1A, Heinz would've gotten his wish had it not been for a spectacular read. About an hour into the main event, the cutoff seat, occupied by an older, conservative player, limped for 100 (blinds 50/100). Looking down at Ac-Kc, Heinz raised to 450 from the small blind and was called by the original limper. The dealer spread 10c-8c-2h on the flop.

"I led for 600. He briefly hesitates and makes it 1,200 and I called," Heinz said.

The 4d hit on the turn and both players conservatively checked. A supposedly "bingo" card for Heinz came on the river, the 9c. Having the nut flush, Heinz led for 1,800 and his opponent went into the tank for nearly two minutes, appearing like he was about to make the call.

"What is going on?" Heinz pondered in reflection. "If he called, it would be great, but if he raised, I truly put him on a straight flush. I decided that if he raised, I would just call."

After the agonizing delay, his opponent raised to 5,000 and amazingly, Heinz went with his gut instinct and just called. Once his opponent revealed Qc-Jc, Heinz showed his hand to the amazement of the entire table. Not only did Heinz's astute read save his tournament, Heinz felt his poker instincts were spot on.

"Based on this hand, I really so felt confident now in my live reads," said Heinz, who was working on the transition from online to live play all summer long. "I really did not have a lot of experience playing live and I definitely suffered in my first four or five events this summer at the WSOP. The live game is pretty boring and you need a lot of patience. To get more experience, I would go play cash after I busted a tournament. I needed practice even handling the chips."

Unfortunately for Heinz, he had lots of practice at the cash tables as he cashed once out of about 15 events this summer leading up the main event. Nevertheless, he didn't stray from his self-described style, which is often associated with young online players.

"I'm a really, really aggressive player, especially preflop," he said. "Sometimes, I cut back my aggression when my image is bad, but my default is being really aggressive."

The aggressive image and game plan wasn't always in his repertoire, but he developed his style in the same way that many others in the online generation had -- through friends, forums and a whole lot of poker.

"I started playing poker with my friends," he said. "We just saw coverage of the main event and High Stakes Poker on German television. After we saw them, we thought, 'Let's try it.' So we would play at a friend's house over the weekends and play small cash games or sit-and-gos."

Developing an interest for the game, Heinz decided to give online poker a try. He truly believed that the game was about skill, not luck, and he immersed himself in the poker world by reading poker forums online.

"When I started to play online, I found the big poker forums such as Pocketfives and 2+2. There I would discuss hands and situations and it really helped me with the fundamentals of my game and develop my aggressive style," he said.

Over the years, Heinz has played in thousands of online tournaments and made dozens of final tables. He earned more than $700,000 in online tournaments and thus, as he played the 2011 WSOP main event, he tried not to focus on the grandeur of the main event.

"Just having the experience online helped me so much," Heinz explained. "I tried to play every hand well, pick good spots and not spew away my chips. I tried not to focus that it was the main event, which is obviously the best and biggest tournament of the year. But at the end of the day, it is just another tournament and I've played a lot of them. I tried to look at the main event that way and I think it worked well."

His relatively simple mental approach seemed to work extremely well for seven days of competition. Entering Day 5 he was third in chips and he was second entering Day 6. He was still among the leaders after Day 7, but his tournament almost came to a sudden, crashing halt on Day 8 with 11 players remaining.

After Heinz three-bet shoved all-in with Kc-Jc, John Hewitt (who eventually became the 2011 WSOP final table bubble boy) snap-called with Ah-Ks. At risk, Heinz was slowly watching his main event chances slip away. The flop came 10c-8h-7h, giving Heinz a possible gutshot straight draw. The turn 6h eliminated more potential outs and Heinz felt his run was at an end.

"I was honestly not worried until the turn," he said. "But when the 6h came, giving John the flush draw, I just thought to myself, 'Oh well, I made it really far and made a sick run. If it wasn't meant to be, it was meant to be. Overall, there aren't many players who can say that they got this far in the main event.'"

Miraculously, one of his outs, the nine of diamonds, fell on the river, completing his straight and boosting his stack up to around 16.5 million.

"I was basically ready to get up and leave," he said. "Then, I saw the nine hit on the river and I couldn't believe it."

From there, the final table bubble was fairly uneventful for Heinz as he finished the four-hour ordeal with 16.4 million in chips. He'll return to the Penn & Teller Theatre on Nov. 6 seventh in chips, becoming the second German to make the WSOP final table. While making the final table is nice, Heinz wants to leave an impression on not only the poker world, but his country. "It would be nice if my run could make poker more popular in Germany, but only time will tell," he said.

Only eight players stand in the way of his claiming the $8.7 million top prize and the biggest bracelet of them all. If he's able to stay focused and patient and emerge on top, chances are poker in Germany is about to get much, much bigger.

Bernard Lee is a columnist for ESPN.com and the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Since finishing 13th in the 2005 WSOP Main Event, Lee has earned over $2 million in career earnings, including three poker titles. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Bernard is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and also the host of a weekly poker radio show in Boston, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show".

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