Thursday, July 21, 2011

WSOP Recap Part One: My Main Event - Day One

I’ve always felt like the Main Event was the perfect tournament for me, with its long levels, deep stacks, and fishy field. Exploiting weak players playing deepstacked poker has been the thing I’ve been best at ever since my early cash days on Party Poker in 2004. Yet the first six times I played the Main, I never came close to cashing. There has been a ton of bad luck, more so in terms of missing flops than anything else. Lifetime I estimated my setflopping percentage around 5% in the Main coming into this year, and that percentage actually decreased after going something like 1 for 25 with pocket pairs this year.

But I also think I was generally playing way too many hands in the early levels – particularly from early position – and playing them too passively. While I usually found myself at tables full of weak players, I think I went overboard with some of the preflop calls in the past in such a desperation to hit a hand and stack a fish. I probably underestimated the play of my unknown opponents and overestimated the action I would get when I finally did hit a hand.

I came in this year with resolve to tighten it up a bit (especially in early position), give some more respect to my opponents unless I had strong reason not to, and to stay patient remembering that two thirds of a starting stack at the end of day one would still be 40 BB entering day two.

The overwhelming weakness in my game is preflop. Strangely I feel pretty confident in my preflop reads in just about every pot except the ones I get involved in myself. It really has gotten pretty laughable the last few years. Seemingly every time I launch a 3-bet it gets 4-bet right back in my face. I have basically been giving away chips for the last few years on light 3-bets, and would have fared better over that time without ever having made one weak 3-bet. A little over two years ago I light 3-bet the preflop master Adam Geyer three times in half an hour in an FTOPS tournament, and he 4-bet me all three times forcing folds. After that I decided to just flat out stop reraising hands preflop, and went on to finish fourth in that tournament. Slowly I got back to reraising some hands preflop, with horrific results. So I 3-bet just four hands (not including three reshoves on day four) in four days at the WSOP Main Event:

  1. 65o a few hours into day one after two guys limped and the older fellow to my right raised 3x which didn’t seem like the size he would make it with a big pair (everyone folded)
  2. A7s in position on day two against a foreign player who was fairly short-stacked and would have to commit his stack (everyone folded)
  3. AJo from the button to Kristy Gazes’ cutoff raise late on the second night (everyone folded)
  4. A9o in middle position to Luke Vrabel’s EP raise on night three (everyone folded)

I uninvest 4-bet one hand: QQ when a fishy player raised early and Kirbynator 3-bet right behind him (everyone folded). The uninvest 4-bet bluff is a play I am actually lot more comfortable making than the 3-bet bluff (like I said, I’m pretty astute at deciphering when someone else is doing it light), but never really had a spot where I wanted to do it in this tournament. I also 4-bet zero hands after someone 3-bet me.

The strongest part of my game is knowing when to call, raise, and fold in marginal postflop situations in heads-up hands. I’ve always been a strong heads-up player, probably because it is impossible for your opponents to 3-bet you in position. I generally defend my BB much lighter than is “correct” because of playing those situations so many times heads up. So generally I try to get involved with a lot of KQo, Q9s, 97s, 44 type hands in single-raised pots in and out of position and proceed from there.

But throughout this tournament I wasn’t catching those sort of hands. I folded junk for prolonged periods of time at several different junctures in the Main Event, playing just two to four hands in a level a few different times. This gave me a lot more respect than I generally receive when I would open-raise a hand, so I wasn’t 3-bet nearly as much as I’ve become accustomed to. Throughout the tournament I would usually see a bunch of quick folds when I did raise a hand, often after I had folded 15-20 hands in a row preceding that raise.

So my general image was a tight one, though that wasn’t the case at my first table. I tried to remember every significant or notable hand I was involved with and compiled them all here on the blog like I used to back when I was a serious professional poker player. There were a ton of small hands where I called a raise with a pocket pair or suited connector en route to a multi-way pot where I had an obvious postflop fold. Those hands constantly ate away at my stack, but this year I think I was almost always right to speculate in the situations I did choose to call a raise without a strong preflop hand. At the same time I picked up the blinds uncontested on a higher percentage of my raises than I’m used to, which helped keep my stack steady when I was losing other pots.

For four days I waited to flat a raise with a big pair in hopes that someone might squeeze behind, and in four days I never had that opportunity.

Though poker stopped being my profession the moment I was knocked out of the Main Event, I have found myself with renewed interest in the game after playing the tournament for four days then watching it four more on ESPN2 and ESPN3. Any analysis or criticism is welcome.

The very first hand a 30ish guy who a week later I learned was Nate Silver opened in early position and I looked down at ace-king a couple slots behind him. I just called, just called a biggish bet on a KQx flop with a flush draw, then called another biggish bet again on a blank turn conceding that I might lose 20% of my stack on the very first hand. But he checked a blank river, I threw out a medium bet, and he folded.

A few minutes later I raised T7s in latish position and checked down the entire board when it came with a seven and (eventually) three overcards to beat the small blind’s ace-king. The small blind was a young Asian player who looked like Napoleon Ta, so it was a little surprising he had just called with AK preflop. With my T7 being shown down after his AK, I thought there was a good chance this kid would be reraising me in the future with some garbage hands knowing I was opening light while expecting me to give him credit for a hand since he didn’t reraise the AK. Sure enough, the next time I raised in late position (with 43s) and the button called the kid came over the top in the big blind. Despite the fact that I was expecting him to do this with almost anything I ended up just calling the reraise in position, instead of four-betting, showing the three of clubs after his fold, and asserting control of the table. Despite the lack of confidence I have in my preflop game this was pretty much a mandatory four-bet spot with my hand and the confident read I had that this kid would be 3-betting with anything, and I’m still disappointed I didn’t pull the trigger on that one. The flop came KT7 and I slowly folded to the kid’s c-bet when again, I should have raised his ass.

The very next hand I raised with AQss and the kid three bet out of the small blind. This time I thought he was strong, but was still happy to call a three-bet in position with my hand. The flop came 552 with two spades. I called his bet, checked the turn back when he checked, and folded to his river bet when two other low cards hit the board.

Sometime not too much later I had either opened or called a raise with 76s and the kid squeezed again from the blinds, and again I had called his reraise in position. The kid tried to get fancy on a KTx9J board with his K9s checking it the whole way but I never took the bait and he was forced to turn over the hand which he won nothing with postflop. I was hopeful turning that hand over would slow down his squeezing and 3-bets and surprisingly (along with losing a large pot) he did slow down.

I limped tens under the gun for 100 and the button who was obviously an amateur made it 200. I couldn’t tell if he knew I limped (which happens a ton when I limp UTG). One of the blinds called as did I. The flop was 987 and we checked to the button who bet 500. The blind folded and I called. The turn was an 8, I checked, and the button now bet 1000. I called again. The river was a 9, I checked, and the button now bet 3000. I didn’t think this guy would launch a triple-barrel bluff but on the other hand it didn’t make sense for him to have many hands so I eventually called and was good against his 63s.

That same guy played a headscratching hand a bit later where he called an EP raise, checked an 864 flop over to the button (Silver), called Silver’s bet after the preflop raiser folded, check-called another bet on a 7 turn, and, incredibly, was unable to beat Silver’s A4 after the board paired and the river was checked down. So when he raised in early position I knew I would be calling with anything remotely playable, did so with 64o, and was happy to take the flop heads up. I raised his c-bet on the A53 flop hoping to win the hand right there, buy myself a river card, and build a bigger pot to bet into when I hit my straight. He quickly called the raise basically letting me know he had an ace, and I shut it down after the turn and river whiffed and he checked to me. He won with A7s.

The hand that got me going came when I raised KQ to 525 with the young Asian calling from the SB and an older fishier player calling from the big. The flop came T98 and I thanked them for the free card and checked behind when checked to. The turn was an orgasmic jack. The small blind checked and the older guy bet 1000. I didn’t see this guy laying a queen so I went for the jugular and raised it to 4500. He called after a short think. I overbet the river for 12k and got looked up by QJ, the flopped nuts.

PiMaster was watching the hand with his sister from the rail and was able to explain to her exactly what was going on the entire time. It was a pretty cool low-level tutorial poker hand which clearly juxtaposed the hand-reading ability of the pro compared to the fish. I’m sure seven of the ten players at the table knew precisely what I had but it didn’t matter because one of the ones who didn’t know for sure was the one I was playing against.

I was so happy and excited after this hand. For six years I have seen these transparent hands play out in the Main Event without ever being the beneficiary of one. Finally it happened for me and now I had the stack to splash around at this weak table for the rest of the day.

Not too long after that the weak player limped for 300 along with Silver and I made it 1400 with AQcc with only Silver calling. The flop came AsJs8c and I checked it back. The turn was a four and he fired 2300. I called. The river was a blank, he fired 5200, and I called and lost to his set of fours. I had to compose myself after this hand, telling myself that I played it the way I did for a reason (Silver was blufftastic) and that it had simply been unlucky and that folding the river would have been silly in that situation.

Silver, who was probably the most active player at the table, raised a hand under the gun and I called with AK again. The flop was Axx and he bet. I felt like this was a really close spot between calling and letting him bluff off some more (I had shown I would call A high flops in these spots with hands like 99 earlier) or raise (I had raised the fish in this exact same situation with unshown cards in the 64o hand). With that hand fresh in people’s memory I decided to raise here and Silver folded.

Not too long after that the exact same situation came up with the weak player and Silver limping and me raising to 1400 with K8ss. This time a woman I had played with for an afternoon at the Venetian called behind me and then both limpers called. The flop came 874 and I checked to keep things under control and make it appear as if I had nothing when the limpers checked to me. The woman checked behind. The turn was a 3 bringing a flush draw. When Silver bet I rechecked my whole cards feigning two overs with a flush draw then called. The others got out of the way. The river was an offsuit king and I had an easy value bet when he checked, and got paid off almost immediately. 47k. The real question in this hand was whether I was value-betting on the end, and I probably would if he checked to me on a 2, 3, 4, queen, and possibly jack.

To my disgust I got moved from this table two minutes before the dinner break. I felt like I was about ready to go on a rampage here with a lot of three-betting the weaker, looser players on my right even though that’s not my game. With the antes coming in, the way they were playing, and my image, I was excited to really start playing some poker but instead I was moved to a much tougher table with several younger pros including my close friend Paul Wasicka, Canadian pro InescapableD, and Kirbynator. Paul didn’t have a big stack but those other two did and were playing quite well to boot. With four hours left in the day I basically decided to play pretty tight and hope for a better table draw on day two.

That was exactly what happened. I raised KJo in middle position after folding about thirty hands in a row. The big blind defended. I had said in my twitter that I never flopped better than one pair until the fourth day of the tournament but forgot this one came KQJ all diamonds. The BB led out which felt like some sort of real hand from that player so I elected to just call. I really didn’t know where I was at and folding even crossed my mind cause I picked up a tell of strength when the flop hit. At the same time I thought he would check a flopped flush to me so I was thinking straight, two pair, or Adx. The turn was a low diamond and he checked. I checked it back but I think the better play would have been to bet with the intention to put him in on the river regardless of what came. His stack size combined with my read made this a little better I think, though this player did seem like he might be ready to call off his stack light after steadily siphoning off his chips over the last hour. The river was another diamond, he checked again, I checked, and he won with 64dd flopped flush.

The next notable hand came when Inescapable raised UTG and I flatted with AK in late position. We took a flop of KQ9 with a flush draw heads up and he bet 1300. I made it 3200 as an info/value raise and he called. I didn’t want to be put in a calldown guessing game by this tough player so decided to raise the flop knowing he really couldn’t raise me back with anything but the nuts. The turn was a blank and I checked after he did. The river was another blank and he thought about betting, but then checked. I thought I was good so pretended to have missed a flush draw (which is the only hand that really makes any sense for me to have) and bet 7050. He quickly called with a set of queens, which was a shockingly strong hand for him to have considering the action. He actually got max value on this hand because of what I had, but I think a river checkraise was in order as me having a jack-ten is extremely unlikely having checked back the turn. In retrospect I’m not a huge fan of my river bet, as there are more hands he’ll have that beat me than inferior ones that might call my bet.

Shortly after that a fairly tight and solid player raised early to 1025 and I just called with AK right behind him. He bet 1200 on a ragged flop and I decided to peel in position though I didn’t love the situation. The turn was a king and he now bet just 1400. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on so I just called again. The river was another blank with minimal straight and flush possibilities and he bet 1600. I raised to 6600ish and he called after a minute or two. I’ve found people pay off these sort of spots more often than not suspicious that they just got raised because they made such an obviously weak bet. I finished day one with 45k feeling pretty decent about the water I had just tread over the last four hours without many hands at that tougher table.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How bad was the QJ fish? I would be tempted to really go for the jugular and ship him all in. There are so many main event players that can't fold a Q there for one million let alone 20-30k.

I think psychologically leaving them with 5k no matter there stack is often ideal.

6:38 PM  
Blogger TheGraveWolf said...

Yes Moon, YES!

Haven't read the post yet so this is a pre-read comment but I needed to say I was super excited to see a detailed tourney recap show up.

A couple days ago I went back and read through your main event posts from 2006 and then the main event anthology of hands from 2007 and almost posted one of them in the comments.

Haven't been this excited for a Gnightmoon blog since the Ali-like return of the Monday 1k stream of conscience posts.

11:52 PM  
Blogger TheGraveWolf said...

Nice post - ready to read days 2, 3, and 4. Don't George RR Martin it either, let's move here sir. More urgency Moon!!

Do we have a visual confirmation (google) that the dude wearing the Kirby shirt was actually Kirbynator?

Even after Vegas I find myself watching/thinking about poker almost as much as in the Before Time. PunkyPickle mentioned how weird it was to come home tonight after softball and not have poker on the TV. I agree.

Never really thought I would be thankful to have a place like Blackhawk around - going up to scratch the itch Saturday at noon. Keep it in mind...

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've played against that guy who had the queen high straight. His name is Cantf. I can't recall his last name but I think it rhymes with 'old'.

10:36 PM  

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