A shortish recap of my experience at Foxwoods:
Foxwoods gets very busy when it hosts a WPT series. People from all over the Northeast show up and stay for the duration, selling out all three hotels on the premises. Particularly well represented are New Englanders. Foxwoods was definitely Red Sox/Patriots country for the past two weeks. Roughly one out of three people up there was wearing some form of Sox or Pats paraphernalia. And for good reason: the Boston teams are currently destroying the American pro sports landscape. Some of my tables were so dominated by guys in Sox/Pats clothing that I felt like asking the non-compliant if they hadn’t gotten the memo.
I had mentioned that I went into my Foxwoods trip looking to accomplish two things: first, to get back into the routine of playing a lot of hours; and second, to re-find my game, which I felt had become a little too mechanical. Both were accomplished.
I started out playing Act 2 sit ‘n go’s, which have a $250 buy in and award two seats into the $1100 Act 3 tournaments. In past trips to Foxwoods, these tournaments invariably included an additional $100 kicked in by all ten players, establishing a 3rd place prize of $1000 cash. Not anymore. The management at Foxwoods has decided to kill off this action, warning the players in a conspicuously posted sign that anyone drumming up sidebet action would be kicked out of the poker room. Management’s explanation for this was that they are protecting players from feeling browbeaten into kicking in the extra money. Yeah right. The obvious correct answer is that Foxwoods does not want vigless gambling going on under their roof. Having not read the signs, I plopped myself down at my first Act 2, pulled out a $100 bill and said “third place money!” to the table at large. I got a few silent head-shaking stares from the other players, and the dealer warned me that he’d call the floor if I did that again. Oops.
The formula for winning Act 2’s is pretty simple:
a) don’t spew chips early;
b) push/fold correctly late; and
c) win races.
I followed this outline well enough to win three of six Act 2’s, and the three I lost were all bubbles. Now onto the multitable tournaments.
First Act 3
There were only 53 entrants, leaving five seats for us to fight for. I picked up a ton of chips right away in this tournament after completing a couple of big draws. I had the biggest stack in the room with 40 players left, but it withered away until the following hand developed:
Sitting on about 14,000 chips At the 600-1200 + ante level, I picked up AQ in the big blind. The action was folded to the small blind, who I covered by a small margin. I recognized this player, he’s around at all the tournaments, but I don’t know his name. He completed and I raised to 3600. He quickly called. The flop came 10-5-3, a very ragged board. The small blind moved all in, and I was faced with a decision for my tournament holding only ace high. But my initial reaction wass that I was way ahead. I know a stop-and-go when I see one, and I had just been stop-and-go’d. I called pretty quickly and J-8 was no good. From there, I push/folded my way to a main event seat.
I quickly lost two-thirds of my stack in level one, then made a furious comeback to take my total chip count back up over the starting amount of 5000. I was moved to Chris Reslock’s table. I’ve played with him before, and Negreanu’s description of him as a “maniac in nit’s clothing” is appropriate. He was playing about 50% of the hands. At the 100-200 level, Reslock began opening a lot of pots for 525 chips, then took down those pots with smallish continuation bets. On my big blind, he opened (as usual) for 525, and I defended my big blind with J-10 offsuit. The flop came 8-7-x rainbow, giving me two overs and a gutshot straight draw. I checked, Reslock bet 1000, and after deliberating for a few seconds, I moved all in. Reslock had me easily covered and made the call. He had QQ and I didn’t improve. I have given this hand a lot of thought, and while I am fine with the overall strategy I employed, i.e., stuffing a bunch of chips in a maniac’s face with only a weak draw, there was one important clue that I didn’t detect. That clue was the size of Reslock’s bet after the flop. He bet almost the entire pot instead of half or two-thirds. His bet smelled strongly of “I’m protecting my hand” rather than “I’m trying to take this thing down cheaply.” I failed to pick up the scent.
I was card dead from the start and couldn’t get anything going. However, I was still sitting on around 4500 chips at the 100-200 + ante level. A player got moved into the seat directly to my right. Then he immediately won three big pots with AK suited, AA and KK. On three consecutive hands. Must be nice, buddy. He was now probably the early tournament chip leader. On the ensuing hand it was folded to him on the button and he raised to 625. I had 5-4 offsuit in the small blind and pushed all in. The big blind folds but Mr. Huge Stack snap calls and turns over aces. Wow. Adios.
Second Act 3
I was doing fine until I picked up AK in late position and reraised a middle position player after he openraised. He called without much thought and then the flop came A-10-x. He led the betting and I raised all in. This sent the other player into a long period of contemplation. He covered me. After literally a minute or two he said “I can’t lay this down” and reluctantly called. I was shocked to see him turn over A-10 offsuit. I shook my head and said “of course you can’t lay that down! Jesus!” (well, he should have preflop) and stalked out of the room.
I started out strong in this tournament, and when there were only around 80 out of 412 players remaining, I had about an average stack. At the 300-600 level, an older guy openraised in middle position and I stuffed it all in from the button with JJ. He called and tabled two aces, and as I prepared to depart, the flop’s doorcard was a happy smiling jack. No ace on the turn or river. A few minutes later I busted John Cernuto, the same guy who took me out of this same tournament last year. And that’s where the fun begins.
The key hand of the tournament for me was the following:
After we reached the money, at the 1000-2000 level, I had A-9 offsuit in the big blind. I had around 40,000 chips. The player in the cutoff, who I covered by a couple of thousand chips, raised to 5000. I was familiar with this player as we have sat at the same table a few times before in different locations. He likes to vary his preflop raise sizes. In the past half hour, he had raised to 6500 twice, 5500 once, and now 5000 for the first time. I did not like my hand, but I was getting a good price, so I called. The flop came 7-5-5 with two spades. I had no spades. I checked and my opponent fired a continuation bet of 7000. My first instinct was to toss my hand in the muck and move on, but I had a feeling that I was ahead, so I decided to do something that I almost never do: float out of position. Since I didn’t want to commit any more chips (over ¼ of my stack was already involved), I just called and hope to show the hand down. The turn was a non-spade four. I checked again, and my opponent now moved all in for around 25,000 chips.
Now I was faced with a very big, difficult decision. As I mulled it over, the clock expired for the level and many players left the room for a 10-minute break. Several lingered around my table as I thought things over. And what I was thinking is this: what hands does this player move all in with here? Obviously, overpairs are in the mix. So are hands that include a five, and so is complete air. But when I tried to get inside my opponent’s head, his small preflop raise did not match up with either overpairs or the airball hands that I was behind (A-10 through A-K). I decided that those were hands that this player would protect by betting more with. With his 5000-chip preflop bet, he was exposing himself to multiway action, and he was smart enough not to do that with big pairs and big aces. Could he have a middle pair like 88, an underpair like 22, or top pair with something like 8-7? I thought about those hands and reached the conclusion that my opponent would slow down on the turn with those hands and try and show them down cheaply. A lot of time was ticking by and I still hadn’t made a decision. In the end, based on the preflop, flop and turn action, I decided that I was only losing to a small subset of hands: those hands that had flopped trip fives. Still, this was the type of call that I have trained myself to never make: my tournament was on the line and my opponent had shown aggression three times already in this hand, and I had bubkis. I had never in my life made this crazy a call. The final criterion on which I would base my decision was a look at my opponent. I looked him up and down for a few seconds, and he looked genuinely uncomfortable. I was scared shitless too, but after around three or four minutes, my mind was made up. I was making this crazy call. I shook my head and muttered “call” as I slid my entire stack forward.
My opponent let loose a mournful sigh and said “nice call” as he dumped K-J (no spades) face up in front of him. YES! WHAT A CALL! I was overcome by a mixture of relief, pride and unbridled joy. As a commotion rose amidst the players standing on the rail, I did something very out of character: I stood up and triumphantly slammed the A-9 open onto the table. Now there was a real uproar behind me: “holy shit!”… “did he just call with ace high?!”… “that’s sick!”… “Whoa!”
The river was a brick. Suddenly I was being congratulated by random people. Guys were patting me on the back and high fiving me, calling me “sicko.” I was overwhelmed and unable to even tell my dejected opponent “good game.” I went to the bathroom and the topic of conversation at the urinals was the “sick call some guy just made.” I giddily called Janeen and my father during the break and told them that I was going deep in this tournament.
The rest of Day 1 was a grind, with nobody really getting out of line. Bustouts were few and far between, and it took until 1:30 am to get the field down to 17 players, at which time play was suspended for the night. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack, guaranteed a payday of around $5,000, which paled in comparison to the $180,000 first place prize. My entire family and Janeen hastily put together plans to come up to Foxwoods to watch Day 2, and I was grateful for that. As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I am a rarity on the poker tour: a loner. Unlike most tournament pros, I do not travel with a posse and am reluctant to make new friends who are likely to be degenerates. So knowing that I’d have a few fans for Day 2 was a very nice feeling.
My first important hand of Day 2 took place with around 14 players remaining. I openraised from the cutoff with AQ and got reraised all in by Young Phan, who easily had me covered, on the button. Phan is a very chatty player who is much trickier than he appears. At the end of Day 1 he was playing very tight, standard poker, but on Day 2 he had switched gears. Even though I had enough chips to easily fold and have plenty to work with, I felt that I was either ahead or racing, so I called. Phan said “I like your hand” as he showed A-10. My A-Q held, and I excitedly yelled “ship!” as I won doubled through and won the pot. This propelled me to the final table, where the real money began to kick in.
With seven or eight players remaining, I picked up JJ in the cutoff at the 5k-10k level. The player under the gun, who I had had pegged as a decent player with little experience at these stakes, raised to 30,000. I had a tough choice between flat calling, folding and reraising. I decided to see where I was at, so I reraised to 100,000. My opponent called, leaving him with around 350,000 behind, about the same as me. I decided that he had to hold a medium to big pair, something in the range of 10-10 through Q-Q. I felt he would have reraised all in with AA, KK or AK and folded hands like 88 and AQ, thus narrowing his range to those specific pairs. The flop came K-x-x rainbow, and now my opponent did something very curious: He lead out with a half-pot bet of around 150,000. What in the world did that bet mean? I thought it over and realized it could only be one of two things: 1) a probing bet from a player who did not like the flop; or 2) a fake probing bet from a tricky player trying to induce a shove. I considered my opponent and concluded that it was the former. He wanted me to go away and I was not going to. I announced that I was all in. My unhappy opponent mulled it over for awhile, first saying “there’s so much money in the pot,” then recanting and saying “there’s no way this hand is any good” before folding QQ face up. Awash with relief, I again did something uncharacteristic. I smirked and flipped my jacks open as I raked the big pot. That hand sort of iced a top three finish for me even though I gave a ton of chips back to the same player by running AK into AA only twenty minutes later.
When we were four handed, I won two big pots against the player to my left, a nice guy named Ben who was in the process of making his first big tournament score. First, I completed from the small blind with J-10 offsuit and Ben checked. The flop came down A-J-10 rainbow and since we were both fairly deep, I decided to lead at the pot and try to three-bet all in if raised. I made a pot-sized bet and Ben cooperated by putting in a large raise. I already knew that I’d be moving all in, but I decided to take a lot of time and conjure up my best “I’m making a move on you” faux-posturing. When I finally moved all in, Ben snap called and showed A-8, leaving me ahead but vulnerable with my bottom two pair. They thankfully held up and made me the chip leader with four players left.
A few hands later, I disposed of Ben by limping on the button for the first time in two days with 8-5 of hearts. Ben checked his option and I flopped a flush: A-Q-x of hearts. Ben checked and I made my best “this is just a continuation bet”-looking bet, hoping that Ben would get frisky. He again cooperated by moving all in. I quickly called and was way out ahead of Ben’s Q-2 with no hearts. He didn’t catch runner-runner anything and I now had a commanding chip lead with only three of us left. I gave a couple of subdued high fives to my faithful railbirds and got back down to work.
I chose to turn the heat up three handed, as I figured my two opponents, the aforementioned inexperienced kid and the excellent tournament pro David Fox, might have their eyes on the $40,000 gap between third and second place. As I raised my button almost every time, they were both aware of what was going on. After picking up the blinds and antes several times from the button, I once again raised from the same spot with KQ of spades. This time the young kid to my left had seen enough. He put in a big reraise of half his stack. I thought for a few seconds and decided that I had the best hand, so I moved all in. This displeased the kid, he scowled and stood up as he contemplated his next move. After maybe 30 seconds he said “there’s too much money in the pot; I hope my cards are live. I call.” He showed 7-6 offsuit and there was a 60-something percent chance that I was about to lock up the tournament. But the flop came with a six and no K or Q, then a seven fell on the turn. Now we were playing three-handed with roughly equal stacks. A few hands later Fox and the kid got their chips all in on a J-x-x flop with one heart. The kid had J-10 and Fox had the J-8 of hearts and was drawing slim. But his railbirds cries of “heart-heart!” were answered as the turn and river came running hearts, giving him a miracle double through and crippling the kid, who was eliminated by Fox maybe 20 minutes later. I was now heads up for the title and the $180k with a 2-1 chip deficit.
There’s no way of sugarcoating the fact that I got run over heads up. I made two second best hands (top pair, bad kicker and a straight vs. a flush) right away, and from there got ground down by Mr. Fox, a very gracious winner who played superbly throughout the tournament. In the end, I was much less disappointed with this second place than the brutal one I suffered at the WSOP.
I have now locked in a year that is more successful than I could have possibly dreamed. I am ranked 96th on Cardplayer’s Player of the Year points scale despite playing very low volume compared to many of the touring regulars. Second place is really fine by me under those circumstances. I can hardly believe how well I’ve done this year, it still hasn’t totally sunk in. Perhaps more gratifying than the money or the ranking is the respect I’ve garnered from other players. Both during and after the $1500 event I was approached by a lot of players I really respect who told me how well I played.
I took a short break to bask in my 2nd place finish in the $1500, then enjoyed a weekend with Janeen and some football, then it was back to Foxwoods.
Third Act 3
This event, in marked contract to the first Act 3 I played, drew over 260 players, offering up 26 main event seats. Having already secured a seat, I was playing for $10,000 cash. I did a good job maneuvering my way down into the top 35, near the bubble, then with the blinds at an astronomical 4000-8000, I picked up 88 in the cutoff while sitting on around 70,000 chips. It was folded to me and I moved all in. The button, an older gentleman with around the same amount of chips, snap called with AQ. He flopped a queen and sent me packing. His call was technically incorrect at that stage of a satellite. Oh well.
I drew a table that included Amnon Filippi and Eric Seidel, which was exciting. The table also included a new breed of donkey that I had heretofore never encountered. A lot of the old pros talk about guys that they call “providers” or “whales,” the type of guys who are rich and terrible, who donate money and don’t really care. I had never met one until last week. I don’t know what his name is, but he knew about half the people in the room, which initially made me think that he might have a semblance of a clue about poker. He did not. He sat there in his white pants and expensive sweater playing almost every hand, and he played them all poorly. First he lost most of his stack with 10-9 offsuit on a 10 high flop against an obvious overpair, then apparently frustrated, he called off his remaining chips with two all ins in front of him. His opponents had AA and QQ, and he had J-10. Well that was interesting.
The main event went pretty well for me through the first two levels. I was at the top of my game, playing excellent poker. Then I had a rough level three, during which I made an ill-advised bluff (sorry, I’m running out of gas on this blog entry, no description). I made a very nice comeback in level four before my ultimate undoing in level five.
The blinds were 300-600 with an ante, and I had about 30,000 chips. I held 10-3 offsuit in the big blind, and the pot was openlimped in middle position, with Filippi calling on the button. The flop came 10-8-3 with two hearts, which made me quite happy. I bet 2000, the middle position limper folded, and Filippi raised to 5,000. The only hand I was scared of was 10-8 or some kind of powerful heart draw. I considered moving all in right there but felt I was slightly too deep for that play, so I decided to call and checkraise all in on almost any turn card. The turn was a non-heart nine, which didn’t scare me at all. I once again checked and now Filippi made a very large bet of about 15,000. This bet obviously reeked of someone protecting his hand against a draw, and I still couldn’t imagine a hand I was likely to be losing to other than 10-8 or 10-9, so I pushed all in. This startled Filippi (in a good way), as he removed his headphones and said “did he just move all in?!” The dealer confirmed that I had and he quickly called and showed pocket eights.
And so my lifetime record for cashes in $10k events is now down from two-for-two to two-for-five. Damn variance!
Overall, a good trip to Connecticut.