Monday, July 6, 2015

What happened in Vegas.....2015

This is my seventh WSOP campaign, and the other six have more or less stuck to the same script. The one where I arrive full of optimism and leave about a month later, with my tail between my legs and my bankroll depleted after a series of bricks.

Wednesday June 17

This year I decided to try to change the script, by arriving here in the middle of the series, doing a 12 day stint of sides, followed by a week in New York to decompress and recharge the batteries, before heading back to Vegas for the main event hopefully refreshed. I timed my arrival so I got there in time to play the Seniors event, even if that meant "celebrating" my 50th birthday alone in three airports, two aeroplanes, and a room in the Gold Coast. While my transatlantic crossing was not as eventful as some previous versions it was not entirely without incident either.

I thought I had left myself ample time to check in and clear customs and border security in Dublin airport, at least until I saw the check in queue.

So a bit of a sweat but everything seemed ok until I found myself at the head of the queue waiting for the large family in front of me to finish up their business at the counter. As numerous as they were it turned out their number was missing one, and that was the cause of the delay. One of the smaller sons had wandered off in search of pastures new, and we were all awaiting his return. By the time the little ba ba black sheep reappeared we had passed the time beyond which the check in employee could say anything to me other than "You'd better run" with more than a trace of panic in her voice.

Run I most certainly did, knowing that anything but the most trivial of delays at border and custom control would cause me to miss my flight. There's always a sweat and it looked at first as if the border guard needed more than a cursory examination but in the end another brisk jog got me to the gate on time. Incredibly the very same family who had caused the delay at check in had allowed one of their brood to wander off again, but at least this time the airline person had the gumption to wave me past them.

I met Andy Black's partner Nicoline in McCarran airport and we shared a cab to my hotel. My plan to get on Vegas time was to convert most of the cash I had brought into docket form (by registering for everything I intended to play for sure) and wander around the Rio. I was surprised how excited I felt to be back in Vegas, given my excitement has waned down the years to the point I didn't even bother coming last year.  I ran into Gavin "Gavinator" O'Rourke who was already deep in the Mix Max event he ended up final tabling.

Thursday June 18

I decided to take the day off, kinda, to be fresh for the Seniors event. I went for my first run in Vegas this year, went for breakfast with my friend Aseefo and his friend also called Aseefo (who ruefully reflected that it had been ill advised of them to specifically request the Muslim meal on the flight over), watched a few training videos and livestreams, dropped over to the Rio to see how Gav was getting on, and otherwise just chilled and made sure I got a good night's sleep ahead of the Seniors, which had an ungodly 10 AM start the following day.

Friday June 19

I was up early to get a run in before a hearty breakfast and be in my seat for the Seniors before the shuffle up and deal. I attacked the event with gusto, hoping to hit the ground running and build a stack quickly. 20 minutes in, I was down half a starting stack and starting to realise that trying to run over Seniors and make them fold anything that might be or improve to best at showdown is not a good strategy. Thankfully this realization arrived in time to prevent me from dusting off the other half, and a refined strategy of waiting for strong hands and betting them hard worked much better. I recovered to over three starting stacks near the end of the day when a couple of marginal spots I pushed ran into monsters. No regrets though as I felt this was a good time to try to press on with escalating blinds and antes. After the ropey start I was pleased with my performance: hopefully I'll remember to start more sedately in my next Seniors.

Smidge moved in to share my room with me until his girlfriend arrived a few days later. I got a message from the charismatic Tatjana Pasalic asking if I could come on the livestream as a guest commentator on the Mix Max final table, which by now featured Gavinator. Unfortunately my bustout came too late in the day for that to be possible.

Saturday June 20

My next event was the $1500 Extended Play, which was basically a standard 1500 side event but with 90 minute levels rather than 60. This time I built a stack reasonably uneventfully, until an eventful final hour saw me lose it all in a series of standard spots. There's been a lot of talk of "improved" WSOP structures this year with starting stacks of 5 times the buyin rather than 3 times previously. In my opinion, these changes have been overstated. I'd almost go so far as to call them illusory.

The way I look at it is under the old structure, you started with 4500 chips in a $1500 buyin. The first level being 25/25, this represented a starting stack of 180 big blinds. If you got to level 2 (25/50) with that, you now had 90 big blinds. Under the new structure, you may get more chips, but with no 25/25 level, not only are the big blind numbers reduced to 150 (level 1) and 75 (level 2), but the antes also kick in one level earlier too.

Sunday June 21

Already feeling a bit jaded with live poker after two full but ultimately frustrating days on the bounce, I decided to take a rest from live. My third scheduled side event was meant to be event 45, a standard 1500 side starting on Monday. Playing some small live one day event didn't seem as prudent as resting up to be fresh for the 1500, so I went for a run, a fruity breakfast, watched some more videos and livestreams, and then signed up to and did a Sunday grind. My only cash was in a freeroll, and the schedule is very withered compared to back home, but it's a good thing not to have to go completely cold turkey as far as online poker is concerned.

Before I went to bed, I got another message from Tasha asking if I could do guest commentary on either the Seniors or Super Seniors final table. Checking the schedule I opted for the Seniors event, figuring I could do it before the start of my next scheduled side event the following day, and still be able to play that unless it ran longer than expected.

Monday June 22

Up early again for another run and breakfast (are you seeing a pattern yet?), I listened to the latest Thinking Poker podcast, a solo Andrew Brokos effort. I could definitely have done without his a capella version of the theme music, but the content was exactly what I needed to hear at the time. Talking about his own side event campaign, he emphasised the importance of focusing on performance and decision making (both in terms of at the table and game selection) rather than outcomes. So success in a tournament is related to being able to say that it was indeed a good tournament to enter, and playing as best you can, rather than the actual result.

I had a blast in the commentary booth. Part of my preparation for the WSOP involved religiously listening to all the commentary by David and his various guests, so it was somewhat surreal to find myself there, but I gave it my best shot. As a recently turned senior, I talked a bit about the fact that I think online poker is missing a trick by focussing almost all of its marketing effort at the young male demographic. When the WSOP first introduced the Seniors event a few years ago, there was a lot of pessimistic speculation about the kind of numbers it might attract. In fact it was an overwhelming success right out of the gate, attracting thousands more runners than a normal 1k side event. The event has gone from strength to strength since, to the point that the WSOP decided to introduce a Super Seniors this year (for Over 65s), which also attracted more runners than most other side events. This proves there is a large older market out there that online poker is missing out on: a point reenforced when on my starting table the subject came up and all but one of the players at the table said they didn't play online because "that's for young guys". At a time when the online poker industry is scratching its head in the face of declining numbers, I can't help but feel they could learn a lot from other entertainment industries that rely on disposible incomes. The music, film and TV industries all target young people, but they also understand there's a large older market that's worth chasing. It seems bizarre to me that an industry that ultimately depends on customers with both time and disposible income to spend playing a game not only neglects the one group of people who have both in abundance (retirees), but almost seems to go out of its way to exclude and alienate them by hammering home the message that online poker is for 19 year olds living in their parents basement.

I had mentally set a cutoff time for late registering the $1500 side event. It wasn't looking good early on as there were no eliminations, and with 5 left about 30 minutes before my cutoff I was more or less resigned to skipping the event. But the Seniors suddenly went into overdrive and dropped from 5 to 1 in almost no time, so I was able to scoot off and late register Event 45. I ended up having reasons to thank the Seniors for their haste.

To be continued.....part 2 coming soon

Related reading/listening

- Chat with Ben Jenkins before I left for Vegas on the Full Tilt blog
- My Irish Open report for Bluff Europe
- Piece on game theory (Bluff Europe)
- My first stint in the commentary box on the Seniors final table with David Tuchman



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