Day 2 of the mainAfter a rest day, I was ready for day 2. A Hendon mob perusal of my opponents revealed that apart from Jason DeWitt and an Asian to my immediate left with some WSOP pedigree stretching back over a decade, the rest of the table seemed to be very recreational, with most of them having only a handful of cashes in small buyin events. I quickly realised this was not the case entirely when one of the supposed "two Daily Deepstack min cashes but nothing else" guys announced in a Welsh accent that he knew who I was. After correctly identifying me as SlowDoke he confessed to being sngwonder, and I realized his first name (Owain) had been misreported.
Getting trapped down the mine?So, not an ideal seat with an Asian with a good WSOP pedigree to my immediate left, an online beast (Owain) to his immediate left, and a bracelet winner (Jason DeWitt) to his immediate left. The first interesting spot came relatively early. At 250/500 I min raised tens under the gun playing 24500. The Asian player flatted, and then Jason squeezed to 3300. Folded back to me, I was already hating the spot as I ran through the options:
(1) calling would be the default option to a smaller sizing, but 2300 seemed a little too much to be putting in basically set mining against two highly skilled opponents, and given I wasn't closing the action there was a danger I might not even get to the mine if the other player was trapping with a monster (or even if he was holding AK and decided there was now enough out there to rip it in)
(2) raising seemed unappealing as it would probably just fold out everything worse and be in trouble if I got 5 bet. I'd probably have to fold if I did get 5 bet, so I'm basically turning tens into a bluff when that happens, which doesn't seem great (I'd rather do it with a hand like ATs which blocks some of the 5 bet range and flops better against the call 4 bet range)
(3) folding seemed very weak given how often tens will be the best hand
I eventually did fold after considering some other factors. The Asian player seemed competent and had exactly the right stack size to trap call the top of his range. Jason had no idea who I was (he had already tweeted he recognised nobody at the table), so he was playing against my live unknown image of random old guy, rather than my somewhat different online image. That means that tens is close enough to the bottom of my perceived range that I can fold it without being exploited. While he was playing aggressively opening a lot of pots this was his first threebet, and when the big chips went in post flop he'd always had it, so I figured while he obviously has a light squeeze range in this spot, it might not be as wide as it needs to be for me to go to war with tens.
This was the hand I was most unsure about this summer in Vegas so I immediately ran it by the brains trust. I asked 4 different people and got three different opinions. Daragh was quite adamant that calling was the only play. Jason felt calling was the worst play, and four betting (to fold to a 5 bet) was marginally better than folding (which he also felt was ok). Both David and Timmy favoured folding. I guess the fact that I asked 4 top class pros and got three different answers indicates that it's a very close spot.
Tens againThe rest of my day 2 was a struggle to get anything going. The cold 4bet was my only friend, and I hovered around starting stack until my exit. I opened tens in the hijack to 1600 at 400/800. Jason DeWitt threebet to 4600 from the small blind. This time there was no question of tens getting folded. Any reasonable four bet would commit me and it seemed a bit too much to just shove. It's also difficult to see him continuing with many worse hands or folding many better hands so this time I did feel calling was the only play.
The flop came 973 with two clubs, he cbet small, I shoved, and when he snap called I thought I might be almost dead. Actually I was in good shape against k7, at least up until the point a king hit the river, ending my involvement in this year's main event. Although I was obviously disappointed to be out, I was a lot less so than every other year. I guess the result in event 45 was a bit of a monkey off my back, but I also felt I'd done all I could given what I was given to play with in the main event.
Some bubbly fun and a cool chat with a cool cal
I was back 24 hours later to sweat the bubble. A carefully selected dozen swaps and buys and the only one still in running was country ghetto superstar Carlos Welch in his first big buyin event. Carlos nursed the short stack from a long way out and it was a fun rail, complete with a comedy guitarist ("bubble time/some people gonna be happy/some people gonna cry/some people gonna tell me to shut up") and Andrew Brokos.
Once the bubble had burst I was walking out with the intention of coming back to check on Carlos at the next break, but got pleasantly waylaid. I ran into Calvin Anderson and had a very enjoyable chat with him about poker. Cal is one of the people in poker I respect the most as a player and as a person so hearing his perspective was a definite highlight. We chatted til the break, then I went back to check on Carlos. Railing Carlos is a fairly low stress activity that mostly involves watching him fold his hand preflop, then sit immobile til he's given another two cards to fold. However, as he failed to head for the rail at the break and it was just him and one other player left at his table, I realised he must be in a hand. I got there just in time to see his pocket sevens get slowrolled by aces (apparently the second time that day the live pro lady in question had pulled that trick) and not get there. Nevertheless, amazing performance by Carlos and a well deserved cash.
Also a big well done to all the Irish who did manage to cash, especially Nick Abou Risk (in his second deep run) and Declan Connolly. The biggest compliment I can pay Declan is that literally everyone I know predicted Declan would go deep immediately upon hearing he had bagged up over 100k.
RecoveryThe rest of the trip was spent chilling out. Or at least I didn't play another hand of poker. One thing I picked up from my running coach was the preparation for your next race starts the second after you cross the finishing line of your last race. The faster you can recover and get back to productive training, the better. That's an approach I've tried to bring into poker. This year, once I knew I was coming to Vegas, I prepared as best as I could, not just at the table but away from it. I went back into serious running training to ensure I got to Vegas in the best possible physical shape. I did some work with hypnotherapy and meditation to try and peak mentally. I ate healthily before and as healthily as I could in Vegas. I didn't abstain from alcohol entirely but did stick to a 2 drink maximum policy.
I also worked on my game a lot, particularly my defence. Like most games poker is a mixture of attack and defence (or offence and defence as the Americans call it). When you are playing against players who are not as good as you, you basically need the best possible offence to exploit their leaks. When you run into players as good or better then you, you need a good defence to avoid being exploited yourself. My offence has always been pretty good (my online success down the years is largely based on picking apart the game of weaker players with the help of a HUD) but in the last couple of years I've made it a priority to shore up my defence. I have no doubt that in previous years the really elite players found me pretty easy to exploit. By putting a lot of thought and effort into studying game theory as it applies to tournament poker I believe I've shored up my defence to the point that even the very best players don't have a major edge over me any more. The great thing about playing game theoretically optimally is if you can manage it then nobody can exploit you no matter how good they are. You may even get to exploit them if they don't realise in time what you are doing and stick to exploitative strategies that are themselves exploitable. The not so great thing about it is that if you stick to it too rigidly, then you're basically playing break even poker against other players doing the same, and while you will be profitable against weaker players, you won't be as profitable as someone who understands how to attack specific weaknesses. Like all games that combine attack and defence, it's crucial in poker to understand when is the time to attack, when the time to defend, and when you should combine a bit of both. While my defence (GTO understanding) was stronger than ever in Vegas this year, there were definitely times when I concentrated on defending when I should have been attacking (most notably at the start of the Seniors). I think I managed to at least partially correct this in running in the Seniors, and by the time I got to event 45 I was more intent on the best way to exploit my opponents tendencies than simply having a protect all defence to prevent my own exploitation.
I made four divergences from GTO on the final table, and knew I was diverging at the time, but went with what I was convinced were better exploitative lines. Having sat down since to analyse all four spots in detail, the math is telling me I was correct in all four spots if (and admittedly this is a very big if) my assumptions of opponent ranges were correct. It heartens me that I got them right in game when I obviously couldn't work out the math in detail on the spot, and going forward I hope I'll be able to make those judgement calls routinely.
Getting back into shapeThe next day after my exit from the main, I went for three runs. The process of physically recovering from Vegas and getting into top shape for next year was begun. I got back to work analysing the tricky spots I'd encountered, I read some theory, and I watched some videos. Event 45 might end up being the closest I ever get to winning a bracelet, but I don't want it to be for lack of trying or working.
I left Vegas feeling fresher and happier then ever before (hardly surprising given I had not only booked my first ever winning trip but washed away the losses incurred in all previous trips with punitive interest) but also more enthusiastic and determined to prepare for next year than ever before. It wasn't just the outcome: this time I enjoyed the process, the minutae and overall,experiences of the trips. I got to meet lots of great Americans like Carlos, Cal, Pesh, Nate, Mark and David Singer. I got to hang with lots of great friends like Jason, Joy, Fergal, Albert, Shiner, Ulduffer, Seamus, Jesse, Dermot, Neil, Andy, Nicoline, Ian Simpson, Kevin Williams, Mike Hill, Michael O'Dwyer, Yifei, Chi, Timmy and Smidge. I had a blast on the livestream with David Tuchman, Tatiana, Mike Leah and Ash. I was genuinely heartened by the support that flooded in through the social media from home, perhaps best summed up by this tweet.
It wasn't just all good, it was all bloody great. But I'm a greedy old bastard so I won't stop hoping next year could be even better.
Related reading/listening:- Country ghetto superstar Carlos Welch
- Episode 130 of Thinking Poker podcast recorded while my FT was happening in real time
- TournamentPokerEdge podcast interview with Carlos
- My Thinking Poker podcast appearance