Dex Luna talks about his recent PPT run, Pilipinas Poker members and how you can turn frustration into something positive-- a special feature interview with PPT 2012 Leg 1 champion.
When Dex joined Pilipinas Poker (PP) last year he did not know what to expect--he was interested in the game and was equally intrigued by the prospect of meeting forum members who share the same pastime as him. One of the very first activities he indulged in at the PP forum was to join The Next PilipinasPoker Pro-- a program sponsored by Pilipinas Poker (PP) designed for poker veterans and newbies alike putting them in a rigorous schedule that emulates that of a poker pro’s daily grind and the first “reality poker online concept” of its kind in the country. Known as AmBisy0s0 in the PP forum, Dex made it to the testing stage but did not qualify to the next level (Top 3 advanced to the The Next PilipinasPoker Pro Training Stage) leaving Dex disappointed yet thirsty for more… Dex realized then that, (he) “felt wasting several hours of hard work for nothing. It was a frustrating experience, but (he) learned a lot from it.”
Fast forward to May 2012 and his final table appearance in the 1st leg of the Philippine Poker Tour— Dex again felt the same frustrations when play was 3-headed in the final day. About ready to give up and give in (and “settle” for a third place finish), the same The Next PilipinasPoker Pro frustrations came back to him making him realize that he wanted more than the 3rd place finish—he wanted to become a champion.
Pilipinas Poker (PP): From what province are you from?
Dex Luna (DL): The roots of my father are from Batangas and my mom is from Iloilo. I grew up in Iloilo and eventually transferred in Manila.
PP: Can you tell us more about yourself outside a poker room or when not playing poker online?
DL: My schedule is tight. I am a workaholic and I love doing business. I can dwell on any business idea for a whole day. I just love anything that has got to do with making Profit-- with a capital P. (Laughs)
I am the Operations Manager of Logisticus, Inc. It is a relatively new business so I have to focus and make sure that I am on top of things. I was connected before with Department of Health.
PP: At what age did you start playing poker? When did you start to take the game more seriously?
DL: I took it seriously when I did not qualify in The Next PilipinasPoker Pro training last year. I was so close to being qualified, but things did not turn out as I wanted it to be. I felt wasting several hours of hard work for nothing. It was a frustrating experience, but I learned a lot from it.
It all started when my brother and our friends taught me how to play it during an outing last year. I got addicted to it right away because bluffing was fun and exciting! (Laughs) Eventually, I learned a few more tips in poker until I started playing small tournaments. I only played tournaments because I never had the guts to play cash games fearing of losing a lot.
PP: Any non-poker stuff you want to share with us?
DL: For whatever reason, I love solving trivia questions while driving or walking. I am not nerd, but it keeps me preoccupied other than my problems with work.
PP: What influenced you to play poker from the start?
DL: After learning that poker pros actually make a living out of playing poker, I got intrigued and wanted to learn more. I am hoping that I can someday retire and play poker just like the pros.
PP: Do you play online poker? Where? At what stakes?
DL: I only learned how to play online poker during The Next PilipinasPoker Pro last year. I only got to play in NL2. As of now, I do not play in any online poker because I do not have time and most importantly, I do not have bankroll! (Laughs)
PP: Which one do you prefer, cash games or tournaments?
DL: In tournaments, you get to see the skills of different poker players. Not much in cash games.
PP: How tough was the PPT1 field, knowing you're up against some of the best pros in the country
DL: I am a nobody in poker. And when you are just a nobody, you look up to all the veterans and pros. I try to emulate all their playing styles. Of course, I had all sorts of problems trying to figure out each of the veterans’ traps, and had to call Lady Luck every time I had a heads-up encounter with a pro.
PP: The structure of PPT is similar to the big tournaments; did it favor your game or your style?
DL: I like the structure because it gave me a leeway to bluff… and to recover my losses from bluffing! (Laughs) The only major adjustment I did was to make sure that I had carbo-loading because it was half-a-day of playing. Other than that, everything was just the same.
PP: Describe to us the road to the Final Day then Final Table? Any specific hands/plays/situations you remember?
DL: I was already happy and contented being on the Final Day. That was just my goal, and for an amateur like me, it was already an achievement! But as the game progressed and we were getting fewer, I realized that I could actually be in the Final Table! I got tighter because I was also getting nervous. I did not want anybody noticing my cold and trembling hands. All sorts of things came to my head. There was even a point when I was trying to recall the tips I have read on a magazine on what a player should do in the final table. The bad thing was I did not focus on that article because the thought of being in the final table in a major tournament did not even cross my mind!
PP: What part of the tournament would you consider the key to your run?
DL: I would say that the turning point was when I went all-in with a flush draw when we were down to the last three. I realized after I took the pot that it could have gone the other way and I could actually be out of the tournament already had I not hit my flush. It struck me then that I was that close and I could not afford to lose focus when the crown was within reach.
PP: Going into the Final Table, you had 1.7M in chips--- the chip-leader, what was running through your head at this point and how did it affect your strategy knowing you covered all other 8 people in that Final Table?
DL: My stack was not that much of an advantage considering the average chip stack of the final table. I was thinking that it was still anybody’s ball game and I have to continue my game strategy. My objectives were to avoid the big stacks and to pound on the smaller stacks.
PP: At one point during the Final Table (with 7 players left) you lost the chip lead. Did you feel any urge to change gear or did you stick to your plan?
DL: I made a wrong decision during that hand. It was a mental lapse. Had to recover from it right away because I lost a big pot. My game plan was still the same until the final three.
PP: Similarly, with 4 players left, 2 players (Tampepe and Joseph San Diego) you were 3rd in the chip count (still with around 1.7M)— what kept you going and keep your composure despite having the smaller stack?
DL: Honestly, at this point in time, I was already exhausted physically and mentally. I was already happy winning fourth and wanted to go home and sleep. I have been playing for hours and did not even take anything for dinner. This was a tough battle between my sleepy eyes and my urge to win.
PP: With 3 players left in the tournament you took a huge pot to stack your chips up to around 3.5M—however, you lost the chip lead again somewhere. How did you handle the up-and-down swings at this point of the tournament? (At one point we saw you with just 640K but doubled up with a flush draw—hitting the flush on the river)
DL: I was getting impatient with the game. None of the other players was playing anymore. They were all waiting for the best hands to come. With a minimum raise, they will fold their hands. I was thinking that it would take us a billion light years to finish the tournament with their styles of play. It was a very, very long agony for me.
I was on the brink of quitting and calling it a day until somebody I idolized approached me and told me to stay focused and to remember the endurance test I have undergone in The Next PilipinasPoker Pro. And for whatever reason, that gave me a wake-up call! All my frustrations flashed back and I told myself that I won’t go home frustrated again and short of making it to my goal. That was my time to prove myself. I was two players away from winning and I had to nail it! It was now or never.
Even with a short stack at that time, I was determined to win it all. I decided to adjust my style and gambled on limping preflop my legit hands so that we would see the flop and eventually hope that I set a good trap on them. That was the only way for me to get chips from them. Eventually, it paid off when I had a flush on the flop and ousted the other player who had two pairs.
When it came to our heads-up battle, I readjusted my style and played loose aggressive. My goal at that time was to make my opponent tilt so that he would play loosely also and he would let go some of his chips. I was ready to raise all my hands preflop regardless of what hands I had. I knew that he was getting frustrated with my constant raises preflop when he shoved during one of my raises. After that, I continued my preflop raises and hoped for the perfect timing. The rest was history when I got hold of suited A-K and he shoved with his suited J-9. At last, the tournament was over and can now sleep soundly knowing that I did not let go of my dream! =)
PP: How much overwhelmed are you becoming the first PPT champ this year—considering you are the first guy to have a legit chance to advance to the World Series of Poker (WSOP)?
DL: Winning the first leg of PPT and getting a crack at a possibility of playing in WSOP have not really sunk in to me yet. Maybe I would get to realize that come March 2013! (Laughs)
PP: The Final Table was covered by a TV crew; did it affect you and your game in any way? How did you handle all those interviews?
DL: (For) once in my life I got the chance to experience how it was to be in an actual TV shooting. I could have enjoyed it, but the worst part was, I was dead-tired, sleepy and hungry. The three things that entered my thoughts at that time were food, bed and pillows. Those were the only things that mattered. I did not care anymore if I looked good in TV nor did I answer the questions correctly.
PP: Is this your biggest win yet?
DL: Yes, this is my biggest win. I have not won in any major tournament. I am an amateur. In the past major events, I just lasted until the second day. There was once that I was close to being ITM but I fell short.
PP: What year did you join PP? Who do you look up to as poker players in that site?
DL: I joined PilipinasPoker last year upon the invitation of Sir Steer. I was lucky to have been invited and I take it as an honor to be a member of Pilipinas Poker. I would say that most of the PP members, if not all, are very, very good poker players. All of them are my idols and I would always be one of their avid fans. I am still a newbie and I would always ask for tips from them whenever I get the chance. They are the people who literally sleep, eat and work on the poker table. (Laughs)
PP: Over 600K in earnings so what did you plan with the extra cash?
DL: This may sound patriotic, but I have long planned on creating a charity poker event for the benefit of patients in the public hospitals and for the benefit of elementary students in public schools. I was already planning this even before the tournament. This is my simple way of repaying the Filipino people for the education that I had. I am indebted to my country.
(PPT1 Champ Dex Luna is very serious in “repaying the Filipino people”— starting with Pilipinas Poker members. From June 4 to 16, PP members can get free seats at Donkroom.com to Leg 2 (June 21-25) of the Philippine Poker Tour set later this month courtesy of the champion. For details, go to AmBisy0s0’s Freeroll thread at the PP forums. Interview and Edited by The Narrator; Pictures/hand-specific/chip count related questions courtesy of PP Live Reporters MasterDylan, Tiktak, Voodooguru plus other PP members.)