Day 2 – The Tables Turn

It’s just an unbelievably great feeling.  Pulling in a pot at the beginning of day 2 of the WSOP by raising with a mediocre pair of 8’s - feeling like a fox -  and even though the pot just has the blinds and antes its still got more than 30 heavy clay chips in 3 different colors and so its got some heft and a look that makes it feeeeel as important as it is - and your stack is growing again and where else would you rather be in the world because even though its not yet about the $7.5 million and maybe even getting on TV its about the sheer pleasure of climbing the mountain with your wits.

And then six hours later you’re walking out of the tournament room and you haven’t made the money and the initial feeling is “come on you’ve been here before” and you take a preemptive stab at the pain by trying to convince yourself that you made the right move but you know the agony is coming and it will last for more than a few days because that part of you that knows it was the wrong move will push its way to the surface.

After all I had 25 more hands!  Ace-Queen – give me a break!

More about the final hand with Ace-Queen in a bit.  The loss makes it a relatively short story to tell.  The real theme of today was the table changes.  You see there’s luck in the cards but there’s an almost bigger luck factor in the composition of  players at your table.  On day 1 I played at the same table the whole day and six of the original 10 made it through.  On day 2 I was twice at a table that was broken up to consolidate players as others got knocked out.  I saw the gamut.  A few hours at a table that was pretty typical to a few hours at a nightmare table with Amir Vahedi and then finally to a table you dream about – a ton of chips in the hands of easy opponents – I could just feel it was a ticket to a few hundred thousand.   And that’s why getting busted out of that table was all the more painful.

After the pocket 8’s on the first table and a raise with Ace-King that I had to give up on a bad flop and winning a small pot with a small flush from the small blind and a nice size pot by finding pocket Aces to call down an all-in bet from a guy with pocket Jacks – all in the first half hour of play – that was it for seeing anything close to reasonable cards let alone good cards for the remainder of my five and a half hours of play other than two Ace-Queens suited at my final table – one which I had to throw away in the face of a raise and re-raise before the flop and the other that sent me packing.  So other than the final questionable move I can’t feel too bad about how I played.

But the second table I played at really killed me.  I took 27k to it and left it an hour later with 17k.  I thought I might get some benefit of the doubt respect when I first arrived and threw in a foxy raise in late position with ten-jack offsuit but had to lay it down to a big re-raise which I suspected was a bluff but didn’t have the time to observe the fella’ to be sure of my read or the goods to call with.  There were four or five guys playing as tough as this guy, mixing it up – a killer table.  And that was it – all I could do was watch my antes and blinds drain my stack.  And that wasn’t even the worst of it because it took me a few minutes to recognize him when I got to the table because he lacked his trademark unlit cigar – but there he was at the other end - the wild Iranian Amir Vahedi – one of the top players in the game – at least according to the entourage’s yardstick – he’s in a select group of only about a dozen guys that has been immortalized by a bobblehead doll in the RIO giftshop!  I mean this guy plays what seems like EVERY pot.  He likes to gamble and that means you have to gamble whether you like it or not.   But hold on! – could this be? – yes – Amir without chips (like me) is playing a relatively quiet game – is it a ruse? – no even Amir needs chips to be the biggest baddest fox.  Maybe I won’t have to gamble with him for my tournament life.

And then it happens – BOOM! – he finds pocket Kings against two poor schnooks with almost as good hands and he’s tripled his chip count and there’s a buzz when he drags it in and even the entourage is cheering because he’s got SUCH PERSONALITY until I throw them a look to remind them of the impending disaster – Amir with chips!!!

So now I’m thinking about how I have to play a game that’s not my best – just brute gutforce gambling with the gamblers when it suddenly hits me.  I quickly break from the table and make a beeline for the entourage and they get into gear to get the info that could save the day!  Yes! They confirm it!  Like a falling stack of dominos the line of tables being broken is heading right for me – maybe only another 15-20 minutes or so before our table will be broken and the players scattered to the spots being opened by other players busting out.  I can get out of this mess!

So I quickly formulate this team effort from the entourage into a strategy.   And like the Princeton basketball team I suddenly go into slowdown mode.  All of a sudden every six-deuce, jack-four and ten-three I find are suddenly tough decisions.  I give it my best effort – long enough to meaningfully drain the clock but not so long to become obvious – especially when I throw a few away real quickly. 

And the table breaks and I take my remaining 17k to the dream table.  Six of the nine guys have stacks over 70k and not a tough player among them.  I mean this must be the convention of lucky players and they’re chirping it up and talking about how late they’ll be playing TOMORROW! night because of course they’ll be there because they’re supposed to be this lucky and have all these chips.  I mean get this – the guy to my right with 100k to my 14k just CALLS the small blind to my big blind when its folded around to him and I take the pot on the flop– I mean c’mon with my puny stack you should be putting in a raise before you even look at your cards – I’d have to have a real hand to call with 30% of my stack.

And the guy to my left with even more chips lets me get away with calling the small blind to his big blind TWICE! without raising me and again I take down the pot on the flop.  At the first break after I hit this miracle table I’m just bubbling with excitement as I share a turkey sandwich on the floor of the hallway with the entourage.  This table is not going to break for the rest of the night and I just found fat city!  These guys bet when they have something and fold when they don’t and why not – if you’re building mounds of chips because you’re getting such great hands then why bother trying to out-think each other?

And as if on cue the only other real player at the table, a young Scandinavian kid, who comes back from the break with even less chips than me builds his stack from about 10k to 70k in ten minutes.  I mean he re-raises all-in with three fives and gets called by a big stack with only a pair of queens and a jack kicker!  The guy throws away 40k in chips and he can’t even beat a pair of queens with an ace kicker.  I’m just salivating waiting for my turn.

Which of course never comes.

And I’m down to exactly two 5k chips which I hold up to the entourage about half an hour before the dinner break because my table is at a distance from the rope and they can't quite see what's going on and on the next hand I have to break one of them to pay the 200 ante and 1k big blind.  I only have enough money left to see 25 more hands of jack-deuce, ten-four, etc.

But I’ve been hanging in because the guys around me are letting me get into pots for “free” on my blind with their soft play most of which I win despite the ragged cards, so when the young Scandinavian kid brings it in for a raise in early position, I’m a bit startled because I’ve become kindof accustomed to seeing the flop for free.  And because he’s the only other PLAYER at the table and he’s been raising quite a few pots I don’t give him credit for necessarily having a big hand and so when I look down and see the ACE-QUEEN of hearts I consider all this, and I consider that if I play the blinds one more time around my stack will be so small that it will be easy for anyone to call my raise and I decide after much consideration that the correct play is to go all-in and I do!

And that’s the story I’d like to tell – but the painful fact is it ain’t the truth – and that’s what hurts.

The truth –

Even with 10k I’m not panicked – after all I was this low late in day 2 last year as well, I’m on a dream table from which I should be able to vacuum up chips and actually it doesn’t take much mental energy to play a short stack if you’re not panicked and not hunkered down getting rattled by the chirping as I’ve described in the last post.   I mean I’m convinced I’m walking out of here with into six figures of chips from this group and so because I can’t afford to be very tricky with a short stack anyway, and there’s nothing to learn from this group by observation because they aren’t tricky either I relax.  And when I see the Ace-Queen of hearts after an hour of seeing cards that don’t match like the jack-deuce, ten-four etc.. like a friggin rookie I’m moved by  the sheer physical beauty of seeing those cards together after the ugliness of the succession of lousy hands – and there is nothing more than a moment of consideration before I go all-in.  I mean it’ll take me a few more days to firmly conclude whether it was the right thing to do or not – although I suspect that it was the wrong decision – but it’s not the decision that counts (its probably a close one) – its that I didn’t even take the time to consider – I mean after 15 grueling hours on Thursday and another six hours I just put my tournament on the line with a visceral reaction – how weak is that!

Things I should have considered – even if I don’t give the young Scandinavian credit for a big hand do I really think he’s going to fold to my re-raise with his stack? – he’s probably got something.  The point of going all-in with a small stack before it gets tiny is the reasonable probability of not being called– it is less likely that a re-raise makes a raiser lay down his hand.   He’s already got chips committed and your small stack can’t hurt him too much.  If he has a small pair – then I’m only a 50-50 shot – a coin flip as they say.  Do I want to flip a coin for my tournament life right now?  I’m about to get position as the blinds pass.  I’ve got a weak table so the longer I stick around the more likely it is that one of them will make a mistake that helps me greatly so its better to let my stack shrink some more rather than calling a raiser.  He could have Ace-King which would make me a 6-1 dog, or Aces which would make me even a bigger dog.  

Yes its also true that he was raising a lot and that there are plenty of hands he could have been raising with that I would be a clear favorite to win against – Ace-Jack, Ace-ten, Ace-nine, King-Queen – its also true that this could be the best hand I see for the next 25 hands – I haven’t seen much all day.   And yes its true that if I finally find a hand after say ten hands and win it with an uncontested raise I’ll just be back to where I started hoping I get a hand within the next 25.   And yes its true that if he has a weaker hand and calls my raise I’ll double up to over 20k and get out of harms way and be able to make a few moves to build up my stack at this table.   And yes its true that lasting longer by not playing this hand doesn’t mean that I had good odds for coming back with 25 hands left of chips to go anyway so its time to make a stand.  And that’s why it’s a close call.

But I wouldn’t feel so crushed if I made the decision to go all-in being able to say that I sat back and thought through all this before I put my tournament on the line rather than make the decision is such a lazy visceral way.

But that’s not what happened and its that thought that I’ll have to suffer with for a while.  And sure enough he had Ace-King.  And with no hearts and no queen on the flop I didn’t even get an adrenaline rush before my death and the king on the turn sealed the deal and made the river card irrelevant.  “Seat open table 128” before it even fell

And so even though I know from experience that the pain will subside in a few weeks and it’ll be a few months before I even  think about playing this again for now I’ll have to replay that 3 seconds of visceral reaction over and over again and wonder if like the Scandinavian kid who took my chips the next three hands would have got me to 70k.