About 1150 players begin play today, and 873 will win a prize. Obviously no one wants to finish 874th, and so an interesting dynamic will develop: some players, especially those with the fewest chips, will tighten up considerably, passing up even rather favorable opportunities for fear of going home empty-handed. Others, perhaps more knowledgeable or just less in need of the “small” $14,500 prizes to be paid to the first players eliminated inside of the money ‘bubble’, will prey on the fear of these short stacks. Still others will look for opportunities to ‘re-steal’ from aggressive players whom they perceive to be picking on the ones trying to fold their way into the money.
So where does this leave me, with a below average but still comfortable stack of 59,300 chips? I’m just not sure. I came into this tournament telling myself that I would be cavalier about the small prizes, willing to push small edges and risk going home empty-handed in the hopes of accumulating chips and maybe, just maybe, taking home a massive prize. I know that this isn’t just greed or recklessness but good tournament strategy.
But the truth is that $14,500 is a lot of money to me, and now that we are approaching the bubble, I’m more nervous than I’ve been all tournament. When push comes to shove, will I really be able to risk it all? I’m going to be playing with some world-class players, people who have won big tournaments like this before. I feel like they will take one look at me and peg me for what I am: a kid who coughed up a couple hundred bucks to take a shot at this tournament and is now within sight of the biggest score of his life. I imagine worst-case scenarios where these pros make some extravagant bluff, and I, suspecting that my hand is good but unwilling to risk it all, am forced to make weak fold after weak fold.
But maybe I can use this to my advantage. I’ve already decided that, with my stack size, I can’t afford to lose another medium-sized pot. That means I can’t be as loose and aggressive as I’ve been so far. I need to have a stronger than average hand the next time I get involved, and I need to win some chips early to give myself some breathing room.
I decide the best thing for me to do is to play tight early on, assess the table, and wait for some good cards that will enable me to win a small to medium-sized pot with little risk. Then, having established a reputation as an inexperienced internet player, I’ll pick a spot or two to pull off a big bluff, and those pros will never see it coming!
With game plan in mind, it’s time to address some essentials: I’ve eaten all the animal crackers that I bought to sustain me between breaks and the only razor blade I brought with me is going dull. I walk next door to the CVS and buy more of both. I hit the hay around 12:30AM, wake at 9AM, shower, and lather up my face. The new razorlades are nowhere to be found. I don’t know I managed to lose my CVS bag in a tiny hotel room, but it is gone gone gone and I am going to be late late late if I don’t get my act together. I’m tempted to skip shaving altogether, but I think there is a fair chance that I will show up on TV today, since I’ve drawn a seat next to professional poker player Annie Duke, one of ESPN’s favorites. So I bite the bullet and shave with a dull blade, getting close enough that I won’t look too scruffy but not so close that I nick myself frequently.
I’ve heard rumors that I’m only contractually obligated to wear one piece of Poker Stars gear, so I decide to test this theory by donning a Boston Debate League T-Shirt. If I do get on TV today, I’d really like for the League to get some exposure, and if someone from Stars says something, I’ve got a shirt I can put over it.
I arrive at the Rio around 10:45 AM and head to the Poker Stars hospitality suite to get some coffee and a muffin. There’s not much happening inside, so I wander the halls, taking in the sights and making a few phone calls. I spot Rizen (a top-ranked online pro I mentioned in my last update) and chat with him for a minute about the upcoming day. My confidence is buoyed by the fact that his advice is the same conclusion I’ve already drawn: just make sure you win the next pot you play, and you’ll be fine. And it is REALLY buoyed by the next thing he tells me: “You know as much about poker as Annie Duke does. Just play your game.”
Feeling a little more confident, I head into the convention room, flash my player card at the security guard, and look for my table. On the loudspeaker, the tournament director is making some announcements: “If you are at Table 49 or Table 50, you have been re-assigned. Please take your assigned seat at Table 173 or 174. If you are at table 189, you are at the ESPN Feature Table. Please make your way to the front of the room.”
I freeze. I double-check my seat card. Sure enough, I’m at Table 189. Good thing I shaved. I push through a crowd of spectators and show my card to another security guard who lets me onto a small stage in the front of the room. In the center is a large poker table brightly lit from above. It is surrounded by cameras, and people in headsets are scurrying around. One of them grabs me and starts to put his hand down my pants. “Got to get you mic’ed up,” he explains, clipping a battery pack to my waist band, running a wire up the inside of my shirt, and then taping a tiny microphone to my collar.
I take my seat, pass my seat card and photo ID to the dealer, and start to stack my chips. The techie stops me. “You’re blocking the camera.” He points to a small dot on the table. “This is where your camera is. You need to keep this area clear of chips.” This table has 9 cameras built around its perimeter that will allow viewers to see the hand of every player at the table. When I look at my cards, I have to be sure to do so in a way that will enable the camera to “see” them as well. Great, I needed one more thing to think about.
The other players arrive, get their microphones on, and take their seats. To my left is a friendly guy named Paul with a stack even shorter than mine. To his left is another short-stack named Shane, then a guy about the same size as me in a Party Poker shirt.
To his left is a guy who looks like a New Yorker but turns out to be from Seattle. He’s wearing a sports jacket and baseball cap and chewing aggressively on a wad of gum. He looks like he will be annoying, but actually turns out to be pretty nice and a strong player.
To his left is an older guy who is one of the tightest players I have ever played with. It seems like he never enters the pot without a super-strong hand, and everyone picks up on that right away.
Next to him is a young kind in designer sunglasses, with Activision and XBox logos emblazoned all over him. He’s sitting on a monstrous stack of 250,000 chips.
To his left is Mark Vos, who has been described to me as “an aggressive young Australian pro who has already won a WSOP preliminary event.” He’s wearing a Full Tilt Poker shirt with the top several buttons undone and his hair is toussled. A goofy grin is plastered on his face, and it looks like he will be a lot of fun, though probably a tough opponent.
Last but certainly not least is Annie Duke, sister of well-known pro Howard Lederer and no slouch at the tables herself. She’s a mother of four, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her. She looks young, pretty, and rebellious, with torn jeans that ride low on her hips, exposing a sprawling tattoo across her lower back.
Level 11, blinds 600-1200 with a 100 ante. On one of my first hands at the table, five players fold and Annie raises to 3600 frome late position. With only three players left to act behind her, she doesn’t need much of a hand to do this, but I am really not looking to get involved yet. I look down and see an Ace and a 9, both spades. This is definitely not the strong hand I’m supposed to be waiting for, but it’s a hand that should play well against the wide range of hands Annie could be raising with. I call.
The flop comes out A98 with two clubs, giving me top two pair, a huge hand. Annie bets 5000, which I think she would do with almost anything, but this is no time to get fancy. There are a lot of ways for her to make a straight or a flush later in the hand, and my goal right now is to maximize my chances of winning a medium-sized pot, which this one already is. But I’ve got a huge hand here, and I obviously want to win as much as I can.
I announce “raise” and start fumbling with my chips. Nervousness is kicking in, and I am literally forgetting how to count. I grab a stack of pink chips, each worth 500, and try to count of 15000 total. I make three stacks of ten, then three more, then pile them all up into one big stack and look at it. It looks to big, so I count it again. Yep, 60 chips worth 500 each is 15000. I shove them into the pot. Annie folds quickly and looks at me like I am crazy, and only then do I realize I have actually raised to 30000. My face burns as I scoop the pot and stack the chips. Hopefully that one won’t be interesting enough to make it onto ESPN. At least I accomplished my goal of winning the first pot I entered.
Not long after, everyone folds around to Annie in the small blind, and she raises to 4000. I find Jack-8, not generally a strong hand but I’m the only player left to act, so this is a great stealing opportunity for Annie, and I don’t want her to make this a habit. So I call. The flop is T95, giving me a pretty good draw to a straight. She bets 6000 and I call. The turn is a Jack, giving me top pair. She checks, and I decide to check as well, in order to keep the pot small and maybe let her bluff on the end. The river is an 8, which I am not happy to see, even though it gives me two pair. If Annie has a Queen or a 7, she now has a straight. Thankfully she checks. I contemplate betting, but in the end I just turn my hand over and she mucks her cards, giving me a kind of annoyed look, like she doesn’t think I should have called her. Oh well.
The next time Annie raises, I fold and she smiles at me. “Oh come on, I thought you were coming along for sure.” So much for building up a tight image.
Level 12, blinds 800-1600 with a 200 ante.
XBox just calls in early position, which he does kind of frequently. I’m contemplating a bluff raise, but find a legitimate raising hand instead. I make it 7500 and he folds.
I don’t play another hand for the first hour of this level, at which point we have our first break.
XBox raises to 4000, which he’s been doing quite a lot, and Annie just calls him, which is strange for her. Mark and Xbox on her immediate right have been raising quite a lot, and she’s re-raised both of them several times, so I figure she doesn’t have that great of a hand. And XBox raises a lot, so again, he doesn’t need a big hand. This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for to take advantage of how these two likely perceive me and pull off a big bluff. A re-raise should enable me to win the pot right away a good amount of the time, but if I’m wrong, I’ll have lost 20% of my stack. I force myself to utter “raise” in my most confident voice and CORRECTLY count out 15000 chips. Everyone folds and I take down a pretty substantial pot.
I’m so relieved to have taken the pot that I’d really like to just sit back for a few hands, but it’s not meant to be. Just a few hands later, Mark raises to 3600 from early position and I find myself with Ace-King, a very strong starting hand but one that usually needs to be ‘protected’ before the flop with a re-raise. I make it 10,000 and Mark calls. The flop comes Jack-6-4, he checks, and I am trying my best not to cringe. Without an Ace or King on the flop, I don’t have so much as a pair. But this is a huge pot, with more than 25,000 chips in it, and I just can’t afford to give it up without a fight. I force myself to bet 15,000. Mark stares at me hard and starts asking me questions, “Why such a small re-raise? (he’s right, I should have made it 12,000 at least)” while I try my best to stare blankly into the crowd. My heart is pounding so hard that I would swear he could feel the vibrations in the table, and it’s all I can do to keep my breathing measured.
Finally, he says, “I’m folding an overpair,” and mucks his hand. I’m floored. If he’s telling the truth, he just folded a pair of queens, which means he figured me for either kings or aces. That means my plan panned out exactly as I hoped it would: he assumed I was a predictable player who would only re-raise with the strongest possible hands. I’m about to throw my hand away when he says, “I’ll give you $100 to see your cards.” I smile and pass my cards to dealer, thinking he is kidding, but the dealer doesn’t mix them back into the deck.
“He’s offering you $100, sir.” Is this really allowed?
“You’ll see it on TV,” I tell him, and if he really folded Queens, then ESPN probably will air the hand. At this point, I’ve got him thinking I’m not capable of a bluff, and that image is worth a lot more than $100.
Now I REALLY just want to crawl into a shell and sit out for a little while, but it still is not to be. XBox calls the blinds for 1600, Mark makes it 6000, and I find Ace-King again. I’m terrifed to re-raise Mark again, because I just don’t want to play another big pot with Ace-King right now, so I decide to just call him this time. If XBox calls too, then I can afford to fold any time I don’t make a pair on the flop, since I will win a pretty sizable pot most of the time that I do.
XBox folds, but the flop is a beautiful Ace-deuce-deuce, giving me a near-certain best hand. Everyone checks to me and I check as well, seeing no danger in giving Mark a free card. The turn is a 5, and Mark checks again. I bet 10,000 and he calls. The river is a 7, he checks and calls 20,000. I show the AK and he mucks. Wow, I am off to a great start!
Mark’s chip count is now low enough that he believes he can stack all of his remaining chips into one tall tower. Annie tells him that the felt on the table is too spongy to support it, and sure enough he gets about 60 chips into the tower before it all comes crashing down. They both laugh as Mark retrieves his chips.
We go on break at some point in here and I see my friend Paul sitting outside with a brunette who is frankly way out of his league. I know he was planning on going home to California during our two days off to see his family, so I greet him with a “Hey, Paul, is this that cocktail waitress you were telling me about?”
“Very funny,” he answers as he introduces me to his wife of twelve years. He’s still in and getting quite short, but now in spitting distance from $14,500. Unfortunately I don’t have much time to talk, as I need to get back early to get my microphone on, etc.
Level 13, blinds 1K/2K with 200 ante.
We’ve got only about 25 players left to go until we are in the money, and I’m sitting on a good 130,000 chips, feeling very comfortable and confident now. Mark has gotten pretty short but is still raising aggressively when the even shorter stacks are in the blinds. He makes it 7000 from late position and I find Ace-Ten in the small blind. I raise 28,000 more, putting him all in, and he folds. Even though he’s up a couple hundred thousand dollars from his win in the preliminary event, I don’t imagine he is eager to bust out so near another $14K.
There are not less than 20 players to go, and the tournament director announces that we will play “round for round”, meaning that every table will play nine hands, with each player paying the big blinds once and the small blind once, and then pause to wait for all other tables to finish. All players who go out during this sequence of nine hands will be considered to finish in the same place. In other words, if players 876-872 are eliminated during this ’round’, then the five of them will share the two $14,500 prizes for 873rd and 872nd place. This prevents anyone from stalling in the hopes that players will be eliminated before them at other tables. Well, it prevents most people from doing this. Some just don’t understand and insist on stalling anyway.
The ‘bubble’ bursts and we all have $14.5K locked up. There will likely be a lot of short stacks who will go out quickly now that they have made it into the money. Also, the director has announced that players will no longer be allowed to wear IPOD’s or other headphones, so Mark takes his off and integrates into the fort he is building with his chips. I glance over and see that Paul has made it into the money. The next time I look, though, he is gone. That’s poker.
A shortish player moves all-in for like 28K and I find Q’s in the SB. He’s got AT and my hand holds up, putting me well above average with about 150K.
XBox raises to 6000 from first position, which generally is suggestive of a strong hand. However, the player in the big blind is the very tight old guy, meaning that this might also be a steal. I am contemplating a bluff re-raise, and when I find Ace-Queen, it’s a no-brainer. I make it 20,000, and then something ugly happens. The very, very tight player who only plays monster hands re-re-raises all in. Ugh. XBox folds and I look at the odds I am getting from the pot. There is 77,000 in the pot and it will cost me 27,000 to make the call. There’s no way I’m ahead, but if I win a little more often than one time out of four, I’ll show a profit with this call. If he has Ace-King, a pair of Jacks, a pair of Queens, or even a pair of Kings I have the right odds to call. The only hand I won’t beat often enough is a pair of Aces. I call. He turns over a pair of Aces. Ugh. It is so frustrating to work so hard for my chips while this guy folds everything and still manages to get paid off when he does pick up a monster hand. I know his strategy is a long-term loser, but I’m still annoyed by his short-term success.
XBox just calls the blinds again, and I decide it is time to put a move on him. This will be the second time I’ve raised him, so he’s probably going to call, which I means I don’t want to do it with absolutely nothing. But if I get any kind of hand that will play well in position, I’m going to raise. I find Jack-Ten and that will do nicely. I make it 11,000, he calls. The flop is 974, not bad for me, as even though I only have Jack-high right now an 8 will give me a straight and a Jack or Ten will give me top pair. Plus I have represented a big hand so far and a bet now may win it for me. Nope. He checks and calls 16,000. The turn is a meaningless deuce. Ugh, this pot is really big now and I still have just Jack high. I’ve fired two big bets at it already, am I really going to keep firing at it? I only have like 60,000 chips left, so if I bet again and he goes all in, I will probably have to call, since there may be as many as ten cards that could make me the best hand. I decide to check and hopefully catch something on the river. I don’t make my hand, but I do catch a ray of hope when an Ace falls and XBox checks again. When I raised him, I “should” have had either a big pair (Jacks, Queens, etc.) or two big unpaired cards like Ace-King or Ace-Queen. He probably expects me to bet any of those on the 9-7-4 flop, so he can call with any pair, since more often than not I’ll just have Ace-high (or Jack-high, in this case). So when I check the turn, the big pairs become a lot less likely, which means he probably expects me to have AK or AQ. So maybe, just maybe, he will fold if I bet now. If I’m wrong, I’ll have lost about 80% of my stack on this bluff and be left crippled with barely 30,000 chips. But the pot is just too big to give up without a fight. I bet 25,000 and he sighs. “I played this terribly,” he tells me. “You must have Ace-King,” and he throws his hand away. Thank God.
A few hands later, Annie Duke manages to get all of her chips in the pot with only a 5% chance of winning, but she catches a miracle card on the river to win a big pot. She is very apologetic to the player whom she beat, and he takes it well. She’s got a little cadre of fans whom she claims not to know, and she is clearly embarassed when they start cheering for her. She knows she didn’t deserve to win that pot and feels bad that all of these people are cheering her anyway.
I had heard some gossip about Annie, that she can be whiney or snooty and will try to take advantage of technicalities and use them to her advantage, but so far she’s been nothing but friendly and polite. The only indication I get that she might be a little demanding is when a new player, an Asian man wearing an elaborate vest with dozens of dangling coins on it, sits down in the seat on my left. He makes a jingling sound every time he moves that, admittedly, is a little annoying. A minute later, Annie calls over a floor person and speaks with him briefly, I can’t tell what she is saying. A few minutes after that, someone from the tournament tells the man he needs to remove his vest because it is distracting other players. I don’t know for a fact, but it sure looks like Annie is the one who complained about this. I don’t see why it’s such a big deal if his vest makes noise, but if it is really distracting you, just ask him to remove it yourself. Calling over a floorperson and having him ask seems kind of petty and immature.
The next time Annie wins a pot, her fans start chanting “Annie! Annie!”.
Annie: I’m sorry, everyone, really. I think that’s so obnoxious.
Me: They’re cheering for you?
Annie: Yeah, but I don’t know them.
Me: Oh, I thought they were saying “Andy! Andy!”
Annie: Why would they cheer for you? All you did was fold.
Me: Well, it was a good fold.
Level 15, blinds 1500-3000 with a 300 ante.
It seems like it wouldn’t be the last level of the day at the WSOP without me losing a big pot. Annie raises to 9000 from first position, which means she probably has some kind of hand. I have 90,000 chips and a pair of Kings, the second best possible hand. I contemplate re-raising her, but I think that will do too much to announce the strength of my hand, so I just call. The flop is an ugly Ace-Queen-4. There’s a decent chance Annie has an Ace, meaning that my Kings are no good, and even if she doesn’t have one, she will probably try to represent it. We both check. The turn is a 9, and she bets 14,000. I think she would do this with absolutely anything, so I call. The river is another 4, and she bets 20,000. Ugh. There is 53,000 in the pot already, so if she bluffs here with any frequency, I have to call her. I call, and she has Ace-King, giving her a pair of Aces.
The next hand, she is in the big blind (meaning that she has been forced to bet 3000 chips without looking at her hand), and the player against whom she got lucky raises. “Are you just doing that because you’re mad at me?” she asks.
“No, Annie, he’s doing it because he wants to play a pot with someone who is bad enough to put all her chips in with just a 5% chance of winning,” Mark quips. It’s even funnier if you imagine him saying it with a British accent (although he lives in Australia, he was apparently born in South Africa).
At the end of the day, I ask Annie if she would mind discussing our big pot for a minute. She’s happy to oblige, and I explain to her my thought process. Although she didn’t exactly say she would have played it the same, she agreed that my thinking was correct and that she will bluff the river often enough to make a call profitable. In fact, she told me that she played it the way she did precisely so that I would pay her off with a pair of Kings. Nice hand, Annie. Painful as it was to lose this pot, this is the kind of education I was hoping to get by playing with a well-known pro like her. Hopefully it will make me money in the long run. Annie also told me that if I re-raised her, we would have gotten all the money in before the flop. That means that I would have gotten all of my money in as a favorite, but lost anyway, so in some sense, not re-raising probably made me about $20,000, even though it’s what I would have done if I knew what cards she had.
I win the blinds a few more times and finish the day with 66,500 chips, having accumulated barely 7000 since the beginning of the day, despite what I considered to be some pretty good play on my part. Oh well, that’s poker. At least I’m up $20,000 for the day!