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.