Interview: Mike Johnson
Hometown: Sacramento, CA
Best Known For: Playing Queen-Four offsuit better than anyone in the world.
Mike Johnson started his poker career not too unlike many players: with a small deposit to an online poker room in pursuit of some fun. Today, he is a regular in mid- to high-stakes cash games where he is pacing towards a six-figure yearly income. Mike was able to close a few tables and take the time to share with us about his life of grinding $5/$10 and $10/$20 no-limit cash games.
online poker 468x60
PokerTips.org: First off, tell us how long you've been playing poker and how you got started.
Stecker: I think I was extremely competitive from an early age which is great for athletics and games and always beating the crap out of my friends in various activities. In late 2004, I made a deposit online with a friend and started playing NL hold'em, which was a great competitive outlet. I played all the random poker games growing up: baseball, low Chicago, and guts; but no-limit is completely different.
PokerTips.org: When you first began, what stakes were you playing and what was your experience in climbing the ladder to higher stakes?
Stecker: My first deposit was $200, so I played the $5 sit-'n'-gos and multi-table tournaments. I also dabbed in the $.10/$.25 and $.25/$.50 cash games. Looking back, I really learned a lot by making mistakes and being in different situations at these levels. I won a few multi-table tournaments at the $5 level, but it was the experience that was so important. Just seeing hands and trying not making the same dumb mistakes again helped a lot. I started working my way slowly up cash game limits and into some bigger tournaments as my bankroll grew. I never really set out to make a lot of money, I was just having fun. Now I find myself playing $5/$10 and $10/$20 no-limit and chasing a huge payday in the bigger tournaments.
PokerTips.org: The $5/$10 and $10/$20 no-limit games might not be the highest on the internet, but they're no joke, either. Do you find these games to be challenging? How much do they vary in difficulty from session to session and site to site? Are you picky about game selection?
Stecker: Yeah, these games are a challenge, but also a grind as well. Sessions can be swingy as you can drop 20-25 buy-ins on a downswing which to a mid stakes player, $25-$50k is a lot of cash. Some of the difficulty can be in your own mind. When it starts going bad, you wonder if you could even beat the penny stakes and when you're actually going to win again. People do play differently between sites, but it's all poker and you just have to adjust your game. I'm pretty picky about game selection, why play with five other regulars when you can pick off weaker players in a different game.
PokerTips.org: Undoubtedly there are a lot of good poker players chasing piles of cash in the stakes you play. What are some key strategy points you would say have helped you succeed against these players?
Stecker: At the smaller stakes, its all about just playing your cards and learning to get full value out of your hands. In mid-stakes, most everyone understands how to play the game, so its about understanding different player's hand ranges and trying to figure out what the best strategy is. Its just as much about what my opponent's cards are as it is about mine, so trying to keep one step ahead of my opponents thinking is crucial.
PokerTips.org: Do you ever dabble in multi-table tournaments? If so, how often and for what stakes?
Stecker: I played a bunch of online tournaments in 2007, ranging from $5 rebuy tournaments up to $500 freezeouts. I experimented with different ideas and had mixed results. This year I'm going to focus more on the cash games, but I definitely will be playing some Sunday majors and satellites to live tournaments.
PokerTips.org: What are some things you do away from the poker world?
Stecker: I play a bunch of tennis and golf, but I have been pulling a bunch of pranks on my friends lately. I have a friend that is ranked in the top 30 on the ATP (Associations of Tennis Professionals) Tour. He thought it would be really funny to prank me during his taping of the TV show 'No Strings'. I was playing online and he comes over and pulls the plug on my internet connection while I had pocket kings in a three bet pot. I should have asked him to give me the $1,000 he cost me, but I got him back pretty good in a barrage of good pranks.
PokerTips.org: Does it bother you that tournament players receive more media attention than cash game players, even though the latter are often taking more money from the game?
Stecker: Not at all. Tournament poker is a lot of fun to watch even to a casual observer. So many of my friends, even my retired friends that seemingly would have no interest in something like poker, love seeing the all-ins on late night TV. Plus they have High Stakes Poker on GSN, that's a great show.
PokerTips.org: In your experience with mid- to high-stakes online cash games, are the games generally getting harder, staying the same, or getting softer as time goes by?
Stecker: The games are getting more difficult as they evolve, but I am still amazed at some of the horrid plays I see. I would love to go back five years in time knowing what I know now about poker, that would be sweet.
PokerTips.org: What are some of your weaknesses as a poker player?
Stecker: Everyone has leaks but you have to be honest with yourself and spend time to find them, then make the necessary adjustments. I still leak away money for no reason in cash games during certain parts of my sessions. I just lose focus and give away money, its pretty frustrating.
PokerTips.org: What are some of the reoccurring weaknesses that your opponents display in high stakes cash games that have allowed you to succeed at those stakes?
Stecker: People can't fold. Playing marginal holdings out of position is a major leak I see in a lot of players at mid stakes games. They corner themselves into situations where they stack off.
PokerTips.org: Regarding your plans for the future, is poker something you hope to make a living off of for years to come, or are you more content with just taking things one day at a time?
Stecker: I am planning to get more serious about the game this year and really put in the time. I will always enjoy the game of poker, but I don't see it as a career path for my life. I'm just going to take it day by day and see what life throws at me.