Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time (Volume II) -- Review

A year ago or more at this point, I remember posting here that I really enjoyed the first volume of "Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time", the first book by internet poker pros Eric "Rizen" Lynch, John "Apestyles" Fan Fleet and Jonathan "PearlJammer" Turner. Like Gus Hansen's "Every Hand Revealed", these books ultimately take the same approach that I have been for years with my own tournament recap posts, focusing on several hands over a long period of time in the same tournament, using those true-life summaries to help show how these guys won a few of their biggest tournaments. I find this style of teaching very effective personally, and I thought Rizen, Apestyles and PearlJammer used it very well in their first book. There were even several scenarios posed to all three authors, and you could read the differences in how each player would consider and approach the same poker situation. It was really a pretty cool book and I'm sure I wrote here how I was alerady looking forward to Volume 2 coming out, which it was said would focus more on end game as compared to the first book which focused more on early and middle mtt play, accumulating a stack, etc.

Well, Volume 2 finally did come out a month or so ago, and I was among the first to order a copy from Amazon to add to my extensive collection of poker literature. And today I can report here: this book kinda sucked.

Yep, it was bound to happen, and I should have seen it coming. The same exact thing happened with Dan Harrington, eventually, although both of the first two volumes of his seminal books on nlh tournaments (including the second one, also focused on "end game" considerations) were pretty amazing, but eventually even he went to the well one too many times, made the easy money grab, and his Volume 3 ("the Workbook") is about as useless of a poker text as you will ever find, replete with poor examples, poor analysis, and just generally nothing new compared to what he'd already said once if not twice before.

To be clear, Volume 2 of "Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time" isnt even close to bad like Harrington's third volume, but there is just not a whole lot of great tidbits in there like I recall the first book being chock full of. The one very interesting focus I take from reading this book is how much each of the three successful online poker playing authors seem to focus on stack sizes when getting down to the endgame. This is definitely not something I focus enough on in my own game, and I think just the fact that each author appears to be sizing up the stack sizes of his opponents as well as himself before each and every decision they are making when a big-field mtt really gets down to the nitty gritty is something that itself I can incorporate better into my own game. I mean, each one of the authors probably makes stack sizes their primary focus throughout this book, even moreso than position, even more than the absolute strength of their own cards in most cases. That was the one aspect that I will definitely take from this book that will make me a better poker tournament player going forward.

But that's basically it. Otherwise, it is clear to a guy who has done as many tournament recaps as I have that these three authors took only a short period of time in which they recorded all of their hands (like I do most nights) in a tournament in which to find one that they actually won. I say this because, in the end, in each author's section of the book (each author writes one section of about a third of the book which details one particular mtt run from the point where the ITM positions are reached right up until the author wins the tournament) is basically full of hands that are not necessarily representative of good poker logic and skill, are full of what each author in retrospect admits were probably sub-optimal plays made by the hero, and ultimately each one of the three mtt runs described in the book are chock full of stoopid suckouts and unbelievably lucky draws that would have eliminated the author but instead held on to eventually lead to victory.

Unlike Harrington, who basically made up each of his poker scenarios in his books in an attempt to create a specific set of circumstances that perfectly illustrate the point he was trying to make, these authors were restricted by reality in that they wanted (like I do) to use real-life examples hand from real-life tournaments that actually happened to them, and as I mentioned above, coming up with sufficient real-life hand examples to illustrate the many moves necessary to win a large-field online mtt takes many many many trials and many many months of research and of recording every hand you play, and these authors just did not spend enough time amassing great hands from real-life mtts where they ended up winning. Instead, it is easy to see from reading this book that they picked a nice tournament win that occurred for them over, maybe, a 1-month period, and then went back and reviewed every hand that happened to them from ITM to the end. Even it it meant that they showed themselves making a dumb tournament play, semi-justifying it in the analysis in the book but then showing themselves luckdonking their way to victory. In Apestyles' mtt that he depicts in the book, for example, he limps into the ITM positions with barely a stack at all, among the bottom couple of players left in that tournament, and proceeds to make a highly dubious play with an only semi-strong hand, and luckflonks his way into a huge suckout triple-up on the first hand after reaching the money positions to the give him the chips to move on.

Although I imagine that the authors think that their semi-justifications of these plays in the analysis in Volume 2 makes it ok to show them, the bottom line is that, for a guy like me, seeing these authors make what I know to be poor poker decisions and then suck out big time really does cheapen the overall significance of the advice they provide in the books. Sure, everybody makes mistakes from time to time in their poker play, but writing a book that features those mistakes but then attempts to justify them because in reality these authors had no other tournament runs to choose from, is going to take away from the overall value the book brings to readers who are looking to learn how one wins an online large-field mtt. Honestly, other than the interesting focus paid to stack sizes as I mentioned above, I do not see where Volume 2 of this series is going to help that guy who hasn't really quite figured out how to win yet.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March Madness

Happy Passover to all the tribe members out there. I had another great seder on Monday, including some of the most delicious and tender steaks I have ever made. Of course, the 6 inches of rain that fell in my area over the preceding day and a half put a little bit of a damper on my plans to fire up the Weber again this early in the season, but with the help of three good-sized pans and a nice stovetop, it all worked out great in the end.

The family spent a good deal of time sitting around talking about this year's NCAA tournament, which has really been an amazing one. In the end it comes down to a 5 seed playing a 5 seed on one side of the Final Four (Butler vs. Michigan State), and a 1 seed vs. a 2 seed in Duke vs. West Virginia on the other side. I don't remember the last time we had two seeds as low as 5 both battling it out on one side of the Final Four bracket, and frankly it's pretty damn rare that even a mid-major conference team like Butler makes any appearance in the Final Four these days. The thing that is so interesting about this year's tournament is not to me so much the teams that made it, but the teams that didn't. To think that in this of all years, Kentucky did not make the Final Four, Kansas did not make the Final Four, and Syracuse did not make the Final Four, that is truly amazing. That right there is like a third of all the first-round NBA draftable players in all of college basketball on those three teams, and not one of them could win four games in a row in the Big Dance. In a year where otherwise, the talent just seems to be spread much more thinly than in previous years.

Which brings me to the first point I was keying on with my family this weekend. This year, moreso than maybe any other year I can remember, the Final Four is truly not about the players. It's about the coaches. It could have been totally about the players, if John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson from Kentucky were matching up with Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and Scoop Jardine of Syracuse, or Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris of Kansas. But instead, it's Butler, it's Michigan State, it's Duke, and it's West Virginia.

On the Duke and West Virginia side of the bracket, you're looking at coaching legend Coach K in his incredible 11th Final Four appearance in his 25-year career at Duke, going against Bob Huggins, the former Cincinnati coach who has led his alma mater back to the Final Four for the first time in some 60 years. Huggins has always been known as a guy who gets the absolute most out of his players, and now with bona fide star Da'Sean Butler leading the way, Huggins once again has one of the hardest-working teams in the country, with three players averaging around 7 rebounds and 3 more players averaging around 3 assists per game. Huggins went an amazing 379-113 in 16 years at Cincinnati, 46-24 in two years at Kansas State, and has now put up an 80-27 record in his first three years at West Virginia, for a combined head coaching record of 670 wins to just 240 losses, all of which were not at the top programs in the country with the ability to hand pick every recruit in the country like the Coach K's and the John Calipari's of the world. Huggins is the reason this team is where it's at right now, and the matchup with Coach K -- who himself is probably coaching the least talented of all his Final Four squads over the years -- should be an intersting one.

On the other side, first there is Butler head coach Brad Stevens. Although Stevens is in just his third year as an NCAA head coach, what an illustrious beginning that career has had so far. In his first year as Butler head coach, Stevens led Butler to a school and Horizon league record 30 wins, becoming the third-youngest head coach in NCAA Division I history to lead a team to 30 wins in a season, and the fourth winningest first year coach in NCAA history. Still as a rookie coach, his team won the Horizon League regular season and tournament championships, and went on to win one game in the NCAA tournament. During the year Butler was nationally ranked for a school and league record 19 consecutive weeks. Despite losing four seniors after the 2007–08 season, Stevens once again surprised the world by winning the regular season Horizon championship and taking Butler to the NCAA tournament as an at large selection. Stevens' 56-10 first-two-years NCAA record places him second only to Bill Guthridge (58) in total wins during one's first two years as head coach in the history of the league. Also during the 2008–09 season, Stevens became the sixth head coach in NCAA history to reach 50 wins in 56 games or fewer, earning Stevens the Hugh Durham Mid-Major Coach of the Year Award as well as the Horizon League Coach of the Year for his efforts. And now there is this year, which has seen Butler go 30-4 once again under Brad Stevens, including a perfect 18-0 in the Horizon League which they once again dominated, before beating UTEP, Murray State, #1-seeded Syracuse and then #2-seeded Kansas State to earn the Bulldogs the first Final Four appearance in school and Horizon League history. So while this guy's coaching career has definitely been short, it's started off about as good as anyone's out there. Literally.

But even after all that gushing about Butler head coach Brad Stevens, Michigan State's Tom Izzo simply has to lead the pack. 2010 is now Izzo's amazing sixth final four since 1999 -- six Final Fours in just twelve years. And the truly amazing thing about it is, he has done all of that with exactly one NBA lottery pick in that entire run -- Jason Richardson back in the 2001 NBA draft. During that same span, Duke has made four Final Fours, and has done so with 11 NBA lottery picks coming through its halls along the way. UNC has made five Final Fours in that time and had six players drafted in the NBA Lottery. But think about it -- can you even name anyone good who's played for Michigan State basketball in the past 12 years? Me either. And yet somehow, here we are again heading to Indianapolis, heading to another Final Four, and Tom Izzo is once again there. Six Final Fours in 12 years, with basically no talent to speak of. Tom Izzo is the new best coach in NCAA basketball, hands down.

So in my mind, with all the great, most-talented teams having gone down now in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the Final Four is truly about the head coaches and not the players. And the other realization I came to this weekend, unfortunately, is that I don't think a Final Four about the head coaches and not the players makes for very interesting viewing. I mean, if Butler beats MSU and plays for the national championship, that in and of itself will have some excitement to it for me. Butler winning the national title would be in my mind about as big of a championship story as we've ever seen in the NCAAs. But if Butler goes on to lose to the ongoing wizardry of Tom Izzo, I really feel like the tournament was so good this time around, that by now it's kind of burned out and can only fizzle away from here. Once Syracuse lost late last week, and then the moment it become obvious with about 8 minutes to go in the second half that Kentucky simply was not going to come back against West Virginia this past weekend, the last burning embers of 2010 March Madness went out for me. And don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm saying I'm a Cuse fan at all (I am more of a genocide fan than a Syracuse fan believe you me), but rather just that those seemed to me to be the biggest, most captivating teams of this year's tournament. Kansas losing early was ok and I think the true craziness of the tournament could still have been preserved if we had some of these other strongly-talented teams still in the mix. But my guess is that, despite how truly great this year's NCAA Tournament has undeniably been so far, ratings for the Final Four are going to be down and down noticeably from the past few years. I guess only time will tell if I'm right about that one, but here's hoping that the Big Dance finds one or two more crazy miracles in 2010 and turns this coming weekend into one more for the ages.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, March 26, 2010

Las Vegas 2010 Here I Come

My return to the desert for another shot at poker fame and fortune in 2010 is official.

Departing Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Departs JFK (NYC) 7:30pm, Arrives LAS 10:43pm
Delta Air Lines Flight # 1029
New York, NY to Las Vegas, NV

Returning Sunday, June 6, 2010
Departs LAS 7:00am, Arrives JFK (NYC) 2:59pm
Delta Air Lines Flight #198
Las Vegas, NV to New York, NY

The plane tickets are bought. I originally looked for JetBlue of course -- easily the most comfortable, roomiest, generally best experience one can have with an airline -- but the times are just not great for me on either end. JetBlue could not get me out of New York City on a direct flight to Vegas on Tuesday the 1st anytime late in the day, and I am not planning to have to take a fourth day off from work that week just to be able to be in Vegas by early Wednesday morning. And coming back home, again JetBlue had a morning flight but not nearly as early as the one I will be on via Delta. As much fun as these trips have proven to be every year, I know that come Sunday I will really be missing Hammer Wife and my beautiful kids, and since in four annual trips to Vegas since 2006 I have yet to sleep a wink during my last night in the desert, the plan this time around will just be to pull my usual all-nighter on Saturday night, get on a plane very early on Sunday morning, close my eyes, and wake up on the runway at JFK, in plenty of time to be home for dinner and to spread some cheer among the people that really make me happiest in my life.

So, the plan will definitely be to play in WSOP Event #8, $1500 buyin no-limit holdem at noon local time on my first morning in Vegas. I'll get in fairly late at night on Tuesday, but several factors will help ensure that I register in time to actually be admitted to this event this year as opposed to last year's snafu (that ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me poker-wise). First, this year I'm heading out at the very beginning of the WSOP, so there will be less demand in general for the tournaments than there is likely to be near the end as the Main Event approaches and people are feeling the squeeze of their last chance to play for a coveted bracelet in 2010. Second (really this is a corollary of the first point), this year I will be playing during a weekday, and in one of the first of what are known at the Rio as the "donkaments" -- the $1000 and $1500 buyin tournaments, which are the lowest buyin available for any event at the World Series of Poker. Last year, the big problem that caused my planned WSOP event to sell out early was that it was a Saturday, and it was the very last donkament of the 2009 WSOP, so everyone who wanted one final shot at poker immortality came into town after work that Friday for their last great chance. This year, none of that should be an issue and I expect little trouble registering on Tuesday night for the Wednesday event.

Lastly, I am planning to stay at the Rio on my first night this year, just to make things even easier on myself. Last year my brother was already in town at the MGM Skyloft so I headed over there first to drop off my bags and clean up after long plane ride across the country, but this year I'm going to be arriving a day ahead of my brother so for my first night I will plan to get one of the nice Rio suites, which -- despite all the bad things I've heard said about the rooms there -- are actually quite nice if you are willing to upgrade a little bit. So rather than landing at 10pm, heading to the MGM, catching up with some friends, doing some shots, etc., and then eventually finding my way over to the Rio at 3am like last year, this time I'll plan to head straight to the Rio after I land, check in but then head right downstairs to get in to WSOP Event #8 with what I imagine will be little trouble or hassle. Famous last words I know, but that's the plan.

What I do after Wednesday is still very much up in the air. One of the reasons I picked this particular week is that, if I want to, I can play in the $1500 nlh donkament on Friday in WSOP Event #12 as well if I so choose. As it gets a little closer I will figure out if there are other tournament series in town at the time that I might want to play like the Venetian Deep Stack from last year.

For now I'm just excited to have the flights officially purchased, and I'll be calling the Rio later today to reserve a suite for around $80 to take care of my first night's accommodations in Sin City.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Wow. Sorry for the no post yesterday, but I have to admit then while I was watching this week's Lost episode on Tuesday night, my head popped right off of my neck and it took me an entire day to get it back on straight after all that new information. Well, some of the information was more confirmations of things we already more or less "knew" I suppose, but there was a lot of fodder in there as well, and I think the writers might be laying the groundwork for some more mindfvcks in the coming weeks.

For starters, I'll just mention that I thought the actor who plays Richard Alpert did a great job this week, pretty much for the first time all series long. He has come a long way from when he was seen running through the jungle all panicked and wearing those pirate clothes, hasn't he? While I could have done without the overdrama of the early scenes with Richard and Isabella from the 1850s, I thought the actor did a fine job near the end of the episode, in particular in the scene where Huge helped him to communicate with Isabella's ghost. I enjoyed it, and as a guy who has never understood the hub-bub about the guy who plays Sawyer (Josh Holloway), who I think is one of the most trite and boring actors on television today, I have truly enjoyed the acting jobs put in by both Richard and of course Terry O'Quinn this season as Flocke.

OK, putting past that, this was an episode where we learned a lot about the nature of the island, and a little more about the true nature of the Man In Black, whom we get to see in his "real body" (more on that later) for only the second time in the series, and this time for much longer than the first which was just briefly at the very beginning of last season's finale. One of the things that was "confirmed" in this week's episode -- and I use the quotes there because, with this show and all the mystery and the deception and really with how little we all still understand, nothing is every set-in-stone-decided I have determined -- is that, as explained by Jacob to Richard back in 1850, the MIB represents evil, entropy, darkness, chaos, whatever you want to call it, and that the island is like the cork that keeps the darkness bottled up, and ultimately what keeps it from spreading everywhere and destroying everything. This has been hinted at many many times during the arc of Lost so I do not think this was exactly earth-shattering to anyone who saw Jacob say it this week, but at the same time there is a certain satisfaction to having a fact like that "confirmed" by the deity Jacob in a context that makes it seem very believable and true.

Assuming Jacob can be believed -- again I think a dubious assumption given how manipulative and unforthcoming Jacob has been time and again about his true intentions -- he also confirmed another fact that has been widely speculated since that opening scene of last season's finale -- that MIB thinks human nature is essentially bad, and that Jacob repeatedly brings people to the island to prove that MIB is wrong that humans will always make the wrong choices due to our dark nature. Same thing really with Jacob's desire to have people make the right choices due to their own free will rather than Jacob getting involved directly and forcing it, which presumably would prove MIB's point more than his own. This explains why so much of what the characters on the island do comes down to free will, in particular Ben's decision in last season's finale to kill Jacob, with Jacob right up to the moment before Ben plunged the knife into Jacob's chest pleading with Ben that he did not have to do anything he did not want to do, anything he did not choose to do. For whatever reason, the rules (which rules still remain a complete and total mystery to Lost viewers -- What other rules are there? Who made the rules? Why?) forbid Jacob (and probably MIB as well, I would guess) to "force" the people drawn to the island to do bad or good, but rather the point is to allow the humans to show their true nature, with some (limited) influence from the island's all-powerful, all-knowing deities. Anyways, all this was nice to hear as I mentioned but something we had already pretty much put together given what we've seen over the last season or so, so nothing too earth-shattering in my view.

OK so then let's move on to some of the more interesting stuff -- the questions, the strange out-of-place things, and the other ideas I think these might be pointing towards.

For starters, I'm sure most of you Lost viewers out there were as curious as I was when MIB gave Richard the exact same speech about taking the knife and plunging it deep into Jacob's chest to kill him, and not to let him talk, that if he speaks at all it will be too late, Jacob has tremendous powers of persuasion, etc. I mean, it was like the exact same words that Dogen said to Sayid a couple of weeks ago about MIB before sending Sayid to "kill" Flocke. What is the significance of the fact that the exact same instructions were given to both of these people -- almost word for frigging word -- 150 years apart, and about the other guy (first with Richard it was said about how to kill Jacob, then with Dogen it was said about how to kill MIB/Flocke).

Another very strange fact that was specifically shown to the viewers just 30 seconds in to this week's episode was that Jacob was dressed head-to-toe in all black when he went to visit Ilana at the hospital when she was all bandaged up n stuff. I mean, I went and watched it again on yesterday just to verify, and there he is, clad in black boots, black pants, black shirt, black overcoat, even a black scarf and black gloves. I know that Ilana was seemingly in the real world, and in the real world Jacob has been seen wearing things other than white or off-white, but still are we really supposed to just dismiss this as pure randomness? The actor just happened to be clad head to foot in black that day when they shot this scene? Come on. At the least, it means nothing and the writers are throwing in a red herring just to get us thinking. It wouldn't be anywhere near the first time a show used such a device, but I just think this has more significance than that. Every single article of clothing was black, even the accessories, and what's more, the camera shot panned down first from his shoes, up his pants, and then showed the whole body, making sure it was very clear that he was all dressed in black. What are we supposed to make of the only time Jacob has ever been seen dressed in black like this?

The third item that really struck me most about this episode was something that MIB says to Richard just past the 30-minute mark of the episode, for those of you watching on At one point MIB explains to Richard, "You're not the only one who's lost something, Richard. The Devil [talking about Jacob] betrayed me. He took my body, my humanity."

"He took my body"? Whaaaa? To me that was the strangest, least explainable and at the same time most interesting line of the entire episode, and something that I had to go back and confirm even was really said as I started to form my new Lost Theory of the Week here heading into the home stretch of the series. But he said it. MIB claimed to Richard that Jacob "stole his body" and betrayed him.

So here's what I'm looking at here. We've got instructions given on how to kill the MIB by Dogen to Sayid just a couple of weeks back, and those same instructions were given by MIB to Richard 150 years ago on how to kill Jacob. We've got Jacob showing up at Ilana's hospital room clad entirely in black from head to toe. And we've got MIB claiming that Jacob "stole his body" at some point in the past as well. I do not have all aspects of this theory crystallized at all in my mind right now, but something smells fishy about this whole setup to me after this week's episode. I am afraid that there is at least some chance that MIB at some point in the past was Jacob, or at least one or both of them occupied the other's body at some point in the past. I am maybe 10% concerned that it wasn't even Jacob who went to visit Ilana in the hospital to begin with, but rather was the MIB taking Jacob's form in some way or another. Perhaps this was related to MIB's claim that Jacob stole his body, I don't know, but it's entirely possible that maybe it was MIB who told Ilana to come to the island -- remember, it was Ilana who went and found Sayid and brought him against his will back to the island, the same Sayid who willfully killed Dogen and Weird Al Yankovic and who opened the Temple doors to allow MIB to enter and kill all the remaining Jacobians on the island, the same Sayid who is now set up to become the next MIB, and who "has the darkness growing in him". There could definitely be something there. Those three items I mentioned above I think combine together to suggest that there may still be much more than meets the eye to who these two deities are, and the evidence is growing that they were at least at some point in the past occupying different bodies -- even each other's bodies -- perhaps to the deception of others involved in the coming war on the island. And everything we've been led to believe about Ilana fighting for the "good" side this season could be turned right on its head -- either with or without her knowledge -- as more facts are uncovered in the coming weeks. But I say there was too much put out there for us to glom on to for this to just be dismissed without any further mention of the "body stealing" or the possibility that at some point, the MIB looked like Jacob, was Jacob, or something like that.

Also, one other question about something I watched again last night that I just simply do not get. Why can Jacob not bring Richard's wife back to life, at least on the island? They got real-life ghosts there, Hurley has seen several dead people appear on the island (that I do not think were supposed to be MIB, like many of the apparitions of dead people that we have seen), and we've seen a number of strange people appear magically on the island who were not dead at the time (Locke's father, for example, who Sawyer killed on the island). So why did Jacob say no to Richard's request to bring his wife back to life? Similarly, why can Jacob not absolve Richard of his sins? What would that even entail that would be so difficult? But then why is it that Jacob can grant Richard eternal life? Just what kind of a genie is this Jacob?

What an episode. Here's hoping for more of the same over the final two months of this millennium's best television series.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Songs I Love Hearing on XM

Without waxing poetic about how awesome Sirius XM satellite radio is all over again, some of the programming on my favorite XM music stations is really amazing, far better than anything I've ever heard on crappy, embarrassing terrestrial radio. I've mentioned this before here, but maybe my favorite station is XM47 -- Hair Nation. Hair Nation is like the perfect match with my musical tastes and with the time in my life when I was first getting into music in a big way, and as I mentioned the stuff they play on this station is far and away the best collection of music I have ever heard. And when you listen every day like I do during my drive to and/or from the city to the 'burbs, you get to hear a number of awesome little nuggets that you had either completely forgotten about, or thought you would never, ever possibly hear again. Or both! And here is a list of just that, the songs I have heard over the past few weeks or so on Hair Nation that I never thought I'd hear again, but which are really awesome for those of you who will recognize them:

"Everybody Loves Eileen" by Steelheart. This song is an awesome follow-up to "Never Let You Go", which I loved, and yet I have most definitely not thought about this song since sometime in the late 1980s. What a treat, I actually heard this one twice during my daily commute over the span of about two weeks:

"Forever" by Kiss. Now this song was really right up at the end of when it was cool for heavy metal bands to make ballads. It was after the makeup had come off, and frankly this is one I assume that Paul Stanley et al would just as soon forget. Still, it was cool to remember this one -- also from the late 80's -- and smile while thinking about that video of the band in the dressing room, camera moving from guy to guy in conjunction with scenes of Paul Stanley longingly singing to the camera:

What ever happened to music videos anyways? Wasn't there once a whole channel just devoted to showing them?

"Way Cool Junior" by Ratt. Here is one I heard the other day and I have to admit, I had completely forgotten about until I turned the radio on just as this song was beginning. Of course nobody ever forgets "Round and Round", but "Way Cool Junior" is another later-in-the-80s hit from this quintessential 80's-looking band:

"Long Way to Love" by Britney Fox. Here is one that only a true Hair Nation fan could love. I remember when this video first hit MTV, I was completely enthralled by the lead singer's voice and really could not believe it was real at first. I also remember the follow-up video to this one, called "Girl School", with one of the time one of the hottest chicks I'd ever seen, complete with the catholic school skirt, the white knee-highs, and body dimensions far out of whack for anyone I ever went to high school with:

And here is Girl School, for the pervs out there:

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 22, 2010

Foxwoods Poker Classic Event #13 Recap

As I mentioned previously, I played in the $1500 buyin no-limit holdem Event #13 of the Foxwoods Poker Classic this past Saturday at Foxwoods, the largest poker room on the East Coast. I will begin by pointing out that everything I've heard about the Foxwoods poker room is pretty much true -- it is an awesome establishment, and laughably blows away anything available poker-wise in Atlantic City, other than the Borgata of course. The rooms are probably comparable in size between Foxwoods and Borgata (Foxwoods a bit bigger in my estimation), and I would actually compare them favorably in terms of "class" as well, in that the Borg and the Foxwoods poker room are both generally clean, kept up well, lots of nice, modern televisions around, and generally easy to get around in. And both have lots and lots of poker action going, at all times. It's amazing, really, to drive around the corner in BFE on Route 2A in Connecticut and suddenly arrive at this place where so many regulars are just grinding it out at the poker tables, every single day. Crazy.

Anyways, things started off well for me in my event, which I came prepared to play very patient in due to the 1-hour blind levels that would present at least a few hours of time to wait for the good cards or good situations. Then about half an hour in I flopped a set of 6s after calling a preflop raise from early position from the guy to my immediate right, who I had immediately pegged as another typical old-man rock who wasn't going in from EP without a strong hand. Best of all was that the flop also came out Ace-high, which I figured to be my opponent's most likely holding. When he led out for about 2/3 the size of the pot, I did a new move I've been using more recently, the instacall. Like, I didn't have to think about it at all, I just wanted to immediately slide out the call like I knew I was doing it all along. I've been doing this more when I flop big hands like sets or flushes because I find that it is often interpreted as the least likely move you would make if you actually had hit the flop hard, and in that way I find it tends to make opponents more comfortable to keep betting at me (or calling big) later in the hand, in particular if I extend the ruse after the turn card hits the board. So in this case, he fired out about 2/3 the pot on the Ace-high flop, and I instacalled. The instacall just seems drawy, or low-kickery, doesn't it?

So when the turn ragged off, my opponent thought for a moment and then bet out about 2/3 the pot again. This time I hollywooded for several seconds, again continuing with the story from my flop call that maybe I had a low Ace, some kind of a draw, a pair of Queens or something, etc., before once again just making the call. Then on the river (which paired the board and made me a boat), my opponent checked it to me for the first time in the hand -- all but ensuring in my mind that he held AK or AQ for top pair strong kicker, since this is what every tightey whitey does when they have AK for top pair and get called twice on the flop and the turn -- and I took a few seconds before sliding out a bet of around 60% of the pot. Bet it too small and I fail to extract as much as I can from this tight player's stack early in the tournament, but push allin for another 75 big blinds and I risk having the tight guy fold as he should since he is already concerned after getting called twice after the flop. So 60% felt about right, the guy agonized over it for a while before grudgingly making the call, and I was up to around 19k from the 15k starting stacks about a half an hour in. He never showed his cards, but he didn't have to.

Not too long later, still during the first blind round at 25-50, an active player -- a young internet-looking guy with the messed up hair and the giant earphones, etc. -- open-raised from the button, and I opted to make the call from the big blind with T8s. The flop came down 998, and I decided to see what I could find out about this guy while the bets were still small early here by donk-betting him 275 chips into the 350-chip pot with my flopped two-pairs. He calls after a few seconds. Then the turn brings another 8, making the board 9988. This time I checked, not fearing the higher boat at all but figuring I might get an aggressive guy like him to bluff out, or maybe he actually had a higher pocket pair and might not even be bluffing. He disappointed me by checking behind. With 900 chips in the pot, the river brought a Ten, giving me better than the low boat, and with that confidence I bet 780 on the river, trying to give the impression of stealing by betting most of the amount in the pot, and after a good long while (this guy would become famous throughout the day for his ridiculously long pauses before acting, on the river especially) he called and I showed my boat. Again, I never saw his cards, but I figure he had some kind of a pocket pair. And I was up to around 22k in chips, up 50% from the starting stacks, easily good for being the chip leader at my table in the earlygoing.

Unfortunately, this would be more or less my high for the entire tournament. So I won the one nice hand with pocket 6s, and my second with T8s, and ultimately that was a very good harbinger for the kind of cards I would be seeing in this event. Just like those first two hands, every significant hand I won the rest of the way through my time in the tournament was either a stone bluff based on a read, a c-bet of a missed flop, or me getting lucky and hitting a turn after calling preflop with some shitty hand. What's more, I was forced over the next few hours to sit and watch every goddam luckbox at my table get dealt pocket Aces and pocket Kings (the worst luckboxes got both of course), while I just folded an endless steam of J4o and 85o (those two hands in particular stand out because it seemed like I was dealt one of them in some form with alarming regularity on the day), so that made things especially frustrating. The aggro donk to to my right eventually bluffed his way down to just 4000 chips from the 15k starting stack about two hours in before folding to a river raise (after about a 10-minute pause to think), and then managed to get about 2000 of those chips in before again folding to a river bet (I'm still trying to figure that one out), but never fear, while sitting around for 3 orbits with 1600 chips, he managed to triple up with pocket Aces, and then double again with a flopped set within minutes of each other to get right back into it, while I again folded 96o and 64o all day long.

One time about three hours in to the tournament I found AK, opened with it from late position, got a caller from the blinds, flopped a King, bet out 2/3 the pot and he folded, remarking out loud that I probably had AK. Brilliant read. The only other playable starting hand I found over the entire time I played was TT, which I raised with preflop from middle position and got two callers, one from the big blind and one from a preflop limper from early position. The flop came down 764 with two hearts, the big blind and the EP limper checked so I led out for about 2/3 the pot, at which point the big blind called, and then the EP limper raised about 4x the size of the pot. I looked at the coordinated board, looked at my pocket Tens, and then back to all the action on the flop in this hand, and decided that I had seen enough of this hand already on the thinking that one of these guys probably has a draw but at least one of them can probably already beat my Tens. I folded, the other two got allin, and it turns out I was up against 55 (third pair plus oesd) and QJ of hearts for the naked Queen-high flush draw. My frustration that I had folded by far the best hand I had been dealt all day to all this action, only to see that I was actually the favorite on the flop, waned a bit when the 8 hit the river to nail the EP limper's open-end straight draw. Live play is just like its online counterpart, ain't it?

Other than the TT and the AK hands I describe above, I never saw AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 99 or 88 at all on the day, and I had just the one AK, no AQ and no AJ throughout. Now that is a sick run of bad starting cards. After the second break -- four hours in -- the blinds doubled from 100-200-25 (ante) to 200-400-50, and this is where mostly everyone suddenly plunked down from around 100 big blinds to around 50. In my case at the time I had had nothing but steal attempts since my climb to 22k some three hours earlier, some of which worked and some of which I had to lay down since I consistently had shit cards, and even if I managed to hit a pair on the board, I could never really feel comfortable about my kicker. So I was sitting on around 17k at the time, giving me around 42 big blinds to play with, and it was somewhere around that stage of the tournament -- when we were down to around 120 of the 178 runners who had begun the tournament, with an average stack climbing around 21, 22k -- that it first occurred to me that I needed to start making even more aggressive plays with the air I was being dealt if I was to keep pace with even the average stack. So for the first time on the day, I started throwing in some looser, more aggro moves like raising first-in from early position with hands like K9s and A5s, hands which I would have folded (and did fold) for hours earlier in the tournament, and unfortunately almost none of those moves held up. I remember being consistently surprised over the third session of play (the two hours from around 3:30 to 5:30 in the afternoon or so) how little respect my preflop raises seemed to be getting, in particular given that my only real showdowns of the entire tournament for any significant chips had been two boats and with how unbelievably tight I had played otherwise due to the complete dearth of playable hands I was receiving. But every damn time I put in a raise over those couple of hours, I was getting reraised (and having to lay down), or almost worse, I was seeing three or four callers, and then not hitting the flop, which is basically a death sentence for those chips I'd already moved into the middle.

As a result of this phenomenon, by the time 5 o'clock rolled around and we hit the 6-hour mark of the tournament, blinds were about to move up to 400-800-100, and I was still sitting on around 15k in chips, down a bit from the previous break and at that point, with some 80 players or so remaining, now a little less than half of the average stack of over 33k. With just under 20 big blinds in my stack, I knew I would not be long after the dinner break without some major help in the way of good cards, good luck, or good situations if nothing else, but when I returned to the Grand Pequot Ballroom just before 7pm to resume the seventh hour of play, it was more of the same. I managed to win a couple of pots with c-bets after having taken the lead preflop with a raise, but I also had to lay down a couple of preflop raises, and one flop c-bet where I had, once again, completely whiffed on the flop.

My worst hand of the afternoon happened about halfway into Hour 7, when I once again found myself in a pot against the small blind who had called my middle position preflop raise when I held K7s. The flop came QJ7, and I figured once again I had to take a stab at the flop or risk falling closer to just a third of the average stack, having hit bottom pair on the flop to give me some outs if called, but while I pondered these options, the small blind donk-bet into me for about half the size of the pot. I considered this -- a move I had not seen this guy make in the entire time sitting at this table (I was never moved from Table 9, seat 3, although several guys busted from our table during my time there), and in the end I just could not find a reason to give this pot up, and I figured the best thing for me to do in that spot with no Ace or King on the board was to raise it up and try to get rid of the donk bettor right away. Well, that backfired, my read was wrong obviously, as he quickly pushed allin on me and I had to lay down. At that point I was down to around 12k in chips remaining, with the average getting close to 40k, and it was obvious I was in desperation time with just 15 big blinds left.

And then I found my chance to get back into it. The guy in seat 10 had been disappearing for huge swathes of the tournament since the very beginning, and had explained at some point that he was also in the Foxwoods Poker Room (the FPC was taking place in the Pequot Ballroom a little ways away from the poker room) playing 150-300 "OE" -- which is what I assume cash game fonkeys with way more money than brains call O8 -- and it could not have been clearer to me when he returned shortly after Hour 7 began that he had no real interest in trying to play his stack for a quick double in 15 minutes so he could run back to the real money in his big "OE" game. Within his first few hands on his now short stack (he had been blinding and anteing off for probably an hour straight at least), he had pushed allin twice, once before the flop and once on the flop, and was not called either time. I knew that this guy and his roughly 12k in chips were my ticket to an easy double-up and getting back into the game at least somewhat, if only I could get myself into the right position, which is exactly what happened. A few hands went by, I got KT suited on the button and I called a raise from the shorty I had targeted who had opened from middle position, and the small blind also called directly behind me. The flop came down T74 with two diamonds, and I basically knew I was getting it allin here with top pair good kicker and with only about 10 big blinds left in my stack at the time. Making it even better, the target-shorty immediately pushed allin within half a second of seeing the flop, and this could not have seemed any less believable to me if he were trying to make an obvious bluff. I figured my top pair is almost surely ahead of his range since I see him pushing allin there on just about any flop without any regard at all for his holding. So I pushed allin for just another thousand or two more or so in chips than his allin bet had been, seeing the double-up and feeling my momentum beginning to change back right as I made my raise. But then I was dismayed to see the small blind to my left also immediately call both of our allins, and I knew obviously I was toast. He had flopped a set of 4s on the raggy flop, and in an instant my brilliant push against the obviously weak flop allin transformed from momentum-shifter and quick n easy double-up to my elimination hand on the day.

In all, I played about 7 1/2 hours, and although it's always hard to know exactly in a live tournament when the tournament screens are just not updated with extreme currency, it looks like I busted somewhere around 48th or 49th out of 178 runners. Only 20 were slated to get paid, making this a much smaller tournament than I had been hoping it would be, but first prize was still on tap to nab more than 60 large and it was definitely a prize worth playing for, but it was just not going to happen for me on this day. Considering my cards, I think I played very well, including doing a very nice job extracting chips from my opponents on the couple of nice hands I made on the day, but in the end it just wasn't close to enough.

The bottom line is, when your only two big hands over several hours of a large-field nlh tournament are coming with pocket 6s and with T8s, you're probably not going to be in great shape in that tournament. Similarly, when your only two real big hands of the entire tournament both happen within the first blinds-level, you are also likely in trouble. In this case, if I had flopped that set or made that boat on the turn in Hour 6 instead of Hour 1, even without the added chip boost from those hands having happened in Hour 1, I almost surely would have been back up near average and been able to play on and have a chance at the big cash. But when I'm able to increase my stack 50% in Hour 1, and then have to just watch it dwindle during every single hour other than that first one, nobody is going to win any tournaments playing that way, period.

With as little playable starting cards as I had, and how many great hands the others at my table were continually showing down, I actually feel mildly encouraged about the way the tournament went overall for me, although obviously I am bitterly disappointed at the result. I like to win, I want to win, I demand to win in mostly everything that I do, and while that does not necessarily translate into needing to literally win every poker tournament I play in, when I invest a lot of money in a tournament like this and do not win, I don't tend to feel very good about the situation as a result. But this was about as bad of starting cards as I could ever expect to get over any 7-hour period, and even with that situation, I made a lot of good reads, reraised a lot of stealers successfully with air, and I stole a ton of pots without anything playable in my hand at all. I am clearly going to need some big hands to succeed just as I have had in every other deep mtt run I've ever had the good fortune to enjoy, but if I can survive this deep on nothing but bullshit, I think I must be doing something right.

That said, I think if I could do this one over again, I would probably open up a little earlier and try to keep myself from getting down below the half of average chip stack in the first place when I did. I just kept telling myself that the blind rounds are a full hour -- longer than any tournament I have played other than the WSOP which is the same one-hour length -- and that I had time to wait for pocket Aces, wait for AK to race with someone, shit even to wait for another pocket Tens that at least I could aggressively take to the flop with my short stack without regrets no matter what my opponents had. I am not sure exactly where the proper place for the line is in terms of aggression vs. patience, but assuming I will be playing in another 1-hour blind round event in the WSOP this coming June, I will be that much more prepared for the nuances of that structure and for what will be expected of me (and when) in order to stay ahead of the pack.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 19, 2010


OMG! In fact, strike that. Make it a "ZOMG!" Because if anything is worthy of the extra "z" on there, it was the first day of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. What an incredible day full of stories, shockers, and more than anything else, a whole mess of awesome games.

Seriously, think about this for a minute. In 16 games on Day 1 of the Tournament, we had one double-overtime game, two single-overtime games, three games decided by just 1 point, two games decided by 2 points, and three games decided by 3 points. Does it get any better than that?

Actually, it does. Some of the stories from Thursday's NCAA action are just sick. So many schools busted out with historical wins on Thursday, it's not even funny. I heard these on the radio this morning and I just don't have time to go looking it up right now, but I'm going to go ahead and butcher the stats anyways by trying to rememberguess the time periods. On Thursday, just going in the order the games occurred, BYU beat recent champion Florida in two overtimes to nab its first NCAA Tournament win in something like 26 years. Old Dominion beat Notre Dame to win its first Tournament game in 15 years. Murray State beat Vanderbilt on a last-second jumper for its first NCAA win in thirty-some years. The Baylor Bears pulled away from Sam Houston State as a #3 seed for their first NCAA Tournament win in sixty years! St. Mary's College beat Richmond for their first win in 20 years. Northern Iowa, their first NCAA win in almost 40 years. And of course, Ohio beat my beloved Georgetown to score their first win in the Tournament since the late 1970s if I recall correctly.

I most definitely do not ever remember a first day of the NCAA Tournament with this many fun upsets and this many great, historical stories. Last year as I recall was among the most boring tournaments in memory, so this year seems all the more special. We had enough down-to-the-wire, last-second and sudden death games with huge shots and small schools going crazy and storming the court just on Thursday to basically last us all the way through this tournament. And we're only a quarter of the way through the first weekend. Just incredible.

Oh, and that thing I said yesterday about the Big East? I'm a genius, what can I say. My feeling is that some of these Big East teams are just not taking these first round games seriously, and it shows in how they are playing. Villanova, the conference's only win on Day 1, had to hold on for overtime just to beat lowly Robert Morris on Thursday (seriously?), while a team like Georgetown came out just like they have against so many other bad teams this year and fell too far behind to be able to come back from. Notre Dame and Marquette were very predictable losers I think, but nobody in America who didn't graduate from Ohio could possibly pick Ohio to beat the Hoyas, an Ohio team who many people still don't know had to win the MAC tournament to even find their way into the Big Dance after a 7-9 in-conference record on the season. We'll see how the top Big East teams come out today in West Virginia and Syracuse, but I expect them to learn a lesson from the pussy play we saw from their colleague teams on Thursday to help stem the bleeding out of the best conference in the country heading into the weekend.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, March 18, 2010

2010 March Madness Picks -- Elite 8 and Beyond

So here we are. March Madness is finally upon us once again. Thursday and Friday this week in particular have always been awesomely fun days for me, although I still as yet have never fulfilled my longtime dream of heading out to one of the big sports books in Vegas to sit and watch all 16 games today and all 16 games tomorrow, followed by all 16 games over the weekend in style (i.e., smoking and drinking for free). And betting on every one. Of course. Maybe someday, but I think one Vegas trip a year is just right for me these days, and that trip is looking more and more like it will be happening in early June. But more on that on another day; it's time to finish my 2010 March Madness picks.

First, I thought I would review some general trends I am trying to follow in making my picks this year. First off, I think it is a long-proven NCAA Tournament maxim that the teams that play the best competition all season long tend to run deepest in the Big Dance, and for that reason I am putting a lot of weight this year on the relative goodness of the big conferences in the country. I find myself weighting it this year more than I almost ever have before, because frankly there seems to be such a vast margin between the quality of teams in the couple of good conferences and the quality of those in all the rest, dramatically different than last year or any other year in recent memory.

Looking quickly among the power conferences, the ACC was just abysmal this year, as I mentioned earlier I am pretty comfortable saying this is the worst the ACC has been since I can ever remember. Duke is decent, but if you've watched them play the really good teams (the very few on their schedule this season), they've gotten abused and have no chance of winning it all. Maryland had a good year, but that's about it really. Virgina 5-11, UNC 5-11, NC State 5-11, BC 6-10, Georgia Tech 7-9, Wake and Clemson 9-7. There isn't a single other good team in the ACC other than Duke, and even though I fully expect a tough Maryland team to win a game or two this year, I am not picking a single ACC team to make a deep run in this year's tournament. This year more than any year I can recall, those ACC teams simply have not had near the gritty, high-powered experience of playing top-ranked teams again and again all season long down to the wire when it feels like everything is on the line. Usually, by the time a #20-ranked Maryland team makes the NCAA Tournament, they've played top-5 Duke twice, and top-five Carolina twice, and top-ten Wake Forest twice, plus whoever else is good that year in the ACC. This year? Maryland's schedule includes losses at neutral sites (just like the NCAA Tournament's games) against non-Tournament bound Cincinnati, plus Wisconsin and Villanova, and then in their first game of the ACC Tournament as well against Georgia Tech in Greensboro. This Maryland team lost a game to William & Mary for crying out loud. At home. And what big wins has Maryland had this year? What even big games has Maryland played in, what big-time experience have those players had this season? Beating a crappy Indiana team on the road back on December 1? Truly, the single solitary true good win on Maryland's entire schedule this year is the one against Duke at the end of the regular season. Otherwise, these ACC teams haven't even been tested, so we have no reason to believe they will succeed against the big boys. I'm not picking any of them to go far.

The Big 12, in stark contrast to the ACC, had a great year in 2009-2010. You've got seven legitimate good teams in the conference -- Oklahoma State (who's had a couple of huge wins this year and who I'm picking to win a few games in March), Texas (who was ranked in the top couple of teams in the nation earlier this season), Missouri, Texas A&M, #3 seeded Baylor (having their best season in ages and their first legitimate shot to reach the Sweet 16 I think in my lifetime), #2 seeded Kansas State (who turned a lot of heads this year with also their best basketball season in a long while), and of course #1 Kansas, who is ranked as the top team in the country heading into today's action. This conference is loaded with talented teams, and as I've discussed above that action feeds on itself because it makes these teams much, much better in the Tournament to have faced 9 or 10 games against tough competition this year already. And you will note, I am picking at least three teams from this conference to reach the Sweet 16 in this year's Tournament.

The Big East, I don't have to get into again. Suffice it to say that each of Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova, Georgetown and Pittsburgh is a legitimate top-15 team in the country, and all but probably Pitt have a realistic shot to reach the Final Four this year. No other conference in America has quite the depth of the Big East, nor quite the strength at the top of the group (though the Big 12 is definitely close on both counts), and another especially impressive facet is the strength in the middle of the conference. Take the ACC for example, and once you get through Duke and Maryland, there is a significant dropoff until the next teams (Virginia Tech and Florida State), and then another big drop until the rest of the dregs. Not in the Big East, where even after the four legitimate Final Four contenders I mentioned above, it's still Pittsburgh (who is better than anyone in the ACC, including Maryland), it's Marquette, it's Louisville, and it's Notre Dame, all of whom have at least 20 total wins and all of whom won at least 10 games in the toughest conference in college basketball. You can only say that about four total teams in the ACC, and they play in a far worse conference to boot. This is why I am expecting a lot of early success for the Big East teams -- even the ones not playing so well down the stretch and who I therefore cannot pick to go to deep in the Tournament -- and why you will see a number of them in my Sweet 16.

The Pac-10 is having its worst year of my lifetime, hands down, no questions asked. Arizona is down, UCLA is down, Stanford's got nothing, USC is nowhere to be found, even the Oregon schools decided to completely take the year off. There are only three schools in the Pac-10 with more than 16 total wins on the season, and only three that finished over .500 overall if you remove Division II schools from the equation. That conference is unthinkable, as is picking any of those teams to reach the Sweet 16 this year for me. The SEC has got a few decent teams, although beyond Kentucky I don't trust most of those other teams to make it very far in March, and there really was not much depth beyond the three quality teams in the conference on the year. I've also heard some people say the Big Ten is having a good year. Well, those people are fools. While the Big Ten has certainly not been the worst major conference in the country in 2009-2010, the fact that so many of the traditionally strong teams are having down years again weighs on the ability of even the better teams in the conference to really make me think they have what it takes to step up when it counts in March. Purdue was looking good, easily the best of the bunch in the Big Ten this year, but the loss of Robbie Hummel has left that team looking like a shell of its former self, and I would not stake anything on picking this team to win even one or two games after I watched how badly Tubby Smith's Minnesota gophers trounced them at the start of the Big Ten Tournament. Beyond Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin all had decent years to round out the other quality teams in the conference, but none of them -- even the ultra-experienced Tom Izzo's Michigan State squad that played in the Final Four in 2009 -- have particularly wowed me, and I think a lot of it has to do with the absence on their schedules of big games with the likes of Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and even Illinois and Minnesota who each lost at least 13 games during the season. And as discussed above, this is not the kind of team I like to pick to go far in my bracket as a rule.

The other thing I should mention is that I also tend to like to pick teams who have not only played a lot of big games against strong teams and won a lot of those games, but also teams that have won some big games away from home. Big home wins are big, huge even in determining seeding and odds of success in the NCAA Tournament. But you show me a team that has traveled away from its familiar court, the cozy locker room and its thousands of adoring fans to take on a top-10 team in unfamiliar, often hostile, territory, and come away a winner, and I'll show you a team that's going place in March.

So, with all of the above in mind, let's take a look at my Elite 8 teams. In the Midwest, I have Kansas against Georgetown in what should be a matchup of two hot teams playing well and bringing a ton of talent to the court. Unfortunately, having watched many of the Hoyas' (and the Jayhawks') games this season, one thing I can say with certainty in my mind is that Kansas has been the model of consistency, while Georgetown has been among the most inconsistent teams among the nationally-ranked squads in the country. I can see exactly how this game is gonna go in my mind already -- Kansas jumps out to a sizable lead, something in the 16-4 range to start the game, and then by the time Georgetown gets off its heels, it just won't quite be able to come back and make up for the slow early start. Although it's clearly not where my heart is, I like Kansas to win the Midwest regional and advance to their billionth Final Four as a school.

In the East is probably the Elite 8 game that I am looking forward to the most heading into the NCAA Tournament: Kentucky vs. West Virginia. I have a ton of respect for Bob Huggins as I mentioned the other day here in the blog and I think his West Virginia squad is probably the most underrated, under-appreciated team in the nation. They always always always come to play for their coach, and they play sick defense and never give up. Unfortunately for them, after a nice run in March I just don't think they will quite have the firepower to stop John Wall and the Kentucky offense. Although John Callipari has proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt to be one of the biggest scumbags involved in the game today, he's a scumbag who can Coach. I just don't see anything stopping Kentucky from plowing their way through the East and also appearing in the 2010 Final Four.

I have Syracuse matching up with Kansas State in the West regional Elite 8 game, and if you've read here during this season then you know I think the Cuse is destined for great things. I have a lot of respect for K-State and what they've accomplished this year in a very tough Big 12 Conference. But I'm not sure anyone in the country can stick with Syracuse's prowess on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and K-State is not the Kansas school that I think might have the best shot to do so, if you know what I mean. I feel confident that Syracuse will emerge from the West to stake its claim against the winner of Georgetown-Kansas on that half of the NCAA Tournament Bracket.

And lastly, the South, where the Tournament organizers decided to blow Coach K again by giving him easily the least difficult path to the Final Four, but where as I discussed yesterday I still don't think he's going to get there. Despite having the fewest truly good teams in the bracket, I think this is by far the most difficult bracket to pick, and I think mostly anybody doing a bracket this year is either picking Duke or picking a total crapshoot. In my case, I've decided to have Duke losing to Louisville, and Louisville eventually going on to lose to Villanova to make it two more Big East teams in the Final Four for the second straight year. Truthfully though, I am not confident about Louisville as they were so up and down this year, and I am not confident about Villanova either after the way they ended the season. I don't like Duke, and I just can't bring myself to pick Baylor to make their first Final Four in 850 generations. And lord knows I'm not picking Purdue at #4 to win anything this postseason. It's tough when you just don't trust any of the top four or five seeds in a bracket -- in the end I am picking Nova over Louisville but it could be almost any team in the bracket playing for the right to get spanked by Kentucky in the Final Four.

So my pre-Tournament Final Four includes Kansas playing Syracuse, and Kentucky playing Villanova. I think Kansas-Syracuse should be a game for the ages, but in the end if forced to choose right now without seeing how each team is playing in the tournament, I would go with Kansas, and on the other side of the bracket I have to pick Kentucky, despite their youth and the fact that its a Callipari team so you know less than 10% of the students will actually graduate or even probably ever go to class. I just don't like the way Nova ended the season enough to pick them to beat a team like Kentucky on this big stage. And when the season-long anticipation of Kansas vs Kentucky finally happens in early April, I'm going with the talent of Kentucky to complete a Carmelo-Anthony-with-Syracuse type of single-season run to a title in John Callipari's first year with the Wildcats.

Here's hoping we see some nice upsets and fun action in these first couple of rounds over the next few days.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2010 March Madness Picks -- Part II

OK so here is part II of my 2010 March Madness picks. In case you missed it, here is read Part I of my predictions where I contemplate the Midwest and the East brackets. In this post, I will provide my thoughts on the Western and the Southern regionals.

Starting with the West, this is the bracket that I think competes with the East as the toughest brackets in the field this year, again mostly because the West contains 3 solid teams among its top four seeds. Syracuse is the #1 seed in the West, and anybody who has watched the Cuse play more than a couple of games this season knows that this is a team with a ton of skill, seven quality starting players, they can shoot the ball very well, and most of all they play a 2-3 zone defense that for most teams will be perhaps the most "different" defense they have faced all season long. As if this weren't enough to propel the Cuse to the final two teams in their bracket, the #4 seed on Syracuse's side of the bracket is Vanderbilt, a trendy pick of late but not a team in my view that can stick with Syracuse, on either side of the ball. In fact, I expect Butler at #5 to beat Vandy in the Round of 32, but either way the Cuse should have little trouble dispatching with either team in the Sweet 16. On the other half of the bracket, Kansas State is a strong #2 seed, as is Pittsburgh at #3. Although there are some other teams on that half of the regional, it's nobody who I think will have much of a chance to upend either K-State or Pitt, and those two teams seem destined for a Sweet 16 clash as well, where I would guess that K-State will win as I have seen Pitt look entirely too beatable on one or two too many occasions this season.

So for the West regional, I think we are looking at Syracuse - Butler on the top half, and Kansas State - Pittsburgh on the bottom. The Cuse should have enough to overpower Butler (or Vanderbilt) to reach the Elite 8, where I would guess they will face Kansas State in what is probably that school's best basketball team in many years.

Moving to the South bracket, here is the one regional where I think the #1 seed (Duke) does not have a good chance of winning their way through and reaching the Final Four. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the ACC had the worst year in 2010 that I can ever recall that conference having. And that's not just words on a screen or monitor somewhere -- the bottom line is that, when Duke posts a record of 29-5 and 13-3 in the ACC, people cannot help but see that and identify it with some of the national championship-type of teams Duke has had in the recent past. But this team simply did not face even close to the day-in, day-out quality of competition that it is used to facing in most years, and I think this will show through come Tournament time. North Carolina, the perennial powerhouse, was horrible this year, and offered up two easy wins for Duke that normally require the Blue Devils to claw their way to one win the season series. Maryland was the only other team in the entire ACC to to have fewer than six conference losses, or fewer than 8 total losses on the season. While Maryland might have been up, UNC was down as I mentioned, as were Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Clemson, BC, Virgina, NC State and basically every other ACC team. And outside of the conference, Duke beat bad Arizona State, UConn and St. Johns teams, they lost at Wisconsin and they got crushed by Georgetown, also on the road. In fact, throughout the regular season, this Duke squad was just 8-5 away from Cameron Indoor Stadium, and if you take out the three neutral-court wins vs. UConn, ISU and Gonzaga, they were actually just 5-5 in true road games on the year. Most dramatically, I read this past weekend that Duke finished the 2009-2010 regular season with exactly one win against the NCAA top 50 teams. That right there is all I need to know -- Duke will not go far this year and will fail to make the Final Four for the seventh straight season.

So who is going to beat Duke in the South regional this year? Well, the obvious choice is #2 seeded Villanova, not only because they are a more athletic team playing in a much tougher conference, but also because a very similar Nova team crushed a very similar Duke team in last year's NCAA tournament in one of the worst beatings of last year's Big Dance. But I actually think Duke will lose even before facing off against Villanova in the Elite 8, most likely I would guess to Louisville if they can get past their first match with Pac-10 denizen Cal.

Other than Nova and Louisville, however, the NCAA Committee really did Duke a major favor by putting them in what I think is easily the weakest of the four brackets in this year's Tournament. #2 Villanova ended the season on an extended losing streak, including losing in their first game in the Big East tournament, and the #3 seed in the bracket is the Baylor Bears, in whom I have very little confidence. And then the #4 seed is Purdue, who after losing forward Robbie Hummel for the year to injury went on to get utterly crushed by 27 points in their next game in the Big Ten tournament to a 13-loss Minnesota team. You can take Purdue out, because they are utterly, completely done for this season, and I would not be surprised at all to see them lose in the first round to #13 seed Sienna.

So the South looks to be the easiest bracket of the four, and yet I do not think #1 Duke will be around for the regional finals in the Elite 8, although I do think that #2 Villanova is likely to survive to play for the first to appear in back to back Final Fours. I do not feel comfortable with either the #3 or the #4 seed in this bracket, nor with any of the other teams on the top half of that draw, so I am leaning towards Louisville possibly busting out with a run to the Elite 8 under coach Rick Pitino who certainly has had success in this tournament in the past.

So my eight Elite 8 picks through all four regionals include:

Midwest: 1 Kansas, 3 Georgetown

East: 1 Kentucky, 2 West Virginia

West: 1 Syracuse, 2 Kansas State

South: 9 Louisville, 2 Villanova

Back tomorrow with my Elite 8, Final Four and National Championship selections.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

2010 March Madness Picks -- Part I

OK so after having a lot of fun picking the over/unders for the 2009 Major League Baseball season and then again picking the NFL games during the 2009-2010 season, I am going to post my official picks for the 2010 NCAA Tournament for the first time here on the blog. It's a lot to get through in this first week, so I am going to spread the picks out over a few days here, starting today with the Midwest and the East brackets, whose respective champions will meet in the Final Four in a few weeks to decide who gets the right to play for the 2010 national championship.

For starters, I will say this year that I think we are looking at generally speaking one of the weakest pools of NCAA basketball teams in recent memory. While of course you've got the ever-present talking heads on the 24-hour sports tv channels and the myriad 24-hour sports radio and other media outlets endlessly debating which regional is the strongest and which is the weakest, the bottom line is that none of these four brackets strikes me as particularly tougher or easier than any other, and I think ultimately this stems from the fact that there really are not more than a handful of truly good teams in the game this year. By the time you get down to the 3 and 4 seeds, only about half of those teams strike fear into anyone's hearts as far as I'm concerned, and just about nobody below that level is really on anyone's radar screen.

Looking at the Midwest, this is a perfect example of what I am talking about. Kansas of course at #1 is the top team in the country, and is very deserving of that honor. They have destroyed the competition this year, and really didn't have any truly bad losses like so many teams have had on occasion throughout the season. They stepped up and won their conference tournament, so they're playing well, and they have one of the country's best basketball coaches in Bill Self. Kansas can be counted on I think to run deep this year, and frankly there is not much in their way to the Final Four in the Midwestern regional.

Despite all the hype coming out of the midwestern part of the country this year, this was a terrible year for the Big Ten, and I don't think much of Ohio State as a #2 seed. Sure I have Ohio State winning their first-round game, but I think a tough #7 Oklahoma State team takes the other OSU out in the Round of 32 after Oklahoma State dispatches with #10 Georgia Tech in Round 1. I also have tremendous respect for Tom Izzo, #5 Michigan State's coach, and even though his team has underachieved a bit this year, I see them upsetting #4 Maryland in Round 2 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the 85th straight season. The ACC is going to have a baaaaaad tournament this year me thinks, as this is pretty much the weakest I can ever recall the ACC being, in my entire adult life of following college basketball, and I think Georgia Tech and Maryland's early demises this year will be the first signs of that as each team fared pretty well in-conference in 2010 and yet will be exiting early from the Big Dance later this weekend in my estimation. And lastly, the #3 seed in the Midwest is my alma mater in Georgetown, who has a deceptively tough team that is strong both inside and out, is well-coached, and who had 10 losses despite recording 9 wins against tournament teams on the season (including Duke, Butler, Washington and Temple out-of-conference as well as Butler, Washington, Pitt, Louisville, Syracuse and Marquette away from home) and 5 wins against top-10 teams on the year. The Hoyas finished up the season strong, finishing only a ridiculous non-travel-call away from taking their first Big East title in three years, and I think should have little trouble handling Ohio, Tennessee or SDSU over their first two games.

So in all, I think Kansas is obviously a very strong top seed in the Midwest, but I am not impressed with #2 Ohio State and do not expect them to be a threat in this year's tournament. I do like Georgetown at #3, but then Maryland again at #4 I think is weak, and there are not any other teams in the bracket that I consider a threat. Thus, I am expecting a matchup of Georgetown and Kansas in the Elite 8 to determine the winner of this regional just a couple of weeks from now.

Turning to the Eastern regional, I suppose I think this is probably the toughest of the brackets, but even then only because I think three of the top four seeds are quality teams with a real shot to make some noise in their bracket before all is said and done, while most other regionals I think only have two quality teams among their top four seeds as I think with the Midwest per the above discussion. In the East, I love Kentucky as the #1 seed, and like with Kansas in the Midwest, I think it is going to be very difficult to find a team to challenge Kentucky when push comes to shove in this regional. Although, if there was a #2 seed that could push this young Kentucky team to the wall (pun intended), it might be #2 seeded West Virginia, who showed in the second half of this season and then especially in the Big East tournament just how tough and solid they really are. Some people don't even realize that Bob Huggins -- the old Cincinnati coach -- landed a few years ago at West Virginia, and just like he did at his former school, he has quickly built a perennial basketball powerhouse as he preaches his unique brand of ball to a new audience.

New Mexico as a #3 seed is the most questionable upper seeded team in this bracket in my view, and even though UNM had a great season in their own right, I just think in this year more than any year in recent memory, there is really very little good college basketball being played west of Kansas. The Pac-10 is, like the ACC, having perhaps its worst year in recent memory, with somewhere between zero and one team actually deserving a bid in the Big Dance, and the WCC, WAC and MWC all also seem a bit lighter than they have been in past years. New Mexico has almost zero quality wins on their schedule unless you count wins over fellow westerners like BYU and UNLV, and given the chance I am going to go with the teams with quality road wins over teams with just 4 losses but no games against real competition any day in the NCAA Tournament. So while I will pick UNM to win their first game against Montana, I don't expect them to be around much longer after that as a #3 seed in the East regional. At #4 in the East is Wisconsin, one of the few teams I do have a little respect for out of the Big Ten this year. Although most of Wisconsin's success has come on their home court this season where they have been almost unbeatable, I do expect Wisconsin to win their first game before having a great matchup with A-10 champion Temple, one of four teams in this year's Big Dance from the state of Pennsylvania (the others being Pitt, Villanova and Lehigh). I would guess that Wisconsin pulls that one out in the Round of 32, but it doesn't matter much because either team is I think easy fodder for Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

So in the East, I love Kentucky at #1, and I also like West Virginia quite a bit at #2. I expect #3 New Mexico not to run deep in the tournament, and I think the #5-#4 matchup is interesting but ultimately will fall to Kentucky next weekend. I think this one shapes up quite nicely to feature an Elite 8 matchup of Kentucky vs. West Virginia in one of the two brackets this year that I see coming down to a 1-2 battle to decide the winner of the regional.

Tomorrow I will be back to preview the West and the South brackets, finalize my Elite 8 teams, and then on Thursday I can post my pre-tournament Elite 8, Final Four and Final winners.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, March 15, 2010

Another Big Win on UB

Every night at 9pm ET, UltimateBet runs a great mtt called the Sniper tournament, which is a fancy word for knockout or bounty tournament. Most nights of the week, the buyin is $120, and the tournament carries a smallish field of usually in the 200-300 range, which is one of the things that makes this (and most other large UB mtts) so great to play as compared to the mtt's available on just about any other site out there. Along with the small fields, there is also the very favorable structure that I have mentioned several times in the blog and that is present for basically all the big mtts on UB these days, and of course there are the bounties, which in this tournament are $10 apiece but which can really tend to add up for me given my style of play. On days when I run deep in the sniper tournaments on UB, I will generally take down 10-15 bounties which itself breaks me even for my buyin and leaves whatever I can drain out of the prize pool as pure profit for me on what has been by far the most profitable online site for my poker play anywhere.

So this past Friday night, I made a late gym run and returned to my house right around 9:30pm ET, which meant I was already half an hour late for the mini FTOPS as well as the sniper tourney on UB, but for whatever reason I figured I would go ahead and register anyways. 30 minutes late is about as late as I will ever sign up for any online tournament, but I checked out the leaderboard and the average was literally just over 3200 chips, or less than a 10% gain from the starting stacks, and I would be able to start right smack in the middle of the field with almost no loss to my starting position other than the 20 or 30 hands I missed where I might have picked up pocket Aces and got the quick double-up (or the quick exit).

Right off the bat I tried quickly to make up for lost time by open-raising a few hands, one of which (A8o) I had to fold to a reraise from the button, and the other of which (KQo) I folded after my c-bet on the flop got raised by a guy who had called me preflop and then saw an Ace hit the board. Down to around 2600 chips early, I called a preflop reraise from the big blind with my pocket Tens from middle position, and then when a raggy all-undercard flop fell and my opponent bet 800 into the 1400-chip pot, something about that small bet size and the 2500 chips it left him behind suddenly made me feel certain he was holding AK and was hoping to c-bet me off this pot cheap. With the board also being coordinated, I figured I could get this guy to fold if he held the AK I expected, so I went with my read and pushed 'em all in:

He folded, and I jumped to over 4300 chips just minutes before the first break, where I ended the hour in 49th place out of 154 runners left of the 194 who had started 55 minutes earlier. A short while into Hour 2, I jumped to over 5000 chips when I was allowed to check down my pocket Queens all the way to the river despite there coming both an Ace and a King on the flop (my opponent it turns out had pocket 6s and hated that flop even more than I did). I climbed to just over 6000 about halfway through Hour Two when I smooth called a raise preflop from the small blind with AKs (although I usually reraise with this hand, sometimes in the blinds I like to just call as it provides some deception and makes me look like an indiscriminate blinds defender) and flopped the flush draw plus two overcards, and I allowed my opponent to c-bet before check-raising him with my fifteen outs (plus I might have been ahead anyways). Late in Hour Two I was faced with this scenario:

I had a note that the guy who raised allin was an aggressive raiser from a previous time I had played with him on UB (another advantage of the generally smaller fields on this site as well), and in the end this just looked like the quintessential squeeze play, with me holding a hand that really only feared AK, so I made the call and I won the race on the turn (and the river):

This one brought me up over 8000 in chips and in great chip position with nearly 60 big blinds, and it was also my second $10 bounty on the night which is always fun. I did lose about half my stack in a blind vs blind confrontation late in Hour Two when my pocket Jacks fell to pocket Aces (could anybody run into Aces more often than I do?), which frustratingly took me back down to 4300 chips, but then I won a 2k pot on the last hand of the hour when I rivered top pair with KJs after my opponent had not bet me out of the hand on the previous two streets, finishing up Hour 2 in 39th place of 103 remaining:

I grabbed another 3000 chips and my third bustout of the night early in Hour 3 when I reraised allin preflop with AKs and was instacalled by a guy with JJ, where I flopped ok I guess:

And then I had my first really big hand of the tournament, where I called a preflop raise from middle position with pocket 9s and flopped top set on a rainbow board. My opponent to my immediate right led out for half the pot:

which I opted to just call, since this board was so raggy that a raise at this point would scare away almost any reasonable bluffing or high-card hand. The turn paired the middle card on the board, giving me the best boat, and my opponent led out again for 2400 into a 6050-chip pot. The bet was small, less than half the pot, and it just seemed kinda weak to me, not a bet he would call a raise with, so I just called again. On the river I hoped he would call this bet, which by this time was for just 40% of the pot:

But alas he did not. Nonetheless, I had extracted a large pot with my first big hand of the tournament, vaulting me up over 15k and up among the top stacks in the event at the time with more than half the field gone. Unfortunately, I would lose two or three pots in a row to drop back down to around 8k, one where I called a shorty allin with AQo and lost to JJ, one where I managed to minimize my losses to just around 2000 chips with A9 on a 9-high board to a guy who flopped two pairs. As the blinds ate away my stack through a couple of orbits of no playable cards and no good stealing situations, I ended up raising allin preflop with KQs from one in front of the cutoff, as I was sitting on just over 10 big blinds at the time, and the cutoff called me with his big stack and showed pocket 7s. I flopped a Queen, preserving my tournament life for the first time this far in the event, and I was back up over 12k and with 20+ big blinds midway through Hour 3. With a little more room to breathe, I was able to steal pots with open-raises from late position a little more readily, and I was able to chip up to 16k without being contested until late in the hour when I opened from the cutoff with a raise-worthy hand and got reraised allin for just 2300 more chips into an 8700-chip pot:

Obviously I had to call here, I was ahead and I flopped good:

But it wasn't meant to be, and back down to 11k in chips I went:

Just before the end of Hour 3, I had another big hand when I pushed allin with top pair third kicker plus a flush draw after I had raised preflop under the gun with QJs. My opponent, who could have folded and still kept 6k to play with and have only lost a third of his stack, instead more or less instacalled with just two overs on a scary board:

Somehow, a King did not come on the river, and I had myself my fourth knockout bounty of the evening, lifting my stack to over 24k and bringing me into 11th place out of 25 remaining, with the final 18 finishers slated to get paid. A couple of steals later (JTo and 85s), and I went into the fourth break in 5th place of 23 left:

At this point I took my first look at the payouts for this tournament:

With a nice big stack, and knowing that as usual many players would be tightening up with the payout positions approaching, I just kept right on stealing to start Hour 4, starting in the first orbit with 64s:

And a few minutes later with QTo:

Unfortunately my next few steal attempts ran into reraises, all of which I folded to, including this one where I felt like I had to lay down AQo, the first actual good hand I had stolen with all night:

I made probably one of my worst plays of the tournament in retrospect after this string of raise-folds, where I cold-called a suspected stealer from my small blind with a sooted semi-connectors hand:

I mean, here I am, having lost about 8k in chips from what was recently a 26k stack, and we are right on the money bubble in the event (exactly 19 players were left at this time), and now I am cold-calling with T7s for about 15% of my starting stack? WTF! I gues it was the beginnings of tilt starting to eat away at my decisionmaking, but for that many chips, and against a guy who I've observed stealing pots from position already earlier at this table, I think it's perfectly find to make a play with two live cards, sooted and semi-connected like this. But I should be reraising allin then! To just smooth call here, it puts me in the worst position in the world for the flop, as I am out of position, and unless I flop a ridick monster here, I won't know where I stand or what to do with it. Of course I missed the flop, did not want to lead out without knowing how serious my opponent was, and I ended up folding the hand for an acceptable loss. Fortunately we also eliminated the 19th and 18th players from the tournament at another table, and we were all in the money:

Notice me way down in 15th of 17 left. At this point, I've made a mini cash -- in which I have absolutely no interest -- and now that the bubble has burst, I will definitely be looking for a good spot to double up or go home trying. If I can' get into good position heading into the final table, there's just no point in my mind to roaching my way to win an extra hundred bucks or something. As with every mtt I ever enter, I want to end up in the top few spots where the big money is, and every play I make from the time I sit down until the time I get donked is designed with that one singular goal in mind. To start building my stack quickly, first I raised from early position with AKo, taking down the pot without a fight, and shortly after that I took a sizable risk with this allin reraise:

This is basically my favorite spot in the world to try the squeeze. It's one thing to do it against an early or middle position open-raiser, who might actually have a legitimate raising hand, but I really love when I think the original raiser might be stealing. Then I know he's already thinking about folding his hand even before I run the squeeze play. And the second guy, who just called the steal-raise, he usually would have reraised to isolate with a hand like 88-QQ or with AK or AQ, so in most cases he's not super strong here either, especially since the first guy looks so much like he doesn't have a strong hand himself. Fortunately both players behind me folded, and this one hand jumped me back into 10th place of 16 remaining.

With some chip room to spare once again, I stole a pot with K8o:

I won another before the flop with ATs:

And another with a raise with A8o, even from under the gun as people could already start to hear those final-table drums beating:

I won my new biggest pot of the tournament with a few minutes left in Hour 5, as I picked up KK in late position, an awesome thing to happen to a guy like me after I have open-raised in this spot so actively over the past hour or two, and the big blind defended by calling my 3x preflop raise to 1500 chips. The flop came J96 rainbow, and I had to c-bet since I had been raising and c-betting so frequently with air that I need to be sure to also bet my good hands along the way for image purposes:

My opponent called, and when the turn card came a Queen, I decided to go for a weakish-looking second barrel bet in the hopes that the guy would maybe have a hand like AJ (anything but QJ please!) and be willing to push on me:

He smooth called again, which I liked given that I knew he would not be putting me on a big hand after my 25th preflop raise of the past hour, but then the river really kind of ruined my chance of stacking him by making a very obvious-looking straight out there:

As you can see, I tried to get him to call a large river bet in the hopes that he maybe had a set or the lower piece of the straight, but alas he did not call with the straight so obviously staring right back at him. That pissed me off, but of course, taking down a 51k pot to climb solidly into 3rd place of 15 remaining:

And I entered the fifth break in that same spot, 3rd place with 13 players left, with the final table bubble really starting to loom large. Early on in Hour 6, #13 busted from my table, and then I got called allin by the wondrous hand KJo preflop by a shorty, who promptly proceeded to flop a Jack to stay alive and wound my stack a little bit and drop me back down to the middle of the pack with 12 left. With fewer chips than I had had recently, and with the final table bubble growing ever closer, I forced myself to steal as much as I could when the action had not been opened when it reached me, stealing pots with Q8o, J9s and K9s before I managed to eliminate #12 for my sixth bounty of the night on this hand, allin preflop:

Not too long later, I won another nice pot thanks I am sure to the reckless aggression I had been exhibiting from late position at this table, as I raised once again on what looked like another steal and bumped the 2500-chip blind up to 7500 from the small blind. The big blind had had enough of my crap and reraised me, but not huge:

The raise was not tiny, but not so huge that he couldn't fold, which was key for me. Although of course he could have picked up a big hand like Aces or Kings, this is a blind vs blind confrontation and I know my opponent has sat and watched me open-raise like it's my job all night long, so I know he has me on a wide range. I considered the situation, and I just didn't think he had the goods, so I figured I would risk my tournment life and put him to the test, knowing especially that if I make him fold, my legend of aggression and his anger would only grow exponentially as a result of my play:

He folded. And then he did just about my favorite thing in all of online poker: he tried to intimdate me from raising him anymore in the chatbox:

Best. Night. Ever. That right there is already like me winning this entire tournament as far as I'm concerned, and you could do nothing more to validate my game plan here than that if you sat around for weeks and tried to design the worst possible response to my play. While the guy kept jawing at me in the chatbox, I called an allin reraise from a shorty preflop with my pocket 9s, was up against AK, and I managed to hold on to eliminate #11, my 7th knockout bounty of the tournament:

A few minutes later, the final table started, with me holding a dominating chip lead:

I specifically reminded myself as the final table began of my stated goal for 2010 of turning more of my final table appearances into outright wins. Especially in this tournament, getting top 3 is good, but the gap in payouts between 1st and 2nd place in this event was something like $3500, and too often over the past several months I have found myself ending in the top few spots -- which is great -- but also feeling like I've left thousands upon thousands of dollars on the table when I am finally eliminated in other than the top spot. Of course, this did not mean I was about to clam up and try to tight my way to a few higher spots payout position. No, I was going to go with what got me here -- relentless aggression -- but at the same time try to be smart about it. So I stole the first orbit with K7o, setting the tone for my play at the final table right then and there. During the next orbit, the shortest stack insta-pushed allin from early position -- a move I normally associate with two high cards more than a high pair with which the shorty is desperate to get a caller, and I decided to call with what I knew was likely just a small favorite in pocket 3s, to try to take a race and again set the tone for the final table against a player that I knew could not hurt me much even if I lost:

I managed to flop a meaningless set, and just like that I had my 8th bustout of the night. AK took out KK on a rivered broadway just a short while later to eliminate the 8th place guy in despicable fashion, dropping me into 2nd place in the process, and about 10 minutes later 77 eliminated T9s by flopping a set of its own to bring us down to 6 players left, with me 2nd just barely ahead of the guy who had just busted #8:

The chipleader busted the 6th place guy next, giving him a larger chip lead over me and the rest of the field with 5 runners remaining:

And then I managed to wrestle back the chip lead in a hand where we actually saw a flop, turn and a river at the final table (!!). The chipleader raised from the cutoff before the flop, and I smooth called the raise from my small blind with KQs. I flopped an awesome KQ6, and I opted to donk bet the guy and lead out in the hopes that he might have some knowledge and know what a weak move a donk bet usually is and maybe reraise me and I could get involved in a big pot here against the biggest stack left in this thing:

When the turn brought a raggy 3, one that did complete a flush on the board, this time I figured I would further confuse by checking, pulling out all the stops to extract a big chunk of this guy's stack by donking betting first and then checking out following a raggy turn card:

When he checked behind, I knew I was in good shape and I figured this full-pot river bet would elicit a fold, but I wanted to charge maximum dollar if my opponent wanted to see my hand:

Amazingly, the guy called my large river bet, and the chips slid over to my side of the table. Wanna guess what he had, based on how the hand played out? Take your guesses and I will skip some space before posting the hand replay screenshot:

Now that is a bad, bad call right there, but to give myself a little credit it was my flop bet and then turn check that made this guy call. He had top pair decent kicker, and when I checked the overcard on the turn he thought that meant his top pair nice kicker was likely best. Not a call I would have made in his spot -- again, recall that he had a comfortable chip lead with five players remaining prior to this hand being dealt -- but I can see where he came from with it at least. And his loss was my gain, as I was up over 225k and back solidly in the chip lead, right where I wanted to be. At the 6th break a few minutes later, I sat still nicely in front, down to 5 with a little under 20 grand to be spread among those of us lucky enough to still be alive:

Early in Hour 7, I managed to win my first pot with the Hammer all day long:

It's a little known fact that final table Hammer has about a five times strong effect than an early-tournamet Hammer. Just in case you didn't know. But with the chip lead, I want these effers to think I am getting in there with nothing sometimes. I have faith in myself to avoid bad situations better than anyone else at the table so anything that helps stir up some action outside of what my opponents would otherwise have done is a win for me in my view.

At this point, I am proud to say I picked up pocket Aces at the final table. It doesn't happen often to me, but being the extractor that I am, I knew just how to play it. After noticed that the aggressive short stack at the table was seated in the small blind, I opted to just limp utg with the Aces, and the guy did exactly what I thought he might and pushed allin behind me:

Yessssssss! Obviously I called, feeling smug as all getout. Then I saw this happen:

Poker is so fair, huh?

While I steamed over losing my hard-fought and very well-deserved chip lead, AJ eliminated TT thanks to a river Ace, and then there were four, with me somehow still in second place thanks to all the big pots I had won before this point on the night. Then I was given a gift by that same chip leader when he failed to bet out with his top pair on the flop, allowing me to nail trips on the turn and get him allin for nearly his entire stack:

And two hands later, I nabbed my ninth bounty of the night when I called his now short-stacked allin with my KQo and it held up for me:

I now had the chip lead 295k-254k-42k with three players remaining, and I was more determined than ever not to get busted in 3rd or 2nd place, not to be satisfied leaving thousands of dollars on the table again, and not to leave without finishing what I had started here some seven+ hours earlier. I lost that chiplead two hands later when I got rivered after getting allin preflop vs. the shorty with my A9o vs his K7o, but what can you do. I won some key races on the night, but my 60-40 shots did not fare so well, and in that sense I was lucky to still be alive here and still to have around three times the third place guy's stack.

Two hands later, I raised preflop with K7o, and the shorty called to see a very nice flop for me with both a King and a 7. I checked my top two pair (a great checking hand in no-limit, far superior to top and bottom or bottom two pairs from a slow-playing perspective). The shorty pushed after I checked to him on the flop, I called him down, made a boat on the turn, and I retook a slight chip lead heading into heads-up play:

This would be my 10th knockout bounty won, giving me an even $100 in bounties on the night. And still counting. And I had the chip lead back as we started heads up, which was key since on the very first hand of heads-up play I looked down to find AJo:

I briefly thought about slow-playing it, but after playing as stoopid aggressive as I had for the entire night, I once again felt like I had to raise my good hand here in the hopes that he might have a lower Ace, KQ or something he was willing to apply some pressure with. So I bumped it up to 36k, and out of nowhere -- remember, on the very first hand of heads-up play this is -- I faced this:

I thought for a few seconds, and all the tournaments I have final tabled but lost in by calling down with a good Ace against a better one flashed before my eyes. But after just a few seconds, I figured that this huge allin reraise just did not smell like Aces, Kings, or really any hand I should be particularly scared about with my AJ. Maybe a smaller pair, but just as likely I figured any smaller Ace would push in this spot. I had to cross my fingers and call, for all the marbles. Basically, $6600 if I win, and just $4000 if I lose:

As you can see, the flop left almost no doubt for a change that I would be the winner. And the turn and river were just fucking sweeeeet:

DQB baybeeeeee! And Dems $6600 cash money too!

Oh, and I almost forgot, my 11th bounty of the night as well, plus I get to keep my own as the winner of the tournament. So in total, it was a $120 buyin, I won $120 in bounties to eat that whole buyin up, and the $6625 is pure profit for a job well done. This is my first big tournament hit in a couple of months and it feels great heading into my upcoming trip to Foxwoods this coming Saturday to knock heads with some live poker donks in more or less the biggest buyin event I have ever participated in as a poker player. The funny this about this particular run is that it was ultimately pretty much my "standard" mtt score, in that I was ahead most of the times I got it all in, I got dealt some good cards and nailed a couple of really good flops in key spots, I had to win a couple of key races to survive, and I had to survive a couple of shit-kicking suckouts along the way to still be alive in the end. But I did not have extraordinarily good starting cards or get extraordinarily lucky, nor did I have to withstand the 85 bad beats that have also been the case on occasion in some of my deepest runs. But as long as UltimateBet continues to make this kind of decent buyin, small-field and excellent structure mtt available, I will continue to be around to try to make deep runs and pick up some hard-earned cash as a result.

Labels: , , , , ,