(i know that this blog entry alternates between the present and past tenses. poker hand descriptions just sound better in the present tense, and storytelling sounds better in the past tense. that’s how i like it. deal.)
THE 2008 MAIN EVENT
When a poker player is constantly telling me that he’s “running bad,” it’s not a good sign. This is because “I’m running bad” is usually a euphemistic way of saying “I’m not good at poker.” This is common knowledge in much the same way that a person “between jobs” is really unemployed or that a person whose recent relationship “didn’t work out” has just been dumped. So when I conclude this blog entry by telling you that I continue to run bad, I will leave it up to you to decide whether or not I can play worth a damn.
This is the story of my 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event.
In terms of its place in my life, the Main Event of the World Series has undergone some natural and intuitive changes along with my career. In 2005 and 2006, this tournament felt to me like a celebration. And it kind of is. The Main Event is the poker industry’s annual party in recognition of its continued vitality, and the frenzied atmosphere at the Rio certainly reflects this. In 2005 and 2006, like the proverbial wild card playoff team, I was “just happy to be there,” having qualified online for a fraction of the tournament’s cost, thrilled to partake in an event that would be the largest I’d ever seen.
But in 2007 and especially 2008, my perspective has changed. This old wild card team is now a division winner, and the Main Event feels less like a party and more like an annual opportunity to win a championship. This was especially true this year, when I spent most of June in Vegas playing in the WSOP prelims. By the time that stretch was finished, I had lost all interest in attending the orgiastic poker party that precedes the Main Event. I intentionally skipped all the festivities and instead flew home to see my fiancée, to take my parents out for their anniversary, and to host my annual July 4th Bar-B-Que.
The July 4th BBQ, which I host annually at my parents house on Long Island, is a long-running institution for my group of friends. Filming this event would make for an interesting time-lapse feature, as the crowd and activities at the BBQ have steadily evolved over time. In summary, what began as an excuse for a group of yuppies to smoke weed and go swimming has become a trip to a day care facility. I think the children may have outnumbered the adults this year, but the BBQ was still fun, which I suppose is a testament to how old and solid the relevant friendships are. The BBQ was also an opportunity to continue another tradition, allowing some of my good friends to stake me for nominal amounts in the Main Event, which most of them enthusiastically did.
With the BBQ behind me and the Main Event already in progress, I flew back to Las Vegas the next day, in time to register for Day 1d, the last of the four Day 1’s. The flight to Vegas is becoming remarkably routine for me. It wasn’t long ago that I despised air travel, but I have grown to enjoy it in the same way I imagine my grandfather enjoyed riding the bus, which he did nearly every day of his life. We’re creatures of habit, and flying across the country is becoming one of my habits. Smushing myself into my preferred window seat, happily resigned to my tiny confines, I’ve learned to relax. Accompanied only by my headphones, a book and the droning of the airplane’s engines, I invariably drift off to sleep, the country’s mostly vacant flyover territory passing beneath me. Then I’m jolted back to reality by the announcement that we’ll be landing in Las Vegas soon.
When my flight landed, I walked out into the merciless Vegas summer sun and proceeded by cab directly from the airport to the Rio. Once there, I wheeled my luggage right up to the busy registration desk and was greeted by a smiling clerk at one of the fifteen registration windows. I pulled $10,000 in cash and tournament lammers out of my pocket along with my WSOP Edition Harrah’s card, handed the bundle to the clerk, and after all the Benjamins were double counted, claimed my seat. From there I wasted no time watching Day 1c in progress. Instead, I tucked my registration ticket into my back pocket and walked through the Rio, out its West entrance, through a parking lot, and into my digs for the duration of the Main Event: the Gold Coast.
The Gold Coast is not by any stretch “fancy.” Nor does it satisfy any of the various meanings of “high quality.” The accommodations at the Gold Coast are more accurately described as “decent,” and (more importantly for me on this particular trip) as “affordable.” The Gold Coast prides itself on serving Vegas locals. The food, drink and gamblin’ are all cheap at the Gold Coast. Also, it’s located next to the Rio. As I key-carded my way into my room, I noticed something immediately. It smelled. Not a fragrant smell; rather it was the faint remnants of a once ferociously foul odor. Its exact cause was indiscernible at this point, but I guessed that it was either the smell of thousands of snuffed cigarettes or a major plumbing reversal from about a month prior, or possibly both. It was hard to say. As I sat down to ponder the mystery stench, the bed groaned and sagged under my tired 180-pound frame. The Gold Coast charges me $30 per night.
For the record, I’ve included this last paragraph to dispel any lingering notions amongst my friends that I live a glamorous life.
It was early on Saturday night in Las Vegas, and I was there for business purposes. This did not rule out the possibility of being taken out for dinner, an offer which had been made by my Vegas-resident friends Jon and Jen. I accepted, and we all enjoyed a nice meal at a tex-mex joint west of the Strip.
Also in Vegas that particular weekend were two other friends of mine, Rob and Melissa. They are big UFC enthusiasts and they were attending a championship fight at Mandalay Bay that night. By the time dinner was over, so was the fight, so Jon drove us over to a bar at the MGM where Rob and Melissa were enjoying a post-fight beverage. We found them and listened as they spluttered and frothed on about what an amazing fight they had witnessed as Jon and I sat there somewhat dumbfounded. I think I spotted a bit of foam trickling from the corners of their mouths.
I’m not a big UFC guy. I’ve seen a grand total of one of these fights, on pay-per-view back when the sport first became prominent, and I wasn’t terribly impressed. But being in Las Vegas a lot, I can’t help but notice the impact of this growing sport on the city, which is clearly the world’s undisputed capital of UFC. There are always fights scheduled at one arena or another. More importantly, the fighters (and I’m guessing wannabe fighters) and fans are everywhere: you can’t go anywhere in Las Vegas without spotting one of these beefed up tattooed dudes with his entourage. Also, I’ve noticed that the crowd that follows this sport tends to be a bit… how to put this diplomatically… let’s just say that some of them own houses with wheels.
Apparently the title fight at Mandalay went the distance. Rob took some choice video of the moment of truth on his digital camera, which he proudly showed me. When the judges’ decision was announced, the ring announcer said something, then there was a dramatic pause. Then he announced the winner, who apparently was the underdog and who happens to be Melissa’s favorite fighter. The crowd erupted. Then the camera pans to a close up of Melissa, standing at Rob’s immediate right. Melissa is overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the moment… and is crying. Hey Rob and Mel: I love you guys, and I wouldn’t put this information in print if I didn’t think you’d take my ribbing lightly. But you’re both a bit weird. I mean, I’d probably cry too if the New York Jets ever won the Super Bowl in my lifetime, but still… you’re weird.
It was approaching midnight at this point and it was time to rest up for the tournament. I bid all parties adieu, strolled out of the bar, deposited my half-drunk Heineken on top of a slot machine, made my way through the bustling MGM casino floor, waited on a very long cab line and hopped one back to the Gold Coast. As I crawled into my creaky bed, I surveyed my mental state: focused and a tad nervous.
Jonny Y and Sug D. Post fight, pre tourney. (Photo courtesy of Robert Arreola)
Most of the vital skills needed for success in live poker now come quite naturally to me. For instance, I can casually yet precisely observe the other players at my table and get a good feel for their games through their appearance, demeanor and eventually their betting patterns. I can make these observations without being obvious, even while engrossed in conversation with the player next to me. It’s easy for me. I have no problem cataloguing the profiles of all my opponents in this manner and then using that information to my benefit. I don’t need any practice to do this.
Still, for big events like the WSOP Main, I will take extra steps to ensure I’m in the right mental state prior to the tournament. So when I woke up on Sunday, I instinctively went through a somewhat peculiar little routine, pacing around my smelly room and periodically stopping to exhort myself aloud in the mirror with nondescript blurtings like “c’mon!” and “let’s go,” accompanying each of these with the kind of hand gestures often used by NFL special teams coaches. After a few minutes of this, I felt I was ready to shower. And I said Rob and Mel were weird.
After I showered and dressed–topping my tasteful outfit of jeans, t-shirt and pumas off with my now-decrepit but still beloved “Sug D’s” sweatshirt–I realized that it was still over an hour away from “shuffle and deal” time. I filled much of the interim laying down on my back, wide awake but with my eyes closed. I’m not sure exactly what I was doing but I think those who do it regularly would probably classify it as meditation. Once kickoff was under 20 minutes away, I left my room, took the elevator downstairs, bought and consumed a piece of banana bread (I hate playing on a full stomach) with an iced coffee, and headed over to the Rio. After phone conversations with my most trusted confidants—Janeen and my father—it was showtime.
For big tournaments, another extra precaution I take is to arrive at my table at least five minutes before the scheduled start time. I do this so I can take stock of my opponents before the cards even get in the air. This includes attempting furtive glances at their registration cards as they hand them to the dealer so that I might be able to read their names. I do this because I rarely forget something I’ve read, and if you final tabled the big event at the LA Poker Classic in 2006 (a strong indicator that you know what you’re doing), chances are I will recognize your name from having seen it in Cardplayer magazine or somewhere on the internet. In this instance, I neither recognized anyone’s face nor their name in print. I was seated with eight players who were completely foreign to me.
My table was in the “Tropical Room,” which had been used mostly for single table satellites for the duration of the WSOP. A lot of people evidently had the same idea as me– spend the holiday weekend back home and fly in for the last day 1—and so the Tropical Room was pressed into service to accommodate the massive (over 2,200 person) field for Day 1d. This meant that my table would likely be broken pretty quickly as the field compressed itself into the massive main room. I settled in, popped in a toothpick and got ready. And then the cards were airborne.
At this point, I am going to do something I haven’t done on this blog in a long time: I’m going to go through some fairly in-depth discussion of tournament poker play. I have slacked in this area for a long time now for two related reasons: First, most of the situations I continually face in poker tournaments have become kind of routine for me; I’ve seen them all many times and I’ve thus lost interest in discussing them. Second, I don’t have a vivid recollection of most situations any longer. This is probably because (as I just mentioned) they’ve become so commonplace, and because I play so many tournaments. I have attempted to remedy this second factor in the 2008 Main Event by taking notes at the end of each level. I will now see if my scrawlings had the intended effect. Now is a good time to click on something else if you don’t want to hear about poker strategy. The hands discussed are not a complete list of hands I played, they’re just the fraction of hands that I made notes about at the end of each level.
LEVEL 1 (blinds 50-100, stack size 20,000)
The first thing I noticed was that my table was pretty tough. I expected there to be one or two players who were completely lost, but I couldn’t find any at this table. That isn’t to say there were any superstars present, but there certainly were no pathetically easy marks. This was a bit disappointing. It would be convenient to say that this table composition was reflective of a recent overall increase in the average recreational player’s skill, but the sample size is really too small to make that conclusion.
I’ve done nothing of import so far. I pick up pocket sevens under the gun and raise to 300. I get called by a guy in the cutoff and everyone else folds. The flop comes Q-9-x rainbow and I fire 450. The guy calls. The turn looks like a nice scare card for me, the ace of clubs. I fire one yellow chip, 1000. The guy calls. I’m done here unless I river a set of sevens. The river brings a blank and we check it down. I say “you win” and he tables QJ offsuit and drags the pot. I guess under the gun raises and scare cards do not mean much to this gentleman. 18,000.
I pick up two black eights on the button. It is folded to me and I raise to 300. The small blind folds, but the big blind, who had been quiet until now, reraises to 1000. We’re way too deep to fold. I call. The flop comes 9-7-6 with two clubs, giving me an open ended straight draw with a backdoor flush draw. The big blind bets 1400 and I call. The turn is the jack of clubs. The big blind checks, I check behind. The river is the five of clubs, completing my straight but also putting four clubs on board. The big blind checks, and I check behind. He tables two red aces, and I turn over the winning hand, an eight high flush, saying “did I miss value on that river?” Much more on that topic later. 21,000.
For the rest of the level I successfully poke around with periodic raises and continuation bets. At the close of Level 1 I have 22,000.
LEVEL 2 (blinds 100-200, 22,000 chips)
The table is playing somewhat passively, most pots are opened for a raise, but there is relatively little squeezing or reraising. I decide to get a little tricky and openlimp the 8-7 of spades from under the gun. It gets folded all the way around to the small blind, who completes, and the big blind checks his option. The flop is a very enticing 4-6-9 with two spades. Pretty much the best flop imaginable. The blinds both check and I bet 500 into the 600 chip pot. The small blind folds but the big blind calls. The turn is a completely irrelevant red king. The big blind check/calls my 1200 chip bet, which is both a pot builder and a bluff, I suppose. Even with one card to come, I like my monster draw.
The river is a four, pairing the board and turning my once powerful draw into mush. With 2800 chips in the pot, the big blind now leads out for 1000, or about one-third of the money. I know exactly what this is. It’s a blocking bet with a weak made hand, probably a crappy nine or a six. Amateurs shouldn’t make obvious blocking bets into me. I raise. I quickly make it 3500 to go. To my surprise and dismay, Bob (I’d soon be learning his name) makes a nice call. I say “I flopped the world and bricked my draws” and turn over my eight-high. The big blind shows 9-3 and rakes a nice pot, having called down all three of my barrels, including a raise on the river.
The winner of this pot was a middle aged man who was now quite happy with himself. He finished stacking my chips, removed his sunglasses from his face and placed them on the table in front of him. Then, in a gesture that was probably designed to show that he knew that loudly gloating in front of your opponents is poor etiquette, he stepped away from the table. But not nearly far enough. After perhaps a four foot jaunt, he walked in a tight circle behind his chair, pumped his fist and said emphatically “good call Bob! Good call!!” Good call, Bob. 19,000.
I pick up 10-10 in middle position and raise to 550. I get four customers and the flop comes 6-6-4. I make a continuation bet and take it down. I’ve got 21,000 at the second break.
I’m happy that I have more than the starting stack, but I’m growing a bit frustrated and concerned that I can’t make a big hand that will garner me a bunch of chips.
LEVEL 3 (blinds 150-300)
I pick up my first big hand: aces. There are a few limpers and I raise it out of the small blind. No action. Shortly thereafter my table is broken and I’m moved to a different table in the Tropical Room. Later, Bob. 22,000.
My new table has a scraggly, half-deranged looking tall guy with a black goatee and long unkempt hair sitting to my right. I immediately target this guy as a possible source for the chips I’m so desirous of. He likes to openlimp from all positions, and seems content to bleed that way. He is also someone at least semi-famous in the poker world, as members of the vast media crew on hand continually come over to him for an update on his progress. Each time, he tells them he’s “grindin’ it out, man.” There’s no urgent need for me to figure out why this lousy player is famous, but I do briefly wonder.
I pick up the As8d on the button and it’s folded to scraggly in the cutoff. He raises to 900. Let’s see what kind of heat ol’ scraggs can handle. I re-pop it to 2600. The blinds fold but he calls without much thought. The flop comes down king high, all hearts, completely missing me and offering me roughly 0% odds of winning this one at showdown. Scraggs checks, and it’s time to bet and hope he hates the flop as much as I do. I bet 3500 and after a pretty long think, he folds. He’s been very chatty since I sat down and opines that his “pair was either way behind or up against a big draw.” I smile and nod. Something like that. 25,000
I pick up the KQ of clubs on the button and call a 900-chip raise from a player in middle position. He’s got quite a stack for this stage of the tournament, about double what I’ve got. We see the flop heads up and it’s is a nice looking Q-9-6 rainbow. He fires 1300 and I see no sense in raising. I call. The turn is a blank and I call another bet, 2500. The river is a card I don’t like, an ace, and now he moves another 3700 chips in. I am very tempted to call this bet, as a three barrel bluff makes some sense, but I deliberate for awhile and muck my hand. He collects the chips and says to no one in particular, “that ace was a bad card for me.” What he means is that he was leading all along and the ace killed his action (i.e., he flopped a set or held AQ). I have no idea whether to believe him or not. Back to 20,000, and pissed that I can’t make much headway.
An older guy who had been playing pretty normal, making 3x preflop raises, suddenly opens a pot for 5x, or 1500 chips. I’ve seen this one before. His hand might as well be face up—It’s a pocket pair, tens through queens. I’m inclined to just get out of his way but I look down and find the AK of clubs. Hmmm…
If he knows that I know his hand is face up, he will put me on AA or KK if I reraise. If he somehow thinks his odd 5x raise went unnoticed, he will still likely proceed with caution if I reraise, and I’ll have overcards. Let’s do it. I pause and flip four yellow chips in. “Reraise to four thousand.” It’s folded back to the raiser, and he instantaneously mucks two jacks face up, fixing me with a glance that says “you can’t trap me.” 22,000.
Scraggly limps under the gun and I have AQ offsuit. I make it 1050 to go. It’s folded back around to scraggly and he makes the call. The flop is Q-9-7 with two clubs (I have no clubs) and I bet 1500. Scraggly calls. The turn is a red six. Scraggly checks, and I decide to keep the pot small and check behind. The river is a non-club eight, putting four to a straight on the board, meaning that any hand with a ten or a five has now made a straight. Scraggly checks. And this brings me to the topic of value betting the river.
It is a basic poker axiom that the object of the game is to take the most chips possible on your winning hands and sacrifice the fewest chips possible (or win the hand by bluffing) on your losing hands. However, most no limit hold ‘em players blatantly ignore the first part of this equation in a certain situation. That situation is when they have a good but not great hand on the river. Early in their development, in order to simplify the game, most players learn to check behind on rivers such as the one I just described: they have top pair on a threatening board and their opponent has just checked to them on the river. The opponent could easily have a straight or two pair. He also could just as easily have top pair with a weaker kicker. Since we don’t know which it is, and we don’t love our hand, we teach ourselves to simply close out the betting by checking behind on the river. It’s the safe thing to do. But it also violates the precept that you should extract the most value from your good hands.
Making thin value bets on the river is the last piece of my game that has fallen into place. I’m not saying it’s the final piece, as I still have much to learn, but I have added the thin river value bet to my game within the past year or so. Surprisingly few players employ this strategy. This makes them easier to read. On most heads up hands, a bet on the river from the player in position can be only two things: a very strong hand or a bluff. The player who checked the river and then faces a bet has to decide whether to call and hope to snap off a bluff, or to fold (yes, I’m ignoring river checkraises). Adding thin value bets to the mix of possible hands held by the river bettor makes things considerably more complicated for guy who checked the river. Now the bettor can have three possible holdings: a big hand, a bluff, or a decent hand. Making this type of bet makes you much harder to read, and if done properly, will result in more chips being pushed your way when your opponents begin to call your river value bets loosely. Another side benefit of making thin value bets on the river is that you will be forced to show down fewer hands (since you are betting and winning more uncontested pots on the river), making your game less transparent overall.
Anyway, I choose to bet 2700 on this river, which is exactly the type of bet I’ve just written a short treatise on. Scraggly goes into a long, uncomfortable period of audible speculation. Finally, he gathers up the 2700 chips and says “I know you have a ten; show me your pocket tens!” and tosses them in. I show my AQ first and wait for his response. He blurts out “good!” and turns over the 5-4 of clubs for the bad end of the straight (with a flopped flush draw). Sigh. Good hand. Wait, did I just say that thin value bets on the river are smart? 16,000. Not happy.
The player to my left, a kid I have pegged as a tight player, raises to 800 under the gun. It’s folded to my big blind, and I’m holding AK offsuit. I decide his range and my stack size are not right for a reraise, so I just call. The flop comes A-9-3 and I check/call a 1200 chip bet. The turn is a six and the action goes check/check. The river is another ace and it’s up to me. I’m either betting and getting action from KK through 10-10, a weaker ace, or a hand with a nine, or he has nothing and will fold to my bet. This is likely true regardless of what amount I bet, as long as its reasonable. So the time is right for a sizable value bet. Unfortunately I am suffering from some kind of brain fart and I throw in a fake block-bet of only 1200. He quickly calls and mucks his hand when he sees my trip aces. I have missed river value by betting a bad amount. Back to 20,000. Still not thrilled.
I pick up my second big hand of the day, two black kings in the small blind, but it’s folded around to me and I win only the big blind by raising. I have roughly 20,000 at the end of Level 3, which is the dinner break. I’m playing just fine, but I haven’t caught the kind of break that can make me rich. My stack is substandard, but what’re ya gonna do?
For dinner, I chose to get the hell out of the Rio and ate at the cafe at the Gold Coast. After scarfing that meal down, I returned to my room for another fifteen minutes of that meditation stuff. A few east coast phone calls later, it was back to work.
LEVEL 4 (blinds 150-300 + 25 ante, 20,000 chips)
I’m back at my old table and after folding a few hands I pick up pocket aces. Here we go. I raise it up to 850 and I get one customer, a woman seated a few seats to my left. The flop comes a little more coordinated that I’d like, J-9-7 with two diamonds (I’ve got no diamonds). I bet 1400 and am quickly called. The turn is another card I hate, a black queen. Still, I bet another 2300 and get called. The river completes the flush draw, a small diamond. Time for a final bet, 3500. Again I’m called. I table the aces and the woman mucks her hand. Cool. 28,000
Not long after that hand’s completion, my table was broken and I was moved into the main room. This new table was much more active than my last one, and the important characters were as follows. Four seats to my left, in the one seat, was a gentleman of undetermined European origin. He was wearing a cap and mirrored sunglasses. It occurred to me that he looked familiar. There was something about his face that was very familiar. I thought about it a bit it dawned on me. It likely had something to do with the abnormally long, sloping region between his nose and his upper lip (he could have grown one hell of a featherduster mustache). He looked like Kermit the Frog! Kermit turned out to be a hyperactive presence, he was involved in a ton of pots. After a few orbits I realized that Kermit lacked the selectivity of a good LAG, however. Kermit was sitting on a lot of chips and had come to play a ton of pots. Let’s call him Kamikaze Kermit.
Two seats to my left was a player that I’m pretty sure was Scandinavian. I knew this from his accent and from the frequency with which he three-betted. I could tell that he was tough and was generally unafraid of tangling. I’m not a fan of these kind of guys for obvious reasons.
Finally, sitting two seats to my right there was a spewtard. Every now and then you will run across one of these guys in a tournament. They can be a huge pain in the ass if you don’t know how to combat them. They play as if they are programmed. In fact “spewbot” might be a better name for this kind of player. They are programmed to raise from the cutoff or the button every single time it is folded to them, no matter what two cards they are holding. This particular gentleman was raising to exactly 2.5x the big blind every time this occurred. This was an interesting development for me, because the spewtard’s button coincided with my big blind, and spewtard’s cutoff coincided with my small blind. This of course meant that he would be systematically attacking my chips for the rest of the night. After sitting through a few orbits at this table it was crystal clear that I would eventually have no choice but to battle the spewtard.
I pick up the Q-10 of diamonds and raise the Scandinavian’s big blind to 900. He calls and we see a flop of 8-7-4 with two spades. He checks and I check behind. The turn is a non-spade deuce and he leads out for 1200. I consider the situation and decide to raise to 3200. This is a horrible play because a good player would never make it. It makes no sense, because there is no hand that a good player would check behind on that particular flop and then raise for value on the turn. If a good player makes the nuts or flops a set on a super coordinated board like the one in this hand, he is almost never going to check the flop, he is going to start to build a pot. Still, the Scandinavian guy doesn’t know a thing about me because I’m new to the table and could be some random donkey, so this retarded play could actually work. And in fact it does. The Scandi looks utterly confused as he mucks his hand.
This stupid play worked because my opponent didn’t know that I wasn’t stupid. Does that make sense? 29,000.
At the end of Level 4 I’ve bled away some chips and have 26,000. Not a good stack, but I’ve done reasonably well under the circumstances.
By this time it was after 10:00 PST and my cheering section on the east coast was ready for bed. I told Janeen and my dad that I’d text them the day’s final results and settled in for one more level.
LEVEL 5 (blinds 200-400 + 50 ante, 26,000)
I sit around quietly watching Kamikaze Kermit and the spewtard go at it for a few orbits, and then I decide that I’ve finally had enough of spewtard’s act. On my big blind, he raises to 1000 and I reheat him to 3400. My cards are irrelevant, but for the record they were the jack of clubs and the six of diamonds. Spewy calls the 3400. This is getting a little hairy. The flop is monochrome in clubs, king high. I have none of it except a jack high flush draw. I lead for 4700 and spewy reluctantly folds. 30,000.
It’s the very next hand and still spewbot hasn’t learned his lesson. It’s folded to him and he does what he’s programmed to: he tosses in another raise to 1000. I say “same bet” and make it 3400 to go. This time I have the K-8 of spades. Spewy folds. 32,000.
There’s about an hour to play. I lose some chips before winning my biggest pot of the night. Again, it’s against the same opponent.
It’s my button and spewy makes his programmed raise: 1000. I have the 8-6 of hearts and with position I like a call better than a reraise. I flip in the yellow chip. The flop comes down K-10-3 with two hearts. Spewy bets 1800 and I call. The turn is a blank and we both check. As the dealer burns and turns the river, I say to myself “can you just put a fuckin’ heart out there one time?!” He does, the nine of hearts is peeled. Spewy bets 2500 into my smallish flush. What’s my play?
Awhile back, I would have flat called. But as I’ve explained earlier, my new M.O. is to vacuum up every available chip. Value, value, value. The easy play here is to close the betting and call; instead I ponder spewy’s bet for a bit and raise to 5300. He is visibly disturbed by this bet, and I can tell it’s not an act, so I have no fear of a reraise. Spewy thinks it over for a couple of minutes and calls, looking rather pained about it. I flip over the winning hand and he mucks. 39,000.
There’s about two minutes left on the clock and the table is looking pretty weary. The end of Day 1 of the WSOP Main Event plays like a bubble; everyone is tired and wants very badly to play Day 2. I’m in the cutoff and will be raising any two cards if the action is folded to me. The action is in fact folded to me and I’ve got the 7-4 of clubs. I make it 1,200 to go. Unfortunately, the Scandinavian guy in the small blind knows exactly what I’m up to, and he makes it 4,200. I know he has nothing. One of my inner voices is urging a four-bet to 12,500, another inner voice wants to call and play a flop in position, but the voice that eventually wins says “just give it up and call it a night,” and that’s what I do. Stupid Scandis.
I ended Day 1 of the 2008 Main Event with 37,000 chips. This was a bit below average but was still a very playable stack. I was never all in and I had never put anyone all in. The first and last hand I made occurred in the last hour of play. It was an honest day’s work.
I bagged up my chips, collected my things, and ambled down the hall, silently picking my way through the throngs of adrenalized guys trading stories about their shared experience. I made it through the casino floor and out the Rio’s doorway. I had two days off before I’d be in action again, on Day 2b. It was a sweltering, unforgiving summer Sunday night in Vegas, the kind of night where heat continues to emanate from the baked pavement long after the sun has set. Still, it felt like too much effort to remove my sweatshirt. I left it on. I completed the short walk back to the Gold Coast, walked inside and wandered over to the bar. I ordered a $4.00 Becks from the past-her-prime barmaid, drained it and went upstairs to my stinky room to sleep.
Part II soon…