I’m now in my third Vegas phase. I’m way past being excited about anything on the Strip, but I’ve also gotten past my disdain for all the lunacy around me. I’m more or less a resident of the city at this point, and I’ve learned how to navigate my way around the place. I know driving shortcuts, I know where the cheap quality food is and I know how not to spend $150 to have my clothes washed and folded. I come out here to work, and I approach every day that way, commuting back and forth to wherever I’m playing poker that day.
As I write this, I am stuck a small amount for the trip. I have two very small cashes in WSOP Events and am doing well in the single table satellites at the Rio. Counterbalance that with all the washouts I’ve had, and you have a small net loss. This is my seventh time coming to Vegas in the summer to play poker and I’ve yet to have a losing year. On the years when I haven’t put together a big score, I’ve always figured out a way to bail myself out, whether it be through satellites or a last second cash in the Main Event. We’ll see if I can do it again. There’s plenty of time left.
I believe I am playing well overall. I played poorly in two tournaments—one was a $2500 event at Venetian in which I was intimidated by the prowess of the players around me, and the other was a $1500 WSOP event the next day during which I tried an unnecessarily fancy play during level one (cold four-betting a small suited ace against what I perceived to be a weak isolation play, my opponent in fact had the goods). In all other instances I have played my version of good poker. I’ve made some strong “outside the box” plays (e.g., five-bet bluffing with 7 high, reshipping 93 offsuit, raising with just top pair in a thee-bet pot to induce a shove with air, etc.) that would be impossible if I weren’t locked in. Having only so-so results despite playing well is nothing unusual and nothing to get discouraged about.
I have noticed that the number of people who play tournament no limit hold ’em at a high level is exponentially larger than it was as recently as two or three years ago. There’s great players everywhere out here. Case in point: When I busted that $1500 WSOP event in the first level, I drove over to Venetian to play the $350 event they were running on the same day. I was expecting a field full of fish, but what I found was more of a mixed bag. There were players opening pots to 2.1 times the big blind and players who persistently three-bet preflop, both telltale signs of advanced and aggressive play. There’s nowhere to hide from the sharks out here. The softest spot in town for me are the single table satellites at the WSOP. This is pretty strange since sit ‘n go’s are probably the easiest form of poker to master.
My bustout hands from the two WSOP events I’ve cashed are both fairly interesting, so here’s a short discussion of them.
In the $1500 Triple Chance I took a good stack into Day Two. I lost about one-third of my chips messing around on the money bubble, then recovered and had roughly 45k left when my final hand was played. Carlos Mortensen was on my direct right and covered me, and the blinds were 500-1000/100. He opened to 2500 and I flatted on the button with the Jh10h. Both blinds folded and the flop came K-10-10 with two diamonds.
When you flop big like this in the money of a WSOP tournament it is obviously a beautiful thing, and all I was initially thinking was how I could get my entire stack in. Mortensen led 4,000 and I felt that he would perceive a raise from me as a weaker line than a call, so I made it 9,300. He thought for awhile and then did something pretty unusual, he “clicked it back” (i.e., made the minimum re-raise) to 14,600. This is typically indicative of extreme strength and at this point Mortensen (who probably perceived me as a complete random) was likely hoping that I’d commit the rest of my chips right then, although there was a very small chance he was dicking around with air. I was certain he didn’t have a draw big draw like the AdQd because with a hand like that, he’d want to put the last bet in, maintaining fold equity for himself.
In any event, I was now not entirely certain I had the best hand but I was never folding trips at this stage of the tournament. At this point I probably should have just jammed all in or four-bet small. Either of these would likely be perceived as indicative of a drawing hand by Mortensen in the event that he held only a king. Instead I ended up flat calling the min three-bet. One third of my stack was now in the pot and my plan was to call a shove on any turn card.
The turn was an offsuit 9 and now Mortensen made another unusual play: he bet only 7500 even though the pot was now a bloated 30k+ and even though I had less than a pot-sized bet left in my stack. This bet was worrisome; after clicking it back and now making this tiny bet on the turn, Mortensen was obviously trying to induce a shove from me. I sat and thought for a good minute or two and determined that a) there were hands I was beating that he’d bet for value this way; b) there was still a slight chance that he was dicking around with this convoluted line he was taking; and c) whatever, I had trips and had already committed a third of my stack. I moved all in. Mortensen showed me the 10-9 of spades for a turned full house, and the river was an ace. I was out the door.
In the most recent 1k WSOP Event, I took an average stack into Day 2 and drew one of the tougher tables in the room, with Jason Somerville two seats to my right and Scott Montgomery two seats to my left, each with roughly the same number of chips as me. As I expected, Somerville had no fear of the approaching money bubble and no fear of anyone at the table and immediately took the initiative. He opened about half the pots in the first orbit as I folded a variety of crap hands behind him. This went on for awhile and he chipped up effortlessly. Just a few players off the bubble, he then opened a pot under the gun in a very obvious steal spot and I chose to three-bet him with 74 offsuit, which was effective as everyone else folded back to him and he quickly mucked as well.
After that, the money bubble burst and I fell into a long period of card-dead inactivity, folding for three or four full orbits as Somerville ran roughshod over the table. Whenever the action folded to him in late position he minraised, and he showed down 10-5 offsuit on one such occasion. It was clear that he was opening any two cards in these spots and would continue to do so until someone took a stand against him. This dynamic was obvious to any observant player, and presumably to everyone else at the table.
Finally, on my big blind, I found a spot that I felt was perfect for a big longball bluff. The blinds were 600-1200/200, I had 29k, the small blind had 30k, and Somerville easily covered us both. The action was folded to Somerville, who minraised to 2400. The small blind was a young scruffy guy who had been moved to the table roughly 15 or 20 minutes prior but had witnessed Somerville play virtually every hand since then. He reraised to 6800. I knew Somerville’s open meant absolutely nothing and I strongly suspected the reraise from the small blind was also light. I quickly studied the stack sizes and it occurred to me that I was sitting in the perfect spot to cold four bet ship all in. This is a play that indicates extreme strength, especially from an unknown player who had just folded for about an hour straight. My cards were irrelevant but they happened to be the Jc2c.
This is a play that I have employed in live events maybe five or six times before, including once in the WSOP event that I made a deep run in last year. A spot that’s perfect for a play like this comes around now and again—it’s like a full moon. The circumstances have to be exactly right for it, from the table dynamics on down to my image to the stack sizes to the tournament payout structure. The fact that I had a 100% success rate with this play prior to this instance is either a testament to my skill at recognizing the appropriate spot for it or pure luck, but either way I’d never been caught with this one.
I have never had a problem making ballsy plays in big spots (I busted from my 2nd WSOP Main Event squeezing with 9 high), and this one was too good to pass up. I jammed all in for 29k. Somerville instantly folded, but the small blind tanked for only a small while before committing with exactly the kind of hand I had put him on: A-8 of clubs. As we tabled our hands (my hand elicited a “whoa!” from Montgomery) I commended him on making a great read, but it turned out to more of a give-up than a soul read. “I had seventy thousand chips just an hour ago, I’m pretty annoyed and just ready to go,” he explained. In the end it was a bad read on my part. I diagnosed the table dynamics properly, but I had no idea that the player in the small blind was not in the mood to fold. The flop came 8 high and I didn’t turn or river a jack.
Getting caught with your pants down is never fun, but I didn’t lose a minute of sleep over this play and would do it again, and I undoubtedly will.
I miss my family desperately but I’ve got another week or so to make something happen out here, if not there’s always the Main Event.