I ended my Day 1 report by bemoaning my measly 30,000 chips but predicting that, “A lot will depend on how things go in the first few hours. If I can get off to a good start, I could easily double or triple up and be right back in contention.” Let’s just say I got off to a good start.
I was in the 1 seat, to the immediate left of the dealer, at my starting table. In the 2 seat was a young, pretty woman of Indian descent named Jigna. She was a little too loose, especially from out of position, but she was also tricky and kind of aggressive, which actually made her kind of tough to have on my left. She was generally very friendly and made the table fun.
To her left was Barry Greenstein. Many of you will recognize the name, but in case you don’t, Barry is one of the best and best known poker players in the world. He’s a regular in the largest cash games played anywhere in the world (I overheard him telling a guy he’d played with the night before that losing “twenty” wasn’t even worth mentioning), which is where he makes a very nice living. When he plays tournaments, he usually donates anything he wins to charity, which has earned him the nickname, “The Robin Hood of Poker”.
In the last year, I’ve developed a healthy disrespect for anyone whom ESPN tries to convince me is a good poker player. I’m not going to name names, but a lot of the people you see on TV are actually rather bad at poker, or at least far from world class. That is definitely not the case with Barry, though. I’m not thrilled to have him on my left, but it is an honor to play with him, and he’s a very friendly, humble, classy guy, which is much more than can be said about a lot of TV pros.
The only other person of note is a young guy who turns out to be internet player ‘goleafsgoeh’. We’ve played together online a few times, and he recognized me as soon as I told him my screen name. Also a very nice guy.
The first big pot I played, a kind of doofy looking guy opens for 3000 from middle position, and I reraise to 10,000 from the SB with Ace-King. He calls quickly, which worries me a little, but then I get a great A83 flop. The problem is that there aren’t a lot of hands that call my reraise and continue to give me action on this flop. He had previously folded an Ace face-up to a raise on an Ace high flop, so I didn’t think he’d pay off with a lot of worse hands here. If I bet now, I think he’ll correctly fold a lot of the time. I decided to check after a long pause, hoping to make him think I have a big pair like QQ or KK and am afraid of the Ace. He bets 15,000, which I call after a minute’s thought. The turn is a 6, and we both check. I checked again on a T river, figuring he was more likely to bluff than to call with a worse hand. He bet 15,000 again, I called, and he showed me A5. Oh wow. Calling my reraise with A5 is beyond awful. This guy is going to be good to have at the table.
Winning that pot put me back above average and gave me enough chips that I could start playing aggressively again. The next orbit, I raised to 3000 with AT in early position, and Greenstein called. Ooooh, my first pot with Robin Hood. Nothing fancy, he folded to a bet on a Q76 flop.
A little while later, the doofy guy raised to 3000 and got called by three players. Seems I wasn’t the only one to notice how bad he was. It was pretty clear those two didn’t have big hands, or they would have reraised him. Why not, if he will call with A5? And if he’ll open with A5, he clearly doesn’t need a big hand here either, which means this is a good spot for a squeeze play. I reraised to 16,000 with A4o on my big blind, and everyone folded.
Barry must have been quite card dead, because he was playing very tight, which is not usually his style. Then again, every time he did get enter a pot, everyone got involved, so I guess there wasn’t much else he could do. In the best example of this, he raised to 3000 first to act, and got called by no fewer than five different people. Having already made one squeeze play, I wasn’t going to attempt another in such an obvious spot, but then I found a pair of Jacks in the small blind. I re-raised to 20,000, prepared to call an all-in (unhappily) from anyone because I knew it would look like I was just making a play at the pot.
About ten minutes before the break, goleafsgoeh lost well over half his stack to a guy who made an unlikely three of a kind on the river. I felt kind of bad for him, but that’s poker. “I need the break, but I kind of wish it weren’t coming so soon,” Jigna whispered to me. I stared back at her, puzzled, and she nodded in GLGE’s direction. I looked over, and his face was bright red. He was actually on the verge of tears, but it kind of looked like he was, and he was clearly very upset. “He’s ready to tilt away the rest of his money now, but he’ll calm down during break,” she explained.
I’ve heard a lot of speculation about why there are so few female poker players. In my opinion, the rampant sexism in the poker community is a big part of it, but one common explanation is that many women lack the aggressive drive that’s so important to playing good poker. Clearly not Jigna’s problem, huh? Talk about a shark sniffing blood in the water. Conversely, some women have told me that they feel they have an advantage because they are more adept at reading and interpreting people’s emotional state than men are. It wasn’t hard to tell GLGE was upset, but Jigna certainly noticed it before I did.
After the first break, blinds were up to 600/1200/200. A guy in early position called the blind, I called with Qs Js, and then Jigna raised to 6000 in position. The first guy called, so I did too. The flop was all low cards, something like 853 with only one spade. We both checked to Jigna, who checked as well. Should have taken it when you had the chance, J. The turn was the As, giving me a flush draw and a good scare card to represent. The first guy checked, I bet 10,000, and they both folded.
By now I was up around 100,000 and feeling great. I opened to 3500 with a pair of 5’s in early position and got called by both the A5 guy and the big blind. I fired 7500 at a Q73 flop and only the first guy called. The turn was another 7, and remembering the top pair I’d seen him fold, I thought maybe I could knock him off of pairs better than mine but lower than queens or even off of a pair of queens with a weak kicker by betting 21,000. Well, he either hit the 7 or didn’t believe me, because he shoved his last 60,000 into the pot, and I had to fold.
On the one hand, it certainly sucks to bluff off 30% of your chips. But plays like these have hidden payoffs down the line, especially at a tournament like the WSOP where you play with the same people for hours on end and most everyone is paying careful attention. A little while later, a pretty active player came in for a call of 1200, and a few others called as well. I had a pair of Queens in the small blind and raised 7000 more. Jigna folded her big blind, but the first caller quickly announced, “All in.”
Everyone else got out of the way, and I had a decision to make. Queens are a very strong hand, but some players do like to get trappy by just calling the blinds when they have Kings or Aces. This was a really big bet, something like 60,000 chips. If he wanted to be trappy, wouldn’t he have made a smaller raise to 20,000 or so? Ugh, but if I’m wrong, I’ll be crippled. Losing this pot would leave me only about 10,000 chips. Visions of the 2006 main event, where I ran Queens into Aces pre-flop early on day 4, danced through my head. “Call.”
“If you can call, you can win,” the guy told me with a frown, turning over a pair of 4’s. So far so good. I’m an 80% favorite to win the pot, but still I hold my breath as the dealer turns over the flop. KT8, still ahead. No 4, no 4, no 4… my heart freezes in my chest as I see a small card come off the deck… thank God, just a 3. One more now, fade the 4… uh oh, another little one… but it’s another 3. My hand is good, and I take down my largest pot of the tournament so far.
A little while later, a kind of weak player called 1200. I raised to 6000 with a pair of Aces. To my delight, Jigna called on the button, and then Barry in the small blind started counting out chips. He reraised to 33,000. And I am holding the best possible hand. Pinch me, I must be dreaming.
I asked how much he had left. He moved his hands so I could see, but I really needed an exact count to figure out how to play my hand, so I asked him to count it. He seemed annoyed by that but kind of half complied. He had about 50,000 behind. I felt like at this point I was going to get all his money whether I called or re-raised pre-flop, so my thoughts turned to Jigna. I’m representing a ton of strength whether I call or raise, and she’s probably going to fold almost anything no matter what I do. But I had to at least give her a chance to make a mistake. After much thought, I just called the raise. Jigna folded instantly.
The flop was JT7, not exactly what I wanted to see. If Barry had Jacks or Tens, he’s now a huge favorite. And my call of his reraise is so suspicious that he might be able to get away from Queens or Kings despite the size of the pot, since he can no longer count on being ahead of Jacks or Tens himself. Ugh, why didn’t I just reraise him pre-flop and get all the money in then? I got greedy. “All in,” he announced.
“Call!” I blurted out. The die was cast.
“You make a set?”
I shook my head and flipped over my Aces. He turned up Queens. Wowowowowow, there were nearly 200,000 chips in this pot, and I was an 88% favorite to win. Things got a little hairy when an 8 fell on the turn, as now a 9 or a Q on the river would give him a win, but it came a 7 and I eliminated Barry Greenstein from the tournament. He took it very well, shook my hand, and gave me an autographed copy of his book with his bustout hand illustrated inside the front cover. It’s a very nice troph… er, memento. I put up pictures at http://www.thinkingpoker.net/Bookpics.html if you want to see for yourself. Here it is:
I want to emphasize here that I in no way outplayed Barry. In fact, I may have misplayed the hand and almost given him a chance to escape. This was just an unlucky spot for him, what poker players call a cold deck. If I had had Queens and he Aces, the hand would have gone down the same way, and I would have been the one to lose a monster pot. It was pure luck of the draw that I got dealt the best preflop hand when he was dealt the third best.
Here’s what Barry had to say about the hand on his blog:
“The very next round someone limped and the player in the cutoff raised. The button called. This time in the small blind I had Q Q. It was $6,000 to me and I had to decide to play them fast or slow. I decided he had been raising enough and had a good stack. He had been a decent player, and usually showed good hands. So I decided to play it fast. With three people in there I didn’t want to call and see and ace or king come off. I raised big and he just called, which made me think he was trapping with aces. I was hoping he had A K. I just decided if an ace or king didn’t come I would have to go for it. It was a bad flop – J 10 7. Now if he had jacks he also beat me. I kind of got myself stuck in the pot. I moved in my last $60,000. He did have aces. AND that was it.”
He says I was “a decent player”, so that’s kind of cool. But he also confirms my fear that on certain flops, he actually would have gotten away from his Queens. There’s no way he folds them pre-flop, so I think I really screwed up by trying to sucker Jigna in. And in fact, I’m lucky that I failed to rope her in, because she told me she folded 99, which would have made a straight.
Barry and GLGE were the two players who most concerned me at the table, and with one gone and one crippled, I was ready for total table domination.
Except that we didn’t get to play even a single hand after the second break. No sooner had the tournament director announced “shuffle up and deal” than a guy known as the Grim Reaper, because he walks around breaking tables, deposited an armful of plastic chip racks in the center of our table and started passing out new seat assignments. I will say, though, that it was a pretty cool feeling carrying four full racks of chips across the convention center floor and feeling the envious eyes of every player in the room burning into my back.
There was no one I recognized at the new table and several weak looking players to my left, so I decided to carry on with my plans for domination. Blinds were now 800/1600/200, and a guy who seemed pretty aggressive moved all in for 24,000. Not on my table! I called with a pair of Tens. He turned over a pair of Jacks. Whoops. A flop of J55 left me dead to running quads, which I did not catch.
But no worries. A few hands later, I raised to 4500 with AA. The big blind raised to 12,000, leaving about 25,000 behind. Hoping to look like a bully, I grabbed a stack of orange chips and shoved it into the pot. He shrugged and called with KK. My hand held up, and I took down another good-sized pot and eliminated my third player of the tournament.
Next orbit, a hotshot looking British player raised to 5000 first to act. He had a stack of about 75,000, and I decided not to reraise him with my pair of Jacks because if he moved all in, I would feel like throwing up. We went heads up to a 5s 5h 4s flop. He bet 10,000, and I grabbed the trusty stack of orange chips (there were twenty of them in the stack, so this single pillar of my mountain of chips was worth 100,000) and moved it into the pot. He thought for a long time before folding. I may have lost some value here with the big raise, but there were a lot of turn cards I did not want to see (ie I did not have the Js), and I wanted the whole table to get the message: if you play a pot with me, you may well be playing for all of your chips.
I got to talking with another Poker Stars qualified at the table who turned out to be internet player Teacuppoker. His real name was Casey, so that’s what I’ll call him. Then a clean cut middle aged guy got seated to Casey’s left. The man glanced at my Poker Stars hat and asked me what my screen name was. I told him and asked him his. He pursed his lips. “Yeah, I don’t so much give that out.” What the [censored]? That’s fine if you don’t want to out yourself, but don’t ask for my screenname and then refuse to give me yours.
“So you’re one of those guys?” Casey asked him, seemingly bothered by the same discourtesy I was.
“Well there’s only a small pool of people who play 200/400, and game selection is a big part of my game.” 200/400?!?! This guy is big time.
“Am I at least allowed to know your real first name?”
“Adam. Adam Richardson.” That made him Admo from the 2+2 internet poker forum. I still didn’t know what name he played under online, but this was enough info for me that I didn’t feel slighted any more.
We talked a bit about the highest stakes poker games online, and I asked him if he ever played Brian Townsend, the high stakes player who showed up at my first table on Friday. He shuddered and laughed. “I quit Brian almost a year ago. You can ask my wife, I have a recurring nightmare where there’s a glitch in the software so that I can see his cards, and I still lose!” Good Lord, I am glad I got off that kid’s table.
I never played a big pot with Admo, but he did get me into some trouble. He opened for 4500, I reraised to 15,000 with AK in the small blind, and then the old man in the big blind, I think he was Greek, started counting his chips. He looked annoyed, and, and this was important, I don’t think he knew I was looking at him. I was in the 9 seat and he the 1 seat, so the dealer was between us. If he knew I was looking and looked annoyed, there would be a chance that he was acting with a monster holding like KK or AA. If he is genuinely annoyed, he’s more likely to have a slightly less strong hand like JJ, QQ, or AK. “All in,” he finally said.
Now Admo thought for a minute or two before folding. That still wasn’t enough time for me to make up my mind. There was now about 40,000 in the pot, and it was going to cost me 75,000 more to call. Although I’d have an above average stack if I called and lost, this was still the single biggest decision I’d had to make so far in the tournament. My gut was telling me to call, but in general you don’t make money by calling big bets from unknown old men with Ace-King.
I closed my eyes and recounted the pot. I took a deep breath. I opened my eyes and looked at the old man. He was staring straight back at me over his bulbous nose. It was an aggressive stare, another sign of weakness. When people want a call, they will try to look non-threatening or nervous. This time he definitely knew I was watching him, and now he was trying to look strong. I sighed and stood up. “Call.”
“Let’s see ‘em,” the dealer said. I turned over my Ace-King. The guy kept his cards face down. This is an annoying thing about live poker, no one ever wants to show his hand and at showdown there is always this big production over who is going to show first. Just turn your [censored] hand over. “Sir?” she prompted him.
He grunted something.
“What was that?”
“Keep them low,” he said in a heavy accent, and flipped TT. I breathed a sigh of relief. I had made the right call. Against a pair of T’s, my AK has 43% equity. I needed 39.5% to make the call correct. Flop Q85. Turn 5. River 7. TT is good.
The Greek beamed and shook my hand. “Nice hand,” I told him, nodding sagely and returning the hand shake. I sat back down, remarkably unflustered. So this is what it feels like to flip a coin for $100,000. And lose.
A few minutes later, I went over to talk to my girlfriend, who was standing in the spectator area about fifty feet away. “I just lost a monstrous flip.”
She gave me a sympathetic frown. “I saw you stand up, so I knew it was something big, but I couldn’t tell if you won or lost. The guy sat back down, so I didn’t think you eliminated him, but you were smiling.”
I took that as a big compliment. One of the toughest things about being a serious poker player is learning to deal with bad results. The goal is always to focus on making the right decisions, because in the long run, the money follows the odds and the best players win. In the short run, things can and do go wrong all the time. I can control my decisions, but I can’t control the cards, so there is no sense in getting upset over them. If I can accept a bad outcome in a gigantic pot at the World Series of Poker so well that my girlfriend of six years cannot tell from my body language whether I won or lost, then I am in the right mind set.
Hopefully, the table got another lesson: I’m willing to make a big call if you play back at me. Soon thereafter, I opened Qd Td against a weak player’s big blind, and he called. The flop came 8h 6h 3d, and he bet into me for 7500. When someone bets into me on a board like this, it’s often because he’s unsure of his hand and wants to take the pot down before you put in any more money and get more committed to your hand. Hell, I’ve two over cards, a backdoor flush draw, and a read. I call.
The turn was the Ad, a scare card for my opponent and a flush draw for me. He checked and folded to a bet of 15,000.
Despite losing the huge pot, I went into break with 280,000 chips. I’m 90% sure I would have been chip leader for the entire tournament if an Ace or King had fallen.
After break, a French player named Paolo was seated at our table. Blinds were now 1000/2000 with a 300 ante, meaning that there were 5700 chips in the pot before cards were dealt. I was really looking forward to stealing from the tight players on my left, and was already envisioning all those chips getting pushed my way when I heard a little French voice on my right say, “Raise.”
Whaaaaaaaaaat?!?!? Those are supposed to be my blinds to steal. We can’t have this. Paolo had put 7000 chips in the pot. I pretended to look at my cards and then announced, “Re-raise”, shoving 21,000 chips into the pot. Someone needed a lesson in etiquette.
The action folded back to Paolo, who quickly said, “All in.” Damn it. I looked at my cards, praying to see Aces. Instead, I tossed a Nine and a Seven into the muck. Paolo must have had a monster hand, to risk all chips like that against an unknown player with so little thought.
My next aggressive re-raise was against Casey, who raised to 5500 when I was small blind and the Greek was big. I made it 16,500 with King-Queen, and he folded.
Dominance at the table finally (and expensively) established, I started stealing like mad and meeting very little resistance. Only Casey showed a willingness to play back at me, and he had really bad timing such that I usually had hands when we tangled. Somehow, I finished the level with barely more than the 280K I had when it started.
After break, blinds were 1200/2400/300. My plan was to tighten up for the last level of the day and take advantage of my aggressive image to get paid off on any big hands now that the antes were smaller relative to the blinds. Unfortunately, my plans were once again spoiled by an untimely table break. On the plus side, this meant I got to run over a new table that didn’t know how aggressive I was.
Once again, I was already envisioning the pot getting shipped my way when some annoying guy on my right beat me to the punch, raising to 7200. Annoyed, I made it 21,000 with 54 off-suit on the button. Even if he suspects I’m up to something, this is a rough spot for my opponent. I’m brand new to the table, he’s got no idea how I play, he’s out of position, and his entire stack of 150,000 is at risk if he makes a bad read. He folded.
I put the same guy in another tough spot about half an hour later. He opened for 7200, and I just called with Ace-Jack offsuit. The flop was 965, all different suits. He bet 9000, which is a pretty weak bet for a board that coordinated. I had no piece of the flop, so I raised to 32,000. I’m representing two pair or better here, and if my opponent decides not to believe me, he’s either going to have to call and risk a big bet on a scary turn or shove his stack in a spot where he’s only going to get called by monster hands. There weren’t even any good draws on the board for him to semi-bluff all in with. After a long session of irritated chip shuffling, he folded, and I finished the day with 344,100 chips. Quite a long way from the 30,000 I had at the start.
There were 6,358 entries in this year’s main event. We stopped for the night with 351 remaining. Day 2B will probably have a few more than that, but when everyone plays together for the first time, there will likely be around 800 competitors remaining. First prize is $8.5 million, and I honestly feel I have as good a chance as anyone at winning it.
Oh, this will probably be meaningful to some of you. I later found out that the guy I bluffed in those last two pots was Robert Mizrachi, brother of Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi.