In both 2005 and 2006, one of my personal highlights from the World Series of Poker’s Main Event was writing the long triumphant recaps which are now located in links at the top of this website’s main page. This year, by necessity, my recap will be shorter. But I hope you enjoy it anyway!
Because I did not qualify for this year’s Main Event online (which, technically speaking, was impossible for a US resident to accomplish anyway), I was still unregistered for the tournament when I boarded a plane and left for Vegas on Thursday, July 5th.
My first order of business upon arriving in Vegas was to take care of two administrative matters: 1) register for the Main Event, preferably on Day 1b (Saturday) or Day 1c (Sunday); 2) appeal to the higher-ups at Harrah’s to get some compensation relating to an ongoing dispute.
When the plane landed, I discovered–the hard way–that Las Vegas was mired in a heatwave. A summer heatwave in Las Vegas means that the daytime high temperature is 116 instead of 108. On a typical July day, exiting a building and walking outdoors in Vegas feels like entering an oven. Last Thursday, it felt more like being blowtorched. Even at night, the temperatures were extremely uncomfortable. Disgusting.
Heightening my digust, I failed to achieve either of my administrative goals on my first day in town. I arrived at the Rio on the eve of Day 1a and walked into a tidal wave of humanity. The hallways surrounding the Amazon Room were literally swarming, wall to wall, with the usual suspects: players, wannabes, poker fans, dealers, representatives from commercial sponsors. Everyone and their mother. The people were everywhere; I could barely walk. Even though I am now accustomed to this scene, the energy level in the hallways still charged me up. This was my workplace. It was good to be back. That is, until I saw the registration line.
The last time I witnessed a line of similar length was quite a long time ago–at the stupidest place on earth—Disney’s Epcot Center in 1984. Well over a thousand people were queued up, trying to reach the five registration windows inside the Amazon Room. The line wound in a snakelike formation until it reached the room’s doorway, then stretched out haphazardly into the hallway and beyond. After confirming that I was actually in the right place, I took my spot at the back of the line, a half mile from the line’s origin, and waited. It was 4:10 pm. A $500 supersatellite to the Main Event was starting at 6:00 pm. The individuals on the endless line were registering for that tournament, along with the Main Event.
Already very weary from a long day of travel but relieved that I was about to register for both the Main Event and the $500 supersat (I’d sell the lammers if I won), I finally found myself only four players from the front of the line at 5:55 pm when a Rio employee appeared and made an announcement: the supersatellite was sold out. Anyone wishing to register was shit out of luck. This pissed me off a great deal; if I had known that this would happen, I’d have gone and taken a nap then registered for the Main Event late that night, when the line was sure to be shorter. Still, I was now at the front of a two-hour line, so I wasn’t going anywhere. It was time to take care of Main Event registration and my dispute with Harrah’s.
When I reached the front of the line, I pulled $3500 in lammers and $6500 in cash out of my pocket, along with the required picture identification. I asked the window clerk for a seat on Day 1B, Saturday, but was informed that they were only selling seats for Friday and Monday. I had no interest in playing either day. I was way too tired to perform well the next (Friday) morning, and playing Monday would require missing a Sunday night party that I had circled on my calendar. After some persistent inquiring, I discovered that Days 1b and 1c were not completely sold out. The problem was that a disproportionate number of seats had been sold for those days, and the tournament directors had ordered the cashiers to allow Days 1a and 1d to “catch up” before reopening registration for the days I wanted. So I decided to play their waiting game, passing on Main Event registration for the time being.
Still at the window and now fully frustrated, I turned to my final order of business: trying to settle a month-long dispute I had with Harrah’s. I have made a few cryptic references to it on this blog, but haven’t really discussed this matter publicly. Now I will go into a little bit of (but not much) detail. In short: when I finished second in Event 12, I received a check from Harrah’s, the largest gaming corporation in the world, in the amount of for $269,000 and change. When I tried to deposit the check, it bounced. The full story can be found here, in a post I made on the 2+2 forums. Since this ordeal took place, I registered three separate complaints with people at the World Series of Poker cage: twice on the phone, and once in person. All three times I was rebuffed, told that there wasn’t anything that could be done beyond refunding my bank’s bounce fee. Now, for a fourth time, I animatedly described the situation and the trouble it had caused me. And for a fourth time, I was informed by a Rio supervisor that no one at the WSOP had any authority to do anything for me. I did receive a ticket redeemable for two free buffets at the Rio. Whoop-dee-doo. I also got the name of some suit at Harrah’s who will be receiving a nasty letter from me soon.
Exasperated, I stuck around the Rio until about 1:30 am, waiting in vain for Day 1b and 1c seats to open up, but it never happened. I returned to the Excaliber, where I was staying for one night with Kevin (who arrived late that evening), and went to bed grumpy.
However, as the Main Event got underway the following day, my mood improved. I just needed to take a step back and exhale. It was the biggest day on the poker calendar, and I was back, a part of it for the third time. It was my place, my time. The WSOP was my turf now. I regrouped emotionally, put the annoyances of the previous day behind me, and was ready to rock ‘n roll. And so was Kevin, who I met that morning at the Rio, along with his father. And things began to immediately fall into place: as promised, seats for 1b and 1c were finally made available at 2:00 pm. I snapped up a Saturday (the next day) seat and Kevin registered for Sunday. Now the only thing left to do was relax and get ready to play some poker.
After passing on that evening’s supersatellite, I checked into the Rio and did what I always do before a big tournament. I went into a semi-meditative state, eliminating all stimuli. I did some non-poker related reading and lounged around my room. In contrast to previous years, relaxation came very quickly on the eve of my first day. I fell into a sound, uninterrupted sleep by 11:00. I woke up the next day feeling great, with two hours to spare before the cards would be dealt. I was not nervous. I was as focused as could be, ready for the (potentially) sixteen-hour day that lied ahead. I dressed carefully, selecting a well-worn t-shirt, comfortable jeans and sneakers, the baseball cap that had served me so well in Event 12, and of course, my ubiquitous lucky sweatshirt. Time to go to work. I headed downstairs at 11:40, twenty minutes before kickoff.
My table was in the area of the Amazon Room that was normally reserved for cash games, right by one of the side doors. Per my usual custom, I arrived early, but not so early that I’d have to kill an inordinate amount of time. I had left about ten minutes to spare. I’ve learned that the ten minutes before a tournament starts are very valuable. That’s when I take my seat, look to my left and right, and do my profiling.
Profiling people based on age, race and/or nationality has been taboo in the United States since the Civil Rights movement took hold, even though the current administration has done its best to throw things in reverse. Still, at a poker table, very accurate information about most players can be obtained by simply categorizing them this way. This concept is not novel. It has been discussed in many poker books, most notably the otherwise useless book written by Arnold Snyder. Profiling is especially effective in the Main Event, with its massive field of nobodies who typically fit snugly into a narrowly defined, easily identifiable category.
The most prevalent categories in the Main Event are the weak-tight nit and the loose-passive nit, both of whom look the same. Both categories of nit are usually middle-aged or older white males, but they can sometimes be younger white males (often sporting non-ironic goatees). The nit is usually dressed like he’s on his way to play a round of golf at his local country club, and if it’s one of the younger nits, a baseball cap is mandatory. Either category of nit is often overweight. It is not a coincidence that the younger nit looks a lot like Chris Moneymaker. Neither category of nit is usually comfortable handling his chips.
If he has a laid back personality, the nit will adopt an “aww, shucks” attitude at the table and will probably become very chatty as the minutes before the tournament tick down. If he’s more of an uptight guy, he will be visibly nervous as the start of the tournament nears and he will not say a word. Either way, a big poker tournament is a special treat for the nit. The tournament is a luxury that he affords himself once, perhaps twice per year. The Main Event is teeming with these guys.
The only way to tell the weak-tight nit from the loose-passive nit is by watching them play. This can be done in the span of ten or fifteen hands. The weak-tight nits don’t enter many pots, and when they do, they have a big hand. They fold, especially after the flop, at the first sign of aggression. Three’s nothing complicated about their game. The loose-passive nit openlimps a lot from all positions at the table, but usually goes away once he feels threatened by a raise. Some loose-passive nits need to see the flop and face a bet before they’re inclined to go away.
So, at my particular table, as the minutes before the tournament faded away, here’s what I came up with.
Seat 1: Young, conservatively dressed guy. Expertly handling his chips. Jury’s out.
Seat 2: Extremely nervous 50-ish guy. Country club gear. He seemed to be mumbling to himself. Nit. I was 99% sure that this was a positive identification.
Seat 3: European guy. Most Americans know what I’m talking about here. There are certain guys who just look ambiguously Northern European, even when you haven’t the foggiest clue which country they’re from. Sometimes the country is obvious and sometimes it’s not. They don’t need to open their mouth and speak another language, they don’t need to be wearing unusual clothes, and they don’t need to look a certain way (this gentleman happened to be blond and unshaven). It’s just something transmitted by their features and facial expressions—they’re from Europe. Maybe I’m just used to observing these people since they’re everywhere at poker tournaments (and in New York City), but I instinctively know when someone is of European descent. The guy in Seat 3 was of undetermined European ancestry, which meant that I couldn’t figure out how he’d play just yet. He could be a crazy Swede, a timid British guy, or a cunning Dutchman. It was hard to say.
Seat 4: I don’t recall this player.
Seat 5: Me.
Seat 6: A Latino guy, probably from Puerto Rico or Costa Rica. This is a category of player who is hard to profile, the Latino players don’t really fall into any set pattern. I’d have to wait and see.
Seat 7: A crusty old gambler. These guys are their own special category, and they’re an increasingly rare breed. They always are over sixty-five years old, have a thick southern accent, and they love to wear ugly jewelry that is probably very expensive. They either wear a cowboy hat or have treated what’s left of their hair with a foreign substance that makes it nice and firm. They’re almost always impossible to shut up. I believe many of them are from Texas and the states which surround Texas to the north and east, which means that they’ve been playing hold ‘em a lot longer than the rest of us. They’re usually tight players, but tight players who are capable of trickery. One of these dudes was in the 7 Seat, and he was yammering away.
Seat 8: Heavy set thirty-ish guy with a nice fitted baseball cap, dark sunglasses and a goatee. Hi Mr. Moneymaker! Looked nervous. Probable nit.
Seat 9: Another country club gear older guy. He knows Norman Chad, who came over to wish him luck a couple of times. Probable nit.
Seat 10: Middle aged asian guy doing about six different chip tricks, impatiently waiting for the tournament to begin. I’m not going to be as brutal as the aforementioned author Snyder, who called these players “boat people,” but Asians do tend to play with less fear than whiteboys.
As we drew ever closer to the scheduled start time, I settled in and began to feel some real excitement brewing inside. I looked around and saw a massive room full of nervous anticipation. This was it, I said to myself. The event of the year. My stage. Poker’s prom night. As I chuckled to myself about my prom night analogy (I crack myself up sometimes), I realized that the Main Event really did feel to me like the grown-up equivalent of prom night, New Year’s Eve.
In my post-scholastic world living in Manhattan amidst a lot of good friends, New Year’s Eve has always been a big event. It is a night subject to a lot of anticipation. Plans for it are often made at least a month in advance. It’s a big night both because of what it supposedly portends and also because it’s the one night on which none of my friends will bail out at the last second. Everyone’s there. And if it turns out to be a good night, it’s epic. On the other hand, if New Year’s turns out to be a dud, it fills me with an out-of-proportion sense of disappointment. In the end, it’s just another night out, but with a magnified sense of importance attached to it. It’s hard to keep this in perspective when everyone is drunkenly hugging, slurring Auld Lang Syne, but really, it’s just another night.
And so it is with the Main Event. Everyone awaits its arrival eagerly, booking their trips to Vegas many months beforehand. The outrageousness of both the field and prize pool is a virtual guarantee. It is a true event. Celebrities and weirdos show up by the dozens. And if your Main Event goes well, you can legitimately claim that you’re on top of the poker world. However, if you perform poorly, it’s a very empty day, one that you can’t get back for a full year.
And just as New Year’s Eve is really just another night, the Main Event is really just another poker tournament. It is crucial to remember this if you want to maintain your sanity in the wake of an early exit. The nuts and bolts of this tournament are exactly the same as those of any other tournament, down to a lowly $1 entry on Pokerstars. The same exact pitfalls potentially await every entrant. If your pocket aces are cracked, you’re gone, that’s it. If you flop a set of sixes on a 10-6-2 flop, you are going to lose to a set of tens. You’re gone, that’s it. I was just finishing reminding myself of this when Penn & Teller appeared on the TV screens above us, telling the dealers to “shuffle up and deal!” We were underway.
I’m aware that the people who read this blog fall into three categories:
1) Those who haven’t the foggiest clue about modern poker;
2) Those who are somewhat familiar with modern poker; and
3) Those who frequently play modern poker.
Since my experience in the 2007 Main Event was such a short one, I am going to now try and give very detailed descriptions of the few hands I actually played. If you fall into category 1) above, this blog entry will probably cease to make any sense to you from this point forward. If you fall into category 2) above, I hope that these descriptions will give you an idea of how complex, subtle and demanding tournament no-limit hold ‘em is. And if you fall into category 3), feel free to constructively criticize or comment on my play. I am always looking to improve.
As play got underway, the first thing I was able to do was get a better read on some of the players.
The player in seat 1 was definitely a good player. He wasn’t getting very involved early, but I could tell he knew what he was doing. I also thought I recognized him from some pictures on 2+2, which is a strong indicator in his favor.
The player in seat 2 was our resident idiot. He took a very long time to look at his cards and act. Slow, deliberate play is often employed by decent players who wish to avoid giving off tells. In this instance, the player in question was not doing this. He was simply mentally overmatched and was having trouble deciding how to respond to the simplest situations. This player also minraised in late position after four players limped and shoved all in for 20,000 after the player in front of him limped for 100. Not good plays. It was safe to conclude that he had no idea what he was doing.
The ambiguously European guy in the 3 seat was in fact Irish, and he was scared. He was trembling visibly whenever he played a pot, which was not very often at all.
The Latino in the 6 seat was from Puerto Rico. He was an unrefined but ballsy player. He also had the worst tell I have ever encountered in all my time playing poker. He looked at his cards as soon as he received them (not in turn), and if they were trashy cards, he sat very still, then threw them away when it was his turn to act. If, on the other hand, his cards were playable, his right leg would tremble uncontrollably, wildly vibrating up and down. We were sitting in cramped quarters and each time they occurred, I could easily feel his good-card vibrations on my left leg. Because he was sitting to my immediate left, this tell was quite valuable, and it made my early exit even more revolting.
The other notable reads were that the player in the 9 seat, who knew Norman Chad, was a loose-passive calling station preflop. He was somewhat tricky in that I saw him softplay big hands twice, i.e., he underbet the pot when he made a strong hand, hoping to induce action.
Finally, the most important read was on the Asian player in Seat 10. He was a cash game specialist from Los Angeles and was very loose. For instance, I saw him openlimp with 5-3 offsuit under the gun, openraise with 8-5 offsuit in early position, and make many other very loose plays. He was actively looking to engage the tigher players at the table. He liked to squeeze limpers, i.e., to make a raise in late position if there were limpers in front of him, either taking down the pot right there, or by firing a continuation bet on the flop. He did this with any two cards. His style contrasted sharply with the other players at the table, as he played over 50% of the hands, while everyone else got involved only occasionally. He wasn’t a total maniac, however. As is typical for a strong cash game player, his postflop game was excellent. He knew when to control the pot size, when to slow down, and when to mix in a bluff. He did all of these things in the first half hour of play. His style creates a very high variance, and I personally thought it wasn’t terribly well-suited for early tournament play, but he was extremely dangerous all the same. I knew that he’d likely be gone or sitting on a big stack by the middle of Level Two.
My tournament started very slowly. Within the first orbit, I checked my option with Ah9h in the big blind after two players limped and flopped the nut flush. We all checked the flop, and I put in a small checkraise on the turn, getting no action. A also chopped a very small pot with 6-5 on a 5-7-8-9-x board.
The first hand of remote interest occurred when I picked up JJ in early position and chose to limp. I limped because the wild Asian guy was sitting five seats behind me, and I figured he’d raise. He did exactly that, raising my 100-chip bet to 600. I didn’t want to play a big pot, so I flat called and saw a flop, which brought all small cards. I checked, intending to put in a checkraise, but he checked behind. The turn brought a king, and I once again checked, and so did the Asian guy. The river was a small card, and when I bet, the Asian player mucked A-Q face up. Couldn’t trap him at all there.
On the last hand of Level One, I picked up A-Q on the button and raised two limpers. One of them called, and I took down the pot with a continuation bet after the flop missed us both. I ended level one with 20,250 chips, 250 more than my starting stack. A very boring level.
I made phone calls to my father and Janeen on the first break, telling them that nothing had happened yet, which was pretty much what I expected. I had accomplished the most important goal of Level One: getting a good read (mostly by extrapolating from my age/race profiles) on my opponents.
Level Two would be more noteworthy. The blinds were now 100-200. I began by making a few more openraises, taking my stack up to around 22,000. And then…
Interesting Hand #1
I picked up A-K offsuit in early position and raised to 550. Norman Chad’s friend called from the 9 Seat and the flop came A-A-6. I led at the pot for 1000 chips. Why did I lead at the pot? Basically, I was employing some third-level thinking. When you flop trip aces with A-K, there first three levels of thought are:
Level 1 thinking: I have a good hand, I should bet.
Level 2 thinking: If I bet, my opponent will think I have a good hand. I should deceive him and check.
Level 3 thinking: My opponent is smart enough to know that a check looks strong here. If I bet, I will look weak and get action from lesser hands.
And that’s why I bet 1000 chips into the 1400 chip pot, knowing that lesser aces and middle pairs would give me action. Norman Chad’s friend considered my bet and called. The pot now contained 3400 chips.
The turn was a nine, and I checked. Why did I check? At this point it had been established through the action on the flop that my opponent had some kind of a hand, either A-x or a pocket pair. I checked to feign weakness, to indicate that I was giving up on the hand and to invite him to make a bet, which I intended to call. Why did I intend to call rather than checkraise? I intended to call because I felt that 99, 66, and A-9 suited were in Norman Chad’s friend’s range, and I didn’t want to play a huge pot, just a nice big one.
When I checked, my opponent did something curious. He bet 1000 chips, less than one-third of the pot. It was a puny bet. This set off some bells in my head, because I had watched this player softplay two very strong hands in Level One. Now he was doing it again. I was now convinced that this guy had AK (for a tie), AQ, AJ, or A-10 (I was beating those), or A-9, 99, or 66 (I was losing to those, which were all full houses).
I raised to 3500. Why did I raise to 3500? Both to get more chips in the pot against the hands I was beating and to gain information. I wanted to find out now if I was beat, and I was prepared to fold to a reraise. If the guy flat called my checkraise, I knew that I would probably check/call a reasonable bet on the river if the river didn’t bring a Q, J or 10, all of which would give his likely A-x’s a full house. Actually, I’d still probably make a crying call on the river if any of those cards fell. Norman Chad’s friend flat called. There was now 6900 in the pot, or about one-third of our respective stacks.
The river was a brick, and I checked. Why did I check? I checked because this was already a pretty big pot. I believed I was probably beating AQ, AJ or A-10, but I wasn’t sure. A-9, 99 and 66 were still in the mix. Since I wasn’t sure, I wanted to keep my losses under control in the event that I was up against a full house. It has occurred to me that another small value bet might have been the best play on the river. I could have then folded to a raise, which would almost surely have indicated that I was beat.
Norman Chad’s friend responded to my river check by checking behind and happily opening his hand: A-10 suited, which he thought was good. It was not. I showed my big slick and raked the pot. I was up to around 28,000 chips.
Interesting Hand #2
I had bled away perhaps 1,500 chips since Interesting Hand #1 when I picked up 33 on the button. The loose Asian player openraised to 600 in second position and got called by the scared Irishman and I. The blinds both folded, leaving us three-handed. The flop came A-K-5 rainbow. Both the Asian guy and the Irish guy checked, and I bet 1200 into the 2100-chip pot. Why did I bet?
I bet because I believed the Asian guy’s check meant one of two things: he either hated the flop or loved the flop. If he had an ace that made one pair, he would definitely have protected his hand by betting. He was either slowplaying a set or giving up. And what about the Irish guy? Well, he was a very straightforward player and I knew he’d have bet if he had an ace, and that he’d check/fold everything else. So I took a stab. The Asian guy called and the Irish player folded. Now what?
I was done with this hand. I tried to take it down cheaply and was denied. I was pretty sure I was up against AA or KK. The turn and river both bricked and the action went check/check both times (this river check foreshadowed the next hand of interest). The Asian guy showed pocket aces and I mucked my underpair.
Interesting Hand #3
At the start of this hand, I had around 24,000 chips. The LAG Asian player was in the big blind. He had really been splashing around, playing like a wildman, and one of his bluffs had just been picked off by the Puerto Rican leg twitcher to my left. LAG Asian was now the shortest stack at the table, with only around 12,500 chips when this hand started. I was dealt pocket eights and the action was folded to me. Raise or call?
In almost all situations, I raise here in middle position. But this was a special situation, since a player that was very likely to defend was in the big blind. Therefore, the normal equity from stealing the blinds was absent from this hand, so I considered just calling in an effort to keep the pot small and avoid possibly wasting chips. I overruled myself, however, deciding that I really wasn’t scared to play a big pot with my LAG-y Asian friend. I raised to 550 and got called by the Moneymaker lookalike on the button and, of course, the Asian guy in the big blind.
The flop came Ad-Kd-4s, and all three of us checked. Why did I check instead of representing the ace? I checked because the double-suited board bothered me, and because we were three-handed, with a player yet to act behind me. I figured I’d rather check, hope the button also checked, and further hope that the dealer would peel an eight on the turn.
And that’s exactly what happened. The turn was a black eight, giving me a set. The Asian guy bet 1200 into the 1750 pot. Now what?
This was a really intriguing situation. The Asian player’s turn bet meant one of three things:
1) He was on a pure bluff;
2) He was value betting an ace or two pair; or
3) He was betting on the come with a diamond draw.
One thing was certain: I had the best hand right now. If one of my opponents held a hand that was beating me (only AA or KK), they would have reraised preflop to avoid playing a three-way flop with those hands. So, with the best hand, was the correct play to flat call or to put in a raise? The answer depended on which of the three enumerated possibilities was held by the Asian guy.
If he was on 1) a pure bluff, the correct play was to flat call and hope he fired another barrel on the river.
If he was 2) value betting an ace, I believe the correct play is also a flat call. The reason is that Mr. LAG-y Asian he was a good player and would fold most aces if I raised. Raising on an A-K-8-4 board with two diamonds after checking the flop and openraising preflop is a line that is very consistent with AA or KK. So, the Asian guy would probably put me on a very strong hand and fold a weak ace if I raised. Therefore, if I thought the Asian guy had something like A-J, I should also flat call.
But if the Asian guy had 3) a diamond draw, the correct play was a raise, which would make him pay to draw.
The more I considered the situation, the more I believed I should raise. Part of the reason was to make a diamond draw pay, and part of the reason was to define my hand. If I raised and the Asian guy called, I could be fairly sure that he was on a diamond draw, and I’d know what kind of river cards to fear. I raised to 3500. The button folded and the big blind called after thinking for quite awhile.
I was now fairly sure that I was up against a diamond draw, or possibly a two-pair hand that could call me, such as A-4 or maybe A-Q. I prayed for a non-diamond river (unless it paired the board) and watched as the dealer produced the queen of clubs. The Asian guy, who had 8500 chips left, checked. Now what?
My mind, as it is trained to do, automatically catalogued the hands that beat me. AA, KK and QQ were out of the question, and the J-10 of diamonds had just hit a gutshot straight, making the nuts on the river. But could LAG Asian have that hand? Unlikely, since he had just checked the river. So should I value bet, and if so, how much?
Since I was pretty sure I was up against a busted diamond draw, I did briefly consider checking behind here with my set of eights, since the busted draw could not call me, which destroyed the equity in a river bet. But I had not completely ruled out the possibility of my opponent holding A-4 or A-Q, which he might feel compelled to pay me off with. I therefore chose to bet 4000 chips on the river, which was just under half of his stack. My opponent considered this bet for a second before shoving all in, spilling his stack over in the process. It was 4500 more for me to call, and the pot was now huge, with over 20,000 chips in it.
I felt sick when the guy checkraised all in. I knew I was probably up against exactly the J-10 of diamonds, based on the analysis above. Did I have to call?
In my humble opinion, yes. The pot was laying me huge odds, and there was an outside chance that my opponent had something else in his hand. He was, after all, a wild player in many respects. Also, the checkraise on the river was an odd play. If the Asian guy put me on AA KK or 88, he should have simply shoved the river, knowing that I’d put him on a busted draw and would call. Why would he check the river, knowing that I’d check behind with hands like A-J and the like? I wasn’t sure, but I knew that I had to put in 4500 more chips. I shook my head and despairingly called. As it turned out, it was the second time this particular player had checked the nuts on the river. And there it was: he turned over the J-10 of diamonds. Fucking revolting. I winced and mucked the eights.
The non-diamond queen was the worst card that could have possibly fell on the river. If a diamond had fallen, I would likely have checked behind on the river or called a small value bet. But the queen really blindsided me, completing a gutshot straight, the only drawing hand that I could not accurately forsee. I had (in my opinion) played the hand correctly from start to finish, but my stack had been chopped in half nevertheless.
Adding insult to injury, a tournament director immediately broke my table after the completion of the hand. If the dealer had taken only a few more seconds to shuffle the cards, the table would have been broken before the devastating hand ever took place. My stack was now down to around 12,000 chips as the end of Level Two approached.
A very quick profile of my new table led me to believe I was once again in nitland, it was all older white guys. I once again ended up playing the last hand before the break.
Interesting Hand #4
I was dealt AhJc in middle position. A player with a lot of chips, perhaps around 35,000, limped in early position. It was folded to me and I made it 850 to go. I had the sense this guy was your basic loose-passive nit, and I figured he had limped in with some kind of crap. Everyone else folded and went on break as my opponent called the 850. The flop came A-Q-x with two hearts and my opponent checked. With top pair, I bet 1200 into the pot of approximately 2000, and my opponent called. The turn was the 10 of hearts and my opponent checked again. I checked behind. Why? I checked behind both because the board was ugly, so I wanted to keep this pot small, and also because I wanted to draw at the nut flush for free.
The river was a brick, a small black card, and now my opponent bet 1400 into the roughly 4000 chip pot. I was having a hard time putting him on a hand since I had just been switched to the new table and had never seen this guy play, and I was getting very good pot odds, so I called with my top pair. He showed me QQ for a set. Lovely. I had around 9,000 chips left as the second break arrived. The Level Three blinds would be 200-400.
Janeen and my father both received another phone call at this break, which came hot on the heels of the last two hands. I was pretty distressed, and I think that came through in the two short conversations. Still, after completing the calls, I regrouped emotionally, reminding myself that I had made hundreds of comebacks from similar situations. I knew exactly how to play a short stack, even this early in the tournament. Besides, my stack wasn’t desperately short. I would surely be looking for a place to double up, but I still had enough chips to survive for quite awhile waiting for the right opportunity.
The right opportunity arrived pretty quickly.
Interesting Hand #5
On the fourth or fifth hand after the break, I was in the small blind. Everyone on the table had me covered. A player in early position openlimped for 400, and it was folded to me. I had the 3c2c. Call or fold?
Folding is certainly reasonable, but I decided to call, putting 200 more into the 1000-chip pot. I told myself that I was done with the hand unless I flopped a wheel, a big draw, trips, or two pair. The big blind checked his option and the flop was a beautiful one for me: A-3-2 with two diamonds, giving me bottom two pair. Now what?
The answer is simple: try to get all my chips into the middle. The big blind had a random hand, and the early position limper was very unlikely to have a hand that beat me. Those hands were:
5-4, which was definitely not an early position limping hand;
AA, which was somewhat possible. I’d just have to pay that hand off;
33 or 22, which fit the early position limp but were very unlikely mathematically speaking since all the threes and deuces would then be completely accounted for;
A-3 and A-2, which were very unusual hands to openlimp with in early position.
All things considered, I felt it was extremely likely that I held the best hand, and the only objective was thus to get all my chips in the middle and double up. I felt the best way to do this was through a two-step betting pattern: checkraise the flop and shove the turn. So I checked, the big blind checked, and the early position limper cooperated by betting 1000 into the 1200 pot. I followed the plan, checkraising to 3500. The big blind folded and the early position limper called. What gives?
The early position limper’s call did not scare me at all. I tired to get into his head. Because the board had two diamonds on it, and because my call from the small blind could be a wide range of hands, including different flush and straight draws, his flat call on the flop (rather than a reraise) was consistent with a medium-strength made hand or a draw. If he had a set or two pair, the common play would be to put me all in so that I would have to pay to draw at him. Since he had flat called my checkraise, I tried to put him on the various hands that might openlimp and then call a flop checkraise. The two hands I could envision were a medium suited ace, which gave him top pair, or a diamond draw such as the K-Q or Q-J of diamonds. What was the plan now?
The plan was to shove all in on any non-diamond turn. The turn was indeed a non-diamond: the jack of spades. I pushed all in for my remaining 5000 chips and my opponent instacalled, flipping over pocket threes for a set. I was drawing dead.
I muttered “nice hand” and slowly rose from my chair, gathered my stuff, and trudged off. My brain was frozen, completely blank. I was employing a defense mechanism that I learned in early in life and have since mastered: withdrawal. There is no pain when you can’t feel anything. I walked past the tables full of hopefuls, riffling their chips. I walked through the door, down the hallway crammed with spectators waiting in line, trying to get a glimpse of the action. Then down two more long hallways, dazedly passing hundreds poker denizens of all kinds. Then the torpid march through the casino floor with all its persistent noises and lights, then finally into the elevator, then down another hall, through another door, and into bed.
That was it for the 2007 Main Event. A dud.
Amusing side note: I have now busted out of my three Main Events with monster hands–nine high, eight high, and three high.