At the end of 2008 Janeen and I were newly wed and had just returned from our honeymoon. While our wedding and honeymoon were wonderful experiences, I came home with a smoldering sense that I had unfinished business to attend to. On the professional front, the last half of 2008 had been a disappointment, a poker washout lost to the rapturous world of wedding planning. I showed up for 2009 hungry and determined to have my best year of pro poker yet. When it was all said and done, I believe I accomplished that goal. Here’s a look back:
PPI Elite: When Poker Players International was created, I made the short list of players they initially asked to join their “Elite” team. I was bestowed this honor despite not having compiled the minimum amount of lifetime winnings supposedly required. This was a tacit acknowledgment of two things: that my peers think I can play and that I am not a douchebag. If my agents thought I was either a moron running above expectation or a douchebag, I would not have made the cut.
Lock Pro: Without PPI Elite status I wouldn’t have been able to land my Lock Pro deal, as the initial roster of Lock Pros was culled from the PPI Elite group. Becoming a resident pro at an online poker site was the biggest “off the felt” accomplishment of my career. By the way, does anyone want to sign up for a Lock Poker account?
One Million: When the bubble burst in the August Foxwoods Megastack event, it became official. I had over $1,000,000 in reported live tournament earnings, all compiled since 2006. Not bad.
Back to Back Final Tables: In March, again at Foxwoods, I ran really good. I ran so freakin’ good that I made appearances at back-to-back final tables, creating a small, barely audible buzz in the East Coast poker world. Hey, a buzz is a buzz!
Shipping Mohegan: On August 1st, I took first place in the main event of a summer series at Mohegan Sun. It was my first outright win since January of 2008 and my first six figure score since 2007.
Another WSOP ME Cash: It took some more serious rungood (I was drawing to two outs on the river twice along the way), but I was able to put together my third WSOP Main Event cash in five years.
The Bad Side:
Traveling so much was a drag: Traveling around from casino to casino gets old. I’m over it. Does it beat a regular 9 to 5 job? For me, yes. But it does get old. I was away from Brooklyn probably one-third of the time this year, and that is a lot of time away from the comforts of home and the people I love. There is nothing like the sight of Ruthie sprinting back to me at the dog park after catching a dirty tennis ball. She’s exhilarated, silly, stupid and proud all at once in that moment. I don’t get to see that in Atlantic City!
“The Circuit” gets pretty stale: I spent 2009 playing a lot of poker with the same people. With the state of the economy keeping a lot of recreational players away from all events with a buy-ins of $500 or more, the East Coast poker scene was like an extended home game. I could give you a pretty decent scouting report on almost any East Coast regular (go ahead, try me). While familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt, being around the same people all the time isn’t so great when only a select few are trusted friends. I wouldn’t mind an infusion of new blood, but that seems unlikely right now.
Hideous Dry Spell: At the 2009 WSOP, I threw up more bricks than Chris Dudley. It was comical. It was like getting punched in the face for a month straight. Spending most of the summer in Las Vegas while steadily losing money is probably more fun for 23 year olds than it is for me.
I’m bored: I hate to admit it, but this year wore on me. I’m bored. I just am. I guess I’ve been doing this for awhile. I expect this feeling to fade soon, but it’s there.
2009’s Big Hands:
I’ve lost my mojo with respect to describing poker hands. All I can do is approximate the stack/bet sizes and boards in these hands, but I will convey the general idea for each.
Slowrolls: 2009 was the year I got slowrolled. I was the victim of poker etiquette’s biggest no-no on three occasions. They were:
a) Day 1 of the WSOP Main Event, we are playing the second to last hand of the night. I picked up QQ and got into a raising war with an aggressive Brazilian guy. I put in the final raise, all in for my tournament life. He agonized for probably around a full minute before making a resigned call with… two kings!? The board wasn’t particularly interesting until a queen rolled off on the river. Oh hi!
b) My bustout hand from the same tournament (WSOP Main). We were pretty deep in the money, and I’d scratched my way up to having a decent sized stack. I had JJ in the hijack and opened to around 2.5x. It folded to Fabrice Soulier in the big blind and he put in a hefty reraise. I had no read on him but figured that he was an accomplished player who might do this with a pretty wide range, and it looked like a standard late position vs. blinds battle, so I simply four-bet all in. He proceeded to go into a chip shuffling routine complete with a series of pained “woe is me, this is such a tough decision” faces. The chip shuffling and hemming and hawing went on for so long that I reached the conclusion that I was trailing exactly one hand—an unlikely QQ that he couldn’t possibly have tanked that long with. I waited patiently, for probably at least 90 seconds, for what felt at that point like an imminent fold, until Mr. Soulier announced “call” and turned over two kings (again). I was both dumbfounded and irate as I watched the board brick out and exited the premises. My best guess is that he was waiting for ESPN’s TV cameras to come over to cover the hand, which they never did.
c) I was pretty deep in the last Borgata deep stack event, maybe 20 or 30 players from the money bubble. I had a large stack and was in the big blind with the 9-5 of spades. A good young player opened in early position and got flatted by a lunatic by the name of Tae Baik two spots behind him, then by Bagels Cavezza, and then again by the button. Both Baik and Bagels covered me, and I liked my implied odds in this very unusual five way pot. I tossed in the chips to call. The flop came J-9-5 rainbow, giving me bottom two pair. Rather than risk seeing the flop checked all the way through, I decided not to mess around with this already sizeable pot, and led at it with a nearly pot-sized bet. The early position raiser was visibly unhappy about it but chose to reraise all in for just a bit more. Then it folded to the lunatic—an unpredictable, strange and (frankly) sometimes terrible player who I have history with—and he tanked for a long time before flat calling the all in. Flat calling in this spot was simply ridiculous. The size of the pot already made it one of the biggest in the entire tournament, and any normal player would decide whether his hand was good enough to go with, and if so, try and shut me out. But not this idiot; he flat called the gigantic bet.
It folded back to me and I asked the dealer if I could reraise. I knew that the correct answer was no, but I gave it a shot anyway. He said no, so I put in the chips to call, planning to jam the turn unless it was a jack. But then turn was a really bad card: an eight. I aborted the plan. Q-10—which this dumb-dumb was actually capable of flatting the flop with—had just got there. I chickened out and checked. The guy thought about this briefly before making a big bet which amounted to almost my entire stack. This sent me into the tank for a very long time, probably ranking in the top three timebanks of my live poker career. A big crowd gathered to see what would happen. I asked the guy, whose command of English wasn’t strong enough to answer anyway, “you really flatted the flop with Q-10?” and he reacted by standing up, grunting and pumping his fist. Ummm, okay.
In the end I decided—based on my history with him and by his flat call on the flop—that he had AJ and KJ and even AA often enough for me to go with the hand. I said “Okay, I’m all in” and pushed my stack forward. His reaction, incredibly, was one of horror. Fist pump time was over. He slunk bank into his seat forlornly. He had to put in something like 1/16th of the amount in the pot to call but for some reason he wasn’t doing it. I had the best hand! Bagels laughed aloud and said “oooops!” The moron looked like he had seen a ghost and again went into a long period of silent contemplation. Now half the room was watching. Finally it must have dawned on him that he had to call with any two cards, so he did. I flipped over bottom two pair like it was the nuts and he showed us: pocket nines for a flopped middle set (for the record, the short stack had KK). He had a powerhouse hand from the start and I was drawing dead! An epic slowroll. My tournament was over. If looks could kill this guy would have been dismembered in the two seconds it took me to gather myself before I stormed out of the room.
Ballsy Barrel: I was really frisky on the money bubble of the WSOP Main Event. I pulled off a preflop four-bet pissing contest with QJ to pick up a bunch of chips, and then only around fifteen players off the money, this:
An excellent internet player was seated two spots to my right. He had a very big stack and was abusing the bubble. I waited for a chance to possibly make a stand, and chose to do so when I picked up AQ on the button. The internet player raised and I three-bet him. Everyone else folded back around to him. He chose to flat the three bet and we saw a flop of J-5-3 with two spades (I had no spade). He checked and I made a half-pot continuation bet. He called rather quickly. I now had a pot sized bet left in my stack. I decided that the kid had to have something in the 1010-77 range or top pair at best, as a stronger hand or a draw would likely check/shove the flop. I felt strongly that it was a pocket pair that didn’t connect. The turn came a blank, a red seven. He checked, and it was time for a huge decision. I could give up on this hand and comfortably fold into the money, or I could do what a professional poker player ought to do: go with my read and try to bluff him off his medium strength hand.
When you are near the money bubble of the WSOP Main Event, poker hands are not played in a vacuum. I had been though a terrible summer in Vegas. I was taking an awful beating, with zero cashes over a month’s time and I was now finally on the cusp of getting off the schneid in the biggest event of the year. There was a strong argument to be made for the sub-optimal play of taking the safe route, checking the hand down, and locking up the money. That would ensure a profit in this tournament, but true professionals do not play simply to profit. True pros play the way Herm Edwards once famously exhorted: we play to win the game. In Herm’s honor, I conjured up my most impassive expression and pushed my stack in. “All in.”
The internet kid was well aware that this kind of a bluff was in my arsenal. And he didn’t fold immediately. He took his time. After a long think, he made several attempts to engage me in conversation. I passed on the chit-chat. In fact, I was incapable of talking. As the seconds ticked by I became acutely aware of how upset I would become if he called me down. I envisioned him making a ballsy call with two eights and busting me. I then imagined the cold-blooded, ruthless, evil scrutiny I would subject myself to in the aftermath, along with the ensuing havoc it would wreak on my psyche. It was not a pretty picture at all. He better fold.
For the first time in a very long time—probably for the first time in over two years—I was scared at the poker table. Straight-up scared of this kid calling me down. I was consumed in the gravity of the moment, on the verge of fucking up my biggest event of the year. My genitals shrunk to the size of peas and I could feel the perspiration coming out of every pore in my body. I was helpless. I stared straight ahead and silently begged this kid to please have mercy on my poor tortured soul and fold his fucking cards. After what felt like an eternity, he complied. I tried to hide the massive relief that washed over me, into me, through me, to my very core. I flicked my cards into the muck like they were on fire then did my best to collect the pot with both hands, which were shaking violently. I haven’t been scared at the poker table (or anywhere) since.
A Thoughtful Gift: At the final table of the aforementioned Mohegan main event, I came in with the chip lead. However, it was really a co-chip lead because there was one player with only a few thousand chips fewer than my 1.4 million. He’s a deceptive player by the name of Steve Fiorentini. I call Steve “deceptive” because there is an incongruity between his appearance and the way he plays. He’s probably in his fifties and looks like a happy-go-lucky recreational player who decided to play poker instead of golf that day—the kind of player who generally gets eaten alive in the bigger events. But that’s not what he is. In actuality he is a very sharp player with a dangerous wild streak. He is a live wire who can and will try crazy things. At the time, I had relatively little experience playing with Steve, but I was given a scouting report on his play the night before from a reliable source.
I came out of the gate quickly at the final table, winning a few uncontested pots, thereby surging into the chip lead by a small margin. I probably won five or six of the first ten pots. Then I picked up two black sevens in early position and dutifully put in another raise. It folded around to Steve in one of the blinds, and he put in a very large reraise. Based on what I knew about Steve, the size of his reraise and the previous ten hands, I felt that he was making this play pretty light. I called the three-bet to play the flop in position. It came Q-4-3 with two clubs and he fired a big continuation bet. I still felt I had the best hand, so I called immediately. A big pot was now brewing. The turn card saved me a tough decision, because it was gin: a red seven. Steve moved all in and I snap called. He turned over 55 and missed his gutterball on the river. I had ALL the chips and cruised to a four way chop that netted me over $120k.
The hand was immense, worth tens of thousands of dollars in equity. This is a fact that is not lost on Steve. To this day, he greets me with a cordial “you’re welcome!” instead of the more traditional “hello” whenever we see each other.
Goals For 2010: I’m going into 2010 without any specific goals, just some general ideas of what I’d like to accomplish. I honestly don’t know where this year will take me. It might look just like last year and it really might not.
Travel less: I have an online deal with Lock Poker and a very comfortable life at home. It’s obvious what I should do. I am going to play more online poker this year, which means I will spare myself the rigors of traveling the circuit. I’m currently encouraged by the fact that a few nights ago I made a couple of final tables online.
Play more cash and learn other games: I’ve been saying this forever, so take it with a grain of salt.
Do something in a major: The final frontier in live tournament poker is for me to do some serious damage in a tournament with a big (defined as 5k and up) buy in. This is the only obvious tournament accomplishment that has escaped my grasp—the elusive monster score. This is partially because I refuse to play majors unless I satellite in. My policy of not buying directly into majors will not change in 2010. Even though I am convinced that my expected value is positive even in the big events, I consider totals exceeding $5,000 to be too large a chunk of my bankroll to put at risk. If I choose to chase the goal of hitting a major in 2010, I will need staking. And therein lies the problem.
I abhor the idea of staking. I am convinced that long term staking arrangements are bad deals for both the player and the backer, unless the backer has the capital to create a huge stable that reduces the variance by effectively carpet bombing the poker world. Even the best players in the world have only a razor thin edge in poker tournaments. Chopping that edge into smaller pieces makes little sense. Add in the concept of makeup (i.e., the debt incurred by a player with a negative return for a period of time) and you put both parties, but particularly the player, in an unenviable position.
I will only be staked on my own terms. These are: absolutely no makeup and I personally select which events I will be staked in. I also want my backers to be friends and family that come from outside the poker community. My only brush with staking in 2009 was positively disgusting. This blog is not meant for drama, so I will provide only a cursory description of what happened.
I received an unsolicited offer to be backed in a single tournament. Because the terms of the offer were for a single tournament outside my typical price range, I quickly accepted the offer. The offer came from individuals with whom I was not friendly. They were, however, close with one of my so-called friends. This particular so-called friend caught wind of the offer and ended up procuring it for himself, to my exclusion. The facts stated in this last sentence are partially disputed (of course), but after twelve years of developing and practicing the skills of weighing and analyzing evidence followed by four years of observing the behavior of liars, I know when I’m being fucked over.
The end result is an increased conviction that any backing I accept will come from only people I know and trust. It’s a matter of deciding how important the big tournaments are to me.
Shameless pitch: if you are an actual friend of mine and are reading this, do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to be part of the great DZ staking conglomerate that I have yet to form!
And that about sums up my 2009 in poker. In current, more exciting news, Janeen and I are headed to Southern California on Friday to a) visit her family; and b) witness the New York Jets shocking the world in person. On the live poker front, I have no interest in playing anything until the Borgata Winter Open begins in about ten days.
Happy New Year loyal readers!