My yearly World Series of Poker writeup was a tradition I took pride in. The voluminous and impassioned retelling of my 2005 Main Event was in fact the very first material to appear on this blog. My recaps for WSOP years 2006 through 2010 are also lengthy and detailed. Unfortunately, what was once a labor of love is now just labor. This year’s version follows nonetheless, and it will allow me the catharsis of sharing how terribly I played a hand of poker:
I doubt that anyone who knows me well would describe me as especially motivated, so my life as presently configured might be difficult for some to recognize. I’m slowly evolving from just a lawyer to a lawyer and business owner, and two toddlers live in my apartment. My career and my family are both objects of my devotion at the moment. The things that keep me in action on the tournament circuit are my waning determination to hang around and my wife’s leniency. The fire isn’t entirely out, but poker is now simmering on my back burner. The sea change was complete when I stopped thinking about poker in my spare time. I don’t do that anymore.
I split my WSOP into two trips this year: a week in the beginning of the series and a week at the end. The first trip went quite well–I cashed in the first event I played, a $1k NL bracelet event, and then again in the second, when I finished 38th of 6,300+ in the $1500 “Millionaire Maker.” I was very happy with how I played, particularly in the Millionaire Maker. I felt creative, sharp and decisive throughout. The deep run also afforded me the opportunity to play with a lot of great players, and I learned quite a bit about some newer approaches during the tournament. The cash was good for $26,000 and change which (with my limited schedule of mid-range events) locked up a profitable summer for me. I then returned home to real life; the second leg of the trip came almost a month later.
I wasn’t able to spend much time packing for the second trip, and when I got to the airport, I was met with an unpleasant surprise. I had been working my way through a dense two-volume biography of Charles Darwin and at that time had finished volume one and was halfway through volume two. At the airport, I got through security, walked to my gate, sat down, dug into my bag and rummaged around for my 600-page companion for the next six hours, the only book I had packed . . . and pulled out Darwin. . . volume one. Ugh. These sorts of minor mishaps sometimes set me off more than they should, and this was one of those instances (no, the book could not be purchased online). I walked over to Hudson News, bought a Sports Illustrated, read one article, and dumped it in the trash. I wish I could say the trip got better from there, but it didn’t.
I opened with the final $1500 bracelet event and busted that. I then tried a mega satellite and busted that. Then, naturally, I resorted to some trusty old friends: sit ‘n go’s. To my surprise, I fared terribly—bust, bust, bust, bust—cashing in only one out of eight of them. This wasn’t exactly a good lead-up to the Main Event, but, as they say, it was what it was. “That’s poker!”
I pressed onward and registered for my ninth WSOP Main Event. Main Event fields, as every poker fan knows, run the gamut. My starting table was an exemplary cross-section. There was a two time bracelet winner, a young but very accomplished online pro, two Russians, some older recreational types, and me. I didn’t recognize the young pro’s face, but he was wearing a patch that made his identity easy to figure. Armed with my iPhone, I am sharp enough to figure out who almost anyone of remote poker fame is quite quickly, usually through only a few snippets of conversation. In this instance, a poker company patch made my job very easy. Before a hand was dealt, I knew who this pro was. By the time we had played an orbit, I had reviewed his lifetime results (very impressive) and visited his twitter feed (very busy). This player exuded the casual confidence that comes with the success and renown he’s achieved. My sense, however it was acquired (attire? demeanor? who knows), was that he was a bit soft and a bit snooty, the product of a privileged upbringing. I could not picture this person worrying about anything, I had the sense that he hadn’t dealt with much adversity in his life. I countered his casual confidence with casual disdain, and only after he busted me (see below) did I come to realize that there was a healthy dose of jealousy mixed into my disdain. My game plan for the day was easy to figure: let this kid do his thing, attack the weak spots. And yes, there were weak spots. I failed spectacularly at executing this game plan.
On the first break I had worked the 30k starting stack to something like 31,500. The game plan was being executed. The young pro’s popular twitter account reported that his table, other than the two-time bracelet winner, was very soft. By the time the second break came around, the weakest spots at the table were doing their best to bust, and two of them had already succeeded. For my part, I had by now executed a 5 bet preflop bluff against the Russian man on my right, and despite holding no premium starting hands thus far, my stack was now 37k and change. The blinds were going to 150-300 (no ante).
As the cards were dealt for the first hand following the break, several players had yet to return to my table and we were only five or six handed. I was second to act and looked down at the king of clubs and king of spades. My first big hand of the tournament. I opened to 700. It folded to the young pro in the cutoff and he three bet to 1850. It folded back to me. I thought about flatting but figured—in light of the absent players and this player’s general profile—that a four bet might induce a light five bet. I made it 4200 to go. The young pro called and the flop came 9 8 4 with two diamonds. I now chose to take a passive line in an effort to control the pot size, and so I check-called the young pro’s bet of 3600. Probably a mistake, I dunno.
The turn came jack of clubs, and I checked again. This time the young pro fired out a big bet of 8000-ish. I recognized that this line, from this player, against a perceived random, was a value line. He was almost certainly taking me to value town. What to do? Well, folding was an option. Probably the best one in the WSOP Main Event. But I didn’t fold. Instead, I considered the young pro’s range, and came up with “a lot of AA, some JJJ, some 999, some 888, maybe some 444, perhaps random bluffs and semibluffs?” and said to myself, something like this:
Fuck this kid’s AA. Fuck this kid’s set of eights. He cannot call a shove with those hands in the WSOP Main. He will cannot. He has no idea who I am, but he’s going to soon.
And having thought something approximating the above-quoted material, I proceeded to do something completely contrary to my plan for the day—contrary to any rational plan for the WSOP Main Event, really—I turned an overpair into a crazy bluff and announced all in. His call came so quickly that it could only mean one thing. Before the cards were even tabled, my heart sank and I was already thinking of arranging a flight home. He had the Q-10 of spades, I was drawing stone dead. He covered me by a couple of thousand chips. Young pro’s resultant and triumphant tweet was mildly disparaging of the random idiot who he’d just busted.
My initial thoughts on the hand were that my opponent’s flop bet was odd, because all he had was queen high, and I don’t have a 4-bet/check/give up on the flop range, so it’s not a bluff that will work. But I was just a random face to this kid, and the bet could have achieved a fold against a random. The bet further succeeded in building a pot in the event that his gin card fell on the turn, which it of course did, and in possibly setting up a big multi-street bluff if a brick fell on the turn. So perhaps I simply got owned. One of the sadder aspects of the hand it that it was not apparent to anyone that I was bluffing, it looked more like “kings! yayyy… oops.”
In retrospect, I recognize that my emotions played a role in this disastrous hand. It’s impossible to say what would have happened in this hand against a different opponent, but it’s safe to conclude that I almost definitely would not have busted.
An old prizefighter gets into the ring with a great young boxer. The old prizefighter knows what he’s doing. He’s encountered his share of great young boxers, and on his good days he’s handled them, left them flailing away while he pounded jabs and crosses into their mugs. He knows how to stay out of these kids’ way until the right opportunity presents itself. He also knows some really effective counterattacks. But the old prizefighter is a prideful creature, one that doesn’t take kindly to being singled out and zeroed in on like an easy mark. The old prizefighter is capable of losing his patience, losing his mind, and walking straight into a haymaker. All because, well. . . don’t be starting shit with me, youngblood.
Happy New Year out there!