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WSOP 2011 Trip Report WSOP 2011 Trip Report

07-20-2011 , 09:21 PM

Lots has prevented me from writing up my previous WSOP trips: two major factors are (i) that I'm not sure how interesting my trips are to anyone else, and (ii) that writing one well is hard--trip reporting, like poker itself, requires filtering and organizing a multidirectional flood of information. Making even minimal sense of two weeks in Las Vegas and a six-day run in the Main Event is plenty tough. Making sense of it without pissing all over English grammar and usage is even tougher.

But I'm writing a trip report anyway, and I'll try to make it as good as I can in the time I have. Call it training for writing my upcoming Ph.D. dissertation. Perfection isn't going to happen, but something of real quality might, and I need to work on the skill of just sitting down and writing. "Twenty lines a day, genius or not," Stendahl said. (Too pretentious? Charming and deeply human? Take it out? Leave it in? I'm just going to ignore these questions and press on.)

So please forgive me for whatever is incomplete, bizarre, excessively personal, jargon-soaked, or seems to be written for people who have never themselves played a flop. The alternative to this report is one that is, although higher-quailty, nonexistent.

Today I'll post up through day 2. That leaves days 3-6 to be posted as soon as I can--hopefully one per day.

Also, I’ve already forgotten so many of the necessary details. I couldn’t possibly remember so much data without writing a lot of it down, and the natural times to write things down often occur when it is most important to be focusing intently--when people are watching me rake in a pot, or when I'm watching someone else rake in a pot, or when two guys are staring at each other and one of them is trying to decide whether to call the other's bet, and I'm trying to decide what it all means. So the data is largely gone. My Twitter feed (@NateMeyvisChips / @NateMeyvis) has some clues, but those few dozen notes are just nothing compared to the memories of the crowds for free Dearfoam slippers, Lars Bonding's facial expressions, Lars Bonding's masseuse's facial expressions, etc., etc. It’s sad to have to choose between performance and memory, but surely performance ought to win that fight. Maybe I’m just getting old.

I got to Las Vegas on the 7th and checked in to the Monte Carlo, but not before I sat in a $2-5 game at the Rio.

Nothing quite like Rio WSOP cash games. Filthy chips, din of chip shuffling, players amped up for the Main Event and dealers ragged after however many long WSOP weeks. White $1's and blue $2's in play. Colored, numbered rectangles of cardboard above the tables, everyone yelling at overworked chip runners--cash plays, and it damn well better, because where are you gonna get any chips?--ugly uncomfortable chairs, dim lighting. Some really good dealers. Some really bad dealers. Straddling the button is allowed, though UTG will usually act before the SB anyway. Tournament announcements, satellite announcements, WSOP announcements, "JSV, your 5-10 no-limit table is ready. JSV, 5-10." Someone knows someone who won a bracelet. Someone knows someone who is owed money from someone who won a bracelet and has been seen at the Rhino but who has not yet paid up, and he better pay up before he goes to the Rhino again. "JSV, last call. JSV." The guy from Italy just got in and has not yet checked into his hotel room yet, because who could go to sleep at a time like this? Several tables of pot-limit Omaha high-low, which is called "Big O," and which causes variance and dirty jokes in equal and large amounts. English only at the tables, please, though the Russian guy is obviously just yelling at his friend to come back quick so he can hear a bad beat story. Sasquatch and beef jerky. Dealers have to count the racks at the beginning of every down, because if it's short at the beginning of the next down they owe it out of pocket, regardless of the cause of the shortfall. Messy racks with white, blue, red, green, and cash in three different denominations pose challenges, counting-wise, for the dealers who have a hard time even fielding requests to "pull in the 35's, please," when someone raises from 35 to 110. JSV has obviously found a seat or hotel room he's happy with a long time ago, but the floor holds out hope that he wants that 5-10 seat after all, or maybe a 2-5. Teddy "The Iceman" Monroe, always there. Late-night ESPN2 on some screens, various tournament clocks and results on others. Some of the screens are flickering or obscenely dirty. I cut my teeth in the old big Foxwoods room, the upstairs one, so I know what big poker rooms feel like but ****, this is totally different. Opponents who do not know the rules can resemble opponents who are just really tired.

I could go on and on. Let's just say that Rio cash games around Main Event time make for an atmosphere all its own. When I get nostalgic about Foxwoods, Turning Stone is not a bad approximation. If I were to get nostalgic about Rio cash games, I would just have to suck it up and wait for July.

I did not run well at the Rio that night, but I had run well at Priceline: my room at the Monte Carlo was comfortable and quiet, and a 10-minute walk from the Aria poker room, a 10-minute tram ride from the Bellagio, and a 10-minute drive from the Rio. For the poker player who wants to upgrade from the Gold Coast, it’s perfect, or at least it was perfect for me. I spent the next three days relaxing, playing poker at the Aria and Bellagio, and hanging out with my friend “pete_fabrizio,” who drove up from LA.
Also, I collected money from those investors I hadn’t yet had a chance to hit up. I found Christian Harder at a Chinese Poker table:

Me: “So, do you want me to text you updates?”

Him: “Just let me know if you bust or make day 4.”

Somehow that was the perfect way to start my trip. Two and a half days of sleep, cash games, and memorizing Attic Greek adjectives later, I would drive my $15/day rental car to the Rio, eat the Thai lunch I’d bought at Aria, read my Twitter feed for reactions to the USA-Brazil women’s soccer game, and get down to business.

Day 1

I played day 1D, having attempted to get a better table draw by wiring the money in advance. My table was OK but not as good as one would want—easily the second-toughest day 1 table I’d ever had in a WSOP (after last year’s). I like to play a lot of pots in position when the blinds are small—which is not exactly a strategic revolution but you’d be surprised how few people do it—and the two guys directly to my left were strong players but not manic three-bettors (so that I could call raises without fearing that I’d get run off my hand before the flop). So, e.g., when a weaker British player opened to 350, which meant big cards or a big pair, I happily called with 76o because we were >250 big blinds deep. I made a straight, he made a pair, I bet 90% of the pot on the river, and I won a 15k pot at 50-100.

I said that I wasn’t facing a lot of threebets—the exception was a British guy two to my left three-bet me often, and this led to a hand I think I butchered. In the third level of the day (150-300 with no ante), I opened to 800 with Ah6h and he reraised to 1900 from MP. I suspected he had formed a plan of three-betting all my opens until I fought back, and I held an ace, so I four-bet to 5100 or so. I hadn’t four-bet yet all day. He reacted to the bet, but not with any weakness (it felt like surprise), and I immediately wanted to take the chips back. He called. I had roughly 18,000 left and he covered me. The flop came AJ7, all diamonds. I decided to check, which I think is a mistake (though I’m not sure). He checked behind. The turn was To. I bet 5300 and he called. The river was a 9o. I checked and he moved in. There’s an argument for calling, but it’s at least close (I think), and I eventually decided to fold. In the end-of-day conversation he told me my hand was best—he claimed to have either QdQ or KdK, and I believed him.

I butchered that hand—I remember thinking clearly the whole time and having what seemed to be convincing reasons for all my decisions, but I still don’t like how I played the hand. One reason for this is that I don’t have a lot of experience in four-bet pots, and therefore have some reason to avoid them. Another is that I was opening fairly tightly from EMP, and therefore have much better holdings in my range with which to fight back against his aggression. Perhaps my regret is just results-orientation—both he and another strong player were very surprised, even to the point of disbelief, to hear that I had A6, so I showed the strength I intended to show. That means that I might have had lots of fold equity preflop and on the turn, which means that my play can’t be all bad. Also I (probably) had the better hand on the turn, but that doesn’t matter if he’s not going to let me (and I’m not going to let myself) get to showdown with it very often. Again, my own retrospective confusion is a symptom of the same conditions that ought to have given me reasons not to play the hand that way in the first place.

That hand actually happened fairly late in the day, but it’s nice to begin with a hand I’m unhappy with. It’s maybe a writing analogue of the feeling of having one’s first tough decision over with in a poker tournament. And hopefully it gives my readers some faith in the narrator’s honesty. Also, there are people who are playing the whole tournament without completely butchering hands, but nobody is playing the whole thing without making mistakes. So there’s one of mine. Now for another, very different, big pot from day 1.

A strong player raised from LMP and I called from the cutoff with QcJc. The button and big blind both called behind me, so we were 4 to the flop with just over 2000 in the middle. The flop came down 9c7c6c. Good flop. The big blind checked and the raiser bet 900. I immediately sensed strength. Some of this is just psychological illusion, I think—when you flop a monster, it’s easy to think about other monsters. But betting into a four-man field shows strength, even as the preflop raiser, and there was something definite and fearless about his demeanor that struck me. I raised to 2400 with 11.5k behind. One can consider calling here, but that would give the naked Ac too good a price if it’s sitting behind me, and although my raise shows strength it doesn’t need to indicate a monster. My raise is a bit small, but I’m happy with it—with my opponent having shown strength, leaving roughly 1.5x the pot in my stack is an invitation for him to move all-in. Instead he called, showing no indecision. With a made flush he would have had a decision to make, as he would have with many of his other hands. I remember the word “set” appearing in my mind as he put his chips in the pot.

The turn was the 6s. Now sets beat me. The opponent checked. I was confident in my read, but not enough to eliminate AcA, KcK, or the occasional Ac9/Ac7/etc. from his range. Some of this is that my opponent could reasonably have expressed strength with these hands; some of this is just epistemic modesty. There are situations where I would put a guy on a set and believe it 100%--here I just found a set to be highly concordant with his behavior, though many other things remained possible. I decided to bet 4200—there’s an argument for taking a free card here, but I decided against it, the most obvious reason for that being that he could plausibly hold the Ac or Kc. My bet was relatively large, both to get more value if I were ahead and to show enough strength not to induce a bluff-raise. And I was indeed raised: my opponent moved all-in very quickly. My decision was easy, although I took a minute to think things through just to be sure. When I folded I left myself with 11.6k—nobody wants to get down so low on day 1 from the 30k starting stack, but with the blinds only at 150-300 I would have plenty of time left to build back up. My opponent, one of the hordes of small, skinny, non-native speakers of English who are aggressive and confident and tough, agreed to tell me his hand at the end of the day if I told him mine. He claimed to have 77 for sevens full, and I’d say it’s less than 1% that he was lying.

That left me shortstacked. In a way, being shortstacked makes life easier: speculative preflop calls become incorrect with only 40 big blinds, and betting decisions are sometimes greatly simplified when multiple future big bets are impossible. I played three notable hands during the rest of the day. In one, a fairly predictable player open-raised and a loose, aggressive player—who I would later discover to be Steve Sung—called the button. The raise was only to 2.5 big blinds, so I had an easy decision to call the extra 1.5 blinds from the BB with KsJc. I yahtzeed the flop: AsQcTs. I checked, the raiser bet, and Steve called. To move in was barely more than a pot-sized raise, and I think jamming is best: it shows strength but not extreme strength, and many hands might convince themselves that they have the 30% equity they need to call. The raiser folded but after a good think Sung called it off with Ax6c. He was dead to runners and no lightning struck, so I doubled up to 24,950. In the other two memorable hands, I called the turn with a combination draw but missed the river, and check-folded the river with JJ in a blind battle.

16925 is not where you want to be after day 1, but in 2010 my day 2 table draw was excellent, and I was hoping for the same in 2011—in fact, I got an even better one. I hate to disparage anyone, but I had found a table where I wouldn’t face many tough spots. I was in the 9-seat. The 1-seat was reeeeeally tight; the 2-seat was shortstacked and predictable; the 3-seat was medium-stacked and predictable; the 4-seat was Claudia Crawford—more on her later—who has a lot of skill but wasn’t interested in picking fights with me; the 5-seat was a British guy who was competent but who gave away far too much information and was easy to play against; the 6- and 7-seats were two recreational players from the Baltimore-DC corridor (far better than average recreational players, but they seemed just happy to be there and weren’t very tricky); the 8-seat was an unintentionally hilarious, and fairly weak, foreign guy (I hate to describe someone as ‘foreign,’ but I really couldn’t place his nationality; at first I guessed South American, but later I’d have bet on Eastern Europe).

That’s a dream table, and I took advantage of it, chipping up from 17k to 113k on the day. The day’s most memorable moment might have come very early on, when Claudia limped and the original 7-seat raised. This was before the Maryland fellow arrived; this original 7-seat was a guy who had obviously gone through lots of both physical and poker training—big muscles, frequent raises. Everyone else folded, and Claudia called. The flop came down T98 with no flush draw. Claudia led right out for 2500, roughly 2/3 of this pot. This is an unusual play—most players would check to the raiser in this spot. The raiser thought for a little while and raised to 7500: he had roughly 50,000 more in his stack after that raise, and Claudia had him well covered. Claudia quickly raised another two 5k orange chips, making the bet 17500. After a bit of time thinking, the guy made a minimum reraise to 27500. The thinking behind this kind of raise is generally that it shows enormous strength, carrying the force of betting one’s full stack (with only 30,000 behind, he was unlikely to fold any non-bluffing hand after committing so much of his stack), but that it allows one to bluff more efficiently (with 7500 committed, bluffing another 20000 is a lot cheaper than bluffing his full remaining 50000). At least, that’s the conventional wisdom these days.

Claudia immediately flicked five more orange chips into the pot, raising to 42500. I didn’t know quite what to think: I’ve simply never seen more than a few pots even approximately resembling this one. The guy thought for a little while, smirked (the way people smirk when caught bluffing), and folded. Claudia immediately flipped over Ac5c for a stone bluff and said: “You ahhmost made me ****in’ fawld! Bully the girl…” Well. I would not have bet on that. I’m still not entirely sure what she was thinking—she claimed she made the play because she figured he would have called and not raised with QJ before the flop, so he could not have had the strength he was representing. That strikes me as poor reasoning: he would have played QJ that way before the flop; he might have been representing hands other than QJ with his raises; and even if you’re pretty sure someone has a certain preflop tendency, the information conveyed by a 27500 bet is often more reliable than that conveyed by a 1100 bet. So she was probably using other information. That said, she seems to be the type to commit to a read and follow it no matter what. In an interview after day four she said that her big regret from the day’s play had been failing to 7-bet a ragged Kx hand before the flop when she had decided the other player was trying to bully her. (She had reraised, 5-bet against the reraise, and then folded to the 6-bet—after she folded the other player showed a nine.) I’ve played a lot of WSOP events, and never once have I thought “gee, I played pretty well today, but I really should have pulled the trigger on that 7-bet with K5.” So I’m not entirely sure what she was thinking, but that could easily have been a great play. For whatever it’s worth, she claimed that after she had caught someone bluffing on day 1, he had called her the worst player he’d ever seen and vowed never to come back to the WSOP if she cashed. I don’t think he’ll make good on the promise, but I sure hope he does.

A key dynamic on day 2 was with the 8-seat; he moved to our table early in the day and started limping with a lot of hands. I responded by raising him a lot. He responded by folding and getting angry at me, eventually bursting out with: “You have a hand every freaking hand? … [pause] … BITCH?” This guy didn’t speak a whole lot of English, and half his vocabulary seemed to be curse words he didn’t command the semantics of. There are technically penalties for using profanity in an abusive way, but I’m glad this guy didn’t get a penalty, both because I thought it was (unintentionally) hilarious and because this guy stood to lose more money by playing than by posting and folding as he would be forced to during a penalty.

A key happened roughly an orbit later. The 8-seat limped and I raised behind him with AKo. It folded back to him and he quickly raised it another 11000. He had roughly 90k left after he raised, which covered me easily—I only had 50000 total. This might look like a very easy push, but I had a lot to think about: even very frustrated players don’t often four-bet against aggressive players in the WSOP Main Event, and sticking in the 95k with AK is often a bad proposition in this spot. If I had a nickel for every guy who has walked away from a Main Event table saying “what else could I do?” who in fact could have done quite a lot differently…

So I needed time to study. One’s tablemates will often hate it when someone thinks for a long time, because it costs everyone else playing time. These people didn’t mind, however, and not just because they were themselves very slow players (the 7-seat, in particular, was a human rain delay). They were also interested in the pot, whether I would pull the trigger on a shove, which profanities the old guy would use, and whether he would try to punch me in the face or something. After a lot of deliberation I figured I couldn’t fold my hand—at times my opponent almost seemed desperate for me to fold, and AK is simply too strong of a hand. So I put my stack in the middle. All the conversation stopped. Big pot. When I was not instantly called, I knew I was in good shape. Eventually he folded and gave me an extended dirty look. Everyone wanted to see the hand. They had not seen very many, and they were curious about me. They did not see my hand.

That set up my last big pot of the night. The 8-seat limped again, and I decided just to limp behind with ATo; it was near the end of the night, and some of the players by then looked ready to fight back against a raise. Also, I thought that the 8-seat would likely to fold to a raise—that’s a good result, but because a limp from him often indicated one big card and one little card, my AT figured to be in such good shape and my informational advantage figured to be so great that I was happy to continue into the hand.
We ended up taking the flop 4-handed, and it came AKQ. It checked to me and I bet 4200 into a pot of roughly 6000. The 8-seat immediately said “automatic!” when I bet. This would have been funnier if he had used yet another out-of-place profanity, but you can’t always get what you want. If I had any remaining doubts about his attitude, that let me know that he wasn’t planning to fold. Which is not to say that he wouldn’t fold, just that he wasn’t planning to. It folded back to him and he called. The turn was another Ace. He checked and I bet 11200. He called without too much trouble. The river was a small card and he checked. I bet 22200. I bet that amount because anything bigger would have been a huge bet to call with just a King or Queen. My bet was big but in hindsight I think I should have made an even bigger bet—he probably could have called 27k or even more with such a hand. It looked like he hated calling, but he did anyway. After that pot I was up near 130k. I would lose every significant pot before the end of the night, but I was happy with all my decisions (so happy that I don’t even remember all of them—I wouldn’t have forgotten plays I wasn’t as happy with).

Here are some other hands I played on day 2:

I had two double-ups with KK. The first happened roughly an hour into the day. The 6-seat, a super-nice guy, limped, I raised to roughly 2k with KK, the 1-seat called right behind me, the British guy in the 5-seat called out of the blind, and the limper called. The flop came QJx with a flush draw. It checked to me, I bet 5k, the 1-seat called, and the limper called. The turn was a small card. The limper checked, I moved in for my last 7k, and both opponents called. The limper looked strong. The river was a very welcome K. Both players checked and my hand was good. The limper later claimed that I’d needed the river. Phew.

Later, Claudia opened and the muscular guy reraised. I moved all in KK, Claudia folded, and he called with AQ. My hand held up.

The British guy was obliging enough to raise to 2.5 times the blind except when he had a very good hand, when he would raise to 3.5 times the blind. So I called him in position with a big informational advantage or reraised his 2.5x opens fairly often.

Immediately after dinner he opened to 3.5x and I had AK. Although I thought he was strong, I had to reraise, in part because he only had 25k or so total and in part because people often play more boldly after the dinner break. He moved all in and I had to call. He had QQ, and I couldn’t improve. That hand put me into the position from which I played the two big pots against the 8-seat.

One remarkable thing about this day is that I was probably playing much more maniacally than I felt I was, just because we were seeing so few hands. The pace of play was glacial. The 7-seat (the guy who filled up the muscular guy’s seat, not the muscular guy) was the worst offender by far, staring at everyone for a long time before he even looked at his cards. If he wasn’t stalling, he was doing a good imitation of someone who was. In a way that’s fine—with no offense intended if he happens to be reading this, a lot of the slow behavior seemed to stem from very deep kinds of confusions. He also had some strange beliefs about poker generally—about how he would play smaller stakes if “there weren’t so many idiots there,” about how poker “is supposed to be a social game,” and so on. I mean, I love to talk at the tables, I love to meet people, I love to eat sandwiches and talk baseball and show one card after I threebet someone. But at the Main Event, with the possible exception of the bubble (when you get one hand every 15 minutes), I am there to shut up and stare and play my absolute best. With no offense to that guy, some of us came to Las Vegas to win that ****ing tournament, not to gather up a story or two to tell to our home games. Don’t get me wrong. We got along fine. He was friendly. I love that the WSOP brings together poker people from everywhere. I hope he comes back. He is welcome in my home game, if I ever host one. But it’s remarkably narrow-minded to expect that 7,000 people from 100 countries play for $8 million with the exact behavior you’re accustomed to.

Up next: the day off, and day 3.
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07-20-2011 , 10:52 PM
Great TR! This is a fascinating read. Congratulations on such a deep run. Looking forward to reading the next few days.

+1 for folding the flush on day 1

+1 for "glacial"
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07-20-2011 , 11:00 PM
Top-notch post, as usual. Thanks for sharing. I'm looking forward to the next installment!
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07-20-2011 , 11:30 PM
Great start to your tr Nate. Looking forward to the rest. One of these years I'll make it out there with you.
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07-20-2011 , 11:36 PM
Originally Posted by reno expat
Great start to your tr Nate. Looking forward to the rest. One of these years I'll make it out there with you.
Bah, that probably won't happen until 2005.

(FWIW: I won a seat on PartyPoker in 2005. RenoExpat and Bobman0330 came and crashed in my room at the MGM Grand. RenoExpat won a bunch in cash games; Bobman and I lost. Hilarity ensued. We were all recent college grads. Those two are now respectable, functioning members of society--I am a grad student.)

All my best,

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07-21-2011 , 12:55 PM
very well written. looking forward to more.
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07-21-2011 , 10:21 PM
Always love your posts and looking forward to the rest!
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07-22-2011 , 01:55 PM
OK. It's 9:06. I have to stop writing at 9:30. What can I get down in 24 minutes? [EDIT: couldn't write much in :24. Had to wait until today to finish.]

There's a day off between the day 2's and day 3. I hung out at the Monte Carlo, reading a journal article and doing laundry in my hotel room sink. I find the laundry pleasant and therapeutic--last year it worked out well, and I think it will become a routine for my yearly trips to the WSOP. There was also time to check out my table draw: mement_mori, Matt "All in at 420" Stout, and Sam Simon. Pretty cool, but our table broke first, and we only played five hands or so.

I would actually play at four different tables that day: the first one would have been tough, with no obvious soft spots (I suppose Simon is not a highly trained poker player, but he seemed certainly to have a clue) and with Mement directly on my left. The second was fantastic: one young aggressive player made life difficult, but he was to my right; there was another guy who looked the part of the young uberaggressive guy, but he was actually either fantastically card-dead or else a heck of a nit; there was at least one very soft spot and several more easy-to-handle players; and my seat at the table was excellent.

A few hands:
Tight guy raises, I call with red TT in LMP. The flop is QJx. He checks and I bet 2/3-pot. He calls pretty easily. Looks like AJ or thereabouts, though I’m not sure he’d have opened AJ from his spot before the flop. The turn is an Ace. He checks and looks at me. Looking because he doesn’t want to face a bet? He has KJ, KQ, or something? Eh, not sure he can fold if I bet. Maybe it’s more likely he turned two pair or check-called the flop with AK and hit the Ace? So I check. There were two flush draws on the turn, and the river is a very pretty offsuit King. He checks. Looks like a time for biggish value, so I bet ¾ of the pot. He calls pretty easily and grimaces at my hand.
The aggressive guy opens from the CO+1, I call out of the big blind with KhJh. Flop 762 with two diamonds. I check, he c-bets very small. I can’t represent much by raising but my hand has equity and the bet is tiny and I’m not afraid of playing this guy out of position and he will barrel some of my cards. I call, planning on leading turns on which I can represent a “protecting my hand” line. The turn is a King. Well, that worked out well. I check, he bets 2/3 of the pot, and I call. The river pairs the 6 and does not complete the flush draw. I check and he makes a big bet, 28k and change, probably more than ¾ of the pot. Why is he betting big against my perceived range? I take about two seconds, arch my eyebrows, and call. He crinkles his nose and moves his hand forward in a way that means “I missed.” I turn over my hand and he gives me an epic eye-roll. Yes, I check-called with King-high on the flop. No, I’m not saying the line is great. The old guys down at my end of the table congratulate me for putting the bluffer in his place, and it is comical, but I just nod and stack the chips. I am not endorsing my flop play in this hand, but at the table I couldn’t see a better option, as comical as that sounds. FWIW, the more I think about the hand, the more I think I could indeed have moved him off of Ace-high on plenty of boards.
There’s an older guy two to my left who wins a big pot. The next time I raise his blind, he says: “I have more chips now, so I’m going to start playing more hands.” He intends this as a deterrent to my blind-stealing, but it is the opposite.
Eventually I get moved to a third table. The players there are stronger. One of the strong players 5-bet/folds what he claims is AK for almost a third of his stack. Being a strong player is not useful unless you also plan to play well. That guy was a bad 5bet/fold target, and if memory serves his sizing was too big on the 5bet anyway. Also I think he actually did have AK, and unless I’m wrong it would have been better just to call the four-bet, but that is not my area of expertise.

After a while—I’d played no significant pots—I raised TT in EMP, got a caller directly to my left, and the big blind came along. Flop T44 with a flush draw, and the blind checks. Well, I’ve got the deck crippled, I’m not super deep (the pot is roughly 1/10 of my stack, and I cover the guy to my left), and I don’t think these guys are going to get fancy against me with weak holdings unless I let them. Also, if I check here it could easily appear to be a “give-up check.” So I “give up” and check and the guy to my left bets and the guy to my right folds and I call. The turn is small and offsuit and I check again and the guy to my left bets again and I raise and he calls. The river is an offsuit King and I shove for roughly half the pot and he folds.
It occurs to me that I’m messing up my tenses here: sometimes present, sometimes past. Sorry.
The fourth and final table featured Peter Jetten (“Apathy”) to my direct right. Better than my direct left, I suppose. He was actually less trouble than I feared in some respects: the guys to my left were pretty attractive targets for blind-steals, and he let some of those opportunities fall to me. We played four consequential pots, three of which follow:
In the first he raised from the SB and I called with K7s from the big blind. The flop came A66. He checked and I decided to bet. Against a weaker opponent I might check, but here I was happy to take down the pot the times his check was a give-up check. And he folded.
In the second pot he raised, I called with TT, and the blind came along. The flop came T97 with a flush draw. There was roughly 25k in the pot, I had 250k behind, and he covered. He bet 15k or so, I raised to 39k, the blind folded, and he called. My raise was designed to be part of a range including cheap steals, but if I had to do it again I think I'd make it more and give myself a better shot at doubling up. The turn was a brick. He checked, I bet 72k or so, and he folded.
In the third, he raised the cutoff+1. The button was ready to gamble and had a good reshoving stack, and the big blind was someone I very much wanted to play pots with. So I just called with KK. The button didn't find a hand to shove with, but the big blind did come along. The flop came 542 with a flush draw. The big blind led 7500 into 30k, Apathy called, and I called too. (Raising is better, but I was under the false impression that a three-bet from a worse hand was something to worry about.) The turn was an offsuit 8. The blind checked, Apathy bet 30k, I called, and the blind folded. 113k or so in the pot going into the river, an offsuit Ace. Apathy bet 75k, which I think is a good play with his whole range, and which I thought at the time would be a good play with his whole range. We were 200k deep effective, and I thought that GTO play probably dictated he shove his whole range. (But against me as he perceives me, 75k is probably enough.) I thought for a while and counted up some hand combinations and folded. There's a reason he's supposed to bet.
I also lost a pot right at the end of the night where I setmined unsuccessfully, so I was down to 220k by the end of the night. But it was a good day: 113 to 330 to 230 is just fine, I took advantage of my best table draw, I made mistakes but was pretty much always reacting to real facts in a fairly reasonable way, and I was playing with focus and confidence.
Also, right at the end of the day, a quiet European gentleman, who either had comically short arms or was dressed in such a way to make it appear that he had comically short arms, more than doubled his short stack up with JJ. He had been playing tight, and someone joked that he'd had a real tough decision there, sticking his money in by reraising two jacks. He raised his arms: "Best hand I've seen all day." He had been something of an empty seat during my time with him, but Martin Stazko is now the November Nine chipleader.
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07-22-2011 , 03:46 PM
Enjoying reading this.
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07-22-2011 , 04:33 PM
Wow amazing read thus far. Keep it up.
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07-22-2011 , 05:36 PM
I could read these all day. Fantastic writing, looking forward to the next chapter.
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07-22-2011 , 06:51 PM
Still great stuff!
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07-23-2011 , 10:23 AM
Wendy and I lolled at the Staszko bit. Great read overall, but shouldn't you be writing philosophy instead? Congrats on a great run in the ME. Let's overlap our trips next year.
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07-23-2011 , 10:56 AM
keep it coming.
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07-23-2011 , 04:13 PM
Day 4

The fourth day of the Main Event is in its own way like a long play or novel: many characters, many events, many motives and desires and plots, all structured around a single event. That event, that day, is the bubble. Talking about it; thinking about it; listening to Jack Effel talk about it; counting up the blinds and antes until it happens; trying to bully the people who are counting up the blinds and antes; subtracting 693 from the “players remaining” number on the official clock display; watching tournament staff wheel the cart of chip racks around as they break tables; glaring at people who are obviously stalling; wondering which is more offensive, the stalling or the smug self-satisfied facial expressions that accompany the stalling; learning, finally, to treat the stalling as a helpful opportunity for exercise in mental discipline and patience. The bubble is the unmoved mover of the Amazon Room on day 4, the ultimate cause or explanandum of every bet, raise, thought, bathroom break, or scurrying cameraman.

None of which is to say that everyone’s playing for the bubble, though anyone with two eyes and a working knowledge of ICM would make adjustments after seeing the pay schedule. It’s just to say that the bubble is the center of the collective psychology of the room. I’ve experienced this before: last year I came in with a comfortable stack and was cruising at 500k by the time we made the money. My memories of 2010’s day 4 are mostly battling over my blinds, defending them from Joseph Cheong and battling over them with *TT* on my left. The battles went well, with the help of a run of cards against *TT*, though I have no interest in making a living fighting over small pots with Cheong.

Day 4 goes less smoothly this year. I come into the day with only 230k and start losing chips quickly. (The starting stack is 30k; the average stack when the bubble bursts is just under 300k; the bubble figures to burst at the 2500-5000/500 level.) On the second hand of the day, at the 1500-3000/400 level, I raise the cutoff with AJ; the small blind moves in for 30k total with AT; I call; he hits a ten and wins; he talks a lot about it. This is the sort of guy who needs to defend his honor whenever he gets the money in as an underdog. I tell him “nice hand” and then stare at him; then I steal the blinds in the next hand; then I stare at the people who play the pot after that. I do a lot of staring.

After I lose a medium pot with 77 against 99, I’m down to 145k. A chance at chipping up easily has slipped away: although my 230k was merely average, it was among the biggest stacks at my table, which had been full of unthreatening, tight opponents. Now a third of my stack is gone and my comfortable table is breaking.

I move into the orange section, way back from the rail and near the doors, where I know (given the order they break tables) I’ll be an overwhelming favorite either to finish out the day or bust. Time to settle in. New stack, new table, new strategy. I am bound to a tight strategy by the combination of ICM arithmetic and the 90-pound, very aggressive, big-stacked European on my right. There appears to be a law of nature according to which aggression is inversely proportional to weight, in Europeans.

From there the play-by-play gets boring: Fold, fold, fold. Try to take the blinds, get reraised, fold. Fold some more. I make it to the 2500-5000/500 level with just over 100k. The European guy minraises, the Russian big stack calls, and I call one more 5k chip in the big blind with 77. The flop comes T9x and I check-fold to a bet and a call. Fold for a while, shove my 20 big blinds with KK, watch the Russian guy almost call me with 33, fold some more. The guy two to my left raises in early position with 88 and gets 3-bet by the aforementioned European. He shoves for 200k and change and gets called by AQ. Somewhere David Sklansky is wincing. The European guy pairs up to bust the guy with the 88 and he keeps on raising. He looks like Harry Potter, casting his spells with heavily accented English instead of faux Latin.

It feels as if I’m playing ridiculously, epically tight, but really I’m just playing plain-old tight. It’s a commonplace that online players have trouble adjusting to the pace of play in the Main Event. It is rarely observed that live players have trouble adjusting to the pace. Three-bet twice an hour and you are, statistically speaking, a maniac, because you only face a raise eight to ten times an hour. So my three hours of folding before the bubble bursts are more a psychological test than anything else.

Hand for hand, of course, makes things so slow we’re not really playing, just waiting, so for the only time all tournament I get into a conversation. Russ Rosenbloom is on my right, and he’s pleasant company. If you were reading RGP in 2003, you know about Russ, and maybe you do even if you weren’t. He’s a smart lawyer type who was way ahead of the curve, strategically, in the old days. Talking to him is instructive: because of his business dealings he knows all sorts of topics about which I’m completely ignorant.

The bubble, after a lot of minutes but not a lot of hands, bursts. I’m in the money. Our table is, thereafter, relatively rapid: maybe 20 hands an hour, though it depends a lot on the Russian’s mood. When he’s involved, things go slowly, though I don’t complain: it’s not so hard to deduce what he’s thinking from the sequence of his behaviors. It turns out that people fake instantaneous thoughts much more often than they fake sequences of thoughts. More than once I see a guy look at a 3-bet, slightly move as if to fold, furrow his brow, look some more, four-bet, and then get caught bluffing. Diachronic skepticism is more genuine than synchronic skepticism, I guess. I resolve to punish future episodes of diachronic skepticism.

After hand-for-hand and with the memories of day 2 fresh in mind, 20 hands an hour feels like 4-tabling heads-up online, pace-wise. Nothing resembling a playable spot comes along until I have 80k or so and shove K6s from the cutoff, which is a fine play normally and becomes trivially easy once I adjust for the fact that the button and big blind will be calling a bit too tight. The small blind moves in behind me for about 300k total, and it turns out he has AQ. I’m prepared to bust, but the flop comes KKT. I fade the straight draw and double up. The guy with AQ has, in some ways, the mannerisms of a highly professional player, but I start to doubt it after he both gets angry that he lost such a standard hand, and has to double-check what the odds were before the flop. He eventually makes a show out of telling me that he doesn’t blame me for pushing K6s before the flop. I nod.

A couple orbits and a few minor pots go by, and I have roughly 170k at 3k-6k/1k. The Russian guy opens from early position and I find KK two spots behind him. He’s been in a calm phase, which means he’ll have a real hand often enough, and I don’t think that jamming will induce any tight folds from him (or most anyone else, really), nor do I think that three-betting will give anyone behind me the idea to four-bet light. So I just stick it all in and then stare at my hands, as is my habit when I move in. The AQ guy looks at his cards behind me: “How much is it? 170k? [small pause] I’m all in.” I have KK, but I don’t like my hand any more. Sweating the board is one thing; waiting for the action to get back to you and for your instincts to be confirmed or disconfirmed is quite another. I stare at my hands while the Russian guy talks about maybe calling—his heart’s not really in it, though, you can tell; he’s going to fold. And he does.

I roll my KK and the other guy rolls his AA. No surprise. That was not the speech of a man with any fear at all. The dealer, though, is kind enough to spread a Kxx flop, and nothing happens on the turn or the river. Mr. AQ/AA is wailing, gesturing, indignant, cursing the gods. I am watching my stack get counted down and avoiding eye contact. The 9-seat claims to have folded a King, which means I found the last one in the deck.

That’s the last consequential hand I’ll play all day, but all sorts of exotic things happen at my table:

Exotic Thing #1

Rosenbloom busted bizarrely. He raised to 15k from early position and was called by Mr. AQ/AA. Then a fairly straightforward player made it 50k out of the small blind with 350k behind. Rosenbloom tanked and called, leaving himself only 75k behind. Mr. AQ/AA also called, leaving himself roughly 200k. The flop came 652 with a flush draw. The reraiser checked and Rosenbloom bet 62k, effectively all-in. Mr. AQ/AA folded quickly. The reraiser looked anguished: calculating the size of the pot, asymmetrically contorting his face, counting his stack, checking his cards, staring at the flop, and eventually leaning way way back in his chair, looking at the ceiling with wide eyes, asking—out loud—“Can I fold?”

This caused a problem, because an anguished “Can I fold?” sounds a lot like “I fold.” The dealer changed his posture and Rosenbloom exhaled and pushed his hand (his bodily hand, the one containing his poker hand) ten inches or so toward the muck. The reraiser started forward, thoroughly confused for a second, and then he figured out what was going on and began frantically explaining that he hadn’t folded. Rosenbloom got a look on his face that said: “like hell you didn’t fold.” Eventually a floor was called. Two of us heard “Can I fold,” and the floor ruled that the hand was live. After another minute the reraiser called with AK; Rosenbloom showed up with AQ.

(In case you’re wondering what I think of this hand: there is no chance it was an angle. The reraiser should have avoided mumbling things that could cause such confusion, but Rosenbloom should have protected himself better. You’ll notice that experienced live players tend to take an extra second in those spots to be sure—situations like this are one reason why. Also, he should have folded AQ to the reraise before the flop.)

Exotic thing #2

4k-8k/1k level. Russ’s seat was filled by a strong, friendly South African player. Near the end of the night the 9-seat—the guy who claimed to have folded the King on my KK/AA hand—open-raised from LMP, the next guy—who was the reraiser and mumbler from Rosenbloom’s bustout hand—called, and the South African reraised from the big blind. The 9-seat thought for a while and folded, intentionally exposing the Ah as he did so. The South African guy and I both immediately pointed it out. The other guy, perhaps not satisfied with the earlier dose of controversy, called.

Heads-up to the flop: Kd 7h 2h. The big blind checked and the other guy tanked. Think about his situation: he felt a bit guilty after the Rosenbloom hand, and here he is, sitting comfortably with over half a million, but playing a pot against a very good player who has almost exactly the same stack. Now he had to collect himself and figure out what to do against the three-bet / check-flop line, on a Kd 7h 2h board, with the Ah dead. After a long deliberation, he bet 75k, leaving a bit less than a pot-sized raise behind. The big blind moved all-in, and he snap-called. I was excited, both because of the drama and because I was very curious what the hands were. The big blind had JJ, but the caller had KQ, which held up. After they counted down the stacks, the big blind had only 4k left: after the ante, he couldn’t even post the full small blind the next hand. He won that pot, doubled up again, and thereby survived for a $5K pay jump, but he couldn’t make any more magic happen, and he busted before the end of the night.

During the aftermath of the big hand, the winner said to nobody in particular that he “wouldn’t have called if the Ace hadn’t been exposed.” Ouch.

Exotic thing #3

End of the night. The guy to my direct left has busted, and the seat has been filled by Kevin Saul and his big stack. The 9-seat open-raised from early position, Kevin reraised the button, and the 9-seat 4-bet for roughly 30% of his stack with what he later claimed was AJ. Kevin, after a while, made what looked like a tough fold. The 9-seat said that he’d made the play in part because Kevin had been tweeting about having executing so many aggressive plays. But Kevin said that he hadn’t been tweeting at all. So either someone was lying or the 9-seat had been prepared to stick 450k in with AJ from UTG+1 because of a mistaken Twitter inference.

Tomorrow (I hope): Day 5, which was in many ways less exotic but was the most intense day of poker I’ve ever played.
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07-23-2011 , 04:24 PM
this is an awesome thread.
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07-23-2011 , 06:19 PM
Originally Posted by Nate.
Day 4
There appears to be a law of nature according to which aggression is inversely proportional to weight, in Europeans.

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07-25-2011 , 01:24 AM

Many thanks for the kind words. It's nice knowing that some people have enjoyed reading this.

I'm still at work on day 5 (and my dissertation too, Phaedrus29). It should be up tomorrow.

All my best,

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07-26-2011 , 11:53 PM
you're so far ahead of the curve on your dissertation that its unacceptable to delay this thread for that

unless you are still working on the proposal, then you're merely on time and delaying is probably ok
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07-26-2011 , 11:54 PM
Originally Posted by reno expat
you're so far ahead of the curve on your dissertation that its unacceptable to delay this thread for that

unless you are still working on the proposal, then you're merely on time and delaying is probably ok
You're a reasonable man. I wonder if I can do day 5 in an hour.
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07-27-2011 , 01:30 AM
I have tried and failed to write meaningfully about day 5; it’s an instance of the general phenomenon whereby what’s most significant and interesting to you about your life is not what’s most significant and interesting to other people about your life; which in turn is an instance of the general phenomenon whereby being human is a strange fate.

Here’s why day 5 is so hard to write about: I have all kinds of vivid, intense memories; the poker was challenging and thrilling; I won and lost five figures of equity routinely. But my memories are mostly of things I was staring at but not directly participating in; other memories are of self-awareness at how much staring I was doing, or of the feeling of staring itself. I’ve never focused so hard for so long. This is all very pleasant and interesting for me to run through my own memory, but not much of it can be profitably transcribed here.

I played plenty of pots—one has no other option—but they were mostly blind-steals. My right-hand opponents had little propensity to fold to threebets, and I usually didn’t have the cards to 3-bet under those conditions. Judging one’s chances at a blind-steal’s working is fascinating stuff—it’s perhaps the central subject of tournament strategy, and a very interesting task over the table in real time—but the combinations of details have long since scattered in my memory. All I remember is the continual effort of doing it, and a heap of sensory details I don’t know how to assemble into what really happened.
So I’ll give the outlines of what happened, and then fill it in here and there with some of the more complete memories. The outline is: I came into the day with 320k at 5k-10k and I ended it with 900k going into 12k-24k. My day was influenced heavily by being on the direct left of Lars Bonding, who entered the day with millions and ended it with more millions. He opened a lot of pots, played fearlessly but with a lot of control, and showed the ability to do a lot of different things to get chips. If I get any television time, it will probably be for doubling through him twice, once routinely (3-bet shoving 77 over his LMP open and running into his AK) and once non-routinely (see below).

The table was full of smart, aggressive players, except for the annoying guy who stalled all day and inserted himself into every televised hand he could (by standing next to the players who were sweating the all-ins). It was fascinating both to figure out ways to get chips against them and to see how they adjusted to each other. One guy just melted down, I think, when he shoved 97s for 20BB against a button open. Now, shoving 20BB in with 97s when there are antes is almost never a truly bad play, but (a) I’ve reviewed the math and have decided that it was indeed poor, and (b) what was really gripping and significant at the time was the way he put the money in. He had been stoic for so long, and this hand he took much longer and was much more expressive: openly confused, obviously frustrated. Those are bad ways in which to be expressive when you’re about to shove nine-high. I really do think he just melted down.

Here’s the second double-up hand against Lars: at the 12k-24k level it folded to him, he completed, and I checked T5s. I had 420k behind and he covered me by a mile. As the flop came down I stared at him, but he was staring at me too. There was, naturally, a pause. After a second or two he said: “who looks first, you or me?” I didn’t answer: I’m not good at talking with good players during hands, so I don’t do that. “OK, me,” he said. He looked at the flop and tossed a single 25k chip into the pot. (Lars likes to have a physically large stack, so he tends to bet with high-denomination chips). I looked at the flop to find T53r. Yikes. I thought for a few seconds and raised to 68k. He called fairly quickly. The turn was a King. He bet 90k. Well, K5 and K2, along with various hands I beat, made some sense, but the bet was somewhat confusing. Thankfully, when you have two pair in a blind battle on a dry board, the stacks are not very deep, and your opponent does something unexpected, you still don’t have much cause for worry. The question was whether to call and call (almost) all rivers or to move in. I found little reason to call, so I moved in. He called quickly with K8s. I wasn’t expecting to see that, but there wasn’t much I was expecting to see. His flop play is unusual, but I suppose he put lots of straight draws in my range—that also makes some sense of the turn bet. Anyhow, I had a good long sweat, because we had to wait for the ESPN cameras to come over. While the dealer arranged the hole cards around the board cards, Lars asked for a three. (Of course he asked for a three. Everyone wants the exotic out.) The river was an Ace—Lars muttered “that’s why you don’t limp” as he paid me off.

Early in the day a middle-aged player, who seemed slightly weak and predictable, raised from MP; Lars called out of the big blind. I thought the raiser looked weak, so I had an easy three-bet with my 43o. The raiser looked uncomfortable and called the 50k more; Lars folded. The flop came AKx, I bet 78k, and he folded after a lot of fiddling with his chips. The dealer mucked the cards, which got him rebuked by the ESPN guys, who had wanted to record the hole cards with their little camcorder.

As the tournament went on, the room seemed to get colder. Perhaps it did in fact get colder; a plausible explanation is that 200 players plus rail generate less heat than 2000 players plus rail. Things are in equilibrium, however: with fewer players comes more efficient drink service, which allows for a steady supply of hot coffee and tea.

Two guys down at the other end of the table got very frustrated with the staller, and seemingly with live poker in general. By the day they were both enhancing the chore of shortstacking with alcohol and snide jokes. I’m sure they played their shortstacks acceptably, but ignoring everything that’s going on at the table is unacceptable, especially when they are each one hand away from not being shortstacked any more. I was happy with it, though, not only because it cost them money that would partially flow to me, but because I got the amusement of hearing one of them recount a hand in which he had bluffed off a big pile of chips to Lars—the bluff was terrible, and seeing him distort the story to make it sound good (“he could only have called with a boat or AQ!”) gave me a chuckle.

There is more to write, but I’m exhausted; I woke up in Wisconsin today and have driven to Milwaukee and flown to Boston. Tomorrow I’ll finish up day 5 and hopefully start day 6. Unfortunately, none of us have to worry about a day 7 recap.

Thanks for reading, and all my best,

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07-28-2011 , 10:45 AM
Great TR Nate looking forward to reading day 6!
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07-28-2011 , 10:56 AM
Great read. Very enjoyable. Just a thought on the Monte Carlo...very good location-wise, but the elevator movies constantly playing the Jabberwocky and Frank Calliendo ads tilt me. Look forward to reading more!
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07-28-2011 , 11:47 AM
Still excellent. Very much looking forward to Day 6 and the conclusion!

The way you captured the atmosphere at the Amazon Room in your OP was so amazing. Reading it instantly transported me to June 2010 when I was there. It's such a strange, chaotic silence.
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07-28-2011 , 12:04 PM
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Can't wait for the rest. In addition to sharing our passion for poker, I'd say you're a pretty talented writer.
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