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.

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.

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.

Pot: 14,100

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.

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