Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two Live Tournaments

I am such a dork. I mean, here I am, a couple of days away from heading out to Foxwoods for my first live casino poker tournament in several months, and I find myself spending time preparing myself mentally for the game, walking through the steps, basically all the stuff I would probably be doing if I were sitting in Las Vegas right now about to head down to the Amazon room at the Rio. Which is one thing if you're about to sit down to the World Series of Poker in world-famous Las Vegas, but it's a whole other thing to be making any kind of a big deal about a regular tournament series event at a big casino on the other side of the country from Sin City. But it's a $600 buyin event -- this will make it I believe the highest-buyin poker tournament I have ever played in any live play, other than the three WSOPs in which I have partaken over the past four years -- and with a $125k guaranteed prize pool, there is a lot to play for, even if it isn't a gold bracelet.

So, in advance of Foxwoods on Saturday, I attended a live poker tournament this week (two, actually) run by a friend of mine in New York City, each tournament sporting around 60-70 entrants, in the hopes of reconnecting with those nlh tournament skills I had honed so finely over five or six years of near-daily practice, or at the least of figuring out just how off my game is likely to be after three months of absolute cold turkey with online poker. In each tournament, I managed to run pretty deep, but in both of them I ended up never really amassing the big stack I needed to really make a run at the final table. And, more than that, I think I can tell you pretty easily just why that is.

In the first tournament I played, I went down right off the bat and was not really able to recover. Six levels in, I had been bumping along at less than half the tournament average for the past couple of hours, and suddenly I found pocket Kings -- in the big blind no less -- and long story short, two guys got allin against me and I more than tripled up. This gave me new life, and within the next hour or so, I took A♣K♣ for a reraise preflop against a short-stacked player who made a blatant mistake in calling my preflop reraise when it was for half of his remaining stack. The flop came all rags, but with two clubs -- giving me a good 15 outs if not the lead already, and seeing that my opponent had around 50% of his chips in the pot already, I knew I wanted to get the rest. I had the feeling he had called with a spec hand -- not a big pocket pair, helped of course by the fact that I held one Ace and one King in my own hand -- and a nagging part of me thought he might fold and try to push a different hand preflop if I really put him to the test here. So instead, I stared for a couple of seconds at the raggy flop and put on my best "I missed" face, followed by a very slow and weak-looking check with my right hand barely touching the table. My opponent instantly took the bait, insta-pushing allin for the rest of his stack, which I obviously called, and the look on this guy's face when he saw my cards was just priceless, as he flipped up J9s in the wrong suit, for a big fat nothing. A total bagel. A couple of "nice check"s from the other players around the table to me, and I had doubled up again, sitting on a pile about twice the tournament average, as we got down to the final 2 tables with me in 5th place out of 18 or 19 runners remaining.

Unfortunately, my stint at the final two tables would be fairly short-lived, as the chipleader was this uberdonkey to my right who had made so many bad plays with bad cards over the preceding couple of hours at my table that nobody observant could possibly ever put him on a hand early in a pot. Well, he open-raises with his ginormous stack from the button -- my read of which is that he literally has any two cards -- and I look down in the small blind to find 9♠7♠, one of my favorite hands to play. I thought about reraising, but did not want to take my 5th-place stack against the 1st place stack with just two tables remaining, so I just called. When the flop came down a thoroughly un-scary J53 rainbow, the chip leader did what he had done about 50,000 other times since amassing his big stack, leading out for nearly the full size of the pot with a c-bet. I figured I didn't have him on a hand to begin with, and I certainly wasn't putting him on a hand that nailed a J53 rainbow flop, so I looked at his 12k bet into the 14k pot, and I looked at the roughly 45 or 50k in chips I had remaining in my stack (as compared to about 300k for him), and I pushed all-in, confident that he would not call with two garbage cards. He thought briefly, and then announced "I call" before flipping up pocket Kings. I looked and felt like the real donkey as I was essentially drawing dead right from the getgo, and I pushed him my chips and got out of dodge. Thus ended practice tourmament #1.

Practice tournament #2 took place a day later, and this time I once again went down early with a combination of c-bets gone wrong and a couple of loose calls preflop given that we started with 200 big blinds in our 10k starting stacks. From there, just as in the first tournament a couple of days earlier, I struggled along, playing tighter than I would like to help preserve my stack, and hoping to find a great spot or a big pair to chip up in a hurry. Eventually, after again getting down below half the average chipstack, I did manage to double up, once again when I picked up pocket Kings and got called allin preflop by a monster stack a couple of seats to my right who got in there with A9s. Finally with some chip utility working in my favor to enable me to play some poker, I was able to slowly chip up over the next couple of hours, once again making it down to the final two tables with me just under average but in fine position to make a run. I was unable to get over average, however, because I simply wasn't getting any playable cards and the rest of the table was being very aggressive, and whenever a resteal situation presented itself, something just didn't feel right about it to me so I opted to wait for a better spot that never really came.

Eventually, down to 16 players remaining and with me dwindling once again to about 2/3 of the average stack with around 40k in chips, I forced myself to open-raise preflop from middle position to 7000 chips with K7s in diamonds, and got one caller in late position from across the table, which told me pretty much nothing specific about his hand other than that he wanted to play with me and had the chips to see something cheap and see what happens. The flop came down K84, with the 8 and the 4 of diamonds, giving me top pair plus a King-high flush draw. I led out into the roughly 15k pot for 11k, wanting this to look like a regular c-bet where I would leave myself room to fold if I were in fact bluffing, and after just a few seconds, my fairly aggressive opponent announced that he was allin. I thought it over for a couple of seconds, figured this guy was probably on a higher King since I didn't think he'd played his hand like pocket Aces but I didn't really think he would be trying to bluff me either with how little I had been playing at the table. Still, as I computed the pot odds, I saw that there was about 50k effective in the pot, and I needed to call my last 22k or so to get there. Not even being sure this guy had top pair in the first placem, and with 9 redraw outs to a flush even if he did, there was basically no way I could fold this hand in this spot, even though it didn't exactly feel great as I made the crying call. My opponent flipped up pocket 4s for the flopped set, I did not improve to my flush, and IGH in 16th place.

So, it was two tournaments, two nice runs, but two finishes just short of the money. And what can I make of all this? What conclusions can I draw about the effect of a three-month layoff on my nlh tournament play?

Well, for starters, I played too aggressively early in both tournaments, causing me to lose precious chips early on on both days and seriously hampering my ability to chip up early, or even play good, wide-open poker early due to the loss of chip utility from my short stack. One of the killers on this point was that I knew I had dropped too early too fast in the first tournament, I had specifically noted this to myself as I reviewed the play in my mind, and I told myself -- ordered myself, really -- not to do that again in the second tournament, and then I went right out and did it again. It's not that I was playing totally recklessly, but even though I know this is totally wrong, for super cheap I called that preflop reraise with my sooted King-rag because I knew three other players had already entered the pot for that reraise. I called a preflop raise into a multiway pot with T9o. I even c-bet at a pot with four players after a late-position open-raise that I'm sure screamed to everyone that I was weak. Both days I did this stuff, and both days saw my 10k starting stack shrunk down to 6k or so within the first hour of play. That is no way to succeed in any poker tournament, and I know this. But on Saturday at Foxwoods, I will need to get myself psyched into the right frame of mind to protect my chips early if I expect to last to Day Two out at the Mashantucket Pequot indian reservation. And I don't just mean to say that I'll protect my chips like I did before my second practice tournament this week -- I mean to actually protect the goddam chips.

Another thing I have to say -- and this is not the least bit of a surprise -- but my reads were not as accurate as they usually are. Not by a longshot. Essentially, in both tournaments I busted by betting out into a better hand, so I missed those reads entirely. In the first tournament, I decided before the flop that the big stack must have no hand just because I knew he was a blind-stealing donkey. Of the highest order. As if uberdonkeys don't get dealt pocket Kings just as often as the rest of us, even in the blinds. Then when he led out on the flop, to be honest with myself I never even considered that he might actually have a hand. I knew I had nothing but two rags in the hole, so I knew I had to bet big to have a chance at winning the hand, and I basically fell into the beginning poker player's trap of not being willing to reconsider my read after locking on to something before seeing any of the cards or the action on the flop. That was just a horrible play, and not an hour after duping some other unsuspecting sap into bluffing off his entire stack into me, I was the shithead with the dumb grin on his face, picking up his stuff and leaving the room as I had just done exactly the same thing.

My elimination story in the second tournament is a little different. Now, if I had correctly read my opponent for extreme strength on the flop, no way I would have called allin there with just the top pair and flush draw combination. With a higher King and the flush draw, you could maybe see doing that. But at the time I figured I was behind and felt from the math that I simply had to call anyways. And any one of the hundred or so poker books I've read can tell you (and has told me) that you should always think through your bets to make sure you know before you bet what you're going to go if you get raised. I think it was Sklansky's no-limit book that explained it best, that basically if you bet or raise and get raised or reraised, and you are at a loss about what to do, then you probably made a bad bet or raise to begin with. In other words, if I had led out smaller on the flop, then I might have had an easier fold when my opponent raised me big with his flopset. Or if I had pushed allin, then once again I would not have left myself with the agonizing decision that I forced myself to make as to whether or not to call my opponent's allin. Those of you who have played live poker tournaments know how frustrating and how bad-ending it is to have to call off your remaining chips when you know you're behind. Even if the pot odds dictate your calling, as was the case in my second tournament elimination this week, to have to call off your stack in a tournament and need to catch something less than 50% likely is never, ever a good thing. Could I have avoided this if I had played the hand better, or if I was more in tune with the game than I am at this point? Maybe. Probably, even.

The last thing I should mention is that -- and this is a real shock for me to say of all people -- but I was an absolute pussy when it came to restealing from people. I mean, I basically invented the resteal. I've written numerous posts about it, and I have wielded the resteal from loose, mid- and big-stacked preflop stealers as a weapon about as often and as effectively as anyone out there. I've restolen and shown you all the hammer more times than anyone can count out there. And yet, here I was, sitting at a poker table and repeatedly not pulling the trigger even when I felt strongly that a raising opponent was weak and just trying to steal the blinds. I can't tell you how many excuses I made to myself in both practice tournaments for why now wasn't the right time: "My opponent looked too obviously weak on his face when he raised", "I don't have enough chips to resteal",, "My cards aren't good enough" (as if that ever stopped me before), and my favorite that kept occurring to me over and over again this week when I knew I should be restealing but didn't: "What if I lose? I'll be crippled. My whole tournament run is over."

I still can't believe that was me thinking all those things, but it was. Three months away from the poker tournament fray, and I have straight-up lost my edge for restealing. And I got news for you -- I dare anyone who's ever run truly deep in a live nlh tournament to tell me you didn't resteal quite a bit from the aggrodonks. You have to. You just can't avoid it. The blinds increase so fast at the upper levels, and the aggressive players are increasingly likely to be the only ones left as an nlh tournament wears down near the money, that there is just no way to survive and thrive without a few well-timed resteals. All I know is, I played deep into two different nlh tournaments this week -- probably a good 9 or 10 hours of play overall -- and I did not even attempt a resteal. Not once.

Pathetic, isn't it? I know. Well, that's what I'm up against as I prepare to head to Foxwoods for Event #1 of the Spring Into Summer Mega Madness series. Three months of no poker whatsoever, and the result is a guy who almost jumps out of his pants playing too many hands too strongly up front, who can't rely on his reads, and who ultimately is too chicken to pull of a resteal move that he knows he'll need to survive and that he used to be the undisputed king of. In a sad way, my performance this week kind of validates my skipping the trip out to Vegas this summer, because to be perfectly honest with myself, I played just about as bad as I expected to play. I still had my moments, and I don't think I'll ever lose the ability to determine just the action that will dupe an opponent into thinking I'm weak and pushing allin on me right when I want him to, but in the end, I played more or less just like I thought. Worse, even.

Here's hoping I get the chance to pull some re-steals at Foxwoods on Saturday afternoon. Otherwise, little return to live poker tournaments this week is likely to come to an early and arbupt ending somewhere in southeastern Connecticut.

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Blogger edgie212 said...

Hey Hoy, edgie, friend of Jordan's. First off...where were these big NYC tournaments??

Also, I did Event #1 of the very same series last year...although the poker landscape is different, I will tell you what I could observe...

With Foxwoods being kind of isolated and away from a major metro area, there are a LOT of people who know everyone...I sort of knew this from the poker room downstairs (you will most likely be in the ballroom). At my initial table there were 5 folks who knew each other (odd for a random draw) and were often getting up, moving to other tables, but definitely townies and not some legion from Boston. For the most part they were limping plenty in the early levels.

I lasted deep into the evening, but busted about 30 out of the money. I will say this about the players there...and I wouldnt say this if I didnt feel it was SO vastly different from experiences I've ha in AC or Vegas, or locally - as I got deeper, the play was very straightforward - if they were betting out, they were doing it for value. I didn't see a single trap set at any of my tables the entire time. That may be entirely different this time, but just offering my experience.

Good luck!

8:34 PM  

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