First and foremost, I want to thank everybody who sent luck and wishes my way this past weekend. As promised, I'm going to write about the experience. At night, I took notes on a pad of paper. So, I'll do my best to recreate my time at the WSOP for you.
Friday, June 30th....
I arrived on Friday, the day before the event I was planning to play in. Poker Jason picked me up at the airport and we immediately went to the Rio, so I could register for Saturday's event, Event #6. We parked in back of the Rio hotel and I immediately walked towards the registration area, luggage and all. As I walked from the parking lot to the hotel, I felt like some minor leaguer making his major league debut. The Rio Convention Center was the venue and, despite the big lights and big names, I had to act like I belonged there. More importantly, I had to believe that I belonged there.
Honestly, I was a little concerned that the event might sell out (the first No Limit Hold 'Em Event had more than 400 alternates). As I walked down the corridor of the convention center, I saw a lot of familiar TV faces, most of them in line for the restroom... Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, David Sklansky and John D'Agostino were some of the first big names I noticed.
As I registered, I got my seat assignment. Table 4, Seat 6. Ok, I like Seat 6. As silly as it sounds, it helps me to visualize what I'm going to do ahead of time. So, knowing where the table is and what seat I'd have will help the visualization.
After checking in, I spent some time wandering the convention center. The main room had 200 or more tables for tournament play. The tables were all full to start most of the tournaments, and within an hour or two, the tables would free up for cash games and satellites for the main event. I was probably most surprised that the final table was in the same room. The audience you see on TV were people just sitting on metal risers with 3 steps (like ones you'd see a high school choir use). They do a tremendous job on TV to make the final table appear to be in a larger room with a bigger audience.
The room was filled with the big names, some of them playing in the tournament, others playing in big cash games. Barry Greenstein, Phil Gordon, Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, John Juanda (who was at the final table), David Williams, Gavin Smith, Layne Flack, Howard Lederer, Freddy Deeb, Mike Caro, Daniel Negreanu were the ones I can recall off the top of my head. Many of them were wearing customized hockey jerseys with their last names on the back, advertising for FullTiltPoker.net.
The cash games had a LONG waiting list (especially at the low limits where I wanted to play). So, across the hall, many of the big online poker sites had lounges with drinks and spreads for anyone who wanted to just hang out. I got coaxed into entering the UlitmateBet.net lounge. I sat on the comfy couch and was joined by Phil Hellmuth. There were maybe 6 of us in the room, but I didn't really have anything to say to Phil. What could I possibly say? I like your play? I admire your game? You're kind of a wuss when it comes to playing big pots and I'd come over the top against you with any pair? So I just kind of sat there.
That evening, I decided to play some No Limit Hold 'Em to get used to playing in the room and sitting at a table (since most of my play is online). I played the lowest limit game - The blinds were 2 and 5. In my experience with NL, I just play tight and win a couple of big pots, since the games tend to be wild and loose. My first big hand was a guy in early position raising to 15, one guy calls and I look down at A 10 of diamonds on the button and call. The flop comes A 9 7 with 1 diamond. The first raiser bets 30, the next guy folds and I study him. He looks way too confident - I can't put my finger on it. But, even with top pair, I didn't like it. Every instinct told me to fold. And I do. He's pissed... he says "One of you must've been playing that ace". He flips over a set of 7s. I said, "I was". I thought for a second and realized I didn't want to give up the fact that I read him well and said, "I had a lousy kicker and figured you were ahead". He says, "You don't even call to find out where you are? I'm supposed to get ALL the cookies there. All of them." Followed by, "Nice laydown". I saved myself quite a bit of money right there. Sometimes the best plays in poker are the hands you fold.
Soon after, one guy limps for 5. I look down on KK, which is one of my favorite hands, since it's easy to get away from with an ace on the flop. I raise to 20. I get 2 callers plus the limpers. So the pot is 82. Flop comes J high, 2 checks and the limper bets 50. Later, I ask both Poker Jason and Pro Player Pete what they would have done. They both said they'd raise between 100 and 150. I raised to 125. After the 2 players fold, the other guy goes all in immediately for another 175 chips. He hit a set. Twice now, I'm convinced I'm up against the improbable set. He doesn't have AJ. He looks way too happy to have AJ. I look at him, he's way too confident and I fold my overpair. He flips over a set of 3s. Damn, I should be broke by now. Just bad luck. And real tough folds. I'm tired of running into sets. Perhaps my luck will turn around in the WSOP event.
I stop playing just after midnight, and decide to cash out and sleep in. The event starts at noon on Saturday, so I'll try and sleep in until 10:30, if I can.
July 1st - The WSOP Event
My favorite poker shirt of the day read:
“Nice Hand Sir”. And by “hand” I mean “suckout”. And by “sir” I mean “moron”.
I am unable to sleep past 8:30 am the morning of the tournament. I was hoping to sleep a little later, so I’d have energy and focus in the wee hours of the morning if I made it that far. So, I just stayed in bed for a while and tried to stay relaxed. Poker Jason called around 10:15 and we made plans to meet up for breakfast. Pro Player Pete joined in for a hearty egg and OJ kind of breakfast.
The tournament was going to start at noon sharp. The feelings I had reminded me of taking AP tests in high school. It was easy to focus on everything I wasn’t prepared for. It was easy to be filled with self doubt. It was easy to be intimidated by the competition. And, when it was all over, you knew that everyone would ask how you did. It was important just to focus on all of the preparation I had already put in and to remain confident in my abilities.
As I sat down at table 4, seat 6, I noticed that everyone at my table was a guy and in his 20s or 30s. No big poker names were at my table. It was just like my home games, so that helped my confidence. Although at table 3, seat 10, directly across from me was Jean Robert Bellande. At first I was upset that his antics would be a distraction. Then I decided that I was 100 times better off with him at table 3 instead of directly in front of me at table 4.
Much like the minor leaguer being called up for his major league debut, my adrenaline was pumping and it was crucial that I figure out a way to keep it in check. I felt like knuckleballer Charlie Haeger who kept throwing his knuckleball too fast, losing his movement and his edge. If I could just remain calm and play my game, I'd be fine.
My plan was to play only a couple of hand the first hour and to just hang around and observe. Then, first hand, I pick up KQ suited in middle position. I didn’t want to play the first hand, but I couldn’t fold. Blinds were 25/25, so I raised to 100. That was going to be my standard raise with no variation. It folds around to the big blind, who calls. Pot is 225. And, I’m honestly nervous. Flop comes Q 4 3 with 2 diamonds. BB checks and I bet 150. He thinks for a while and I’m ready to fold to a stiff raise. I'm not ready to start risking massive amounts of chips first hand. He folds. Wow, that felt good. There’s something psychological about being over 2000 chips. At, for the moment, I’m chip leader at the table with 2125. It doesn’t seem like much, but it calmed my nerves. I could fold for the next hour and still be even.
3rd hand, I pick up AQo. So much for playing tight. I raise to 100 again. Everyone folds. Alright. 2175 in chips. I can handle this. In the first hour, I pick up 44 twice in a row, AQ suited, 66, and I probably play at least 10 hands, which is WAY more than I planned. My stack was up to 2300. I raised with 66, got called on one spot. The flop came 8 4 4, so I figured my pair was good. I bet 150 into a pot of 250. He raises to 425. I have to fold. Even though he could’ve had 2 big cards, I wasn’t ready to make a big move. My stack is down to 1600. By the end of the first hour, my stack is exactly back to even. All of that play and I have 2000 chips. That was a little more nuts than I expected for the first hour of play. Just after the first hour, my table gets broken up (this happens to keep tables full during a tournament. Basically, we fill in all of the spots where people have busted out.)
I draw table 17, seat 10. I also like seat 10. I don’t like seat 1 because sometimes I can’t see the blinds coming around on the other side of the dealer. Also (this is going to sound goofy, but I swear it’s true), I have better peripheral vision to my left than to my right. I noticed this recently when I was driving. And I think I figured out why. It’s because of sports. As a righty, when you hit in baseball, you’re looking left. As a quarterback, same thing. You look left. So, there you have it. I like seat 10 because most of the action is to my left.
As I approach my seat, I scan the table. Again, no big name pros. But in seat 3… Norm “Friggin” MacDonald. Everyone was very tight lipped except for Norm. He’s just there to have some fun. I haven’t said a word the entire time and I don’t plan on saying a word. How can I sum up Norm’s game? The man doesn’t like to play post flop. So he’ll bet 4-6 times the big blind with a good hand and hope to just steal the pot.
I have 2 quick Norm stories. First, he started chatting with the hot blond girl playing at our table. He was asking where she’s from and the regular chit chat. She then asked where he’s from, obviously having no idea who he was. He said somewhere in Canada and was obviously a little ticked that she didn’t know who he was.
Second, he raised 450 in early position with blinds of 50/100. I was in the big blind, hoping to have a monster hand and put him all in. I look down at a measly J8. I knew I was going to fold. I take the opportunity to just stare at him and study him for a while. There’s nothing quite like being a jerk and making your opponents nervous. After about 10 seconds, and making him obviously uncomfortable, I fold. He says something like, “I don’t know what kind of face to make when someone stares at me like that.”
Level 2 begins with blinds of 25/50. There’s still plenty of play. The aggressive, serial raiser is 2 seats to my right. I don’t like that, since he’s going to try and steal my blinds every time around. Usually I try to act really tight and weak, let him steal some small blinds, then, with a pretty good hand, I’ll pop him with a big raise, forcing him to either fold (and give back all of those blinds he stole), or call and have the worst of it. This guy becomes my nemesis for the next couple of hours.
During the second hour, I try not to play as many hands. With the blinds at 25/50, the serial raiser makes it 150 and I pick up 8 8 and call from the small blind. The flop comes 9 8 6 with 2 hearts. Great flop for me. But scary with the straight and flush draws. With the pot of 325, I lead of for 200, hoping to take it down there or make him pay a price for his draw. The pot is now 725. The next card is the 7 of diamonds, putting four cards to a straight, 6 7 8 9, two diamonds and 2 hearts. That was one of the worst cards that could’ve fallen. I check. He bets 225 into the pot of 725. Which make me suspicious. I think he’s on a flush draw. Or he has the baby end of the straight and could fold to a raise. I want to know right then and there where I stand. If he’s got me crushed, he could just come over the top, I’m willing to lay it down. I can’t give him a free card if he’s on the flush draw. (Pro Player Pete says I should’ve just called, and looking back, I think he’s right. But I thought he would lay down there and didn't really put him on a 10.) He just calls. Shit. What could he just be calling with? He MUST have the 10 and the straight. Pot is now 1925. I have 1150 left in chips. I’m not in a good spot here unless the board pairs. Then, the river brings the best possible card (other than the final 8 in the deck). A black 9 rolls off. So, if he has the straight, I can pretend that I have a busted flush draw and try to steal the pot. I have to act first, so I do just that. I act like I missed and that I’m stealing. I push all in for 1150. At this point I’m shaking like a crack baby (I tried to think of a more PC analogy, but only the crack baby gives the proper visual). Even my jaw is shaking. Which is a huge indication that I have a great hand (a sign of an unconscious adrenaline rush). I try to “reverse tell” him and put my chips is forcefully and stare at him, hoping he puts me on a steal. He keeps saying, “You flopped a set. You flopped a set.” And finally he calls. I flip over my full house and take a huge pot, giving me 4200 chips total. He’s definitely bummed out, flipping over a 10. I feel fortunate about the river card (even though I had him on the flop and he was drawing to a gutshot straight draw and lucked out on the turn).
At that point I opt to play tight, except making some position raises (which would prove impossible since the serial raiser kept raising 2 seats to my right). Just before the first break at the end of level 2 (each level is an hour), I’m down to 3700 chips and I’m ready to just stretch and take a leak. I’m in the sb for 50, the serial raiser raises from the cutoff to 175. Everybody else is already gone on break. I’m good and ready to fold when I wake up to see AK of spades. I reraise to 400, hoping he just goes away and we can break. He calls. (Maybe I should've made it 450 or 500?) It’s just the 2 of us and the dealer. The flop is K 5 3 all of clubs. I lead out for 600 into a pot of 900. That should do it. He calls. GO AWAY! The turn is the 8 of clubs. 4 clubs out there and I have spades. I check. He goes all in. I fold. He shows the K 10 with the 10 of clubs. Shit. I go into the break with 2700 chips, after having 4200 just 30 minutes earlier.
I meet up with Poker Jason and Pro Player Pete. Poker Jason had his aces cracked and managed not to go broke (very impressive play on his part). Although, he busted out soon after. Pro Player Pete had 1250 or so chips left and he encourages me that my 2700 is still plenty to work with. He really helped me get over my AK vs. K 10 beat just before the break and keeps me focused.
In level 3, I make my first bluff. Blinds are now 50/100. The crazy serial raiser calls my raise (I have AJ). The flop is not memorable, but I know he didn’t hit either. By the turn, I pretend that I’ve hit a monster and do my best to subtly re-enact my adrenaline shaking routine and bet small, like I’m luring him in with a huge hand, like top set. He calls the turn. I do the same on the river, forcing him to fold. PHEW. I suck at bluffing. I’m back up to 3200.
At this point I tighten up, but it’s not exactly my choice since I don’t get many cards to play. I had one chance to make a button raise with Q 5 and I didn’t do it. The blinds limp in and the flop comes Q Q 7 and I’m pretty pissed at myself with not being aggressive there.
Level 4 comes around and blinds are up to 100/200. By this level, people start to move all in a lot. I’m actually excited about this level, since my strength tends to be playing the short stack. I know when and where to be aggressive and put pressure on the right stacks at the right time. My confidence is way up, simply since the blinds are getting bigger. I’m also saving my $25 chips because in level 5, the antes kick in and I want to psychologically prepare for level 5.
Norm MacDonald goes all in a few times for 1800 or so. On the button he goes all in, gets called by the hot blonde in the sb (she actually comes over the top all in) and the bb folds. Norm had 6 6 and hot blonde had Q Q. Norm doesn’t catch and he’s gone. We get new players filling in here and there. One guy actually moves to our table, plays 3 hands, loses all 3 and busts out in 5 minutes. This is getting to be a little nutty. But it’s also exciting poker.
Towards the end of level 4, I look down at AK again. This time, I’m under the gun. I have 2400 in chips and I’m ready to play for all of them if I get reraised. I bet 600. It folds around to the big blind, who sits and thinks and is ready to fold, but decides to call. He’s directly to my right and has just won 2 all ins and went from being short stack to the big stack at the table in very little time. The pot is 1300. The flop comes A 4 3. At this point I see Poker Jason and Pro Player Pete out of the corner of my eye, watching my action. (Which sadly means that Pete is also out of the tournament). Alright, I hit, so it makes things easier. He checks, I bet 900, essentially pot committing myself and I’m ready for the fold and to move on. I'm shocked to hear, “I’m all in”. HUH?! I felt like I had just prepared a spectacular anniversary dinner and evening on the town for my girlfriend, and I’m a little giddy for the romantic evening. And as soon as I tell her about it, she says, “We need to start seeing other people.” I’m devastated. Either this guy is making a move on me with a weaker ace and assumes that I have JJ QQ or KK. Or he’s hit a set. (He could also have A 4 or A 3, but it didn’t feel that way. I can’t explain why, but it didn’t. It also didn’t really feel like he had A 2 or A 5 and was gambling with the extra outs of a straight). He seemed convinced that he had the best hand. Remember my games from yesterday when I folded to 2 sets? And I thought my bad luck of running into sets was over? I feel like he’s hit a set. But I have 900 chips left. And he has a big stack and could be making a move. I’m stuck. I’ve played this hand over and over in my head since the event and wonder if I could’ve laid it down there. Every poker player I respect has told me that, no matter what, I was getting all my money in on that hand. I still somehow feel like I could’ve laid it down, even with top pair, top kicker. But I called. My worst fears come true as he turns over a pair of 3s, giving him three of a kind. I’m drawing to runner runner. I need a 2 5 to split, or running Ace King. It’s like, by calling the all in, I asked my girlfriend why we need to see other people, and she said she’s sleeping with my buddy and then she decides to kick me in the nuts for good measure. It was such a rotten sucker punch in the stomach feel. Seven out of eight times, he will miss his set and will fold. That would've put me over 3000 chips again. But the one out of eight times he hits and I go broke. To add insult to injury, I pair my king on the river, giving me aces and kings. I didn’t have to go far to find my buddies, as they were right there, watching me double over in pain.
So there you have it – Ace King cost me nearly all of my chips on 2 separate hands. That’s why they call it the “Anna Kournikova”. It looks great, but it never wins.
Overall, I am proud of how I played. A couple of swings in the other direction and I’m playing into the evening, at least. I read online that after level 4 (just after I busted out), 700 of the original 1700+ entrants were left. Also, if you read about the event online, you’ll see a whole bunch of big name pros that busted out real early (I can’t check those names right now, so you’re on your own.) I can confidently say that I outlasted half the field and was energized and focused to play deep into the night. To my backers and investors… Sorry. You knew up front that investing in me would be like hitting on 19, hoping to make blackjack (and even that was optimistic). I also thank you for the opportunity to play in my first World Series of Poker event. It’s most definitely an experience I’ll never forget.
One last note about Vegas. It’s becoming really hard to tell the difference between the hookers and the slutty girls these days. At this point I just figure that the ones who make eye contact with me and smile are hookers. Which isn’t really helping my confidence any.
Thanks again for all of your kind words of support and confidence. Until tomorrow...