Monday, May 18, 2009

Too Many Poker Tournaments?

This was a post I wrote shortly after returning from Atlantic City a couple of weeks back after placing 3rd in the Bally's nightly no-limit holdem tournament. I had a great time playing live for the first time since my WSOP performance in 2008, and one of the lessons I am constantly reminded about on the night occurred early in hour 2, when I went from about half of the starting stack to the tournament chip leader over the span of a couple of big hands.

If you recall from my post, I lost half of my starting stack shortly before the end of the first hour to a young girl a couple of seats to my right, who had been playing very tight and passive as far as the number of hands she was playing, and the times she raised or bet vs just calling. As I mentioned in my post, after she had raises it up under the gun, I made the probably ill-advised move to reraise big to isolate her when I picked up pocket Jacks from middle position. We got to heads up, she flipped up AA and promptly dropped me to around 8k left from the starting stack of 15k.

During the break which occurred one or two hands after the hand I described above, I came back from a smoke session at the bar and chatted briefly with her, congratulating her and asking her isn't that so awesome when you have AA and someone else at the table is raising you big? She agreed and started telling me how she was "sooooo nervous", she was sweating, she "knows she has the worst poker face" and she "was just dying inside, about to explode if the hand had taken even five more seconds than it did." Essentially, she was freaking out having been dealt pocket Aces and looking at the prospect of playing a big pot early in the tournament.

Now fast forward only a few hands into hour 2, and if you recall I flopped J44 with my JJ, while I checked and let the aggromonkey across the table bet me 75% of his stack through bets on the flop, turn and river, with me just pause-calling every time. After I raked in a massive pot to give me the sudden chip lead in the tournament, the young girl turns to me and says something along the lines of "Well wow look at your stack after that pot, nice hand! That must have been one of those situations where you were sweating bullets, with the heart thumping in your stomach and all, huh?"

At which point I gave it a moment's real thought, and then I told her, with 100% honesty, that I hadn't felt a thing. Nothing at all, at least in terms of what she was talking about.

And this is where it hit me: I've played wayyyyyy too much poker for that at this point in my life. I mean, sure I was gonna get paid by the fonkey I had been specifically targeting for the past hour, I was gonna make a big stack back after losing half my chips in the first hour. I had flopped the overfull, a veritable monster, and was just check-calling my way to donk-kickery. I can still remember when I used to play in AC as a teenager or even when I started playing home games in New York several years ago, making a big big hand and feeling sure that others could see the thumping in my chest or the sweat in my brow. But, at that very moment when the tight-passive girl asked me the question about me freaking out to be being bet at so large when I flopped the overfull, I realized for the first time just how much my wealth of poker tournament experience, my familiarity with the game and the various situations it throws at you, has changed me from that wide-eyed novice of some years ago.

Nowadays, really, big whoop? It's a $120 buyin event with a total of 34 runners, and $1400 to first place, a $3400 prize pool overall. How many tournaments larger than "3.4k guaranteed" do I play on a given night or in a given week? Or maybe the better question is, how many tournaments do I play that are smaller than a 3.4k guarantee in a given week? Other than blonkaments, the answer is a resounding zero. Frankly, other than blonkaments or some other special circumstances, I won't usually play anything that doesn't guarantee at least 25k in the prize pool. Having won several tournaments in my day, I know that, at least for me, it's just not even close to worth it to go through the trials and tribulations it takes to win a large poker tournament, fade all the 14-outers, survive through all the races, win every single time you get it in dominated, all just to win what, a lousy grand? No way, that's bullshit.

For live poker sometimes you just have to deal with that, you get what you get, right? But through the widespread availability and popularity of online play I have gotten myself to the point where a big flop that leads me to a big stack with 28 players left out of 34 runners in a $3.4k guaranteed tournament, doesn't make me sweat. It doesn't even make me flinch or even stop to think. The strangest thing about this girl's question was that, when I honestly thought about it, I realized that the "bigness" of the situation in that spot hadn't even registered with me at all.

It's just another hand, and this is a game where you have to take the good with the bad. It's almost zen in a way -- poker zen. To me, with thousands of hours of poker tournament play under my belt, with millions of hands seen in poker tournaments, those kinds of massive flops in against donkeys who hand you their entire stack blind have become, ultimately, nothing more than the counter-balance in the equation, the other side of which contains all those bad beats I take on a frighteningly regular basis, every time I ran KK into AA allin preflop in a big spot in a tournamen, and all those times I had the big chip lead with few players remaining and then ran AQ into AK 3-handed, or JJ into QQ, etc. Sitting at Bally's in Atlantic City last weekend, I really realized for the first time that a hand went down that totally excited the inexperienced players at the table, but didn't even register at all for me with any kind of emotional or competitive resonance.

That's how many poker tournaments I've played in over the years at this point.

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Blogger OES said...

Well obviously, that's what experience does to you. That's why all the 21, 22 year olds feel their Supernova status on pstars increases their penis to exponential length. All those hands they see makes them completely emotionless when they see AA for the umteenth time. The good thing about it, which you touched on, was that they still think optimally when in a "high pressure situation" compared to me and that girl where we are only thinking about not exploding with tells rather than analyzing the situation for what it is. The poker zen is an awesome feeling, which u better harness come June =). Good luck this summer and enjoy yourself!

11:18 PM  

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