Wednesday, 8 December 2010

WSOP Main Event Day Three: Part two

As I get settled at my new table I took stock of my new opponents.

Again it was a mixed table. There were a few younger internet player guys in logos, as well as a few older nittish tight guys. With the Russian who has a huge amount of chips on my right, I was facing a whole new calibre of opponent. I was fortunate to have direct position on him, but I knew that there would be no more easy progress and I would have to be on the top of my game from now on, even more so. He looked unassuming - about 14 and seemed like he was just about to start shaving, but I knew that appearances were deceptive and he would be a formidable opponent.

Kostritsyn started as he meant to go on by raising a lot of pots and then getting involved post flop with a lot of small bets. I started patiently. I had not played with him before and possibly not played with anyone of that calibre before, so I wanted to try and get more of an idea of his play before I started to get out of line against him.

After about an hour at the table I suffered my first 'cooler' hand of the tournament. I picked up pocket kings and got into a raising war with one of the young players at the table. I'm not sure I have ever folded kings pre-flop and I wasn't going to start now. Maybe against one of the older guys I might consider it, but against someone who looked as if they could play a bit there is no way I'm folding. He had aces of course, I don't suck out and end up sending around 85,000 chips, a little under half my stack, to his side of the table.

In retrospect this was really bad timing as now I was down to about 40 big blinds and restricted. I didn't have nearly enough chips to get involved with the Russian without a good hand. He was playing a lot of pots, so that hampered my own ability to steal.

If there's one person you don't want to see walking towards your table when an incompetent old Chinese man busts out, it is Allen Cunningham. Quite simply one of the best tournament players of all time, I was less than thrilled when he took the empty seat. One consolation was that he was very shortstacked didn't have any chips to work with. As a result of this, a TV camera stationed itself nearby, so it was available to be called to catch his bust out hand.

It was at this point that I decided to review the small print of my contract from Full Tilt. It turns out I would get money for appearing on television, but ONLY if I was wearing a Full Tilt baseball cap backwards. Now I hate wearing a baseball cap, let alone backwards and I'm not proud to say that I chased the corporate dollar and donned the reverse logoed headwear, after all, I might be the one to bust Cunningham.

Meanwhile Kostritsyn continued raising and I continued folding. I managed to find a few good spots to keep my head above water. Shortly after Cunningham's arrival, another of the weak players at the table busted. This time he was replaced by a guy with a ridiculous amount of chips, who actually needed a second person to help him carry them all. It was soon confirmed that this guy was the chipleader in the entire tournament. So now I had Kostritsyn to my right and the tournament chipleader to the right of him. Now would be a great time to pick up a hand!

It turns out that the chipleader was decidedly spewy and wasn't banking on shutting down or keeping it tight. Along with the Russian, he was in a lot of pots and bleeding chips off at all angles but sadly not to me.

I managed to increase my chipstack some, but soon misplayed a couple of hands to knock me right back down.

Firstly I decided to play back at Kostritsyn in a hand that I now regret.

It folded to him on the button and he opened to 2.4x as he had done a lot. I looked down at 76 of spades and decided to three bet. It was the first time I had done this. BB folded and Kostritsyn called. Even though I had not three bet yet, it was very unlikely he would pass up the chance to play a pot in position, so this is the first regret. I should have just folded and not picked the only place on the board where I was out of position to play back at him.

The flop 2-4-8 with one spade, giving me a host of backdoor draws. Of course I c-bet and the Russian quickly and calmly called. The turn was a 9 which now meant I had an up and down straight draw, I decide to fire again and the same as before, the Russian quickly calls. I had now made a large and bloated pot out of position against a very tough player. This was not a very good combination. The river was a 3, leaving me with just a woeful 7 high. I was left with almost exactly a pot sized bet in my stack and my choice was now whether I wanted to three barrel bluff my entire stack in the WSOP Main Event with 7 high?

I pondered, but there was no way I could run a bluff for all of my chips. Perhaps this was a sensible decision or was it a weak decision? Kostritsyn had seemed strong the whole way through and the river was pretty much a blank, changing nothing. I wasn't really sure what I was trying to make him fold and what I could make him fold. I checked and then he himself bet the river. I tanked to save face and folded, furious with myself. The fact that he bet the river rather than taking a showdown, indicates to me that he either had a very strong hand, or was bluffing himself, although his hand was still better than mine. I'm inclined to think the former, perhaps a set, but I have no idea. I'd love to know what he had.

Again I built up my stack again before I got into a confrontation with Lyle Berman's son, Bradley. At this point I had no idea that this guy was the son of a famous poker player. He had a chirpy demeanor and was making jokes with the dealers and other players. This combined with his beard and scruffy dress made me assume (I guess wrongly) that he was some kind of satellite winning hick, out of his depth and enjoying his shot at the big one.

Sadly I can't remember how the hand played out, but I remember that he opened and I three bet from the big blind with AK. I then led out on a raggy low two heart flop, check called a medium card on the turn and then checked a non heart Q on the river. I don't know why, but my solid read on this guy was that he had a flush draw. Something about the speed he took to call the flop and then the slightly shaky reluctant bet on the turn. On the river I planned to call him down with ace high as long as a heart didn't come. He did bet and it was a decent sized bet. I didn't love the queen but I wanted to stick by my read. The board was now something like 3468Q and there were a lot of flush draws that didn't have a pair that it made sense for him to bluff the river. I was pretty confident I was correct and made the call. He flipped over AQ of hearts and with a cheeky grin, took a nice chunk out of my stack. I was pleased my read was technically correct but still wondered if I should have somehow found the fold. In retrospect I don't mind my play that much and it was just a shame that he got there.

So now I was quite short and before and after dinner hovered between 15-22bbs. I managed to stay afloat with a few timely steals and resteals and didn't end up with my tournament life at risk.

In the midst of all this, Allen Cunningham was griding his shortstack. He was all in and called once and the action was halted so the TV cameras could be summoned. This time he was able to double up and with him no longer on deathwatch, the cameras moved off to find another well known player on the verge of busting.

I don't think I played a hand with Cunningham the whole time I was at the table. We were both short and having to be selective about the hands we played.

He has a crazy stare and this insane nose twitch when he is thinking! I don't think it means anything because he did the twitch every single hand he played. He had such an intensity and a presence at the table, I was just thankful he was shortstacked.

Then came the hand which was to be my downfall. I chipped up again a little and was now sitting at a little over 30bbs.

Me ~65k
Villain ~100k -
Blinds 1000/2000 with a 200 ante -

It folds to me on the button and I open to 5100 with AsJc. So far, so standard.

In the small blind, a young internet kid in Deuces Cracked patch calls. BB folds. The kid has played quite low key so far and seemed quite tight aggressive and not been out of line too much.

The flop is Jd, 8c, 4c

He checks to me and with top pair top kicker I decided to bet on the large side to give him the perfect stack size to check raise me all in. He looked like he could be the type to do that with a jack, some kind of draw or even a bluff - I bet 9,000 with the intention of never folding.

He does exactly that and check raises me all in - I snap call and he turns over Kh Jh - just a worse jack with no backdoor draws. I am now almost a 9-1 favourite to double up to an above average stack for the last 90 minutes of he day.

Just the three kings to dodge, first time all in and I'm a 9-1 favourite - surely I can hold?

Sadly it was not to be. This time there were no TV cameras, and the dealer, without ceremony, put out a king on the turn to send me all but out of the tournament. I still had three aces to hit to make a two pair, but I barely had time to consider this before an inconsequential river card fell, I was shaking the hand of my opponent and walking off out of the Amazon Room as fast as I could.

I finished about 1150th out of a total field of 7,319. It sounds impressive but I had come all this way and won nothing. I was devastated.

I made the requisite calls to my next of kin informing them of my demise and then went up to my suite, sank into my bed and hardly moved for the next 24 hours.

Busting out of the Main Event must be the worst feeling in poker. To be all in for the first time as such a favourite and to be knocked out, I felt cheated and wronged!

In retrospect I actually had a great chance to accumulate some chips. Two huge stacks were directly to my right and it is said in poker that chips move to the left. I had a great chance to get a big stack, but the nature of the table meant that it was a lot more high variance than previous days.

The KK vs AA hand came exactly at the wrong time and robbed me of a lot of the freedom I had to play pots with the bigstacks. I was then forced to pick precise spots or wait for good hands, sadly I didn't get my card rush this time.

It was a great tournament and I enjoy every minute apart from the last one. I felt I aquitted myself excellently, played some of my best poker and had a great chance to win some money.

I'm not sure if I will ever play the main event again, but I'm glad I took one shot at the glory and don't regret entering one bit.

*Alexander Kostritsin finished 52nd in the main event winning $168,556. I can safely say he is the best player I've ever played against. He played magnificently and controlled my table.

**I'm pretty sure the guy who was the chipleader in the middle of day three didn't even make the money in the tournament. 747 players got paid.

***The final of the Main event took place in November and French Canadian Jonathan Duhamel took down the $8,944,310 first prize.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

WSOP Main Event Day Three: Part One

I start the day with 159,700 chips which far exceeded any expectations of how I would progress in this event, especially after how my first few days in Vegas went.

My progress had been comparatively serene and I'd managed to chip up without really playing a big pot. I'd been lucky and found good spots, but was also pleased with my ability to stay out of trouble which is a HUGE factor considering this is the slowest structured tournament of the year.

My day three table draw was promising. I started as the largest stack on my table and had two excellent young players, Anders Taylor and Tristan Wade (online name Cr8ive), directly to my right. They both had nice stacks too, but I had direct position on them which would be a huge advantage, plus I figured I would also be unknown to them. The rest of my table was something of a mystery.

I spent the evening beforehand reading Tristan Wade's blog to try and get a read on his play. I was well rested and as well prepared as I felt I could be for a crucial day of play.

I knew that my table would break and I would be assigned a new seat after about three hours, therefore my strategy chanced from previous days. On days one and two I'd played very tight early to get a feel of my table and to build up a solid image that I could exploit later on by loosening up and being more aggressive.

This time I knew that establishing any image would be worthless as my table would only last for a few hours, so I vowed to start out with aggression and to apply pressure - particularly to the two skilled players to my right. I was hoping I was unknown to them and as such they would have to give me credit early on and not want to make a misstep against the only player who outchipped them, without having a solid read on me.

This ended up working out quite well and I was able to increase my stack to 196,000 before the table broke and I was moved. However the two good players weren't afraid to mix it up and take risks, even joking to each other about getting in a huge flip to enable one of them to become one of the tournament chipleaders.

After a few hours it became apparent that our table would be next to break. I responded to this by slowing down my play by taking an extra five or ten seconds, so I would not have to pay the big blind again before being moved and therfore not getting to take advantage of my free hands. The guy next to me also had the same idea but took it to the extreme. He loudly asked the floorman if we were breaking next. When he received the affirmative response, he put a chip on his cards and sat back on his chair and waited and waited. The table was patient for a while but this soon ran out. "Are you tanking because we are breaking next?" asked one player. "uh huh" he replied. Not surprisingly the floorman was called. The situation was explained, but really, what can be done? A player has the right to take his time for a decision, so all you can do is give him/her a 60 second countdown. The hand took about five minutes and straight afterwards we were assigned new tables, so I guess the guy who stalled felt as if he made the right play.

I thought about my own decision to slow down and whether it was correct and ethical to do this? A player who I respect a lot, Jonathan Aguiar (online name FatalError), wrote that when playing live he does anything he can to speed the game up, makes quick decisions, provides change for people, helps the dealer, provides chipcounts and so on. He will do anything he can to achieve one or two extra hands per hour as he feels that the more hands you play, the more a skilled player will be able to take advantage.

I certainly agree with this and will also try to speed up the play, though will never interfere to give chipcounts if I am not in the hand as I don't think this is good etiquette. So I wondered if slowing down in this instance was counter productive? I decided that in this instance it was warranted as the benefit of getting extra hands was trumped by being able to avoid paying my blind.

My new table was still in the Pavilion room but right at the front. I knew that I would now be at this table for most or all of play that remained in the day.

Taking my seat at my new table I was greeted by the following sight. Quite a big pot was in progress, one guy had made a large river bet and his opponent was considering whether to call. Meanwhile in the seat directly to my right, a guy who looked about 16 was in the process of stacking an absolute mountain of chips.

"How many chips do you have?" enquired the guy in seat one, who turned out to be the son of famous player Lyle Berman, as I took my own decent sized stack out from its racks. "About 200k" I replied. "yep, that's about what the last guy had" he replied back with a smile and a motion to the player on my right.

Initially I think the player to my right is the Swedish online player Mendieta. Soon it becomes apparent that he is Russian and his identity is Alexander Kostritsyn - former winner of the Aussie Millions and high stakes cash player. It would be inevitable that I would at some point have to clash with him.

Meanwhile the hand is still going on and finally the second player reluctantly folds. The first guy puts his head in his hands and shakes his head. He then stands up, takes a few paces back and shouts "FUUUUUUUCK" "FUUUUUUUCK!" It's like a bad beat, only he has won the hand and it is a big pot too! Unfortunately for him, the floorman is standing directly next to him when he made his scream and he gets a one orbit penalty for his outburst.

It is quite a welcome to the table!

WSOP Main event Day Two report

Much belated but here we go...

After Day one, I have three days off and return to play day 2b on Saturday.

My table is in the Amazon Room, very close to the Secondary Feature Table where 'The Unabomber' Phil Laak is no doubt going through some of his trademark ‘crazy antics’. It seemed like a pretty good table, with German Eddy Scharf the only name pro. I’d seen Scharf on TV and he seemed to play pretty tight, solid and predictable and I didn’t expect him to get out of line too much against a table of unknowns.

Getting to my seat and scanning the table it was clear that I was the second youngest there. This was a marked contrast to the end of day one and a welcome sight.

Table draw

In seat one was a guy called Mario who was a nice guy and regular at Commerce. He was a decent player but called a little too much and spewed a little, something I looked to take advantage of. He also gave me a delicious burrito as he was allergic to tomato seeds.

I was in seat three and each side of me I had an ‘old business dude’ – the Gucci shoes were a giveaway. These are rich guys, perhaps even millionaires who play the Main Event for fun and are not very good. Yum Yum. But as Steve Begleiter proved last year, ‘old business dudes’ can make the final table.

Seat five was an Austrian kid in loud sunglasses who turned out to be quite good and had a few moves in him so I had to be wary.

In seat six was a guy who’s Facebook page my friend had discovered. All I knew about him is he was an amateur and he had a passion for scuba diving. I hoped to sneak in a scuba reference at a crucial moment.

Seat seven is the aforementioned Eddy Scharf.

Seat eight contained vegan yoga dude who played pretty tight all day.

And finally seat nine was an older Australian woman who had qualified on a freeroll and played the first day in a cork hat. I’m sure the field featured many skilled and competent female players, but it’s worth noting that during WSOP 2010, every single female player I faced was absolutely terrible.

I would love to play Day Two of the 2010 WSOP Main Event every day for the rest of my life. I slowly and serenely chipped up throughout the day, staying out of trouble and folding any marginal spots.

I started off by picking up a few big hands and winning a couple of nice pots while I got a feel for the dynamics of the table. It was not long until I felt very comfortable and in control. Having very weak players directly to my right and left certainly helped and my only real worry was the Austrian kid. I'd like to think that Eddy Scharf quickly respected me. As we were opposite on the table, we played several pots where one of us opened and the other defended the big blind. We both took care to keep these pots small and avoided risks.

Toilet smalltalk guide

Scuba guy played as if he was doubled parked and spewed his chips off in remarkably quick fashion - sadly not to me. He was replaced by a generic middle-aged white dude (GMWD). I had been in Vegas for over a week at that point and had random small talk with lots of people. I'd guess I am quite unusual looking (6'4, long blonde curly hair, stylish range of headwear), so people remember me. I however struggled very much to remember anything about any of the GMWDs who started chatting to me, usually with the opening gambit of "BIR-MING-HAAAM, how are you doing?", often in the bathroom. Fortunately I have now mastered the art of poker toilet smalltalk:

1) Mention your chipcount

2) Perhaps drop in a reference to a famous player near you or at your table

3) Enquire about their situation and listen attentively for about five seconds

4) Start to walk away and say something like "good luck, sir"

5) If at any point they seem about to launch into a bad beat story, usually these start with the line "So I had pocket queens/kings/aces....", immediately ask them to pay you $5

6) Always wash your hands

I bust someone!

A couple of hours in, I busted out my first and only opponent of the tournament. The Aussie lady with a stack of about 21bbs opened from the cut off for a full 3x. It folds around to me in the big blind and I look down at pocket queens. The lady has been reasonably tight but I don’t see any way I’m ever folding queens with my stack this shallow. After deliberation I rule out flat calling and decide to three bet to 8.5bbs, leaving possible room for her to shove in case she wanted to get frisky with jacks or tens.

It seems like a standard spot where she should go all in or fold, but of course she flat calls quickly! At this point due to the speed of the call, I pretty much assume she has a pair, probably between 66 and TT. When the ideal flop of 334 comes then I know she isn’t folding. Even so, I bet out really small with lots of small denomination chips and don’t announce the bet size so it is hard to tell the amount of the bet. She’s very inexperienced and if she acts quickly before the dealer announced the amount, she might think she can make me fold if she goes all in. I don’t want to put her all in because with their tournament life on the line, inexperienced players can make big folds. True to form she goes all in and reveals pocket fives. The turn and river are no help to her, I shake her hand, say good game and pad my stack. I of course don’t tell her that she played it horribly.

Again my plan was to try not to bluff very much, play cautiously when I flop top pair and only get into a big pot if I really had a big hand. I stuck to this quite well although I did run one big semi bluff against Tomato Seed Mario, where I made him lay down his KQ on a on a QTx flop when I three bet pre and shoved for just over the pot on him with on the flop with AK - two overcards and a gutshot. I must admit that in that instance I'm not sure I would have expected him to lay down something quite that strong, but my tight image helped and of course he didn't want to call all in with just one pair. I tried to stay under the radar for the day, being friendly with the table and joining in the banter which was at times quite entertaining.

No ipod

I never listen to music anymore when I play live. I think that you can lose so much by not being able to hear what is going on at the table, people give away clues to their hand and you can even pick up breathing changes sometimes if you listen closely enough.

Take the guy in seat two, he spent most of the day muttering under his breath about his bad cards, how he couldn't hit a hand and how he was running so bad. Then finally on one hand he went deadly silent and started putting in a lot of action on the flop. Well there was no way I was getting involved there and true to form he showed that he flopped a set. Sometimes people even mutter under their breath and actually say what cards they have. Insanity!

Gucci shoe business dude was the classic weak tight player, always looking for a way to fold, but in his case it was mixed with extreme spewiness in blind vs blind situations. Three times it folded around to him in the small blind and he raised, each time I had a playable hand in position, called, flopped a pair and hung on to showdown whilst he took multiple stabs at the pot. I managed to pick up quite a lot of chips from him this way and never understood why he got so aggressive from the worst position on the table.

It's always a moment of anticipation when you have a free seat at your table. Phil Ivey could be about to come and fill it, or it could be a wheezing 80 year old pensioner, or a man dressed as a dog. When the Australian woman busted I drew the short straw and she was replaced by Steve-Paul (Curtly) Ambrose, an extremely good Poker Stars sponsored Canadian player, who has also enjoyed live success. This was not good news as he was an accomplished player, but not a big name pro so I wouldn't be likely to get on TV.

Again throughout the day the table got a little stronger. A mute Spanish guy was moved to my left sometime around dinner and began the annoying behaviour of flat calling a lot of my open raises, so I played much tighter for the last few hours.

Very late in the day, the business dude in seat two started playing very strange and unpredictably. Beforehand he had been in heated discussions with his long-suffering trophy wife who had stood on the rail watching him. Then afterwards he ran a couple of crazy bluffs which both got through. Then suddenly and completely randomly he opened for six times the big blind from early position. The standard is three times or less and he'd stuck to this the whole day. I looked down at AQ offsuit and was really confused as to what I should do. We were quite deepstacked at that point and I didn't want to throw away the hard work of the day, plus there were several people left to act behind me, so I just folded. I still have no idea what he had. It turns out that he was a building contractor who spent a lot of time away and had promised his wifehe would come home if he didn't have a certain number of chips by the end of the day. Hence the crazy strategy

Shortly before the end of play, I get my chance to run a squeezeplay that I've been wanting to do all day. Steve-Paul Ambrose opens from the cut off and Tomato Seed Mario flats from the button, small blind folds and I'm in the big blind with some suited two gapper like 47 of clubs - I can't even remember. Mario had been flat calling too much with marginal hands to try and take flops and I knew if I rereaised then Steve would have to have a premium hand to continue. By this time he was getting quite short, so he would quite probably need to shove or fold and with two players to worry about, my tight image which he would be aware of and with him no doubt looking to avoid high variance spots, I felt he would fold a high percentage of the time here. I also had enough room to fold if he did decide to shove. The worry was that Mario might call, but he'd shown a reluctance to get involved with me and I banked on him not wanting to bust just before the end of the day. True to form he quickly folds and Mario ponders before doing the same. Steve later told me he folded Ace Jack without any thought whatsoever.

I finish the day on 159,700, incredibly happy with my play and ready for the third day of play.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Blue Grotto, Malta


DSCF0120, originally uploaded by phillhuxley.

Valletta


DSCF0082, originally uploaded by phillhuxley.

Paul's Store


DSCF0190, originally uploaded by phillhuxley.

Valletta bus station at dusk


DSCF0228, originally uploaded by phillhuxley.

Gozo


DSCF0255, originally uploaded by phillhuxley.

Cumberland Hotel, Valletta


DSCF0283, originally uploaded by phillhuxley.

Fire


DSCF0311, originally uploaded by phillhuxley.

In the Three Cities area of Malta where my poker tournament took place, I noticed some cool, beat up looking buildings. Afterfiguring out how to get over there, I realised that they were part of an old dockyard which now seems closed down. Fences were around to stop people getting in and as there was bright sunlight and security, I n...ever even tried that one, but I managed to take some nice exterior shots.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Gambling

I've just arrived in Malta to play a few tournaments. After examining some of the local walls (solid but stylish), I decided to play a cash game for a few hours on my first night here. The casino's rake is absurd, but the players are terrible.

I take a seat in a 2/5 euro game because there is one free. I plan to perhaps drop down to 1/2 later, but my first hand at the table convinces me otherwise.

Two guys get 100 big blinds each in preflop, then get the other 25bb all in on the flop. When it comes to show down, one flips over QJs for a pair and the caller turns over a 4, mucks his other card and then shoves his stacks of chips into the middle of the table so they topple over and storms off John D'Agostino style.

So the game goes on, there is often a straddle to 10 and a dead minimum raise to 20. It's a juicy game for sure! I lose a big flip when I get 90bbs + dead money in preflop with TT (the nuts!) and the guy with AK rivers a king on me.

I reload to 500 and grind it back to 700 and get it all in vs a 500 stack with 89 on a 467 flop vs his A7. Odds calculator tells me it is exactly 50/50 but I don't get there and hit any of my outs.

I am left with 220 in my stack and am deciding whether to stay or leave when the following hand happens:

We are 6 handed and I am dealt aces in the BB.

First to act folds and the hijack, an older Italian guy who has all his chips messily stacked, pulls out a bunch and throws them into the pot. However, his disorganisation has lead to him putting a 100 in with all the 5s, so he opens to 130 - we are of course playing 2/5 and this is a 26x open raise.

Instantly he tries to take it back but I politely urge the dealer to call the floor, so he can be told he can't do that. Chips have crossed the line, it plays.

It folds around to the sb who has been silent throughout this. He is sitting on a stack of about 3,000 and is a decent player and raises it up to 270.

Well this can't get any better and I ponder for a few seconds before going all in for my 220.

The initial raiser is only playing about 400, but even so, he's now getting a really good price to continue playing, so he also makes the call.

We now have a 660 main pot and a 100 side pot.

Flop comes down T97 and big stack puts the Italian in for the rest of his chips. He moans and groans and waves his arms, before calling.

This is a cash game so we keep our hands concealed for now.

Turn is a king and the big stack instantly flips up KK.

River is a blank and three kings takes the pot.

Sigh.

On another night I win those two flips and have 1,600 sitting in front of me, get it all in with aces vs kings and hold, leaving the game 2,700 euros to the good.

Tonight instead I drop 1k.

I hate poker.

Monday, 20 September 2010

London (raise) calling

Last week I traveled to the English capital to play two poker tournaments. I sold shares in myself to a selection of people from a forum I post on and I was looking forward to playing live and hoping for a chance to have a deep run.

As the students were still away, I booked a room at University College London's Halls of Residence near Oxford Circus. It was odd to be back in a small room with bluetack stained walls and even odder that it was in the West End just up the road from where I used to work. The single bed was....well....adequate, but the Internet connection was perfect and the kitchen was awesome.

ENGLISH POKER OPEN
The Palm Beach Casino in Mayfair was the venue for the English Poker Open. It had been held in Nottingham last year and I was sad I missed it, so I vowed to play this year.

The venue was a pretty nice casino but very cramped. Several players including myself were wedged into certain areas and it was a nightmare to move around. Added to this one of the screens with the blind levels wasn't working and the online live streaming seemed problematic. But this is just me moaning, it was basically a good tournament, just no WSOP.

BUST OUT
To start at the end, I was knocked out of the tournament on second last hand of the day after playing for around 10 hours. It was a standard coinflip vs high stakes regular and Leggo Poker instructor King Dan that would have put me above average going into the second day.

I got up to 21k from my 15k start stack pretty early but doubled up a guy with my QQ vs his KK - that put me down to about 7.5k.

I hovered between 7-9k all day until finally doubled through Keith 'The Camel' Hawkins. I had a stack of 10.5bbs and my open ended got there on the turn against him in a slightly odd hand. Normally I would never be taking a flop with less than 15bbs but it was one of those strange live poker situations.

The guy next to me had just been knocked out, so I was the only blind in the hand. Keith open limped the hijack which was very odd. He is a live player so can obviously do unusual things, but also plays online and I respect his game. The button folds and it was on me. At this point all he knows about me is that I've played very tight for the last 2-3 hours and I play more online than live. I have 11bbs and my hand is JTo - I really wanted to just shove because I suspected he limped because he didn't want to price himself into a call if I shoved, but I was confused - it's a very odd limp from late position and I wondered if he was trying to trap somehow? I hadn't played with him long enough to know. The guy to his left was also a strong player - so what would he limp with when that guy was on the button?

So I just checked.

Flop came KQx rainbow giving me the open ender. I checked, he bet about half pot and I shoved. Keith went into the tank and started trying to talk to me but I say nothing and don't even look. He says that I looked back at my hand before I shoved and this makes him want to call. I pretty much always do this before making an aggressive action - so it doesn't really mean anything - but often people read things into it - I've had it work to my advantage before - but this time it went against me and he made the call, showing QJs. I bink my 9 on the turn and double up. Keith has quite a big stack after he one outered someone earlier and he pays me off and says he would have folded if I hadn't looked back at my hand.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR!?
Played all day with double bracelet winner Frank Kasella - All I'll say is that I hope he played mix games better than NL tournaments because he was pretty loose and spewy, but his presence gave the table a specific dynamic because he did not want to ever fold! When he opened he never folded to a three bet, he never wanted to fold the flop and in one hand he opened with 56s and got shoved all in on for 20bbs and SNAP CALLED! In another he ran a crazy bluff with king high vs the tightest player at the table. Despite this he had chips all day, but as I hovered around 20-23bbs for a lot of the day, it meant I could only resteal for value, because he was likely to call. On top of this, the players on my right also knew he was playing a ton of hands, so were three betting him liberally. As I didn't really get many big hands, it was hard for me to get involved a lot of the time. I should get my 'I survived a day with Frank Kasella' badge! The man likes to chat too!

Otherwise table was generally pretty solid. So I played pretty tight, grinded the short stack and then got my double.

Last half hour I was moved to another table which was softer. As much open limping in half hour as in the previous ten hours.

I pretty much hadn't played a hand since I sat down for an orbit and a half. In that time King Dan had four bet this 'recreational' guy and folded to a shove - I knew more about his opponent in the hand because he had been at my table before and I knew he was by no means good and quite tight -so I wouldn't think he could three bet light, but now we know Dan can four bet light!

I'd also talked with Dan briefly at the welcome party and I would suspect he had me pegged as not very experienced and probably a freeroll winner.

Blinds 3/600 with 50 ante - I have 14k and there are two hands left to play before we bag up. and it folds to me in the hijack. I think to myself before looking at my hand, I can't open light here because Dan is going to be shipping on me really wide if it folds through to him. Two hands left and he is going to think I want to survive to day two and also probably thinks I might be weak and raise fold a lot.

Turns out I look down at AQo - I have too many chips to just open ship here and my hand is too good. I so I open to 1.6k and true to form he ship it on me. I am delighted to call and he has 44, but the board comes all bricks and I'm out just before bagging up time.

I enjoyed the tournament - there was some value and a small overlay - but I feel I again got a toughish table draw plus the fact that I was short and Frank K was at the table made me quite handcuffed and unable to do much.
-----------------------------
-----------------------------
WSOPE £1k
I'd say this was a tournament with a lot of value - though of course if you don't get a hand at the right time then the structure catches up with you.

I'd bought in the previous week, so I was all registered - A leisurely stroll through London and I get to the Empire on the strike of Noon. I know this casino well but am interested in how WSOPE is going to fit in the casino. To anyone that's been there, I have no idea why they've now closed the poker room off the rest of the entire casino and now you have to go out and round the front entrance and in another door to get to it. Cash game action was humming every time I went there, even with a rake of 5% up to a cap of £10!

I wind my way around the casino looking for my seat. It seems the 5k Omaha continues to go on downstairs and the £1k tables are somewhat haphazardly jammed into different places around the balcony area. It's not as cramped as for the EPO, but it's pretty close.

A good draw!

Good news that I don't recognise anyone at my table. There is a woman in a tracksuit, a man in gear for the website Poker Idol - which is an obscure skin on the Ongame network, an older Irish guy, a couple of Londoners who know each other and a couple of Scandis.

We start with 3k chips at blinds of 25/25 and one hour levels.

The table is AWESOME. It is the best table I've had in any tournament I've played this year. There's lots of open limping, limp folding, odd bet sizing and distinctly un-optimal play.

Last week in the EPO I had a lot of suited and connected hands early, but this week I get a lot of trash of the J4o variety, so I end up playing quite tight. The hands I do play, I try not to get too involved unless I flop something really good and I manage to move up to

By late in level two 25/50 - I have worked up my stack a little and 3x open 22 from middle position. The only other decent player at the table flats me, as do the two blinds.

The flop comes 268 and I have flopped a set! Now how to get paid? I decide to fast play and not mess around as the board isn't super dry and lead out for 450 when the blinds check to me. In about a second, the good player jams his 2k stack on me, the blinds fold and I can't get my chips in fast enough. He flips over QQ for the overpair and I dodge a queen to get myself up to 4,800 at the first break. Already 40 of the 202 field have busted and it looks as if it is going to be a day of carnage.

After the break we are at 50/100 and I soon bust a short stack when he ships his 8bbs in from early position and I wake up with A5s in the BB. His Q5 is no good and I am up to 5,200 with two KOs already!

My table is still great and the free seats are being filled by complete droolers. I look around at the four tables around me in our little section which feature Chris Ferguson, Praz Bansi, Kevin MacPhee, John Tabaitabai, Antonio Esfandiari and JP Kelly and realise I am running insanely good to have nobody decent whatsoever at my table, but my luck can't last and towards the end of level three the onimous figure of the floor man indicates that our table is the first from this section to break.

Table draw god gets his revenge

I rack up my 5.5k chips and take them to my new assignment which is right over the other side of the casino, along the balcony and through a small corridor in 'The Shadow Room'!

It's something of an understatement to say my new table is not so good. The table gods had their revenge on me.

To greet me down one end of the table is Keith 'The Camel' Hawkins. The second tournament in a row I've played with this wily old pro. Also down this end of the table are four young guys in their early twenties expertly riffling chips

The other end of the table is not a pretty sight. In order to my left we have Black Belt Poker supremo Nik Persaud, UK circuit regular Chris Brammer, living legend John Juanda and November Niner John Dolan.

At the time I think Dolan is Mike 'Timex' MacDonald and I do think they look a bit similar.

First hand I look down at AKs in middle position. I open, Persaud flats me and Dolan ships 2,400 from the big blind. For a second I think about what I want to do here. Obviously I am not folding so I ship it in and Nik folds.

I'm up against KK and the board comes all bricks. I'm back to 3k.

Welcome to the table!

The next few hours are a struggle and I can't get anything going but at least I'm glad I chipped up early so I am still in the tournament. A lot of players at the table are sitting on 15/20bb reshove stacks and clearly everybody in the table knows how to resteal, so I can't particularly open light much at all.

Soon I'm down to 15/20 bbs myself but the good news is that Dolan, Juanda, Brammer and Persaud all bust within 90 minutes and at least a couple of weaker players replace them. Hawkins sticks around and for the second tournament in a row I see him hit a one outer! Must be nice.

But now I'm getting super short and am still struggling to find a hand. For a little while it is not so urgent, but as soon as the antes come in I know I can't hand around too much more.

Once I get a walk in the BB which is pretty rare. I foolishly look down at my hand. AJs. The best hand I've had since my first hand at the table.

I'd kill for a pair or a big ace but it's just not happening so I have to look for good spots and not think about my cards too much. I'm in the four seat so my likely targets are a guy who perhaps opens a little too much in the one seat and The Camel in seat two.

Camel opens 2.5x from the hijack and I look down at KJs on the button. It's the best hand I've had for quite a while. I only have 12.5bbs and there are antes so I don't have much fold equity whatsoever. But I'm saw Hawkins has me pegged as quite tight and I know he can open on the lighter side, plus as a live player he might raise fold too much. So I jam it in.

Keith is a talker, so when it folds back to him he starts to chat to me. We have some history from the EPO. I could even be ahead here but I will take a fold every time. I just stay quiet. "You've hurt me before" he says, referencing me doubling through him the previous weekend and releases his hand.

Then on the next orbit I resteal with J8o and about 16bbs from the bb vs the one seat.

A little later Hawkins oddly open limps from the cut off. I decide that this can pretty much never be a strong hand or a pair as he does occasionally randomly limp with speculative hands, so I just jam my 13bbs from the small blind with J6o. He quickly folds.

Then I play this hand and end up below 10bbs. I'm getting desperate and it doesn't help that the guy on my left has a huge stack and likes to play hands.

Somehow I shove with something like Q6 from utg when I am down to about 8bbs and everyone folds. Other than that I just can't get into a pot first or when I get the chance my hand is so bad that I just can't pull the trigger.

Finally I ship in about 7bbs from early position with a medium ace and tournament sicko Jason Mercier takes time out from playing the game What Lodden Thinks? with Antonio Esfandiari on the next table to ship in his 20bbs behind me.

I don't get there vs his AQ and bust about ten minutes before dinner, just three members of my poker forum arriving into the casino. I finish about 60th of the 202 that began the day.

I'm quite bummed out that in both the tournies I played in London I ran one of the best hands I had into an even bigger hand and had to scratch around for the rest of the day. I thought I played very patiently for the most part, but I never picked up a run of cards or a big hand at the right time.

I have a quick drink with my fellow forum posters and it's nice to meet them, but I soon go back to my room to relax and grind a little online.

I'm incredibly disappointed that I didn't make day two in either tournament. I felt I played pretty good in the most part and the WSOPE 1k in particular was a really good spot.

Clearly I'm still learning to play live. I would expect I missed several spots and reads that I could have picked up and in the JT hand vs Hawkins I perhaps allowed him to pick up a tell on me even though it was something that I do a lot. Generally I was aware of people's chipstacks which is something that I took a while to adjust to.

It has become apparent that a good table draw is BY FAR the most important factor in a live tournament. A compliant and weak table can make getting chips so much easier and mean you don't have to get as many risky spots. I seem to recall someone, Daniel? talking about the hidden luck factor of table draws. The more I play live, the more I agree.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

WSOP Main Event Day One

"But most of the places that you go, the girl ain't gonna fuck you. You call the number on this card and tell them Tony sent you, you'll have a good time, if you know what I mean..."

It's 10am on Tuesday July 6 2010 and I'm in the back of a cab driving through Las Vegas.

I have $10,000 in my pocket.

Clearly there has been some kind of misunderstanding.

When I mentioned to the taxi driver that I was playing in the Main Event and then afterwards I planned to relax, he obviously took that to mean I'd like to hire a lady for night. Being the kindhearted fella that he is, he chose to advise me which escort agency to use so I didn't get 'dickrolled'. Yes he used the word dickrolled.

I take Tony's card and that of the agency, pay for the cab and walk through the 40 degree early morning heat towards the back entrance of the Rio Casino. There is even a red carpet with cold air blowers to sooth my passage to the casino entrance. I bin the business cards and make my way to the cashier where I will buy into the World Series of Poker Main event with two $500 casino chips and $9,000, mainly in $20 bills. Although I'd won most of this money a couple of weeks previously, I thought I would find it quite difficult to hand it over at the desk, but it is surprisingly easy even though it's the most money I've ever had in my hands and the most expensive thing I've ever paid for.

It takes about ten minutes for them to count all the money and process my entry. In return I get my seat card and a $10 meal voucher. Nice! I'm seated in seat three in one of the tables on the edge of the Pavilion Room. The Pavilion is the overspill area from the main Rio room. It's a vast hangar with about 200 poker tables in it and Arctic air conditioning. I'm in seat three which I always like as it gives a good view of the rest of the table. I have about 90 minutes to spare so I go and freshen up and grab some food.

How I got here?

I'd made the decision not to come and play at the World Series this year, but a last minute win in a satellite tournament changed all that. American gambling regulations mean that Full Tilt, the poker site I won the seat on can't buy me directly into the tournament and as I was too late to wire the money to the casino, that left only one option - buy in with cash!

I arrived in the US with a little under $10k, I planned to hopefully win the rest whilst I was there, otherwise just withdraw it from an ATM and buy in a few days before. What I didn't compensate for is how bad I would do!

I entered the $1,000 preliminary event the day after I landed. I was a little jet lagged but didn't think it would be a problem. I'd heard about the legendary softness of these tournaments, but sadly didn't stick around long enough to find out and was knocked out within three hours. I flopped top pair twice and was out kicked and then got my aces cracked to bust me when I was by then too short to make a fold and get away from it. The structure is very fast early on but is supposed to slow down more later on. Of course I didn't get that far.

After a bad start I decide to play some of the one table satellite tournaments that I've heard so much about. These are 10 player mini tournaments that last around 90 minutes and usually end with a two or three way chop. They run around the clock and always have a queue of grizzled gamblers ready to play. Maybe I ran bad, maybe I played bad, but I got my ass completely kicked in these and only managed to chop one in about 14 over the course of a couple of days.

I also played some cash games and although I had one nice winning day at the Bellagio, I finished slightly down in this too.

All of this meant that I didn't actually have enough physical cash to buy into the tournament I came here to play. I did my sums and worked out that if I maxed out my bank cards for the next two days I would have just enough to play. That left me a day to enjoy/endure Las Vegas before I checked into my comped hotel suite at the Rio courtesy of Full Tilt.

It's my third visit to the city and I think it's safe to now say that Las Vegas and I don't get along. I find both the desert heat and the overpowering and omnipresence of gambling to be oppressive. I hate the lack of culture and the general complete fakeness of the place.

But I was here and I had a poker tournament to play...

Day One

I took my seat along with 1,488 other hopefuls on Day 1b of the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event. In total the field would amount to 7,319 people and it required four day ones and two second days before the field would finally all come together on day three.

My table was on the rail at the edge of the Pavilion Room. I didn't think about it at the time, but this meant that we wouldn't last long before our table got split up and we all moved to new seats. I scanned my opponents as Phil Gordon droned on about something and the rules were gone through. Eventually we hear those magical words 'Shuffle Up And Deal' and we are away.

2007 player of the year Tom Schneider is on my table, clad in a gharish blazer. He's chatting to someone he knows from the Commerce in LA, but the rest of the table seems pretty soft. There is an Italian guy who doesn't speak English and has no idea how to handle his chips or bet. Also we have an old man chewing an unlit cigar and wearing a Fox News cap (wtf?!?) - I really want to take some of his chips. I ask everyone their nationalities so I can get my regional stereotypes set and we also have a Frenchman and a slightly clueless old Venezuelan guy. Strangely, this is the second clueless old Venezuelan guy I've played against this year and the third Venezuelan in total.

At the other end of the table is a man from Alabama, missing a couple of teeth and wearing a vest, he is glaring at me a little. If you were alone in a dive bar at 1am in a town that you didn't know so well, then this might be something of a worry. Here at the poker table, the gap toothed man in a vest glaring at you is a beautiful sight. I love the Main Event already.

My first hand of note comes after about 25 minutes.

Blinds are 50/100 and everyone has around their starting stack of 30,000. Fox News limps from the hijack position in seat one. The guy on the button who I don't really have an opinion on yet raises to 400. I have 28,500 after splashing around a little. On the button I look down at pocket jacks. I decide to raise to 1275. This is clearly a mistake. So early in the tournament, 300 big blinds deep and facing an unknown opponent, it's much better to keep the pot controlable and just play post flop in position. Fox News folds and the cut off four bets to 3,100 and I throw it away disgustedly. Am I deep enough to call just to try and hit my set? Not really, as I don't know whether he is the kind of guy who is going to put a lot of chips in with an overpair even if I do hit my dream jack. I'm really annoyed with myself as play continues. I've decided that I hate getting big pairs in the first level of big deepstacked tournaments. I recall getting pocket queens the very first hand of EPT Berlin and I was terrified. With no information on the table, I was delighted to just steal the blinds.

As we are near the rail and have someone of note on our table, we have TV cameras filming us a fair bit. As I suspected though, this is only until something better comes along. When Robert Williamson III enters the room with a bevy of scantily clad girls advertising beer, I hear the call from the producer to the camera man crackle through the radio - "Quick - over to the door to get Williamson's entry!" If ever a man has managed to maintain a career as a 'TV Poker celeb' with so little recent success, then it is Robert Williamson III. If being quick witted and having interesting glasses is a recipe for longevity, then there's hope for Timmy Mallet* yet.

The first level is a disaster and I don't win a single pot. After 90 minutes our table is broken and I am assigned a new seat in the Amazon Room. To get there we follow one of the tournament staff through the bowels of the building where the waiters and staff prepare drinks and food. When I hit the Amazon Room I feel like I'm really in the WSOP Main Event. The elevated feature table is in front being filmed for ESPN and poker media are around everywhere. There's a buzz.

At my new table is a face I recognise immediately, EPT Berlin winner Kevin MacPhee. Other than that I can't identify anyone, so this is good. I don't actually win my first pot of the tournament until well into the second level, about two and a half hours in. When it happens something seems to turn around and I manage to chip up nicely throughout the rest of the day. Mainly I do this through flopping top pair, betting the flop, checking the turn and catching a bluff on the river. People are bluffing way too much but it's such a slow tournament that my opinion is that it's possibly correct to almost never bluff. I try to play solid hands and just fold if I don't connect with the board or there is a lot of action.

Joe Sebok is on the next table and has cameras trained on him all day, yet MacPhee who to me is clearly a far better player, is unlogoed largely ignored.

My poker forum friend Chris kindly checks in with me at the last break, after buying in for the following day. We chat some and he tells me he thinks Brandon Cantu has just moved to my table - Cantu has the reputation for being one of the most insanely aggressive players in the world and I play the last hour thinking it is him. However when at the close of play I find out it isn't. The lookalike is still a very good player though.

As the day goes on the table gets tougher and some of the bad players bust out and are replaced by young guys. There's an aggressive freshfaced young Swede, 'not Brandon Cantu' and a couple of other tricky players. Kevin MacPhee has a tough day but hangs in there and finishes on about 16k. He seems like a nice guy, has a good line in disparaging comments about people who act up for the TV camera and gives me a great sushi recommendation. He's from Idaho, but sadly I don't get into a conversation with him about the time I stayed there in a giant 30 foot dog. This is something I now regret.

By the end of the day I'm the second oldest on the table and it is decidedly tricky, so I'm glad when we finally get to bag up our chips and I'm sitting on 60,900. I've doubled my starting stack and I sit 232nd of the 1018 survivors. I would most likely have taken that before start of play and certainly would have after the torturous first level. Greg Raymer, Joe Sebok and several other 'big names' don't make it.

I get my table draw for day two and hope it contains more toothless men in vests from Alabama than freshfaced young Swedes.

* (For Americans) Timmy Mallet - 1990s UK children's TV presenter famous for outlandish glasses and a foam mallet. Had a number one chart hit with the song Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. Current status unknown.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Immigration

Scene: Sitting at a bar in the Gold Coast Casino, Las Vegas - 8am. The World Cup Quarter Final between Brazil and the Netherlands is on the tv in front of us. A guy sits either side of me gambling in the fruit machines which are built into the surface of the bar. Their attention is suddenly grabbed when Holland grab an equaliser to make the score 1-1

Guy on my left: Wow! That was a good score. Who are Brazil playing against.
Guy on my right: New Zealand...
Guy on my left: The names of those players don't sound very Australian
Guy on my right: They have a lot of migration there.
Guy on my left: *nods and exhales to express understanding*

Both go back to their fruit machines.

Friday, 4 June 2010

This ain't Vegas

"I've always thought there was something really dirty about that girl" says the semi-well known British pro in seat ten to nobody in particular, as an attractive female casino employee walks past.

The World Series of Poker is getting under way in Las Vegas. The best players in the world along with thousands of wannabees to play for astronomical sums of money and a chance for a shot at fame and glory.

But I'm not there. I'm in Walsall, deep in the heart of the Black Country, playing a £100 freezeout. And to be fair, there's a pretty big turnout for a Bank Holiday Monday - 165 runners makes it a tournament worth winning for sure.

I'm here with my friend Joe, somewhat of a veteran of these casino crapshoot tournaments, having spent his time in the trenches in Coventry, Birmingham and *gulp* Dudley.

Sadly for Joe, he busts within the first half hour and after doing half my stack to the aforementioned known pro when I flop two pair with 4-5 suited and reluctantly pay off his flush on the river, I fear that I will shortly be going the same way. It's worth noting that the woman next to me makes me show my hand here instead of letting me quietly muck it and weep into my shortstack. "For information" she tells me. I inform her that she wasn't even in the hand at the river but rules state that I still need to show the whole table my hand.

Like all Grosvenor tournaments, it's not very well run and has certain unfathomable rules. Also of course there is a lots of breaks to let people sample the roulette and blackjack tables stretch their legs.

Thankfully I manage to build up my stack again, winning a big pot with 4-5 suited again, establishing something of a strange image to my tablemates. In one of the breaks I get chatting to a young guy at my table. He satellited into the tournament for £5, so this is quite a big deal to him. I make further small talk and wish him good luck as we go back to the table, making a mental note to apply maximum pressure whenever I am in a hand with him as he seems scared of busting out.

After the break we have a new dealer. She's female and Eastern European and despite the fact that she's miles better than the previous male dealer, the sexist comments from the known pro and his mate across the table begin. It's nauseating and I really wish I'd have said something about it.

They also talk about various other British sponsored pros and how most of 'em are busto.

Poker is a funny thing in that nobody really knows how other players are doing, if they are up or down, if they are broke, or doing well. No records are kept of cash games and certainly no records are kept of losses on sportsbetting or in the casino pit. There's a lot of jealousy and resentment that some guy can get the holy grail of being sponsored when they are a bad player and just got lucky in one tournament. Friends are slagged off behind their back and really, everyone is on their own and wants to win everyone elses money.

Making friends

Soon afterwards a run of play begins which leads to three people at my table hating my guts.

First I slowplay three aces and get an aggressive young internet kid to bluff off most of his stack with ten high. He accuses me of slowrolling him and is disgusted when I make him table his failed bluff. I didn't slowroll but I did make him show the bluff. "For information" I tell him with a wink to the lady next to me.

Next I call the floor on the moustached guy to my right. He's doing what has become one of my pet hates in poker, folding out of turn. When the guy who looks like Harold Bishop from Neighbours announces raise, he folds straight away before Harold has stated his raise amount, giving him extra information as he now knows he has one less player to go through to steal the blinds. I ask him not to do this, but when he does it the third time, I call the floorman who looks about 12 years old. My conversation with the floor is long and protracted as the floor doesn't seem believe that Mr Moustache is doing anything wrong. After slowly explaining the situation as one might do to someone who is hard of hearing, floorkid finally understands what I'm saying and issues the most cursory of warnings to my facial haired friend, who of course is now furious with me.

Of course, this being a crapshoot tournament, the blinds grow at a fast rate and I find myself with 17 big blinds. It folds around the the satellite winning kid on the button who opens for three times the big blind. Mr Moustache folds and before I look at my hand I tell myself I'm going to go all in really light here. The kid has about 20 big blinds in his stack, so if he loses this hand he will be crippled. Added to the fact that he satellited in to the tournament and seems quite shy and tight means that when I look down at A-4 offsuit, this is an insta-shove.

The kid goes into the tank for several minutes, his face is a picture of pain and concentration. He wants to fold so bad but he can't bring himself to do it and after about four minutes he sighs and makes the call, turning over pocket jacks. I'm let to believe that this is called a 'nit roll'.

The kid is not happy when he sees my hand and then beams proudly at his great call, adding a few comments about how bad I play. "Careful" I tell him, knowing that he is only a 70/30 favourite.

When the ace hits on the river and he is forced to count out the chips to pass over to me, he looks as if he is going to burst into tears. He is CRUSHED. But after he gave me the needle about my 'donkey play', I don't feel bad at all.

The critique of my play continues as he nurses his shortstack for the next twenty minutes before he busts, convincing me even more that my decision to shove on him was totally correct and that he *wanted* to fold, sadly his hand was a notch or two too good to do so.

As the blinds grow, I ramp up the aggression, much to the annoyance of some of my table mates. My stack goes up and down as I am pot committed to call all ins with a couple of what might be called 'speculative hands'.

Finally as we are approaching the bubble I get involved in a huge hand with Harold Bishop and another guy and the three of us get it all in pre-flop. I have AQ, Harold has jacks (which he tanked for about five minutes before calling) and the other guy has KQ. If I win this hand I will probably be top five in chips in the tournament approaching the bubble and will have the chance to dominate my table, but sadly I don't hit my hand and I'm out.

At least I get knocked out in time to catch the last bus home.

As stroll through Walsall and make my way down 'the strip', I again marvel at the fact that the old people's care centre is located next to the co-op funeral home. It's practical, but can't exactly be inspiring for the residents!

Waiting at the bus stop, I eavesdrop on a young kid having a conversation on his mobile.

"I'm crazy for cottage cheese. The one with pineapple, innit. Got two tubs for £1, and it's healthy too innit.

As I wait for the last bus of the night I ask myself - Would I rather be sipping cocktails in the Bellagio right now?

Well yeah, I would actually...

Friday, 28 May 2010

Out of the frying pan

"I call" says my opponent, flecks of processed meat spraying out of his mouth and on to the felt. As I discard my failed bluff, he tables his top pair before taking another bite of burnt, fat drenched sausage and stacking his newly won chips.

I remind myself of the old poker maxim that if a guy is in a pot and he's eating, he's usually got a good hand, as otherwise he wants to concentrate on his food. However, this is a difficult rule to follow as there are no less than four people at the table eating big, greasy fried breakfasts. I should probably mention that its 1am on a Thursday morning.

I am at the Circus Casino at Star City in North Birmingham. For those not from the area, Star City is an architectually uninspiring 'entertainment' complex, located in one of the roughest areas of the city. It containins a cinema, a range of below average chain restaurants and a casino. In its defence, I should also mention that it does have a crazy golf course.

I have no idea what compelled me to come to the casino this afternoon (nine long hours ago) - it certainly wasn't for the £1 all day fried breakfasts that many of the casino patrons are eagerly stuffing into their mouths. As a marketing strategy it is an interesting one. Perhaps there is a link between meat and the propensity to play roulette that I'm not yet aware of.

For some reason I decided to come and play the weekly Wednesday afternoon £10 rebuy crapshoot tournament, even though I knew how it would go.

I would play like a maniac for the 90 minute rebuy period, much to the consternation of the middle aged men at the table. Then when the freezeout period of the tournament started, the structure of the tournament would go to shit and I would wait patiently for an ace in my hand, before shoving all in and getting bad beated.

Sigh.

Little did I know that on a Wednesday evening in North Birmingham, there would be two super juicy £1/£2 no limit cash games running, one of which I was able to quickly jump into.

I'm in the number one seat next to the dealer, who is absolutely terrible. He makes all kinds of mistakes, takes about five minutes to work out a sidepot and keeps trying to rake too much. After correcting him each time for about an hour, I give up and only say something when it directly effects me. Nobody else seems to care, apart from the over raking - they are all over that of course. The next dealer is almost as bad and its clear that they probably aren't really used to this much action.

The table is predictably full of absolute droolers and after not picking up a hand for seemlingly hours, I manage to make a guy fold a flush on the river by betting out strongly with my worse flush. The guy makes a shocking laydown as he quickly folds the third nuts face up and his face is a picture when I show him my worse flush and scoop the pot. It's this terrible grasp of hand values combined with the super loose and passive pre flop play that makes the game so good. Sadly as I can't get any semblance of a hand, it's hard to take advantage.

Despite appearences to the contrary, there is one old guy who seems to know what he's doing. In fact, he knows perhaps too well and I swear I see him shorting the pot on two occasions when he calls a bet, by splashing his chips into the middle rather than putting them in front of him - so people can't see he hasn't put enough chips in. I'm not in the hand so I say nothing, as it is not good for the game to be a rules nit and bring the mood down, and the dealers are oblivious. But I'm watching him like a hawk and if he tries any of that shit with me I'm going to be right in his fucking face about it.

The possible cheat has direct position on an old Scottish guy (osg) who is rocking the comical combination of being almost completely deaf and not knowing the rules of poker, so when someone tries to tell him what to do, it is inevitably met with the phrase "I cannae hear ye son" and a confused expression.

A woman next to me sits down with £50 and calls £2 to see almost any flop but folds every single time after that - it's almost embarassing. After an hour she's down to her last few quid without any chance of winning, but she has managed to eat a £1 fried breakfast and perhaps that's the point.

Several times all ten players see the flop and it's the most passive game I've ever played in, but it's P-A-I-N-F-U-L and I get bored, start playing too many hands and spew off my profits.

Yes, I'm a donkey.

At 2am I can't take the misery any more and I leave with £10 profit for the night, which is exactly the price of a taxi home.

The taxi driver is a talker and clearly a fan of the shortcut back route - two qualities that do not enamour me at that moment.

There's a private road in Great Barr that is badly potholed and in terrible condition. For some reason, taxi drivers LOVE driving down this road and when I feel like I'm about to be physically sick, I'm not sure if it's a combination of the potholes and the casino omlette I ate earlier or the realisation that I've just wasted an entire day of my life for no reward, sitting with a group of idiots and surrounded by the stench of gambling and meat.

There are better ways to spend a day. Particularly with a crazy golf course just next door.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Two World Wars and One World Cup

“Go back home Englander”

I am sitting in a 2/2 no limit hold’em game in a Berlin casino and am not getting a warm welcome from a few of my hosts. The guy on my left is the businessman type, he’s drinking one of those overly large German glasses of beer and generally being an idiot. Being a dick is clearly something that transcends international boundaries.

So he’s insulting me in German, mocking me for being unable to speak the language and deliberately using oversized chips to bet -saying the number in German. A couple of players laugh along with him – I notice they have both had to rebuy in the hour I’ve been at the table. Clearly my businessman friend wants to be ‘the man’.

He tries to taunt me by repeatedly asking me what the score was in the Bayern Munich v Manchester United match that took place earlier in the week.

Eventually respond by telling him the game is delicately poised for the second leg, as United have the away goal and although the Bavarians are now favourites as Rooney is injured, if Bayern’s Dutch injury prone superstar Arjen Robben doesn’t return for the match at Old Trafford and with their suspect central defenders, I see the tie going either way and is probably 50/50.

And besides, I support Birmingham.

I’ve done nothing to annoy him so far apart from being a solid and aggressive poker player, but when he acts out of turn and raises when I am still deliberating my action with pocket tens, I decide to provide him with some ammunition.

Much to the consternation of several people at table, in English I seek a rules clarification from the dealer. She confirms to me that if I just call, then the raise from the businessman plays and he can’t take it back. So that’s just what I do and when the action returns to me, with a Turkish guy is caught in the sandwich, I stick in a nice healthy re- raise. This causes three people to simultaneously start gesticulating and shouting at me in German. When things calm down, the businessman folds and the Turk calls. He’s been standing up to my aggression with mixed results so far, but he is clearly after me. The hand plays out and after checking through the flop, I end up calling a bet from him on the turn and river. After my river call he disgustedly throws his cards into the muck and I don’t even have to show my cards to claim the 200+ euro pot.

Now it’s on and I have two players at the table steaming. When the businessman loses the rest of his stack against a confused old man who keeps string betting, he proceeds to fake spit at the female dealer before throwing his cards at her. The fact that he is tilting is beautiful to me but I feel sorry for the dealer, so I tell him he is being an idiot, has no class and the dealer has actually been helping him by enforcing the string bets. He now refuses to interact with me and simply keeps repeating “GO HOME” and GO AWAY” in a very loud voice.

I blow what remains of my image by running an audacious bluff with 7 high against the confused old man and proudly showing it when he folds. From then on I lock it up and play super tight for the next 45 minutes until I leave at midnight.

I leave just over 250 euros in profit which is nice win considering the high rake in the game, and which coincidently, is the exact amount of my three week sublet here in Berlin.

Maybe next time I visit the casino I can do my bit to repair Anglo-German poker relations.

Gung Hay Fat Choy

It’s the evening of Chinese New Year and I’m taking my chances in a shorthanded 30/60 game at the Oaks Club. The only reason I’m in this game is the middle aged Chinese megafish to my right and the fact there is no 15/30 game running tonight. The rest of the table seems pretty solid, though not without leaks.

To celebrate Chinese New Year the card room is running an all you can eat Chinese buffet and the line snakes around the lobby. It’s unclear to me how one goes about getting a ticket for the buffet, but they are hot property and are being traded around the poker floor like cigarettes in a prison.

A man painted orange and with loads of orange balloons attached to him ambles around the room, not sure of what he is expected to do. I assume he is supposed to be a tiger, as this is the year of the tiger, but to me he looks like a man painted orange who is waiting for his shift to finish. A little later he accidently pops one of his balloons, causing the old man on the next table to me to almost have a heart attack.

As I take an open seat at the 30/60 table I realise that getting my chips tonight could be a slow process even though it isn’t a busy night.

The job of the chip runner is to take the money from the player at the table and exchange it for chips as quickly as possible. Different games require different denominations and combinations of chips and it is important for them to do the job fast so the action is not held up at the tables whilst players are waiting.

Tonight the chip runner is a lady wearing dark classes and it immediately becomes clear to me that she has some degree of colour blindness. I’m not one to discriminate but I would suggest that a job involving different colours of chips is not the ideal one for someone who is colour blind. She does her job correctly, though slowly and to my surprise the players generally give her a break and don’t moan about waiting for their chips.

Back at the table I go on an insane run and am up almost $3,000 within 90 minutes. Inevitably things turn around and I proceed to lose most of this over the next several hours. I feel like I played ok but for sure made some mistakes and had better ways I could have played certain hands. Such is the nature of poker.

At the table the discussion turns to poker and relationships. A hipster looking guy who is a good player says he keeps meticulous records of all his profits and losses so he can show his wife. Another guy says he doesn’t tell his wife about his wins or his losses at all.

As the conversation continues, the first guy confesses to having some troubles in his marriage of late that have coincided with his recent good run at the poker table. “But I thought your marriage was going well?” enquires someone across the table, “so did I!” he replies. It should also be worth pointing out that tonight is February 14th as this year Chinese New Year coincides with Valentine’s Day.

Meanwhile there is controversy brewing over at the buffet, where it emerges that one guy has been stacking his plate with food and taking it out to his waiting wife in the car park. It’s unclear how many plates he’s taken, but he clearly been able to outwit the Oaks’ security staff and smuggle out a significant quantity of spring rolls in the process.

So that concludes my time at The Oaks. My only regret is that I didn’t cash out when I was $3,000 up. Maybe then there would also have been some food left when I finally got to the buffet.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Swiss roll, kings cracked: Day two of EPT Berlin

I start day two with a healthy stack of 91,700. I’m in third position at the table in chips and with a table of complete unknowns, save for German pro Florian Langmann who has a big stack.

Elsewhere at the table we have big glasses wearing Rasmus Vogt (who actually turns out to be a very good player), Slobodan Bjelbork (who sounds like a character from Star Trek) and the other big stack Simon Boss (who looks like classical conductor Simon Rattle with a shock of unkempt grey hair and plays like this is his first ever poker tournament)

Day two is a struggle for me. I never manage to increase my stack and it hovers between 60,000 and 90,000 for most of the day. If day one was one of the best days of poker of my life, then day two was one of the hardest.

Seated on table 31 out of 50, I knew my table wouldn’t break for several hours as they split the tables in reverse order, so I dig in and try and get some reads as I know I will be playing with these people for a while.

However, the table dynamic soon blows wide open when the two big stacks get involved in a huge pot towards the end of the first level of the day. It goes something like this.

Simon Boss ~150k
Florian Langmann ~125k

Blinds 600/1,200, ante 100


Crazy Swiss man Simon Boss opens from the hijack to 3,500. He has been fairly active with his big stack and managed to win a few decent pots. However, it’s clear that he is a very inexperienced player. His hands shake every time he stacks his chips or makes a bet and he is reluctant to give out change to other players despite having way more physical chips than anyone else at the table.

It folds around the Florian Langmann on the button who re-raises to 12,000. The blinds fold and it’s back to the Boss who thinks about it and puts in an extra 7,500 to call.

Flop
K T 4 with two diamonds.


With just over 25k now in the pot, Simon Boss quickly donks out a bet of 15,000. Pausing, Langmann cuts out 40k and announces raise. Action is now back on the wild haired Swiss and just like that he announces “all in”, which is quickly met by “call” from the German pro.

The hands are turned over and Langmann has pocket tens for the flopped set and the second nuts.

To the utter disbelief of the table, Boss turns over 23 of diamonds for the nut low with the flush draw.

I knew it was coming, I just knew it was coming. After the turn bricks out, the river brings that inevitable diamond and Langmann is stunned. It takes a minute or so to count out the stacks but it is soon clear that he is eliminated goes from being amongst the chipleaders in his home tournament to being on the rail. Truly a sick hand, probably the biggest of the tournament to this point and puts the unpredictable Swiss man amongst the top chipstacks in the whole tournament.

“I’ve always thought you were great against erratic big stacks” texts my friend Paul after I send an SOS message to him saying I’m finding things tricky.

It’s hard going. I’m not getting many big hands and the hands I do get miss more often than they hit. Our Alpine amateur with the big stack is getting involved in a lot of pots and is a thorn in my side as I cannot put him on a hand or figure out what he has. For the most part I have to tighten up and be patient.

Eventually the table breaks and I move to my new seat. Scanning the table I don’t recognise any of the faces but it soon becomes apparent that seated directly to my left is young aggressive German player Nico Behling. I am aware of his online exploits and don’t relish having him directly to my left. Other than that though, it’s a table of unknowns, until seat ten busts out and it is filled with the imposing presence of Irishman Jude Ainsworth.

Ainsworth is shaven headed, wearing big aviator sunglasses and a mountain of chips in front of him. It is reported that he is the current chipleader. Recently signed by Poker Stars he is clearly in no mood to mess around and is looking to get a big result to put himself on the map. His demeanour at the table is aggressive and chippy and even his jokes have a tinge of aggression. It is probably the first time I’ve ever been intimidated by an opponent.

Soon afterwards, my first day tablemate Jan Collado is moved to the left of Nico Behling and I am faced with a murderers row of three big stacked, good, aggressive players.

I continue to be patient and am able to keep afloat with a few well timed resteals. Mostly I am just playing tight and waiting for a hand but I can’t afford to do that much longer. The blinds are increasing and my stack has stayed static the whole day.
There are still about 50 people left to bust before we get into the money and I can’t just sit on my stack, I have to pick up chips.

Two orbits in a row with about 15 big blinds in my stack, I pick up Ace King first to act. Both times I don’t do anything fancy and just shove all in to pick up the blinds and antes. Nobody calls either time, though the second time especially there seems disgruntlement towards what to live players seems like a very big shove.

My thought process is this - I don’t really fancy being flat called by anyone and having to play a flop probably out of position. Miss the flop I either have to fold and be down to 12bbs with the blinds about to go through me or get all in with just ace high - Plus the fact that I am raising from early position means that people will give me greater credit for a big hand and be less likely to resteal light on me. From late position I would have opened with a standard raise but I am happy with my choice of action and I am able to pad my stack and keep my head above water.

The next orbit I pick up QQ in early position. Having open shoved a stack of 15 big blinds the past two orbits it is a no brainer to do the same again and hope someone gets suspicious of me and decides to look me up. As soon as I declare all in, Nico Behling to my left seems like he has a difficult decision. He deliberates for a minute or two before calling. It’s interesting that he chose to flat call rather than reraise. I can’t give him credit for a Hollywood acting job, so I have to put him on a hand something like AQ or TT. Everyone else folds.

Nico flips over 99 and it’s the first time I’ve been all in with my tournament life at risk. Thankfully my hand holds up and I double up! Behling still has chips and in fact goes on to finish eighth in the tournament.

Now I’m in business and I can look to increase my stack on the bubble by putting pressure on even shorter stacks than myself. One guy hasn’t played a hand for about two hours so I target his big blind two orbits in a row and an able to take down the pot.

With about five people left to bust before the bubble a big stack opens from early position. I look down at pocket tens in middle position. I have thirty big blinds in my stack and this is a difficult situation. It is too risky just to shove all in here. I have too many chips, the raiser might have a hand and there are still several people left to act after me who might wake up with a monster. I could raise but it’s an awkward amount of my stack to put in and I will have to fold if somebody four bets. What I *should* have done is flat called and tried to see a flop, but for the only time in the tournament the magnitude of the money I am playing for hits me and think to myself how destroyed I will be if I don’t get in the money now. I fold and silently curse myself. Hopefully next time I won’t be so weak on the bubble.

When it happens it is over quickly. No sooner as it is announced that there is one more person left to bust, he does exactly that and I have locked up 7,000 euros.

There’s muted celebration but players like Jude Ainsworth (who has increased his already hefty stack) and the young Germans are I’m sure already thinking of going all the way.

There is a little play left in the day but soon the bags are being given out to put your chips in at the end of the day and it is declared that there are three more hands left to play. Sadly my chips never made it into the bag.

On the penultimate hand of the day I make my exit:

Hero ~121k
Unknown man with glasses ~200k

Blinds 2000/4000 – Ante 600


I am crossing my fingers and hoping an easy few hands so I can bag up and be on my way for the night, but in middle position I look down at pocket kings and open raise to 10,500. It folds around to the big blind who is quite new to the table. He makes the call and we see a flop.

Flop T 7 4 with two diamonds

There’s about 28k in the pot and it is checked to me. I fire out a continuation bet of 20,000. I really wouldn’t mind taking it down here and now but obviously I’m looking for action. There’s no way I’m folding this hand and if he calls then I’m likely getting all the money in on the turn. However I don’t need to wait that long as I am instantly check raised all in.

I take perhaps five seconds to confirm to myself that yes, there is indeed no way I am folding this hand, so I call.

We are sitting at opposite ends of the table and as we flip our hands over I make out that he has 89 of hearts for the up and down straight draw. The dealer turns and burns quickly and when the ten hits the felt at first I think it as a good card for me. Looking back at his hand I am stuck with the horrible sight of his hand which is now sharply in focus.

Ten nine of hearts.

And the realisation washes over me that he has sucked out on me and hit his dream card, putting me virtually out of the tournament. I can’t hit a miracle king on the river and I am out.

Stunned I am shepherded over to the desk where I see I have finished in 129th place for 7,000 euros. As I am filling out my details, the 128th place finished walks over and sits next to me. He is to be awarded 8,000 euros, so if I had paused and stalled for just a minute I would have made an extra 1,000 euros. This rankles more than the nature of my exit.

---

The next day I spend my profits on entering the 1,500 euro side event. My table is incredibly soft but I make a couple of errors and am disappointed with my play as I bust before the dinner break. This leaves me break even for the week.

The facts of the matter are, this was my first EPT main event. I shunned satellites and bought in directly out of my roll. It was a gamble for a bankroll nit like myself but it paid off as I cashed. I didn’t feel at all outclassed and had my kings held up, I could have gone deep. The structure was good and I played patiently and feel I was rewarded for it. I will certainly be playing another EPT event in future, either in Berlin or elsewhere.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Pocket rockets uber alles

The European Poker Tour recently visited the city of Berlin. As the city has become my de facto second home, I felt duty bound to enter. I took some money from my previous winnings, won about 1,000 euros in satellites and sold 30% of the rest of my action to get together the 5,300 euro entry fee for the tournament.

It was by far the biggest tournament I’ve ever played, but I thought there would be value. A million euros for first would surely gather a large field. The clash with the end of the Los Angeles Poker Classic and the NBC Heads Up Championships in Las Vegas would also ensure that some of the top players in the world would not be playing.

My friend Nick bought 5% of my action and I also stayed at his apartment. Nick had promised that if I busted on the first day I would be subjected to his copy of UB40’s greatest hits. It was quite an incentive to perform.

Nick is a true poker player and on the way to the Hyatt in Potsdamer Platz we discussed the pot odds of buying a train ticket. The ticket cost 2.10 and the fine for not having a ticket was 40 euros. That means that you would need to travel and not be caught by inspectors less than one in 19 times to make travelling the s-bahn in Berlin a break even proposition. We also had some extra information – Nick reckoned that the inspectors were less prevalent on the more touristy line that we were catching through the centre of town, as opposed to some of the lines that go through more residential neighbourhood. Using our reads it was clear that not buying a ticket was very +ev and after being ridiculed a few times for being a law abiding public transport user, I was soon a fully card carrying freeloader.

I played on the same start day as tennis legend Boris Becker and Germany’s most famous player – last year’s winner Sandra Naujoks. However, neither were on my start table, which was a mix of young internet kids, eurodonks and a South American. My starting table had some tough spots. Danish pro Martin Wendt sat on my left and young aggressive German player Benny Spindler was also at the table. There was another floppy fringed aggro German kid who I sat with both days and who played really good. (Later identified as Jan Callado)

Also at my table was an Italian guy in a dark suit and shades who I instantly hated. He was sponsored by some Italian gambling website or other and would chat to various Italian poker bloggers throughout the day, who fawned over his (faltering) progress. Of course, he was not a very good player. Thankfully there are also a couple of French players to provide some extra value! Finally to my right was a Venzualean guy who listened to Sting and Men at Work in his iPhone, singing along with the lyrics – if he was looking to induce me to three bet him more, his Sting singalong certainly achieved that.

There were quite a few players around who were sponsored by various online sites and from all the evidence I got from playing with them, most were pretty bad and had some serious leaks – the ‘live player lol factor’.

As a guy wandered past to an adjacent table with a foam traffic cone on his head, I pondered to myself if perhaps I had the wrong idea and if I should make a trip to a fancy dress shop if I made day two? Over on the table next to me, Swedish sponsored pro Peter Hedland was being very loud. Every sponsored pro needs a gimmick to make them stand out and be marketable and his seems to be drinking lots of beer and talking very loudly. Well if it works for him...

My day one went like a dream. I didn’t get aces, but I got a lot of other big hands and I was able to slowly chip up without much risk. The only decently sized pot I lost all day was an all in pre flop hand with TT vs a shortstack who turned over aces. Other than that it was mainly slow solid upward progress. It was one of the most enjoyable days of poker I’ve ever had. I was more than holding my own in this tournament and felt eminently comfortable at the table. I have to say it felt good.

Here’s a couple of more interesting hands that I can remember.

150/300 w/25 ante.
My stack ~40,000
Martin Wendt ~25,000
Benny Spindler ~12,000

I pick up QQ and open to 750 from the hijack. I’ve been playing a few hands but not too many and I have managed to chip up from my starting stack. Danish pro Martin Wendt three bets me to 2,000. He’s been somewhat frustrated so far and seems to have missed several flops, his stack has dwindled slightly. This is the first time he’s three bet. It folds around to young floppy fringed German Benny Spindler in the small blind, who promptly shoves 12k in. Benny has been getting involved and playing a lot of hands, probably too many hands. He’s lost a couple of decently sized pots to dwindle down to his current stack. As Spindler shoves, Wendt does a little sigh to himself and sits back in his seat. Did I mention he is wearing dungarees?

I’m perplexed by this spot and stuck in the middle. Despite Spindler playing a lot of hands, his range for cold four betting here must be very small. He should know that I haven’t been playing a ton of hands and that Wendt certainly hasn’t, let alone three betting. I’ve I’m being generous I might give him the range TT+, AK and perhaps AQs, but this is definitely his widest range. Wendt and his little sigh perplexes me. I haven’t been playing with him long enough to work out whether it is a real sigh or a fake one. Something feels not right and one way or the other I sense I’m not good, so I muck. Wendt then instamucks and tells me later he had 89s. Spindler makes a nice increase to his stack.

A few orbits later I get involved with the Venezualen guy on my right. There are two Venezuelan guys in the tournament and the second one is moved to my table after the besuited Italian busts. The one opposite is absolutely terrible and clearly what my friend Nick would call ‘recreational’. The one to my right is better, he at least seems to be able to hand read a little and knows what he is doing somewhat, though he does seem a little spewy and has poor taste in music.

Blinds 200/400 w/50 ante.
My stack ~50,000
Venezualen ~55,000

The Venezuelan opens to 1,000 from the hijack and I look down at queens in the cut off. Often I would not three bet this preflop but I feel his range is reasonably wide and I feel I can read him pretty well, so I decide to pop it up to 2,700. Everyone else folds after counting out his chips for 5 seconds he calls.

FLOP
Pot: 6,500
242 rainbow

The driest of the dry flops and probably doesn’t change anything. I still don’t know too much about his hand but I’m probably ahead, so I could do with getting some money in the pot. I really don’t want to stack off here so I will be most likely checking the flop or the turn if checked to, to keep the pot small.

I decide to bet the flop. When I bet, the hand pattern I’m looking for, assuming the board stays pretty dry, is to bet the flop, check behind on the turn and either call the river or probably bet for value. I bet 3,800.

My opponent quite quickly calls and I now assign his most likely hand as a pair between 44 and JJ. He still of course could have aces or kings or an ace high type hand like AK or AQ.

TURN
Pot: 14,100
242(T) – two clubs

The pot is growing now and I really don’t want to get check raised here, as I will have to throw it away. So when I’m checked to, I play with my chips for about 30 seconds before deciding to go with the initial plan, exercise pot control and check it back. Our villain in this hand definitely has the check raise in his arsenal. Maybe he might even do this with a worse hand than mine like AT or JJ. There is also a small chance that the ten improved his hand.

RIVER
Pot: 14,100
242T(A)

An ace on the river and my initial reaction is ‘shit, did I let him get there?’ But I don’t think that for long. Very quickly after the ace hits, the Venezuelan instachecks. And then I hear it. I’m sitting directly to his left and I hear his breath change. There’s an intake of breath when the ace hits and then an exhale. It sounds....well... disappointed. This doesn’t sound like a fake breath and I have to go with it. It seems like he thought he was good and now he thinks he is beat. I’m now sure I have the best hand and I want to get some value. I need to bet small enough so I get a crying call.

I cut out a bet of just 3.000 chips. Less than a quarter of the pot. It’s pure value and quickly our Venezuelan friend shakes his head and pays me off. When I show my queens he taps the table and shows JJ. The ace on the river cost me about 5k as I would have bet much bigger on the river if a blank had hit, or more likely, he would have bet out into me and I would have called, But I still win a nice pot and am delighted about my breathing tell on my South American opponent. I’m still unsure if should have bet more on the river – I probably should, but I don’t mind too much as I rake in the pot.

Players slowly bust throughout the day. Spindler goes out, as does Martin Wendt. The young German kid is picking up chips as is a German-Iranian guy two to my right who is playing a lot of pots and hitting a lot of hands. An English guy is moved to my left for a while and he plays good. Thankfully he soon loses a big flip and busts.

Late in the day German Full Tilt pro Niklas Heinecker is moved to my table with a short stack. He plays the short stack well and manages to chip up. Eventually we get involved in a hand where I fire three barrels with QQ on a low rainbow board and he calls me down all the way with what he claims was K high for over half his stack. He claims he was prepared to call off all of his chips with the K high and I’m not so sure. But to be fair, I think my range was highly polarised here and if he got a gut feeling, he felt duty bound to stick with it. He says he went with his read when I repopped him preflop as I went back and checked my cards before I put in the raise, so he thought this meant I was weak. In truth this is something I do a lot, take a quick initial glance at the hand as it is being dealt, then go back and take a second look when it was my turn, to remember the suits of the cards and decide if I’m going to play the hand. I guess this is a little unusual and in this case it got me paid off.

At the end of the day we chat a little as I bag up my stack of over 91,000 chips and he seems like a really nice guy and a good player too.