Monday, October 29, 2012

The October Nine

Most years I personally know one or two of the players at the final table at the World Series of Poker. That wasn't the case this year, but I do have several connections to the players who defined this wonderful tournament in 2012.

Over the last few years, Main Event final tables have been characterized by strong, unknown, young male professionals. That pattern repeated in spades this season, as no less than seven of the final nine could be included in that group. This year the arrival of that group came with a twist, as most of the final nine are cash-game players rather than tournament grinders. While most of these guys were more or less unknowns to the public before this summer, it shouldn't be a surprise that any of them reached the final table. I came up as a cash-game player, and our community generally regarded ourselves as better poker players than those tournament donkeys. Eventually, that core group of online cash players came to dominate the live tournament scene. The players grinding the online cash games these days, the Greg Mersons, Jesse Sylvias, and Marc-Andre Ladouceurs, have to play no limit hold em close to flawlessly to turn a profit. The competition has grown incredibly fierce in those games, and I believe most professional poker players would be unable to beat them. The fabulous Main Event structure always allows the cream to rise to the top, and that's certainly what happened this year.

Whether it was Daniel Strelitz and Gaelle Baumann playing a wild guessing game with two ace-kings in an uninvested 4-bet and uninvested 5-bet pot, Elizabeth Hille raise/folding king-ten vs. a six-BB shove, Wilfried Harig snapping an overshove with the dumb end of the straight, or Scott Abrams playing for stacks with top pair and a flush draw in a situation where calling had more value than raising, I felt like the players who made mistakes - however slight they may have been - were punished for them. Of course, players like Ladouceur and Danny Wong were cruelly punished as well, having done no wrong. The one player who managed to skate through to the final table while clearly making errors was Steve Gee. The interesting thing is that Gee has done it before.

During a 2010 WSOP $1500, my buddy SamENole and I found ourselves at a disappointingly competitive day one table. The table was filled with professionals and there was only one "spot": the loose, passive older dude who kept getting all-in, surviving, then siphoning back down to a short stack. SamENole and I cracked jokes about the guy's play, but a week later, Steve Gee was the only one laughing. Using his trademark "meander, bleed and double" style, Gee somehow navigated a 3000 player field to take down a WSOP $1k for $472k. I read the hand histories of that final table, and Gee displayed a real penchant for avoiding potentially fatal situations, if not much more. Gee has stylized himself as an old-school pro who cannily takes advantage of his image. The reality is probably less flattering, but Gee does have patience and intuition - two qualities that have combined with luck to produce 16.8 million in chips.

Nothing in poker comes close to generating the drama of the Main Event's stretch run, and I've been lucky to watch four different close friends reach that great stretch. This year it was one of my "original" poker friends, Ben "TheGraveWolf" Greenberg, who shot to the top of the leaderboard during the middle portion of the event, then grinded to an 88th place finish. The Main Event is a truly special event for every poker player, where longtime grinders like the Wolf and Paul Volpe, heady amateurs like Michael Esposito, and name pros like Amit Makhija can all justifiably claim positive EV, not to mention the thrill of a lifetime. Amak is one of the most consistent pros out there, but I wonder if he has nightmares about the critical hand in which he folded the river in a large pot to a transparent Ladouceur bluff. Amak himself admitted during the hand that he would have called if he stuck to his plan, but did "not want to bust the Main Event calling off the river - that's not my way." Creating a plan and then overwhelming myself out of sticking to it is a mistake I've often made in my live tournament career in far less stressful situations. I often wonder how the pressure of a top-100 Main Event run would affect me, if I could enjoy it in the moment for all its wondrous excitement. I can only hope to find out one day.

I hope each of the nine playing for the World Championship tonight understands how special this experience is. Sylvia and Merson are the favorites, but every one of the nine has the stack and skill to contend for the bracelet. Jeremy Ausmus - both in game and resume - is the player who most closely resembles me and seems to be a likable fellow, so I'll be rooting for him. I actually played day one of the 2011 Main Event with the villainous Andras Koroknai, a devastating preflop player who sat on the sidelines while I gambled with Nate Silver that afternoon. Koroknai obviously did something in a past life to garner massive karma and certainly has the chops to take this down. Gee and Esposito would be the only surprise winners. It should be quite a show tonight.


Blogger TheGraveWolf said...

This blog is always at it's best when poker is discussed.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Spencetron said...

^^^ although with the added caveat that poker + travel + insane dreams come true are the best of the best.

3:02 PM  

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