Tuesday, February 19, 2008

FTOPS In Review, and Finding my MTT Game

Happy Tuesday everyone. Like I said yesterday, I really hope most of you out there got to enjoy a nice long weekend away from work and doing whatever it is that you normally like to do during your time off. I know I did. I've said this here many times before, but long weekends, vacations and the like take on a whole new significance and level of fun when you have children who are of an age that they can talk and interact with you about the fun things you do with them. This weekend I think the highlight of my girls' weekends had to be going to the "screening room" on the lobby level of our friends' apartment building and watching "Ratatouille" from Disney Pixar. Good stuff. They can be so easy to please some times, and yet so impossible to deal with at others. If you have kids you know what I mean.

So, on to poker. The FTOPS is mercifully over, and I say mercifully because, in a word, it sucked. For me anyways. I played I think 6 events, and I recorded exactly one cash, a small one at that. Overall I probably came very close to breaking even on the whole series, including qualifying, winning multiple seats, my one cash in FTOPS #9, etc., but for me that is not acceptable. I want to be a more consistent casher in the big events, I know I have the ability to do so. Most of all, I had that one FTOPS series, I think it was back in FTOPS IV, where I cashed in four or five total events, including a 100th place finish out of over 4500 donkeys in the FTOPS Main Event (lost to a runner-runner suckout btw) on my way to cashing for over $5000 in the process over the entire tournament series. So I know I can do better, and this time around in the FTOPS, I stepped down and stepped down hard. I'm quite glad the whole thing is over, in particular so I can get back to focusing on the sngs and mtts that I had been enjoying over the past few months before the FTOPS really came into focus.

And speaking of those mtts, the one thing that FTOPS VII was great for with me was that, while I was suckin up the joint in all of the FTOPS events, I somehow managed to find my long-lost mtt game. To be sure, I had a lot of nice tournament wins during the past year, and they were more or less spread throughout the year, but most of the larger ones definitely occurred before the last few months of 2007. But all of a sudden, in the middle of the FTOPS last week, the dam broke open and I cashed for that $4900+ score for my third-place finish in the full tilt 50-50 tournament last week. And then, after donking it up for several days as a result of that win, this past weekend I hit it again with another $4200+ score in the pokerstars version of that same $50 buyin, 55k guaranteed tournament, this time for a 4th-place finish. These are the two biggest wins I have recorded in several months, and they incredibly happened within five days of each other.

Where did all this come from? It's hard to say. I don't have any answer, really. I mean, I think -- no, I know -- that I know the formula to winning mtt poker. I have won more than 3 grand in a tournament probably 12 or 13 times total now in individual tournament scores, and I have won about a million satellite tournaments, blogger tournaments and sitngos along the way. So I know that I know how to play winning mtt poker, when to speed up, when to slow down, all those good things. The better question I think has been where did my mtt go for the last few months of 2007 and the first month of 2008. And for that I have no great answer, other than to echo some of the things I wrote about in my 2007 year in review and 2008 goals posts. There I talked about my lack of focus on cash-payout mtts late in 2007, focusing instead almost exclusively on cash games at first, and then sngs for the last few months of the year. This I think really messed with my mtt game, as well as depriving me of the proper amount of practice and focus on the mtts I like to play, in particular in the late-game strategy stuff that really cannot be duplicated in any other type of poker situation. For whatever reason, my stated focus on getting back to the basics of cash-payout mtts here in 2008 has started to pay off, and for me it could not have come at a better time after one of my longest strings of no large tournament cashes in some time.

My run to the final table of the pokerstars 5050 this past Saturday night was fairly uneventful, as is usually the case with most of my mtt scores. At no time was I in the top few spots in chips -- even less so than in my full tilt 5050 run last week -- and I basically sat around between the 25th and 50th percentile of players throughout most of the last 200 people or so left in the field. I was looking pretty actively to do my slow-it-down style that I elaborated on a bit last week, but as I mentioned I was not all that high up on the leaderboard for most of the way through so I never really spent much time playing slow as I often do if I am in like the top 3 in chips with 100 players remaining. I simply did not get enough big cards
or big hands to make that happen this time, so I had to rely as usual mostly on stealing and restealing to make it through the last 100 or so players in the field. I finally reached the final table on the very first hand of the 6th hour when K4 pushed into AK, and we were down to 9 players remaining, my first nlh final table of any significance on pokerstars in probably close to a year as I barely played there through most of 2007. I entered the final table in 7th place of 9 chip stacks remaining, with the $1000+ payouts not starting until 8th place and then escalating to more than 11k for the tournament winner.

Just like at my full tilt final table run last week, I was the lucky recipient of a suckout early on that helped get me some chips to play with the big stacks at the table. This time, the shortstack at the table who had raised every time he had an Ace preflop for the past two hours or so did not raise preflop, so when an Ace hit the board I ended up pushing with my King-high, and he called me with the lovely flopped set. I had flopped an inside straight draw, though -- admittedly not something I had even noticed at the time -- and then on the river the miracle 4-outer hit for me for only my second and final suckout of the tournament. This balanced against 9 suckouts that I suffered during the tournament though, so before all you hatas start screaming lucksack, check yourselves. 9 suckouts against, and 2 suckouts for, there you have it and frankly that is a pretty standard ratio for me. But this one was a biggie and helped bump me up to the top 3 chip stacks with 8 players remaining, already into the 4-digit payout positions but with me looking to do better than that.

I applied pressure where it made sense after that point, and within another 10 minutes or so I had sneaked into the slight chip lead, when this hand came up that I wanted to show you:

So here I am barely in first place of 8 players remaining at a big-money final table, and I'm facing a big utg+1 raise from a tight player who had not been raising much before the flop to this point. Incidentally this is one of the good things about making a final table run in one of these large tournaments -- you will almost always have spent a fair amount of time playing with most of your final table mates over the previous few hours of shorthanded play with tables constantly closing down and refilling. So I knew this guy had been playing fairly tight, and I had a chip lead that I did not want to put in jeopardy with a hand like AQ that can be hard to play after the flop, even in position. So you know what I did here? I folded. Now I am sure that many of you out there, even some of the big long-term tournament winners, might have called or maybe even raised here. But this is my final table strategy when I actually have a nice pile of chips, and for me, and the way I play, this generally makes the most sense. At a 4-handed table I don't see how I can get away from AQ which is generally basically a shorthanded monster, but with 8 players left, AQ against a tight player's EP raise just did not seem like something to even waste 30k in chips on. So I laid this one down, which I thought might be interesting to some of you out there.

Eventually another player busted about 10 minutes later, and I was back to 2nd place of 7 players remaining, and eventually after I stole a couple of blinds with late position preflop raises, I was well ahead of even the 3rd place player, where I remained even after the 6th place finisher was eliminated pushing Ace-rag from late position into pocket Jacks allin preflop. When I looked down just two hands later to find KK, my heart skipped about five beats. I never get good cards at any final tables, and when I do it tends to eff me more than anything else, but in this case my decisionmaking was made easy when the table shorty pushed allin ahead of my action before the flop. I called of course, and he flipped up AKs, and somehow, some way, no Ace hit the board and I was once again way out in front of 3rd place and getting pretty close to the chip leader once again.

It was maybe another 10 minutes or so later when I eliminated the 5th place player as well, this time when I raised the 20k big blind to 80k with KQs, and the big blind, at the time the shortest remaining stack at the table as well, reraised allin over my stealy-looking raise for his last 300k in chips or so. Given that I had been quite aggro in steal position at the final table and really for the prior couple of hours of the tournament to even last to this point, and given that he was the tournament short stack at the time, I figured his range was sufficiently wide that a call with KQs in this spot was warranted. This is a call I would make again, given that I wanted to win this tournament and not just hold on for a nice cash and knowing that if he held Ace-rag that I would still be roughly 40% to win the hand in any event, although when he flipped up JJ I was none too pleased (though I still had the pot odds to make the call). Luckily I won the race, flopping a Queen, and I moved on to just a hair under the leading chip stack with just 4 players remaining.

Near the end of hour 6, after laying down A3o to an utg raise before the flop, I had my second (and last) big hand of the final table. I raised from the small blind with K7o, an above average hand that I figured I could disguise well because I had been raising aggressively with good cards as first-in all through the final table and earlier, and I flopped a monster hand. Being that I had also been c-betting fairly consistently, I went for the standard c-bet here as well, and this time I ran into some opposition from the opponent on my left who had generally folded quite a bit to my aggression:

My approach in these situations is that you absolutely, positively must get full value from your monster hands in late-stage final table play, period. There can be no other option, as such hands come around so few and far between. Thus, I opted to go for the smooth call here with my trips and King kicker here, already knowing that I would check to my opponent regardless of the turn card and then go for the big check-raise:

As you can see, he led out another 270k after I checked the turn, feigning weakness, and when I moved him allin despite the somewhat scary turn card, he thought for a while before folding out, giving me a large chip lead and the real thought that I could take this thing down. And a play like this on a hand like this tells me all I need to know about my earlier laydown of the A3 and AQ hands, just like my lawydown in last week's full tilt 5050 run of the TT and JJ early at the final table: I do not like to call big bets with beatable hands early on, and I have enough confidence in my aggression and in my general abilities that I would rather wait for a better spot where I can be the aggressor or actually be dealt a hand where I have good reason to believe I am way ahead instead of where I will not know if I am behind or even dominated / drawing dead without commiting a whole lot of precious chips at the final table to find out. So this hand jumped me up to around $1.6 million, with second place then sitting at around half that stack.

Unfortunately my euphoria and thoughts of crushing the rest of the field in this tournament were short-lived, as, with my chip lead dwindled a little bit, I picked up 99 in the big blind and smooth called an UTG preflop raise with it. When the flop came down Q62 rainbow, I opted for the checkraise once again, given that I knew the preflop raiser would almost have to c-bet in this spot with his stack so much smaller than mine and with the blinds and antes so large:


Now I guess I can't complain too much about this hand, as I got to double up big with my own KK a bit earlier at the final table against AKs, but that was a rough flop in a key spot for me to pick up 99. Not sure if I am supposed to lay that one down or not but I don't know exactly how I am going to get to that point in that spot. I guess with the chip lead I should have laid it once he reraised me allin, but at that point it was only another 400k to call into a 900k pot, so I would have to be pretty dang sure I was behind there, and I guess I just wasn't quite that sure. Boy was I wrong, and given his preflop raise and then flop allin reraise of my checkraise, I probably shoulda laid it down. But I can understand my thinking there at the time, flawed though it was.

My undoing occured just a couple of hands later, which in retrospect I can obviously see was partially due to tilt from losing that massive chip lead and my shot at the 11k+ first prize in this thing. Basically I reraised allin from the big blind with K9o against a likely preflop stealer from the small blind here:

He called and flipped up A8o, I did not improve on my 40% shot to win, and I had completed my run from oppresively huge stack to mini-stack over the span of just 4 or 5 hands. It was a huge disappointment for me, especially as I donked out by open-raising allin with 65o two hands later and being called by two overs, and I will definitely learn something significant from this experience. Believe me, I love winning this money:

and the confidence boost that goes along with it, but this is one that I definitely let get away from me with a couple of ill-timed moves and overly aggressive plays in spots where I could have held on with a nice-sized stack and waited for a better opportunity. My reads had been pretty much spot-on all night up until the 99 < KK hand and then this K9 < A8 hand at the very end, but I still need to continue to keep my focus better at the final table if I want to get back to the winner's circle where I have been before. Still, given my lack of experience with large mtt final tables over the past few months, I am very pleased overall with my performance, and coming on the heels of the earlier full tilt 5050 cash last week, it made for a very, very nice week overall, one that basically overshadowed for me another dismal FTOPS run on the whole.

Speaking of the FTOPS, I will quickly mention for those of you who were not there on the rail to see it, I did bust out of the Main Event in fairly ugly fashion on Sunday evening. Two hours and 36 minutes in to the tournament, sitting on a below-average but still plenty playable 5800 chips, I picked up pocket Aces -- my only premium hand in the entire tournament of course -- and had two limpers in ahead of my action preflop. I put in my standard raise to around 3 times the big blind, maybe a little more to adjust for the limpers, and to my dismay and disgust, four callers I think trailed in to see a flop with me. Maybe it was just three callers of my preflop raise plus myself, but the point is, the conditions were not optimal for my AA to see a flop. Nonetheless, the flop came J52 or something similarly raggy, but all in diamonds. Neither of my Aces was a diamond, so when the action got to me I felt compelled to push allin into the huge pot against I guess it was just three other players, actually hoping almost equally for a fold or that someone would call me with a pair and a flush draw or something like that, where I knew I would be roughly a 2-to-1 favorite to more than double up with my premium hand. I did get one caller, and that caller did have the nut flush draw with the Ace of diamonds, but there was one problem: their other card was an Ace as well. So, it was AA against AA, but with my opponent holding the redraw to the nut flush. And, well, the Queen of diamonds fell on the turn, and a fifth diamond on the river just for good measure, and IGH somewhere around 2000th out of 5200-some donkeys. Oh well. When you don't get any premiums for over two and a half hours, then you finally do, you raise with it and still get three callers and end up being up against another AA, I chalk that one up to what can ya do. Sure I could have just check-folded my pocket Aces on the all-diamond board, but that's not my way. As I've said similarly many times before, playing in that fashion obviously would have saved my ass in that particular spot, but it would have also busted me from the tournament an hour earlier by not enabling me to be aggressive enough in the spots where I bluffed with air a couple of times and won big pots. So it's all a give and take, and in the end I think given the way that I play the game, I just have to chalk that one up. It's hard running AA into AA and losing, and I don't care what comes on the flop, in particular one that is Jack-high. But that's how my Main Event run came to an end, although I did see that Chad cashed in 600-somethingth place I think when his own pocket Aces got beat by AQ, and that Aussie Millions stud jeciimd also ended up in the money somewhere in the 400s before succumbing to the relentless pressure from the blinds and antes some 4 or 5 hours in to the action in the FTOPS ME.

That's all for today, I will write about the MATH results on Wednesday I promise. Just don't forget the latest Skills Series tournament tonight at 9:30pm ET on full tilt (password as always is "skillz"). I believe tonight's game is PL O8 or something like that, which should be...uh...interesting based on the cards I saw played the last time we cracked out Omaha 8 or Better for this tournament. And there's always Smokkee's bodonkey on Tuesday nights as well if you're into that sort of thing. Hopefully I can keep the hot run going and avoid the donkery that typically follows me for a few months after a nice streak of tournament wins like I have experienced this week.

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Blogger lcalb771 said...

Hey - let me know if you want to recieve PokerStars news and updates... Just send me an email so I know how to reach you

matt (Dot) clark AT lotus-pr (Dot) com

3:11 AM  
Blogger PokahDave said...

Wow...nice run. I can't stop donking off all my chips in the low buy-in tournaments. I don't think I'm playing all that bad but it helps when you right these types of posts. Keep up the mojo....

8:14 AM  
Blogger $mokkee said...

out with AA vs AA in FTOPS ME? that is just friggin ghey. nice cash in the 50/50. puttin together a couple of big scores in short time kicks ass.

8:36 AM  
Blogger PokahDave said...

err...."write these types of posts".....

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, nice score... damnit hoy, win this thing will ya!?

1:31 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Nice run man. Love the AQo fold - that's a move you don't see in the repertoire of A LOT of poker players.

3:35 PM  

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