Who’s the chicken NOW?!

While I was in Seattle, I had a couple of meals over at Dan‘s (of Fat Yeti Photography) place. On the last night I was there, he was giving us a tour of his studio and we ended up doing a quick, impromptu photo shoot (see Day 5 of my 2011 Seattle Trip Diary post for the story). Here are a couple pics he took. I thought they were both pretty funny, and it’s always great to have my picture taken wearing a chicken head.

This one is actually my favorite (and I think everyone else liked it the best as well). I think we all like it because the chicken (I?) looks pretty confrontational.

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.

BACK TO OUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING

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!

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.

2011 WSOP Diary: Week 4

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.

2011 WSOP Diary: Week 3

Day 12 (July 4): I did end up playing the Wynn re-buy yesterday, and min-cashed again. Here are my results for the trip so far:

  • (+$231) Rio – $235 – 964 entrants – finished 79 – $466
  • (-$625) Wynn – $625 ($225 plus two $200 rebuys) – 111 entrants, finished around 45 (15 paid)
  • (-$1k) WSOP 43
  • (+$560) Wynn – $425 ($225 plus one $200 rebuy) – 156 entrants, finished 20 – Ran T8o into QQ in the blinds
  • (+$394) Wynn – $425 ($225 plus one $200 rebuy) – 128 entrants, finished 15 – Ran 82o into AKo in the blinds
  • (+$752) Wynn – $425 ($225 plus one $200 rebuy) – 131 entrants, finished 11 – Lost flip w/ 99 < AKo
  • (-$425) Wynn – $425 ($225 plus one $200 rebuy) – 125 entrants, finished 21 (15 paid) – Lost flip with 66 < AQs
  • (+$666) Wynn – $425 ($225 plus one $200 rebuy) – 139 entrants, finished 15 (16 paid) – Ran 84s into KJo

A few thoughts on these results:

  • Overall, I’ve cashed 5/8 tournaments for the trip. Over the long run, 2/8 would be considered “good”, and 5/8 is pretty sick. I’m obviously sort of on a heater.
  • But what these numbers don’t show is that I’ve actually be running bad and not catching cards. The last non-cash at the Wynn (finished 21 when 15 paid), I lost a very big pot with about 40 people left: I had QQ and lost a three-way all-in to TT and 66 (66 won the main pot and I chopped the side pot with TT). Had I won that pot, I would’ve had good chips approaching the money and could have gone to work building my stack. Instead, I was crippled and ended up bubbling in 21st when I lost a coinflip.
  • For my last five tournaments, I’ve listed my bust out hands. I’m running bad in those spots. I got all-in totally dominated once, but otherwise got in on the better side of a coinflip twice, and lost two 60/40s. A big component of my style is that I am rarely all-in and called (at risk to bust from the tournament), so it’s not like I’ve been all-in 10 times before these hands come up. In some cases, this is the first time I’ve actually been at risk in the tournament. I will only lose all four of those hands about 7% of the time, and if I win any of those hands, I’ve doubled up and have a very good chance at making the final table.
  • I’m playing the short stack very well right now. Most of the time I’m on a short stack (such is the nature of this tournament structure), and sometimes very short (like eight big blinds or fewer). Normally, I wouldn’t let my stack get this short, but I’m able to find so many spots to steal blinds and get all-in with the best hand that I’m being more patient than normal. In my last cash, I had under seven big blinds with 21 players left and managed to finish 15th without catching any real hands. Playing the short stack is like that scene in “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade” where Indie has to walk across the stones that will fall out from under him. (I spent way too long trying to find a good screencapture of Indie stepping across the stones, but just couldn’t find it.) I have to step very carefully and pick each move very wisely or I’m out of the tournament. I’m doing this well right now.

Enough about poker. Today is the 4th of July, and that means… well, I’m not exactly sure what it means. Hopefully the annual party at Mandalay Bay is happening, but I really haven’t heard one way or the other on that. If it’s not happening, I might take my first shot at a $550 mega satellite at the Rio – I need to start trying to win a Main Event seat. It’s kind of a long shot, but the good news is the Wynn has been prepping me to play a super short stack, and that’s what winning megas is all about.

I’m heading over to do some book work with my co-author this afternoon. It’s great to be making real progress while I’m out here. We’re about to wrap up a major section that is the foundation for the entire book, so I’m looking forward to getting that done.

Day 13: Turns out the Mandalay Bay party didn’t happen this year. That was pretty disappointing because I always look forward to seeing old friends and having a nice view of the fireworks on The Strip. Of course, since Vegas sneakily moved fireworks to July 3rd this year, we wouldn’t have had anything to watch anyway.

Since there wasn’t a Mandalay Bay party, a bunch of us went to Mesa Grill at Caesar’s Palace instead. That’s one of my favorite restaurants in Vegas, so I was happy to finally have a meal there. I forgot to get a picture of the spread, but it was ridiculous and delicious.

This morning, I met with my co-author (@VanessaRousso) and her friend Annie (@AnnieDuke) for a few hours to talk about writing and poker. They even discussed a couple interesting hands that Vanessa has encountered at this year’s WSOP. It was really fun to sit and listen to two great poker minds work through hands. (I’m not intentionally name-dropping here, but since I already mentioned this meeting and its attendees by name on Twitter, I figure it would be awkward if I started talking anonymously all of a sudden.) Anyway, it was a very good meeting that clarified some of the unkown parts of the writing process for us.

After that meeting I tried to hoof it over to the Rio for the $1,500 WSOP event to late-register, but by the time I got there the tournament was already an hour in, and the line was too long to justify registering. So I went to the Wynn and started 30 minutes late there. I actually played pretty well, but didn’t cash (finished 32 and 13 paid). I busted making a pretty risky move, but I saw it as a good chance to pick up dead money, and it just didn’t work out. Sometimes there’s a good spot to make a move, but you run into pocket Kings.

I busted out, then went to dinner with Luckbox Larry and wife at a pretty nice Indian place called Mint. We hadn’t been there before, but we all liked it a lot and will probably go back. We’ll be more inclined to return if we can find more coupons, of course.

I ended up turning in early because I was feeling under the weather again. I think I actually got a cold or something this time, so I figured the best thing was to take it easy. I ended up sleeping for like nine hours, which is a long time for me.

Day 14: Today I was going to do my normal routine of waking up, going to Starbucks to read the news and catch up on writing. But after about 20 minutes Luckbox Larry texted me to let me know there was a 10:00 AM $550 Mega Satellite to the Main Event. I decided to go ahead and play that so I could get some poker in without making me miss the Rally to End Cancer kickoff party hosted by my friends Vanessa and Chad at MGM. Turns out I made it exactly one hour into the stupid thing when I ran QQ into AK and lost the coinflip.

I spent the middle of the day sleeping off my cold. Then went over to MGM for the kickoff party. It was a good time. Vanessa’s husband Chad was recently diagnosed with and underwent treatment for a very rare form of cancer, so they have a real stake in cancer research and they’re aggressively pursuing ways to further cancer research. It was cool to see people coming together to talk about raising money for cancer research, and I think the event they’re planning is going to be pretty neat.

(Note that pic was just before the party started – the place eventually filled up, but I forgot to snap a pic.)

Day 15: Today was pretty unfun. I decided to play the Wynn re-buy and busted out of that pretty early when I ran AJo into AA against a very aggressive player who 3-bet me from the button at a 6-handed table. With our stack sizes and respective images, this is the equivalent of a cold deck – he has Aces almost none of the time in that spot, and I’m often raising hands I can just fold there. But AJ was probably ahead of his range, and I could get him to fold some hands that had me slightly beat (77/88). Even the way he turned over his Aces basically said, “Yeah, I know. But I actually have them this time.”

Later on, I went to dinner with some friends. Luckbox Larry won a bet so that Dan had to buy him a $60 burger at a place at Mandalay Bay. So we went over there and had good burgers and shakes while Luckbox Larry ate his foie gras burger with shaved truffle. I understand that’s supposed to be an awesome burger, but the smell of truffles kind of grosses me out.

It looks like I’ll be playing the Main Event this year (the details are still not nailed down, but it seems likely), so I’m started to try to get mentally ready to play that event. The WSOP Main Event is totally unique in that it’s a very deep structure (you start with 30,000 chips at 50/100 levels, and the levels are two hours each) and there are thousands of entrants, most of whom really don’t know how to play poker. It’s basically the optimal structure for me as I’m very comfortable in slow, deep stacked tournaments. But I also need to get my head right because I’ve been running pretty bad, and I’ve been playing really, really fast tournaments since I got here.

Day 16: I took it easy today to try to get my head right for the Main Event. I think I’ll probably play, but I’m not entirely sure. There are still some things that need to fall into place for it to work out. I’d really like to play, but I won’t be devastated if I don’t get to play.

Anyway, I got a good workout in today, and spent the rest of the day reading and watching TV and stuff. Netflix on iPhone/iPad/MacBook is keeping me sane out here. I’ve watched most of “Dead Like Me” Season 1, and I’m almost finished with Cheers Season 2. Both are pretty good shows for very different reasons.

I’ve been reading Annie Duke’s book “Decide to Play Great Poker” (Amazon link below), and it’s pretty good so far. It’s a high-level book focusing on concepts and ways to think about the game rather than a step-by-step guide to playing poker. I’ve already seen a few ways to think about stuff differently, so that’s been helpful. I think one thing it does well is focus on high-level concepts – it stays out of the weeds of math and really technical discussions. So far, so good. (Jump to the bottom of the post for a link to the book on Amazon.)

I had In-N-Out again tonight. We went at like 9:00 PM, expecting the place to be mostly empty. It most definitely was not empty. I couldn’t believe how many people were getting burgers late at night. That place must be printing money.

Zooming out a little bit, I realized I haven’t really described like my overall schedule out here. It’s actually pretty simple and repetitive. I think that’s actually kind of obvious in my recent posts, which are shorter and less detailed. I’m basically doing the same thing over and over again each day. Occasionally something will jump up and change the routine, but I’m more or less living a strange version of Groundhog Day.

I generally wake up between 8:00 and 9:00 AM, get ready for the day and head to Starbucks to catch up on reading and update the diary. I hang at Starbucks for a couple hours and then start trying to find some lunch around noon. Sometimes I just go back to the hotel room and make a PB&J, but I’ll also go meet friends for lunch or whatever. Then I try to figure out if I’m playing poker, writing or relaxing for the rest of the day. Most of the time, I’ve played poker, and I’ve probably had an even split of relaxing and writing for the rest of the time. If we’re writing, we usually break around dinner and then take it easy the rest of the evening. If I’m playing poker, I’m hoping to make the dinner break and then head to the final table (which hasn’t happened for me yet). Then it’s back to the hotel to read and watch Netflix. Then time to sleep and start over again.

It’s pretty unexciting except when I go to a new restaurant or have a meeting or something to break up the routine. Sometimes a friend will be making a deep run in a tournament, or a friend of a friend will be at a WSOP final table and I’ll head over to watch them play and provide support for a while. “Support” can just be hanging out, watching them play (it’s always encouraging to know some friends are keeping an eye on you when you’ve been playing for 10 hours and you’re starting to get tired). “Support” can also be doing reconnaissance around the bubble, and as they approach a final table.

On the money bubble, it’s helpful to know where the short stacks are and to get a sense of how long the bubble will last. When we’re playing online, we can just go look at the leader-board for that stuff. But it’s tougher to get that information when we’re playing live. So the person doing the recon might wander off, then stop by and say, “Two micro-stacks on that table over there. And on that other table, a stack shorter than yours will take the big blind in the next hand.” This information can help shape the correct strategy at that moment, so it’s very helpful. Occasionally, we’ll have a history with some of our friend’s opponents, or we’ll spot tells on people, and we can share that info.

Day 17: It’s 10:15 PM and I still don’t know if I’m playing the Main Event tomorrow. Some of the pieces have fallen into place, but some haven’t. So, I’ll find out for sure tomorrow morning. I’m ready to play if all of the pieces fall into place, but I’m content to pass on it if things aren’t just right. The Main Event has happened every year for a few decades now, and I’m sure it’ll go on happening every year for several more decades, so there’s no rush.

Today was a relaxing day. I didn’t do much but sleep, eat and read. I met some friends for dinner, but otherwise stayed pretty close to my hotel room for most of the day.

As of this writing, Luckbox Larry has put together a pretty big stack in the Main event. He has 77,000 chips and average is probably somewhere around 40,000. It’s too early to know how significant this is, but he’s a good player and having a big chip stack can only help him.

I’m going to watch some TV and then get some sleep. I could have a pretty big day tomorrow.

Day 18: It’s almost 10:00 AM on the final Day 1 (Day 1D) of the WSOP Main Event and I just confirmed that I’m playing it. A quick overview of what this really means:

  • There will probably be about 6,000 players. Maybe 1,000 are good players. Another couple thousand are decent. The rest are just people looking to have a good time and take a shot.
  • I’m well above average in this field. That doesn’t guarantee anything, but this structure is basically made for my style. I think it’s reasonable to expect I’ll cash about 25% of the time (which is well above a “normal” cash rate in normal tournaments, even for a good player). Of course, that means 75% of the time I probably won’t cash. This isn’t pessimism, it’s just how tournaments work.
  • I probably won’t be on TV. It’s possible, but there will be about 2,000 people in the field today and there is one feature table. There MIGHT be a second feature table, so maybe 20 people will be on TV. The deeper I go in the event, the more possible it is I could be on TV, but it continues to be unlikely.
  • There will be eight days of play before the final table. Those days won’t happen consecutively because there are so man players. My first day is today (July 10), and Day 8 will be July 19 (they’ll play down to the final table that day). So this could be the beginning of a very long poker tournament. Here’s the structure sheet.

Ok, time to go register. Hopefully I’ll update this post with good news in about 15 hours (when Day 1D is over). Until then, here’s what it looks like to turn cash into a seat at the Main Event:

UPDATE: Sure enough, I made it through Day 1D with about average chips. We started the day with 30,000 chips and I finished the day with 50,025. I’m VERY satisfied with this result for a lot of reasons. I made a bad call during the first level and finished that hand with 23k (my low point so far). But I also had a VERY difficult table today, and managed to chip up despite my bad table. There were three well-known pros at my table for most of the day, and there were a couple other guys who I suspect were pros (probably online pros). All three of the initial known pros (Brandon Cantu, Adam Schoenfeld, John O’shea) ended up busting before the end of the day, and I managed to grow my stack to 60k at one point. Considering how soft the WSOP Main Event field is, this was a pretty unlucky table for Day 1.

I should say I also caught some hands today. I had Aces three times in one level (but only won three small pots, all pre-flop). I also had Kings a couple times and Queens a couple times. So, I did catch some cards, but they didn’t do me much good at my tough table. (Of course, I’ll take cards whenever I can get them.)

So, we start back Tuesday morning and I’ll have an average chip stack. My next goal is to make Day 3.

WSOP 2011 Diary: Week 2

Day 5 (June 27): Today was pretty simple. I did my usual couple of hours at Starbucks, then met a friend/co-author at the Rio (she was playing the $10k 6-max Championship so I caught up with her to touch base before she played). Then I went to the Wynn to play the $200 re-buy. I’m thinking a little differently about this tournament, and the more I think about it, the less I like taking the add-on. The problem is that the add-on is $200 and you get 5k chips (the same as the starting stack in the tournament), but you get that 5k chips when the blinds are at 200/400. So, 5k chips really doesn’t do much there (12 BB isn’t nothing, but it’s not really something either). If the add-on was 10k chips, I think it would be good value.

I also decided to try playing it with just the original buy-in. The blinds start at 25/50, so 5k chips is 100 big blinds, which is a decent stack to work with. As it turned out, I ran top two pair into a flopped straight and ended up going broke and having to re-buy anyway (hence I was in for $425 today). I ended up min-cashing (20 places paid and I finished 20th) for $985. I was very, very happy with this result because I was on a short stack literally all day. I just never really had much to work with, so I just had to keep picking spots, stealing blinds and occasionally doubling up. So, 20th of 156 was a good result.

Tomorrow morning, I’m working on the book and tomorrow afternoon I’ll probably head back to the Wynn with Luckbox Larry to take another shot at the re-buy.

Day 6: This morning I went to my co-author’s place and did some work on the book. We made great progress, and I’m really excited about the material we’re creating. I’ve read a lot of poker book (probably 40+), and I’ve never read one quite like this. We’re going from about a 10,000-foot view (where most tournament poker books hang out) up to about 30,000 feet, and we’re stopping every 5,000 feet or so along the way. This is either like a genius analogy or a terrible one. Anyway, we’re covering a lot of ground, most of it new, and I can’t wait to see this book in print.

I played the Wynn again today and min-cashed again. I’m now 3/5 cashing in tournaments since I got to Vegas (one of those in a 1,000-person field), so I’m way ahead of expectation (in a tiny sample) there. Luckbox Larry has also been cashing at the Wynn a lot – we’re a combined 5/8 for cashing there, and he has two final tables. So that’s the good news. The bad news is I have basically min-cashed in all three tourneys. This is typically a bad sign for a tournament player. Consistently min-cashing is a good way to eventually go broke because even a very good player will cash 20% of the time or less. A min-cash is usually about double the buy-in, so min-cashing 20% of the time will leave about -60% ROI for the player. That being said, The first two cashes were despite terrible cards for almost the entire tournament.

Today’s min-cash was a little unlucky because I put together a good stack early, playing good poker, and then just got unlucky to run into a trap in a blind versus blind battle. (It was folded to the player to my right, who called in the small blind, and I was very short, so I just moved in from the big blind, and he was “trapping” with AKo. I hate his play with AKo there, but I guess it worked out for him and I ended up busting. You’ll note I didn’t say what my hand was – that’s because it didn’t matter in that spot as I would move in with any two cards – but I had 82o for the record. If you’re thinking about how crazy this sounds, consider that a player who limps there is almost always weak and will fold to a shove, and if I pulled that off, I would add 25-30% to my stack without a showdown. As it was, I got all-in as a 60/40 dog with a chance to double up and I was the raiser, not the caller. It’s necessary to do this sort of thing to stay alive in tournaments. After a certain point, playing short-stacks becomes almost exclusively situational and this was a good situation to get some chips.).

Tomorrow, I’m going to do a little writing and then I’ll probably end up back at the Wynn. It’s just too good a field to pass up. They’re playing this same tourney ($200 re-buy at 1:00 PM) every day for 20 days (there are 14 days left) with a $50k guarantee. Sometimes there’s an overlay, which is great, but even without any overlay the field is so soft that it’s great value (I actually think it’s reasonable to cash in this thing like 33% of the time over the long-run).

Day 7: I just realized it’s Wednesday and not Tuesday.

Anyway, I played the Wynn re-buy again today, and cashed again. This time it wasn’t a min-cash (I avoided that by one pay jump), but I did manage to finish 11th and bubble the final table, so at least I still kind of have the streak going. I’m now 4-of-6 cashing in tournaments since I got here. Yesterday, I actually caught some cards in the middle of the tournament, but otherwise I’ve been pretty card dead and just playing well on a short stack. I’m very, very happy with my play and I just need to get some breaks. Also, my cash at the Wynn today made me profitable at poker for the trip (the “at poker” caveat means I’m no where near covering my expenses).

The nature of tournament poker is to be frustrating. I’ve mentioned before that good players can expect to cash about 20% of the time (in normal tournaments – this tourney I’m playing at the Wynn is an exception and I think it’s possible to cash 33% of the time), which means disappointment can be expected about 80% of the time. In my case, I’m cashing a lot, but just can’t quite make the final table. It will happen eventually, but I have to continue playing my A-game so that I’m ready to win the tournament (and make the real money) when the cards fall my way.

I think I’m going to take the day off tomorrow because I doubt I’ll be able to play my A-game. Today, I actually started off a little tilty, getting frustrated when I lost with top pair, good kicker in three hands during the first level (30 minutes). I will sometimes get frustrated, but the other players often can’t see it. By the third time I lost with top pair (AQo on a Queen-high board), I was visibly frustrated. Fortunately, it didn’t affect my play and I stuck with it to get down to 11. I’m concerned that if I play tomorrow, I won’t be able to keep playing well, so I’d rather take the day off than set fire to a buy-in.

It was pretty nice in Vegas last night – breezy and cool – so the walk to Harrah’s to catch the shuttle to Rio wasn’t too bad. I’ve probably made that walk a total of five or six times now, and it’s a tough one. When I want to go from the Rio to Wynn (or vice versa), and I don’t have a car or a ride, I have to take a shuttle to Harrah’s, then walk about 15 minutes to the Wynn. The walk is literally on The Strip, so it’s very congested and touristy (complete with dudes snapping night club ad cards at you), which makes it even longer. People like to walk in groups, like three wide, very slowly so they bock the entire sidewalk for anyone wanting to get somewhere quickly. The good news is I think I’m burning a ton of calories, so no need for cardio while I’m out here.

Day 8: I started feeling a little gross at the Wynn yesterday, and I had a little trouble sleeping last night. I’m not feeling sick per se, but just feeling sort of weak and tired. I was thinking about taking the day off from poker today anyway, so this doesn’t really change much. I’m just hanging around the hotel, reading, watching Netflix and generally bumming around.

I had In-N-Out for lunch today and it was awesome. I really like In-N-Out. The food is delicious, and it’s generally a pleasant experience to visit their stores. Also, my meal was only $6. Luckbox Larry and I also went to Vons (apostrophe apparently omitted intentionally by them?), which is owned by Safeway. We needed to stock up on snacks and supplies in general. Also, we ran out of makings for PB&J, which is my go-to food for a quick, cheap meal. On The Strip, everything is basically twice as expensive as it should be, so a mediocre sandwich and fries is like $13 or so. Hence I need to conserve money by eating PB&J and stuff.

Day 9: I took it easy yesterday and I think that was the right thing to do. I felt much better when I woke up this morning and decided to play the Wynn $200 re-buy again. That is probably one of the best tournament values in Vegas this summer, so it’s tough not to play. I ended up bubbling and finishing 21 when 15 paid. I took a really nasty beat with about 45 players left:

I had QQ and got all-in against a short stack with 66 and a big stack who had TT. The 66 hand made a flush on the turn (so he tripled up), and then the river was another flush cards, so I split the remaining pot with TT because we both had a flush. The worst part is I also flopped a set, so I could’ve still won the whole pot if the river paired the board.

If I had won that pot, I would’ve had a pretty large chip stack with 45 left, and that could’ve made the difference. As it was, I was bumped down to a really short stack and still managed to survive and even chip up down to 20 players when I lost yet another coinflip to bust. In general, I’m running bad on this trip. There’s not much I can do about that except to keep playing well and hope I stop getting unlucky so I can make a deep run and finally get paid.

After I busted from the tournament, a couple friends (who had both been in and busted earlier) and I went to a pretty nice restaurant at the Wynn for dinner. We had some comps to burn, so we figured we’d use them for a nice meal. It was nice to just relax and eat a nice meal. I’m trying hard to save cash while I’m here, but it’s tough. I need to start eating more PB&J.

After dinner, I went back to the hotel (we’re at the Gold Coast again) and watched some Netflix before turning in pretty early.

Day 10: Today should be a pretty relaxed day. I’m planning to go work on the book with my co-author, and hopefully I’ll be able to do some laundry while I’m there. I should also be able to avoid spending too much money on food today, so that’s nice for a change.

My co-author and I have scheduled a meeting with another published author for Tuesday morning, and I think we could learn quite a bit from her. She’s already published on one of the publishers we’re looking at, and her book is also a poker book.

Day 11: Yesterday turned out to be pretty uneventful after all. We worked on the book for about six hours and made good progress. When we began writing the book, I knew it would be a big project and a long process, but I don’t think we really understood the magnitude of what we were getting into (at least I didn’t). It’s a very big project and is taking a lot of work.

Anyway, I’m planning to play the Wynn re-buy again today. I would really like to make the final table in that tournament – I just need a few breaks and I’ll get there. I just realized it’s already July 3rd, which means tomorrow is the 4th. I’ve heard rumors that the annual 4th of July party I attend (some friends of friends always get a Mandalay Bay penthouse with a view of The Strip, where they have several fireworks show) is happening, so that will be fun. The hosts are a lot of fun and do a great job putting the party together and just being good hosts. This particular party usually gets a pretty motley crew and I almost always meet someone new and interesting.

But that’s probably happening tomorrow. Today will be a slow day and I’ll start the publishing process for this week’s diary entries. If it isn’t already obvious, I’ve more or less settled into the Vegas/Summer/WSOP routine: hang out, play poker, write the book and repeat. I still have a few restaurants I need to get to, but I’ve mostly gotten the highlights out of the way now.

WSOP 2011 Diary: Week 1

[I’ve decided to put these up once a week or so to save publishing effort and avoid annoying people on Facebook and Twitter. Give me feedback in the comments as to whether it would be better to do daily or if weekly is good. Anyway, the result is these will be long posts.]

Day 1 (June 23): The trip from Gainesville, FL to Las Vegas is pretty rough. There are no direct flights, so I have to connect in either Atlanta or Charlotte, which means layovers and delays. This time, I was scheduled for a 2.5-hour layover in Atlanta, but ended up taking half of it in Gainesville because of weather delays. I ended up getting to Las Vegas at about 12:20 AM local time (3:20 AM back in Florida), and then had to find a shuttle to the hotel because my ride fell through. (Tip for visitors to Vegas – if you’re going to the strip, go find a shuttle instead of a cab. The shuttle is $7-10 and a cab will be at least $20.)

Any time I’m heading to Vegas, I try to get in late at night and sleep very little on the plane. I figure this is the best way to beat jet-lag and adjust to the new timezone. It usually works, but I was up till 3:00 AM Vegas time chatting with a friend, and ended up waking up at 7:15 this morning. So the bad news is I’ll be tired all day. The good news is that if I can get through the day without sleeping, I’ll definitely be adjusted to Vegas time by tomorrow.

My strategy when I’m here is to maximize convenience and minimize cost. In English, this means I end up schlepping my stuff back and forth from hotel to hotel as I chase the lowest room rates. This time, I’ve managed to book rooms at the Rio and Gold Coast, so I’m only bouncing back and forth between two decent hotels. I’m sharing rooms with a friend of mine, and he’s particularly good at finding cheap hotel deals for us. I’ll end up paying about $700 for a month of staying in decent hotels within walking distance of the WSOP. Not too bad.

Today, we’re moving from the Rio to Gold Coast, then we’ll grab lunch and decide which tournaments are the best to play today. My guess is I’ll end up playing a $235 tournament at the Rio to tune up since I haven’t played live poker in about 10 months. The Rio field will be big (700 or so), which means lots of bad players and a decent prize pool for a $200 tourney.

There is a lot of stuff to consider when I start playing tournaments again after a layoff. I have to be comfortable both physically and psychologically. Basically, I have to psych myself up so I feel like a good poker player, and I have to have some sort of game plan going in. My game plan today is basically, “Be super hyper aggressive and pull the trigger every time I sense I should be making a move.” This sounds simple, but it can be tricky after a layoff. I obviously want to win the tournament, but I don’t want to bust after only a couple hours since I need to get back in the swing of things. This will often cause me to play more passively than I should, passing up opportunities to last longer in the tournament while not really giving myself a chance to win.

So the plan today is to get settled into the Gold Coast, get a good lunch and hopefully crush the $235 tune-up at the Rio.

Day 2: Yesterday was a long day, but not much happened. My friend and I moved from the Rio to the Gold Coast and then played the 2:00 PM $235 “deep stack” at the Rio. I use the quotes because it’s not REALLY a deep stack unless you compare it to the normal, super-turbo structures most casinos use for the daily tournaments they run. There were 964 entrants and I finished 79th, for a couple hundred bucks profit. I was happy with my play because I didn’t catch many cards for the final four hours of the tournament. My best hand of the day was a nut flush, and I made two straights (both on three-flush boards) and didn’t make a set or two pair. So, all in all, I’m pretty happy with cashing.

After I busted from the Rio deep stack, I joined some friends who were sweating the $10k HORSE Championship Final Table. My friends are friends of Daniel Ospina, who eventually took 4th (outlasting Tom “Durrr” Dwan by one spot). Here’s a terrible picture of the “Featured Table” where ESPN films final tables and will film the main featured table of the Main Event for TV. It’s terrible because they have bright blue lights focused on the crowd, and those lights apparently wreak havoc on my iPhone’s camera. C’iest la vie. (On a related note, I can’t wait for iOS 5 to let me snap photos with the volume up button instead of the stupid soft button on the screen. It’s really difficult to take a good picture when I’m holding the phone and trying to tap the edge of the screen to snap a photo.)

Today I’ll just take it easy, do some reading and writing and probably hang out watching TV in the hotel room.

Day 3: Actually, instead of taking it easy and hanging in the hotel room, I ended up playing a $200 re-buy tournament at the Wynn. I was in for $600 (initial buy-in, initial re-buy and the add-on), but didn’t cash. It was very frustrating because that tournament is very soft, and it’s very winnable for me. But what was more frustrating was that I made two mistakes (one medium and one big) that cost me the tournament. But this is why I’m playing tune-ups before I jump into $1k+ tourneys: I expect to make mistakes. So, hopefully I’ll think more clearly and be more focused the next time I play.

The tournament director (and possibly the guy who runs the Wynn poker room) stopped Luckbox Larry (@hugepoker on Twitter) and me on one of our breaks and asked for input on the tournament. Overall, we both think the tournament is setup very well, but we made a couple of suggestions to make it better and to encourage people to stick around and build the prize pool. We recommended adding a level after the add-on break and giving more chips for the add-on. He gave us each a $10 comp, which I used to buy a giant gelato banana split to console myself for making mistakes in the tourney.

While I bombed out of the Wynn tournament, Luckbox Larry actually went pretty deep and bubbled the final table. It wasn’t a huge score, but he did what he could do to win the thing. I got some pictures of him (below), but they’re a little blurry because I was having to like run around trying to snap a clean shot when I could get it because there were a bunch of Europeans crowding all around the table and jumping in front of me (despite repeated requests by the tourney director that they keep out of the tournament area). For some reason, Europeans really love the Wynn daily tournament.

I think I’ll go back to the Rio $235 today and give that another shot. I’ve played about 11 hours of poker so far, and I’ve basically run bad. I think I’m something like 0-for-7 on coinflips and 60/40s, I’ve flopped one set, I’ve flopped two pair once (it was top two, and lost the minimum against a flopped flush when we were both in the blinds), I’ve flopped three straights (all on two- or three-flush boards), I’ve turned one flush, and I’ve had AA, KK, QQ, TT once each (JJ twice). I think I’ve had AK once and AQ a few times. So, if I start catching some cards I think I could make a deep run if I avoid mistakes like I made yesterday.

My co-author has been playing WSOP events since I got to Vegas, but I think she’s taking it easy next week so I’m hoping to get some writing done. Until then, I’ll keep tuning up in small tournaments, trying to avoid making mistakes like the plague.

Day 4: I didn’t end up playing yesterday. They moved the 2:00 PM rio tourney back to 4:00 PM because there was a $1,500 WSOP event that typically draws a lot of people. So they try to stagger the tournaments to avoid confusion. I basically ended up bumming around and reading all day, and it was kind of nice. I went to see Super 8 last night and really enjoyed it. It was a fun movie, well done.

Today, I played the $1k WSOP No Limit Hold ’em event. I managed to last about 3 2/3 levels before I finally busted out. I’ve been running really, really cold so far this world series. Yesterday, I tallied all the hands I’ve had so far. To that tally, I can add another AK, a couple of 99 hands, 88 and that’s about it. So, I’ve been on the bad side of the card distribution so far this series. I actually played well today and made some difficult, but good decisions. The problem was I just never got any cards to work with and all the short-stack strategy in the world isn’t any good unless I eventually get something to play and double-up. I ended up busting on a Stop-N-Go, which was the right idea pre-flop, but it may have been correct to abort it on the flop. I’m still mulling it over.

[The following is a little poker rambling where I describe what a “Stop-N-Go” is. If you’re not into poker, skip to the next paragraph.] I guess I should explain that. A Stop-N-Go is a short-stack move where I’m in the big blind (blinds were 75/150) and I have a short stack (I had 1,500 left after posting the blind). The point of the move is to basically re-steal the pot from a late-position raiser by taking control of the pot and moving in on the flop, forcing my opponent to make a tricky decision. The player four seats to my right (in the hijack seat) opened to 375 and before I looked at my cards I knew I had a good stack for a Stop-N-Go. I decided I would Stop-N-Go any pair 66 or lower, and any Ace A9 or lower and possibly a hand like KQ or KJs. (The rest of my range was something like this: re-raise all-in with pairs 77-QQ and AT+; flat-call with AA/KK and check-raiase all-in on the flop regardless of what it was; possibly flat call with KQ or KJs and check-raise all-in on the flop if I made a pair or better; fold everything else.) Anyway, I looked down at A6o, which meant it was time to Stop-N-Go. Here’s how the move works: I call his raise and then move all-in on any flop (because I’m in the Big Blind, I’m first to act after the flop). I know this player is a reasonable player, so he’s opening a normal hijack range: Big cards, most pairs and probably like JTs and maybe T9s. The flop came down KK8, I moved in and he called with 99. This was probably a mistake on my part. The problem is that my goal is ultimately to get my opponent to fold all those hands in the range I described above. On flops like T84, J85, KT2 most of this range either misses the flop completely or doesn’t really like it (66 and 77 don’t like either of those flops, AK, AQ, AJ don’t like most of those flops for instance). But on a flop like KK8, most of his range is still pretty safe. Small and medium pairs don’t mind it because it’s unlikely I have an 8 or King. Big cards don’t mind it because they’re still pretty strong hands (AQ, AJ, AT all feel ok about still having a pretty good hand post-flop, and they can draw out to a pair against smaller pairs). Hands like QJ, JT, QTs don’t care for it and will fold. So, this particular flop isn’t scary enough for the Stop-N-Go to work and I probably should’ve just aborted and check-folded, aborting the move.

Now I’m heading off to the Wynn to meet Luckbox Larry on his dinner break in the Wynn $200 re-buy. He has a pretty good chip stack, so hopefully he’ll make a run. Hopefully I’ll start running better pretty soon. I’ve played something like 16 hours of poker and basically gotten no cards yet. It’d be nice if that trend ends soon.

I’m back (just got over to the Wynn – it takes about 45 min door to door, and about 20 of that is fast-paced walking in the Vegas heat). On my way over to the Wynn, I had a couple thoughts. First, I realized that Vegas is packed full of people doing really, really crummy jobs. I won’t list those jobs because I don’t want to offend anyone, but there are a lot of people doing jobs that I just can’t imagine doing every day. It’s profoundly depressing. At the same time, I realized how fortunate I am. I voluntarily quit my own job almost two months ago, and now I’m hanging out in Vegas for a month, playing poker, writing a book, relaxing and hanging with some friends. There’s some stress involved (today my bank account reduced by another $50 or so, and it won’t be replenished until I start working again), but I’m ultimately living Peter Gibbins’ dream of doing nothing for now. At the same time, I miss my friends and family back home, but I’ll be seeing them plenty in about 25 days.

And Luckbox Larry ended up taking second (after losing an all-in with AK < AJ) for right about $10,000. Unfortunately, he was in for $1,200, so the “steak dinner for five-figure score” clause wasn’t activated this time.

Off to Vegas for the 2011 WSOP!

You may know that I’ve gone to Vegas once a year for the past several years. I think I’ve been every year since 2006, but I’m not positive about that. In 2009, I spent six weeks there. The other day, I realized that Vegas is the city I visit most frequently (aside from Jacksonville, which is 90 miles away and is where my family lives). This really doesn’t make sense at all – Vegas is essentially the opposite of all things Josh. Of course, it helps that there is some incredible food to be had (if one doesn’t mind visiting some super sketchy neighborhoods).

But here I go again, drawn to Vegas to play poker and visit friends. Before I go, I’m posting about what I’ll be doing (so my friends and family know what’s up). I’m also soliciting suggestions on how I can share the experience with all three of you that read this blog. (Haha, just kidding! There are at least 10 of you.)

What I’ll be doing

I’ll mostly be playing poker and writing “the book”. The WSOP is going on right now, so I’ll play some of the smaller No Limit tournaments and try to win a satellite for a seat into the $10,000 Main Event (the one they show on TV every year). The smaller WSOP tournaments I’ll play will range from a $1,000 to $2,500 buy-in. I’ll also play some other tournaments around Vegas, ranging from $200 to $1,000 buy-ins. I’ll start with the smaller ones to tune up since it’s been a while since I played live poker (or poker at all, really). I’d really like to play the $10k this year – that tournament is almost customized for my style, and I could make a deep run with a little luck.

“The book” is a poker book I’ve been co-writing for about 18 months. It’s about how to use game theory to build a dynamic tournament strategy that can be adjusted as the game changes over time. It’s a lot about the underlying principles and the “whys” of winning tournament poker. A friend of mine is a professional poker player, and she asked me to co-author the book with her because I know her strategy and style very well, and because I’m comfortable writing. I’m hoping we can do some serious work on the book while we’re both in Vegas this summer. It’s a very big project that simply requires time and coordination to keep it moving.

Give me some feedback – what can I do to share the WSOP experience with those who aren’t there?

I get a lot of questions about the WSOP: what it is, what it’s like, and all that. I think it would be fun to use the blog (and Facebook and Twitter) to share a little of the WSOP experience (and maybe my Vegas experience), but I’m not exactly sure how to do that. [Wow, that sentence is terrible.] I could blog, take pics and maybe shoot some video. I’m sure there are other ways I could share the experience as well.

If you want to see what it’s like to at the WSOP, leave me some comments with suggestions on ways I can share. I’ll see what I can put together!

My week, sans the work: Part 2 – Las Vegas

On Wednesday evening, I headed west to Las Vegas.  As it turns out, I also arrive in Las Vegas on Wednesday evening since time stands still when flying west (in the States anyway).  This demonstrates Superman’s superiority as Boeing can merely cause time to stand still, while Superman can actually cause time to go backward. (NOTE: I will not check to see if Boeing makes a jet that flies fast enough to cause time to reverse when flying west in the States.)  A couple of friends were also in Vegas and had the good fortune (read, “have gambled enough”) to get two rooms comped at different hotels for Wednesday and Thursday.  I ended up crashing in a room at the Hard Rock for free my first two days in Vegas.  Wednesday night, I slept.

Thursday, I woke up relatively early (9) and did a few hours of work.  Then I wandered over to the Wynn and had lunch at Terrace Pointe Cafe.  It was excellent and I was full, so I decided to walk over to Bellagio and get some gelato.  I didn’t have any plans for the remainder of the day, so I popped over to Planet Hollywood Casino and played some $1-$2 No Limit.  I dropped about $85 over five hours (possibly accounted for by the $90 pot I lost after being about 90% to win when the money went in) and then went back to the Hard Rock to do a little more work and then get some sleep.  The next three days would be busy ones.

Friday morning, I woke up and did a couple hours of work and then checked out of the Hard Rock and into – let me finish – the Tropicana.  Actually, I just checked my bags at “The Trop” (that’s what the townies call it, probably because it’s a dump and doesn’t really merit more than two syllables) and then walked over to the MGM Grand to meet a friend for boot camp.  The friend is a poker pro who was teaching at a three-day WPT Boot Camp that I was to audit for the weekend.  (I don’t name-drop here, but her recent tournament winnings put her on a short-list for best female tournament player, and she’s probably moving up the same list for “overall” tournament player.  Google is fun.)

Within the first two hours of the camp, I’d already identified why my poker game has been so awful recently and decided it was time to update (and, in many ways, revert) my style.  In a nutshell, it was pretty obvious that I had regressed into a weak-tight style.  It quickly became obvious I needed to LAG it up a bit and play more (but smaller) pots against my opponents.  So far, so good.

The rest of the first day was good, but not as great as the first session.  I really enjoyed the other sessions (hanging out with people who’ve written books I’ve read has to be fun), but they were mostly high-level refreshers that didn’t resonate like the first session had.  My friend and I skipped out on dinner and met up with her fiancée and some of their friends for dinner at Antonio’s at the Rio.  The lasagna was good and I was entertained both during dinner, by the conversation, and after dinner, by the meticulous accounting required to verify proper appropriation of each penny on the check (including tax and tip, of course).  After dinner, we met up with another friend and went to see the new Indiana Jones movie (which was a colossal letdown and seemed more like a prank than a long-awaited fourth installment to the series).  I then went back to The Trop to officially check in and collapse.

As I was checking in, I began to realize that they may not have reserved a non-smoking room for me.  This was going to be a problem.  I first began to suspect something was up when the receptionist said, “Ohhhhhh…  you wanted a non-smoking room?” Then, clackity-clack-clack tip-tap tap-tap-tap … thunk.  She probably suspected I requested a non-smoking room because I had submitted the following “special request” when I booked the room on Expedia:

I absolutely DO NOT WANT A SMOKING ROOM, or a room that has ever been a smoking room, or a room that is near a smoking room.

She explained that they didn’t have any more one-bed non-smoking rooms.  I explained that I didn’t care how many beds were in the room so long as it wasn’t smoking, and hadn’t ever been a … (see above).  She said she was new, so she was going to get the manager.  The manager swooped in, tapped around for a few seconds and said, “We’re going to upgrade you to a suite.”  Bummer.  Wait, what?  Okey dokey!  (That was actually all in my head.)  Aloud, I said, “Ok.” as if to communicate that we both know they owe me that much.  She then explained that Vegas hotels can’t guarantee rooms like that.  But she also gave me an insider tip:  if I want to make sure I don’t get stuck in smoking, I should book the room, then call ahead to the hotel and tell them I’m allergic to tobacco and smoke.  That’ll land me on “the security list” and I should be good to go.  I’m getting a suite, suckas!

As I approached the suite, I saw a sign: THIS IS A NO SMOKING AREA.  I took that as a good omen, but was a little leery of the slight smokey smell that surrounded it.  The suite had most likely been furnished by bargain hunters who scored a bunch of stuff from garage sales in South Florida.  Most of the room was coral, teal and wicker.  I was curious what the smoking room would’ve looked like.  (Probably something like coral drawn toward earth tones via tar stains.)  It smelled a little like smoke, and would smell that way for the duration of my stay.  I assumed this was the result of 25 years of people ignoring the sign outside my door.

On Saturday, I began the day by bumming breakfast off of the boot camp.  Then the sessions began again and, again, there was one particular session that really resonated with me.  As before, the theme was “aggression” and it became even clearer to me that I had devolved into a weak-tight player (possibly the worst kind of tournament player to be).  After the day ended, I headed straight back to my hotel room to try out my newfound LAGgy confidence in some small multi-table tournaments.  Two things were almost immediately apparent: first, this style is obviously effective; second, this style seems pretty similar to what I used to play when I was regularly playing live tournaments.  (A third epiphany also began to dawn, but wouldn’t become completely clear until Sunday: it’s too bad I blew $1K in New Orleans because I didn’t have the slightest chance at actually winning that tournament.)  I didn’t cash in either of the small tournaments I played, but I easily built a big stack and was in great position to assume the chip lead when we hit the bubble.

…Ironically, one of the topics that came up frequently in my two favorite sessions was pre-flop raise-sizing.  The number of 2.5 Big Blinds was mentioned frequently, so I decided to take a look back at my posts from a couple years ago.  Sure enough, I had written two long posts (well, long if you ignore this one) called “2.5 is the new 3!”…

Sunday began the same as Saturday, but was more of a wrap-up day.  We had a couple of general sessions, then lunch, then a winner-take-all tournament that I didn’t play (because I was freeloading).  Before the tournament, my friend was kind enough to look over my hand-history from the $1K in New Orleans.  We both had a good laugh and I felt a little embarrassed at how obviously weak my play had been.  It wasn’t awful (she occasionally found something I’d done correctly), but it was pretty bad.  It was mostly good that it was so obvious to me how bad my play had been – that meant I had actually learned something over the past couple of days.

After my friend busted from the tournament, we milled around chatting with all the other busted pros (the pros apparently weren’t so great in this one) and then headed off the strip and back to her condo to kill some time.  We chatted with some other guests she had in town and then she decided it was time to teach me to play backgammon.  I remember seeing a backgammon board at a friend’s house when I was really young, but I don’t think I ever played the game.  Anyway, the first few games were a little frustrating (probably more for her than me) and she went up 5-0 in a match to 7.  But then I won four games straight to win the match 7-5.  Of course, I’m aware that I was a total luckbox, and that she helped me make good plays and avoid horrible plays… but it’s also nice to know that she died a little inside when a total neophyte crushed her.

After the longest-odds backgammon comeback in history (or at least my history, which includes only one match), we met up with a friend and went for sushi at Sushi Roku in Ceasar’s Palace.  After my friend was mistaken for a hostess (“One for the sushi bar.”  “What?”  “One for the sushi bar.”  “What are you talking about?”  “Oh, you don’t work here?  I’m sorry.”), we were seated at the least-attended table in the joint.  After receiving my latest lesson in the art of the chopsticks, we downed our meal pretty quickly and then jumped right into discussions on morality, politics, social faux pas and the like.  We also noticed that our server hadn’t been around in quite a while.

My friend was particularly frustrated by this (we had been trying to get the check for about 20 minutes and our glasses hadn’t been refilled in a while) and decided to use me as an instrument of passive-aggressive revenge.  Because she has no soul, she decided the best way to exact revenge would be to give our server a seemingly genuine, but completely fake, compliment.  I was offered a 20-dollar freeroll if I would, with a completely straight face, tell our server how much I appreciated her attentive service.  And she had to believe I meant it.  I mulled it over for a while (I possess a soul, and so this task would be more difficult for me to execute than it was for her to imagine), but decided I was freerolling and therefore only had my dignity to lose, but 20 dollars to gain!  I began thinking back to my acting classes to see if I could remember how to find motivation and get out of my head.  Mostly, I was concerned I would begin offering up my fake compliment and bust out laughing, which would make me feel awful (yes, worse than I would feel for passive-aggressively taking a shot at our only-slightly-English-speaking server).  No motivation became apparent, so I decided to look for the right opportunity and go for it.

I decided that opportunity would present itself when our server brought the check (assuming this ever happened).  Eventually, she brought the check, set it on the table and began to make a hasty retreat.  Before she could get away, I began:

“Excuse me.  This is my first time in Las Vegas and I am just about to leave to catch my plane home.” 
“Where are you going?” 
“Back to Florida.  But I just wanted to let you know that I had a great time here this week, but your service tonight has been really exceptional and is just a great way to end the week.”
By this time, it was obvious that she was a little skeptical of my kindness.  Of course, she should’ve been since I’m sure she knew she hadn’t paid us any attention for the last couple of hours.
“So, thank you for your great service tonight.  This was a great way to end my trip.”

I was so convincing that my soulless friend felt compelled to stop snickering into her napkin (I wanted to say, “stop snickering into her serviette”, but this is America) and say, “Aw, that’s so nice of you!”  This comment finished the job and clearly convinced our server that we were indeed genuinely impressed with her service.  I was paid my blood money and we began preparations to negotiate the check.  But while we were razzing the server, our friend had sneakily paid the check (apparently, the staff was very quick to retrieve already-paid checks), so I actually made twenty dollars at dinner (and forever lost a small piece of my soul).

From there, we went back by The Trop to retrieve my bags (checking out is substantially easier than checking in) and ferry me to the airport so I could catch the red-eye.  I’m pretty sure this is my first red-eye flight, but I’m realizing that one attribute of a red-eye is that they’re difficult to remember, so it’s possible I’ve flown a few before.  In about 45 minutes, we’ll touch down in Gainesville and I’ll go home and sleep the day away.  Back to work tomorrow.