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

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

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

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

Back to the Wynn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2011 Seattle Trip Diary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I did some reading and went to sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.