Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Trip Report: Second day of WSOP

Another incredible day at the WSOP is in the books. I played a bracelet event, the 1k turbo and a WSOP non-bracelet daily event with a $230 buy-in and a $270k prize pool. The tournament featured around 2,000 and 1,300 players respectively, which is kind of hard to wrap my brain around. Consider that most of these players, especially in the bracelet event, are anywhere from decent to great, getting through a field like this requires a great amount of talent, and an equal amount of luck.

It’s an ongoing debate in my house as to the amount of luck vs. skill in poker. First, I think you have to break it down into tournaments vs. cash games. In the latter, skill clearly dominates as the stacks are always deeper, and there is no difference between the early stages and the late stages of a cash game, except for one’s level of exhaustion.

However, on this trip, I’m starting to gain a deeper appreciation for the level of skill involved in tournaments. I spent some time observing final tables of the earlier bracelet events. It’s so cool here that you can walk around to the various rooms in the convention center and see the final tables. The tables are in a studio-like set with TVs and lights and seats where the public can just walk in and watch. It can’t be a coincidence that the big-name players seem to always rise to the top in these big bracelet events. I watched Phil Gelfand playing a final table, I saw Phil Helmuth in the final two tables of the 6 max (He came in 8th, which is technically not making the final table in that event), and many other recognizable players.

I think that while there is more luck involved in tournaments, especially to an observer, who watches race after race as the stacks get deep, there is clearly a science to tournaments that is unique to that format. Understanding inflection points, the need to steal, and short stack theory completely changes the fundamentals of hand reading, and those who win these big tourneys have a keen knack for how to read people based on their situation in the tournament. This is a dynamic that does not exist in cash games, and in fact, one could argue that tournament players need all of the skills of cash players, and many more additional abilities based on factors that do not exist in live games. I definitely gained a deeper appreciation for the skill required in tournaments on this trip.

Perhaps the most striking thing to me is the difference in skill level when I moved from the bracelet event with a $1k buy-in to the $230 event. At the first event, I had 2 known pros at my table (Cousin Kenny knew them and had played with them at PARX), and a few other players who appeared to be regular grinders. Not a single donkey (which I guess means I was the one) to be found. I was eliminated in level 4, and I moved on to the $230 event. At that table, it was a complete donkey-fest. I seriously think I was the only one at the table who had ever read a poker book or who had any clue how to play. We had limped pots, a couple of guys who called every bet but never raised, and my favorite, one guy who always said, “well I’m sure you got me, but I’m curious,” as he called with third pair or worse and lost every time.

Anyone who wants to argue that tournament poker is all luck and little skill needs to come play in these two tournaments back to back. Sure, if all of the players have equal skill, then luck will determine the winner, but I think that if you mix up the top pros with the average players, the results will be like if the Ravens played a local high school football team.

Here is a picture of me in the bracelet event.

And here is Kenny playing in the $230 event. He went pretty deep, until about 9:30 pm, and had a serious run at cashing. If he had won his last all in hand, he would have been one of the chip leaders.

One of my goals coming to the WSOP this year was to promote an idea I had for how to make online poker more secure. Before coming out here, I filed a patent on the idea and wrote a white paper to distribute to the poker community.

When I played on Poker Night in America I got to meet some of the famous named players, and I got in touch with some of them before coming out here. At the WSOP, all of the famous players walk around and mix with everyone else. Every single one I have come across has been friendly, approachable and eager to help. I met with Tom Schneider, a former WPT player of the year and multiple bracelet winner. He seemed to like my idea, and said he would pass it along to some editors of a poker magazine. I also had meetings and chats about my solution with Gavin Smith and Greg Merson, both of whom said they would help connect me to people who can help publicize it and perhaps make it happen. Today, I’m meeting with Nolan Dalla, the media director of the WSOP, and the producer of Poker Night. I’ve also exchanged emails with Vanessa Rouseu, Matt Glantz, and Matt Savage, all of whom said they would forward my article to people who write about poker.

Star gazing at the WSOP is fun if you’re a big poker fan. So far, besides the people I’ve mentioned, I’ve seen Dan Harrington, Jason Somerville, whom I chatted with briefly, Barry Greenstein, Tony Dunst, Annette Obrestad, Maria Ho, Vanessa Selbst, Allen Cunningham, and lots of other players whose faces I recognized from TV and Bluff Magazine, but whose names I do not know.

As to interesting hands, I had a few, but unfortunately, all of them are bad beats, and I don’t have the stomach to re-live them. Interestingly, I got knocked out of both tournaments by opponents who flopped a set of 3s. In the bracelet event, I had flopped top two pair, and in the tournament I flopped top pair with KJ. In both cases, I think I was coolered.

I’m going to close out this blog with one detailed hand description from the cash game after the tournaments. I played cash for about 4 hours in the evening and made up for a good chunk of my tournament buy-ins, as my cash results have been very good on this trip. I chose this hand because I think it does a great job of illustrating the difference between playing against a weak amateur and playing against a pro. This hand would have played completely differently against someone whose skill I respected. It also shows the power of position.

It’s a 2-5 table, and I’m on the button with $855. UTG limps. UTG+2, the Villain in this hand, who has me covered, limps. He’s been playing loose, and I observed that he has a tendency to call in marginal situations on the river. I look down at A K and raise to 35. Only V calls. With 82 in the pot and 820 in my stack, I have an SPR of 10, which is horrible for AK. If I hit TPTK and all the money goes in, I will probably be behind. I realized that I should have bet more. With deep stacks, AK is a tricky hand. You need to flop more than one pair to want to play a big pot.

Flop (82):  A A Q

Can’t ask for much better than that. Only one had beats me (because he would have raised with QQ or AA), and given that I have an A, the chances that he has AQ are slim. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure he would have raised the original limper with AQ. V checks. I consider putting in a bet because I figure that he knows I would continuation bet on this flop if I missed it, and if he has a hand like 77 or 88, he will probably call. On the other hand, there are a lot of hands that I put in his range, like suited connectors and KJ type hands where he will just fold. Since I have position, I decide to check and see if I can induce a bluff on the turn, or perhaps he will hit a card and catch up a little. I check.

Turn (82):  J

I don’t love this card, as there are now three new hands that beat me, AJ and JJ (unlikely since he originally limped), and KT. However, most of the time, I have to be good here, and if I’m behind, I have outs. V bets $40. Now I have to decided whether to call or raise. I figure if he has a Q, a J or a weak ace, he might call a raise, but he would then probably check the river and might not call another bet on the river. There might be a few hands where he would call a bet with a hand worse than mine, but given the leverage of a river bet that is still to come, he’ll also fold a lot of hands that might call a bet on the river. So, I call.

River (162): 6

I don’t think he has a 6 in his hand, so the river shouldn’t change anything. V bets $50. My first thought is that this is a very small bet. Could it be a value bet? Does he think he is good? Or is it a cheap attempt to steal the pot with nothing? So, what does he think I have? I was the pre-flop raiser, and I checked the flop, both of which are consistent with having a decent A. He has to consider that I might have an A. So, if he is value betting, he can beat an A.

Do I raise or call?

Here is where it gets interesting. If he is a good player, then he would only value bet if he can beat an A. With a Q and a J on the board, if he has a kicker below a J, his kicker won’t play, so he loses to AK, AQ, and AJ no matter what if he has a naked A, and he chops with any other A that I might have. So, for a good player, a value bet has to mean that he either has KT for a straight or a boat. But, then I considered that maybe he’s a bad player. I had seen enough evidence of that. A bad player with a hand like A7 won’t ask himself what I have, he might just think. “I have an A. There are 2 aces on the board. I better bet.”

Now, do I raise? If I am up against a good player, there is no value to my raise because I’ve already determined that all of his value bets beat me. And, if I raise and he was bluffing he’ll fold. Furthermore, a tricky player could re-raise bluff me all in, and I’d have to fold the best hand. So, against a good player, there is absolutely no value in raising, and there is a risk that I could even be bluffed off my hand.

But if he is a bad player, which I suspect he is, then he could call a raise with a weak A, for the simple reason that he has an A and there are two aces on the board, and that could be the limit of his thinking.

So, I went over several of the previous hands that he played in the session. Several times he said that he had raised “to see where I’m at”, and also, he had made really silly river calls “to look you up”. He was an older guy who did not seem to be a thinking player. I went with my read and decided that he’s not the kind of player who is going to bluff me all in, so I don’t need to worry about that. If he shoves over my raise, I can easily fold knowing I am beaten. And, if he has an A, he might just call my raise. I raise to 150. He mutters under his breath. Takes some time to think, and then calls, showing A 8 and declaring “you know, I just can’t fold an A here.”

Chalk one more up for the good guys!