As I drove through the desert Monday afternoon on my way out to the biggest poker event of my life, my mind was racing. I was running through all the ways the tournament could play out. Would I be ready? Would I do well? When I was in college, I hated studying for tests. I would keep putting it off until the night before, and I would usually run into some concept that I just didn't get. Without enough time to work it out, I would just give up and get a good night's sleep. The funny thing is, during the test with the pressure on, I would somehow figure it out. I would nail a concept that I did not understand until I was actually taking the test. I was hoping for something like this tomorrow at the WSOP.
I know what it takes to play well in a live tournament, I just don't know if I can actually do it. You need to be watching the action closely. Ghosting peoples hands. Picking out the tight, loose, passive and aggressive players. Picking up on the steals and resteals, and developing countermeasures for every player at the table. I know this is what you do, but I have never been able to focus on this stuff for more than a few brief moments spread out over a long session of live play. Playing mostly online will do this to you. You are used to things moving quickly, and don't have much down time. It helps to keep you focused. I wanted to do all of this in the WSOP tournament. Play live like I never have played before.
I show up for the tournament at about 11:45. There is a countdown timer running. I find my table (#19 seat #2). I sit down 4 minutes before the start. There's about 6 total seated. About 1 minute prior to the start, a younger guy sits down and announces he's here to have fun. I don't recognize anyone at my table. To my left is the only older guy at the table. He reeks of not having taken a shower in a few days, or just crapped his pants or both. To his left is a guy decked out in a FullTilt Jacket and baseball cap. Turns out it was Joe Sebok
who was Barry Greenstein's son, and #56 in cardplayers POY race. He has two big wins this year and several WSOP cashes this and last year.
2,126 Entries, 198 paid, $655,141
for 1st place.Level 1 - 25/25 blinds
My strategy going in was to play tight in the first two levels, and build a tight image I could exploit later on. The way the cards hit me in the first level, this would be easy to do. On the first hand of the tournament the guy who announced he wanted to have fun open raises to T250 (10x). When everyone folds he flips up AA. An orbit later, same guy opens for T375 (15x) from the BB against 1 EP limper. EP limper goes all-in. "Fun guy" insta calls with AA, and doubles up vs. AKo. I am not sure if "fun guy" is an idiot or a genius. The overbetting preflop with AA, just worked, but the limper could easily have folded his hand there, and would fold a lot of hands you would want calling with AA. An orbit later "fun guy" flops a straight in the BB, and gets all-in on the flop vs. Joe Sebok's top 2-pair. Joe is eliminated, and fun guy is up to T5000 in chips quick. Must be nice when your getting cards. I pretty much got nothing, no pairs, no decent ace, no suited connectors. I slowly blind down. The only hand of note for me during the level was when I picked up QJs on the button. There was a 3x open from MP and I called as well as the BB and a limper. The flop came Axx with one of my suit. It checked to me on the button, and I opened to T150. I get reraised to T500, and pretty much have to release the hand or push-in on a pure bluff. I fold. At the end of the level, I am down to T1000 and have not won a single hand yet.
At this point, I am just not feeling like I am that into the tournament. When you play for an hour without winning a pot, that will do it to you. I was wondering what it would be like If I don't even win a single pot in this thing. Even though I have lost 1/3 of my stack, I am not giving up. The blinds are still low, and I am bound to get hit by the deck sooner or later. I always like to shake off a slow start using the fact that it is always better to get cards late in a tournament. The level of play at my table is in no way exceptional. No donk plays, but nothing to make me think any of these guys are real good. I feel like I am as good as anyone at my table.Level 2 - 25/50 blinds
I start with T1000 in chips. It folds to me in the SB, and I raise to T100 with T9s. BB folds, and I have won my first pot at the WSOP (1 BB wheee!). People were getting eliminated left and right at my table. There was also a orphan stack that was still getting blinded off. The orphan stack shows up and open raises his first hand to T175. I look down at AQs on the button and call. Flop comes all low. New guy bets T600, and I have T825 behind and pretty much have to fold or go all-in with Ace high. I fold. I get blinded down to T725. Things are not going very well so far. I pick up AJo in the cutoff and after a limper raise to T225 from the cutoff. Limper calls, and pushes in on a J9x flop. I call, limper has 88, and I double up. I have T1525 and I am above water for the first time in the tournament. I limp in with 44 on a 4-way pot. Flop comes A32. Checks around. Turn is an A and it checks around again. River is a T, and after 2 checks I bet T150 and get called by JT. Probably should have bet the turn on this hand or checked it down on the river. The new guy who has been making lots of smallish open raises, opens to T125. I pick-up QQ in the SB and reraise to T500. Everyone folds. I pick up ATo in the cutoff, and try to open raise to T250. I missed the fact that someone had already opened to T200. I wanted to get my bet back, but was forced to call, by my actions. Flop comes J77 and it checks around. Blank on the turn, and after a check, I bet T400 and take it down. I am up to T1875 at this point. I am blinded down to T1800 by the end of the level.
At the end of this level, I am feeling much better. I have won a few pots and built my stack back up. I am two hours in to a WSOP event, I have increased my stack 20%. Not great, but a nice comeback from down over 50%. I will have some time to pick my spots in the coming levels. It's break time, so I hit the bathroom and head over to the PokerStars Suite for a drink. I run into Pauly on my way back. I told him I was sitting on T1800 and where my table was. He says he will swing by for a photo.Level 3 - 50/100 blinds
I start with T1800 in chips, and blind down to T1500. I pick up 33 from the cutoff and open raise to T400 and steal the blinds. Back to T1650. I pick up TT from MP and open raise to T400. A new guy to my left pushes all-in for T1025 total and it folds back to me. This guy is short and desperate so his range is pretty wide here. I am almost getting pot odds if he has a higher pair. I make the call. He has AQo. I am a 57%/42% favorite here. This is one of those inflection points in a tournament. If I win, I am up to about 3k in chips which would be slightly above average. If I lose, my stack is in bad shape, and I will need to get lucky to crawl back into contention. I am amazingly calm. An Ace drops on the flop, and I lose the hand. It hardly effects me. I got my money in with the best hand, and could not win the coin flip. What more can I do? A win gives me an average stack at this point in the tournament, and I am in real good shape. I am down to T625. Down to T525 it folds to me in the SB, and I push in with AK, and get the BB. 10 minutes left in the level, and I have T525 and looking for a spot. I get A9s UTG, and push in. It folds to the BB who tanks for a while. The longer he tanks, the more I want the call, as I could use the chips, and I am sure I am ahead. He makes the call with JTo. 58%/41% favorite here. I survive the flop, but the turn is a T and IGHN.
I place about 1100th/2126 outlasting over 1000 entries. In 10 minutes at the end of the level they would be down to 105 tables. I feel really good about how I played. The only hand I question was the river bluff with 44 that got called, but that only cost me T150. I played through a tough start and crawled back into contention. You are going to need to win a coin-flip here or there, and it just did not happen for me. I was playing tight and bluffing at a decent frequency. The fact that about about ½ of my bluffs got caught makes me think my big hands would gave been paid off (if I got one). If I win the TT vs. AQ hand I have a decent shot at going deep. If I win my last hand, I still have some time to get back in it. It would not be my day. Based on the play at my table, I feel like I definitely belonged in this tournament. My game is good enough, I just need to catch a break here ot there. I got decent starting cards (QQ, TT, AK, AQs, AJo 44, 33, 22), but not great ones in my three hours of play (about 120 hands).
I was more in tune with the table, then I have been before, but not to the level I could have taken it. It's tough to focus and ghost hands at NL, when so few hands are shown down. I still can improve in this area, but it's tough. I'll probably be back next year. I'm glad I played in a smaller event and not the ME. With so much luck involved in tourneys, it would suck to lose 10k on a bad beat or bad luck. I have a feel for the WSOP now, and got it relatively cheap. My confidence is high right now, after a decent showing in a big-time event. I'll have to see what happens next year. There are photos of me on Pauly's blog and on the pokerstars blog
Players who busted before me in Event #27:
Mark Sief (defending Champ)