Post WSOP Post.

This blog is in a state of disrepair.  It sucks, but I don’t think there’s much I can do about it.  My home life is a form of culture shock after so much time at the World Series.  Vegas has left me unaccustomed to the demands of fatherhood (not that I’m unwilling in any way!).  Since I’ve returned, I’ve been so overwhelmed by the miniature hurricane called Ivy and crave sleep so badly that finding a free hour or two to write something worthwhile here is difficult.

Then there’s the problem of social media, which is probably destroying thousands of blogs just like this one. Facebook and Twitter are easy.  Sitting down to write things here is hard.  It’s lamentable on many levels, but Twitter is the natural place for my tournament updates.  As recently as two years ago I’d compose a few paragraphs here after a long exciting day of poker.  Sometimes they were much more interesting than anything I’ve ever tweeted.  Instead, I now intermittently blast off several instantaneous but sterile updates of fewer than 140 keystrokes apiece each day.  It’s a shame, because blogs (good ones, anyway) are so much more compelling than tweets and Facebook status updates.  Social media is best designed for sales—for “maintaining a presence”—(this should be a marketing term if it already isn’t) rather than any sort of meaningful entertainment.  Annoying people are naturals at Facebook and Twitter.  People using the interface come to accept and even enjoy the inane ubiquity these morons achieve.  They’re like that old Nabisco jingle. It’s there and you’re going to hear from it a few times a day so you may as well learn to like it.  My blog is withering away because I’m becoming one of those annoying morons.  It sucks.

So my summer at the WSOP can be split into two sections:  the first leg, where I found mostly frustration, and then the second leg, which was basically the Main Event.  It was the usual roller coaster ride but was relatively satisfying.

I can honestly say that I never dedicated more time and effort to poker than I did during this WSOP.  Maybe it was because I’d been having a second consecutive “meh” year and was resolved to reverse course.  Maybe it was because I could sense that my new home life and the poker lifestyle might soon become too difficult to reconcile.  Maybe I just love poker and felt like going berserk with it.  But when I reached Vegas just after Memorial Day, I resolved to do nothing short of eat, sleep, breathe and shit poker for over a month.

I achieved this goal.  I played a big tournament most days.  When I busted the tournament I played a sit n’ go.  When I busted the sit n’ go I played another sit n’ go.  When I busted that sit ‘n go, I played another sit ‘n go.  I went to bed when I was too tired to play.  The next day would be the same.  It was after July 4th when I finally came up for air and began to enjoy Vegas a little bit.  Never had I been more consumed; entire weeks passed where I played over 12 hours daily and I’ve got a huge pile of tournament receipts to prove it.  I watched no television and paid outside interests no mind whatsoever during this time.  I hear that Derek Jeter had his 3,000th career hit, and I hear that some white trash broad from Florida who killed her daughter got acquitted.  I have zero firsthand knowledge of these things, I know everything I’ve learned about them from Facebook.  Naturally.

My summer went okay.  I stayed afloat by doing well in the sit ‘n go’s and through the random consequence of staking a friend in the Rio daily event and waking up the next day to discover that he’d won it.  Mostly I met with failure.  This is standard at the WSOP.

The WSOP can be a harrowing affair.  Guys put everything they have into it, both figuratively and literally (every summer a couple of guys I know quit playing professionally at its conclusion).  Summer in Vegas is a cauldron of psychological challenges, the stakes are high and so is the pressure.  Everyone wants the same thing, and that is simply to make a deep run in at least one event.

Deep runs down to the final few tables in WSOP events are nothing short of intoxicating.  It’s the highest you can possibly gamble.  With a couple of tables left in a WSOP event, the remaining players are orbiting the earth in a faraway degenerate stratosphere where it is perfectly normal to flip coins for tens of thousands of dollars. Pretty cool place.  All serious tournament poker players aspire to get to that place.  Those who have been there aspire to get back.  We all wake up in the morning hoping that the next tournament will be the vehicle that takes us there.

The problem is that most of guys at the WSOP—even the top pros—will not make any deep runs all summer. This is a straight-up immutable fact, but very few are willing to accept it.  Amusingly, many of the guys who cannot accept this fact have been around the block, understand tournament variance and have lived the tournament lifestyle for many years.  I would know, I’m friends with about twenty of them.  On any given day at the WSOP, at least five of my best poker friends will contemplate suicide.  Many of this blog’s devotees know that my poker psyche and self-confidence can sometimes use work, but I often act as the voice of reason in my group of poker friends—even when I’m on a bad run myself.  Poker fans envision the The World Series of Poker as some sort of poker nirvana, but it’s really the biggest mope convention in the world.

As the first leg of my summer drew to a close, I was left to contemplate the state of “my game,” as we pros like to call the totality of our experience and ability as it relates to the current tendencies and abilities of our opponents.  As that convoluted definition probably intimates, self-evaluating in an honest and meaningful way is one of the most difficult tasks in poker:  you have to separate signal from noise.  Most are not equipped to do it.  It requires both emotional distance and a real understanding of all the trappings of the mathematics of probability such as sample size and the difference between correlation and causation.  In short, it is very easy for a poker player who has been losing to conjure up a narrative that explains things perfectly yet is completely and hopelessly wrong.  “I’m just running bad” and “I’m just not good enough” are the typical culprits (although there are many more).  It’s easy to shape a set of circumstances so that they seem to logically lead to either of these common conclusions and still have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.

I personally noticed two things when thinking about my summer of poker.  The first was that I hadn’t hit a card the whole time I was in Vegas.  When you play a lot of tournaments, you inevitably will get your money in bad sometimes, and on some of those occasions you will nevertheless win.  During my time in Vegas, I never won when I put my money in bad.  Actually, that is a lie.  I hit a $2500 card in a sit ‘n go (three handed, there was a three way all in where I held 99 vs. QQ and AJ, the flop came A high and the river was a 9), but other than that instance, I never had a big suckout.  I didn’t once get coolered and bink a set.  I didn’t once get caught with my pants down and watch two glorious running flush cards bail me out.  I ran below expectation in big all-ins where I was behind.

The other thing I’ve noticed is a bit more troubling.  This is a fair bit of speculation, and I could be wrong about this, but I’ve found that as time wears on, what my game has gained in precision it has lost in daring.  As I’ve become more and more proficient at understanding my opponents’ strategies, I’ve become more predictable myself.  Now that I can articulately explain most everything that I experience at the table, I’ve ceased making plays that defy description.  I’m not sure if this makes sense.  Perhaps the best way to explain this is to say that in spots where I used to play by feel, I now use pre-defined guidelines to make my decisions, and my decisions have invariably trended towards the conservative.  I used to checkraise four-way dry flops with 7 high.  I used to float flops out of position with ace high and check-jam turns unimproved.  I used to triple barrel with air, because, well, “how can he call?”  I don’t do any of those things anymore because I’m preoccupied with knowing exactly which hands I can and might get called by.  Sure, I punted a lot of stacks, but my ignorance was an asset.  My ability to elucidate every hand I play is in some ways a curse.  I may have been better off doing what I used to do:  throwing haymakers in the dark.  And that’s where my mind was at as I sat down to play the 2011 Main Event.

I don’t have the time or the inclination to write the epic Main Event recaps I once produced.  Instead here’s a quick rundown where I’ll discuss two or three hands.

with this little broad in my fan club, how could I not cash?

with this little broad in my fan club, how could I not cash?

I made a big laydown on Day 1.  This was a big deal for me, even though the decision became elementary after serious consideration.  I hate folding.  I had chipped up from 30,000 to around 45,000 at dinner.  The player to my immediate left was Portuguese and was playing and running well all day, he probably had 80,000 or more at the start of this hand.

It was the very first hand after dinner, only seven players were seated and the big blind was absent.  I had pocket fours in the two hole at 150-300/25 and I made it 725 to go.  I was flatted by the Portuguese guy right behind me and by one other player in the cutoff.  After a slow grind upwards all day, I envisioned winning a huge pot when the flop rolled off J-10-4 rainbow.  I bet 1300.  The Portuguese guy called and the other player folded.  The turn came the 6 of diamonds, putting two diamonds on board.  I bombed in 3200 and the Portuguese guy thought for a bit before raising to 7150.  I thought that I might be behind, but I had a set and was happy to call and let him continue doing whatever the hell he was doing on the river.

The river was a non-diamond jack, making the final board J-J-10-6-4 and giving me a full house.  I checked and the Portuguese guy made a huge bet, a bet that I absolutely hated:  20,800.  I went deep into the tank and after sweating and agonizing my way through a complete recap of the hand, I folded my hand face up.  The factors that saved me were the river card and my opponent’s bet sizing.  That the river was a jack was really important.  I knew that my opponent was too good to raise with just a jack on the turn, this would have been a pointless exercise because I’d have called with all better hands and folded all worse.  When a second jack fell on the river, my potential calling range was effectively expanded as some of my possible holdings (AJ, KJ, QJ) had just improved to trips.  Knowing this and seemingly unconcerned by it, my opponent chose a BIG bet on the river.  This was telling, because good players bet big on the river for value in spots like the one I was facing.  Fours full was a pretty hand but was nothing more than a bluffcatcher in this situation, the Portuguese guy’s range was {bigger full houses and quads} + {bluffs}.  The only bluffs I could think of were KQ of diamonds, AQ of diamonds and hands like 88 and 99 that he decided to get crazy with on the turn, i.e., not many hands at all.

My fold was correct.  The Portuguese guy was not only a very good player but a nice guy.  In the ensuing moments, he recognized my agony (not that it was hard to decipher, I was practically vomiting on the table) and let me off the hook by revealing that he held pocket 10’s.  He also commended me on a great laydown and asked me how much he could have bet on the river to get me to call (anything less than 15k, probably?).  I came back strong after that hand and closed out Day 1 with 68,000 chips.

I had a very good Day 2 during which I ran well and also played well.  Eventual November Niner Sam Holden was on my right for much of the day, I had no trouble with him and won a few substantial pots from him.  At the close of proceedings I was able to put “CL” (table chip leader) on my bag, into which I stuffed 224,000 chips.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of table draws in the WSOP Main Event.  The field runs the gamut from the very best to the very worst players seen all year, and the relative difficulty of the tables therefore varies wildly.  The first time I became truly excited about my prospects in the 2011 Main Event was when I took my seat on Day 3 and played a few hands.  It was then that I discovered that I had an incredibly soft table.  Four of us had a plenty of chips.  Tony Hachem was a few seats to my left with over 200k, and he would proceed to play solid and straightforward.  Shawn Keller was to my direct right, also with 200k, he was competent at NLHE but really a limit player.  And two seats to Keller’s right was a grey-haired guy from somewhere in the deep South calling himself the Silver Fox.  I knew he was The Silver Fox because it was embroidered on the front pocket of his golf shirt.  It would be convenient to make fun of him for this, but then there’s the fact that I own shirts that have my nickname embroidered across them.  Yeah.  The Silver Fox had 190k and The Silver Fox was bad.

My Day 3 had gone swimmingly for the first half hour or so.  I picked up easy reads on most of the table and was chipping up nicely.  Twice I had double barreled hands I had opened and seen it work (I employ this strategy more often in the WSOP Main than any other tournament, no one likes playing big pots in the WSOP Main).  I was in the groove and had visions of a long day of domination, and then… who knows what?  Maybe a trip to the Degenosphere in the biggest tournament of them all?  My daydream was over before it began.  My tournament turned when I lost the following hand.

I had a bet sizing tell on Mr. Silver Fox.  He opened to 4x or 5x when he had a big hand (presumably to avoid multi-way action) and he opened small with his medium and marginal hands.  On this hand it folded to him in the cutoff and he made it 3200 to go at 800-1600/200.  I held the KJ of hearts in the small blind.  I considered a fold and considered a three-bet, but I ultimately decided to call because we both had well over 200,000 in our stacks and I was happy to speculate—even out of position—against a player of his caliber.  The big blind came in, so we went three ways to a flop of Ax-7h-2h, giving me a king high flush draw.  I felt the best course of action was to lead at the pot because it would so often result in two folds right then.  If not, I could continue barreling if a heart turned.  I bet 6300.

The big blind folded but The Silver Fox thought only for a second or two before raising to 20,000.  Against another player I might have folded, but I strongly suspected this guy would dump almost all of his chips to me if a heart peeled, so I decided to call his huge raise.  The turn was very nice, the six of hearts, giving me the second nuts.  I was eyeing our stacks and contemplating my next play when The Silver Fox interrupted things by doing something dumb, making a massive bet out of turn:  he pushed out 40,000 chips.  The dealer responded by informing him that I had not yet acted.

I knew well that this bet would be ruled binding if I checked, and I didn’t want to arouse any suspicion by calling the floor or trying to put on any airs.  I just chuckled and said “okay, I check,” and The Silver Fox said “I still bet forty thousand.”  A huge pot was developing.  There was absolutely no point in checkraising for a few reasons.  First, I held two of the broadway hearts, meaning that most of the combinations that were now flushes that this guy would have minraised preflop were now actually beating me.  Still, a flush was very unlikely.  Nobody bets 40,000 into 50,000 on the turn with the stone nuts, not even this guy.  The Silver Fox had one of the following holdings:  a) total trash that he’d taken this line with because he didn’t like my flop lead; b) two pair or a set; c) just an ace (one pair) that he was completely spazzing out with for reasons unkown; or d) an ace high flush.  There was no reason to raise against any of these hands.  In fact, I felt that a) and d) made up enough of his range that the best line was to check/call the river.

The river came the queen of hearts, putting four hearts on board.  Not a good card.  I was now losing to some of the aforementioned b) and c) hands.  I knew that with so much on the line that my opponent would only value bet the nuts on this river, he’d check back with everything else.  I checked and The Silver Fox couldn’t announce “all in!” fast enough.  To recap:  20,000 on the flop, 40,000 on the turn, and all in for 130,000 more on the river.  Massive berserko bets.  I held the second nuts and it was dog shit.  I angrily fired my cards into the muck against what was very obviously a poorly played AhXx that got lucky on the river.

I spent the rest of the day recovering and treading water.  I grew increasingly frustrated as the day wore on about not being able to find a good spot against SF or any of the other soft spots at the table.  I felt like I was a cut above my Day 3 table, but that guarantees nothing, and nothing is exactly what happened for most of the day.  I picked and prodded my way through the night (one nit folded AKo face up to one of my three-bets, I held K-3 of spades. I also cold four-bet once in a good spot and got two folds), but I never got rolling after losing that pot to The Silver Fox.

I went into Day 4 with a below average stack.  I didn’t have a hard time steering it into the money, all the spots I picked to open were good, so I had virtually the same stack I started the day with when the bubble burst.  After the bubble, my stack bled down to around fifteen big blinds at its low point.  I hung around and got a lucky double on the first occasion in the entire tournament that I was all in with AJ against JJ.  I then began to pick up chips and things seemed to be swinging in my direction.  I had 260k with the blinds at 3000-6000/1000 when I found pocket jacks on the button.  A competent aggressive Latino player who covered me opened the cutoff to 16,000.  I three-bet to 40,000 and beat him into the pot when he 4-bet jammed.  He had AKo, the flop came A-K-x, and that was all she wrote.

In the end, I notched my seventh consecutive winning summer.  It was by no means anything special, but I’m now one of only roughly 30 people in the world who has cashed in the WSOP Main Event four times.  I’m proud of that.  I have reason to believe that bright days back here on the East Coast lie ahead.

8 thoughts on “Post WSOP Post.

  1. nice job on the post Suggiemonster…and on another successful summer. glad we got to hang, at least for a little bit. hopefully see ya soon. 🙂

  2. congrats david…i feel for you on some of those hands…i lost a tounament because i made my big bluff bet on the river instead of on the turn (he would have folded) and he got an ace to beat my 2 kings…dumb!!!

  3. Dave, I enjoy ever blog you compose. Well done and congrats on a good sumner. All the best with you daughter and family.


  4. Tweets are easy and convenient. They can even be useful if used correctly, such as for conveying concise information in near real-time (e.g., your tournament updates). But at the end of the day, nothing beats a well-written blog post. In a subculture largely comprised of degenerates (some self-proclaimed, others not), its nice to come across someone that actually knows how to convey their thoughts about poker (and life) in an entertaining and well-written manner. Keep it up.

  5. silver foxed!!

    thanks for taking the time to write some ish down for those who live vicariously though you’re playing at the wsop.

    twenty bucks says you make it top 100 next year!

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