Monday, November 21, 2011

Thoughts From the Borgata Fall Poker Open -- Part I

That's right -- an actual poker post ahead!!

So I went and played in the Borgata Fall Poker Open last week. Long story short, I made a nice run, played about 13 hours in a one-day event, and lasted through more than 98% of the field before being eliminated just short of the final table. The event I played was a bounty event, and I managed to pick up 6 elimination bounties -- more than covering my full buyin for the event as it was -- plus a small four-figure cash for finishing in 11th place on the day. Although I lost the vast majority of my stack on a dominated suckout that took me out of the tournament instead of vaulting me into the top half of the final table, for reasons I will describe below, I did not and do not feel I had much right to complain about that, and complain about that suckout I will not.

The interesting thing was, I really did not play very well in this tournament. It's not all that usual, but I've definitely had a number of these sorts of runs over my career back in the online poker days, days where I never really get it together, my reads are not really all that perfect, I make some mistakes, but somehow manage to survive through them and make a nice run. But I really did not play very well in this event, and my total lack of current experience playing the game really showed in my opinion, in a lot of different ways.

For starters, I got very little in the way of cards for the first several hours in this tournament, but I handled that fact much more poorly than is necessary for any aspiring successful poker tournament player. Like, I got no good starting cards. At. All. My first six hands of the tournament all had a 2 in them, and 9 out of my first 10. I could not believe it. That's about as bad of a beginning run as one could ever imagine for sure (what are the odds? 2/13 of having a 2 in any given hand, right? so 6 in a row to start is 2/13 to the 6th power, right? For those keeping score, that is 0.0000136, or 13 in a million for those less math-inclined), and that's not even counting that the next three hands after my 7th hand did not include a 2, also had 2s in them again. But aside from the astonishing math behind this occurrence, I handled this horrific string of starting cards as poorly as could be imagined. I mean, here i was having driven two hours to play this tournament with some blogger friends, and here I was completely tilted out of my mind after what, 30 minutes of play? And I hadn't even gotten sucked out on, or even lost a pot yet for that matter. But you should have seen me. I was complaining to my fellow players, showing my cards after every fold to players already out of the hand, and just generally driving myself crazy over what was, albeit a mathematical freak show, just 10 bad starting hands to start a tournament. That's all. But I literally had to get up and take a walk around the luxurious Borgata poker room after the 10th hand was dealt to me, that's how out of my mind I was just from seeing all those 2s in my pocket cards. Clearly, I was out of the right mindset and out of experience in playing mtt's, and it really showed.

Similarly, after months and months generally away from the game, my instincts were no more in no-limit form than one would expect them to be. After managing to calm myself down once the 2s stopped flowing almost exclusively to my hands, I proceeded to bet or raise a few times with total garbage either before or on the flop -- I had to try to play with something, didn't I? -- based largely on what I perceived to be weakness among the players in front of me, and I was generally wrong about as often as I was right. Almost every time I tried to open-steal in the earlygoing from middle or late position, some clown behind me who I had been sure was looking like he would fold, would instead reraise, and I would end up sheepishly folding. Around the three- or four-hour mark, I was getting to be around half the average stack (I was never really above average in this entire 13-hour run, it would turn out), and I made two different flop raises against guys I had read as tight and weak, and on both instances was forced to fold when my opponent surprised me by reraising me allin. Yes, I made the good fold in each case, but both folds -- in particular the second one -- were crippling to my already weakened stack. Although I obviously made a number of good reads as well to have lasted as long as I did, I simply could not count on my instincts to carry me very well in this tournament, something which I know stems from a total lack of experience playing the game over the past seven months time.

Lastly, I sucked out not once but twice with almost all of my chips in the middle just to last as far as I did. After the second big flop fold on my bluff that I mentioned above, I was down to around 4000 chips (starting stack had been 12,000) and a good 20-25% of the average stack. I was basically done. The action folded to me in middle position on the very first hand of the 5th hour, and I insta-pushed with A9s. I support this move of course, being as totally short and desperate as I was, and what I really wanted (within the realm of reason) was a hand like 66 or 88 to call me and give me a fighter's chance for a double-up. But unfortunately for me, the big blind woke up with AQs, instacalled my short ass of course, and I started to pack up my stuff when a 9 fell on the flop, which amazingly held and I was back at least to around half of average, and more than 15 big blinds which at least gave me some room to move. But I had gotten it in totally dominated, and had won a 1-in-4 chance just to be able to survive.

I made an even worse read later in the tournament, after picking up some more chips when I made my first two playable starting hands of the entire day, both during Hour 6, when I was dealt JJ and AK in two out of three hands. That was a long-ass time to wait for a freaking starting hand to play, and I had to suck out once allin preflop just to even be around to see these cards dealt to me, but at one point after accumulating some chips from those two hands, I started just plain beating on the guy two seats to my left, who was always the big blind to my button. He had shown himself to be totally and openly tight as hell, and so I had started raising his c-bets with abandon, and just generally constantly putting his entire stack at risk in situations where I simply did not think he had the fortitude to gamble it up without a very strong hand that I did not think he had. And it had been working. I had made him fold three separate times on three stone bluffs from me, and he was getting pizz-nizzed with me and made no bones about it with his facial expressions and mannerisms. This guy was just fixing to mix it up with me, and I knew it because I could read his emotions like a book. But, I let my lack of sharp poker instincts get the best of me by falling into the worst kind of trap with these tight players. I think it was Tommy Angelo's book where I saw this excellent tidbit about playing against tight players -- when you pound on these pussies enough and make them fold over and over again because they're too afraid to play a big pot without the nuts, these guys absolutely are fixing to play a pot against you. But they're tightass pussies, so they're not fixing to take a big bluff up against you. They're just waiting, holding on and praying for a hand like pocket Aces. That's the kind of hand these guys are praying to mix it up with you with. They're generally not the types to try to take you on with a big bluff, because that's not their game.

Well, about 7 hours in, I forgot all about that and made a dumb call against this tightass in my big blind, and I nearly lost my chance for a score as a result. At this point there were probably around 60 players left out of the 251 who started in the $350 buyin event plus the $100 bounties, and I open-raised from the button for the umpteenth time against his big blind, this time with me holding A9s. The tight big blind just called, so I knew he wasn't super strong (because no tightwad just calls with AA or KK in that spot, take it from me, they're too afraid of getting sucked out on and they're too angry and disbelieving that I have any hand after I try to steal from them for the 15th time over just a few hours time), but I figured he had to have something. The flop came down K94 rainbow, giving me middle pair top kicker, and knowing that the guy had to strongly suspect me of stealing from him again, I figured I was actually in pretty good shape here so I went ahead with a standard c-bet of around 2/3 the pot. Well, Mr. Tighty finally grew himself some balls and pushed allin, which for me represented about 90% of my remaining stack. I would still be alive if I called and lost, but only in theory as I would have had just a few big blinds left to play with. Effectively, this was an allin push against me, and as I sat there replaying the hand, his expressions and mannerisms, and just running through the history I had built up over a couple of hours of play abusing this guy over and over again, I think I let my instincts convince me of what I at first knew to be true -- this guy had top pair. I don't think his tight ass would have played TT, JJ or QQ with just a call of my stealy-looking raise preflop, and I did not think he was loose or aggressive enough to throw away a chance at even min-cashing (the top 27 finishers would get paid in this event) by moving in here with pocket 8s or lower given the two overcards on the board. So I stared at the K94 on the board, and I even noted that absolute lack of real draws available (thus giving more credence to his bet representing a made hand of some kind), but as I kept thinking things through, I could feel myself convincing myself that I should call. "This guy is furious at me", I told myself (which was undeniably true). He's just been waiting to push back at me and get some of his chips back for hours, I said inside my own head (also obviously true). And yet, even though at first I clearly saw him for having some kind of a middling King in his hand -- because, after all, a la Tommy Angelo, the tightwad player isn't waiting to bluff me with nothing, but rather to push 'em in when he honestly believes he has the best hand -- the more I stared at the board, the more my fuzzy and out-of-practice poker instincts chipped away at what was clearly the right inclination -- to fold. I distinctly remember asking myself "Come on, what are the chances that this guy happens to hold one of the other three Kings in the deck, in the big blind no less?" Ahhh, the favorite move of the guy convincing himself to make the wrong play. The answer to that question, of course, was that the odds of him holding a King were pretty damn high, given his action in the hand and what I knew about his play over the previous few hours. I also distinctly remember telling myself that, given my A9, I beat all hands but top pair, so if he was in there with a hand like J9 or 89 or A4s or something, I was well ahead and in great shape. All true mathematical points, mind you, but simply inappropriate attempts to get myself to make a big call with second pair top kicker against a super tight player who would not have been in there without a good hand himself. Now, you throw in a couple of draws on the board, and my second pair top kicker starts to look a little better, even against a tight player like him, but the rough texture of that board should have told me all I needed to know, and the right move was to fold there, for sho.

But instead, after agonizing for some time, I made the call, slowly flipping up my A9 semi-confidently after all the self-convincing I had done, but of course I was deep down not surprised to see the tight guy table KJs. It's the perfect hand for him to have called my stealy-looking preflop raise with, and to push allin with on the K94 flop. It was obvious even, in retrospect. I mean, I should have been able to predict his exact hand more or less down to either KT or KJ with that action and what I knew about this player. But again, my less-than-honed poker instincts took over and convinced me to make the play that I started off the flop knowing to be wrong. Basically, almost any time in my entire poker career when I have actively convinced myself to turn a fold into a call, I've been wrong, and it's something that I almost never used to do when I was playing poker regularly. But take half a year off from the game with any regularity, and here I was, screwing up and making the ultimate rookie mistake against a guy whose play was so awful that a child could have known my second pair was behind. I asked how much his stack was and cut out the chips, lamenting the tiny pile I would have left to toss in on the very next hand and clear out of dodge, and as a result I didn't even see the Ace fall on the river to give me the hand and a new lease on life in the tournament. I made "the face" to the guy I had just eliminated, taking his $100 bounty chip for my third bounty on the day in the process -- you know that face, the one that any guy who's played a million poker tournaments gives when he knows how pissed and disappointed the other guy is because he himself has been sucked out on and outplayed someone only to get beat by dumb luck more times than he can count. To his credit, my opponent gave me back the "it's ok, it happens" face -- a look I have still not even close to perfected, myself -- and from there I was able for the very first time all day to play with at least a little bit of chip utility in my stack.

All this is to say, I made a nice deep run in the tournament last week, but I got my usual dearth of playable starting cards, and my instincts were about as off as they ever get. I simply did not play great poker on this day, but I was lucky enough and played just well enough to survive and actually manage to win some decent cash despite my poor instincts at the tables. Despite all of this, however, one thing I did do in the tournament was make a number of solid laydowns -- despite the one stupid screwup against Mr. Tightie that I described above -- including one pretty big laydown in what turned out to be by far the biggest pot I saw all day. More on "the pot" in tomorrow's post. And yes, that will mean two poker posts in two days, so just deal with it.

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Blogger Josie said...

How on earth could I not be mentioned or linked in this post?

10:24 PM  
Blogger Wolfshead said...

Hell, your starting hands sound like my typical day at the cash table

12:24 AM  

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