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Catching up with online poker legend Randy “nanonoko” Lew

Randy “nanonoko” Lew made a name for himself by 24-tabling 6-Max No Limit Hold’em mid stakes on PokerStars and in the process achieved Supernova Elite six times. He is now a familiar face in the Asian live poker circuit.

An interview by Gaelle Jaudon

SMP: You were first known for crushing online. How did you work to become successful in this very competitive field?

Randy Lew: Basically, when I first started playing poker, I had a very competitive background because I used to play competitive videos games. When I felt I wasn’t doing good and not winning, it made me try harder. When I started to play, I was thinking about the game constantly, wondering why I’m not doing well and trying to fix those mistakes. What I do is I always think about how my opponents play. For example, when I realize someone is playing very aggressive against me, I usually like to try and recreate what my opponent is doing. Back in the day someone re-raising wasn’t really common, but then I played some people who re-raised me, very often pre-flop, and I wasn’t very comfortable, so my way of counteracting was to replicate it. The next session I would try to re-raise a lot to see how my opponent reacted to it, to better understand what my opponent was doing. That’s how I approached the game, it’s always about practice and trying to practice how my opponents would play to stay ahead of the curve and still be good as the game gets tougher and tougher.

SMP: As you said, you played video games before poker. What kind of skills helped you when you switched to poker?

RL: I used to play Street Fighter, and you need very good hand-eye coordination. It’s not like chess or poker, where you can take as much time as you need to make a decision; you always have to act very quickly. If you don’t act in time, you lose, so that may have helped me to be good at multi-tabling; it made it very easy for me to play 24 tables at once. That’s good because if I can play so many more hands, I can learn faster than a normal person and practice strategy. Also, in those types of games (video games), you play against other players as well, so that also made me very competitive. When you lose at Street Fighter, you want to practice more, try different strategies, etc. It’s the same with poker. If someone tries a strategy against me, I’ll try to recreate this play from his point of view, so it’s a very similar approach I guess.

SMP: Some articles and people said your online success was more due to the extreme volume you put into the game rather than your poker skills themselves. What is your reply to that?

RL: It’s a bit of both. I do think that the volume helped me a lot to kind of practice the strategies a lot more, but I think I also have a lot of poker skills. I think I’m unique in the sense that I have very good poker skills and a very good work ethic for volume. I think a lot of people don’t practice the game the way I do. As I explained earlier, I try to recreate the strategies of my opponents so I can understand them better. A lot of people study their strategy only and try to balance it using GTO or solvers, but only for their game, not really for their opponent’s game that much, and I think that’s what makes me unique. I think it’s a different skill.

SMP: In a recent interview, Faraz Jakah said when you’re multi-tabling too much you end up playing on auto-pilot mode, which is not necessarily good for your game because it can make you lose your thinking process. What’s your opinion on that?

RL: I agree that when most people multi-table their decisions are automatic; they don’t really think too much about the game flow, and they might make the best decision against the field rather than a specific player. For example, maybe you bet on a river you and you get check-raise all in, you might think to just fold because people generally do not bluff here. You might make this decision because when you have too many tables you don’t have time to think out every hand individually. So I think that’s one of the bad parts of multi-tabling—you over-generalize—but I think I’m pretty unique in that scenario because I can multi-table a lot and think about each hand individually pretty well. I’m not that automatic when I play. I like to use color tags on certain opponents to quickly identify who is who when I have a lot of tables. Also, when I play mid-stakes, I play 24 tables at a time, but when I play 25/50 or 50/100, I usually play fewer tables, maybe 2 to 4 tables of high stakes, so I have a lot more time to think about the hands. Since I play a good amount of volume like that as well, when I go back playing 24 tables, I have a lot more decision choices than people who always play 24 tables every single day at the same stakes.

SMP: What do you think about the future of poker with all the advancements in GTO solvers?

RL: I think that GTO solvers are pretty important for playing a very balanced and un-exploitable type of game. I think it’s important to understand it and kind of know how your opponents are thinking. Right now a lot of good players are using those PIO and GTO solvers, and it would be a mistake for me as a player to not try to understand it or try to understand how they are thinking. If I understand this player is really a PIO solver player, then I know how he thinks about hands, and maybe I can change the way I play certain hands to make my hands more profitable against them. A lot of time GTO players like to be balanced; they don’t like to have a 100% one action. In that case, I know in certain spots they feel they must do a call in certain hands, especially because of blockers, so I can potentially use that to my advantage if I think they are going to call more on certain spots. It’s very complex. I do think it’s important, and the more tables you play makes it even more important because it makes you more balanced. It’s harder for your play to be exploited. My preference is still to play an exploitable game, but I never discount someone’s strategy because it’s not the way I would play. I’d rather understand their strategy and then create a counter strategy.

SMP: Have the PokerStars transformations in recent years changed your way of grinding?

RL: I don’t grind 24 tables anymore. I’ve been playing for a really long time now! For me, personally, I still enjoy cash games a lot because I find that the decisions are pretty complex; it’s a very different dynamic. I created some new goals in poker. I want to be a better tournament player, for multiple reasons. The main reason is that I haven’t played that many tournaments, and it’s refreshing to play the same game but in a different format. Usually you can’t rebuy, and when you get to a final table the payout makes people play tighter or looser because of the pay jump, etc. These are new concepts that don’t exist in the cash game, and I find it fun and challenging to try new strategies to beat a game that I’m not as familiar with. But it’s not like learning Omaha or a new game; it’s still no-limit but with new strategies.

SMP: When we look at The Hendon Mob, the interesting thing is that we see quite a lot of results in small buy-in tournaments, between 100$ to 500$, which is surprising. Why keep playing small live events? What do you like about that?

RL: Like I said, I don’t think I’m the best tournament player or even close at all, so I feel that I have a lot of strategies I need to develop. I’m learning more and more about live tools, and I need to practice. I don’t like to jump and play only 10k event buy-ins and higher. If I have the time to practice, I have to do it. I only have maybe 2 wins in my Hendon Mob. The first and biggest one is from Macau very early in my career, and the other is a very small one in the US, so I don’t have that many wins. Right now I just want to try to get as many wins and final tables as I can to have more experience. I really feel I’m getting very good at tournaments, and when I get my chance to get a big final table, I don’t want to regret not practicing enough. So I’m willing to put in the work even while I’m playing a 200$ tournament. When I play those tournaments, I’m really trying to win. I’m not trying to min-cash. I’m trying to push my edges and see where I can get in live poker, because it’s so different from online poker.

SMP: What are the aspects of live poker that you like the most?

RL: The most important thing is that the prize pool is bigger in live poker, the buy-ins too, and I like the idea of having at least a six-figure prize for first. I find that I’m much more excited when I deep run a tournament in the live scene. People stare each other down, you have TV tables, etc. It feels like a dream or a movie. A lot of new players always dream of winning a new tournament, and it kind of reminds me of that. It’s more fun to get deep in live, but live tournaments are also annoying when you get bad hands all day and bust to zero. Online, you can just play in your room, and it’s very fast; you don’t have to waste a whole day. So I like both, but they’re very different.

SMP: Some online players like you, who switched to the live scene, say they want to prove something on the live field. Is that a feeling that you share?

RL: Yeah, I’m like that too. I didn’t play that many tournaments before because back in the day, not nowadays, online players didn’t respect live tournament players that much. The tended to think that just the luckiest player wins the tournament, or that certain live pros are not as good as people think. So I just assumed that if everyone was saying that on internet, it should be true, and that’s why I didn’t really go play live tournaments. But now I don’t think that’s true at all. I didn’t realize how much live poker is different from online, and I think that live pros are really good players. In live games, obviously, they don’t run the same amount of tournaments as online, but if the same players are always making the final tables and the same player is always winning tournaments, there must be skills. It can’t be coincidence or luck. That’s why I also want to prove myself. If it is a skills game, like I think it is after observing it a lot more, I want to show that I can do it too. I think that a lot of people that come from the online background have done very well at the EPT, WPT, and WSOP events, and I want to do that too.

SMP: You’re also popular on Twitch. What is the most important thing to do in order to have good Twitch content?

RL: There are two things I always try to push when I’m streaming with my whole cards up. One, I think I’m one of the strongest player who stream on Twitch, so I think that the viewers really appreciate the way I talk about hands and explain it. I try to explain the hands very clearly and give as much as information as I can because I think that a lot of streamers are not that good at explaining how they think and why they’re making that decision. For example, they would say, “oh standard, a bad beat,” but they don’t explain why this is standard. A lot of inspiring players watching Twitch want to be good and want to learn. I want to give them the opportunity to do that, and I think that’s a unique thing about my channel. Usually, some people think I’m giving the best strategy on Twitch.

Another thing that’s important to me is that they’re also having a good time. I just try to joke around a lot, joke about me a lot too, when I get bad beat or something. Most people go to my channel because they think it’s very relaxing. I’m not trying to kick out everyone who says something negative or mean. I’m very easy going, and I think people like that.

SMP: What would be the biggest mistake to avoid if you want to have a good Twitch? What advice could you give?

RL: On Twitch you really should, even if it’s really hard to do it because there will always be negative people on the chat, try not to pay attention to it. So let’s say I make a bluff and get called, or I make a big fold, some people are always going to make fun of that and criticize you. You have to try your best not to be annoyed because of the chat. They’ll always try to make you upset because they think it’s funny, and usually what happens is that you’ll try to explain yourself even more, which is going to make it even worse. You can’t take the chat that seriously. You know you own strengths, and you know why you made that play, and you can admit if you make a mistake or not to the people. You’re the professional and the one taking your time out to stream, so the players who are trying to give you a hard time through the chat are here to watch you, and you’re not here to listen to them, I guess.

SMP: On a more personal aspect, you proposed to Celina Lin, who’s also on the Pokerstars team. You’re both grinding and travelling a lot for poker, so how do you balance your life?

RL: We don’t play poker every day, which is good, because it allows us to just enjoy life and enjoy other’s company. Usually when we play poker, we go to a live tournament for like 7 to 10 days, but during that time, it’s almost all poker all the time. We discuss hands, we let each other vent about bad beats, we play tournaments, etc. After that we go somewhere or go back home and have a little vacation. We don’t play too much poker; we just stay involved in the news and social media to know what’s going on. We don’t really grind every day, 10 hours a day, all the time. So I think that’s a pretty good balance. When we want to play, we put a lot of energy and time into it, and other than that, we try to enjoy life more.

SMP: And is it not complicated sometimes for both of you to be in the spotlight? How do you handle that?

RL: It’s pretty easy. We’re both really friendly with poker fans and the media, etc. Usually when we go to any stop, whether it’s Asia or Europe, we have some poker fans who want to take pictures and chat with us. Some players don’t really chat with the fans, but we both really appreciate what we have. We like to talk about everything that makes them feel very welcome; we’re happy about that. You know, we’re poker celebrities, not movie stars! People don’t ask us for autographs in the street or stuff like that! Although it can happen very occasionally, we’re not very egotistical people. Just because we’re poker celebrities doesn’t mean that we’re better than anybody else. I think that’s a very good way of thinking.

Randy Lew and Celina Lin @ EPT Monaco 2018

SMP: Concerning your game, what are the most important poker skills you’re focusing on and want to improve today?

RL: It’s very simple. I want to have a better pre-poker and after-poker routine. For example, usually I just play poker when I feel like it, or if I wake up and don’t feel it, I just decide to late reg the tournament. It’s very random. But I would prefer to have a better routine, like always go to the gym 30 minutes before I play, more consistency to help train my mind so with this routine I know I’m ready to play poker, and maybe I’ll play better. It makes you feel much healthier and more relaxed. I would like to try to always have some good food before I play, because when you don’t, you’re usually very rushed eating during the tournament, and you order take-out or food at the table, which is not really good for you. So I want to work on those types of simple things. Also, I would like to try taking like 15 minutes after I’ve played to just think about the things I did well or some mistakes I made and try to be more honest about it. Some people think very results-oriented, and I try not to think like this and be more open-minded, but if I can have this consistency every time I play, I think it would make me a way better poker player.

SMP: What could change in your life in the next couple years? Do you have any projects?

RL: Poker is still the biggest part of my life right now. I think I will still be in this industry for a long time. I do like the idea of trying new things. For example, I might try commentating more live poker events, because I think I’m good at explaining myself. I might try to make poker-related YouTube videos poker and talk about some concepts. I have a lot of ideas, but usually I don’t have the time to say it out loud, and I think people would benefit from that. So I’m thinking of doing this soon or over the next year. I want to try to find more ways to use my poker talent and reach the fans and the viewers in a different way than just playing at the table.

SMP: WSOP is starting really soon now. Do you have a big schedule of tournaments?

RL: I don’t really have a big schedule. I used to play the WSOP as much as I could at the very beginning, but as I get older, I like to pick and choose a little bit more. I don’t like to play a tournament just because I feel I have to play it because it’s a good value. I’ll go there a week before the WSOP starts and play some events there, but it’s not a big priority for me if I miss some tournaments, because I think that playing more than one month straight of poker 8-10 hours a day is very tiring and maybe not the most healthy thing to do. But before going to Vegas, I always try to play as much SCOOP as I can, because it’s very good practice right before the WSOP with similar buy-ins or lower, and you can play a lot more hands.

SMP: There are also very good cash game tables in Vegas during the series, so are you going to play them also?

RL: I don’t really play live cash games that much, because it’s not really my thing. I think it’s quite boring to be honest. I have played in the past, and I have done pretty well, but I don’t really focus on going somewhere just to play cash games. It’s not my taste. I don’t really like to stay awake until 6am just for a cash game; that’s not very fun!

Interview by Gaelle Jaudon


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