Rachel Kranz: The Adventurous Poker Player (Part I)

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Rachel Kranz, known on Twitter as “AdventuresPoker,” is indeed an adventurous person and very far from the general conception of a poker player. She’s a woman, she turned 60 this year, and away from the tables she works as a novelist, playwright, journalist, and ghostwriter. In 2000 she published her first novel, Leaps of Faith, and a second novel is underway in what is going to be a trilogy.

Rachel Kranz began playing tournament poker in 2008. Since then she has cashed for more than $280,000. Among her biggest results are a 5th place finish in the $1,600 Deep Stack Extravaganza in 2012 and a runner-up finish in Event #44 at the same venue in 2014 for $113,073. Just a week ago she won Event #16 at Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown for $44,863, which propellered her to the top spot of the GPI Female Player of the Year.

We caught up with Rachel Kranz to hear more about her recent win, her work with mental coach Jared Tendler and being “an older woman” at the poker tables.

First of all, congrats with winning the 8-max event at Seminole Hard Rock! The final two tables were filled with strong players, among them Jamie Gold and Daren Stabinski, and heads-up you faced November Niner and WPT champion Chino Rheem. Did you have a clear strategy going into the final table?
Jamie Gold busted before the final table, but there was another very strong player at the final table. Dan DiZenzo, whose total live earnings are $603,659. I wasn’t thrilled that he was on my immediate left, but I was lucky to be on Chino Rheem’s left!

I did have a few thoughts about the final table, but they had more to do with the fact that my stack was smaller than most of the others, although I think I had something like 40 big blinds, which is plenty of play.  Early on, my main concern was to play aggressively in situations where I could take the lead without risking my entire stack. I thought my skill level gave me a decent amount of equity, so I didn’t want to blow my chances by taking unnecessary risks. However, I didn’t want to play too passively, or I’d never catch up.  Later, when I was one of the chip leaders, I didn’t really get to use the power of my stack as much as I would have liked because at that point, there were so many awkward stacks, with the perfect size to shove over a raise or 3bet.

My main concern was definitely Chino. I got lucky in rarely having a second-best hand against him—either I had garbage or the nuts, which obviously made it much easier to play! I basically played my standard game against him, and he was very much aware of what I was doing—yet I still managed to get a lot of pots from him that were not rightfully mine. Balanced aggression, especially in position, is really hard to play against.  It’s just a matter of picking the level of aggression that’s right for your stack.

Do you think the fact that you are a woman and a senior affected the way the other players approached you?
I don’t really think of myself as “a senior,” though I suppose at age 60, I technically am. I do think I get put in a box as “an older woman,” and that box definitely doesn’t fit my particular style and, I hope, my skill level!

I know my age and gender affect how people play against me, but it’s often hard to say how. On Twitter, after my win, someone who’d played with me on other occasions commented that I was a super-LAG and an aggro maniac. That’s absolutely not true—but I think because I do play aggressively and people don’t expect it, they flip from “soft old lady who never bets except with aces” to “super-LAG aggro maniac.” Whereas if I were a guy in his 20s, I’d just be a typically aggressive online player. For me, I make one 3bet with a non-premium hand, and some people just go nuts because I’m not “supposed” to play that way.

I would say that the main effect of my age and gender is to make it very hard for many people to read me.  It shouldn’t—and with certain men, it doesn’t. They look at my frequency, my showdowns, my style, and figure out what I’m doing just like they do with any other opponent. Hopefully, my ranges are balanced enough that no matter what they figure out about me doesn’t really help them that much! Many of those guys have become friends and investors, because they do understand the level of skill and study that I bring to the game, and they can see past the age and gender differences and just relate to me as a person.

But I think many people are so shocked that someone like me exists at all, they just can’t see me. Even if I start throwing round word like “range” and “equity,” they don’t get it—they don’t know how to put that vocabulary together with my appearance and their assumptions about it, so they just don’t see or hear what doesn’t fit their image. Or they do see it, but then they are even more confused. Or, they see how I play and then over-react and think I’m crazy aggressive—but they’re still not seeing me and what I’m doing.

At some tables—not in the 8-max—I’ve faced enormous hostility for being a woman, and especially an older woman.  Ridiculous stuff—like, I’ll ask someone to put his big chips in front, or I’ll ask the dealer to ask him, and three guys will start saying, “Why are you picking on him?” “Any time you want to know how much he has, just ask him!” “Leave the poor guy alone!” etc.

Hostility at the table is something that just about every woman in poker has experienced some version of—frequently—and the good guys have trouble believing it because it doesn’t happen in front of them.

Whenever I tell my guy friends about what happens, they say, “You’re exaggerating”—and again, most women I know have had that experience, or you can see it on Twitter. It’s hard to believe the hostility if you don’t witness it yourself—and most guys just never see it at the level of frequency that it actually happens.

When you’re my age and an aggressive player, I think it sometimes triggers something in some men—it’s like an ex-wife giving them trouble if they’re my age, or a mother nagging if they’re younger.  Younger women get different types of problems, though. But this particular tournament was lovely and there was never anything like that.

After your win you came out and thanked mental coach Jared Tendler for helping “to fuel” your victory. In which way has Tendler helped you and why did you approach him in the first place?
I can’t say enough good things about Jared! He’s got a terrific way of breaking down the reasons behind any type of mental game error you make, so you can analyze why it happened and figure out how to make it stop. He also has insights into some “whys” that I would never have thought of, but which make a lot of sense as soon as he points them out. He has an amazing understanding of how learning and growth happen, which has helped me not to be so hard on myself even while staying dedicated to rooting out every possible mistake!

I think there were lots of situations that would trigger some emotion at the table that kept me from making good decisions. I had a specific group of triggers that I knew were getting in my way. Jared helped me identify them super-specifically, become aware of them before they happened – “This is the kind of situation where I usually have trouble” – and defuse them as quickly as possible – “Now that I’m aware of the possible problem, I can do X to prevent it.”

We started working together at the beginning of June last year, and I think by January, most of the things that had been getting in my way were simply gone. I noticed a huge difference in my mental game in the 8-max, especially heads-up, where your attitude and outlook matter constantly—there’s no respite.

You can read part II of our interview with Rachel Kranz later this week, where she talks about preparing for the WSOP, how to handle the long days at the tables, and writing a TV script about poker.

 

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