We’re taking this week off from podcasting. Please use this opportunity to catch up on some recent greats. Several listeners have told us our interview with Brian Koppelman is their favorite of all the shows we’ve done. Jorge Limon is another recent standout you may have missed.
It worked out well that we were going to skip this week, because I was busy winning the $1000 Battle of the Bay tournament at Lucky Chances last night! This annual event is the premier tournament at what is now my local casino, so although I’ve been playing cash there exclusively, I decided to make an exception for this.
I played Day 1A on Saturday and got off to a very nice start but eventually lost most of my chips with QT vs 99 on a J9x flop. The guy min check-raised the flop, took about forty seconds to call my shove (nitroll, not slowroll), then bragged to the guy sitting next to him that he knew I would shove because I was too aggressive and that’s why he raised me.
A few hands later I shoved my last 4.5 BBs with 73o on the button. This one was debated a bit on Twitter, and I agree that it’s not a shove in a vacuum, but I crunched some numbers on SB/BB calling ranges and feel good about jamming any two there. I beat the BB’s K4s, and he muttered something about “nice catch”, to which I responded, “Is this your first time playing poker, sir?”
This is really out of character for me, and I’m ashamed to tell you about it. In my defense, I wasn’t feeling well, but I also think tournaments, especially live tournaments, bring this out in me. I’m trying to play fewer of them for that reason.
To paraphrase Tommy Angelo, the pleasure/pain ratio is all out of whack in a tournament. I can shrug off a loss of a couple thousand dollars at a $5/$10 game with literally no problem. I’m not just putting on a stoic front, it truly doesn’t affect me, at least not until it happens a few sessions in a row. But there’s something about a tournament, the “one-and-done” nature of it I think, encourages that kind of emotional investment that, at least in my opinion, is really undesirable.
The pleasure I get from playing cash, especially a deep-stacked cash game, is akin to the pleasure of solving a puzzle. I enjoy the challenge of trying to construct the perfect ranges for a given spot, there’s a much stronger correlation (though far from 1:1, of course) between the quality of my decisions and the outcome of a given hand or session, and during and after the experience I feel stimulated intellectually.
The appeal that tournaments hold for me has a lot more in common with gambling. There’s certainly nothing more exciting in poker than getting deep in a big tournament, but ultimately it feels like I’m just chasing a high when I play them. That said, there are some really high-value tournaments out there, too good to pass up, and this was one of them.
I was sorely tempted not to re-enter on Sunday. As I mentioned, I was (still am, in fact – staying up late last night didn’t help) under the weather, and the tournament started at 9:30 AM. On top of that, I really had not enjoyed my play on Saturday at all. Ten-handed poker with shallow effective stacks and small antes (e.g. 200/400/25) is almost entirely devoid of strategic depth. It’s mostly just a game of waiting for cards. That’s not to say there’s no edge there, just that the edge doesn’t come from anything interesting. I don’t find it stimulating, I find it annoying and boring, which of course undermines the patience that is paramount in such a structure.
So, I nearly didn’t return on Sunday. One of the factors that put me over the top was that I really wanted to meet Neil Blumenfield, who is apparently a regular at Lucky Chances tournaments though he and I have yet to cross paths in person. He wasn’t there on Saturday, so I figured he would surely play Sunday.
He didn’t, but I did, and first place was a fine consolation prize. I got off to a good start, winning some big pots in the first level and winning a big one with 55 vs AJ and 54 on a J54 flop. I eventually got involved in a three-way all in that ended with my KK losing to QQ, and then it was back to grinding a short stack for me.
For all my disparagement of short-stacked poker, it turns out there are some big edges to be had when your opponents aren’t accustomed or adapting properly to it. The thing about a flagship tournament like this is that it’s a major event for a lot of the people playing it. They either won a satellite or ponied up the $1000 as a one-time splurge, and they’re risk averse in a way that you simply can’t afford to be when you’re grinding a 20BB stack. This enabled me to pick up a few pots I had no business winning and stay afloat despite dry spells and bad beats/coolers.
Triple Barreling Off a 20BB Stack
The best example was towards the end of the day, when our table was eight-handed. Blinds must have been 1200/2400, and the player on my right open limped off of a stack of 55K or so. There was nothing suspicious about this – even at this late stage, plenty of people were limping. I made the questionable decision to limp behind with 8s 7s and 48K in the hijack. I’m still not sure this is good, but I believed I could get away with it because everyone was so passive with regard to raising pre-flop, and I expected a big post-flop edge to compensate for the times I would have to fold to a raise (and, of course, the fact that I was putting in 5% of my stack with 8-high and no chance of winning pre-flop).
The action folded to the SB, who completed. The BB checked, so four of us saw a Qh 7c 3h flop. When everyone checked to me, I bet 4500, about 1/3 of the pot. This was primarily a protection bet, though it was already in the back of my mind that it might also become the first leg of a three barrel bluff.
The small blind and the MP limper both called, and the turn brought an offsuit 9. They checked to me again. In a heads up pot, I would have considered checking and trying to show my hand down, but with two people calling there was little chance my 7 was good. It might sound ridiculous to talk about running someone off of top pair with 20 BB effective stacks, but it seemed very plausible to me at the time. That’s how scared everyone was playing. They were all terrified to slowplay with a flush draw on the board, so their calls could only indicate a lack of confidence or an extremely strong hand, to which my 7 was a significant blocker. I bet 11K, still a small fraction of the pot, but I wanted to be sure to leave myself a meaningful river bet. They both called.
The river was an off-suit A (I would have given up a heart). They both checked, I jammed my last 30K or so, and they both folded. And that’s how you triple barrel off of a 20 BB stack in a multi-way pot.
Another Cheap Steal
The other fun one from Day One began with me opening 22 from the CO. The button and SB called. I don’t remember the level, but there was about 26K in the pot on the flop, which came AJ5. We checked it around. The turn was a 4, and the SB bet 6K, hardly a show of confidence. I also thought it was quite unlikely that the button was slowplaying anything. Everyone had been playing so straight-forwardly that I expected to get way too much credit for a monster, simply because no one else in the tournament seemed willing to take a line like this as a bluff, so I raised to 22K, and they both quickly folded, the SB flashing KJ as he did so.
After that I was card- and spot- dead for the rest of the night and ended up squeaking into the money with 123K and blinds about to go to 5K/10K. That’s not as bad as it sounds, as the average was about 200K, and only 43 players remained, with 40 to be paid. Still, my aspirations for Day 2 were not much higher than surviving the bubble and collecting enough of a prize to cover train fare, meals, and my two buy-ins.
I wasn’t alone in this regard. Another player, who actually had far more chips than I did and ultimately bubbled the final table, opened the pot on one of the last hands of the night. After he won, his wife scolded him from the rail, “Don’t play anything until you’re in the money!”