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2011 WSOP Diary: Week 4
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I’m sure it’s better to post up-to-date progress on my Main Event “run” (really, that should be “slog” or “crawl”), so I’m going to update this a couple times this week.

Day 19 (July 11): I took it easy today. We finished Day 1D of the Main Event at about 1:00 AM this morning, and I was totally exhausted with about two hours left in the day. I ended up going to sleep about 3:00 AM and woke up about 10:00. I was still exhausted, but I needed to get stuff done on my day off, so I couldn’t only relax today. I went grocery shopping and did some laundry, watched some TV and went to dinner at Melting Pot with some friends.

I’ve got my table draw for Day 2 and it ain’t pretty. Although my Day 1 draw was exceptionally bad, my Day 2 draw is still bad. There are two known, good pros at my table (their winnings are measured in millions of dollars). With 4,500 people still playing, it’s pretty unlucky to have two known pros at my table. On Day 1, I had three. The good news is that both the pros are short (one is short, one is really short), so hopefully they’ll be gone soon.

Time to rest up for tomorrow.

Day 20: Today is Day 2, and I’m spending the morning researching my table and just generally getting psyched up to play. Day 1 was particularly grueling – we started at noon and finished at 1:00 AM – and it took a lot out of me. I’ve adjusted my sleep pattern by about an hour (later) to help me stay fresh until the end of Day 2.

I’m starting Day 2 with 50k chips. I’m guessing average stack will be about 80k by the end of the day, so if I just steadily pick spots and chip up, I should be able to stay in the middle of the pack. Now that the antes have kicked in, I need to open up my game a little, but there’s no reason to go nuts. Hopefully this will be a good day.

Day 21: Yesterday was a rough day in the Main Event. I finished Day 2 with 41,600, which is less than half average, but still not a desperately short stack (my “M” when I return for Day 3 will be almost 10, which is “short”, but not “desperate”).

Overall, I’m playing good poker. Poker, in general, has a large luck component. But tournaments have a much larger component than, say, cash games. There are a lot of structural characteristics of tournaments that are beyond the players’ control. In a cash game, a solid player can just sit back and wait for hands he considers playable, then play his game. In tournaments, the blinds are constantly increasing, so there’s not much room to “sit back and wait” – if you wait too long, you’ll be out. Of course, good players adjust for this structural difference, but it still introduces luck and some variance. Then there’s funky stuff like table draws, seat draws, table breaking schedules, etc. That’s all out of the players’ control, but has a significant impact on potential success in a given tournament.

Here’s a summary of where I’ve run good and where I’ve run bad:

Good

  • I’ve had Aces seven times (I think) and Kings and Queens a couple times each. I’ve made two full houses and flopped two other sets. I flopped a straight once and I’ve flopped two-pair twice.
  • I haven’t taken any bad beats.
  • Even at tough tables, I’ve gotten some respect for my tight image and have been able to tread water by occasionally stealing blinds.
  • I have not been at risk of elimination yet (I’ve been all-in a few times, but never all-in and called).
  • I’m still in it.

Bad

  • We’ve played 20 hours so far. Of those 20 hours, 90 minutes have been at a “good” table. I already described my first table in a previous post. My starting table for Day 2 included Liv Boeree, Michael Martin, Ara Melikian and two other players with $400k in earnings. There were three of us at the table that I would consider “unknowns”. This is absurd – I should see maybe one player that is a “known pro” at my table. When my table finally broke, I got moved to a table where I recognized no one. It was awesome and I was chipping up nicely… for 90 minutes. And then I got moved to a new table with very aggressive players with big stacks. The two players on either side of me (four players total) had 100k+ in their stacks when I sat down (with 48k). The average at that time was about 75k. I didn’t recognize any of these people per se, but there was one sponsored pro and a couple other people who obviously knew what they were doing, playing a hyper-LAG style.
  • Yeah, I had Aces seven times, but I haven’t seen a flop with them. Which means I’ve managed to steal the blinds and antes (four times) and re-raise (three times) to take the pot down pre-flop. Obviously “that’s better than losing with them”, but on Day 2 I’m looking for double-ups, not blinds and antes. (NOTE: This is partially bad luck and partially by design – I intentionally cultivated a very tight image on Day 1, when I was dealt Aces four times. Part of cultivating a tight image is that people fold when I raise. The problem on Day 1 was not that I didn’t get action on the Aces, but that I couldn’t find other hands to play for value. Day 2, I opened up a bit and was just unlucky to not get action with Aces.)
  • All those hands I listed in the “Good” section are all the hands I’ve made. I lost a big pot (which I played badly) in the first level with one of the two-pair hands. I won the minimum with my flopped straight. I’ve made no flushes. I have gotten action on the full houses, so that was nice.

So, it’s mostly bad news through two days. Unfortunately, there are very few soft tables left in the tournament, so it’s unlikely my table draw for Day 3 is any good. I’m going to need to hope for some cards to double up, and I’m going to need to find good spots to steal to stay afloat until that happens.

Later, I found out a friend had taken a pic of me at my Day 2 table. Not only that, but he captured my river bet in a very big pot I was playing. The player two to my left is deciding whether to call/raise/fold when this pic was taken. I am in my standard “I’m playing a hand now” pose (that’s how I look pretty much any time I’ve got cards in front of me).

Fortunately, I’m very comfortable on a short stack. I have a very well-defined strategy that is effective, and I know how to find good spots to get my chips in. Hopefully I am able to double up and get through Day 3 with some chips.

Today I’m going to relax, do some laundry, work out and maybe do some more writing and business-y stuff. Then it’s off to play Day 3 tomorrow.

(Sorry I don’t have any new pics to share. Hopefully I’ll find somethig interesting to include as I update this week’s diary later this week.)

Day 22: Today we play Day 3 of the tourney. I’m about to do research on my table, but so far I don’t recognize any names there. The chip stacks around me are… ok. There are opportunities to use pressure to get chips, but it won’t be easy.

I’ll try to update this later on tonight after I make Day 4. I added a pic of my Day 2 table above – that was a rough table.

Day 23: Obviously, I didn’t update last night because I busted from the Main Event and wasn’t in much of a mood to write or talk about poker (or anything, really). So, to bookend this:

I made it to the end of the third level (of four) of Day 3. Before the day began, I thought I finally had a pretty good table draw, but I turned out to be wrong. Most of my table was comprised of competent, aggressive players that seemed to be playing solid poker. All in all, I had a little run good and a lot of run bad on Day 3.

[The next several paragraphs are loose discussions of hands I played during Day 3. I didn’t do much of this on previous days because my blog is public and I didn’t want my future opponents to be able to read up on how I’m playing and thinking. If you don’t know or care about specific poker hands, you’ll want to skip these next few paragraphs till you see “End Poker Hand Discussion” in bold font.]

Begin poker hand discussion

I started the day with 41,600 chips at the 800/1600 with a 200 ante level.

A couple orbits into the day, I picked up Aces against a player who was obviously a very aggressive player. I had only seen him play a few hands, but I decided to trap instead of re-raising with them because I felt he was the type of player who might try to blow me off my hand because of my stack size (I started the day short, but not desperately short). He raised in early position and I called in late-middle position. The flop was AJ2 and he made a continuation bet of just over half pot. Obviously I have the nuts, but given my read, I think it’s best to just call here and hope he keeps firing. The turn was another 2, giving me a full house. He checked and I checked behind, hoping to represent a Jack, a weak Ace or Tens/Nines. The river was a blank, he checked, I bet, he folded.

I later realized this was basically bad luck and that my read was perfect. The next orbit, the same guy doubled up another player (who had a set of Aces) with a straight draw. And that player had more chips than I did. And later on, the aggressive player ended up bluffing his entire stack (about 140k, which was above average when he did it) into a set of Sevens by 3-barrelling all-in with King-high (on an Ace-high board) in a situation almost identical to mine. He must’ve just had total air against my set of Aces.

Regardless, I picked up some chips in the hand and ended up around 50k. An aggressive player opened from early position and I had KTs on the Button. I called (my stack was 30BB or so, which makes this hand playable for me) and the Big Blind called. The flop was K62 “rainbow” (no flush draws out). This is a very good flop for my hand against the Big Blind and an aggressive pre-flop raiser. The Big Blind checked, the initial raiser continued for just over half pot (6,500) and I raised to 15,000 (I wanted to min-raise, but didn’t have the chips to do it and I try to avoid announcing my bet whenever possible since aural tells are difficult to anticipate/prevent and often easy to detect). The Big Blind check-re-raised to 30,000, and the initial raiser folded. It was back to me and I basically had to decide whether to go with the hand or fold. Calling isn’t an option for me there.

This is an ugly spot for me, and it’s a very funky spot. The best way to look at this hand is to use “Levels” and then figure out which level is appropriate. “Level” is basically short for “Level of Thinking”. Here’s a breakdown of the first few levels of thinking:

  • Level 1 “What are my cards? How strong is my own hand?”
  • Level 2 is “What are my opponents cards? How strong is his hand?”
  • Level 3 (this is where things start getting murky) is “What does my opponent think my cards are? How strong does he think I am?”
  • Level 4 is “What does my opponent think I think his cards are? How strong does he think I perceive him to be?”

The levels go on ad infinitum. Here’s how the hand looks if I think about it in terms of levels:

  • Level 1: I have top pair with a decent kicker. We’re three handed, so this is a pretty strong hand.
  • Level 2: What do my opponents have? Well, I don’t think the initial raiser and flop bettor has much. He’s opening a lot of hands so he most likely totally missed this flop. The Big Blind… Many players would just flat-call my re-raise if they had a set there. I know he probably doesn’t have two-pair because he’d have to be playing K6, K2 or 62 out of the Big Blind to make that hand. There are no obvious draws that he could be trying to semi-bluff. So his range is mostly KQ/KJ (he would’ve re-raised AK pre-flop with his stack), the occasional set of Sixes or Deuces, and air.
  • Level 3: What does he think we have? This player had shown to be pretty aggressive and was a thinking player (at least somewhat). So what was he thinking? Well, he was probably thinking the pre-flop raiser missed the flop and was making a standard continuation bet on the flop. My min-raise sort of appears strong, but could also look vulnerable (even though I put 1/3 of my stack in) because many players wouldn’t min-raise that board with a set (Why not just call and hope the Big Blind comes along for another bet? There aren’t any draws out there to be afraid of – this is the perfect spot to slowplay a set.), and he knows I don’t have AK because it’s a pretty big mistake to flat-call with my stack and AK in that spot (there are exceptions to this, but I should generally be looking to get my chips in with AK and 30BB against an aggressive raiser). So now we’re getting into some leveling: He probably knows I don’t have a set or AK. I could have a medium pair (88/99) or a weak King, or possible KQ/KJ, or just air trying to steal the pot on the flop.
  • Level 4: What does he think I think he has? Well, he’s representing a set, and he probably knows I don’t put him on AK there. With his bet, he’s telling me he has either a big King or a set, and that’s the story he’s telling. Against my range, a tricky player could check-raise knowing he’ll blow the original raiser out of the hand most of the time, and that I probably can’t stand a raise.

So this is what I’m thinking while deliberating whether to essentially move all-in or fold. The trick with “Leveling” is to always play one level above your opponent. The default assumption is that most opponents are Level 1 opponents – they’re focused on their own cards – so it’s appropriate to play Level 2 against them by playing my own cards and trying to put them on a hand. If I’m playing on Level 2 in this hand, he’s representing a set or a big King and it looks like that’s what he has. It’s also important to know what level my opponent puts me on. He probably looked me up online the night before Day 3 and saw that I basically have no live results. He would assume I’m inexperienced and put me on Level 1. So he’s playing as high as Level 2 at best. Without further information, my best bet is to play on Level 2 against him, meaning I should believe his check-re-raise represents genuine strength.

I decide to fold, but don’t like it. After discussing the hand with some friends, it seems like I made the right fold almost all the time unless I happen to be against a very, very tricky player who also gives me credit for being a thinking player. If he was check-re-raise bluffing there, he has to give me credit for being able to fold some Kx hands.

Some time later (in the second level), I doubled up with 99 > AQ. That was the first coinflip I’ve won in Vegas this summer (I’ve played something like 13 tournaments). I felt a little bad because once I saw the cards (before the flop), I told the guy, “You’re like a 70% favorite right now. I’m terrible at coinflips.” The flop was KTx, giving him four more outs (plus backdoor double-board-pair potential to counterfeit my Nines), but I managed to fade the turn and river to double up.

I flopped a royal flush in a blind-vs-blind hand against the only weak player at the table. He limped in the Small Blind, I checked with JTs (spades, even!) in the Big Blind and the flop was AQT all spades. He checked, I checked. Turn was another Queen (actually a good card in case he happened to have a Queen or even a Ten) – check, check. The river was a blank, he led 4k, I thought and raised to 15k (a little large, but I figure if he’s calling 8k more, he’s calling 11k more), and he folded. That’s the second time I’ve flopped the nuts in a blind-vs-blind hand and won nothing. I only made two straights and one flush (I’m counting the royal as both a straight and a flush) in 26 hours of play in the ME, and I won like 6BB total with them.

Later I had AA in the small blind, a good/solid player raised from early position (this player had been doubled-up earlier with a set of Aces against the super aggressive guy who didn’t give me action, but bluffed off his stack with King-high as described earlier). I decided to call and trap for a few reasons: the Big Blind had the kind of stack that would reshove a pretty wide range just to pick up the pot; my image was such that if I 3-bet out of the Small Blind, the Big Blind and initial raiser were almost certainly folding all but the very best hands, my stack was about right to try to trap and play for stacks with one pair. The flop was J42 with two clubs (I had the Ace of clubs). I led for just over half pot (called a “donk bet” because it often indicates weakness and induces a raise from the pre-flop raiser) hoping he would “raise the donkbet” and I could 3-bet all-in. Instead he just called. The turn was a Queen of clubs (there are now three clubs out there, so I have an overpair and the nut flush draw), and I checked hoping he would perceive my donkbet/check line as weak and take a stab at the pot. If he had bet the turn I would’ve moved in. Alas, he checked behind. The river was a brick and I checked again hoping he would bluff at it, but he did not. As I said: my read pre-flop was it would be very difficult to get chips from this player with my image. I did everything I could to trap him, but he just wasn’t biting and I ended up getting one post-flop bet with my Aces again.

After this series of hands, I was up to about 82k – my high point for the tournament. I had also only shown down Aces and Nines, and had generally played very few hands. My image was solid, so it was time to start trying to steal the blinds when I could find a spot. It was folded to me in the Cutoff (one to the right of the Button), so I opened with K4o hoping to take down the blinds. The player to my left (who’d doubled me up earlier) flat-called. Alarm bells immediately went off because both of us were relatively short and it’s odd for him to just call there. I immediately suspected he was trapping with a very big hand, and I decided I was done with the hand (planning to check-fold unless I hit the flop pretty hard). Sure enough, the flop was K96 or something like that. I had to continue with top pair in case he’d flatted with AQs, QQ, JJ or TT so that I wouldn’t lose the pot with the best hand. This lets him play perfectly against me (folding hands I beat and raising or calling hands that beat me), but with my chip stack I need to pick up the pot if possible. So I continued and he flat-called. I’m totally done with the hand now – there’s no way he’s flat-float-bluffing here with his stack and my image. The turn is a 3 and I check-fold when he moves all-in.

The last hand before dinner, I open-shoved 24BBs with 88. The guy to my left (who doubled me up earlier with my 99 against his AQ) tank-folded AQ.

About 40 minutes after the dinner break, a tight-ish (he was opening some pots, but wasn’t being particularly loose) player opened to 6k from second position and it was folded to me on the button. I had AA, and just needed to decide how to get maximum value from the hand. I started the hand with about 55k, so I could flat-call, 3-bet or move all-in – all three would be reasonable plays. If I had a shorter stack (45k), then 3-betting would just be too suspicious and moving all-in would probably be correct. So, flat-calling and re-raising were my best options. Since I had already trapped with Aces from the Small Blind earlier, and since I had previously flat-called raises with this stack-size on the button, I decided to 3-bet. If I flat-called, people would assume I could be trapping again and I wanted to play contra my image. I 3-bet to 15k (leaving myself 40k behind, and hopefully enticing AK, AQs or TT+ to re-raise all-in, trying to get me to fold). Sure enough, it’s folded back to the initial raiser who fairly quickly makes it 35k. Since I only started with 55k, I don’t waste much time moving my chips in and he calls the rest. He has KK, so I’m an 80% favorite before the flop. The flop is JTx, making me a 92% favorite. The turn is a King, giving him a set and making me an 88% dog (I can catch four Queens or two Aces to win). Of course the river is a brick and I’m out.

End poker hand discussion

So that was my Main Event. I generally ran cold, except I had Aces about 10 times. The first seven times, I didn’t see a flop. I finally got a little action with them on Day 3, including my bustout hand where I lost to Kings. Otherwise, I made 4 sets (two turned to full houses), flopped two pair twice, flopped a straight, flopped a straight flush (lost a big pot with two pair, won the minimum with the other two pair, straight and straight flush), and didn’t make any other flushes. I was all-in and called twice: once with 99 against AQ, once with AA against KK. For almost 26 hours of poker, that’s pretty mediocre stuff.

Vanessa is still in the Main Event and has over 450k chips as of right now. At least I still get to sweat her progress and hopefully I’ll get to see her move on to the November Nine. I leave to go home in four days, so I’ll write some more about my Main Event experience over the next few days.

Day 24: Yesterday was another bad day at the WSOP. Vanessa built up a very nice stack, but ran into three coolers and took a really nasty beat to finish somewhere around 500th. Just before the Day 4 dinner break, she ran AKs into AA in a spot where she just couldn’t fold. That hand cost her about 20% of her chips.

Then, just after dinner, they moved her to the ESPN feature table, which was being broadcast “live” (actually on 3-minute delay) on ESPN 2. Unfortunately, she only got to play three hands at the feature table. First, she ran AK into KK and lost some more chips. But the big hand was when she flopped a set of Sixes on a T96 board. A short-stack raised in early position, she called with 66 and the Big Blind called. On the flop, the Big Blind checked, the initial raiser (and short stack) bet 25k, Vanessa min-raised to 50k (obviously committing herself to call the short-stack’s possible all-in), and the Big Blind check-re-raised all-in to about 400k total (I think it was 392k total, but I could have that wrong). Anyway, it was a giant over-shove. The initial raiser folded and Vanessa tank-called with a her set. The Big Blind had QJs for an open-ended straight draw and backdoor flush draw (he was also probably hoping at least one of his overcards was live to a pair draw). Unfortunately, he hit the turn and won the hand. If Vanessa had won that pot, she would’ve had about 1.2 million chips (my guess is that was Top 20 or better with 500 players left). A few hands later, she busted when she was short-stacked and made top pair against the same player’s Aces. There was nothing she could do in the last hand, it was just a cooler.

I’ve had several conversations about the set of sixes (some with very good pros), and the hand lends itself very well to some serious analysis. I might post some thoughts on it later.

So three of us made Day 3. I busted as an 80% favorite when the money went in. Luckbox Larry busted as a 70% favorite when the money went in. Vanessa was crippled as a 72% favorite when the money went in (her hand was particularly brutal because of how many chips they both had before the hand).

So. That’s poker, I guess.

Today I’m moving out of the Rio and prepping to couch surf for my last few days here. I might also play the final Rio Daily 2pm $235 deep stack tournament. I’ve been thinking about some things I might change in my game, and the $235 is a nice little tourney to start trying stuff out.

I’ll spend the final couple days working on the book, relaxing and hanging out with friends before I head back to Gainesville.

Day 25: Well, I decided to play the final Rio daily deep stack tournament yesterday. They got 289 entrants and I finished 32 when 27 spots paid. So, another bubble. I played very well and went in with a plan to be aggressive and make some moves. I did that, but ended up just getting generally unlucky in the tournament.

I ran QQ into AA in the third level. I actually laid it down pre-flop. I guess I can’t be sure she had Aces, but I’m about 95% sure. It helped that another woman at the table agreed that my opponent was very strong, and the lady kept insisting she had AA even long after the hand was over. Anyway, I also had trouble with big combo draws (straight-plus-flush draws). I flopped one from the big blind and check-re-raised all-in, finding myself against two one-pair hands. So I was getting over 2-to-1 on my money as a favorite in the hand. Of course the turn and river were bricks and I lost a huge pot. Later on, I called an early position raise from and aggressive player when I was the Big Blind (I had 44, but that’s not relevant for the hand). My plan was to flop a set or run him off the hand with a check-raise if the board was scary. Sure enough, the flop was 578 with two hearts. Even if he opened with Aces, that’s a terrifying flop for the Big Blind to check-raise. I checked, he bet 4,200, I raised to 9,500 and he moved in for 50k more. Of course I folded and he said he had T9 of hearts – he flopped an open-ended straight-flush draw with two overcards. So my check-raise was right (if he’s opening that wide, he’s missing that flop most of the time and will have nothing when I check-raise him), except he happened to flop the world.

I also check-shoved from the big blind a couple times with top pair and got one fold and stacked a guy who had second pair. So I had the right aggressive mindset, but just got unlucky when it mattered. I was happy with my play.

That’s true for the summer as well. I ended up cashing in 5/13 tournaments this summer while running really badly. (For example, busting with AA against KK in the Main Event was not only a bad beat, but if I won that pot I was probably 80% to cash in my first Main Event.) I bubbled a Final Table at the Wynn when I lost a coinflip (where I was ahead and I was the one who moved all-in). I min-cashed at the Wynn when I lost another flip. I busted twice at the Wynn on 60/40s (one a bubble). I just couldn’t get some run-good when I needed it.

All in all, I was pleased with my play, and I think I continued to learn about the game with every tournament I played.

Ok, so I’m here for 48 more hours. Today, I’m working on the book with Vanessa and just relaxing. Probably more of the same tomorrow. I might run to the outlet mall to see if there are any good deals on stuff. I don’t have much money to spend, but since I buy new clothes like once a year, I might as well take care of it at the outlet mall.

I head back to Gainesville on Tuesday, and I’m really looking forward to being home.

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  1. Good blog. Sorry about the bust out. I lost a standard coinflip but those 80% hands really cheese me off. You made some great laydowns.