Friday, July 17, 2015

WSOP Main event 2015 (part one)

The plan

As I've mentioned before on this blog, my WSOP plan for this year was a three phase one:
(1) a 12 day stint in the Gold Coast concentrating on selected side events starting with the Seniors and ending with the 50/50
(2) five days of rest and recovery in New York with my wife who flew in from Dublin
(3) back to Vegas with her for a 9 day stint in the Rio for the main event

New York was as restful and fun as we hoped. We stayed with our friends Russ and Nancy who have an apartment near Central Park. I went for a run in Central Park which was something of a trip down memory lane (I kickstarted my career as an ultra runner when I won the New York ultra by running 9 and a half laps there 9 years ago faster than anyone else on the day). We visited the Museum of Modern Art (watched on Periscope by a few dozen people including reported Periscope fanatic Phil Laak), went to some nice restaurants (shoutout to Tatiana Pasalic for recommending Eataly), and I lay on Russ and Nancy's sofa for most of the rest of the time (occasionally watched on Periscope by Phil Laak: he must really be addicted).

The final stretch

So, back to Vegas feeling refreshed. Before the main I had the WPT500 at the Aria, the only poker I played in Vegas this year outside the Rio. This was a multiple day one affair, and I got there just in time for the last (turbo) leg. Bizarrely Smidge arrived to my immediate left. I made a good start when a guy who seemed very impatient to get all his chips in the middle did so squeezing with k6o after I opened kings and Smidge flatted. But in a turbo things can change fast and a couple of lost flips later I was walking back to the Rio.

A meet up in an alley

The following day I went to the Thinking Poker meet up held in the suitably nitty environs of the Gold Coast bowling alley. It was a lot of fun meeting up with some of the American listeners to the podcast. In particular I had a good long natter with Mark Simmerman, who I found pretty fascinating given that he's only a little younger than me, has only been playing seriously since February, and is already somewhere on the playing ability spectrum between Serious Amateur and Pro (something he proved by cashing the main event later in the week). I guess it's not too surprising that he's gotten good a lot quicker than I or anyone else I know given he comes off a track record of successfully applying himself to various areas such as business and the military. Very interesting and cultured guy who has travelled pretty extensively (he did a tour of duty in Afghanistan as recently as 2010).

Day 1 of the main

The next day was my day 1 of the main, day 1c. Apart from my commentary box buddy Mike Leah and a few other good players I don't think I could have asked for a better table draw, as it felt like one of the softest tables I have had in the WSOP main. Unfortunately, I think I was also dealt the worst ever distribution of starting hands I've had in a main event, so the whole day was a constant struggle to get anything going. When I made moves with sub premium hands in what seemed like good spots, I seemed to run into hands more often than not.

The most interesting hand I played all day was against a player I identified as the least experienced and most nervous at the table. He was refusing to get involved in table talk, choosing instead to hide behind those Blue Shark optic glasses most nervous amateurs seem to favour. His hands were shaking violently any time he was in a pot, and he appeared to have different hand motions for moving chips into the pot depending on whether he was strong, weak, or somewhere in between.

Because of all this, I had identified him as the one guy I most wanted to play pots against, so my range was significantly wider than normal when he opened, or was big blind. This wasn't working out great for me because he was 4 seats to my right and 5 to my left so not too many hands were getting to me where he had opened, and when he was big blind I had quite a few players to get through, at least two of whom had also clearly decided he was the guy they most wanted to play pots against (so I was getting isolated or flatted in position a lot). Most of the hands we did play were ones he opened into my blinds. Most of those I flopped little or nothing and he seemed very happy with whatever he had. Since he hadn't shown himself to be the type of guy to fold anything decent post flop I just gave up when that happened. So mostly he won a bunch of small pots against me.

I managed to recoup all those losses with significant interest in this one hand late in the day. He opened when folded to him (which he seemed willing to do with something close to any two cards at this stage: he was running very well and picking up quite a lot of chips when people tried bluffing him: at this stage he was clear chipleader on the table) and I found ATo in the big blind. My hand is strong enough to threebet but I chose to stick to my strategy of keeping pots small until I was sure I had the best of it post flop, so I just flatted.

The flop came Q64cc and we both checked quickly. I wasn't sure I had the best hand (his checking range in these spots seemed polarised between monsters and hands he was giving up on) but figured I usually had since the only monsters he can really have are sets. I thought he'd bet all decent draws, and any one pair hand (for protection).

The turn was an offsuit ten and I checked again. Since I ruled out flush draws and strong straight draws. On the flop, it's pretty much a spot where I'm miles ahead or miles behind, so I want to check for pot control when I'm miles behind and want to bluff catch or encourage him to think a worse one pair hand is good when I'm ahead. He did bet, which was no surprise given his tendency to bluff far more turns than flops. What was surprising was the sizing: he bet approximately 150% of pot. The fact that this was his first overbet all day threw a wrench in my thinking and I needed to think about what it might mean.

It struck me as a pretty polarising spot where he probably has the nuts (he might play queens this way: checking the flop to trap or let me catch something, but then go big on the turn to try to make up for the missed street of betting) or a worse hand than mine that's just trying to muscle me out of a pot where I appear to have little or nothing having declined to threebet preflop, and bet twice post flop. I was watching his hands like a hawk given the apparent hand tells he was giving off (luckily Blue Shark glasses can't do anything about those) and pegged the one he used on this occasion as the "has something but doesn't feel great about it". I considered raising in case he has something like kj or j9, but decided to just call and evaluate on the river. Even with those hands he's going to miss a lot more often than not, and given how passively I had played the hand to this point, there was a good chance I could print money picking off river bluffs to more than compensate for the times he gets there.

The river was a total brick and he again overbet when checked to. I think I knew I was calling given my read on the turn and the fact that his river bet hand motion seemed to be the weak one, but I needed a few seconds to prepare myself for how stupid I was going to look if my read was wrong calling down the guy who hadn't overbet all day with second pair and crippling myself in the process. When I called he turned over his cards quickly. I couldn't actually see them at the far end of the table (again, awful Modiano cards this year), so Mike Leah helpfully chirped "9 high". So he'd turned a gutter and followed through when he missed on the river, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I raked in my biggest pot of the day.

That pot alone meant I bagged up more than starting stack (by the minimum possible margin, one ante chip), which felt like a real result after a long tough grind of a day. Afterwards there was a fair bit of discussion among the Irish, most of whom had played 1c. It has been a very bad day for us collectively compared to the smaller numbers who played 1a or 1b (at least three of whom bagged up over 100k), but the general impression I got was we had just run badly and it was still a good day to play. Certainly in my own case I felt I would have bagged up a lot more chips at almost any other seat on my table.

Related reading/listening

- TPE live podcast featuring Carlos Welch 



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