Monday, May 14, 2018

Folding My Way Up The Ladder

(Second of Two Parts)

Part 1 is here.

We pick up at the Commerce tournament after I mentioned I went levels 12, 13, 14 and 15 without writing down a hand.  Now things got confusing for me because it turned out that the structure sheet that Commerce had for this tourney had an error on it.  There was a level missing.  I was really surprised that they made a mistake like that.  I meant to comment/ask them about it but I never got around to it.  Also, the structure sheet was really only for day 1 and they didn't even have a structure sheet for day 2.  And another error….it turned out that for day 2 the levels were 30-minutes, but this information wasn't listed anywhere.

Anyway, from here on out, I'm not really sure what level I was at or what the blinds were.  I'll do the best I can.  According to my notes, we are now at level 16 (2,500/1,500/2,500) with $20,500.  And I opened shoved with pocket 8's.  I got called by the big blind with Ace-Jack.  The board was all bricks and I got a double up.

That got me to $48,500 but by the time we got to level 17 (3K/2K/3K) I was down to $41K.  I shoved Ace-Jack of spades and was called by a shorter stack with Jack-10 off.  A Jack hit the flop and my kicker won the pot. 

I didn't make any notes about how close we were to the money.  This flight ended up with 520 players, it was the biggest flight of the series (because it was the last one and also because it was Saturday). There was a print out that showed 50 players advancing to day 2.  I didn't realize until I got home that it was only for the first three flights, it didn't include the Friday flight. Turns out there were 72 players who had previously advanced.  For this flight, 64 would be paid and 42 would survive to day 2.

So I'm not sure what level it was but I had $53K and that was short.  I needed a double up.  I peaked at my cards one at a time.  The first one was a King.  Believe it or not, I was so desperate that I was actually hoping the other one was a King too.  Yes, I was praying for the dreaded pocket Kings.  And my prayers were answered.  Even better, a big stack had raised in front of me.  I shoved and it folded back to him.  He tanked for a long time. As long as he didn't snap call I was happy.  I wanted him to call. I figured I'd either have my double up or I'd had have another dreaded pocket Kings story.  But after a long think, he folded.

Then the last hand of whatever level it was, I got Ace-King and shoved.  A shorter stack called and turned over pocket 7's.  There was a beautiful King in the window. That got me up to $115K.  And I had to post the blinds as the next level began and that brought me down to about $100K so the blinds must have been 5,000/2,500/5,000. 

I opened to $10,300 with Ace-5 suited but had to fold to a big stack that shoved.

But somehow, without any cards, I was outlasting a lot of players.  As we neared the next break, the player count dropped below 70.  I can't recall exactly what the last count I saw when we went on break, but it was really close to the money.  Maybe 66-67.  I assumed we would be hand-for-hand when we came back.

As best as I can calculate, we were going to break before level 19 where the blinds would be 6k/3k/6k.  And my stack as I left for the break was $89K.  But right before we started that level after the break, they announced we were in the money!  Hooray!  Not only was I gonna cash but we avoided the whole dreaded "hand-for-hand" play which is so excruciating.  And it happened so quickly I didn't even have to have the debate with myself about whether to go extra nitty for the min-cash or try to take a few risks to build up the stack.  I was just playing the game as the cards dictated—which was almost always to fold cuz I was getting such crap.  I overheard one of the floors or players saying that two players busted on the same hand—last hand before the break—which means they weren't keeping up with running count accurately on the clock.  I think they were busting too fast to keep up.  It's almost like they did that intentionally so all the players wouldn't see how close we were to the bubble and go into survival mode.  I don't think it was intentional, just a function of the size of the tournament.  I guess.

Anyway, that was one worry out of the way, now I had to try to get some chips so I could survive and come back Sunday—hopefully with enough chips to actually play with.

But still most of the hands played themselves—instafold.  But the first hand back from break and in the money I looked at King-Queen and opened to $15K.  No call.

I called $12K with pocket 9's and it was heads up.  Whiffed the flop but he didn't bet.  Blank on the turn, still no betting.  There was an Ace on the river and this time he bet $22K.  Sure it looked like he had a big Ace and caught it on the river.  But I had a feeling he saw the Ace as a scare card for me and was trying to steal it.  Still not sure my 9's were good but I made the call.  I was right, he said "good call."  He had a couple of Broadway cards that the board had missed.

A guy with a ton of chips opened to $15K and I called with Ace-King.  I guess I was at a point where I should have been ready to risk my tournament life with A-K, but I thought I had enough chips to play poker with.  I probably should have three-bet shoved.  The flop was Queen-Jack-X and neither of us bet.  On the blank turn, I bet $4,500 with my gutshot, hoping to take it down there.  But he called.  The river blanked and this time he made a big bet, and with Ace-high I of course folded.  He showed King-Queen.  I guess the preflop shove was the right play, although in this case he had enough chips to call and would have hit.

They finally broke our table and I moved to a new one, seat 5 at a table where there was no room for me to squeeze in, between how tight the tables were packed, the fact that on one side of the seat was a very heavy man and on the other side was an older gentleman whose cane was in the way.  Plus there were drink carts on either side.  I think it would have been easier for me to have crawled under the table to get to my seat.

By this time I got to the new table, we were down to just one or maybe two players left to bust before we'd bag for day 2.  And I realized my stack was really too short to be a contender on day 2.  I didn't get any cards, but I should have found more risks to take to either get a double up or bust then, take my $360 and avoid a long drive back to Commerce on Sunday.  It really was a mistake to play that Ace-King hand so timidly.

With only one or two hands left, I had to make my move. I was in early position and if there was any possible way I could put all my chips in the center, I had to.  Fortunately, UTG +1 I got lucky and found pocket Jacks.  There was no way I wasn't getting it all-in there.  The huge stack on my right made a normal opening raise, and I wasted no time in saying "all-in."  I actually wanted a call, maybe two.  A double up, or maybe a triple up would have made it worth it to return the next day.  If I busted I saved myself a Sunday and still would leave with a profit for a long day of poker.  The old man on my left talked a whole lot (he had a good hand, etc), counted his chips (he had me way covered) and I was sure he was gonna call…but he finally let it go.  Quick fold around the table until it was back on the guy on my right.  I was sure he'd call, he could afford to lose what I bet.  But I guess he was betting light.  Remember, I had just gotten to the table, didn't have any idea what he had done to get that impressive stack.  He didn't take long to fold.  I was actually disappointed.

As they dealt the next hand, they announced that we were done, this was the last hand before we'd bag.  UTG, I looked down at 9-2 off.  I suppose if it was suited I might have shoved (just kidding) but I couldn't do anything but fold.  I started counting my chips.  It was $111K.  The big stack after the first three days was $582K.  There 14 players on that sheet with less including the ultimate short stack who had $17K.  But remember there were players advancing from day 4 that weren't included on that sheet, which I didn't know at the time.

The bagging procedure was a bit different, and a lot simpler, than the times I've bagged and tagged in Vegas.  We just took the bags and wrote our names, home town, and player's card # on the bag.  The times I've done this before, they give you a two part slip to fill out, one part goes in the bag and you keep one part which is your receipt.  I realized after I left the room I didn't have a receipt for my chips—or the money I was entitled to!  I had nothing to show if there was some dispute, and they owed me at least the day 2 min-cash, which I assumed was more that the $360 that they were paying this day.

I was a bit ambivalent about the results.  On the one hand, I was really proud of the way I (mostly) played all day (over 8 hours) to have made the money, made day 2, especially considering how card dead I was all day.  On the other hand, I had probably an hour's drive back the next day, a beautiful Sunday, and was feeling like I'd most likely play one hand, bust out, and head back home for another hour's drive, just to get a few extra bucks than I could have left with that night if I'd only had the good sense to bust ten minutes before we broke for the night.  I guess the key would be how much the day 2 min-cash was going to be, because that was what I was expecting. 

But it was great getting all the tournament practice in before heading to Vegas for all those series tournaments I expect to play there.  That was invaluable. 

Fortunately traffic was not bad on the way home, and when I fired up the ol' PC I saw that Commerce had already listed the chip counts and the seating assignments for day 2.  That's when I figured out that there was a flight missing from the hand-out they were giving out that day.

There were 114 total playing day 2 (plus 4 stacks taken out of play because players played multiple days and qualified twice).  The biggest stack was still $582K and the smallest stack was still $17K.  My stack was tied for 82nd, obviously not good. 

Of course first I had noticed the payouts.  The total prize pool was $292K and first place was worth $46K.  But I was looking at the bottom.  The day 2 min-cash was only $470.  Really?  I have to say I was (as usual) disappointed.  I mean when the day 1 min-cash is so measly—a mere 50% above the buy-in, it seems to me you could at least figure out a way to give everyone who had to come back for a day 2 the double the buy-in I think should be mandatory for the regular min-cash of a one-day tournament. It just seems that with that big prize pool spread out over 118 players (not counting however many players got the day 1 min-cash and were gone), I think that min-cash should have been $480 at the absolute minimum.

But no one cares what I think.  What that $470 represented was $110 extra I'd get on day 2 than if I'd busted in the money on day 1.  That's not a lot when you consider the time on a Sunday and of course the gas to make that drive back to Commerce. 

Places 109-118 would get that min-cash.  Places 100-108 would get the next pay level, $530.  91-99  was worth $590.  82-90 worth $650.  73-81 $710. 64-72 $770. 

Now something I didn't realize until just now…the sheet showed places down to 118.  But that included the four duplicate stacks (players who made day two twice).  So there were only 114 players left.  So I only had to outlast six players to make the first play jump, not 10.  I should have seen that at the time.  But even without realizing that, I was kind of thinking that players were busting really fast the last few levels of day 1 (so fast that we blew right by the bubble) and with the stacks what they were, I could very likely fold my way to at least one play jump.

And that was significant to me, not for the money (though that didn't hurt) but for the principle of the thing.  I wanted that (at least) double my buy-in payout!

So the next day, Sunday morning, I set the alarm and made sure I was back at Commerce well before the 1pm restart time.  Although I did consider the possibility that even not showing up and getting blinded out, I might very well have made at least one pay jump!  It might even be better to get there late, get blinded off, make a pay jump than get pocket Aces and having them cracked on the first hand of the day!

It all depended on where I was in relation to the blinds.  Remember, with the big blind ante, there are 7 hands per orbit at a full table where you don't pay a thing unless you want to.  Of course when you are the big blind, that really hurts, cuz you post the equivalent of two big blinds on one hand.  The small blind would usually be one-quarter of that.

The dealer at each table of course had to see a photo I.D. before you were allowed to open your bag of chips and play them.

We played two hands at 6K/3K/6K and then the blinds went up to 8K/4K/8K.  And the first hand of the new level, I was going to be the big blind, costing me $16K.  Still, that would leave me with chips for another orbit, and for sure by the next time the blinds came around I'd be up one pay jump, maybe two.  I was hearing "seat open" pretty rapidly at first, a few busted the first hand.  Some of that may have been not realizing that there were four players less than I thought for reasons I've already explained.  But I decided there was no need to take high risks.  I wasn't about to fold a really playable hand to make a pay jump but I probably folded a few marginal hands.  Especially because at this table, every pot was opened with a raise, there was no limping, and unless I was UTG, there was almost always a raise in front of me.

So I folded a couple of really bad hands, got a really bad hand in the big blind and folded to a shove.  Same when I was the small blind, and though I was down to $91K I was alive and had seven "free" hands to try to find a shove.  I didn't make a note of when we past the pay jumps but for sure when the blinds passed me the first time I was up to the next level.

When the blinds started approaching me again, I was UTG +1 and I got my first chance.  It was pocket Jacks and after a fold it was an easy shove.  But no one called.

I guess I posted those blinds and antes when it was my turn and by the time the next level came around, I was still at $91K.  Now the blinds were $10K/$5K/$10K.  UTG +1 with pocket 9's, I open shoved with pocket 9's.  Again, no call.

Then next orbit I was UTG and shoved with King-Queen of hearts.  Again no call.

Then the blinds jumped to $15K/$5K/$15K.  I was still around $90K.  So if I didn't get any more chips, I'd be putting a third of my stack in play next time I was the BB.  I'd pretty much be pot committed no matter what I had.  There were less than 80 players left, I was now guaranteed at least $710.  Not bad considered how I had started the day. 

So when I was UTG, and I looked at King-10 offsuit, I thought I didn't have much of a choice.  I could open the pot with a shove, and who knows what my BB hand would be.  Besides, no one had called one of my shoves yet at this table.

It instafolded around the table until it came to the big blind, who tanked.  He asked for a count, looked at his stack (he had a lot of chips).  Finally he said OK and called.  He turned over pocket 9's, which was about the best I could hope for—a race.  I didn't catch anything on the flop but by the turn I had a gutshot—all I needed was a 9.  The board wasn't paired so I had never been hoping for my opponent to catch a set this much in my life.  Unfortunately I whiffed, and I was done.

I'd lasted a about an hour and a quarter on this Sunday and folded my way up the ladder from $470 to $710 (a $470 profit).  I'd treaded water for all that time by winning a round of blinds and antes once an orbit, but I couldn't get the double up I needed to be able to play poker.

But still, it was good experience for next month in Vegas.

Friday, May 11, 2018

It Was Like Pulling Teeth

(First of Two Parts)

Poker Tournaments are like women.  Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

I have such mixed feelings about tournaments.  There's something really exciting about them. They can really get your juices flowing.  And of course, there's that chance, however great or remote, that you can make a really big score in them, much bigger than you can in a cash game.  But then, as they drag on, they can wear on you, they can make you a little (or a lot) crazy, even a little bored.  And then there's that moment when they post the prize pool and you realize (or at least I do) that cashing in it is going to be at least partially disappointing unless you finish in the top 3.  For sure the dreaded min-cash is going to make you think, "I played X hours of poker for this?"

I realized how much I missed playing a tournament as I was sitting at the table waiting for the first hand to be dealt.  It had been too long since I played tournament poker.  Christmas Day of last year, to be exact.  The problem is I haven't been to Vegas since then, and there are really no good regular tournaments in L.A.—good as I define it anyway.

So when I saw that Commerce was running a tournament series in late April/early May, I checked out the schedule to see if there was anything that caught my eye.  And one did. It was a $240 "Double Stack" tourney with a sweet $200K guarantee.  The event had five starting flights, Tuesday through Saturday, with a day 2 on Sunday.  Each starting flight would reach the money before finishing.  One in eight players would get paid, and the top 8% would advance to day 2.  So by playing on Saturday, the final starting flight, I'd confine all my poker to the weekend, which is what I wanted.  Of course I knew with this format, that the min-cash for those that made the money on day 1 but didn't advance to day 2 would be extremely min , but I was resigned to that.  I figured that with this set-up, with these numbers, the day 2 min-cash would almost certainly be more than double the $240 buy-in.  As I've mentioned numerous times before, I think in a tournament of any reasonable size, the min-cashers should get back at least twice what they paid to enter (so that it's at least an even-money bet, like a bet at the blackjack table or the pass line at a Craps table).

The one drawback for this tourney was that the levels were only 20-minutes.  I've gotten spoiled because usually in Vegas I play tourneys with 30-minutes (or even 40-minute) levels.  I played a tourney with 20-minute levels at Commerce about a year and a half ago (see here) and really noticed the difference with the shorter levels. But there was no other decent alternative—it was either play in this tournament or wait until next month when I'm in Vegas.  And you know, I thought I could use the practice, having played nothing but 1/2 all year. 

Besides, the tournament was using the "Big Blind Ante" format (see here).  And since the main benefit of using that format is getting more hands dealt per level, I was hoping that would mitigate the shorter levels to some degree.  In reality, it didn't seem to help much.  As the tourney wore on, the amount of time players spent tanking, and then with all the delays for the dealer to count stacks and pay off bets made the number of hands per orbit not particularly player friendly (I do imagine it would have been worse with the standard ante).

By the way, Commerce is now using the big blind ante for all its NLH tournaments.   Matt Savage, the TD there (as well as TD for the WPT) was reluctant to use it at first, but he gave it a try in a few events and got near unanimous positive feedback. As I've said previously, it will become the industry standard in the very near future.

All that said, I almost didn't play the tournament.  On Thursday, I had an appointment to finally get a tooth pulled that has been bothering me on and off for some time.  I assumed that I wouldn’t be feeling well enough two days later to want to play poker.  But in fact, although I couldn’t eat normally, I felt pretty good the next day, and when I felt even a little better Saturday morning, I thought I could take a chance and head down to the tournament.  BTW, I didn't have general anesthesia for the tooth extraction, just a local. I was awake the whole time and didn't feel a thing.  Piece of cake.

The starting stack was $15K and the starting blinds were 25/50, which was interesting.  The Aria $240 weekend tournament where I first encountered the big blind ante (and where it originated) starts with the ante right away, and starts the blinds at 100/100/100.  But this tourney had more of a traditional early blind format, with the ante not kicking in until level 4. And like the Aria, sometimes the big blind is not double the small blind.  Sometimes it's only 1-1/2 times the small blind.  You'll see as I describe the hands…..

Second hand of the tournament I called $100 with Ace-2 of hearts.  It was heads-up.  The flop was Ace-high and the preflop raiser put out $175. I intended to call.  Now, this was only the third time I'd ever played a tournament at Commerce and I wasn't familiar with the chips.  I saw a stack of chips that had the number "1" in front of some zeros.  I grabbed two thinking they were $100 chips to make the call.  As soon as I saw the chips out there after I dropped them, I realized they were $1,000 chips and that I had raised to $2K!  Ooops.  I did my best not to react like I had made the mistake I had indeed made.  And I saw another stack in front of me that had $100 chips.  The color was at least vaguely similar to the $1K chips.  Anyway, the other guy tanked for awhile, said something like, "I don't like my top pair that much," and folded.  A few of the players were about to ask me if I meant to do that and I beat them to it.  I confessed that it was an accident and that I just meant to call.  I mean, my bet made me look stupid—it was a ridiculous overbet.

Let me mention one thing about the guy on my right (my opponent in this hand).  He seemed like a nice enough of guy (in fact all the players at my original table were nice people) but he had this really annoying habit.  I don't think he started out doing this but at some point, whenever he folded, he would just drop his cards in front of him, not push them toward the dealer.  It was weird.  He'd bend the cards to look at them, but then when he'd fold he'd pick them up and just drop them right in front of him.  And none of the dealers said anything to him.  They didn't ask him to push them forward, and they didn't ask him if he was folding (because really, it wasn't obvious). 

Finally near the end of his run, he had a run-in with a female dealer.  The action was on him and he got involved in a discussion with another player (it might have been a spectator, not sure) that had nothing to do with the hand.  The dealer gently reminded him that the action was on him.  He got nasty, saying something like, "I know it's on me…I'm not going anywhere, relax."  There was a nasty tone in his voice.  I don't think the dealer said anything, and then he folded.  The next hand, when he folded by just dropping his cards, the dealer did ask him to push them forward.  He grunted and continued to fold the same way.  But fortunately he busted a few hands later.  A player from the other side of the table apologized to the dealer for having to put up with that, and told her she was doing a good job (which she was).

That was the only pot I dragged in the first level.  I went to level 2 (50/75) with $15,050.  After a limp, I limped with Queen-Jack of clubs.  It was four way.  The flop was King-Jack-9, two spades, one club.  I bet $200 and everyone called.  Everyone checked on a blank turn.  I checked a blank river and a guy bet $500.  It folded back to me and I had a feeling he was just trying to steal it.  I called.  He had Ace-high.

Level 3 (50/100) $15,825.  After a limp, I made it $350 with pocket Jacks. It was five-way.  The flop came 8-8-2.  I bet $1,200, two called.  No one bet on the turn or river, both blanks (though the river was a King).  Nobody turned over their hand when they saw my Jacks.

Level 4 (100/50/100) $19K.  Didn't write down a single hand.  Level 5 (150/75/150) $17,800.  After one limp I made it $550 with Ace-King.  Limper called.  The flop was Queen-10-x.  I c-bet $1,200 and got a fold. 

In the big blind with 9-2, no one raised and four of us saw a flop of X-X-2.  No one bet any street and my deuce was good.

Level 6 I didn't write down a hand.  Level 7 (300/200/300) $17,300. From the big blind I called $600 form the small blind.  It was heads up.  Ace-high flop, I called a small bet.  There was no more betting.  He had pocket Jacks and my weak Ace was good.

Level 8 (400/200/400) $17,700.  I raised to $1,400 with Queen-10 of clubs.  It's not in my notes but there must have been a limper first or I wouldn't have raised that much. It was three-way.  I didn't write down the cards but I had a flush draw.  I bet $3K and one guy called.  The turn put four to a straight out there, and a guy made a big bet.  There was no way to call, it was either shove or fold.  I decided not to risk my tournament life on a non-nut flush draw.  I folded.

Level 9 (500/300/500) $11,500.  That last hand was at the very end of the level and it really hurt.  I was starting to get short stacked.  As you can tell from the few hands I've discussed so far, I had been seriously card dead all day.  I'd had just one or two pocket pairs, nothing bigger than those Jacks, and Ace-King just once.  And I didn't get a hand to play this entire level.

Level 10 (600/300/600) $10,200.  I opened shoved $8,700 with Ace-5 off.  No call.

With about $10K, I open shoved with Jack-9 of spades.  I was called by Ace-Queen.  Well, what's the expression?  "Two live cards," right?  There was a Jack on the flop and then another Jack on the turn.  I had my much needed double up.

Level 11 (800/400/800) $20,400.  Still card dead, I didn't like my chances of cashing, let alone making it to day 2.  But then….with pocket 8's I called $2,200.  It was heads up and the flop was low but no set for me.  There was no betting and the rest of board bricked out, still no betting.  I won the pot with my 8's, beating A-2.

Very next hand I got pocket Jacks.  I opened to $2,100.  Only one player called, a guy who had been fairly aggro.  The flop was King-8-x.  I c-bet $2K because he was short stacked.  In fact he had a little bit less than my bet.  He called and showed an 8, don't remember the other card.  My Jacks held.

Then the very next hand I got pocket 10's.  After not seeing hardly any pocket pairs, this was my third one in a row.  Could I win my third hand in a row?  This time I limped in and no one else raised.  It was five of us seeing a low flop.  My 10's were an overpair so I bet $3,500 and didn't get a call.

That was a nice little run and it got me up to $36K for level 12 (1K/500/1K). I had some chips to play with.  And then went that entire orbit without getting a hand to play. And then the next orbit, and the next one and the one after that.

Not sure if this is right, but I didn't write down a hand for levels 12, 13, 14 and 15.  I gotta figure I played some hands, but I guess I didn't win anything, maybe I just played a blind or two when it wasn't raised. 

I'm going to leave it here and do a part 2 in a few days.  I will bring you up-to-date with where I was in the tournament (number of players, how close to the money) at that time.  And now part 2 has been posted here.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

It Will Be a Fun Post to Write

Well, I have a great post for you.  I just haven't written it yet.  And it will take some time to write it up.  And I have to warn you, it might be a multi-part post.  

So I can't promise when, but it will hopefully soon.  

What happened was that on Saturday I went down to Commerce to play in a $240, $200K guarantee tournament.  SPOILER WARNING: I made it into the money.  And then I made it to Day 2.  So on Sunday I went back to Commerce.

Now I didn't win life-changing money, not at all.  But I didn't min-cash either.  And after nearly 10 hours of poker over the two days, I have much to talk about.  Yes, there will be plenty of those boring hand histories that some of you actually like.

Since I don't have anything else to post, I wanted to get something up here so you don't think I got my ass thrown in jail as happened to another famous blogger recently.

So hang in there and keep checking back, and hopefully I can something published before too long.