Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Leaving Las Vegas (for now)

It's a Wednesday afternoon in Vegas. I'm sat at a poker table playing my last event of the WSOP, the Little One Drop. Late the previous day I bust the Main event, and sulked off home. I know from past experience that it's not a good idea to play something else the day I bust the main, but I wake up ready to get on with life the next day.

After I fold my latest garbage, I look down at my IPad to read the latest updates from the main on the WSOP blog. I read that the WSOP's favourite pantomime villain, Will Kassouf has just bust the main much to the delight not just of his own table but pretty much the whole room, who stood and applauded his demise. I know Will quite well (we even had him on the Chip Race) and have almost found him friendly and likable so I'm thinking "Kinda harsh", when I hear a familiar chirping voice above me.

"Well look who it is! Mahvellous. Now we've got a game"

I look up and do a double take as I find myself looking at the same face from my IPad. Will, obviously made of sterner stuff from me, has gone straight from having his demise greeted by a standing ovation to late regging the Little One Drop. The next few hours, I'm treated to the Will Kassouf show, essentially a rerun I've seen many times already, with little or no new material. 9 high like a boss. Good fold. Save your money, I know I'm ahead. You've only got one out if you call, the door. Coconuts. But a handful of fans on the rail lap it up like the greatest hits of a declining lounge nostalgia act.

I'm card dead through it all, until I find a good spot on the button. 17 big blinds, ace queen suited, a late position raise, I'm all in.

Will has the chips ready to call the open but stops in his tracks when I shove. He starts the speechplay, designed to figure out where I am on my range. I say nothing. He rabbits on, looking for a reaction. I'm now certain I'm ahead or at worst in a flip. Any better hand has called by now, and probably had to at least think about three betting the open rather than preparing to snap call. So I try to look nervous to get the hands I dominate in.

Eventually he does call, and it is a hand I dominate, ace two suited. I'm quite surprised to see this hand. I figured I could get some worse aces in, but not all the way down to ace two. But I know from past experience that while Will has a lot of strengths, basic understanding of preflop equities and short stack play is not one of them. This is a pretty common leak a lot of live pros have. I know that Will doesn't really grind online, so despite having live results stretching back a decade (at time of writing, he's averaged roughly 7 live cashes a year over his career according to Hendon Mob so he also hasn't a ton of experience deep in big tournaments), he doesn't find himself in these spots as often as your typical online grinder who plays twenty thousands tournaments a year. He's also never played headsup (except his match with Stacy Matuson last year in Rozvadov where he was roundly trounced and surprised viewers by how weak he played), which is where a lot of grinders build their short stack shove/fold range muscles.

An online grinder probably finds himself in this spot a few hundred times a year, so he quickly learns A2s is an awful call. The problem is you are just dominated so much, but even against an any two card shove, A2s isn't much better than a flip such as queens against ace king. Against my actual range in this spot, A2s is more than a two to one underdog, because it's dominated so often.

As I prepared to table my hand, Will made another comment that suggested he doesn't understand preflop equities: "Just don't show me an ace". Apart from the fact that any ace I have dominates him, so do all my pairs, which should also worry him. Against my hand, he has only 29% equity, but even if I roll over pockets fives, he's still worse than a two to one dog.

Online players quickly learn this the hard way if necessary, but live the sample is never big enough. You don't find yourself in the spot often enough to have a huge incentive to go off and study the exact equities. You make the call once, and you might even get lucky and win and think you made the right call.

Which is what happened on this occasion. He flopped two pair, turned a house, and as I shook hands and wished him continued good luck he said something to the effect that he was sad to see me go as I'm a nice guy.

Hopefully he still thinks that.

Last chance salon

I fired another bullet at the Little One Drop the following day. There's not much to say about it except that it ended appropriately enough in another lost flip near the close of play. A ten on the river brought down the curtain on a pretty miserable WSOP campaign for me.

I've compared a long WSOP campaign to a typical Sunday online in the past, but there are some crucial differences. In point of fact I actually play at least twice as many tournaments in a Sunday as I did in my 6 weeks in the desert. The WSOP tournaments are also obviously a lot bigger and more prestigious, and take longer, so it's harder not to get emotionally invested when it's the thing your entire day is based around, and the highlight of your year, rather than just another box on the screen to be quickly replaced if you bust.

Another key difference I only became aware of as the barren summer went on was how much harder it is to keep perspective on the big picture when you're showing up day after day to do your job as well as possible, and not only are you watching it end every time in a bad beat or a lost flip, but all around you players who put a lot less hard work into their preparation and honing their skills are luck boxing their ways to big stacks and scores. It is of course the height of silliness and futility to envy the success of others in poker (unless they are better than you and your jealousy drives you to work hard to emulate them), but it's also human nature. Entitlement tilt and a sense of injustice is very hard to shake off when a little voice in your head is saying "You worked harder than anyone preparing for this, you've logged tens of thousands of hours of study to get to this point, you've whipped yourself into better physical shape than most guys half your age, only to show up here, lose all the key flips, and go home poorer". But that's poker, and if it weren't so it wouldn't be long term profitable, because the weaker players pouring alcohol into themselves at the table while they splash around making bad play after bad play wouldn't keep playing if it wasn't possible for positive variance to paper over all their flaws in the short term.

In the long term, I've been amply rewarded for my efforts in poker. I've made millions online, chopped a WSOP event, a Super Tuesday, a European Deepstack, come close to winning an EMOP a UKIPT a WPT and a GPPT, won two majors and six online Triple Crowns, and a few weeks before I headed to Vegas final tabled a SCOOP. This year's WSOP is but a  fraction of 1% dip in a career graph that has trended up and up over a decade. I've been a bit spoiled by my last three campaigns which each included a deep run (2nd, 9th, 13th) to the point that this campaign feels a lot worse than it actually was. Five cashes, but only one day two.  But if I'd won even my fair share of flips I'd almost certainly be looking back on this campaign as a latest career highlight, and patting myself on the back for having executed so well. I take a lot of consolation from the fact that as bad as it felt to run that bad, I never let it affect my actual play. I went the entire series without a single major mistake, and kept the minor ones to a  handful. I found some very good folds, calls and raises at times when I could have just let myself think "What does it matter? I'm still going to lose the key flip or get a bad beat".

As I left the house where I had spent the previous six weeks, I could still feel the disappointment at how it had all gone down, a painful contrast to the buoyant optimist who walked into the house looking forward to spending the summer with Andrew and Carlos. When I got to the airport, the contrast switched to one with the feeling of accomplishment I felt leaving Vegas in recent years after successful campaigns. But then I remembered my first two departure lounge experiences in McCarran airport. Back then, I felt not just disappointment, but fear. Fear that I wasn't good enough to make it ever in this game. Fear that my livelihood was under existential threat. Fear that I would be one of the ones who wouldn't be back the following year. Fear that I left as a loser, and a loser I would remain.

This year I leave a loser (in the sense that I lost money this year in Vegas), but a winner in another sense. Knowing that I've made enough money in my career to allow me to keep coming back every year for as long as I want on my own terms, without having to beg for a stake or worry that my losses could threaten my financial wellbeing or that of my family. Knowing that I'm still good enough to compete with the best. Knowing that I still want it enough to keep working as hard if not harder than ever before.

Several years ago, I wrote that every year in Vegas there are players having their last Vegas without realising it.

I feel pretty confident that I was not one of those players this year.

Unless I die.


It seems so difficult to be a professional tournament player. Both physically and emotionally.
It seems todays Tournament pros have to constantly reinforce their past accomplishments in order to keep their sanity. Honestly, the past is gone, the future is uncertain, only the now is important. Personally, I always admired the old school gambler. They always had other avenues of income, tireless grit, relentless bravado, and more importantly, no entitlement issues.

Very cool perspective, thanks Christopher


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More