Monday, July 17, 2017

Toiling in the Dark - Part 2

This post is a continuation to Toiling in the Dark - Part 1 where I describe the first part of my recent trip to Vegas, and participation in the Monster Stack poker tournament.

The evening after busting Monster Stack and returning to my hotel room, I regroup and research my options for the upcoming days. It's a Sunday night and I have two full days for poker before flying back home Wednesday. I debate cash game vs tournament play and opt for tournaments, with the goal in mind to recoup my $1,500 investment in the Monster Stack. In 2015, this had worked reasonably well for me, playing a few $125 events at the Aria and cashing for almost $1,900 in one of them.

Browsing the poker atlas app, I review upcoming tourneys at the local casinos. Aria and a few of the others are running multi-day events this week and so are removed from consideration. I want to play single day events in the $150-$300 buyin range and finally settle on the Daily Gold Rush $20K guarantee, $150 buyin tournament at the Golden Nugget, with a 1 pm starting time.

Monday, en route to the tourney, my GPS wants to direct me from my convention center Marriott to the Nugget via highway 15. Having taken that route before and dodging the suicidal Las Vegas drivers on it, I opt for the leisurely ride up Las Vegas Boulevard to downtown. The heat wave had subsided to a friendlier 106 degrees and a few brave souls are observed walking the sidewalks - even one jogger! I am unaware of (and can't map or locate) any parking deck at Golden Nugget, so end up parking at Binion's next door, noticing that the $10 daily parking fee will be validated for any purchase at a Binion's store.

At half past noon, the circus also known as Fremont street is just awakening and venturing onto it doesn't involve encountering jugglers, magicians and strippers as it normally would. Crossing the street from Binion's to the GN is never going to be an issue, anyway. The tournaments are played in the Nugget's ballroom, large and separate from the poker room. As I line up to register and head to my seat, I feel I have made the right choice. There are apparently hundreds of entries to this event and I salivate at the prospects of a nice juicy prize pool. All said and done (after the late reg levels), there are 326 entries, a $35K prize pool with top spot paying over $8K.

As the event starts, my optimism is confirmed. The hcrowd is your typical mix of weekend warriors and hometown heroes. There are a few Europeans sprinkled around, mostly middle aged plus rather than your prototypical 20-year old online sickos. The play is tight and predictable, players making increasingly obvious mistakes as the day progresses and SPRs (stack to pot ratios) compress. 

I am seated in S6, and to my left in S7 is an irascible 50-ish gentleman from Pennsylvania who appears annoyed whenever called or raised. The dealers, while nice folk, are poorly skilled and make numerous errors. In the first 25/50 level, our gentleman berates the dealer when a player opens for 125, another late position player (not S7) throws in two 100 chips and the dealer rules it a call (when it could have been considered a legal 75 chip raise). The dealer insists on being correct and the floor isn't called. Then approx. 20 minutes later, I open raise a decent but not great hand, and S7 3bets fairly large. The dealer commences to separate out the raise from the bet in order to inform me of the difference, and S7 says "what the hell are you doing"? Dealer responds that he's doing this to let me know how much more it is to me, and S7 responds "he didn't ask for it and you shouldn't be counting out the difference". Of course, in my mind, although fairly rude he is correct and I concur that I didn't ask for the difference - thinking to myself, how ironic this is since I am not your poor mathematically challenged slob requiring algebraic help. Dealer insists he's correct and now, S7 calls the floor and the ruling is that the dealer should desist from this activity when not requested. Order is restored in the GN kingdom. I fold, by the way.

The day wears on, and while I keep my stack intact, the blinds start catching up and I have no big pots to hang my hat on. It's a common tournament adage that we need those pots in the middle stages in order to make it to the later ones. By level 9 at the 400/800/100 level I am left with 9900 chips and ship  ATss, am called by J9ss and double up. Soon thereafter, a table move lands me on S3 of a very "active" (aka fishy) table. We are at the 600/1200/200 level and with 21,300 in my stack, I pick up QQ in the small blind. It folds to me and I raise to 3000. Big blind, with a stack of ~18,000, calls and we see a flop of 972 rainbow with two hearts. I ship and he calls, showing J4hh. A heart hits the river and I am down to a stub. 

Regrettably, just then the 40 minute dinner break hits. Well, I have come back from 2.5 BB stacks to cash in tournaments before, and perhaps can do so again! For dinner, I recall the unfinished business of stamping the Binion's parking ticket, and nit that I am, head to their burger stand for a $9.74 burger and soda, netting to a $0.26 profit if we consider the free parking. Woohoo. The burger chef / cashier / everything else is a 60ish guy who does not want to be here. Between the 10 minutes he keeps me in line to take the order and another 15 to prepare and bring it out, my break is mostly consumed. I scarf down the (pretty good) burger while trying to get onto WSOP.com via iPad and see if I can get some online play going. Ha! The Binion wifi and my phone hotspot are no rival to the remote location of our diner.

After dinner, I sit down and immediately pick up JJ. My now 1.5 BB are promptly shipped and called by KK. Story of my life in Vegas this year :) But honestly I don't "take it hard" or any such bad beat nonsense. This is tournament play and we expect not to cash at least 80% of the time.

The time is about 7:30 pm and I head over to play the 1/2 cash game. Golden Nugget is a great spot for cash play, because of the uncapped buyin (money plays, meaning you can pull $100 bills out of your wallet and put them under your chips). I buy in for only $200 and on my first hand, pick up AA. I decide to pull a tricky one and limp UTG. A $100 stack in MP raises and the bait is set. I flat call and when the flop comes, check, he shoves and I have his JJ pretty dead. The rest of the session is somewhat up and down, and I end up leaving at around 10 pm, with a break even result. A pity I think, since a drunkard has just sat down, but I have to get my rest for the next day's tournament grind.

Tuesday! Back to the grind and to the same event! 

This time, we get 368 entries and an even larger prize pool, with a top spot payout of $8,900. I am seated in S2, to the left of a 60-ish local lady who is playing tightly and exchanging eye rolls and comments with me about the inanity of the table talk, mostly coming from the direction of S6 and S7, two middle aged American rec players.

S7 has announced to the table that he has not come here to fold, and proves it by calling down a river bluff of mine with a weak second pair (I apparently had missed his first announcement and when he calls, it is re-iterated to me). Then, two levels later at 75/150, with a stack of about 15,000, he opens for 400 from the HJ position, the SB lady in S1 calls and I, with a stack of 11,175, come along with 86ss. It flops 853 rb, checks to him, he bets 800 into the 1200 pot, SB folds and I c/r to 2000. He calls. The turn is an Ace and it checks through. River is a 9, it checks through and I lose to A7. I remark: you should have folded flop, to which he quite sternly responds, I would have folded to a lead, but your c/r was rude and I couldn't fold to it. God, I really hate fish I think to myself. A few hours later, after working up to the second highest stack on the table, he gets it in against the chip leader with AA vs AK and busts when two K's hit the river. No f-ing way, he screams in agony, but truthfully the table is happy to see him go.

As far as my fortunes go, this one ends earlier than Monday's, thankfully before the dinner break. After my now-obligatory Binion's burger (this time served by a cheery young lady), I walk over to the GN poker room and sign on for their 1/2 cash game, only to see that there's a long waiting list and to notice that they have a 7 pm $110 buyin tourney!

That tourney, there are only 50-ish entries and I get three Euro middle aged maniacs at my table. And guess who's at my right? Said S7 fish from earlier today. He plays erratically and busts quite rapidly. As in the others, I am either card dead or miss every single f-ing flop. I hang on until the inevitable mid-levels bust and head out. 

Back in my room, I figure, what the hell this is my last night in Vegas. I log into WSOP.com and register to a late night tourney (degen or not?). The buyin is something like $10 and with over 200 entries, it adds up to a decent prize pool. Ironically, this one goes better than the live events and I find myself at 2 AM with a decent stack, close to the money bubble. Sure enough, I run into a cooler and just like that, I'm out. 

Summary: This is not a successful trip. But some day, when I return and win similar events, I will look back to this week as very instructive, painful as only poker can be, and (at times) fun as only Vegas can be!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Toiling in the Dark - Part 1

It's a nice and sunny June Friday in Seattle as my wife Tali and I make our way to the airport from our home town of Issaquah, 18 miles away. Our Lyft driver is interested in our destination and in response to "Vegas", a discussion of its current heat wave ensues. Ironic, I think, as I've been long yearning to escape our seemingly endless pseudo-spring with its grey and damp climate, only to fall into a boiling furnace.

The airport is the usual summer zoo of manic families and confused elderly travelers, mulling around in disorderly fashion and clogging the concourses. Even at the TSA precheck security line, people seem clueless about what they should be removing. I remark to Tali that the Vegas crowd should be especially merry and repulsive today.

After a quick lounge visit (courtesy of an expensive AMEX Platinum card membership), we proceed to the gate and hear an agent summon us to the desk. There is a pleasant young couple, seated separately in our row, and we are asked to agree to seat changes to accommodate them. Sure, we say, as long as we sit together. So the changes are made. As I eye the male, something tells me we are headed to the same event (more on that next).

In flight, as I get up to the toilet, Tali and the girl from above-mentioned couple, chat and figure out that both their husbands are going to play poker at the WSOP. As i return, she says he's playing a "deepstack" and I say, cool, I'm playing "monster stack". Aha, she says, I think that's it. Eric, is that the event you're playing? The response is affirmative. A chat ensues, whereby I identify a fellow weekend warrior type who wants to take a shot at luck. To the unfamiliar, our event is a $1,500 buyin multi-day poker tournament, attracting over 6,000 entrants with a first prize of over $1M. Even a "small" five-figure cash for a top 100 finish would do wonders for my poker bankroll, allowing me to venture into larger cash games on a regular basis, really the primary purpose of this trip.

Vegas more than fulfills the promise of its heat wave, and luckily I stop by the Starbucks stand for a Venti Ice Coffee before venturing out to the scorching 115 degree pavement. 
We stand for 10 minutes in the inferno until a rental car shuttle arrives for the very long drive to the rental car center. One wonders whether Vegas's town elders had cleverly planned this center to be particularly distant, for the indirect benefit of its taxi and limo operators.

We stay at an offsite Marriott in the convention center area. This is predicated on the idea to relax away from the crowds when not playing poker. Tali, ever supportive, had agreed to come along for a couple of nights and we thus end up in a decent suite. After arrival, our errands include shopping for in-room groceries and signing up for the Sunday flight of the Monster Stack at the Rio casino. Completing those two errands consumes our entire afternoon. Getting around in Vegas these days is a time consuming affair, with the long red-light waits even off strip, and locating a decent grocery store in the vicinity is not an easy endeavor. Healthy living is apparently not the mainstay of this town.

For dinner, we decide to go to the Fremont area of downtown, where new and affordable eateries have been popping up as an alternative to the over-priced and hyped "strip" casino dining venues. On Google maps, I locate Carson Kitchen, a small chef restaurant with modern American cuisine offerings. It doesn't take reservations, and upon arrival at approx. 7:30 pm we are given a 40 minute wait time, or an alternative of hanging out at the roof patio bar until spots free up. We happily take the bar option and enjoyed cocktails there, albeit the 8 pm temp is still 108 degrees and the bartenders are distinctly unhappy; one of them remarks that this seemed a good idea in April.  

Once seated, the meal itself is impressive. Not a bona fide foodie, I won't go into details of the menu but recommend that the interested inspect their website's menu. However, seated on a common table, there is a group of people to our side and opposite Tali, amongst them a lady whom she claims is giving us the "evil eye". A bad omen for poker, I thought. At some point, Tali stares back at the lady and fake-smiles her into oblivion so that she would stop her evil-eye business.

Saturday passes in non-poker activities, which well suits my plans. Relaxation from a hard work week in the East Coast includes heading out to the Orleans cinema to watch the silly (and fun) Wonder woman film. The cinema itself is one of these newly tricked out sofa-style venues, and while the crowd enjoys it, they still think that attending a cinema gives them the inalienable right to leave their crap strewn around the place when they leave.

Sunday, the big day. I awake at 8 AM and head to the gym, preparing physically and mentally for a 10 to 12 hour day of intensive poker play (assuming I survive it). Then, at 9:15 I head out to the Rio on my own, Tali planning to depart for home later that day. I arrive and suck in the WSOP atmosphere - hundreds of players in the hallways, many (like myself) with backpacks. Loud conversations of bad beats and failed bluffs reach my ears, as I make my way to the Amazon room, where play will commence at 10 AM. No major celebrity sightings though, unlike last year when I had sighted luminaries like Seidel and Galfond in the hallway (Seidel being even taller and thinner than I imagined).

I am the first to arrive at the table, and as people start filing in, I try to see if I recognize known players, but none come the way of my table. I had played this event in 2015, and survived to Day 2 only to bust with a short stack. This time, I resolved to "open up" my game somewhat and be less tight-passive.

The structure of Monster stack is pretty deep and slow. Players get 15,000 chips and play starts at 25/50, with 300 BB. Levels are one hour, allowing patient players the opportunity to be selective in their game and the impatient ones, the opportunity to steal small pots and/or punt off their stacks early on. I belong to the patient category, with deviations as seen appropriate.

As play starts, I am happy to see no famous (or infamous) pros at my table and by play styles, I conclude that this is going to be a passive group, at least for the first few levels when nobody wants to bust early.

My first hand played, I am quietly proud of, using a particular board runout to my advantage.
At 25/50, 15,000 stacks, the cutoff, Button and small blind all limp to me in the big blind. 
I look down at 75cc and check.
The flop is K86 rainbow (pot size: 200)
It goes check/check/150/fold/call/fold (I am the caller). (pot size: 500)
The turn is a 3.
I bet 250, Villian raises to 600 and I call. (pot size: 1700)
River is an Ad with no possible flushes. 
I bet 1000 and Villian folds. 
I have just executed a nice bluff, leveraging a "scary" river card to represent a winning hand when my flush draw misses.

Play continues on and I am able to play 3-4 hands at this level.
At the second level (50/100), I play a hand out of position with AQ and am forced to fold when the runout is low cards and a J appears on the turn. 

My stack is at 15,700 when this key hand unfolds:
I am UTG with 77 and bet 300.
A seemingly tight passive lady in the CO position raises to 600. The button, having doubled up in a prior spot is on a bathroom break, and so she is the effective button. The blinds fold and I call.
The flop is A7s rainbow. (pot size: 1350)
I check, she bets 600. I debate whether to raise or just call with my flopped set, and decide to try and extract more value from this hand by calling and keeping her in with weak Aces and lower pairs.
The turn is a Q (pot size: 2550).
Check, she bets 1500. Everything is proceeding according to plan, and I call. As well, in case I am behind QQ and AA, I don't want to stack off at this early stage.
The river is a 3 (pot size: 5550).
I check, she bets 1500 and I 3bet to 3500, wanting more from my set but not really putting stacks in play. She calls and I open my hand. To my amazement and disappointment, she shows QQ! Wow, I think, I've just dodged a bullet.

At this point, I'm left with 9500 chips or 95 BBs. Still lots of play! But I have a premonition that things are not going to go well for me on this day.

At the next level, blinds are 75/150, antes 25. I am able to work my stack up to 11,000 when this hand occurrs. This (I think) is my major misstep (the 77 vs QQ loss considered to be a cooler, not misstep).

I pick up AhQc in the cutoff and bet 400. The player to my left, a competent (possible pro) 30-ish guy, calls on the button and the blinds fold.
The flop is 954 with one heart (pot size: 1275 with antes, we are 10 handed)
I check, he bets 700, I decide to call. My plan is to win with any A, Q and to bluff any K, J, perhaps T that hit a later street.
Turn is a 3h. (Pot size: 2675)
Check/ 1500 / call with the same plan. This is an optimistic call, since I may now be drawing dead against hands like 76, A2, sets of 44, 55, 99.
River is a 6d. (pot size: 5675)
I look at the board for a few seconds and decide that it's scary enough to bluff. I lead out for 2000. This mimics a value hand that I might be betting a hand like TT+ with. He thinks for a bit, murmurs to himself, and ends up calling, showing 98 offsuit.

I conclude my bluff may have been well timed, but surely too small. if I had made it 4000+, Villian would have been hard pressed to call. I had targeted the correct player type, an observant and balanced type, definitely not a calling station fish. In retrospect, a turn lead or c/r repping A2xx or 76xx would also have been sweet.

After this hand, I am left with 6400 chips and while still viable with over 30 BB, in jeopardy and hamstrung compared to my opponents. From this point onward, I cannot play implicit odds type hands effectively, since I am not getting correct pot odds. I am limited to finding value with large pairs, broadway cards and the occasional "blind special" hand that people will limp into when I am in the blinds with a weak holding that happens to flop well. 

Another hand that plays out to the river, I hold TT and fold a low card board with a Jack on the river, when there is a shove, and a player behind me who ends up calling. The winner shows JJ and I am "saved" again.

But clearly, this is not my day. I am on the wrong side of almost every significant pot and, in the over-used parlance of poker pros, can't get anything going.

I nurse my short stack until the middle of the 5th level and head back to my room in mid-afternoon with a pulsating headache and heartache. I decide to take a rest, get refreshed, and get back into the fighting pits the next day for another event. More on that in my next post!