Why I cut my 2014 WSOP trip short

NOTE: I wrote the first draft of this on Sunday morning, July 6.

I’m in Atlanta, waiting on my 8:00 AM connecting flight back to Gainesville. It’s been a while since I took a redeye, but this is the real deal. I took this flight because I didn’t have many other options when I decided to cut my annual WSOP trip to Vegas short.

Why did I do that? To be honest, I’m really not sure, and I’m processing that question as I write this. I was really excited to head out this year, and I’d been looking forward to it since I returned from last summer’s trip. So I packed my bags, flew to Vegas, and immediately just felt… off. Instead of looking forward to playing tournaments, I sort of dreaded it. I was there for three days before I played my first tournament (the $1,500 Monster Stack, where I hung out for 10 hours and busted at the end of Day 1). It was another four days before I played my second tournament (a $300 tourney at the Wynn, where I busted on a bad beat after about four hours).

After playing only two tournaments in a week, I thought the remaining 11 days of my vacation could be better spent than puttering around Vegas, playing a tournament every few days. I decided I would rather spend my final week off in Gainesville, where I can relax and work on TaskBook. So here I am.

But I can’t help but wonder if there’s a little more to it. I’ve been playing poker for 11 years, and I was really, really fascinated by it when I began playing in little home games in college. I was the guy who went out and bought books and started reading poker forums to get better in my five-dollar home game. When I graduated from college, moved to Dallas, and started working full-time, I also started playing a lot of poker online at night after work.

I played a lot and read a lot, but I never went all-in the way some online pros and grinders did. I just didn’t have the will or desire to grind eight to 10 hours a day online. That didn’t sound fun to me.

I continued playing a lot of poker online for the next several years, and started visiting Vegas for the WSOP beginning in 2009. A couple months after my WSOP trip in 2009, I was let go from my job and started playing a lot more online poker. I still enjoyed playing, but not nearly as much as I had when I began, and playing online started feeling like more and more of a grind. I think that’s when I began to burn out.

My poker reserves began running low late in 2009, then my online time tapered a bit through 2010 and had all but disappeared by the time Black Friday hit online poker in April of 2011. From then on, I would play the occasional cash game in Florida, but mostly just played during the summers in Vegas.

Late in 2011, I began writing Heads-Up Tournament Poker and building my first web application (ShareAppeal). Pretty much all of my poker energy went into the book, and the remainder of my creative and intellectual energy went into learning Ruby on Rails. I never really saw poker as a way to create a dependable income, but I felt differently about web applications – I felt there could really be something there for meaningful future income. I began shifting my energy and interest from poker to app development and stopped playing poker entirely except during the summers in Vegas.

My 2012 trip was a month long, but I was working full time for the entire month, so I didn’t play much poker. I almost didn’t make the trip in 2013, but was persuaded by a friend to make the trip (and I’m glad I did – that was a fun two weeks). I think my 2013 trip emptied the tank, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I didn’t play a single hand of poker between the WSOP 2013 and my trip this summer, or maybe I would’ve realized sooner that I had used up most of my interest in poker for now.

I’m not saying I’ve quit poker, or that I’m over it. I just wasn’t feeling it this summer. I’ve been working hard on TaskBook, and that takes a lot of energy and can be sort of distracting when playing poker. I see TaskBook in particular, and app development in general, as a way to generate real income on the side, and it’s still very interesting to me. Unfortunately for poker, app development uses a lot of the same creative energy as poker does, so there’s just not enough room for a deep interest in both.

I hope that I can replenish my poker-energy reserves over time. I may play some cash games around town, or jump into some Florida tournament series this fall, or I may not. But for now, I’m just not as interested in poker as I used to be, and I’m more and more interested in app development. So my guess is my energy will be focused there for a while, and poker could be on the back burner indefinitely.

Wynn win-win: Recapping my first good tourney score in a while

As you may have seen on Twitter, I (basically) won a $550 tournament at the Wynn last weekend. I gotta say, it felt really, really good, especially given how I ran in 2011. I won’t recap the bad beats (you can read about last year’s WSOP and my trip to Seattle for that stuff), but I will say that I was really, really down on poker when I got to Vegas this summer. I had conversations with Luckbox Larry where he mentioned that he and another friend thought I looked really miserable at the poker table. “I am miserable.” is what I told him. Just sitting there, folding, looking forward to a chance to get it in as an 80% favorite so I can take another bad beat–that’s no fun. Of course I look miserable.

Anyway, things finally turned around last weekend. I’m going to do a sort of merged recap here. I was tweeting on breaks, and a lot of interesting stuff happened between breaks that I didn’t tweet about. I’m also going to try to keep this pretty short, but I’m frankly writing this for myself more than anyone else, so you’ll have to indulge me. This was my biggest score so far, after all. I want to remember it.

If you want to read this without all the poker commentary, you can just scroll through to see the stuff in block quotes and see the pics. If you want to read more about the details of hands I played and how the tourney went, then you can read between the block quotes.

Back to the Wynn

Over the years, the Wynn has been a pretty reliable place for tournament success. It generally has pretty soft fields and they’re smaller, so cashing isn’t too difficult. Still, I ran kind of bad there last year and had a grueling six hours in a Saturday $550 tournament there a few weeks ago. And yet, I went back.

@JoshDoody: Back to the Wynn for another $550 tourney because I hate money and like getting cold cards and watching my stack dwindle over several hours.

But I was determined to make this one different. Beforehand, I told Luckbox Larry, “You know what? I’m going to play good poker today. I’m not going to be all careful, playing cautiously to hang around and get lucky. I’m going to be aggressive, make moves and either put together a run or go down in flames.” I was determined to play well, and to make my opponents hate me.

As I’ve mentioned on Twitter (and probably on the blog), I spent the past year writing a book about heads-up tournament strategy, and I really learned a lot while writing that book. Much of what’s in the heads-up book is directly applicable to full ring tournaments because, in the words of one of my co-authors, “If you’re playing full ring right, most of the pots you play are heads-up anyway.” You just shrink your playable hand range (and do the same for your opponents) and heads-up strategy is very applicable to full ring tournaments.

So, I learned a lot about heads-up strategy, and I thought I could apply it to full ring games. One of the benefits of writing a book with professional poker players is I get to talk poker with professional players a lot. I went into this tournament focused and really “seeing the ball”. My plan was to play aggressively, be tricky against good opponents, and use position to abuse people. I did all those things, and did them pretty well.

During the first few levels, I played a few pots, but one hand was memorable and it set the tone for the tournament. I used a move called a “flat-float-bluff” (FFB) to win a decent pot with a crummy hand. A FFB is where an opponent in front of me raises and I flat-call his raise (usually with a weak hand). The opponent will typically continue betting (c-bet) on the flop, regardless of his hand. The “float” is where I call that c-bet without a real hand, planning to win the pot later on. If the opponent was indeed betting with a weak hand on the flop, he’ll often check the turn, and that’s when the “bluff” comes in. This move can be very effective against opponents who will give up if they missed the flop and their c-bet gets called.

This time, I actually used a flat-float-bluff-bluff (FFBB) since I had to fire two barrels (one bluff on the turn, another on the river) to win the hand. I won this one with a combination of moxie and a tell I picked up on my opponent. When I went to execute the “bluff” on the turn, there were three hearts on board. I had K2o for total air and no heart draw, but I continued with the plan to bluff anyway. As I was counting my chips to make the bet, my opponent grabbed some “calling chips” and held them out as though he were definitely calling if I bet. This tell can mean a few things depending on the situation, but in this case I knew it meant he was trying to intimidate me into checking instead of betting. He had some kind of decent hand, but probably not a great hand, and couldn’t stand to call a bet on the turn and a bet on the river. He was trying to slow me down so he could get to showdown cheaply. I was pretty sure he did not have a heart draw because of the action in the hand, so I figured he must have something like a one-pair type hand. The river was another heart (putting four hearts on the board), and my opponent checked to me again. I was pretty sure I would win if I bet (because I didn’t think he had any hearts), but I took my time grabbing my chips because I wanted to see if he’d do the same thing where he held out “calling chips” before I bet. He didn’t, so I knew I had a green light to bluff and take it down.

@JoshDoody: We started the @wynnpoker tourney with 17.5k chips. I made the first break with about 18k after getting up to 25k and misplaying a hand.

The hand I misplayed was an interesting hand against a good player who was directly to my right. I flat-called his pre-flop raise because I had position. I don’t remember what I had, but I think it was something like 65s. There was one other player who saw the flop, which was something like K83. The first player checked, the raiser bet out (“c-bet”, which just means he continued betting as is expected of the pre-flop raiser if it’s checked to him on the flop). I called his bet with nothing (another “float”), hoping the first player would fold, and I could steal the pot on the turn (I’m trying another FFB). The turn was a boring card, my opponent checked, I bet, and he check-raised me so I had to fold.

My mistake was that I should have folded on the flop when he c-bet. He had rarely c-bet before that hand, so I could be reasonably certain he had a pretty good hand when he c-bet on the flop. This wasn’t the time to make the “flat-float-bluff” move, especially since he’d seen me win a pot with a similar line a little earlier (the FFBB with K2o on the four-heart board). This would set up a pretty big hand later.

Right after the first break, I had to 3-bet and fold to a 4-bet from Luckbox Larry. The opponent I 3-bet was the same solid opponent I had failed to flat-float-bluff in the hand I misplayed earlier (above). I suspect he began to realize that I was playing aggressively in position on him, and he was suspicious. That’s the setup for this next hand.

My opponent (the good one on my right) made a standard raise from the hijack seat (HJ; the seat two to the right of the button), and I flat-called in the cutoff (CO; the seat one to the right of the button) with Td9d. I think everyone else folded. The flop was all diamonds (something like J42), giving me the medium flush. My opponent c-bet (bet out), which is a standard play, but not one he usually makes (see above). He usually won’t c-bet (which is why I played the hand so badly earlier). I would normally want to raise with my flush to define his hand (his reaction to a raise on that flop would tell me quite a bit), but also to take control of the hand so I could dictate whether we bet the turn (because hopefully he would check to me on the turn if he called my raise on the flop). I decided to call since it seemed he had a real hand, and he might put me on a float if I just call on this board.

The turn was an offsuit king, which was a pretty good card for my hand. If I was ahead on the flop (which was very, very likely), I was still good on the turn (I didn’t want to see the board pair, or a diamond). My opponent checked to me, and I had to bet because I couldn’t give him a free card to see the river and possibly counterfeit my flush. I was nearly certain my flush was the best hand, and I couldn’t afford to slowplay anymore. Also, I had made this same play earlier, and he caught me (the flat-float-bluff) making the move, and he had seen me take this same line against another player earlier (when I had K2o and did a flat-float-bluff-bluff). This was the perfect situation to bet and hope he was trying to trap me. Sure enough, he check-raised, I moved in, and he called. It turns out he had KK, so he had turned a set of kings. That was a big pot that gave me a lot of chips.

@JoshDoody: I have 45k on the second break. Playing good, aggressive poker, earning pots with bluffs and getting lucky occasionally. Who is this guy?!

There was one really interesting hand during these levels. I raised in middle position with AQo, and only the big blind (an aggressive European player) called. I’ll skip straight to the river (we both checked the flop Qc9c8x, he bet at me when another club hit the turn, and I called). On the river, the board was Q984x with four clubs. So I had top pair, top kicker on a four-flush, straightening board. The problem I had was that my hand was “pretty good” (top pair, top kicker is a pretty good hand in a heads-up pot). But there were a lot of hands he could have that beat mine. My opponent’s lead on the turn indicated a semi-strong hand that might be trying to protect against a club draw. On that board, “semi-strong” means several hand that beat top pair, top kicker. On the river, My opponent checked to me, and I often would have just checked back, hoping my hand was good, but I decided that was a bad idea. He could have some dinky little club, or even a weak two pair that he was afraid to bet. The bottom line was there were a lot of hands that beat mine that would fold if I made a good bet. On that board, he would have to fold sets, two pair, little one-club hands and even a straight. So I decided to turn top pair into a bluff. I made a largish bet and he folded.

This isn’t a super remarkable hand except I think I would often have checked there in the past. But checking is a mistake much of the time because I can get so many better hands to fold by betting. I didn’t make that mistake and I earned a pretty nice pot. I’m pretty sure my opponent folded a better hand because he mumbled something that Luckbox Larry overheard… seemed like he might have laid down top two pair. I was feeling pretty good after that hand. I had been chipping up almost all day, and played pretty good poker.

A few hands later, I raised with 92s in late position, and ended up winning a decent pot, but I had to show the hand. (I c-bet the flop, bet again on the turn, and gave up on the river. My opponent had been calling with various draws that all missed, so I had to show my third pair of nines with a deuce kicker to win the pot.) This was a problem because now everyone knew I was raising trash in late position (which I had been for a while – the blinds were pretty tight and folded way too much).

The result was that I had to snug up a bit and hence didn’t grow my stack very much before dinner.

@JoshDoody: On dinner break with ~62k, and average is ~40k. I’m playing well and winning most of the big pots I play (which is lucky). 30 left, 10 pay.

After dinner, I continued to play pretty tight thanks to my image being trashed with 92s earlier. I still managed to chip up, but it was mostly just luck: I happened to pick up hands in the big blind to bust some players who moved in with short stacks. I don’t remember playing too much poker during this stretch. Just sort of sat back and let the cards do the work.

@JoshDoody: We’re on the last break of the night. 21 left, average is 65k, I have 125k. Playing and running well. I should be Top 5 in chips. 10 pay.

@JoshDoody: They broke my table. I got AA the first hand at my new table. Held up against KK for a monster pot. Chip leader with ~250k. 14 left, 10 pay.

This was the first and only time I had AA, KK or QQ in the tournament. Lucky for me, I got AA against KK, AND he had more chips than I did (there were probably only two or three people with more chips, so this is very lucky), AND my AA held up. This was pure luck and it worked out really well for me. I was monster chip leader with 14 people left.

Unfortunately, things would turn ugly for the last level of the night. This next tweet says it all.

@JoshDoody: JJ < KK, a blind vs blind gone bad, raise/fold with 88, flat-float-bluff fail and I'm down to 124k (above avg) with 12 left. Back at noon.

I beat myself up pretty bad after this run of hands, but I was probably a little hard on myself. The JJ < KK hand was blind versus blind. It was folded to the small blind who had literally moved all-in probably six times since I sat down at my new table. He had been showing good cards, but was still pretty short. He had about 40k left (remember, I had 250k, and average was around 100k, so he was pretty short), and moved all-in. I looked down at JJ and had an easy call. Of course, he had KK and it held up, so there goes 1/6 of my stack.

The next hand, I was in the small blind and it was folded to me. The big blind only had 29k left and I think we were at 1,500/3,000 with a 400 ante. Translation: He was very short, short. I looked down at J7o and decided I could move in and take the blinds pretty easily. The player in the big blind had been playing really tight, so I expected him to need a good hand to call.

He thought for a few seconds and called with… Q6o. I’m not sure why he called. That’s clearly not a calling hand, and he was a tight player. He just decided to go with it, I guess. Of course Q6 held up and I lost another 30k. Down from 250k to 180k in two hands.

About five hands later, I was in early position and opened with 88 (we were six-handed). A tight player two to my left moved all-in, and I ended up folding. He later told me he had TT. Another 10k gone.

The last hand of the night, an aggressive player in early position (we’re still six-handed) made his standard raise to 9,500. I flat-called on the button with KTo (I think this is fine six-handed, and a 3-bet would be totally acceptable as well). The flop was Q94, giving me a gutshot straight draw and an over card (and king high, which could be good). He c-bet and I floated. The turn was another four, and he checked, so I bluffed for 21k (just about half pot). I’ve now tried a FFB… and he called. The river was another queen, so the board was Q944Q. He led out for 40k and I thought for a while and folded. I almost called with king high there, but just decided it would be awful to go to Day 2 with 80k chips, below average. I may have lost a leveling war because I’m pretty sure my opponent knew I would think that way, and that may be why he made that bet. He may also have had a hand, but I kind of doubt it. Who knows.

Day 2

@JoshDoody: Our table draw for Day 2 of the Wynn $550 is here (ugly pic): [The link is already broken.] @hugepoker and I are at the same table. I’m 5th in chips.

Luckbox Larry and I did a lot of research on our Day 2 table, and it turned out I had a pretty bad seat between two good players. We were only six-handed, so this was a bad seat draw, especially since Luckbox Larry was also at my table. I’m pretty sure our table was significantly tougher than the other table.

We also decided to swap some equity since we both had the same chip stack and we were on the bubble. This is a pretty unusual swap because equity swaps usually happen before the tournament starts. But since we were on the bubble and had similar stacks, we decided it would be prudent to hedge by swapping some equity. Basically, we were trying to ensure that at least one of us would get something as long as one of us cashed.

It all turned out to be moot because we literally played one hand before two players (one at each table) busted and we made the money.

@JoshDoody: Made the final table at the Wynn. I’m guaranteed a min-cash, going for the $11k first prize. (cc James Di Virgilio) https://twitter.com/JoshDoody/status/219511016785059840/photo/1

Once we made the final table, we redrew for seats, and my seat draw was much better. The good player to my left moved over to my right. The good player that was to my right moved across the table from me.

You’ll also note that I’m wearing a suit for the final table. I did that just because several of my friends back home told me I had to change something up to stop running bad. I decided I would dress up to show the final table I meant business (and to show them that I only had one outfit resembling a costume).

@JoshDoody: 9 left. I’m below average and need to win a pot (it’s been a while).

I was card dead for quite a while at the final table.

@JoshDoody: 8 left. I stole the blinds once, so hanging in there.

The card-deadness continued down to eight left. Stealing the blinds was worthy of a tweet, so that paints a pretty clear picture of how my cards were. I’m pretty sure we played down from 12 left to eight left, and the only pot I won was this blind steal.

@JoshDoody: 7 left AND I knocked out number 8 with KQs > 99 ( I won a flip!). I’m still pretty short, but not desperate anymore. (UPDATE: 6 left)

I was getting really short-stacked, and an under-the-gun opponent moved all-in when I was in late position. I would normally not call all-in with a hand like KQ, but this particular opponent had been moving in a lot, and I thought there was a pretty good chance I had him dominated (I think KJ, KTs, QJ were in his range). I could also essentially remove AA and KK (and maybe QQ) from his range because he moved in quickly when it was his turn to act. Most players will have to think, “How can I maximize my chances of doubling up with these aces?” before they move all-in or raise. He didn’t take enough time to think that over, so I could be pretty sure he didn’t have a monster. Given the fact that I could have him dominated and that he was unlikely to have me dominated, I decided to put my chips in with KQ. Turns out we were in a coinflip and I hit a king on the turn to bust him (I barely had him covered).

@JoshDoody: First break of the day. Still at 6 left and I’m either 5th or 6th in chips. Need to get lucky now.

After the KQ > 99 hand, I went back to being pretty card dead and folding a lot. I also had the misfortune of having an extremely aggressive (and good) European player on my right, and he was frequently moving in on me if it was folded to him in the small blind. Since he was moving in so frequently, I knew I could open up my calling range quite a bit from the big blind, but my cards were far worse than what I would need to call an all-in (even against a guy who’s basically moving in with any two cards). I had 62o and 84o a lot during this stretch for some reason. There was a two-orbit stretch where I had a two in my hand in all but one hand.

@JoshDoody: 5 left, and I knocked out 6th (AT > 73o). I’m 4th in chips. @hugepoker is chip leader with more than 450k. I have about 170k.

This was another gift like I received a few times on Day 1. It folded around to a late-position, short-stacked opponent who moved all-in when I was in the big blind. I woke up with AT and had to call. I was lucky to have another 70/30 hold up (my fourth or fifth of the tournament).

This is the kind of “good luck” you need to win a tournament: you have to avoid getting unlucky in crucial pots. Yes, I’m supposed to win a 70/30 most of the time, but winning four or five of them in a row is really good luck. I also had the good fortune that when I lost these hands, I usually had my opponent well covered, so it didn’t do serious damage to my stack.

@JoshDoody: 4 left, and I knocked out 5th place (A6s > KQo). I have about 315k, avg is 270k. Pretty sure I’m 2nd in chips. @hugepoker is chip leader.

Speaking of the really aggressive European player to my right, he finished in 5th place. It was folded to him on the button, and he moved all-in. I had been playing tight in the blinds, and so had the guy to my left, so this was a really good spot for him to move in with a pretty wide range of hands. Again, I normally wouldn’t call all-in with A6, but I knew I was ahead of his range, and I was short enough that I had to take a chance to win a pot and bust a player when I could get it. It turns out he had KQ, so I was ahead, and my hand held up again (this time in a 60/40). More good luck.

@JoshDoody: Took a nasty beat four-handed (AKo < K5o -- he rivered a straight) that would've made us 3-handed. Down to 6 BB, now back to almost 20 BB.

This was a devastating hand, one of those 70/30s you have to win to win a tournament. The player to my left was first to act (I was big blind), and he moved all-in for about 240k. It was folded to me, I woke up with AK and had an easy call. Not only did I lose the hand, but I lost it in a nasty way: he made a straight on the river (with his five). The next tweet says it all…

@JoshDoody: Forgot to mention that if my AK holds up, we’re three-handed and I’m probably chip leader. Still in it and playing great poker.

I would’ve been around 520k if I won that hand, and we would’ve been three handed (“we” being Luckbox Larry, a short stack, and me). Luckbox Larry and I had a goal of getting heads-up for the win, and this hand would have made that an almost-lock. We were this close to being one and two in chips with three left, but the poker gods didn’t smile on me this hand.

After this hand, I was left with something like 60k chips, and the blinds were (I think) 5k/10k with a 1k ante. I was desperately short-stacked and would need to get seriously lucky to win the tournament.

All that said, I have a very clear and effective short-stack strategy that I’m very comfortable executing. My biggest hurdle after this hand was psychology–it would have been really easy to just give up. While a 6BB stack is really, really short, there’s still room for skill to help me get back in the game. I needed to keep my head and not tilt.

This is one of the better aspects of my game: I have extreme patience (sometimes to a fault) and rarely tilt, even after horrendous beats. This beat was one of those rare bad beats in a tournament where I could actually calculate how much money it cost me. A 4th-place finish would pay $3,500, and moving up to 3rd would pay about $5,000. If my AK held up, it would have earned me $1,500. Instead, I was by far the shortest stack, staring at a 4th place finish.

Fortunately, I kept my head and played my short stack long enough to make the next break so I could catch my breath and settle down (we were about 20 minutes from the break when I lost this hand).

@JoshDoody: Second break of the day. Still four-handed and I’m the short stack. @hugepoker just took a nasty beat to chop with AT = A5 in a 560k pot.

Meanwhile, Luckbox Larry had a chance to win a huge pot and become chip leader, and it was a similar situation: he was a 70/30 favorite. But the board double-paired to counterfeit his kicker, and he ended up chopping (splitting) the biggest pot of the tournament with two pair, ace kicker. This was probably almost as deflating for him as my AK < K5 hand was, except he didn’t actually lose the hand. Suddenly, we were both running bad at the worst-possible time.

@JoshDoody: We just chopped it up four-handed. I got the lion’s share: ~$8,200. Everyone else got ~$6,500. Technically… I won? https://twitter.com/JoshDoody/status/219590756048973824/photo/1

But fortunes can swing quickly at the final table because the blinds and antes are so large relative to the chip stacks. I had worked my stack up to over 200k (from 60k after the bad beat earlier), and we all seemed to have between 200 and 300k chips. One of the remaining players (we called him “red shirt” because… he was wearing a red shirt) asked if we wanted to talk about a deal (distributing the prize money in some way rather than playing the rest of the tournament). As he started to mention it, the dealer was already dealing a hand, so we decided to wait until after that hand to talk about a deal.

Unfortunately, he won a big pot with AK > AJ (against Luckbox Larry), and ended up being massive chip leader after that hand. “Never mind. It doesn’t make sense now because I have so many chips and a chip-chop wouldn’t work.” So we would play on. A couple of hands later, I doubled through “red shirt” to take a massive chip lead (AQ > … A5, I think? — I won another 70/30). We were ready to talk “deal” again, and I ended up getting the lion’s share of the chips.

I had some friends ask me what happened at the end–why we didn’t play it out. The reason is that there’s a lot of variance (big swings in chip stacks) late in tournaments when the blinds get high. These last few hands illustrate that pretty well. Luckbox Larry had a huge chip stack, then suddenly he was short and “red shirt” had a huge chip stack, then suddenly he was short and I had a huge chip stack. That all happened in like four hands.

Since 4th paid only $3,500 and first was $11,500, there was a lot of money on the line, and we were basically gambling for it. In order to reduce variance (and to avoid “losing” a pile of money), we decided on a deal: I would get $8,200, “red shirt” and the guy to my left would each get $6,500, and Luckbox Larry would get $6,400 because he was really short-stacked. The primary beneficiary of this deal was Luckbox Larry – he got more than he probably should have, but that’s just because he’s good at negotiating deals. I probably could’ve gotten a few hundred more dollars, but I didn’t want to risk losing the deal. I was hoping to land at $8,500, but ended up at $8,235. I’m happy with the way things turned out.

@JoshDoody: A decent shot of me forcing a smile (holding it for like 30 seconds). And some cash. Also, I’m wearing my magic suit! https://twitter.com/JoshDoody/status/219613236952170497/photo/1

That’s an awful picture of me that’s out of focus. Also, I literally had to hold that “smile” for like 30 seconds before the dealer took the pic, so my typically non-photogenic smile is even worse than usual. Bad smiles aside, it was nice to end up with a little pile of cash, my biggest tournament score yet.

Off to Vegas for the 2012 WSOP and lots of work

I’m writing this post from a plane somewhere over New Mexico, and I’m on my iPad, so this may not be the best-written or -formatted post I’ve ever written.

Anyway, I’m heading to Vegas for my annual trip to the World Series of Poker. This is the first year I’m staying in a condo instead of hotel hopping like I usually do. My typical routine is to hop back and forth from the luxurious Gold Coast to the Rio (where the WSOP happens) since they’re right across the street from each other. I will usually stay at the GC on the weekends (when it’s significantly cheaper than the Rio), and at the Rio during the week.

This year, I have a job, so I need a place where I can work without the sounds of slot machines and depression in the background, so I decided to rent a condo. I managed to talk Luckbox Larry into splitting it with me, so I’ll even have a roommate. The bottom line is we’ll probably both feel like we’re living in the lap of luxury since we’ll have our own rooms and, you know, the creature comforts like a fridge and oven. My guess is it’ll cost 30-50% more at the condo than it usually does I’m the hotels. But it’s hard to compare because we’ll have much better accommodations, WiFi, laundry, a gym and that sort of thing. All in all, I think it’s a good value.

Originally, I booked this trip so I could be here to promote the heads-up book, which we were trying to release before the WSOP Main Event, but that ain’t happening so I’m just here to work and pay poker this summer. When I say “work”, I really mean several things: my “day job”, of course; ShareAppeal, which is really getting rolling; writing a new book about my career so far (I’ve already written about 2,000 words since we took off); and editing the heads-up book so it’s ready to release later this year. I’m keeping pretty busy, as always.

But of course there’s poker too, right? I hope so. I don’t know how much I’ll be able to play with all the other stuff I have going on, but I’m going to at least try to play a few WSOP events and some side tournaments. I would like to play the Main Event again, but I have no idea if that’ll actually happen. Last year, I didn’t decide to play until about three hours before the beginning of Day 1 D (scroll down to Day 18), some still have about three weeks to figure out a way to play again this year.

We’re starting our descent, so I’m going to sign off. I don’t know if I’ll do a daily diary this year, but I’ll be sure to keep everyone up to date one what’s going on.

Oh! But I would like to give people a better sense of what the WSOP is like, and what it’s like for me every summer I Vegas. So, if you want to know more about that sort of thing, leave some comments with suggestions on what you want to know or see. I’ll do my best to create some content to give a sense of what it’s like out here at the WSOP.

2011 Seattle Trip Diary

Day 1: Today started pretty rough, but got better as it went on. I went to sleep about 2:00 AM and had to be back up at 4:00 AM. My plane left Gainesville at 5:20 AM and I arrived in Seattle at 9:30 AM local time. The Muckleshoot Casino, where we’re playing three tournaments this weekend, is pretty close to the airport, so Luckbox Larry and I swung by to register for Friday’s $300 tournament (we heard it was likely to sell out). Wow, that sentence was awful. So, once that was out of the way, we headed up to Seattle so I could get settled.

Once I dropped off my stuff at Luckbox Larry’s place, I met Jimmy Trent for lunch at the Green Lake Bar & Grill. It was good to catch up on Jimmy’s life since he and his family relocated from Gainesville to Seattle. After lunch, we met up with the rest of his clan at Seattle’s version of Mochï (I can’t remember what it’s called).

On my way back to Luckbox Larry’s place, I stopped off at Herkimer Coffee (recommended by Jimmy) to pick up a couple lattes (one for me and one for Luckbox’s wifey). I figure I’m basically in the coffee capital of America (the world?), so I might as well sample the goods while I’m in town, right?

By then, my head was more or less spinning because I hadn’t had much sleep. The entire afternoon is pretty hazy, actually. I did some work on the super-long post about the big hand between Vanessa and David and then managed to get a nap on the “Futon Bed”, which is the odd combination of a futon with a giant full-size mattress on top of it. It sleeps normal-er than it sounds, so I was out for an hour or so.

Next up, we all headed off to a Team Huge (Luckbox Larry’s poker-playing crew who often visits Vegas for the 4th of July festivities) dinner party, where we had some chicken stuff, some bread, salad and corn. (Did I mention my memory gets a little fuzzy from the afternoon through the rest of the day?) Then we played a quick little poker tournament (I busted first), and finally left to head back to Luckbox’s place around 11:00 PM. By now, I’d more or less been awake for 24 hours except for a nap on the plane and another nap on the Futon Bed. I guess we drove back home and I went to sleep or something.

Day 2: I originally scheduled this to be an off day so that I could adjust to the new timezone and see a bit of Seattle. That’s more or less how the day turned out. I managed to sleep till about 8:00 AM. I considered this a coup since I was afraid my body would be stuck on East Coast time. I wandered out to find a coffee shop and landed at Lighthouse Roasters. They didn’t have WiFi, but that’s no biggie since I have MyWi on my iPhone. I spent a few hours there (more editing on the Vanessa v. David piece) and then headed back up to Luckbox’s place.

I spent a few more hours getting some work done (including some work for the next phase for this site) and then we went and got takeout at Paseo, which is a kind of Cuban-Caribbean fusion and Freemont institution. In a word: superdelicious. I had the Cuban Roast sandwich and it basically blew my socks off. Then I took a nap.

For the evening festivities, Luckbox and I decided to go play a tune-up $130 tourney at the Tulalip Casino, where they HATE, HATE, HATE bags. All bags. Do not bring a bag to our casino! Uh, so neither of us cashed in that tournament and then we left WITH OUR BAGS. Hopefully my 0/2 start isn’t a harbinger of things to come this weekend.

On the way back to the abode, we stopped in for dinner (?) at Molly Moon’s. I got a 2-scoop waffle cone with Salted Caramel and Maple Walnut. It was incredible, and quite a bit more than I was prepared to eat since Luckbox’s wife was supposed to help out, but ended up bailing because she wanted to sleep instead of eating ice cream at midnight or whatever.

Then I did some reading and went to sleep.

Day 3: We had to be up pretty early today because the $300 tourney started at 10:00 AM and we were about 45 minutes away. We dropped off Alfie and then drove down to the Muckleshoot (with a Starbucks stop on the way). We walked in just as the tournament was getting under way and it was more or less like playing poker in an igloo. I felt I played pretty well, but just ran kind of bad. I took a couple nasty beats (for example, one gentleman check-called my bet with KhQh on a J52 flop and then hit runner-runner hearts to make a flush on the river) and just had trouble getting traction. My final hand, I moved in with JJ to isolate against a late-position short-stack who had already moved all-in. Of course, another dude called my all-in with AK and he hit an ace on the flop. To add insult to injury the short stack also turned a set of sevens (although it didn’t matter for me). So, my streak of sucking at coinlfips continues and I was out somewhere around 175 of 250.

I headed over to Starbucks to kill time and ended up spending about seven hours there. I got some work done, caught up on Big Brother (yeah, I watch that show, Big whoop, wannafightaboutit?), did some reading, and wrote up this here diary.

Once Luckbox Larry busted from the tournament (narrowly missing the final table), we headed back into Seattle to meet his wife and another friend for dinner. We went to May, I great Thai place that was even greater thanks to a Restaurant.com coupon. Dinner wrapped up pretty late, so we promptly headed back to the house and called it a night.

Day 4: Today was the $500 tournament at the Muckleshoot. I’ve been running pretty badly since before I went to Vegas earlier this summer, and I was hoping my luck would finally change today. As it turned out, I was in for more of the same. I ran into a few sets (once with top pair, top kicker in a spot where I could have played for stacks but managed to lose the minimum) and ended up busting on another coinflip (QQ < AK). I think I went out with about 100 left and we started with 230 or so. This coin flip thing is getting kind of ridiculous: I'm pretty sure I've busted in about half of the last 10 tournaments on a coinflip where I was ahead and where I was the one who moved all-in. I keep getting called by overcards and they keep hitting. This isn’t a situation where I’m all-in every other hand. I’m usually all-in and called maybe two or three times per tournament. Today, I was all-in once (the hand I busted). Yesterday, I think I was all-in once (when I busted with JJ < AK) or maybe twice (I don’t remember for sure). In the WSOP Main Event, I was all-in and called twice (once when I actually won a coinflip with 99 > AQ, then on my bust-out hand with AA < KK). I'm just not all-in very often, so to be constantly busting on coin flips (especially where I'm ahead every time) is just really bad luck. Anyway, I feel that I'm playing good poker, and I'm just not getting any breaks. Tomorrow is the $1k main event, so hopefully things will turn around then. The good news is that my bad run isn't affecting my play as far as I can tell. If I keep playing good poker, I should eventually have a nice score. This afternoon I watched the Gator game online, then we went to dinner at Ray’s Cafe. We sat out on the deck, which overlooks Puget Sound. I’m not really one to talk about sunsets, but we got to see a pretty spectacular sunset:

Afterwards, we all went back to the Huge Mansion and sat around talking for a while. I got a salted caramel milkshake from Molly Moon’s and Luckbox made some kind of crazy drink concoction thing complete with rosemary and a bunch of berries–it was pretty darn good.

Time to sleep. I’m going to keep playing good poker, and hopefully I’ll have a nice score in the $1k tomorrow.

Day 5: Today was the $1k Main Event at the Muckleshoot. We were expecting a smallish field, but ended up getting about 155 entrants. This tournament turned out to be a great deal because the casino added $25k to the prize pool. That worked out to $165 or so for each player, which means we essentially played rake-free and had an overlay. Pretty good deal.

WARNING: Things are about to get poker-y here. If you don’t care about poker stuff, scroll down to where you see “BACK TO OUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING”.

The field also turned out to be a little softer than we expected. It wasn’t a crazy donkfest or anything, but there weren’t too many good, experienced players to be seen. My table was a good table (pretty soft) as I saw some players playing really big pots with relatively weak hands like top pair or even second pair. I figured if I could just catch some hands, I’d have not trouble chipping up.

Well, I did catch some hands and they were either second best or got outdrawn on the river. I had a couple funky AJ hands where I was in the blinds against a middle- or late-positionr raiser. Once, I flopped second pair (KJx board) and check-called to the river. The other guy had something like 96s and rivered trip sixes. So, my play was good – I had him betting at me as a big underdog – he just happened to get there. Another time, I flopped top pair, top kicker and check-called a bet on the flop. A king hit the turn, I checked, the guy made a very big bet and I folded. This seems a little tight, but he had already seen me pay off a few times in other hands in similar spots, AND I suspected his big bet meant business. I saw him say something to the guy next to him, and I’m pretty sure the king improved his hand. I also flopped several big draws that didn’t get there. I flopped a gutshot straight flush draw (I had AdTd on a KdQd9x board) and just called bets on the flop and turn because my opponent had raised UTG and was likely very strong. Of course I didn’t improve and had to fold to his bet on the river.

In another hand, that same dude check-called my flop bet when he had Ah8h on a Th9s2s board. I had 8s2s and had flopped a flush draw and he had flopped… ace high. Anyway, he check-called my flop bet with nothing, then he led the turn when another heart hit. I called because I had a gutshot straight draw and a flush draw. My plan was to bet the river if I missed and he checked to me. Then a heart hit the river and he led out again, so I folded and he turned over his flush. What he was doing on the flop, I don’t know. So anyway, that’s how my day was going.

I went into the first break with about 13,000 chips. This was kind of short because we started with 20,000. Obviously, I was short because I’d just been slowly losing chips in the pots I described above. The first level after the break, we would have our first ante level, and I planned to step up my aggression to start chipping up. I had seen some good spots to 3-bet light (or squeeze) and I was going to exploit the next spot I saw. The second hand after the break, I had the button and the player to my right raised to 500 (the blinds were 100/200 with a 25 ante). I 3-bet him to 1,500, the SB cold-called the raise and the original raiser also called. First of all, I should say this was my first 3-bet all day, and my image was pretty tight by this level. So, it’s a little unlucky that both of those players called this 3-bet. The flop was JcJs9c and both players checked to me. I c-bet 2,400 and both players called. The turn was a Ks, the SB checked, the guy to my right bet 11,000, I folded and the SB check-raised all-in. The SB had KK (he turned kings full) and the guy to my right had QcTc (he turned a straight plus a straight flush redraw against the other guy’s full house). The kings full held up. I like my 3-bet (it was a good time to try it), but my c-bet was a mistake: The SB was a tight player and his cold-call pre-flop should have been a red flag for me. After the hand, I knew I’d screwed up with the c-bet because the SB’s range is really small when he cold-calls my 3-bet pre-flop. I had thought maybe he cold-called with something like AK or AQs, thinking he didn’t want to 4-bet, but he also didn’t want to fold. The guy to my right could have had a pretty wide range because he was getting such good pot-odds to call my 3-bet (he had to call 1,000 to win 4,000), and a lot of his range is stuff like AK/AQ/KQ and medium pairs. So I c-bet because I thought there was a good chance they both had either big cards or medium pairs that missed the flop. But, in hindsight, the SB was obviously stronger than that here. It’s a small mistake, but it cost me 2,400 chips and I don’t like that. Also, I know it’s bugging you that I haven’t mentioned my hand – that’s because my hand didn’t matter since I had planned to 3-bet light. But if you must know, I had 8d3d (it was soooooted!).

Ok, so we fast forward two hands. I start the hand with about 8,500. The guy two seats to my right open limps (he’s done this before and I’ve raised his limp before), and I raise it to 700 (blinds still at 100/200/25) with AKo. It folds back to him and he calls. The flop is AT5, he checks, I bet 1,000 and he calls. The turn is a king, so I’ve got top two pair. He checks. There’s about 4,000 in the pot and I have about 6,500 left, so I decide to just move all-in both to protect my hand (there was a flush draw out, and possible funky straight draws) and for value (he might have a weaker ace or funky two pair, and I don’t want him getting scared off if he does have one of those hands and another big card hits the river putting a four-card straight on the board). He thinks for a while and then calls with AJo. So he needs one of four queens to knock me out, and I’m a 92% favorite to double up. If you’ve ever met me, you know that a queen hit the turn and I was out.

So, I played three tournaments at the Muckleshoot ($300, $500 and $1,000). I was all-in and called three times: JJ < AK; QQ < AK; AK < AJ on a AKT5 board. Or, in numbers: 55% favorite; 55% favorite; 92% favorite. I lost all three all-ins. It’s important to note that in all three cases, I was the one who moved all-in and my bet or raise was big enough that my opponent could legitimately fold. Yesterday, I mentioned there may have been another all-in, but I can’t remember it. You may recall that I busted from the WSOP ME with AA < KK (80% favorite) a few tournaments ago, and before that I min-cashed and had three final table bubbles at the Wynn. So I’m on a little bit of a cold streak right now.


After the pokerz, we headed back into Seattle and took a detour so I could finally meet The Freemont Troll. I’d been hearing about this guy since I arrived in Seattle, so it was nice to finally put the name with a face:

Yeah, that’s a VW Bug he’s crushing with his hand. A real VW Bug.

Then, Luckbox Larry and I stopped off at Theo Chocolate to get his wife a birthday present (she was kind enough to let him play the $1k main event on her birthday). Can I just say that Theo Chocolate is an amazing place where they literally just have piles of chocolate sitting around, waiting to be eaten for FREE?! It was a good thing that Luckbox Larry already basically knew what he was getting because I could’ve put away three or four pounds of chocolate with no problem if we’d stuck around long enough. It was awesome. Here’s a pic of a couple of their caramel selections:

Uh, so anyway, then we headed back to the palace and I took a nap while they went for a stroll to the market.

Some time in the evening, we all headed over to Dan (AKA, Fat Yeti of Fat Yeti Photography) and Maya’s place for a birthday dinner for Rachel (Luckbox Larry’s heretofore unnamed wife). I’d say the two highlights were the salmon that Dan cooked on his Big Green Egg (see below) and the S’mores Cake that Maya made (I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get a picture of it).

After dinner and dessert, we all went to Dan’s studio so he could show us some pretty awesome pics of him and some friends shooting giant guns. While we were browsing the gun pics, I scanned the walls and noticed some random-looking pics of people wearing a chicken head mask, but otherwise looking pretty normal. I asked Dan what was up with the mask and he said something like, “Yeah, we like to take pics of people wearing the chicken head. Do you want to take a pic wearing the chicken head?”

“Sure I do.”

That’s just one of two that we did. I’ll post the other one in its own blog post because it’s JUST THAT AWESOME.

Day 6: Today was pretty laid-back since we didn’t have any poker to play. I spent the morning over at Caffe Vita doing some writing and reading. I started “The Big Short” last week, and I’m starting to get into that.

We went for pho for lunch, but I didn’t catch the name of the place. It was good pho. Afterward, we went for gelato at another place whose name I didn’t catch. I had white chocolate and orange (one flavor) gelato and it was really good.

Then we ran some errands on foot, and ended up cruising around for about an hour, going store to store to get stuff done. It turned out to be a pretty good workout, so hopefully I burned off some of the calories I ate for lunch.

For dinner, we went for burgers at Uneeda Burger, and it was really good. We took Alfie with us, and he was just relaxing on the deck while we ate… until Bentley the local cat came along and started making trouble. Eventually, we ran Bentley off and Alfie stood his ground next time Bentley came around.

We just spent the rest of the evening chatting and I finished up re-packing my stuff for the second leg of my trip. I’m off to Vancouver at 7:40 AM!

David Bach vs. Vanessa Rousso: Day 4 of the 2011 WSOP Main Event on ESPN

On ESPN’s Tuesday night WSOP coverage of the Main Event, there was a really big hand between Vanessa Rousso and David Bach. I was in the audience when the hand went down. I had several conversations about the hand over the following days, and it turns out this hand is a very, very interesting one.

I haven’t seen too much analysis of this particular hand, and since I was able to talk to several pros about it right after it happened, I figure I should write something up.

DISCLAIMER: These aren’t exclusively my thoughts. I mean, they are now, but my thoughts are really a mishmash of discussions that I had with various people about this hand. So I’m not putting this out there as some kind of original thought, but more just trying to convey a summary of the different conversations I had about this particular hand. Also, full disclosure, I’m co-writing two books with Vanessa right now, so I’m probably biased. I’m trying not to be, but I can’t make any promises. I’ve never met David or Joe.

SECOND DISCLAIMER: I’m not writing this up to show whether or not David, Joe and Vanessa played the hand “correctly”. I just thought it was a fascinating hand and I wanted to dig into it to see if I could figure out what they might have been thinking. There’s no gotcha. I do occasionally state my preference when there are multiple actions to be taken, but I’m not looking to pass judgement on whether anyone made obviously “right” or “wrong” decisions in this particular hand.

Here we go!

Blinds 3,000/6,000/1,000
Average stack is about 300,000

Starting stacks:

David Bach (BB – Big Blind) 456,000: Qh Jh – Known to be a tricky, aggressive player who is not afraid to get his chips in the middle. Was short as recently as a couple levels ago, and recently doubled up through Vanessa with aces against her AK.
Joe Serock (UTG+1 – second to act) 151,000: Tc 9c – He was unknown to me at the time, and I don’t think that either Vanessa or David had much history with him.
Vanessa Rousso (MP – middle position) 732,000: 6d 6h – Has been playing aggressively and steadily chipping up without showing many hands. Has made some difficult calls earlier in the day.

I think a major factor in this hand is the stack sizes relative to the average stack. Vanessa has almost 2.5 times the average, David has about 1.5 times the average and Joe has about half the average. The WSOP Main Event is a very slow structure, which means there’s a lot of room for patient, calculated play. Although Joe is short, he’s not desperate with an M of 8 (or 25 big blinds). David and Vanessa both have very, very comfortable stacks.

Pre-fop: (18,000): Joe raises to 13,000. Vanessa calls. David calls from the big blind. Everyone else folds.

Joe’s raise is a little loose given his chip stack and his position at the table. T9s seems a little light to be raising with his stack in early position. That said, it’s not a bad raise, and a lot of players will make this raise because they trust their post-flop abilities and because of the way the game is played today.

Vanessa’s call is standard. She doesn’t want to 3-bet and give Joe the opportunity to 4-bet all-in (she would have an awkward decision if she 3-bet and then he shoved, and she would probably have to fold after putting about 30k in the pot). She also needs other callers to increase her implied odds to flop a set. Joe’s stack really isn’t deep enough for Vanessa to try to flop a set against him heads-up, although she does have position and she’s getting about 11-to-1 total implied odds if she can get his whole stack. She’s really looking for other callers to increase her potential payoff if she flops a set. She could also look for opportunities to outplay Joe after the flop by leveraging his stack size, which will likely make his post-flop decisions tricky.

David’s decision is very similar to Vanessa’s. Folding would be pretty bad here. I think calling is the best play if he thinks Joe is playing reasonably tight, and since Vanessa has enough chips to comfortably call a 3-bet in position. A 3-bet would be tricky for the same reasons it was would have been tricky for Vanessa. Additionally, David would probably have to contend with Vanessa (who has position on him) if he 3-bet. QJs can flop a lot of big hands, and he’s getting a great price to call (he’s getting about 5.5-to-1).

Flop (46,500): Th 9s 6c. David checks. Joe bets 25,000. Vanessa raises to 50,000. David check-raises all-in for 442,000 total. Joe folds. Vanessa calls.

David has a lot of options when he’s first to act on this flop. He’s flopped an open-ended straight draw, a back-door flush draw, and two overcards. This is a pretty strong hand assuming he’s not up against an overpair, a set, or two pair. Worst case, he’s about a 2.5-to-1 dog, and he could be a favorite against a lot of hands like an overpair, AK, AT, and pretty close to even money against a hand like JT.

He could lead small, hoping to just win the pot immediately or to induce a smallish raise from Joe so that he could then semi-bluff all-in. The small lead (also called a “weak lead” or a “donkbet”) is often perceived as weak (because it usually is), and a lot of good players will automatically raise this sort of weak lead with any two cards, hoping to take the pot away from the leader. I call this move the “bet, 3-bet-shove” and I like to use it with big draws and over pairs against aggressive players. The issue here is that Joe is a little too short-stacked for this move to work effectively.

He decides to check. I doubt he intended to check-raise all-in at this point. He was keeping his options open for a standard check-raise, a check-call, or maybe a check-shove if the action was just right.

Joe flopped top two pair and I’m sure he was throwing a mental parade. With his stack size and this flop, he’s got to be pretty sure he can double up if either of his opponents has some kind of hand. He’s trying to figure out how to get all his chips in the middle as soon as possible. He continues, betting 25k (just over half the pot), which is standard. He’s hoping someone will raise him so he can just get his chips in now, while he’s almost certain to have the best hand.

Vanessa has flopped bottom set and is also probably throwing a mental parade. She has two options: flat-call or raise. There are a few problems with flat-calling. If Joe has a hand, she wants to get him to commit his stack now, before any scare-cards come. She obviously can’t do that by just calling. A seven or eight would almost totally kill her action unless Joe outruns her and makes a straight. There are some overcards that could scare him as well. If he flopped top pair, then he might shut down on the turn if an overcard comes and doesn’t improve his hand.

Another issue is that if she just calls here, then David is yet to act and will be able to call with a lot of funky draws and pretty decent pot odds. He’ll be getting 4-to-1 to call 25k against two opponents. He could definitely call with an open-ended straight draw, but he may be able to call with some gutshot straight draws as well, hoping for good implied odds if he hits the longshot. If she just calls here, David’s going to call with a lot of hands, and there could be a lot of scare cards for both her and Joe on the turn. David has a lot of chips and she needs to make sure she knows where he’s at in the hand if he continues. By just calling, she would allow him to call with a wide range of hands and she wouldn’t get any more information about what he has. There is one potential benefit to flat-calling, though: David is known to be tricky and aggressive and may be looking to check-raise. If he were to check-raise, Joe may go ahead and move his chips in, allowing Vanessa to then move her chips in and shut David out while isolating against Joe.

On balance, the possibility that David would check-raise and re-open the action is pretty small, and the downside of flat-calling is pretty great. She decides to min-raise, which is a common play in her arsenal. Her goal is to isolate against Joe and hope he flopped some kind of hand so she can get him to commit his stack. A secondary goal is to sort of “squeeze” David either out of the pot or into uncomfortable territory. The stack sizes in this hand will make David’s next decision very difficult because of this min-raise. They don’t really show this on the edited broadcast, but David took at least three minutes to make his next decision. He took so long because it was a really tough decision, mostly thanks to this min-raise and the players’ stack sizes.

Vanessa is communicating a lot with her min-raise. It is a small raise in absolute terms, but it essentially commits her to calling if Joe moves all-in. She’s letting Joe know that she’s willing to play for his stack, but she’s also telling David that she has a real hand and that she’s not afraid to commit 130,000 chips with her hand. Her min-raise could also be read as a marginal hand (AT, JJ) that is trying to isolate against Joe’s apparent not-quite-as-good hand. She’s also giving Joe some rope in case he doesn’t believe that she’s committed to calling his all-in because her min-raise is small enough that it might look like she’s just putting in a probe-raise and that she might consider folding if he shoves. If Joe might take this bait, so might David.

Interpreting Vanessa’s min-raise is a critical factor in the hand. If David and Joe read this min-raise correctly, they both wiggle off the hook and save a bunch of chips. If they read it incorrectly, they could get into some pretty deep trouble.

David sees that Joe made a continuation bet (c-bet), and that Vanessa min-raised that c-bet. Joe’s c-bet doesn’t necessarily mean he has a hand. Many players will continue almost 100% of the time. The caveat is that this board should be pretty scary for Joe since Vanessa and David both flat-called and this type of board hits a lot of hands that would just flat-call pre-flop. In general, I don’t think Joe would be continuing 100% of the time here since it’s so unlikely that he’ll get both opponents to fold for one bet on the flop given the texture of the board and their deep chip stacks. He simply can’t afford to use his chips to c-bet in a situation where his c-bet is often unlikely to work. So his c-bet does communicate some strength, but it’s still a c-bet and certainly doesn’t mean that he has the nuts or anything like that. Vanessa’s min-raise could mean a lot of things (as discussed above).

David has a very big draw, so he has a few options.

He could call. Assuming that one or both of his overcards are live, he is getting pretty close to the odds he needs to just call the bet. If he knew for certain that Joe would also just call, then he’d be getting great odds to hit his draw.

The issue is that David can’t close the action. If he calls, Joe can still re-open the action and re-raise, so David can’t just consider his own pot-odds here, but he has to consider that Joe might move in if David just calls. If Joe moves in, then Vanessa can move in and shut David out. This is one reason Vanessa’s min-raise is sort of a squeeze on David–he’s stuck between two players who can keep putting chips in regardless of what David does. So flat-calling Vanessa’s raise really doesn’t look like a good option.

He could fold. He’s in for 13,000 so far, and Joe has shown quite a bit of strength. Despite Joe’s show of strength, Vanessa has min-raised him and appears to have committed herself to calling his all-in if it comes to that. She’s showing that even though Joe is showing some strength, she’s even stronger (or at least she’s stronger than the range of hands she puts Joe on). Their combined show of strength may also tell David something useful: his overcards may not be live. If his overcards aren’t live, then all he has is an open-ended straight draw. He’s definitely not getting explicit odds to call and see only one card with a straight draw, especially considering that his call wouldn’t close the action (so there’s no guarantee he’d even get to see the turn if he put in chips to call).

He could make a standard re-raise. Vanessa’s min-raise is to 50,000, so David could make it something like 125,000 or 150,000 if he wanted. This kind of raise would commit about 35% of his stack and could be dangerous since both Joe and Vanessa have shown strength so far. Joe may be planning to move all-in when the action is back on him, and Vanessa seems unafraid of that possibility. If David re-raises, the best result is that both Joe and Vanessa fold, but the action so far just doesn’t indicate that is very likely. The worst-case scenario is that he re-raises to 150,000, Joe calls all-in and then Vanessa re-raises all-in for all his chips. If that happened, David would be getting such great put-odds (about 5-to-2) that he would almost certainly have to call. He can’t fold an open-ended straight draw to the nuts with two cards to come getting that price. So by just putting in a normal re-raise, he could possibly be committing himself to calling all-in with a straight draw. That’s not really how a good player wants to play his draws. If he can, he’d prefer to be the one moving all-in so that at least he has some fold equity.

He could move all-in. Although Joe has shown quite a bit of strength, Vanessa did min-raise him and if David moves all-in, Joe has to think someone has a really, really big hand. Joe would probably have to fold an overpair in this situation, and of course he would fold all the hands that were just naked c-bets. Once it got back to Vanessa, she would have a really difficult decision to make for about 60% of her stack. As I said before, her min-raise probably either means she has a pretty good hand that she thinks is better than Joe’s range of hands, or it means she has a really big hand. She’s somewhat unlikely to just have nothing in this spot.

At this point, I initially did a bunch of math and whatnot. I also talked this over with a friend, and we decided the following:

  1. Moving all-in is probably a +cEV play for David in this spot. What that means is an all-in play would have “positive chip expectation”. If David moves all-in here, and if he can play the hand exactly the same way enough times to build a respectable sample size, then he’s going to show a profit in the long run. On average, he can expect to end the hand with more chips than he has right now (before he makes this decision).
  2. +cEV doesn’t necessarily mean +EV. The difference here is the little “c”. cEV refers to expectation measured in chips (how many chips a play might gain or lose), whereas EV refers to expectation in terms of cash value of your stack and your seat in this particular tournament. cEV is often a strictly mathematical calculation that becomes more precise as we gain more information about hand ranges, player tendencies, etc. EV is a fuzzier calculation that accounts for softer factors like a player’s perceived skill edge in a tournament, ability to play various stack sizes effectively, etc.

For a good player, a +cEV play can often be neutral or even -EV. A classic example of this is a thought experiment that poker players like to discuss: If I had QQ on the first hand of the WSOP Main Event and another player moved all-in and showed AK, would I call? A call would clearly be +cEV, and the debate is really about whether it would be +EV, -EV or neutral EV. In other words, is the small expected gain in chips enough to justify busting from the tournament about 45% of the time.

It’s important to remember that David doesn’t know what Joe and Vanessa have. He has to put each of them on a range of hands and then play against those ranges. If he knew what they had, he would obviously just get out of the way. But, given reasonable hand ranges for Joe and Vanessa, David’s play is probably a +cEV play.

But there are other things to consider. In the beginning of this analysis, I mentioned that David and Vanessa each have pretty large chip stacks. In the WSOP Main Event, having a lot of chips is a very, very good thing for good players. The unique structure gives ample time for good players to outplay their opponents and exercise their skill edge over the field. In general, the slower and better the tournament structure, the less variance good players will tolerate.

The clincher takes us back to the read that David had to make in this hand: Is Vanessa’s min-raise genuine strength, or is she just saying that she can beat Joe’s likely range of hands? If she’s showing genuine strength, then moving all-in is probably not +cEV enough to justify risking his life in this tournament (where he is definitely very +EV). If she’s just got something like a pair, and she’s trying to isolate, then moving in is much more +cEV and may justify risking his tournament life.

Given all this, I think folding is probably the best play since it seems that his overcards may not be live, leaving him with nothing but a straight draw, out of position against two players who have shown quite a bit of strength so far. I know a lot of players will disagree with me on this, but I think the WSOP ME is such a unique structure that it allows for making this type of fold. Making a standard raise seems like a bad idea because he’s likely to end up playing for all his chips anyway. Just calling doesn’t seem like a great idea because he could also end up playing a big pot if he calls. Moving all-in seems like just too great a risk to pick up a few more chips to add to his already big stack (he would add about 25% to his stack if his all-in got both opponents to fold).

David decides to move all-in, obviously hoping to win the pot right there. He must have decided that Vanessa’s raise did not indicate real strength, and that she would likely fold a very large portion of the time.

Joe flopped top two pair and has a really nasty decision. His gut probably tells him, “I’m crushed here, and I should fold.” I think a careful analysis might have led him to get his chips in just because David’s all-in doesn’t look very strong (it really, really seems like David’s trying to push Joe and Vanessa out of the pot with his huge overbet all-in) and Vanessa may have been min-raising with a single pair (JJ+, AT, KT). That said, I think it’s reasonable for Joe to decide to just get out of the way and let the two big stacks tangle.

Vanessa now has a pretty difficult decision for about 60% of her chips. First she has to decide if she has the best hand, and then she has to decide whether she’s far enough ahead to justify risking such a huge portion of her stack. There are only three hands that beat her: a set of tens, a set of nines, and a straight. She told me later that she was very confident that David did not have pocket tens or nines, so she doesn’t have to worry about him having a higher set. It wouldn’t be crazy for him to call with 87 from the big blind getting the price that he got, but it would be a little wacky to make this big a check-raise if he flopped the nut straight on this board. If he flopped a straight, he would likely try to get more value out of it since there’s no flush draw. In that case, a standard check-raise might be a good line. Regardless, it just doesn’t look like he flopped the nut straight here.

That being the case, she knew she was likely ahead and had to figure out if she was far enough ahead to justify risking this much of her stack. There’s no flush draw, so it’s not possible David has some kind of big combo draw (straight and flush being the one that would fare best against her set of sixes). He could have a couple of open-ended straight draws (J8 and QJ), or maybe he has two pair with T9, 96 or T6. T6 and 96 are unlikely, but it doesn’t matter: she’s way ahead of his range if she’s currently ahead. And she’s almost positive that she’s currently ahead.

Since it’s so unlikely he has her beat and since she’s so far ahead of his range if she’s ahead, she makes the call.

Turn: (927,000): 8h

David turns the straight.

River: (927,000): 2s

Vanessa doesn’t improve on the river, so David wins a huge pot, leaving Vanessa below average.

Approximate ending stacks:

David Bach: 960,000
Joe Serock: 112,000
Vanessa Rousso: 274,000


There are two aspects of this hand that I think are really interesting:

  1. Vanessa’s min-raise on the flop
  2. David’s read on Vanessa’s min-raise, and his decision to go after the chips in the middle and possibly bust

Vanessa likes to min-raise a lot–it’s just part of her style. This table had been playing together for several hours, and I’m sure Vanessa had min-raised earlier in the day. The fact that she’s min-raising with a set (and would often min-raise with air, a draw, or a marginal hand) makes this particular raise very difficult to read, and I think that’s why David thought so long before he acted. The players’ chip stacks also made her min-raise particularly tricky.

David obviously decided that putting 25% more chips in his stack (and 25% of a significant amount) was worth the shot given his read on Vanessa’s raise. He must have decided she was probably weak-ish and decided to go with it.

What’s crazy is I could probably write a few thousand more words about the hand. There’s a lot of stuff I left out to try and keep this post a little shorter. I’d love to hear what other poker players think, so let me have it in the comments!

WSOP 2011 Wrap-Up

I’m finally back from my month-long stint in Vegas. I think I’ve written something like 15,000 words about the trip (maybe more), so I thought it might be helpful to recap and summarize everything in one place with links to all the other stuff.

Here are links to all my posts about the trip:

This piece was written while I was out there, but isn’t really about my trip per se:

Here’s a quick week-by-week summary of the trip and then I’ll do a final overall recap…

Week 1 (June 23): I arrived to Vegas at 1:00 AM local time (so 4:00 AM Florida time), stayed up too late and then crashed on a couch in Luckboxy Larry’s Rio room. Next day, we made the move over to the luxurious Gold Coast as we chased cheaper room rates. I tuned up at the Rio daily deep stack, a $235 tournament in which I min-cashed and would set the tone for my trip. I also played the Wynn re-buy once (in for $625 – the most I’d invest in that tournament in several tries), and played the $1k WSOP event, cashing in neither. So I dug myself a little hole early. Meanwhile Luckbox Larry Final-Tabled the Wynn re-buy and won $10k. I didn’t know it at the time, but the tone for the summer was almost entirely defined in this week. I was to have several min-cashes and close calls with a real payday while Luckbox Larry crushed the Wynn tournament.

Week 2 (June 27): I played the Wynn and decided I wasn’t taking the add-on anymore because it was bad value. I min-cashed once. I worked on the book with Vanessa and min-cashed at the Wynn again. I played the Wynn again and didn’t min-cash this time. This non-min-cash put me slightly up for the trip so far. I started feeling a little sick for the first time and got my first In-N-Out fix. I bubbled the Wynn tournament after taking my first nasty beat of the summer: Queens against Tens and Sixes all-in pre-flop – I lost to the Sixes and chopped with the Tens in a huge pot with 45 left. I wrote the book some more.

Week 3 (July 4): I started with a quick recap of the tournaments I played so far. I had played 8 and cashed in 5. I didn’t realize this would be my last cash for the series and that my bad luck was just getting started. I finally got to Mesa Grill at Caesars, and it was delicious. I had a really fun meeting with Vanessa and Annie Duke, where we talked about publishing and I learned a lot about poker just discussing hands with them. I played the Wynn again and got close to cashing, but no dice. I also started feeling nasty again. I jumped into a $550 mega satellite at 10:00 AM at the Rio on short notice and busted after playing two hands: I tried a flat-float-bluff with JTs in the first level, then busted with Queens against Ace-King. By this time, I’d lost a few coinflips, a couple 60/40s and had taken that nasty beat with QQ < (TT + 66). Things weren’t going my way. I went to a kick-off party for the Rally to End Cancer, hosted by my friends Vanessa and Chad at the MGM. I played the Wynn again and had my earliest exit yet when I ran AJ into a very aggressive player’s Aces. I watched Luckbox Larry eat a $60 hamburger. Truth be told, it kind of grossed me out because it had truffle shavings on it, and I hate all things mushrooms… and the thing smelled like mushrooms. I started preparing for the possibility of playing the Main Event, although I didn’t know if I would actually play. I also wen to In-N-Out again. I recapped my typical day in Vegas. I continued trying to prepare to play the Main Event even though I still didn’t know if I’d be playing. I relaxed and worked out a bit. I confirmed I was playing the Main Event about two hours before the final Day 1 got started. I freaked out a little bit, then went on to finish Day 1 with 50k chips after starting the day at a really, really tough table with 30k chips. Later I found out that the chip leader going into Day 7 was at my table for most of Day 1, meaning the table was even tougher than I thought.

Week 4 (July 11): I rested up for Day 2 and found out my Day 2 draw wasn’t too much better than my Day 1 draw. I made it through Day 2, but with fewer chips than I had at the beginning of the day. I recapped my good and bad luck so far in the Main Event. I relaxed and did laundry to prep for Day 3. I did my typical table research and it seemed like I finally got a pretty soft table draw. That turned out to be wrong as my table was pretty tough again (though not as tough as Day 1 and Day 2). I busted from the Main Event near the end of Day 3 with Aces against Kings, all-in pre-flop. My stellar luck continued. I spend like 2,500 words discussing some hands I played on Day 3 because I can. Luckbox Larry also busted a little earlier in Day 3 with AKs < KQs (another bad beat for our group). And then Vanessa busted on Day 4 after she has a set cracked by a straight draw (another bad beat where she was almost 3-to-1 to win when the money went in). Bad beats all around for our crew this year. I started winding down and decide to take one more shot at the Rio daily deep stack. I ended up bubbling, finishing 32 when 27 paid (in a 289 person field). I should’ve seen that coming.

Week 5 (July 18): I did some more work on the book and just sort of relaxed as I prepare to head home. I made my annual trip to the outlet mall in Vegas to try to get some cheap shirts and shorts, getting one of each. Then I headed home and watched a lot of TV while I worked to overcome jetlag.

Overall summary of my summer in Vegas

“So, how’d it go this summer?” I’ve been asked that several times since I got back. The answer is… ok, I guess. Poker-wise, things were pretty rough. I started off cashing in almost everything I played, but almost all of my cashes were min-cashes. I ended up by going 0-for-5 in my final five tourneys, including the Main Event. I had tough table draws in the Main Event, but still managed to hang around to get Aces against Kings to bust as an 80% favorite. So that wasn’t too great. I also learned a lot about poker from discussing hands with people and just putting in a lot of hours. Socially, things were great. I spent a lot of time with friends, ate great food and generally had a good time. Business-wise, things were very good. I am working on a new project (I’m this close to announcing it, but we’re not quite there yet) and I lined up a potential consulting gig for a startup.

It’s really good to be home, but that means I’m forced to focus on the fact that I quit my job a few months ago and I still don’t have any kind of income. That’s ok – it was part of the plan – but it’s still very stressful. Even with that, it’s good to be home in Gainesville. I’ve already visited Chick-Fil-A, and i’m working on plans to go to The Top and Satchel’s very soon. It’s also good to be back near my family – hopefully I’ll see them soon as well.

All in all, it was a good summer and I had a good time. I played a lot of poker, ran bad and managed to find potential business opportunities to work on. And now it’s good to be home.

2011 WSOP Diary: Week 5

Day 26 (July 18): It finally feels like I’m wrapping things up here in Vegas. I spent yesterday working on the book (I’m working on a kind of onerous section that’s pretty crucial to the book as a whole, and it’s tough material to write). I also hit the gym and spent some time reading and watching TV (on my iPad, of course).

Today we’re planning to do more work on the book, and I’m hoping we can mostly finish the first “Part” of the book (the background necessary to get the most of out of the rest of the book). I’ve also got another project that I’m excited to be working on, but I can’t quite make it official with an announcement yet.

I may make a trip to the outlet mall today to get some cheap polos. I managed to save a couple hundred bucks on hotels the last few days, so I might as well blow that money on some new shirts.

As I write this, Ryan Leneghan is the chip leader going into Day 7 of the WSOP Main Event. He was at my table for most of Day 1 and he played very well. It’s strange because he’s almost totally unknown (at least in live poker – I couldn’t find any significant results for him online), but I got the sense he had a lot of experience. My guess is he’s been playing successfully online for a while, but I haven’t verified that. Anyway, this just gives me more ammo to complain about how tough my Day 1 table was. I can now say I had to play against Brandon Cantu, Ryan Leneghan, Adam Schoenfeld, John O’Shea and some other good players at my Day 1 table. And I still managed to finish the day at 50k chips when we started at 30k.

Day 27: Today was my last day in Vegas. Actually, I only had the morning in Vegas before I flew home, lost three hours and got in around 9:00 PM. Nothing much to report today other than the level of nostalgia was particularly low. I rarely miss Vegas when I leave – it’s not really my kind of city when there’s no poker to be played.

I got home and sat around watching TV forever. I have a lot of stuff to catch up on, so that should keep me busy for a few days. Both of my roommates are gone until next week (give or take), so it’s nice to have some time by myself to decompress. I had arranged to have a lawn guy cut my grass twice a month this summer, but I guess he forgot or something because my grass hasn’t been cut since before I left for Vegas. It’s a jungle out there.

It’s time to get back to the regular unemployed life.