I’ve been back awhile now, and I’m struggling to find the motivation to do much of anything. Mostly I’m just kicking it in my neighborhood, a place that is a far cry from Las Vegas (thank God!) and the kind of place where doing nothing is pretty standard. It’s a beautiful place to wander around with your dog or to just chill on a bench. Benches are easy to find in Carroll Gardens, almost every shop owner sticks one in front of his/her store. This is a really benchy neighborhood. So I’ve been chilling on some benches lately.
If you’re reading this I guess it means I finally decided to write something about the WSOP Main Event. Here it is:
I broke my WSOP into two separate trips in 2009. As my friends and loyal readers are likely aware, my initial Vegas sojourn spanned three weeks and went terribly. During the brief intermission between my two Vegas trips, I occupied myself by getting beat up at Borgata. From Memorial Day through the last week in June, things went so badly that I reluctantly made a last minute change of schedule: instead of hosting my annual July 4th BBQ and flying back just in time for the WSOP Main Event, I decided that I ought to head back to the desert with several days to spare. My goal was to ease the strain on my sagging bankroll by grinding away at some satellites and winning a seat or two in the Main Event.
I left New York feeling worn out. My time back home was spent mostly in Jersey, not with Janeen and Ruthie (and regretfully not in my own bed), and I headed back to JFK Airport grumpy and sleep-deprived. I made my flight with roughly 20 seconds to spare, then found my assigned seat in the back of coach, right between two large men. The one to my right accidentally jabbed me with his left elbow at least twenty times during the six hour flight. So much for getting some sleep. When I stepped out of McCarran airport I made the unhappy discovery that Vegas’ June cold spell (temps in the high 80’s) had ended. The nighttime conditions were standard for summer in Vegas: 96 and breezy.
I awoke the next day and wasted no time. I sped over to the Rio and jumped into the biggest live multitable satellite I had ever seen: about 500 runners in a 1:00 p.m. $1,000 mega. No good. I hung around shortstacked for about three unremarkable hours before busting. Undaunted, I noticed that another $1,000 mega would be running at 8:00 p.m. I played that one too. Again, no good. I’m a glutton for punishment. The next day I played in yet another $1,000 satellite, and yet again I bricked it. Ugh.
At the start of the WSOP way back in May, (when the entire poker world has a bright cheerful outlook) I rented a safety deposit box at the Rio’s poker cage. At that time, I placed in my assigned metal box a sum of cash that I estimated would be the maximum amount of money I could conceivably lose for the entire summer if I somehow whiffed on everything I played. A sort of “disaster fund,” if you will. Minutes after completing my 0 for 3 run in mega satellites I dejectedly walked over to the cage to take a peek inside my safety deposit box to assess the damage. What I saw wasn’t pretty. I was perilously close to busting my entire WSOP roll. One $10,000 stack of Benjamins remained, accompanied by a straggly side stack straight out of Geico casting. All that were missing were the googly eyes. I grabbed the sorry little Geico stack and left my Main Event buy in alone in the box to weep. We were still a couple of days away from the kickoff of the Main Event and I was definitely done with megas. It was time for Plan B.
Plan B involved playing sit n’ go satellites. The sit ‘n go room at the Rio was as packed as ever, but instead of $100 and $200 games (many of which were offered in June), everything that they were getting off were now $500’s and $1,000’s. In the days and hours before the WSOP Main Event, the average poker enthusiast thinks nothing of spending $1,000 on a sit ‘n go. It was not without trepidation that I did the same. The formula was simple: stand on line for a few minutes, then register only for events in which I recognized no one. Play ABC poker and try to win a couple of key flips. Profit.
That’s all it took. Over the course of 48 hours I picked up a Main Event buy in’s worth of profit and then some. I couldn’t lose. These $500 and $1,000 sit ‘n go’s were comparable to the $5 sit ‘n go’s on Pokerstars. I was happy. Suddenly Mr. Geico stack had a couple of friends to chill with.
With my bankroll and confidence enhanced by my sit ‘n go rampage, I selected Sunday, July 5th (Day 1c) as my Main Event starting date. The rationale here was simple: online pros play tournaments on their computers on Sundays. Online pros are tough. I will avoid the online pros.
I still had a day to kill before the action began. In past blog entries I’ve mentioned the fact that I now have poker friends. I spent the better part of three years cruising the tournament circuit alone, but I can now confirm that I am part of a smallish crew of east coast regulars. In fact, for this entire calendar year, I have been cutting costs and socializing more by sharing hotel rooms with poker friends whenever possible. I refer to these people as my “poker friends” rather than “friends” since many of them haven’t a clue about what I’m like in any other setting, and don’t know basic things about me like my wife’s name, how many siblings I have, what my hobbies and passions are, etc. etc. Nor do they have the faintest desire to know these things. I guess they’re the same as my old law firm friends in that respect. Regardless, they’re friends of mine on some level and most of them are good company. On poker tour, I tend to gravitate towards the guys who occasionally say things unrelated to poker or strip clubs (a rarer breed than you might expect). On my second leg in Vegas I shared a room at Bally’s with one such character: my friend Jeffrey, who happens to be both a good guy and a budding poker star. Jeffrey was also signed up for Day 1c of the Main Event, so we tackled the task of killing Independence Day together.
This was accomplished by sleeping in and then availing ourselves of the second tangible benefit I’ve received from my poker agency (first; wristwatch): an invite to Phil Gordon’s annual July 4th BBQ. The BBQ was in the back yard of Gordon’s expansive Henderson house and featured free food and booze. Some poker luminaries were in attendance. I had the privilege of watching Andy Bloch play some sort of bean bag toss game. He’s umm, much better at poker.
The chief attraction of the annual Phil Gordon July 4th BBQ was the World Series of Roshambo, a game which went by the more descriptive but less exotic name “Rock-Paper-Scissors” where I grew up. Gordon’s World Series of Roshambo was a 32-player event with a $500 buy in, with the winner getting a $10,000 prize and the rest of the money going to charity. I briefly considered putting up half the money to put Jeffrey (a self proclaimed Roshambo/RPS expert) in the tournament, but instead we merely watched, which was amusing enough. For those keeping score at home, some Canadian guy defeated Microsoft Word Inventor/Poker Enthusiast Richard Brodie in the finals. Game theory guys love Roshambo/RPS, since it’s a fairly simple game that everyone knows yet requires a bit of metagame and the application of adaptive strategies, concepts central also to poker.
Watching the World Series of Roshambo got me thinking: if rock beats scissors, paper beats rock and scissors beats paper, then what beats what in poker? There’s no easy answer. There are myriad of styles of play, some of which are ideal against other styles, and some of which are hopeless against certain others. You’d need more than rock, paper and scissors in your bag of tricks. There would be a hammer, some masking tape, a dirty tube sock, spackle, and a whole lot of other stuff. And some of the instruments would differ from some of the other instruments only very slightly, in ways that were almost imperceptible. And the edges in poker are much smaller than in Roshambo. If you somehow play Roshambo perfectly you will never lose. Poker doesn’t work that way. The scissors never get their money in bad vs. rock, then spike a two outer and blast him to smithereens (I would become that pair of scissors in the Main Event, stay tuned).
I decided that as it turns out, playing poker was not much like playing Roshambo. Nope. It was more like a strange coloring game involving the deployment a box of 64 Crayola crayons. If Phil Ivey is a black crayon (beats everyone) and your mom is a while crayon (beats no one), then you and all the other players you encounter are other crayons of varying shades. Some of them combine well with certain other colors, some don’t. It all depends. You may be a Raw Sienna, which fares well against Olive Green but gets eaten alive against Periwinkle. Or maybe you’re a Magenta, which is a slightly more aggressive Lavender that happens to destroy Pine Green but can’t handle Salmon or Sepia. Yeah… crayons.
Anyway, the Phil Gordon BBQ served its purpose, giving us something to do while we waited to play the Main Event. Jeffrey and I went back to Bally’s and I got into bed early. I had a restless night and was unable to get much sleep, which contributed to my epic sleep deprivation but was nevertheless a good sign. After all this time playing so many tournaments, I still got nervous and amped up the night before the WSOP Main.
In the morning, I showered and began to consider my outfit for the big day. I dress myself pretty haphazardly for the most part without a specific plan on most days. For the Main Event, however, I wanted to make some kind of a statement without veering too far from my general theme. My general theme is as follows:
1. Present the image of a random recreational player. I always try to dress in a way that conforms to no style in particular and thus calls very little attention onto myself. This (hopefully) makes me indistinguishable from a random donk. Before anyone asks, the answer is no, wearing a PPI patch does not destroy that image; a lot of monkeys wear PPI patches.
2. Save the “Sug D’s” sweatshirt for something crucial. Ol’ Sug D’s is getting pretty ratty these days, so it can’t be overused. It only comes out when the money’s on the line.
In the end, I settled on my NY Mets throwback jersey, which was perfect because it was something special to commemorate the 2009 Main Event yet did not destroy my desired image (tons of dumbasses wear jerseys).
Jeffrey’s version of “yayyy Main Event morning!” was that he wanted pancakes, so we went to a dope breakfast spot off the strip called the Maple Tree. Once we were done with that all that was left was to get over to the Rio and wait for the starting gun. We proceeded to do just that, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was still nervous. I knew that the Main Event’s structure meant that I had a 70% chance of surviving Day 1, but still I was quite nervous and fidgety. I found my seat, settled in, and before I knew it, the cards were in the air.
One of the most important but least discussed factors in a big tournament is your table draw. This factor is actually amplified the most in the WSOP Main Event, where the field features every Crayola in the box, from the downright awful to the best on earth. It took only about an orbit and a half for me to discover that my grand plan of playing on Sunday to avoid tough pros hadn’t worked. My table was terrible.
The ideal tournament table is composed of a bunch of docile guys who let you dictate the pace. This table was the opposite. I was in the 7 seat. In the 1 seat was a hyperaggressive cash game player from Chicago. In the 2 seat was a Polish Pokerstars Pro with the screen name ‘Goral.’ In the 6 seat was another very young LAG player from England. In the 9 seat was a 21-year old online cash game specialist from Montreal. It was a very bad draw.
The blinds opened at 50-100. The kid in the 1 seat opened four of the first five pots. On two of those occasions he was three-bet by another player. Within the first orbit, several pots in the 3000-4000 chip range were contested. I was thoroughly disgusted, this table truly sucked.
I had an immediate strategic decision to make. My initial idea was to start out slow and gradually open up until I had control of my table. I had to scrap that plan, it wasn’t gonna happen at this table. Instead I decided I’d just mix it up with these guys. Wheeeeeeee…. Let’s get it on.
The first level passed without incident. And by “without incident” I mean that I got my ass handed to me. Every time I opened a pot, I whiffed the flop and had my continuation bets (sometimes one barrel, sometimes two) called. Every time I flopped a draw in position, the board bricked out. I did more swinging and missing than Rob Deer. At the first break, my starting stack of 30,000 was at 24,000, and I hadn’t even played a big pot yet. It was a slow unremitting beating.
The second level was no better. Rob Deer finished his at bat and Dave Kingman stepped in. More uppercuts, more whiffing. The only sizable pot I won was procured as follows:
Blinds 100-200. I had about 21,000. Goral had been opening a lot of pots and varying his raise amounts from 450 up to 650. In this case he opened from under the gun to 475. I decided that this raise amount meant that he’s opening light. It was folded to me on the button and I had Ad7d. I called. The cash game player in the 1 seat also called from the big blind. The flop was J-5-5 rainbow. Goral led for 1,000. I was annoyed that I had yet to win a pot and decided that it was time. I floated, tossing in a 1k chip. The big blind folded. The turn was the 8h, putting two hearts on board. Goral bet 1800. I did not float this flop so I could wuss out after he fired twice. I thought awhile and raised to 5,700, leaving me with less than half the starting stack behind. Goral folded pretty quickly. I won a pot.
From that point until the next break, I continued with my plan of out-LAGing the LAGs and it kept getting stuffed back in my face. I was bleeding chips and had only 20,000 left at the second break. I was not enjoying my tournament at all so far.
Level three featured 150-300 blinds and I finally picked up a little traction. I actually flopped a set of deuces and won a small pot, then my continuation bets began to work more often. I scratched my way back up to 30,000 by the dinner break. I ate dinner with Jeffrey at a location far away from the commotion at the Rio. He was thrilled about having a table full of sheep and was already working with 45,000. Screw you buddy.
Level four (150-300 with a 25 ante) was the worst level yet. I was either barreling with air into a set or making stupid hero calls against the nuts. At every turn I was taking chips and spraying them around the table like a high-powered lawn sprinkler. That Goral guy busted and was replaced by a maniacal Brazilian player. Meanwhile I was really taking it on the chin. I staggered to the final break of the night with 13,000 chips and was not a happy camper. I was totally convinced that my tournament was close to its end, and I could not bear the thought of staying in Las Vegas one minute longer than was necessary. I walked off to a quiet corner and phoned Janeen to tell her to start pricing flights for me. She assured me that I would not have to schedule anything. I said “okay,” but didn’t believe her.
The blinds were now 200-400 with a 25 ante. I got back to work with my shitty 13,000-chip stack and folded for half the final level. Then this hand:
I have about 12,000 left in my puny stack and I’m in the big blind with 8d4d. The young internet cash game player limps under the gun and gets called in two places. The small blind completes and I check my option. Everyone covers me. The flop comes 9d-7c-3d and I take stab by betting 1100. The kid under the gun minraises to 2200, and the player in the cutoff calls. Huh? What the fuck is this? I have to call 1100 more to win a huge pot, so I come along. I presume at least one of them is also on a draw, but for some unknown reason I still call to see what happens.
The turn is the deuce of diamonds and this time I check my flush. Both of my opponents also check. The river card is the three of spades, pairing the board. I decide to fire a combination value/blocking bet of around 4,500. After briefly considering, the kid to my left moves all in for 30,000, an amount that easily covers me along with the player in the cutoff.
I wanted to cry. I played this hand badly and my flush can’t be any good. The player in the cutoff proceeds to tank forever, debating what to do. While he’s in the tank, I am mostly wondering what time the earliest flight to New York leaves the next morning. I know I’ve already missed my chance to get on a red eye. I also want to stand up, tear my hole cards in half and let loose a primal scream, but I know that this would have been considered a violation of poker etiquette, especially in a multiway pot with a live hand. We can’t do that! Instead I sat there in agony, knowing that my decision making in this hand was over. Maybe I could stay up all night and get on a 5:00 am flight? It’s the middle of the night at home. I’ll have to wake Janeen up. Eventually the cutoff folds and the action is on me.
I knew it was a fold. Pot odds meant nothing in this situation; the kid could not have moved all in with a hand that I was beating. But when I looked down at my remaining chips I saw that they amounted to less than 6,000. My tournament was a lost cause. I didn’t want to sit in my stupid chair anymore, I didn’t want to watch the douchebags at my table play cards anymore, and I didn’t want to hang around an insipid hellhole of a town for another three days just so I could jam all in on the first deal of Day 2b. I looked at the clock: about 45 mins left in the day. I felt a very strong urge to just stick the last of my chips in with the worst hand. I came real close. Common sense ultimately prevailed, however, and I mucked my crappy flush. The kid under the gun had nines full, and the cutoff folded sevens full, incidentally.
I was now working with about 5,700 chips and was looking for any opportunity, no matter how marginal, to get them into the pot. I was miserable. After folding away a bunch of unplayable hands, my stack had reached its nadir: 5,500. Two physical chips. One red 5000 chip and one blue 500 chip. I had two chips. With two chips you can’t shuffle them and you can’t rearrange them, unless you take pride in turning your two chips upside down. You can’t do anything but sit there looking at them like an idiot. Meanwhile everyone else around me had towers of chips, neatly arranged however they desired. It was almost better to be broke, because then I wouldn’t have had to sit there with two goddamn chips. Having two chips in the WSOP Main Event is emasculating. It’s like walking into the Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room, dropping your towel and showing everyone a turgid three-incher. Two chips.
And then… I went on a miracle run.
There was an older guy who was new to the table. I was in the hijack and he was UTG +3. He opened to 1,000 and I found AJ. I jammed in my 5,500 in. He called me down with pocket sixes and a jack flopped. 12,000.
About an orbit later, the same guy opened from the cutoff. I looked down and saw two tens. I jammed all in and he folded. 13,500.
I picked up pocket jacks under the gun and made it 1050. It was folded to the big blind who looked at his cards then set me all in without hesitation. I shrugged and called off my stack. He tabled AsKs. The flop came K-x-x and I stood up to leave, fishing around in my pocket for my phone. Had to get that flight booked ASAP. But the turn brought the jack of diamonds. 28,000.
My opponents started saying things like “wow, nice comeback!” to me. Fuck you, I’m not done yet.
I was feeling an odd combination of angry, tired and reckless. I started raising at every opportunity, lots of any two card raises, just dogshit cards. I picked up about four uncontested pots with preflop raises and continuation bets. 36,000.
Now the cash game kid from Chicago raised to 1,100 under the gun. He just loved doing that. He got called by the British kid in the hijack. I had Qc2c on the button. Fuck you both. 3,900 to go. Chicago folded but England called. The flop came jack high with two rags. England checked and I bet two chips: 5,500. He folded. 43,000. The kid to my left says “I can’t believe this comeback!”
Then my act finally began to wear thin. I LAGtarded my way down to about 32,00 in short order. I wasn’t in control of what I was doing, but so what? I wasn’t looking at the clock at all during this rush, but with around eight minutes to play there came an announcement: “we’ll be playing three more hands and then we’re done for the night.” Cool.
On the penultimate hand of the night I was in the big blind. I looked down and saw two red queens. The Chicago kid opened for 1,100 in the three hole. He was full of shit and everyone knew it. To his immediate left sat the crazy Brazilian guy. Brazil made it 3,300. I was ahead of his range and I just didn’t give a shit; I was ready to play for stacks. It folded to me and I tossed in 11,000 chips. Chicago folded but Brazil called immediately. Then the dealer burned and turned: 4-3-2 with two clubs. There was about 24,000 in the pot and I had around 21,000 behind. I shipped it all.
Brazil tanked for about thirty seconds, so I knew my hand had to be good. Go ahead, stack off to me on the second to last hand of the night, buddy. Then he called. He had pocket kings! Shit. I turned over my queens and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “well, this is a lame ending to my story.” I was exhausted and sad. I wasn’t terribly disappointed, because I knew I would be headed home in the morning. But I was sad, both because my run of cards had been put to a halt and because I’d come up completely empty for the second summer in a row. I was on my feet, again looking for my cell phone. The dealer burned and turned. A seven on the turn. Then the river. There it was, clear as day, sitting next to the other four cards: QUEEN OF SPADES.
Holy shit! That was NOT supposed to happen! The entire table went apeshit. Players from the surrounding tables came over to see what the fuss was over. As for me, I laughed. I just laughed. I didn’t cheer, I didn’t jump up and down, and I didn’t gaze skyward and make lame gestures to a higher power. I laughed my ass off. This can be such a stupid game.
The next thing I knew, Day 1 was over. I played bad and ran bad. I reduced my stack to a couple of crumbs. Then, in a stretch of about 40 minutes, I mounted a huge comeback through sheer dumb luck. In the end, I had over 65,000 chips. Second most at my table and in the top third of the remaining field.
Hooray for poker. I was staying in the desert a little longer.
More to come, hopefully sometime soon.
And now I would like to congratulate my good poker friend Gordon “Mayor” Eng for ripping down his largest lifetime cash a couple of days ago. Congrats Mayor.