Having completed Day 1 and done five minutes of gloating, the only thing I wanted to do was sleep. The main event days are a serious grind, so I was mentally spent and physically sore. So Janeen and I went back to the Palms, and after updating this blog, I slept very soundly on Saturday night.
Because of the outrageous number of participants, the early stages of the 2006 main event were quite spread out: four heats for Day 1, and two heats for Day 2. I was now scheduled to play on Day 2A, which was Tuesday. I therefore had two days to kill. Janeen wasn’t flying home until Monday, so we decided to go to a dance club on Sunday night.
The current hot spot on Sunday nights in Las Vegas is Body English, the club at the Hard Rock Hotel. So around midnight, Janeen and I cabbed it over there. It was a mob scene. We finagled our way through the throng of people begging to get in, got waved past the velvet ropes, and just before we reached the register, we looked down and saw a handful of crumped bills lying on the carpet. Janeen scooped them up and handed them to me without examining them: four Benjamins. Ahh, Vegas.
Inside, the club was pretty disappointing. It was small, rammed full of people, with music that rapidly degenerated. Of course, that’s just my subjective opinion. The DJ started out playing some rock remixes. Pretty cool. Then he played short snippets from a bunch of old school hip-hop songs, separating each snippet with the same clip: Greg Nice barking “let’s take it back to the old school, wave ya hands like ya just don’t care.” Coooool. I almost started to freak it. Almost.
But then, predictably, to the delight of everyone else in attendance came the current hip hop hits. This is a sore point with me. I feel like my grandfather must have felt when people started to flock downtown for Charlie Parker and began to pass on Chick Webb at the Savoy, but I just don’t get new hip hop. Especailly one subgenre: I believe it’s called “crunk.” Songs where the MC is just screaming his head off, saying the same thing over and over in a high pitched voice. Ugh. I am not feeling that shit, or almost anything else that moves the crowd in 2006.
How is it that some older MC’s are letting this happen? An experiment should be held: a DJ should cue up Dre and Snoop’s “Deep Cover” (1992) and Snoop’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” (2005) back to back. The former is a menacing, intelligent, sinister, straight-up badass piece of music. I’ve never held a loaded firearm or bought drugs from a narcotics officer, but I’ll be damned if that song doesn’t give me goosebumps every time. Then there’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” It’s an inane attempt to force a stupid catchphrase into the public consciousness? Honestly, I don’t know. I’d challenge anyone to tell me that the new Snoop song is better than the old one. And then I’d demand to know why. Sigh. Whippersnappers nowadays
Anyway, there were some good moments: Gnarls Barkley. Eminem with Nate Dogg (anything featuring Nate Dogg is dope). But after awhile I needed refuge from the crunk, so after two hours at Body English, it was: To the window To the wall To the fuckin’ exit.
That had nothing to do with poker, now did it? Hey, it’s my blog.
Janeen flew back to New York on Monday, leaving me in my cocoon to focus on Day 2. So I went online and scouted the players at my table. No names I recognized. After that, I mostly sat around feeling nervous. Last year, going into Day 2, I had almost no chips, and therefore no expectations. This time, I was going in with a big stack, which changed my prospects. With so much ammunition at my disposal, I could realistically hope to make it deep into the tournament, where the outlandish prize money awaited. And that made me nervous, or more accurately, filled me with a mixture of hope and fear of failure. My parents landed around midnight, and I spoke with my father briefly before getting into bed. Unfortunately, under the covers, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get a barrage of strategic considerations out my head, and I ended up getting almost no sleep.
Running on adrenaline, on Tuesday at around 11:30 am, I headed over to the Rio and met my folks. We had a short conversation, which confirmed that everyone was both excited and slightly intoxicated with the possibilities that lied ahead. Then I went to the Pokerstars suite and picked up a free shirt for my father. Then it was back to work. There were about 1700 players in the room, and we were scheduled to play until that number was pared down to 700. I sat down, unbagged my chips, and then we were underway.
My father and and his free shirt.
My table was a wild one. Each of the first six hands were raised, then reraised preflop, and I chose not to participate in any of them. And then, after perhaps 15 minutes of action, before I could really settle in, the table was unceremoniously broken and we were sent to scattered empty seats throughout the room. On my across the room to my new seat, possibly invigorated by the wild action at the first table, I vowed to play aggressively. It was gonna be my day. My new table was way off in the corner, far away from any spectators, so my parents had come to Vegas to stare at the back of my head from 150 feet and wonder what was going on.
My new table, in relevant part:
Seat 2 was manned by an Indian-looking kid with a medium sized stack. He was doing a lot of chip tricks and acting rather nonchalant. I pegged him as a solid/aggressive player. Behold the power of chip tricks.
Seat 5 was me.
Seat 6 was a young player with a Pocketfives.com card protector. I recognized his face from pictures I’d seen online. It was Matt Graham–online handle “MattG1983.” Over the past two years I’ve watched on Pokerstars as he improved drastically, from a mediocre regular to one of the most feared players on the site. I’d have to be careful with him.
Seat 8 was an older man with a strange white beard. He had a big stack of chips, around 100k. I had no idea what to make of him, but I soon learned he was a tight, conservative player. How he obtained all those chips was a mystery.
Seat 9 was the most interesting character at the table. He was Asian, with bifocals with thick lenses that magnified the size of his eyes. He looked like he was peering at us through a fishbowl. He was sporting a loud teal-colored Hawaiian shirt, but instead of a floral print, it had pictures of playing cards and poker chips all over it, with phrases like “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “All In” repeatedly emblazoned in cursive writing. It was, in a word, hideous (but par for the course in a poker room). This gentleman was, as they say, an “F.O.B.” He was very eager to make conversation, but lacked the requisite skills. His English was virtually unintelligible, and he punctuated almost all of his sentences with bursts of loud, arbitrary laughter, i.e.: “Rook! Frop all crubs. AHAHAHAHAHAHA!” But whenever this guy got involved in a pot, he fell silent. In fact, if he was involved in a hand, he’d act completely detached, feigning interest in the action on the next table over, or suddenly becoming fascinated with his wristwatch. He was a real piece of work. And he had the largest stack at the table by a wide margin, probably triple the amount I had. I decided that he was an idiot who was lucky to be there, and set my crosshairs on him.
In Seat 10 was an odd-looking British guy with roughly the same amount of chips as me. I still don’t know his name, but he had to be relatively famous because reporters from Gutshot.com were keeping close tabs on his progress. His expression switched from genial to pained every time he played a pot.
The only shot of me at my Day 2 table. I’m mid-coniption or something.
I watched a few hands, gathering some of the info outlined above. Then, on the F.O.B.’s big blind, I was dealt the KcJc in middle position. It was folded to me, and I decided that I would begin my assault on him now. With the blinds at 250/500 with a 50 ante, I raised to 1500. Everyone folded except F.O.B., who called. The flop came Q-Q-3, and F.O.B. checked. As promised, I went the aggressive route, firing a standard continuation bet of 3000 into the pot. F.O.B., who had been examining a piece of lint between his thumb and forefinger, looked up, cocked his head sideways, then called. Then he went back to the lint.
The turn was a four. F.O.B. inspected the board for a second andchecked again. I had absolutely nothing, but I put him on a smallish pocket pair, like sixes or sevens. Plus, the plan was aggression, wasn’t it? So I made a strong “go away now” bet of 6000. The dealer said “six thousand to you sir,” and F.O.B., without looking at me or the board, gazed at his massive stack of chips and slowly counted out a very large checkraise. He made it 20,000, one large stack of yellow, which was well over half my remaining chips. Fuck. I couldn’t call this bet, but I sat there pretending to ponder it for a good 45 seconds before flipping my cards into the muck. So much for steamrolling this guy. I had lost one-quarter of my stack messing around with him. I now had about 33k. Time for plan B.
That was the last hand I’d play for awhile. I made one more move at the very end of the level: the player to my immediate right made a standard raise from the cutoff to 1500, and I reheated him to 6000 with pocket fives. It was a dangerous (probably impulsive, stupid) play, if he had called I’d be fairly committed to the hand, and probably forced to gamble on a flop with overcards, but he folded, and I climbed back up to around 36,000 chips at the end of the level. At the break separating Levels 7 and 8, I went and found my parents. I was upset with myself for firing the second barrel at the goofy guy, and my stack had unexpectedly decreased in size. And so my father, in accordance with one of his pet superstitions, went to the men’s room and changed from the obviously unlucky shirt he was wearing into his new Pokerstars shirt.
I was a complete non-factor for almost all of Level 8. I sat there card-dead, bleeding chips. Meanwhile, the tournament had shifted into overdrive. The directors had planned on reaching 700 players around the end of six levels of play on Day 2, but the rate of attrition was outpacing their estimates. By the time we were halfway through Level 8, there were already less than 1000 runners left. And amidst all the action, while most players were either dying off or fattening up, I was just sitting there. My stack was down in the 27,000 range, suddenly below average. And I couldn’t pick up any hands worth playing.
Finally, at the end of the level, I made a rather shrewd play (if I do say so myself). Two hands prior, the Indian kid in Seat 2 had gone all in, shoving forward a massive pile of low-denomination black (100) and green (25) chips, and he was called by the player to my right, who had mostly yellow (1000) and pink (500) in front of him. When the smoke cleared, the player to my right won the hand, and it appeared that he had busted the Indian kid. Assuming he was through, the Indian bolted from his seat and began to make his way through the crowd, towards the exit. But, upon closer examination, the Indian kid’s huge pile of cheapies amounted to more than the player to my right had, and the entire table began to scream at the Indian kid, now 40 feet away, in unison: “you still have chips!” Once we got his attention, he returned, but he was finished mentally; resigned to defeat. On the first hand after his return, with the blinds at 300/600 with a 75 ante, it was folded to him in middle position and he looked at his cards for a nanosecond before going all in for about 2000. He somehow won that pot uncontested (I’m not sure if the big blind was awake or what).
The very next hand, it was once again folded to him, and he went all in again, this time for roughly 3700. I was three seats to his left, and they folded to me. I looked down and saw the A6 of hearts. I knew I was way ahead of the Indian kid’s range of holdings; he was obviously pushing with any two cards. But there were still six players left to act. What to do? I chose to reraise to 8500 in an attempt to isolate the Indian kid. The six players behind me would need to wake up with a monster (QQ-AA?) to call my reraise. Fortunately, everyone else did in fact fold, the Indian kid showed J8 offsuit, and I tabled my A6. An ace flopped, and now the Indian kid’s suicide mission was complete. I picked up a cheap 6500 chips. After the hand, whitebeard looked at me and said “I had you beat.” “Yes, but I reraised first,” I replied. Good play, David. Still, at the break between levels 8 and 9, I had only 32,000 chips.
I found my parents again. This time my mood was definitely sour. I still had a decent amount of chips relative to the blinds, but the average player left in the field had now run past me. And I had not seen any hands better than Ace-Ten in four hours. I was very frustrated, but I managed to remind myself not to allow my emotions to control my play. No limit tournaments like the WSOP events are, in many respects, a contest to see who can make the fewest mistakes. The mistake-free players, over the course of several days, eat the mistake-prone players alive. And mistakes emanate from different sources. Some are functions of a player’s actual ability: inexperience, poor recognition, et. al can cause mistakes. But other mistakes are correlated with the length and pressure of the tournament: fatigue, frustration, and recklessness also cause mistakes. I realized that I might be on the verge of committing this second class of mistake, and I promised myself not to allow it to happen.
It’s a good thing I gave myself the pep talk, because Level 9 didn’t treat me any better. I simply could not find a hand that was worth playing. I managed to steal a couple of blinds here and there, but I continued to tread water while players around me either went bust or skyrocketed up the chip count chart. My card-dead period was verging on ridiculous.
There was some interesting turnover at my table during this level. The Indian kid was replaced by a black guy in his mid-20’s with a giant stack. And then, shortly after that, the player to the black guy’s left busted, and was replaced by Tex Barch.
If you watched last year’s main event, you’d recognize Tex Barch. He’s the guy who finished third, cashing for 2.5 million. At the final table, he was the guy who derailed Andy Black when Black held the chip lead, and he was the guy who lost what then was the largest pot (as measured by the total number of chips involved) in WSOP history when he got eliminated in a three-way confrontation with Joe Hachem and Steve Dannenman. Barch looks a lot younger than his 35 years, and he exudes confidence. He’s also a very thoughtful player. His pace is very deliberate; it’s obvious that he analyzes, scrutinizes and dissects every decision he must make. When it’s his turn to act, you can practically hear the wheels turning in his head. He showed up at the table with a solid stack.
At the end of Level 9, I had some strong new players to contend with, but I hadn’t made a move for over two hours. The end of the level brought with it the dinner break, and at that point the tournament director announced that we’d be playing only one and a half more levels before calling it a night. Players were being eliminated too rapidly.
At dinner, I came to terms with the fact that I would have to make a courageous move or two during the next level. With a 30,000-ish stack and blinds at 500/1000 with a 200 ante, I would have less than ten times the amount in the pot in front of me. This meant that I’d have to employ an all-in reraise or two.
This is a move that was fairly new in my arsenal. It was introduced to me by Blair Rodman and Lee Nelson’s book “Kill Phil” and then thoroughly reinforced by the instructors at PokerXFactor.com. The concept goes as follows: allowing your stack to drift down to four or five times the amount in the pot is a last resort. It is far better to make a reraise, preferably against an aggressive player, while you still have fold equity, i.e. enough chips to force a preflop raiser to fold. This is a real power move, and while it helps to have a hand to fall back on, it can be executed with or without a strong hand. The hardest part about this move is that it takes heart. You have to summon the guts to put your tournament on the line knowing that you are reraising a player with a better hand than yours. The move, obviously, becomes a complete disaster if the raiser has a monster hand, or if the raiser somehow figures out what you are up to and calls. So you have to both select your spot carefully and have the audacity to shove your chips in.
At the start of Level 10, a huge confrontation between the black guy and Tex Barch unfolded. It was folded to the black kid in the small blind, and he raised to 4,000. Barch called from the big blind. The flop was A-A-10, and the black kid bet 6,000. Barch called. The turn was a 6. The black kid now bet 12,000, and Barch called again. The river was a 3, and the black kid bet 30,000 chips, a very big bet. Barch though for a few seconds and called. The black kid tabled AQ, but Barch had A3 for a lucky rivered full house. Barch’s stack became very large, and the black kid was crippled. And from that point forward, Barch began to play very aggressively, raising almost every time it was folded to him. My drought continued, I bled away chips until i was down to around 15,000. Something had to happen soon.
Finally, I was on the button and Barch was in late position, two seats to my right. It was folded to him, and he raised to 3500. I correctly surmised that 1) after winning the big pot, Tex was switching into an aggressive mode of play and probably only had a moderate hand; 2) I had a very tight image and a reraise would look like a superstrong hand; and 3) I had enough chips to make him fold. I made my long-planned reraise, and for the first time in the entire tournament, I was all in. After everyone else folded, Barch looked at me and said “you haven’t played a hand since I got here,” and promptly folded. I gained 7000 chips with the move. The hand I held, which happens to be the least relevant factor in the analysis: pocket sixes. I now had around 22,000
Still, I continued to bleed chips. There were just no opportunities. Then, one orbit later, something big finally happened. I was under the gun, and in the seventh hour of Day 2, I finally saw my first big hand of the day: pocket aces. I made a standard raise to 3,500. It got folded around to the British player, who had around 50,000 chips, and he announced a reraise (yes!). He made it 9,000 to go. At that moment, I knew I was going to respond by pushing in my remaing 18,000 chips, but it was absolutely vital that I entice him to call. When the action came back around to me, I went into a long act. First, I rechecked my hole cards. Next, I simply sat there for ten seconds. I blinked a few times. I wanted this guy to think that his bet had put me in an impossible situation. So I separated 5,500 chips from my stack, pretending to gauge where calling this bet would leave me. I stared at the two separated piles of chips for a few moments, then, in an act designed to look impulsive, quickly rearranged everything into one stack and haphazardly shoved it all in. Then I said what was already apparent: “I’m all in.”
The British guy did not like this development, but it didn’t take him long to say “I really hope this is a race” as he called and turned over pocket fives. I showed my aces, and now it was in the dealer’s hands. I was all in for the second time in the tournament. I can’t recall what the board was, but it didn’t bring a five, and I raked a large pot that put me just above the 50,000 mark, which was a little below the average stack in the room. The British guy had been playing tight all day, and so had I, so I was really puzzled by his reraise with 55, but it sure came at a great time. Now it was time to switch mindsets. There was no longer any reason to worry about gutsy all-ins. For the first time since my failed charge against the goofy Asian guy, I could exert some pressure without putting my tournament on the line.
Not much really happened with me between there and the end of the night. I still didn’t have enough chips to really open up, and I just couldn’t find many good opportunities. I still managed to pick a few spots for steals, which chipped me up to 62,000. It was somewhere in the short-to-medium range.
The black kid, who had come to the table with a big stack, went busto soon after Tex Barch crippled him. And then Barch was stopped cold in his tracks by Matt Graham, the internet kid to my left. On the key hand, Graham played Barch like a fiddle, goading him into bluffing off 75% of his stack on the turn and river. Barch, who had played (and talked) a mean game up until that point, petulantly stormed away from the table after being outplayed by the 22 year-old.
When the day was over, I again located my parents, who were very tired but beaming, despite having seen absolutely nothing I did. I was still alive. I had taken my first real punishment on Day 2, but I had regrouped and made a solid comeback. Now we had two days in Vegas before Day 3. I wasn’t sure how we’d kill that time, but with my father around, there was a pretty good chance that it might involve shooting dice.