Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ballys Tournament Win

A couple of weeks back I headed down with some friends to Billy's poker room in Bally's in Atlantic City and played in the $200 bounty tournament the poker room was running, which ended up having 45 runners and a total prize pool of a little over 6 grand. I knew going in this would be a real luckfest, typical of most daily tournaments in Atlantic City, with 20 minute blind rounds, usually lasting 4-5 hours from what I was told when I registered at the counter. And, never having played a live bounty tournament before, I learned that each participant would be given a single $25 actual casino chip along with 10k in starting $T chips, which would have to be given to the person who eliminates you along with your chipstack. Although stacks were deep for the first few minutes with starting stacks of 10k and blinds that would begin at the standard 25/50, those blinds would jump quickly in this aggressive tournament structure to 50/100 after just 20 minutes of play and then double again to 100/200 just 40 minutes after the start. Again, this is also typical in my experience of most of the daily poker tournaments available in AC these days.

Early on, not much happened with me for the first couple of rounds, so I tried to be patient while I looked for a way to double up early. I won a couple of pots with aggressive betting -- standard Super/System sort of stuff -- and quickly I climbed my stack up to around 12k in chips for the early chip lead at my table. But then I let my read get me into a very bad situation, one I was lucky to escape from. I open-raised from late position with ATo, the best hand I'd seen by about 45 minutes or so into the tournament, and the old man in the big blind, who had defended a couple of times before despite seeming very tight like most old men are, defended again by calling my preflop raise, and I put him on shizznit after he had already shown an over-willingness to defend his blind in just a few minutes that this tournament had run so far. From watching him I felt like I knew this old guy woulda reraised me if he had anything substantial in the hole, especially given how actively I had been open-raising already in the earlygoing, so I was liking my AT here, and I liked it even moreso when the flop came down AJ7. The old man checked, I confidently bet after his check, and he paused a bit before calling. I wasn't sure what this meant, but my best guess after this call was either a small pocket pair, or perhaps a low ace that he just got lucky with. The turn then brought a raggy 3, the old man checked again, so this time I made a bigger bet to try to end this right here with my likely-ahead-but-vulnerable top pair. And this was when the guy nearly fell out of his chair "thinking over" his response. I mean, he leaned back, took a very loud deep breath/sigh, stretched out his arms and legs very prominently, and just made a huge production of the whole thing as he considered his options. Eventually after a good, solid minute of very overt activity, the guy check-raised me allin. He had been a little short already before this hand began, mostly from defending his blind to liberally and then taking it too far, and it was all just such a stoopid production he made that I figured he just had to be bluffing. I mean, who would make such a damn production out of it if he was actually strong? I thought to myself, "That has got to be 'strong-means-weak' in action", even though I knew this guy was generally an old, tightish guy. I thought quite a bit over it, knowing that AT on this board is nothing to write home about, but in the end my gut told me he was weak since before the hand began, and so I decided to listen and called for half of my remaining stack. Old man flips up? The ever-mighty A3. So he defends his blind against a preflop raise with A-rag, and then he makes the very questionable move of also calling my c-bet on the Ace-high flop with his top pair no kicker. He lucksucked me hard by hitting his kicker on the turn after his bad flop call, made a ridiculously huge public production to further suck at poker and accidentally "trick" me into thinking he must be weak just because no one with even half a brain would ever want to make it so obvious that he had a strong hand. Anyways, he effed me and I would be down to just over 2000 chips from my 10k starting stack, and that's when the river rewarded the better player by dropping a miracle 3-outer Ten for the resuck. Ahh the resuck. Nowhere else in poker is something so unwelcome and unfair when done to you and yet so deserved and just when it works in your favor. And with the turn of a card I moved from losing 80% of my stack to nearly doubling up late in the first hour of what I understood was normally a 4-5 hour long event. A very good turn of events for me.

Early in Round 4, just more than an hour into the tournament, I called a preflop raise from across the table with my 66 in the big blind, against a guy who had open-raised almost every single time the pot was unopened when it got to him the entire way through this tournament -- I mean seriously, maybe ten different times in an hour -- and always c-bet the flops after he was the last raiser pre-. The flop came TT4 with two clubs, and I checked to the preflop raiser who led out with his standard c betty-looking thing, which I opted to call as I assumed my pair of 6s was at least as likely to be ahead here as to be behind, and the betting was still small compared to the stacks. The turn brought another miracle card -- a 6 to turn me a boat -- and of course I checked and of course the unstoppable aggromonkey bet again, smallish. I thought it over for a while, hollywooding as much of a thought process as I thought would be believable, and then I once again just called, eying the amount in the pot and deciding that I could still make a credible river bet or raise for most of his stack if necessary. When the river brought an offsuit Queen, I figured my best chance to really get paid here was if the guy happened to have a big, big hand, and his betting out twice after the flop supported such a conclusion. David Sklansky's No-Limit Holdem book a few years ago covered this same topic, but sometimes the best way to get paid big in nlh is to bet as if your opponent has a large hand, and assume you weren't going to get paid much anyways if he doesn't have a big hand, but this way you are sure to maximize your big hands when you are in fact up against another monster. In this case, I immediately moved in my entire stack, which was much larger than the size of the pot given my recent near-double, and just hoped for a call. When the guy started agonizing, I knew I had made a good decision; clearly, he had something he really liked, and he did not just want to give it up like that. As my ooponent kept thinking, the seconds ticked by and I began to worry that he might fold. So I tried to channel my very best bluff face by acting completely stone-faced, like I was afraid the guy might see through my ruse. I tried to put up the exact same face that I look for when I think someone is bluffing. Whatever I did, eventually it worked, as the guy turns to me and says "I can't find a way to lay it down."

As soon as I heard that, I knew I had his stack, and my second $25 bounty chip in just the first hour and a half of the tournament. No way he says that line if he also has a boat, and with anything else on this board I know I've got him beat. Turns out, he had AT and had flopped not only trips, but trips with top kicker. I probably would have had to really do something crazy to get him to fold, but I didn't, and I shot up near the top of the leaderboard before the end of Round 4 in a tournament that would end up finishing during Round 13.

At this point, with a nice fluffy stack of chips in front of me, I did what I do best and commenced operation bullystack. With my big stack and as close to full utility as I was going to get in this fast-paced tournament, I turned on the jets and absolutely steamrolled the table, garnering several comments over the ensuing hour or so in the process while I bet and raised everyone else out of pot after pot after pot. I raised pretty much every time the action came unopened to me, mostly with absolutely no regard to the cards I was dealt. I remember winning a pot with a raise holding 42o, another with 86o, and there were many more just like those as well. And I didn't just drop the hammer on these guys during this stretch, either; I dropped it twice. Within the span of maybe 7 or 8 hands. Most people do not know this, but live hammers -- in particular, when not done to other bloggers -- are so much more dramatic than they are online, by a factor of like ten. People get really taken aback by that shit for some reason, who knew. But I love the boost it gives my image, and I just need to be sure to be prepared to show down some better cards for a while if need be. Or, just keep on pushing and try to make more than I lose from the aggression, which is exactly what I did over the next couple hours of this tournament. The key was that without exception I managed to fold to any reraises I faced when I did not have the hand or the pot odds to back it up. Yes it caused me to lose chips after having raised preflop with some regularity, but again the key to playing the bully is to make sure tht overall I am making more chips from the times everyone folds to my raises then I'm losing from the times people keep pushing me off my largely bullshit hands. Playing first-in aggro but smart to reraises, I knocked out three or four other players along the way to the final table, but we finally consolidated around Table 1 -- the table I had started at a few hours earlier -- when down to ten left.

I entered the final table as the chip leader, as we took our second break of the tournament just after we re-drew for seats to start the run to the money in the top 6 positions. I know I was the chip leader -- I had around 87k in chips to start the final table out of the 450k total chips in the tournament -- because when I came back inside from my second smoke break of the event, they had removed the yellow 100-dollar chips and brought in a nice light-blue color chip denominating 10,000 dollars in its place. I remember it so vividly because I had left for my smoke with a massive pile of chips in front of my seat, so big and unwieldly from repeatedly scooping up tons of little pots with nothing in there, sprinkled in with a few stackings of shorties for good measure. The pile was so big that I remember I had been having trouble finding places to keep my arms as I reached down to peel up the corners of my hole cards. But then out of nowhere, when I came back from the 10-minute break, I had this tiny little pile of chips, and at first I was all whatthefuckjusthappened and ready to go find the Tournament Director, until I realized that the primary change in my stack was the switching out of 3 1/2 huge stacks of red 1000-dollar chips and replacing them with a pile of just 8 of these light-blue 10,000 chips. But I also knew I was the chip leader because nobody else around the table had more than two blues along with their remaining reds and the purple 500 chips, while I had 8 of 'em. The rest of the stacks around the final table ranged from shorties with around 10k to about 60k for the closest stack to my own.

Mercifully, mostly due to the silly structure of this tournament that had even me as chip leader holding just over 10 big blinds with blinds of 4000-8000 and a 400 ante, the beginning of the final table went fast as the shortest stacks were forced to push almost on their very first big blind when sitting with Ms of just around 2 or even less. Typical daily casino nlh tournament structure, with typical laughable final table pushfest ending. The good part of that at least like I said was that the first 3 final table eliminations happened fast, with me grabbing one of them when a shorty pushed under the gun and I found AJs in the big blind and called. He had A8s and I held to pick up my 7th knockout chip of the tournament and getting me back to break-even for my buyin (including my own bounty which I still held on to at the time). These first few elims took us down to 7 players remaining, with 6 slated to pay out, in amounts roughly equal to $500, $600, $750, $900, $1200 and $2100, give or take some change on each. So as the bubble loomed -- a bubble which lasted probably about 40 minutes thanks to at least three allin suckouts from the short stack as any self-respecting tournament bubble would insist upon, which is an extremely long period of time for when the average chipstack was about 65,000 chips while the big blind had risen to 10,000 chips -- I noted how much the payouts in this tournament were weighted towards the top two spots, increasing by roughly just a hundred bucks a spot between 6th and 5th and 4th and 3rd place. This would make it especially important to make it to the final couple of spots in this event, and in my mind it also increased my desire to do a chop if anyone was interested since with just an average M of 6 this was obviously anybody's game -- even I as chip leader had an M under 10 -- and it was clear we were going to be subject to the vagaries of poker luck, and who happened to pick up TT vs 88 first or who got the AK and won a race against JJ. So, after about half an hour of bubble play, as the blinds moved up to 6k-12k, further dropping the average M to near 5, someone suggested a save for 7th place, which I readily agreed to and literally took $20 cash out of my pocket and suggested that everyone do the same. Pretty quickly everyone left agreed as well and I offered to be banker for the $140 save to ensure that 7th did not go home empty-handed, and hopefully loosening up the action a bit among the short stacks. And it worked, as within just a few minutes a shorty with an M under 2 pushed KTs and got called by AK, sending him home with his $140 cash booby prize plus whatever bounties he had managed to amass, and launching us into the payouts for the final 6 finishers. At the moment I had slipped to second place after folding a couple of times to allin reraises from stacks big enough to cripple me (any reraise is crippling when even the chipleader's M is under 10!), but when one of the two super short stacks suggested a chop, even I figured it wasn't worth pushing for then as two or three of these guys would likely be gone very shortly and then would increase significantly the chance of us actually finding some unanimous agreement on splitting up the remaining prize pool.

We played a bit further, and as expected two more guys dumped out early when luck and the silly blinds forced them in with lesser hands, one of the running into AA as I recall thinking at the time how fun that is to pick up pocket rockets at the final table of any tournament. Unfortunately, I had had a couple of more times where I laid down questionable hands to reraises in an attempt to amass a stack to last until those lucrative top two spots, and finally when down to four remaining I found myself the short stack with about 65k in chips, a little under two-thirds of the current average. When the action folded around to me in the small blind a few minutes later, I felt compelled to push with any two cards to pick up the 12k from the big blind and try to increase my stack by almost 20%. I did so, and the big blind, who was the chip leader at the time and thus had the chips to burn, began to agonize over whether or not to call. That sucked for me, since I was holding 53o, and I tried to give off my best indication of strength, acting confident, strongly stating my chip count when he asked, and just generally looking around and being active like I picture someone with pocket Aces would be, as opposed to the stone-faced, motionless aura I try to work when I want someone to think I am bluffing. It did't work, the big stack called me and flipped up A9o. Whoops.

The flop was a whiff for both of us, still leaving me with 6 outs twice, and then the turn brought the most beautiful 3 I can ever remember seeing in a poker game, securing my double up and reallllly pissing the big stack guy off bigtime. He referred to this derisively as a "suckout" the rest of the way through the tournament, including while we waited to receive our payouts from the overworked TD as well, and I didn't bother correcting him that (1) his A9o -- a hand I imagine would have called there with as well -- was only roughly a 60% favorite when the money went in, not exactly a suckout-level beat, and, more importantly (2) when I pushed with the 53o, I was far more than 50% to win the hand given the likelihood that the big stack would fold there, plus my 40% chances of winning with what would surely be two live cards vs. just about anything the big stack was likely to call my push with. But no matter how you slice it, I had doubled up with 53o, and thanks to the extremely short stacks around the table, this put me slightly back in the chip lead, a lead I would lose a minute later when I once again folded a hand I had raised with preflop (KJs) when one of the other large stacks pushed in on a reraise. The guy to my right then eliminated the 4th place finisher and took a comfortable chip lead when his AQ bested the shorty's A6 allin preflop.

It was at this point, down to just three players left with me in 3rd place around 100k in chips, while the other two guys had around 150k and maybe 200k or so, that the big stack surprisingly offered to chop. He was a really good guy, someone who I had gotten to know a little bit over the past four hours where he was mostly at my table, as well as over a couple of smoke breaks along the way, and I was happy to see that he had enough knowledge and experience in casino poker tournaments (turns out he comes to AC a couple of days per week) to be willing to agree to a chop even when holding the chip lead. His immediate proposal was for each of the three of us to take $1200, and then leave the last $900 and change in the prize pool to play for. I always like a chop that assures everyone a decent payout of at least the minimum that the next player out would receive but then still leaves some skin in the game to go ahead and finish things up, so I agreed, and so did the 2nd place guy after a few minutes of finagling. We all shook on it and then moved on to play it out.

And that's when I picked up my only big pocket pair of the tournament -- a big fat pair of pocket Aces. So sweet. Long story short, the big stack raised ahead of me with what turned out to be QJo, and my allin reraise from my short stack wasn't enough for him to consider folding given the odds, and I ended up doubling to a nice fat stack. While I was still stacking my chips, the shorty to my left was eliminated in 3rd place on the next hand, his face still clearly smarting from losing his chip lead to my 53o, and as soon as we found ourselves heads-up, I offered the nice guy who had originally offered the chop to chop out the remaining $900 as well. Looking at our stacks, I had probably just under three times as many chips as him, and I quickly offered him a 600-300 chop of the remaining 900, with him being allowed to retain his own $25 bounty chip as well as part of the deal. He quickly reviewed the stacks, took a second to think, and then happily agreed.

Two smokes and a bunch of wasted time later -- the TD was just starting to pay out a 12-way chop in a turbo tournament that ended at the same time as ours when we agreed to our final chop -- we recieved our receipts to take to the cage for our payouts. 3rd place took our chopped amount of $1200, plus the three $25 bounty chips he had won during the tournament, and the nice guy in second won $1500, plus his two bounty chips and of course his own that he retained as part of our deal. And I cashed out with the remainer of the prize pool per our deal, which came out to $1890 and change. Plus, I had won a whopping nine bounties along the way at $25 a piece -- some nice booty for playing big-stack bully for about three hours straight to end this short tournament -- and retained my own as well, giving me a total of an extra $250 for my efforts on top of the $1890 cashout from winning the tournament. How I managed to eliminate more than a fifth of the total people running in this thing seems pretty incredible, but more than that, I played a solid game from start to finish. I made the one big mistake early on my semi-misread on the turn against the guy who had lucked into two pairs, but that's one of the big lessons I've learned over my time playing mtt's over the past few years -- the good players are the ones who not only play well, but the guys who make the most of the good luck that they do receive. I got lucky to get that guy in there willing to call a preflop raise and then call a flop bet with top pair worst kicker, I got extremely unlucky with that 3 on the turn, and then I scored a major resuck suckout on the river to not only keep from losing 80% of my stack, but to score an early double as a result. Would I go on to spew everything away over the next couple of blind rounds? Or, as I did, would I take that "second chance" to give serious consideration to every play I made, settle down and start playing my game the way I know best? That's one of the keys I am noticing more and more during my big tournament runs as well as those of most people I know: everybody gets lucky sometimes, but the best players make the absolute best of that luck when it does happen to them.

And so goes the story of my second live daily casino poker tournament win, good for around 2 large net of all expenses and the buyin. Most importantly, I had a blast playing live poker as usual, and once again I found myself throughout simply overwhelmed with all the information I felt I was picking up from these players after what seems like a lifetime of purely online play. Not only am I pleased to have a nice start towards my most important poker goal for 2010 -- to turn more of my rare final tables into victories instead of just top-4 or top-3 finishes -- but this only strengthens my resolve to find a way to play some more live poker during 2010, however that has to happen. It's very hard for me to get out to a casino and play at a time when they have regular tournaments scheduled, but I have just had such an amazing run of success in live poker tournaments of late that I am left feeling like I am straight-up leaving money on the table if I don't find a way to get in a little more live tournament action this year than I have in the past. In fact, after this win in AC to start off the year right, my thoughts have turned towards Foxwoods, where I know they run a major poker tournament series every Spring and again every Fall in what I understand to be the nicest, best poker room on the East Coast. I haven't been to Foxwoods in more than a decade -- certainly since before their WPT poker room was installed in the basement of the Rainmaker Casino -- but I'm thinking that 2010 should be the year that all that changes once and for all.

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Blogger PokahDave said...

I hear the deepstack series has a great structure to it. I think they have one in the summer and one in the fall. It is separate from the WPT classic...

1:27 AM  
Blogger Tycou said...


2:42 AM  
Blogger Memphis MOJO said...

Nice job.

10:16 AM  
Blogger PokahDave said...

BTW...where are the 10 million screen shots?

11:00 PM  
Blogger BLAARGH! said...

Nice going Hoy.

11:35 PM  
Blogger OES said...

Wowwwww,so 9 eliminations. That's more than being just a bully. That's exterminating.

Also, I'm glad you had some arm room at the final table, but I would have sacrificed more than just arm room for a huge stack of chips =)

Well done sir.

11:53 PM  
Blogger Julius_Goat said...

Late to the game, but . . . nice score!

2:02 AM  

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