Episode 68: Mike McDonald

Mike freakin’ McDonald is on the show this week, talking about his meteoric rise to the top of the poker world, his unconventional views on the desirability of online gambling, his “retirement”, reg-filled rake fests, the Bank of Timex, the influence of staking on the modern tournament scene, and why he still plays both $10 and $100,000 tournaments. PLUS Mike sticks around for a meaty strategy segment that touches on topics such as dealing with overactive players, pre-flop raise sizing in tournaments, and hero checking.


0:30 – Hello and welcome; the Mike McDonald story
61:02 – Hero checking and other strategy concepts with Mike McDonald
Edit: I made a big mistake in my introduction, stating that Mike won the 2014 PCA Main Event. In fact they made a deal three-handed, and Mike went on to take second. Apologies to anyone I confused, and especially to Mike. I’ve added a correction to the audio file as well.

15 thoughts on “Episode 68: Mike McDonald

  1. Great episode. This one will certainly be on repeat.

    1. I check back the flop with a weak ace on Axx because a. I dont have a good value target and b. I know the guy defending 72o is not doing it to realize the equity of the hand. He’s doing it to rep the top card when I check back the flop so I give em rope.

    2. I have mixed feelings about the strategy segment. There was a ton of good info. But it was mostly the same great info provided week in and week out by Thinking Poker, TPE, Ed Miller, PokerSnowie, etc. This makes me happy to be learning from the best teachers in the world, but sad that I am still not winning. This is probably a mixture of 30% variance and 70% not playing my A game enough. Have to find a way to increase my focus and work on hearing yall’s voices in my head more often when I am playing. The one where Andrew says “if they are always calling your bluff over-bet in this spot, then why aren’t you always over-betting for value?” is particularly annoying because it perfectly logical. Common Sense for Dummies.

    3. 1:31:50, if you listen very closely, you can hear that Mike has a slightly Nate-like giggle. Bonus points.

  2. “I have mixed feelings about the strategy segment. There was a ton of good info. But it was mostly the same great info provided week in and week out by Thinking Poker, TPE, Ed Miller, PokerSnowie, etc. This makes me happy to be learning from the best teachers in the world, but sad that I am still not winning.”

    There is no magic elixir for becoming a winning player. Winning comes along a spectrum of improvement. From the universe’s perspective its just another hashmark along the way. So just as going from a good winning player to a better winning player is incremental and there is no elixir for that improvement, there is none to go from losing to winning.

    Also, the TP podcast made you no promises about becoming a winning player. Not that your post necessarily said that. Being and/or becoming a winner over the long term is hard.

    Finally, I think this was a very unique strategy segment, so I am having a hard time agreeing with you there. Mike’s right and I notice so many regs in my games suffering from this affliction of trying to value bet “sweet hands” or being worried that they are going to look dumb for checking back as opposed to really getting nitty-gritty with villain’s river continuing range. The leak is endemic yet talking about it is fairly novel. I see all these regs with the leak in my games and yet there are plenty of spots I have the leak myself!

    • Andrew has warned us on many occasions against value betting too thinly and not value targeting. I think this is close to what Mike was saying. I’ll have to listen again, but I dont recall him saying many things I haven’t heard before. That’s not to say I didnt like the segment or to discredit Mike at all. I am saying that, like Mike, Andrew and Nate are just that damn good at what they do. Now, if I can be half as good at implementing it consistently, I’d be ok.

      • That’s fair, actually. Point conceded. I guess I felt Mike brought a new frame to the concept that helped me at least.

        I will find some other spot to be hard on you ;).

  3. This is probably your best guest/episode ever. Definitely finished the episode thinking “wait, that was an hour and a half?” followed by, “I wish this was twice as long this week.”

    And talk about “obvious in retrospect, but I may never have quantified this on my own” advice, the discussion of the difference between holding top set and bottom two on a Ad 7d 2x 3x 9d vis a vis value targets was certainly a eureka moment for me. Thanks!


  4. Gentleman, you had my curiosity, now you have my attention. I have wondered about preflop bet sizing live for sometime. Finally I will allow my self to bet the way I feel works for me and never worry about my table image based on my opening bets. I knew these min bets invited unnecessary stickiness of the blinds, at least at my level of play. This was an important show. I have listened twice. Number 3 will on my ride home.

    Out of curiosity, did Mike indicate pre-show he didn’t wish to discuss strategy?

    • I agree on the bet sizing. I think it’s been taken for granted that raising small is best just because all the good players are doing it.

  5. Hi.

    I have listened to all your shows and I really like it. Beside learnig poker it makes me lough a few times each episod 🙂

    I heard about snowie from you. I am using it for a few months and it certainly did improve my game. However the open sizing preflop from snowie mantioned in this show are strange to me. I am always openng more from early and just 2 bb from button in 6 max. This certanly works in games I play (.5/1 cash six max), but I also suspect it is closer to gto then opening small early and more on the button.

    Snowie is certanly very strong player, but the game it plays is fixed limit with 3 bet sizes alowed 1/2 pot, 1 pot and 2x pot, with 2x being used very little. I suspect that this limitations on later streets might make snowie get more vale from steeling the blind on button then from being able to thin vale bet on the river. I do that with small bets of 1/4 to 1/3 of the pot on the river. I always decide what i wil do to raise before doing that – typicaly i will call agresive players and fold only to the most passive ones ( i dont do it much againt good tight ones). So i might be getting more value of playing a hand deep stack in position then snowie because of it’s bet sizing limitations. Or it is just that players on this level are playing so badly that I get more value playing postflop and against GTO player i would rather end hand prefop from button.

    There were so reference in latest video from snowie to mathematics of poker discovering that opening less early and mor late is better. What is your appinon on that?

  6. On the first listen, I was struck by how smart Mike is regarding money and quality of life. His explanation for continuing to play smaller tournaments was very good. He shows a lot of wisdom when he notes his life won’t change measurably if his bankroll grows by 100x. Lots of folks say that in an attempt to appear grounded or non-materialistic. But it is factually true for most people. Bill Gates has a net worth 10,000X mine, but when he flies in a plane, it goes the same speed as when I fly. His plane is nicer, but relative to his wealth advantage, only marginally nicer. He cannot eat 10,000X as much food, or drink 10,000X as much scotch as me. Cue Nate on Marginal Utility.

    The strategy was very good, but I’ll listen again before wading into that pool.

  7. I really enjoyed this – and quite liked the meta-level strategy discussion as a break from the more traditional hand analysis.

  8. Awesome interview! Basic question: when Mike said we can bet bottom two but not top set for value on that three-flush board, is that because having bottom two would mean there are a lot more Ax hands in our opponent’s calling range, as compared to when we have top set which greatly limits the number of Ax hands for our opponent, and instead weights his calling range towards made flushes?

    • Yes this is true. It’s a very important concept to grasp. Essentially, the cards in your hand should always be taken into account as blockers and not just in the more well documented spots like 3-betting light with a small Ax for example. Thinking this way will improve your range reading.

      As far as the hand in question, having bottom two leaves room for more value targets in villain’s range than having top set would. For more on this, I would suggest Daryl Jace’s TPE HH review videos and some quality time with PokerSnowie.

  9. Yeah, great episode.

    I think perhaps we discussed it in the comments to a past TPP, but whilst The Bank of Timex is an awesome idea, 1) Andrew’s point (credit risk) is a major issue that would inevitably lead to scandals if the idea became more widespread, and 2) it’s not at all clear to me from the financial markets that completeness is either necessary or even desirable for a financial market to work effectively.

    One thought I had listening to the discussion about diversifying into business/learning new trades, and it had struck me before a long time ago when you talked to Gareth, is that I think you can make a pretty strong case that a certain percentage of your time devoted to learning new skills/new games/new activities should be considered a fundamental part of your current game/business/whatever. I guess it probably applies to all of us to some extent, but it seems especially applicable for people who are occupying areas like NLHE or MTTs or other sources of income that seem more likely to be competed away. It’s like searching for new oil strikes before the existing wells dry up. I guess the counter case is when you’re involved in a real gold rush like 200x, when you the best action is to spend every waking hour you can filling your boots with the free money on offer, so perhaps there is a balance to be found.

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