Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pit in the Stomach

Today, I am in mourning.

Wednesday night was one of those nights on the virtual felt. You know, one where I had a nice score in my grasp but then I let it all slip away, needlessly. Shit, I didn't let it slip away, I threw it away. It's one of those rare mornings where I woke up and it was still the first thing I thought about, kind of hoping it was all a dream while simultaneously knowing it was not.

Wednesday night is always my favorite online poker night of the week, mostly because it's the closest thing to the Sunday majors this side of, well, Sundays. As you know if you've read this blog for any extended period of time, I don't ever play online poker during the daylight hours on the weekends. I work far too much during the week, and I see my wife and especially my kids far too little, and on the weekends that time is all about my family. Sure, I'll play poker on the weekend evenings -- frankly, most of my best scores have occurred on the weekends because I can play more tournaments a little later in the night because I know I won't have to get up early the next morning to beat the rush hour traffic into the city -- but things like the Sunday majors are totally out of the picture for me. I think I've played the big weekly guarantee on Stars and Full Tilt maybe one time each in my entire life, and even those were several years ago, before I realized how run-of-the-mill these tournaments were, and how utterly chock full of flonkeys they are to even think a single shot here and there could ever lead to the kind of score I would be interested in.

Anyways, so I never play those huge tournaments on Sundays, but after Sunday, Wednesday night is where it's at. Full tilt runs a $100 rebuy at 9pm ET with a 100k guarantee every Wednesday night. Pokerstars more than doubles its nightly 100k and $162 buyin, to a $320 buyin nlh tournament with a 250k guarantee, only on Wednesdays. And UB follows suit as well, turning its $120 buyin 9pm ET nightly 25k guaranteed sniper (knockout) tourney into a $216 buyin, 80k guarantee flonkfest with some of the silliest, softest play you'll ever see, only on Wednesday nights every week. While I don't often play the Wednesday $100 rebuy on full tilt, I busted from the Stars 250k in the first hour last night, when I ran QQ into KK, AK into KK, and then finally JJ into KK all in the span of maybe 40 minutes. And that's some fun times right there, let me tell you. But it was in the 80k on UB that I really took my lumps yesterday.

It was a tough slog, but I managed to bump along with an average stack for most of the first few hours as I would start to amass some chips, but then I ran AA into 88 and the 8s did not even flop but turn a set. Then I amassed another nice stack, only to see my AKo lose a large pot allin preflop to AKs (always a fun one). Then I somehow once again put together a nice pile of chips, and before I knew it my JJ was running smack into 75o on an 864 rainbow flop. It would be funny, if it wasn't so freaking annoying. Eventually the Harringbots gave me the usual fuel for a late run as they got short and starting pushing with anything, and I was able to find myself in some good spots to capitalize and nab a few crucial near-double-ups to get right into the thick of things as the money bubble burst at 45 runners out of the I think 397 who entered.

Once the bubble burst, I was never able to get into the top third or so of the field, but I was also solidly in the middle, never really short at any point and in fact I was managing to slowly crawl my way up the leaderboard. With 45 left at the bubble, I was 24th in chips. With 40 left, I was up to 17th. When we got down to 35 players remaining, I was back down to the dead middle at 17th place. First place in this mega monster -- which had fallen just a hair short of its 80k guarantee -- was 18k, second place 12k, and third place 8k, so we were talking about a lot of money here, and I really wanted to get a nice piece of it, instead of the few hundy being paid out to the first people to bust once we reached the ITM positions. I had played smart, withstood a number of truly idiotic beats along the way, and here I was right smack in the middle with about 30 runners remaining in one of the largest weekly tournaments I ever play in.

And then out of nowhere I totally lost my cool.

I really don't know what happened, and I really don't know why. I was tired, it was late (after 1am ET), but to be honest we had a snow day in NY metro on Wednesday so I had stayed home and even got in a short nap late in the day, so I was plenty awake and alert enough to make a go of it. There I was, telling myself how important it was to follow my usual late-game strategy of conserving when I have the stack to do so -- the very same strategy I have written about here with pretty solid consistency for the better part of six years now -- and then I watched the same big-stack clown make the same preflop steal-raise from the button of the same size, for at least the sixth time in just the previous hour of playing together, and in my big blind I opted to call for once, with 98o. It's a weak holding, but deceptive, and for one bet that isn't going to break me either way I don't mind seeing a flop with it once in a while, in particular when the other guy could just as easily be on 42o as far as I'm concerned. The flop came down A84, I checked and when my opponent led out, I opted to smooth call, just as I would if I actually held an Ace and thought he had been stealing. Now about a fifth of my stack was in the pot, and I knew I was going to have to take this pot away on the turn or risk facing a decision for all my chips on the river. So when the turn card brought a Ten -- a card I was not overly concerned with given the action thus far in the hand -- I led out again, this time for again a little over half the pot, meaning that about half of my stack was in the pot at this point in the hand, even though I held nothing more than a pair of 8s, with a crappy kicker to boot. My opponent thought this one over for some time, letting his time bank get almost all the way down to zero before finally opting to call with just a second left to act. The river then brought a harmless 5, and I figured, I had gone this far, I did not at all think he had an Ace to begin with given his tendency to steal-raise before the flop from the button with anything, and so I did the only thing that made sense to me in the moment: I pushed.

And he insta-called. With AK for TPTK. And IGH in 30th place. With all of about $400 profit to show for my efforts.

I mean, I broke every freaking rule I have when it comes to late in a big tournament like this. I had just been sitting there reminding myself to take it easy and not give up my stack without a big hand, and to try to wait for the right spot or maybe a premium hand or something to get a big slice of my stack into the pot. It's one thing if I busted there with QQ vs AK allin pre or something, or even with AA against a flopped set of 3s or something. At least there I had a justifiably good reason to get my chips into the middle, even if I was actually behind at the time unbeknownst to me. That kind of thing happens all the time in poker tournaments, and you just have to deal with it happening to you as much as it happens to everyone else.

But last night didn't have to happen at all. I forced the whole situation right from the getgo. I decided before even seeing a flop that my opponent was stealing and therefore weak. When he called my flop bet, rather than assess what that truly meant, I made the completely amateurish mistake of molding his actions to the read I had already established before seeing the flop in the first place. He was floating me, I told myself. My 98 had to be good, or at least he was surely weak enough to fold to more action on the turn. When the turn card did not scare me particularly -- even though it represented another card above the shitty pair I had in my own hand -- I foolishly slid out another large bet of around half of my stack, and if that wasn't bad enough -- this is as far as any possible misplay by me should ever have gotten -- when he called again, letting his time bank run all the way down first, I should have heard those little bells in my head that have won me so much money in poker tournaments in my day, my instincts, telling me he obviously had something, and would not have twice now called off a total of half of his own big stack at this point in this tournament on an Ace-high flop after raising preflop if he didn't have an Ace or hit the flop in some meaningful way. How could he ever be floating me in this spot? He's top 10 in chips, 30 players left in the biggest nightly tournament of the week on a major poker site, and he called me on the flop, and again on the turn, for half of that ginormous stack?

What did I think he had?

Nonetheless, I stubbornly stuck with that idiot preflop read of mine, slid in my last 22k in chips at the river, and saw exactly what I should have seen coming at the end. As I said above, I played this hand just about as much like a rank amateur as it could ever possibly be played. After dodging these monkeys and their unbelievably bad plays for more than four hours, I literally took close to 40k in chips with an average of close to 30k, picked them all up, and dumped them right into the trash can, along with my chances of making a run at a very nice payout-laden final table, including a first prize of 18 grand. And I still can't believe I did it this morning.

Opportunities like this only come along once in a fairly long while in poker tournaments, even for the best of players. Coming up with the luck you need to outlast all the brutal suckouts, win sufficient numbers of races, and to avoid second best hands, running into pocket Aces, flopped sets, etc. is just such a long shot, that even if you play really well for a long period of time, a run like mine in the 80k last night is still a very rare thing. Such that, when you finally run good enough to make a serious run, you absolutely positively must make it count. Sure, someone's gotta bust in 20th place, and in 15th, and in 10th right on the final table bubble, and sometimes it's going to be you. But for me to ensure that I don't make it that far, by willingly and single-handledly just dumping my entire big stack of chips into the garbage like that? That's not hoyazo play, and it cost me who knows how much cold, hard cash last night as a result.

I really can't stand these times when I wake up in the morning and still have that sick, empty pit-in-the-stomach feeling like I do today. But I have no choice but to move on, and to learn from it. The next time I find myself in a similar situation, will I donk off all my chips like those spewmonkeys who I usually laugh my ass off at while I'm making a deep mtt run? Or will I play smart tournament poker, the way I know I should, and wait for the right spot to commit my chips at the time when they are worth the most in the tournament to that point? Hopefully, if nothing else, the memory of this disgusting feeling in my gut today will serve as a reminder. If I'm going to throw away my entire stack for no good reason whatsoever even on those occasions when I do manage to run deep, then there is absolutely zero reason to play the game at all in the first place.

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