Monday, June 11, 2007

Back to Reality, and How I Cashed in the World Series of Poker

Boy oh boy. What a whirlwind of a weekend this was in Las Vegas, which featured not only my first World Series of Poker cash in just my second WSOP tournament played, but also some of the funnest times I can ever remember playing poker with a bunch of fuckin coolass individuals, many of whom I have met once before last summer, and many whom I had never met before this weekend but had only read just about every word they've ever written that has anything to do with poker. As always seems to be the case with these things, I don't even begin to know where to begin recapping a weekend like this. I suppose maybe I'll just start from the beginning and give a semi-chronological review of my trip to the desert, with whatever other tidbits thrown in as they come to mind. It will probably take a few posts to get everything up, but I promise to cover the entirety of the weekend, mostly because the whole thing was so fucking fun. But of course, first I have to start off this Monday post with the following commercial announcement:

That's right! Just because many of the bloggers are just back from Las Vegas today doesn't mean that the Battle of the Blogger Tournaments won't continue today in full force. I mean, sure I may still be hung over a little bit even tonight on the weight of probably 40 captain and cokes over the weekend at the cash tables with a bunch of other bloggers, but the latest MATH tournament has already been set up and is waiting for you to enter tonight at 10pm ET. Even after a weekend of live poker play in the gambling mecca of the world, I can't wait to jump back on to the virtual tables tonight and take you blonkeys downtown, some come one and come all to start your week off right tonight in Mondays at the Hoy on full tilt. And just to make things interesting and to highlight a hand that seems to have taken on my name permanently after this weekend, knock me out tonight when you're holding the JackAce, and I'll transfer you $26 on full tilt for you to buy in to next week's MATH tournament on me.

OK so back to Las Vegas. As most of you now know, I did end up cashing in the Shorthanded No-Limit Holdem tournament, WSOP Event #12, which started last Thursday at noon Vegas time. I already posted early on Thursday morning about how I arrived late Wednesday, went straight to the Rio to register early for Thursday, and watched about a million pros making the money in the 7-card Stud WSOP tournament. In the end I am really glad I went over to to the Rio register on Wednesday night -- not so much because of the registration lines, which in the end were more or less non-existent after the opening few days' snafus, but rather because it gave me a chance to get those initial willies out of my system, just like last year. You know, the enormity of the whole big WSOP poker room, all the pros you see, the amounts of money involved, etc. The whole WSOP thang is really quite an awe-inspiring experience, at least for me, and as I said in the end it was definitely the right idea to head over there early and kinda get that out of my system before my big day on Thursday.

So where to begin. I discovered that my starting table, Table 117 seat 2, was in the "tent", meaning in the auxilliary poker room set up just outside the back of the main poker room at Rio to handle the bigger than expected crowds for the preliminary WSOP events. No problem. Unlike many people who had complained about being in the back room, I thought it was fine. I didn't have any problems with the air conditioning, the size of the room, access to bathrooms, drinks or other facilities that some other people have mentioned, so that was good. And since we were playing 6-max, for once there was more than enough room around the table for each of our seats which is always great, and frankly a welcome change from other big casino tournaments I have played. I'm remembering back to the WSOP Circuit Event at Caesar's in Atlantic City for example, where they seated us 11-handed around their standard-sized tables, which are hard-pressed enough to fit 10 players as it is. Well none of that at my 6-person table in the WSOP, so from a logistical perspective I found my way there about 15 minutes before go time and settled in. This was also where I met up for the first time with the Surly Poker Gnome, who was in from Hawaii for the weekend and who was also playing Event #12 with me. The Gnome was also seated in the back room, at Table 137 Seat 1 as I recall, so he was just a few tables away from me and we would be able to keep up with each other's progress over the next several hours. The only pro I recall seeing in that back room was Greg Raymer, wearing his bright red shirt tucked in tight to his shorts and looking fine in his trademarked sandals-with-white-socks look, even when he busted 15 minutes in to the tournament after getting allin with top two pairs on the flop when another guy happened to have flopped a straight as well. Poor guy, getting his buyin paid for by pokerstars and then getting eliminated in 15 minutes.

Anyways, as far as my starting table goes, it was very tight at first. For an orbit or two I didn't play much of anything and just tried to get a sense of how the others were going to play it. Quickly it became apparent that I should be stealing some pots, so that's what I started doing, basically playing the exact same strategy that I employ myself when I play 6-max tournaments basically every night on full tilt. This got me a few chips early, and more importantly got me some confidence and started setting up an image that I hoped to be able to exploit later when I was able to actually hit some hands.

My first big hand occurred about 70 minutes in to the event. I was down to around 2400 chips from the starting stack of 3000, mostly due to a few preflop open-raises with hands like AJ and KQs that I ended up folding to action on the flop when I missed completely, and I think one largeish semibluff bet on the flop which I also had to lay down after my opponent smooth called and then bet big on the raggy turn, which missed my hand. I was on the button with A♣8♠, and the action folded around to me before the flop, where I naturally raised to steal the blinds,a nd probably for value as well as A8 was likely the best hand at the time. Just the big blind called me for the discounted bet, and we saw a flop of 346 with two clubs. With two overs and a backdoor nut flush draw, I c-bet the size of the pot when my opponent checked to me on the flop. He thought for maybe 15 seconds and then called. Yuck. Now I knew I would need to hit something here or I would have to be prepared to bet enough to push this guy off of whatever hand he had hit on that flop. The turn card came the 7♣. This put 3467 for an inside straight on the board, but my opponent had called my raise preflop so I was not exactly putting him on a 5 here. And, I still had the two overcards, plus now an inside straight draw to the nut straight, as well as the nut flush draw. With all those outs and since my opponent had just called but not raised me on the flop, I opted to bet big on the turn, trying to take the pot down right then and there. I bet the size of the pot again, which at this point was around 1000 chips (plus the 1000 I bet on the turn), leaving me with only around 900 chips behind. And that amount of chips mattered, because 2 seconds later my opponent raised me allin, enough to just about put me allin as well, and it was obvious that I had messed up in a big way. I look down and count out my last 880 chips or so, pissed as hell at myself for betting twice with what amounted to a big draw but nothing made yet, against a guy who clearly had made something. With the 3467 on the board, I supposed he had a 5, or maybe an outside chance of something like 76 for two pairs, or maybe a set.

At this point there was a little over 4100 chips in the pot, and I was faced with calling 880 with just 9 outs to the nut flush and three 5's as pretty sure outs to the high end of the straight. So, with 12 outs with just the river card to come, I treated this as a pot odds problem and was not going to autofold just because I did not yet have any made hand. With just 880 chips remaining I didn't want to fold and be left with such a small stack, especially not given that I was looking at 12 outs to hands that would beat his two pair, set or 7-high straight. 12 outs means I had a 25% chance of drawing out on the river, and with a 25% chance of winning the now huge pot, the pot was laying me roughly 4100 to 900 or 4.5 to 1. I had to take it. It didn't matter if I was calling off the rest of my stack less than two hours in to a $1500 buyin tournament. I obviously could have and should have played this hand far differently on the earlier streets, but at that point in the decisionmaking process, I had absolutely no choice in my mind to call off the rest of my stack as a 3-to-1 dog when the pot was laying me more than 4.5 to 1. I called, and my opponent flipped up his hand: 75s. I love it. He called a preflop raise in a frigging tournament with 75s. And naturally he flopped a straight with it. After ascertaining that I was in fact playing live poker at the Rio in Las Vegas and not just playing on pokerstars with a flop like that, I knew I had exactly 12 outs to win. And the dealer burned and turned the river card -- an offsuit 5. Wow! The final board read 34567, and my 8-high straight took down the monster pot to stake me to a big chiplead at my table early on. I actually apologized to the guy to my right, who took the beat very well btw, and I raked in a ton of chips. Now sure I got lucky on that river, and I had been a 3-to-1 dog to be packing early from the tournament thanks to my own bad play leading up to that point, but I also put myself in the position to hit that lucky river card by correctly using pot odds to determine that my call after the turn was actually an absolutely manadatory call if you want to make proper poker decisions.

After two hours we had our first break. I was up to around 8000 chips from the 3000 starting stacks, and the Gnome and I met up where I learned that he also was up, his stack over 4000 or so, and we swapped some bad beat stories from the first couple of hours including of course my big river suckout. God I love river suckouts in big spots when they work in my favor once in a while. With renewed optimism we headed back for the start of the third hour, where the blinds would double for the third straight hour to 100-200. Shortly into the third hour I limped in a 4-way pot from late position with 74s. On a board of K53 rainbow we all checked it around, and then the turn card brought a miracle 6 for me. UTG bet out around the size of the pot, which I raised about 2.5x to try not to chase him away. He called and the other players all folded. The river was another rag, and UTG bet out again, this time around half the size of the current pot. I took a tip from a guy who rivered a big inside straight on me when I played the WSOP in 2006, and I just bumped this player up a grand. He hesitated, clearly not liking his hand, but eventually called the extra thousand, showing me AK and he grimaced but shook his head knowingly when I flipped up the straight. This got my stack up near 11,000 chips, nearly four times the starting stack, and I appeared to be among the biggest stacks I could see at any tables in my immediate vicinity.

I was moved to a new table, still in the auxilliary room, sometime near the end of the third hour of the tournament, and this table had one big stack three seats to my left which was almost as big as my own big stack, while the rest of the stacks were noticeably smaller than mine, which was good. I made the conscious decision as I observed the action at the new table to be very careful in pots with this guy because I didn't want to get busted by one of the few stacks who could really hurt me in the event this early on after some early luck and nice play had staked me to a big lead. Nonetheless, when I had been at this new table for maybe just 15 minutes, nearing the end of hour 3 of the tournament, I raised preflop from the cutoff with JTs in diamonds, and everyone folded to the big stack guy in the big blind, who raised me about 2.5x the size of my raise. If it had been against anyone else, I am probably folding here, but against the only other big stack I could see, I decided to play the deep stacks and take a chance with a call, reminding myself not to do anything crazy with this flop unless it hit me good with either two pairs or a primary draw. The flop came down A94 with two diamonds, and he bet out around 2/3 of the pot. I considered my options, decided that he almost surely had some kind of an Ace (hopefully Ace-King!), and opted to go for the call and hope to hit my flush on the turn, where I knew I would fold to any bet if the flush did not come in. Although I considered raising with my big stack to hide the fact that I was on a draw, with two cards left to come and this being the other big huge stack at the table, I was not going to risk facing a possible allin re-reraise without really having a made hand yet. In other words, I did not want to make the same mistake that I had made in that earlier hand where I had to rely on a river 3-to-1 pull in order to even remain in the tournament at all. So, I just went for the smooth call, knowing I would stay for one shot at making my flush but would not put any chips in the pot to chase again at the river, and happily the turn card was a third diamond, giving me the flush with my very hard-to-read hand since I had raised and called a reraise preflop. This time my opponent checked to me, and I bet out strongly, the size of the pot, with the made flush against the guy I knew had hit a pair of Aces, hoping he had now made two pairs or at least had AK and was willing to go to the felt with TPTK. My opponent took his time, thinking carefully over his options, and then decided to push allin on me on a massive overbet. This was probably 5 or 6 times the chips currently in the pot. I was shocked. And more than that, the guy had made the major mistake of flashing his eyes at me shortly before he made his decision to push. While I was busy giving off a weak look to him, which he obviously picked up on (that genius), his eyes betrayed to me that he just wanted to take this pot down now without any further possibility of him losing or even needing to see another card or face another bet. The look in his eyes, combined with the regoddamdickulous overbet raise on the turn, were simply not the actions of a guy holding a higher flush. Think about it. Why would you possibly overbet that much if you have a big flush? Odds are quite high that your opponent will fold to that kind of a bet, and that is the last thing you would ever want on this board if you're holding the flush, in particular a larger flush than mine which was Jack-high. No way. I didn't know exactly what this guy had, but my read was probably AK, or maybe two pairs with an Ace. I knew I was risking my tournament life by calling the only other big stack I could see anywhere around me with a Jack-high flush, but given his preflop reraise and his bet on the Ace-high flop, I felt very sure I was reading the signs right that he was on some kind of an Ace hand and had no piece of that flush. In my mind I was ahead and that I had very little to worry about as far as hands that could beat me. I called for probably 95% of my bigass stack, and this clown flips over AJ, no diamonds. Talk about misplaying the fucking JackAce! Maybe the guy had heard about me and knew that I can't beat AJ no matter what the situation, but he obviously didn't know that the real power of AJ against me lies in calling my allin with it before the flop. Waiting until I turn a flush and then raising hard with it on the turn with just top pair Jack kicker is a horrible play for so many different reasons, and he learned the hard way in this hand as he was drawing dead and my flush dragged the monster pot with over 18,000 chips in it, just 3 hours into the tournament that started with just 3000 chips per player. So yeah, I don't have a clue how this guy must have lucked into that hugeass stack before I got to his table, but I certainly relieved him of it in a hurry. I mean, Ace-Jack on an Ace-high flop? I could have had even just AQ or AK and he would have been behind, and dominated for that matter, with just one or two cards to come. Terrible play by him, unbelievable even for a big stack, a good read by me, and once again my stack was off to the races.

Over the next 20 or 30 minutes I protected my stack, still trying to get reads on the individual players at the still relatively new table and waiting for my spots. Eventually around the middle of hour 4, I looked down to find AQ suited in hearts, which I raised with from middle position. Just one aggressive player two seats to my left called me, a guy whom I had watched making lots of little bets at pots, and in particular betting when others had shown weakness. He also raised and check-raised quite a bit, including some times when he clearly had nothing great, and I had pegged him quickly as a guy who was not going to last too long because eventually he was going to run into the nuts. Well, the flop in this hand came down J92, all hearts. I flopped the nut flush on a board where it was going to be damn near impossible for me to get beat unless the board paired and my opponent happened to have a big piece of the paired board. Against this hyper-aggro player, this seemed a clear slowplay to me, so I checked to him from middle position and he of course bet at the pot. I just love guys like this. Since I know he's going to keep betting even if I call here, I was not about to raise him on this flop and send off the warning signals in his head. Instead, I stared into space for a few seconds and then I just called his bet.

The turn card brought some other bullshit card -- I don't remember because it wasn't a pair and I could not have cared less what else it was -- and I pretended to think for a few seconds before I decided to make a smallish bet into the pot here, around half the pot or maybe slightly more but not even 2/3 of what was already in there. I wanted him to think I was weak and that he could use his aggro tendencies to take this pot away from me. This time aggro-boy made a pretty big raise, about 3 times the size of the current pot. I could smell blood. His raise was big, big enough to make me really think about staying in the hand if I had held anything but the stone nuts, which unfortunately for him I did. And so this was where I won my academy award for the weekend. I must have sat there thinking about his raise for a good three full minutes. I twitched, I turned my head, I exhaled sadly. I even moved my mouth a little bit as if I was counting odds and calculating pot odds, when in reality I was just counting how many seconds until I stacked this aggro clown. I mean, I made myself look so unsure and so sad about his big raise, that when I finally slid out enough chips to smooth call him, I already knew he would be insta-pushing on me on the river -- with already more than half his stack in the pot at this point btw -- if anything but the scariest of scare cards hit the river. And that's just what he did. The river did not bring a fourth heart, which might have been good or might have been bad for me since I was pretty sure he had a single reasonably high heart in there, but it didn't matter. My act on the turn had fooled him hook, line and sinker. Honestly, I probably took longer to act on that turn card than I have for any play in my entire life of playing live poker in casinos and home games, and it was all a big fucking act. So this guy insta-pushed on me as soon as the river hit the board, and I flipped up the nuts and he mucked his cards so I never even got to see what he had, which could have been something decent but might also have been basically nothing given the way I'd seen him play so far. All I knew was I was up over 30,000 chips just more than 4 hours in to the tournament, and I definitely had more chips than anyone whose stack I could see at any table around me. Awesome.

At this point things started to get fun. 6-max is an aggressive game by its nature, and with my huge stack at this point, I started bullying the table in a big way. Any time the action folded around to me in any position from middle or after, I raised 3 or 4x the big blind. Any time anybody limped into the pot before the flop, I raised. Every. Single. Time. I made it known I was raising just because they were limping. I mean, it was obvious. I couldn't possibly have had big hands all those times. I just wanted everyone to know I meant business and they were not going to be limping into any pots without giving me some information about what they held first. The player to my immediate right was a young internet pro wearing the same full tilt hooded sweatshirt that they sent me for winning my bracelet races, but he had his on and pulled tightly over his head in his best Phil Laak impression. This guy constantly tried to limp ahead of me, and I must have pushed him off of 20 or 25 pots over the next couple of hours heading towards dinner time in the tournament. He eventually started trying to steal-raise preflop when it folded around to him, and on 3 or 4 occasions I put in bigtime steal-reraises with nothing, using my huge stack as a fucking mace on these guys, and every time he had to fold it. His side of the table was openly talking about what a card rack I must have been, and I was getting no action at all on my good hands anymore either because everyone was afraid to play against my stack. And that's when I cracked out the Hammer.

That's right. The hammer. I had pushed full tilt boy off of more pots than I could count, basically any time he put any money into the pot either as a limp or a raise. On occasion when he raised from early position and I had shitty cards I would let him play, but more often than not I was pushing, raising or reraising, and much more often than not he was folding, not wanting to lose his stack if I had picked up an actual monster. Well at one point after I had been bullying bigtime for a good hour or so, and like I said everyone had been commenting on the incredible cards I must be geting, the button limps and full tilt boy limps as well from the small blind before the flop. I look down at my cards, and put in a substantial raise, I think maybe 6 or 7 times the big blind. The button quickly throws his cards into the muck, annoyed again to have wasted a big blind limping with me still to act preflop, and then full tilt boy in the small blind agonizes. He thinks and thinks. He looks at me, and finally says out loud that he has picked up a good hand this time. I stared him right in the eye with no fear at all, because to be honest I am laying down to any reraise and not losing another dime into this pot unless I flop big, and my stack was so huge at that point that I woudln't even have felt this loss if that's in fact what happened. Finally, full tilt boy exhales deeply, disappointingly, and flips up A9o to show me the big Hellmuthian laydown he just made. That's when I flip up my cards: 7-2 offsuit.

Two of the other players not involved in the hand had been having a quiet conversation about something presumably poker-related while this hand played out. The button and the small blind were once again conversing about what a fuckin luckbox I must have been. Well, the second that I flipped up that hammer, the entire table fell completely quiet. I mean, dead silence. It was awesome. It was like someone had just screamed or something and everyone had turned to look. I didn't even know some of these guys were paying attention, but they all were paying attention enough to notice when I showed them the hammer. And it was exactly what I wanted to do. At this point in time, I needed these guys to know I was full of shit sometimes. Of course I had to reign in the stealing for a short while after that, which is exactly what I did, but I needed the ability to keep adding to my stack, and in order to do that I was going to need the guys to give me action with hands like 44 and AJ and AQ. Showing them the hammer for a big raise against two preflop limpers did just that. And of course it made me just about the coolest guy in the room in my own head.

Another thing contributing to my self-coolness factor at this point was that, with my huge stack and more than half of the quxilliary room now emptied of busted players, the WSOP guys contracted by Bluff Magazine started taking notice of me. When the chip count updater guys first came around maybe around the 4th hour, I was sitting on over 30,000 chips, and to be honest I was the biggest stack in the room according to the little list he was keeping with him where I gave him my name. I mean, this was a list that had the names of about 10 well-known pros on it with their chip counts, guys like Andy Bloch, Erik Seidel and a few others I don't remember, and then me. All those tv guys and me on the same list, with me at the top since my chip stack was so much larger than theirs. I was fucking loving it. The chip counters were hovering around my table more and more as afternoon turned into evening, and my stack stayed up around the 30k level through the second break and into even the 6th hour, when they finally moved the rest of us back into the main room.

At this point they announced that we were already down to just over 300 players remaining out of 1450-some who had begun the event. I could not believe it, as that sounded awfully fast to me, but we would soon learn that for whatever reason, according to the Tournament Director this was the fastest tournament in WSOP history. So by the time I moved over to the main WSOP poker room in the convention area in the Rio, we were down to 350-some players left just over 6 hours in to the tournament, with 126 slated to make the cash. I had already outlasted about 75% of the field in just my second-ever WSOP tournament, and I had a big stack and was determined to make it further and maybe do some great things with this event. Maybe an hour earlier the Gnome had come by to let me know he had busted, so I knew it was going to be up to me to represent for our blogger group in this one and I wanted to do us all proud. Unfortunately, the move to the Rio table was not a good one for me, as the new table was highly aggressive, raising and reraising much more often as a group than anything I had seen so far in the tournament. I had to lay down several hands that I would have preferred to see a flop with, hands like AJ and 66, to reraises at this aggressive table, and the result was my stack dwindled somewhat to the point that I was no longer even the biggest stack at my table as we neared 7pm Vegas time, the longest I had ever survived in a live casino tournament.

To adjust to this new table, I had to start making some new moves that I had not been doing previously in this event, and moves which generally speaking I had been hoping to avoid having to make in the tournament overall because of their high risk level. The first thing I noticed was a whole lot of under the gun raising. Now, generally speaking a raise UTG usually means a strong hand, and because of the large number of people you have to get through when you act UTG, it's highly inadvisable to steal from that spot at the table. That said, 6-max is already a highly aggressive game, and by 7pm PT, after 7 rounds in the tournament, the blinds and antes were getting up there, and every pot was worth stealing before the flop. The thing is, stealing from the button or even the cutoff at this table was not working, for any of us. It was just so aggro, totally unlike my previous three tables in the tournament, that the odds of a stealy-looking raise managing to take down the pot before the flop were exceedingly small here. As a result, I quickly identified 2 players around the table, both on largeish stacks, who appeared to be raising the pot every single time they were UTG. I don't know how long this went on for before I showed up, but I quickly discovered the pattern, so eventually I started reraising from late position with nothing but air against these players, and to my dismay they folded to my reraises almost every single time. This was basically the only way I survived at all for the next hour or so, along with a few early position steals myself which I also try to avoid for the most part in 6-max or any type of holdem. But at this table it was my only choice, so I had to adjust and go with it, and it worked out ok enough to keep me with enough chips to have a stack to be afraid of, if not the biggest stack around anymore due to the highly aggro nature of my latest table.

Dinner break was at 7:30pm, and shortly before that break I lost my only big pot of the tournament, where I made a horrible donkey call on a horrible read with a shitey hand, one which I still wish I could have back. Basically, there was an aggressive player across the table from me who had pushed on a couple of occasions when I was pretty sure he was weak, and eventually I got into a pot with him when he called my preflop raise when I was holding pocket 7s, just about the only "good" starting hand I found in my first hour at this table. The flop came down J52 rainbow, and as a result I figured I likely was best here. I checked, and the aggressive opponent bet out about 2/3 the pot on that flop, which I called. Then, when the turn brought a second 2, also a second suited card, I decided to lead out this time with what I still figured to be the best hand. My opponent this time thought for a bit and then shoved for a total of another 8000 chips or so, representing about a quarter of my existing stack. Obviously my pair of 7s was not a strong hand, but I could not put the guy on a 2, and frankly it was very tough to put him on specifically a Jack as well. I mean, he had called a preflop raise from me, but unless he had A2s or I suppose 22 I did not see what other kind of a hand he could call with that contained a 2 in it. And similarly, only AJ, or maybe KJs, QJs or JTs should be calling my preflop raise as well with a Jack, so it just felt to me much more likely that this player, whom I had seen betting with what I was sure was nothing earlier on a few occasions, probably had nothing again here.

This was just another case where I think I let the mathematical improbability of the flop having hit this guy's hand overcome the actual evidence I was seeing from my opponent that his hand was in fact strong. Anyways, in the end I agonized over it, and made a truly terrible, horrendous call for over a quarter of my stack, losing over a third of my chips overall in the hand when my opponent flipped up pocket Kings. He played it well only smooth-calling my raise preflop, and I fell for it hook, line and sinker even when he suddenly pushed allin on me on the flop, even with the Jack overcard to my pocket 7s out there on the board. Bad, bad call by me, and that one pot took my chip stack from over 38,000 chips all the way down closer to 26k by the time all was said and done. Not exactly a crushing blow, but a very bad play and a hand that I immediately wished I could have back. Even as I sit here now, I can't believe I would make a call like that when I had such a nice-sized stack heading into the stretch run to the cash in the World Series of Poker, but at the time it is just so effing hard to control yourself sometimes, when you think you have a read on a guy, and you know that if you're right your stack will swell once again and you may be putting yourself in position to make a big run at the top spots in the event. That is exactly the kind of call that you simply cannot make in tournaments (unless you're right, of course), and I chalk it up to still some inexperience in big-money, big-name events like the World Series, but there was nothing I could do about it at that point other than just move on and not lose my cool.

At the dinner break, my back was fucking killing me after a day of sitting in these shitty Rio poker chairs, and I was mentally fatigued as well, moreso than I had ever been before by a poker tournament given how well I was running and the magnitude of the event itself. So, while everyone else was hitting up the Poker Kitchen, or having dinner in one of the Rio's many fine dining establishments, I am not ashamed to admit that I jumped in a cab at the beginning of the 90-minute break, took it right back to the Monte Carlo, got a Subway sandwich in the Monte Carlo food court and headed right up to my room. I ate my sub quickly, and spent the better part of an hour just vegetating on my bed, trying to get the kink out of my lower back and just relaxing and recomposing myself for an after-dinner run to the cash and hopefully beyond. As of the dinner break btw, there were exactly 173 players remaining, with 126 slated to get cash payouts, and the average stack size was $23,300 something, with my stack standing at $24,950. So I estimated I was around 100th out of 173, maybe a few spots higher but not much, so I knew I was going to have to win some pots still in the evening session in order to make it to the cash for the first time in my short WSOP-playing career.

The dinner break and relaxing in my room at the Monte Carlo did a little for my back and my mental fatigue, and I returned to the Rio a few minutes before the 9pm resumption time feeling a little refreshed and more ready to make a nighttime run than I had been just an hour and a half earlier. On the second hand of my return, I picked up my only pocket Aces of the entire tournament, which I unfortunately won preflop as it was folded around to me in the small blind, I put in a standard raise and saw the big blind fold. Otherwise the next hour or so was uneventful, with my stack probably dropping just a bit as I once again was forced to lay down to some big reraises of my preflop raises, one time where I had open-raised with ATo, another with KJo from middle position, and a few other hands like that. Just about the best news of the after-dinner hour was how quickly the field seemed to be dropping from 173 players left down to 168, 163, 156, and so on. It really was proving to be the fastest WSOP tournament on record, which I believed based on how amazingly quickly the field had thinned from over 1400 at noon to just around 150 by 9:15pm. I was somewhat relieved in fact when right around 9:30, my table was broken up with just over 140 players remaining, and I was moved to a brand new table, one which I hoped would not be nearly as aggressive as the one I was leaving, which had been the first "bad" table I had played at on the day as far as me being able to play my game and make the moves I am used to making in 6-max tournaments like this.

Boy was I wrong. I quickly learned that my new table was just as bad if not worse than the previous one, which frankly I bet was the case at just about every remaining table given that these were only the guys still left alive after 1300-some eliminations in very quick fashion on the shorthanded tables. In particular there was one Asian guy who I recognized from somewhere, though I couldn't quite put my finger on exactly where, who had by far the biggest stack I had yet seen in the tournament, including even in any table I had walked by or anything I could see from walking around the cordoned area where Event #12 was being played out. I quickly learned that this was none other than well-known poker pro J.C. Tran, and I have to say that he had his chips stacked in a huge triangle in front of him, and was already working on a second level of chips on top of the first level triangle. The thing is, the guy literally had more chips already up on the second level of his stack than anyone else at our table even had in their entire stack. I don't know what Tran did to get all those chips, but he had a fucking mountain in front of him when I showed up -- I think he had over 150,000 chips at that point -- and my then 24k chip stack, still about 80% of average, paled in comparison not only to his own but to many of the other stacks around the table.

Anyways, the guys at this new table were also very aggressive, at least as much as the previous table, and I started off maybe 10 hands in by folding top pair decent kicker on the turn to a guy who raised me allin and then quickly showed me QTs, having no connection whatsoever to the board to take about 9000 chips from my stack. That was a real bummer, but it's definitely the case that you need to be willing to lay down the best hand once in a while if you expect to win tournaments over the long run, and in particular you need to be able to lay down when all you have is J9 on a Jack-high flop. I struggled not to tilt from that hand, and in the end I was able to succeed, mostly because during those first 10 hands at the new table, the number of players remaining had dwindled from around 140 to the mid 130s, and eventually to 129, then 128, and within a few minutes -- it was at 9:35pm or so as I recall -- we reached the bubble spot of 127 players remaining, with 126 receiving the cash payouts. Starting at 131 remaining, the Tournament Director had mandated that we move to hand-for-hand play, so things were moving slow but those first 4 spots of hand-for-hand had gone very quickly nonetheless. When we reached the bubble at 9:35pm, I had around 18k in chips, with a tournament average of around 32k, so I was well below average but also still well above a level where I should even have to consider not making the money.

Here was the problem. Taking this guy's DADI schooling of the blonkeys to a whole new level, once we hit the bubble at 127 players remaining, J.C. Tran put on a fucking clinic in how to abuse people at the bubble. His stack was so much larger than anyone else's at the table, giving him so much leverage as far as using the threat of bubble elimination in the WSOP to force other players to lay down to his monster stack, that Tran just raised in the dark every single hand. Every. Single. Hand. As I said he did it without even looking in many cases, and it didn't matter when he did look if he saw AK, A2, or 42. He was raising it up the same amount -- with 1200 blinds, up to 3500 chips as I recall -- every single hand, knowing that basically only a fool would play back at him unless they had Aces, or maybe Kings. It just didn't make sense to take a hand like A9o and call or reraise Tran's raise, at least not for me and my puny 18k chip stack. He could reraise and put me allin, or I could raise him allin, and he could call with his monstrosity of a stack without even batting an eyelash if he had any hand like 87s, J9o, you name it, and then suddenly I'm putting my own ability to cash in the WSOP on the line on what amounts to no more than a 60-40 favorite in many cases. It was a hideous situation to be in, and the end result was that I folded literally every single hand I saw on the bubble, with no exceptions. It didn't help of course that the best hand I saw the entire time we were on the bubble was K4o, but frankly as I said I think I can make a good argument for folding even KK there to substantial preflop action, and many guys around the table and around the room were even saying they would fold Aces in this spot until the money bubble burst.

So Tran was raising with his monster stack, and the rest of us were folding to him every single hand on the bubble. That was problem #1. Problem #2 was how long it took to bust that 126th player from the tournament, and stop guys like Tran from abusing everyone at his table for free chips hand in and hand out. First of all, hand-for-hand play at bubble time in a large live event is nothing at all like it is in an online tournament. On full tilt, HFH play might take what? 2 minutes? 3? 5 minutes on the outside? Well, in live play, each hand probably lasted for over 10 minutes, if you accounted for waiting for every table to finish every hand, and then for the TD to ascertain that every table had played out the current hand and that there were no eliminations. So playing only 6 or 8 hands an hour didn't help the timing of the bubble, and nor did hands like the one I saw at the table immediately to the right of the one I was sitting on.

The shortest stack in the tournament at the time was a player in seat 10 at the table to my right, who at the time I first noticed him was sitting on 600 chips, with antes of 100 and blinds of 600-1200. The button had just passed him, and basically he was 4 hands away from being blinded allin, and the entire room was acutely aware of this fact and thus nobody was willing to push anything with that guy so close to being blinded out of the tournament. After 3 hands and probably half an hour of wait time -- already now more than a full hour since we had first reached the bubble after the quickest tournament in WSOP history before that -- the guy was finally blinded allin, and I have to admit I was absolutely amazed to see the first three players at the table all lay down their hands instead of just implicitly agreeing to call and then check-down 6-handed against the guy who was blinded allin, just to all but ensure his elimination from the tournament and the end of the bubble period. Erik Seidel was third to act at that table, and when even he laid his hand down, I thought he was a pathetic fucking punk that I still can't believe he would do that. I'm sure that cashing in another WSOP event doesn't mean shit to him, but everybody including him wants to make the money in these things, and I just still cannot believe that the table allowed it to be such that only the final two players before the big blind had a chance to bust this blinded-in tournament shorty. I still can't believe it happened in fact. Anyways, mercifully the button checked as did the small blind, and those two players ended up checking down the hand all the way through the river to try to eliminate the big blind and burst everyone's bubble in one big blaze of glory.

Now here was the amazing thing. It turned out that the button was holding pocket Kings, and the small blind was holding pocket Aces. Wow. Unfortunately, the final board was K94TQ with four diamonds. When the fourth diamond fell on the river, I was beside myself as were about 125 of my new closest friends around that corner of the giant Rio poker room, knowing that now any high diamond that just happened to have been dealt to that allin shorty could win him the whole pot and a more than triple-up in the process. Well, thankfully the big blind did not hold a diamond. Unfortunately, however, he did have J6o, and when the room (we were basically all crowded around this table once we knew that he was blinded in) saw the Kings and the Aces flipped up by the button and the small blind, there was a huge collective gasp. However, quickly we all noticed that no one out of the button, small blind or big blind held even one diamond in their hand, which meant after all was said and done that the small blind had in fact managed to more than triple-up with the rivered inside straight thanks to his Jack. So, in other words, three guys all of whom held diamonds had folded before the flop rather than just call and then check it down to ensure his elimination, and meanwhile the shorty with J6o had gone up against KK and AA, and had come away victorious. He screamed for joy, while the rest of the room groaned in agony as the bubble would now continue beyond the already over an hour that it had persisted so far.

The big problem with all this was that I was anteing off my stack at 100 per hand, plus 1800 and then 2400 per orbit in small and big blinds as well, while JC Tran just continued to autoraise with any two cards and the rest of our table was more or less forced to fold with all but the most premium of premium starting hands. It was beyond terrible. Long story short, eventually about another hour later there was suddenly a shout and a bunch of loud clapping from a table at the other end of the poker area for our tournament, and a shortstacked player had finally been eliminated in an allin with top pair against a flopped set. I had made the cash in the World Series of Poker!!

From there the action went pretty fast and furious as you can imagine. I was determined not to just donk off on the first hand after the cash was reached, but at the same time you have to understand that my stack, which had been up at 18k when we got to 127 players remaining nearly three hours earlier, was depleted to just over 8k by the time the bubble had actually burst. You can certainly read about this on various other poker sites out there, but the TD confirmed that after Event #12 had started off as the fastest tournament in WSOP history, it ended up with the longest bubble in the history of the Series, lasting nearly three hours with exactly 127 players left before we finally got #127 out to leave the rest of us with the money payout positions in the event. Among the cashers I saw around me were myself, JC Tran as the prohibitive chip leader, Erik Seidel as well as famous NHL player Jeremy Roenick over in another corner. But anyways, with only 8k in chips and at that point probably only 1/30th of JC Tran's stack, it was hard to do much with the very little I had to work with.

Nonetheless, I managed to survive a little while longer as the shortest stack at my table, as I folded hand after hand of garbage when I knew I needed a hand that could win in a showdown as opposed to a hand that was good enough to raise with preflop in the hopes of getting everyone else to fold without having to show anything down. Knowing how short I was left me with very little option to do otherwise, as I knew any push would be called by someone in at least one or two places, so even when I found 44 in middle position I ended up folding to JC Tran's preflop raise from early position since I knew I would be at best a 51% favorite in that spot, and possibly a significant underdog if Tran actually had picked up a pair in that spot. Eventually about maybe 30 minutes after the bubble burst, the action was folded around to me in the small blind, where I looked down to find 76o and I had to move my last 5k or so in chips into the middle, knowing my opponent in the big blind would basically have to call with any two cards in that spot. Which he did, showing me KTo to my 76o and actually not leaving me in too bad a spot, all things considered. Nonetheless, the board brought me no love, ending by pairing my opponent's Ten on the river, and IGH in 107th place out of 1400-some players.

My 107th place cash was good for a payout of $2435, representing a "profit" of $935 for my efforts. But two things -- #1, in my mind the "profit" I made from this tournament was not $935, but rather $2435, as once I paid in that buyin to a World Series of Poker event, that money was gone gone gone and not something which I could reasonably expect to ever get back again. And #2, as I've written about here on several occasions, to me playing poker is not about the money. I mean, it's not like I don't have any use for the $430,000 first prize from this shorthanded WSOP event. I need money and love money as much as the next guy for sure. But at the same time, I'm doing ok for money, and I am certainly not playing poker for the purpose of making money. I play for the sake of playing, for the fun of it and for the pleasure I derive from playing well and occasionally running deep in a bigtime poker tournament just like the WSOP. So for me, this accomplishment has very little to do with the actual amount of money I won, and much more to do with the fact of cashing in the World Series of Poker in the first place. I still can't really believe it when I think about it, that I actually cashed in the actual World Series of Poker. No matter how many times I repeat it, it still sounds fucking incredible to me. Obviously to my longtime readers, winning my way in to and eventually scoring big in the WSOP has long been one of my #1 most sought-after stated goals. Well now I have reached it. I suppose all that remains it to push it one step further next time I have the opportunity to play on poker's grandest scale, which maybe will be next summer, and maybe not. Who knows what the future may bring, but for now all I know is that I made the cashish and finished in the top 7 or 8% of players in the most prestigious shorthanded no-limit holdem tournament in the world, at the World Series of Poker, outlasting a number of big-name pros and sitting at the same table and holding my own with some others as well as a bunch of other truly great, aggressive, hard-to-deal-with players. I can't wait for my next opportunity to take another run at winning a bracelet, although I know for now that this memory will stick with me for a good long time.

Tomorrow I will write about the rest of my weekend in Las Vegas with the bloggers, which has to rank up there as one of the most fun weekends I have had in a loooooong time. For now I will end this and get the post up so I can put this tournament summary into the books, so to speak. And I'll see you tonight for Mondays at the Hoy!!

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Blogger Chad C said...

I would of made that call early on as well. You would have had to of doubled up twice just to get back to the original starting stack size. but after playing with me for a night or two I think you learned that I will call and raise almost anything hahaha!! So I am a donk with little credibility in that arena. And yes, you might have been the lightest person in my car, that's not saying much though is it :)

6:28 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Heh heh Chad Did you really get a flat tire from that ride?

7:48 AM  
Blogger surflexus said...

Hoy, Thanks for the great recap of an incredible tournament experience!!! Congrats again!!!

8:10 AM  
Blogger Alan aka RecessRampage said...

Hoy, as usual, great recap of the tournament and once again congratulations on a monumental achievement.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Island Bum said...

Great post and I can only imagine the high you feel from cashing in the wsop. again congrats.

10:03 AM  
Blogger MHG said...

Great recap, Hoy! That bubble was brutal.

Thanks for coming up and introducing yourself on Friday night at the MGM, I had no clue who anyone was. Was great to meet you. Hopefully next time we can get some card-playing in as well.

11:59 AM  
Blogger smokkee said...

well done Hoy. cya again next year.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Golden said...

I can see the learning and maturing going on in your brain as you recount your experience in event #12. The only difference between you and Tran is he is more than likely more experienced under fire, and supremely confident in what he is doing. You sir will be at that level soon if you want to get there.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Eric a.k.a. Bone Daddy said...

Congrats again, it was great to rail you through the bubble. Thanks for the cocktail too.

I missed your "academy award for the weekend", wished I saw that.

Congrats again and it was great to finally meet you.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What - no screen shots?

congrats Hoy!

8:40 PM  
Blogger SirFWALGMan said...

Good job man!

8:43 PM  
Blogger I Like Cake said...

Very nice writeup. Congrats.

9:35 PM  
Blogger lucko said...

Awesome post and awesome job cashing.

I was already drueling over the idea of a big stack on the bubble in the ME, this post just made it worse for me.

I probably would have bubbled against Tran. Again, awesome job!

10:25 PM  
Blogger jamyhawk said...

Great writing. Congrats again.

10:31 PM  
Blogger TripJax said...

Tran pwns, but so does hoy. Well done, sir.

12:36 AM  
Blogger WillWonka said...

I don't mind telling you that I was feeling the excitement through your words.

Congrats and very well done!!

12:52 AM  
Blogger jusdealem said...

Really great post and what an experience!! Awesome job.

1:08 AM  
Blogger Jordan said...

Congratulations on the cash and the great writeup. Top notch, Hoy.

3:45 AM  
Blogger WindBreak247 said...

Amazing tourney report, Hoy. The utmost of congratulations to you on an extremely admirable run.

Based on those first three tables, you definitely deserved a spot in the cash and among the elite 6-max players in the world. You played the big stack masterfully at the weak tables. But it was interesting to see the contrast of you showing up at JC Tran's table and just being another player brow-beaten by a big name pro. Of course you should take no offense to this, because you know as well as anyone that it was an opportunity to see a true world class player at work and take away that much more from the experience.

I *knew* you would cash in this event. You're just too good not to. Congratulations again.

9:33 PM  
Blogger wigginx said...

Congrats on your cash, hoy. Excellent write-up as well. I've been taking a couple months off from poker to deal with some real life stuff, but I'll be reemerging soon and look forward to testing myself against a WSOP casher.

12:10 AM  

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