Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Saturday in Vegas -- Venetian Deep Stack Day One

As I mentioned, I woke up very early on Saturday, sleeping just under 2 hours before my body forced my ass awake to deal with registering in time to miss the pre-tournament crush for WSOP Event #51 as I have done in past years. It's old news by now, but that tournament filled up the night before, and even though I arrived at the WSOP registration counter at the Rio before 8am this thing was already long gone. Even crazier was the fact that there were a bunch of people actually sleeping over on the floor in front of the registration counter from the night before, just on the hopes that the Rio would get it together at some point before the tournament's noon start time and add some more tables, which I imagine they did (it looks like they did add a whopping 81 more entrants, or 9 more tables before closing off registration for good for Event #51, wtg Harrah's!). But, knowing already that a tournament series like the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza was going on, in what I think is probably the nicest poker room in Las Vegas as it is, and that a $560 buyin event was already scheduled for noon on Saturday, I opted to just try to fix my problem right away by registering for that event instead of standing around in a closed, not moving registration line based solely on blind hope that some of us might get in at some point. That was definitely not how I planned to spend my morning, so I quickly jumped back in a cab and went straight to the Venetian, got a players club ("Club Grazie") card, and bought my way in. Then I headed back to the MGM, hung with my brothers and friends for a couple of hours, and then when they left to hit the pool, I jumped back in a cab and headed up Koval Avenue down the back road to the Venetian. Thanks to some traffic, I rolled in to the Venetian poker room just a couple of minutes before noon, not even leaving me time for my usual pre-poker smoke (there would be plenty of time for this later, as it turned out). I took my pre-assigned seat at table 75, Seat 10, and soon the cards were in the air, with eventually 772 runners each ponying up their $560 to take a crack at what would be a 101k first prize.

I should mention briefly the structure of the tournament, which was broken down into two-hour sessions followed by a 15-minute break. This Deep Stack
event started us all with 15,000 in chips, and blind rounds were 40 minutes, meaning that we would play exactly three blind rounds every two hours, and then take a 15-minute break, which left me just enough time for two leisurely cigarettes outside in the desert heat, followed by a bathroom break to help eliminate the roughly 2.5 cokes an hour I was drinking all through Saturday's action. The full schedule for the day was 3 rounds, 15 minute break, 3 rounds, 15 minute break, 3 rounds, 10 minute break, 1 more round, then a one-hour dinner break scheduled for 7:45pm or so, and then return for our 3-rounds-then-a-break schedule until the middle of Round 18, tentatively scheduled to occur somewhere between 2am and 3am.

Anyways, not much happened for me for the first couple hours of the tournament, as I did not receive much in the way of good starting cards -- the one QQ hand I did get in the big blind actually folded around to me for an unfortunate walk. Or fortunate, given my track record with pocket Queens. I took a couple of stabs at flops that looked harmless, but for the most part I either folded preflop or had to fold these few stabs on the flop to any kind of pressure from my opponents. Generally speaking, I only saw a few flops and did not flop top pair one time through the first two hours of play on Saturday. It was an annoying start to a tournament I really wanted to excel in, but tight play is right play in the very early stages, in particular in this Deep Stack event where that would be all the more true.

Anyways, near the end of the third blind round -- this was around 1:45pm local time -- I had my one and only early chance to chip up, as I limped in to a 5-way pot with AJo and watched as AAJ hit the board for the flop. I checked, someone bet out a reasonable amount, which I just called on the theory that I had the flop completely covered and did not want to bother forcing him to fold with a raise at this point in the hand. I was desperate to do anything I could to get some chips out of my only good flop of the tournament so far, so I checked the raggy turn card as well, hoping either to induce a bluff or to get someone to pick up a better hand, but my lone opponent by that point also checked behind (like I said, I had the board completely covered unfortunately). When another rag hit the river, I once again went for the inducement and checked, but he again checked behind, and I meekly flipped up my flopped boat and raked in the very small pot. Oh well, what more can you do, right? It was very clear to me that he would not have called a bet from me on any street anyways, so I don't think I lost anything and it was probably just unfortunate for me to have flopped so big for the first time in two hours but simply have no chance to get any chips out of it.

As of the first break, when I finally headed outside to a secret smoking area that Chad showed to me, I was down to around 12,500 chips (Chad had 14,500 or so at breaktime, and Aposec, another blogger who was playing this event thanks to the WSOP snafu, I think said he was down a bit from the 15k starting stack as well). Cigs, bathroom, and then back to the poker room for Rounds 4-6 before another 15-minute smoke break. Shortly into Round 4, I called a stealy-looking preflop raise from the cutoff with my K♥Q♥ in the big blind. The flop came down A♥9♣2♥, giving me the nut flush draw and only my second chance to actually play an actual flop in this thing. The cutoff led out with a smallish, half-pot bet, and he had about 9k in chips behind, making this a trivially easy call for me with 9 outs to the stone nuts on this board and a bunch of chips to win if I could hit. My flush filled on the turn, and I checked again to the preflop raiser and flop bettor. He bet out again as I had hoped, and I raised him bigly for most of his remaining stack. He insta-pushed on me, I autocalled for just another 1500 or so into a 20k pot, and he turned up AJ, drawing dead, and he proceeded to mouth off about my call on the flop with just a naked flush draw before getting up and leaving after nearly doubling me through. As I said, #1 he held only AJ, so calling an allin raise with top pair Jack kicker says all that we need to know about this guy's true nlh tournament prowess, as does his horrible half-pot bet on the flop with an Ace and a draw on it, and most of all his apparent complete lack of understanding about implied odds and how uber-sensible it is for me to call a small flop bet on the chance that I might win his entire stack of I can just hit my draw. This was the first example of several over the ensuing couple of days of some poor play in the tournament, from players who, although facile with the rules of the game, clearly did not all understand the vagaries of things like implied odds and protecting one's hand on draw-heavy flops. So this bumped me up to around 23,000 in chips, and got me out of the bottom half of the field and into a position where I could feel like I had some chips to burn and some room to make some moves and know that I could still fold if necessary.

I stayed right around the 20-30k level for the next few hours, ranging up a bit when I would complete a few steals or win a pot with a preflop raise and a flop c-bet, etc. I was dealt pocket Kings once, which I took down preflop with no callers of my 3x raise, but at least I was able to maintain my stack and even grow it little by little over the next several blind rounds just by virtue of having some room to make a move here and there and a little confidence boost from having found a way to double up after more than two hours of slowly bleeding down from the 15k starting stacks.

My first big hand of the tournament happened shortly before the third break, so this is somewhere around 6:30pm after a noon start time, with blinds of 600-1200. I was in the big blind, sitting on a stack of 26k in chips when the average stack size was probably close to 40k, and I was dealt pocket 6s, my third or fourth pocket pair of the tournament to that point. Surprisingly, the UTG player limped in, which was probably the first open-limp at our table since the first or second hour of play. While I pondered the significance of a rare limp, the next guy limped, then the next guy and the next guy, and before I knew it, the entire table had limped in, including the small blind in front of me. With 9 players in to see the flop, and me having 66 in the big blind and a stack only around half of average, I figured this was a great opportunity to add about 40% to my stack with all those big blinds as well as antes sitting in the middle, and that it was unlikely that someone would limp-call with a pocket pair above 6s. So I pushed. A couple of guys folded, and then someone in middle position agonized before deciding to make the call. Not good for my 6s for sure. Everyone else folded to the two allins, and the MP guy flipped up? ATs. That my friends is what we call a bad call, or at least a highly speculative call especially since so many other players were still to act behind him. I actually can't believe that ATs calls an allin in middle position there with 5 players still to act after him, but he did it, and I won the race when no Ace or Ten hit the board. Right there was the first time I was allin with my tournament life on the line, and just a 51% favorite to win at that, but win I did, and I not only survived but I doubled up in a big way. The MP caller mumbled "fucking bullshit" for a good five minutes after the hand went down, and presumably he was not aware enough to understand that the real bullshit was the call he made with ATs and not the fact that his 49% hand failed to hold up. In any event, there I was with just over 50,000 in chips, now about 20% above the tournament average for the first time in hours.

The next couple of hours went by pretty uneventfully, and eventually we neared our third break right around 7pm local time. I had chipped up a bit more, being able to use the stack I had acquired on my raise-the-limpers hand to chase some people out of pots and steal with little fear of damaging my chip position if I am forced to abandon a pot after putting in an early raise. As the TD called that this would be the last hand before the third break, which was scheduled only for 10 minutes (don't worry I can still squeeze two smokes in there) because it is just one more 40-minute round afterwards and then the one-hour dinner break at 7:45pm, with me sitting with around 55k, suddenly there was a massive commotion about 3 tables away to my left. First there was a lot of yelling, followed by a big crowd congregating around the table and what looked like a big commotion, and eventually tons of security people running over to try to decipher what had gone wrong. Eventually, this story came out: a big stack at the table, who at the time held 75k in chips, probably good for top 15 or 20 stacks in the tournament at that point out of maybe still half the field left, had been dealt pocket Aces. One of the players across the table mucked his cards before the flop, but I guess accidentally mucked them right on top of the big stack's face-down pocket Aces. Somehow this caused the big stack guy with the pocket Aces to have his hand mucked, and he lost it. Completely lost it. He screamed and yelled, he insisted for the floor to make a ruling, so they called over the TD. When the floor ruled against the guy and said that unfortunately he failed to protect his cards, the guy got physical. After pushing by one of the other players, he apparently stuck his arm out fully outstretched (imagine a "clothesline" for you old-timer WWF fans out there) and proceeded to swipe the chips completely off the table and all over the floor in a ridiculous mess. Every. Single. Chip. Like, I'm not just talking about his stack here. Everyone's stack. All the chips at the table suddenly forced onto the ground in a random distribution from whence they came.

After taking a few minutes to grab the guy and escort his ass from the building, the TD decided to begin the one-hour dinner break immediately, 40 minutes ahead of schedule, and the poker room staff would work with surveillance during the hour to recreate the chip stacks. The guy's 75k in chips were removed from play (remember that for later), and his top-15 stack was done for the tournament. Everyone was left shaking our heads as to why a guy gives up a good stack like that over what is admittedly a very bad break in the tournament. But he didn't even lose any chips on the play; he just failed to win some chips that he otherwise would have. Anyways, he was gone, and suddenly I had lasted to dinner break! Goal #1 achieved. Can't win the tournament if you don't last till dinner.

Aiming for some good mojo from my last cash in the WSOP a couple of years ago, I quickly opted to do the same thing I did during that year's dinner break, and jumped in a cab, back down Koval Lane to avoid the Strip traffic already building at 7:15pm on a Saturday night, and back to my suite at the MGM (more on that suite later in the week). I texted to my brothers and we all met up for a quire debrief and pep talk plus a couple of beers, and I was back on Koval heading up to the Venetian. This time I did leave myself time for a pre-smoke, and we were off to play blind round #10, with 800-1600 blinds and 200 antes.

Two hands in to the new round after the dinner break, I almost tilted everything away myself when I too was dealt pocket Aces. An aggressive french player across the table from me who did not like to stop betting once he had started in a hand, raised a couple of early limpers from middle position by a significant amount -- to around 11k in chips as I recall -- and I just called from the big blind, because, you know, that's just how I roll. We saw a heads-up flop of Q97 with two diamonds. This time, knowing how this guy will not fold once he starts getting involved in a hand, I went ahead and donk-bet into him, leading out for around 13 grand into the pot which at that point was a little under 20,000 chips. He responds by verbally saying "All in", and trust me when I tell you, he would do this with any Queen whatsoever, even Q3. Before I have the chance to announce that I call, the guy suddenly says "Hey! Where are my cards?" It turns out the idiot dealer fucking mucked this guy's cards as she picked up the rest of the folded hands following the preflop betting round. He goes ballistic, calling for the floor and demanding to be given his cards back. The TD came over, exhausted from having just dealt with the bullshit from the other pocket Aces clothesliner table and taking the past hour to clean up that mess, and I sat quietly because I knew exactly what he was going to say. The other guy failed to protect his hand -- in this case, he did not cover his cards with a chip or anything else to indicate he was still in the hand -- and this was going to be a muck, instead of me doubling straight through to over 100k in chips. While I was stewing inside, the french guy was going absolutely apeshit on the TD and insisting he wants 100k in chips, how could they screw him this badly, etc. Finally I couldn't take it anymore, and with steam coming out of my ears, I flip up my pocket Aces to show the guy that it was he, not I, who was saved by this bullshit. He looked down at his own cards, got kind of embarrassed, and then more or less stopped arguing, at least with the fervor he had had previously. But coming right on the heels of the other mucked pocket Aces hand, I was beyond pissed. Sure, I had still climbed up to around 75k on the hand, but this was about a 95% shot of me straight up doubling up to over 100k, and instead it was all gone. I was so furious at the turn of events that I had to get up and take a walk around the outside of the poker room just to calm myself down. I know I texted the details to Chad and received some helpful advice not to tilt and ruin my chances, but god DAMN if I was not royally pissed off at losing out on the almost sure opportunity to make an extra 30k or so in chips. Still, this got me up around 75k, and I was slowly but surely climbing up the leaderboad, at a time when the average chips were around 50k or so in the tournament.

The next two two-hour sessions didn't see a whole lot of crazy action, although I managed to chip up nicely as the tightass Harringbots were finally finding themselves in situations where they needed to just push and pray. First, I called down a late position preflop allin raiser with my 99, and he flipped up 44 and I held. This got me up over 100k around 9:15pm local time. A good friend of mine from law school who happened to be in town for her first visit to Vegas then stopped by to say hello around 10pm, so I sat out after my blinds for 4 or 5 hands just to chat briefly, jumping back in to the game shortly before it was my small blind once again. I remember this only because the plan was for her to stop back by the poker room after a short walk on the Strip with her boyfriend, when I would be able to spend some more time with them if I had busted, but then maybe 20 minutes later I managed to nearly double up again and shoot up to near 200k -- now surely in the top 20 or so on the leaderboard -- when I just couldn't find a fold against another aggro guy who overpushed allin on a raggy 995 flop with two to a suit. I held J9s, which I had called a preflop raise into a 4-way pot with, and I could not possibly put the guy on the case 9 in the hole. I called, he proudly flipped up pocket Queens, and my trip 9s held for the huge pot. Here was another guy who went off on me in the live chatbox for a few minutes before leaving the tournament area, but what can I do. I love to call raises in multiway pots with J9s specifically, and in this case there were already two other callers to his preflop raise by the time the action got around to me, so there was no way I was even considering folding at that point. Once again it was clear to me that I understood general no-limit tournament theory -- implied odds, playing hands that could win you huge pots, etc. -- better than most other players in this event, even for a $560 buyin in a live casino.

Around midnight, we started getting very close to the money cutoff, with the tournament paying 72 spots out of the 772 who had started some 12 hours earlier. I was still over 200k in chips, and I started taking serious advantage of my shorter-stacked table, turning around J.C. Tran's bullying from the WSOP bubble two years ago and trying my best to be the abuser instead of the abused here on the bubble. I raised, raised and raised some more any time I felt like I sensed weakness and/or had any real strength in my hand, and it worked well. I managed to climb to over 300k at one point just as the literal bubble was reached at 73 players and we started playing hand for hand. Luckily, unlike the WSOP a couple of years ago, hand for hand play lasted all of three hands, when two players busted out at once and suddenly we were in the money. Making the money in this tournament really doesn't mean much as far as I am concerned -- in the Deep Stack, even less so than in other events, since the payout schedule is really weighted towards the top few payouts. I think the first 30 or 40 of the 72 cashers made $800 or less, meaning a profit of just a few hundy for our efforts. So there was no reason to be excited, but I distinctly remember the feeling of pride and just generally of having "been there before" as I looked around at all the players among the 73 remaining who followed the action at every table, every time someone was allin, running around the poker room like donkeys hoping for their $300 payday. Whereas two summers ago, I was that guy during hand for hand play, this time around I was just sitting at my table, not caring much about the lousy couple hundred I could win at this point, chatting it up with a really nice South African guy to my right who had a very similar outlook on how to play the game as I did in general. Eventually after three hand for hand deals, the money bubble broke and we were down to 70 in no time.

At this point we were about three and a half more rounds (two and a half hours) from stopping play for the day, and the TD announced that we would be foregoing the first half of Round 17 which is usually when they play until for this tournament, meaning that we had almost exactly two hours remaining until breaking for the day. With me sitting over 300k in chips, I was in great shape, with the tournament average at the time generally right around 160k or so, so I figured there was no reason to get too involved in any more big pots unless I was clearly getting the odds or knew I had a shot at really chipping up once again. Shortly before the end of our last round of the day -- Round 16, with 1000 antes and 4000-8000 blinds, down to around 55 players remaining in the tournament -- I did get involved in a hand that I think actually shows what is so great about a deep stack tournament like this as compared to most other tournaments you would ever play in, and certainly anything you ever run into online, other than maybe on UltimateBet. Someone opened the pot in middle-late position to 25k, and I looked down to find my third or fourth AK of the night, this time sooted in diamonds. I went with my usual strategy of reraising preflop, putting in enough at 80k or so to get rid of the preflop raiser if he is not on a middle pocket pair or better, but then the small blind -- a nice young kid from Tennessee with a serious southern drawl working -- pushed allin for his last 150k or so, and the original raiser agonized for a while before finally folding his hand. Having to call just 70k to win 276k, obviously I called, but I was very clearly not happy about it. The kid from Tennessee would never, ever be pushing allin this close to making Day Two with that size of stack still to play with, against a preflop raise and a reraise, with AJ or AT. No, he had a pocket pair, probably Queens, and that is the only hand he would ever risk being eliminated from the tournament with at this point in the day. I knew he had a pair, and, assuming it was not the unlikely Aces or Kings (given the AK in my hand), I knew I was racing, but again calling 70k to win the 276k in the pot made this a must-call for me despite the fact that I really did not feel like racing for a third of my hard-earned stack at this point on the day. But I had to call at those odds, and Mr. Tennessee flipped up pocket Jacks.

As I proceeded to lose the race -- making me 3-2 in races overall for Day One -- the original raiser was clearly pained when he saw our cards, and while the dealer finished out the hand with our cards face-up, the OR told me that he had folded AK after my reraise and then the allin from Mr. Tennessee. And that got me thinking -- see, this is why I love to play in a deep stack tournament. Because here we are, through over 90% of the field in a major tournament, down to just 60 remaining, already well into the money positions, and yet a guy with only around average chips still had the chip position to be able to raise preflop with AK and then lay it down without pushing in the rest of his chips. The simple fact is that you could never do that with only 15-20 big blinds like most players when youre through 93% of the field in most tournaments, especially on line. Think about it -- have you ever folded AK preflop on an average sized stack after already putting in a standard-sized raise in the last 60 runners of the 32k or some other fonkfest online? Neither have I. Because in most tournaments, just that one standard raise before the flop is generally enough to get you into a position where you know you have to call to race or risk folding after puting up a third of your stack with AK before the flop. It just doesn't happen very often, but the fact that this guy was willing and able to lay down AK against two other players after having raised before the flop at this late stage in the tournament is exactly what makes deep stack, large starting stack events like this so good to play in.

In any event, that hand sucked for me, and it knocked me back down to around 170k from where I had been closer to 300k immediately before the hand started, and yet I don't think I would play it any other way even if I could live it again. I like the reraise with AKs, and I know I couldn't lay down to the race even for another 70k out of my stack, not into that pot anyways. It just sucked feeling like I was forced to call off almost a third of my remaining stack on what I knew -- absolutely knew -- was a race with near zero chance of me actually being ahead dominating AQ or AJ or some similar hand. Nonetheless, I was still alive, and by the time the action closed for the day around 2:30am, I had dropped a slight bit further thanks to some steals gone wrong, with me closing the day sitting at 157,000 in chips, with a tourament average of 241k and just 48 players remaining.

I had made Day Two! This was my first Day Two in any live poker tournament of all time, out of maybe 4 or 5 chances I have had, so even though I had been so much above average shortly before breaking for the night, I was still overjoyed to have attained Goal #2 and lasting through all of the Day One festivities. You can't win a tournament if you don't last until dinner break, and you can't win it either if you don't make it to Day Two. I would be starting on Sunday at 4pm PT wth 157k in chips, good for 32nd place of the 48 runners remaining, and at about 2/3 of the average stack. So I knew I had my work cut out for me tomorrow, but I figured that was something I would just worry about tomorrow.

I headed back to the MGM at around 3am, and after catching up briefly with the bachelor party crowd, I picked up Chad at the MGM poker room who was happy to dump his four racks of reds from the 2-5 table he had been busy crushing in my absence and go head to the Studio Cafe for some debriefage, and some dinner since I had spent my dinner break celebrating and resting with my friends instead of eating (I don't usually get hungry during live tournaments, I have found). We both got breakfast (my favorite meal of the day), and chatted about his exit from the tournament (flopped top set and lost to a straight I think), my chip stack and some of the big hands. I got some good advice from a live tournament veteran on what to expect for Day Two, and just generally had a very good time coming back down to earth, eating some good food, and talking poker with someone who really gets the game and the nuances of the tournament format. After that, I bid goodbye to Chad and then met up with my brothers and the clan, who were (of course) in the private high roller blackjack section, and ended up staying up with them for the rest of the night, because they were all leaving between 7am and 11am on Sunday to head back east to the Real World and leaving the fantasy camp that is Las Vegas. In a way I was kinda sad that everyone was leaving and I would be staying behind after what had been a super fun weekend for all, but to be honest this was always the plan, and there had to be some reason I had originally decided to stay until Monday instead of leaving on Sunday like everyone else. Well, this was that reason. So we rallied all night, I had a few more drinks, and eventually I said goodbye to first my younger brother and best friend from growing up, and then eventually to my older brother and the rest of my crew who were out of town by around 8am. Then I went to sleep alone in my fatty suite at MGM, setting my alarm for 1pm to give me a solid five hours while still leaving me plenty of time to get rested, shower, eat and strategize before the 4pm start time of Day Two at the Venetian.

More on Thursday on my incredible rise from 159k in chips to over 3.1 million at its height.

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5 Comments:

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4:03 PM  
Blogger Chad C said...

God I'm on tilt again! I had finally forgotten that the cafe in the MGM had taken my favorite meal off the enu (corned beef hash). Now I have to re-live that nightmare again :(

9:41 PM  
Blogger columbo (at eifco dot org) said...

So VERY glad to see the AJ and AT donkeys go down in flames!

What a great Write-up so far! I am riveted!

9:57 PM  
Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Would you mind sharing Chad's advice re: day 2, or offer your own insights on how day 2s in live tourneys play differently than a day 1?

Great write-up so far. How do you do it? Do you take notes of hands? Regardless, keep it up!

2:31 AM  
Blogger KajaPoker said...

I really enjoy this sort of recap and well done on the big score btw!

I have two questions:

1) In the Aces vs French muck, why didn't you insta-call? If he moves all-in and you call and he has no cards he has to play the board against your hand, right? I need to research this more, but that's what I think the TD would have gone with.

2) In the AdKd hand I think I disagree with you that the only hand Mr. Tennessee shoves with are QQ and lower. I shove there with Aces and Kings because I know you have to call 70K more and I hope the open-raiser gets out of the way and I only have to face one opponent. Don't you think that scenario comes in to play at all?

Reading through Day 2 right now, but had to ask these questions before I forget.

Well done, Hoy. Well earned and deserved!

7:41 AM  

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