WSOP 2006 Prologue

As most of you know already, I’m playing in the main event of the World Series of Poker this week in Las Vegas. A lot of people have asked me to keep them updated about how I’m doing, so I thought a series of e-mails would be the best way to do that.

First, for those of you who don’t know, I’ll explain what exactly the World Series of Poker is and how I ended up here:

The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is a two month long series of poker tournaments, culminating in the WSOP Main Event, the world’s largest poker tournament. In a poker tournament, all players pay a fixed amount to buy-in and begin with the same number of chips. They are assigned seats and play poker, wagering their chips as usual, but with the caveat that they cannot buy chips if they run out. Rather, they are eliminated from the tournament. Play continues until only one player remains; however, this player does not win all of the money. Instead, the highest finishing players divide the prize based on some pre-determined ratio. In a simple example, imagine 10 people buy into a tournament for $11 each. The first 7 players eliminated get nothing, the 8th gets $20, the 9th get $30, the winner of the tournament gets $50, and the casino takes the remaining $10 as rake.

The other distinctive thing about poker tournaments is that the stakes continue to rise, forcing players to keep accumulating chips or be eliminated.

The WSOP will attract thousands of players (I believe 8,000 is the current estimate), each contributing $10,000 to the prize pool. Over the course of nearly two weeks, we will play until only one remains.

The game we will be playing is called No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em. The game is usually played with 9, 10, or 11 players at a table. Each is dealt two cards, and there is a round of betting in which players can fold their two cards or wait to see the ‘flop’. After the betting is finished, three cards are placed face up in the center of the table. This is the flop, and these three cards will be shared by all of the players at the table. Again, they wager based on how these shared cards interact with their two individual starting cards, then a fourth ‘turn’ card is dealt face up for all to share. There is another round of wagering, and then a fifth ‘river’ card is dealt. There is a final round of betting, and then anyone who has not folded makes the best five-card poker hand he can using any combination of his two individual cards and the five community cards.

The action is driven by forced bets called ‘blinds.’ Before cards are dealt, the player to the dealer’s left must wager a fixed sum, and the player to his left must wager an even larger amount. They may not take these bets back if they do not like the cards they are dealt. Other players decide whether to call these blind bets, raise them, or fold. When the hand is finished, the deal and the blind bets all rotate one spot to the left, so that different players are forced to wager blind this time around.

In the WSOP, we will all begin with 10,000 chips, and the size of the blinds will be 25 and 50. Every two hours, the blinds will rise, so one cannot sit back and wait for perfect situations, as they will not come around often enough. Instead, as the blinds rise, players must aggressively try to steal these blind bets and defend their own blind bets.

In No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em, there is no limit to the size of the bet a player can make. This means that, although on the first hand of the tournament there will be only 75 chips in the pot to begin with, someone could, if he wanted, wager his entire stack of 10,000 chips.

I’ve been studying and playing poker, and specifically No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments, for about two years now, and although I don’t consider myself a professional poker player, I do derive a substantial portion of my income from playing this game online. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to how to manage and grow my money. I have a dedicated poker bankroll that is separate from my other finances (savings, checking account, etc.). The stakes at which I can play are a function of the size of this bankroll and my skill level. Although I periodically take money out, as a general rule my poker winnings serve to grow this bankroll, enabling me to play at higher stakes if I continue to win.

One of the first rules of bankroll management is that no matter how good of a player you are, you will almost certainly go broke if you consistently play above your bankroll. A good rule of thumb for entering tournaments is that you should have one hundred times the buy-in in your bankroll. Now, I’ve had a fair amount of success in the last two years, but I do not have a million dollar bankroll. So what am I doing playing a $10,000 tournament?

The WSOP is a special case. Because it is such a high profile tournament, it attracts a much lower caliber of player than any other high stakes poker game. I genuinely believe that I will have a considerably edge over the average player at this tournament; if I did not believe this, I would not be playing.

Moreover, every internet poker site (and there are many) offers ‘satellite’ tournaments to the WSOP, where I can enter a smaller tournament that is within my bankroll to try to win a seat in the WSOP. Several months ago, I discussed with my girlfriend the idea of trying to qualify for the WSOP (I wanted to make sure she was okay with me running off to Las Vegas for two weeks in the event that I was successful). She was supportive, so I decided to set aside $3000 of my winnings to try to win a prize package that would consist of my entry into the tournament, 9 nights at a Vegas hotel, and $1000 in expenses, a $12,000 value in all. I estimated that this would give me about a 50% chance of qualifying.

To my surprise, I won a seat in the event on my second try, after investing less than $300. So although this is a $10,000 tournament, it has cost me virtually nothing to get here.

After two long flights and a long layover in Atlanta, I arrived at about 7:00 PM Vegas time, took a cab to the Monte Carlo, and checked into my room. It was already 10:00 my time, so I just got some food and went to sleep.

The WSOP doesn’t start until tomorrow, so I want to use today to get in some experience playing live poker. Although I’ve got a lot of experience with the mechanics of betting, raising, folding, bluffing, etc. from playing online, this is only the third time I’ve been to a casino, and I am concerned that my inability to conceal my own tells and pick up on those of others will be a handicap. So, I’m at least going to try to get a little more comfortable playing live today.

Also, my father and brother are coming out to Vegas for a few days and will be arriving this afternoon, so I’ll likely have dinner with them tonight.

Thank you all for the interest and support you’ve shown so far. I’m really looking forward to the tournament and I’ll continue to keep you posted on how I’m doing!