People often ask “how much luck is involved?” in poker or they call poker “gambling” which is not exactly true. First of all, we don’t call it “luck”, it is “variance” which sounds much cooler. I was in a local tournament a few weeks ago where I was “all in” with pocket 7s and a 7 had come on the flop giving me a “set”. That is a very strong hand. My opponent had QQ so I will win this hand almost 90% of the time. Except in this case, a Queen came on the river! Ouch. 7.8% of the time the pocket Queens will win and that is variance.
So over a lifetime of playing, the better players and professionals will win consistently over amateurs. But for any given tournament skill vs luck is about 50/50. It is possible to play mediocre poker and still win a tournament because you get really lucky–and this is every amateur’s dream. However, the more skillful you are, the better chance you have to win. You can take advantage of certain “spots”, you can detect playing patterns that are “exploitable” and push your edge. And you can keep an even temper when a 7% hand beats you. In Slots the house has only a 1% to 3% advantage but they make a lot of money. If you can be patient and wait for your cards to come in the right situation you can vastly improve your chances to win. But still, when the Queen comes on the river (as above) you have to say “all I can do is get all my money in with the best hand”.
Day Three was the BIG DAY where I played in the $1500 tournament which began at 11 am.
I drove to the Rio and arrived in plenty of time to have breakfast and grab a coffee from Starbucks. I was playing “Event #6” on day 6 of the 6th month! The tournament was in the Brasilia Room which is smaller than the Amazon but (ultimately) there were still around 2000 entries. When I started playing the size was shown as 1700 but some people came later and some re-entered.
You begin with 7500 chips and the blinds go up every hour, so it is a good structure and not rushed. However, even with blinds starting at 25/50 the 7500 chips is not a lot. If you lose 2 or 3 decent sized pots, where you have put in 1500 – 2000 chips, you are quickly on life support.
The first hand I played was 6,7. A player raised to 150 and I called. A 7 came on the flop so I called his 300 chip bet. We both checked the turn and when a Jack came on the river he bet 1000. I called and he turned over KJ and took the pot. I lost around 1500 in chips! I think my original call was fine, and perhaps even the 300 call because I’m floating to get another 7 or a 6 for two pair. But I should have known there was no way I was ahead on the river. So I should have been down 450 (at most) and not 1500.
I lost a few hands and won a hand but after an hour and a half of playing I had around 5,500 I believe. The blinds were 50/100 and I raised to 300 with A J. One player called. The flop contained good news and bad news: there was an Ace (!) but all three cards were diamonds. Ugh. I felt if I checked, I was giving up on the hand right away and I’ve always believed that if the possible flush scares me, it must scare my opponent as well (most times). So I bet $1200 and he called. Ouch. The turn was a blank. I was in early position which is bad because I know if I check, he will probably bet and take down the pot so I bet 2100 and he called! Another diamond came on the river, I checked, he bet and I folded. Ugh! Again, an initial bet of $1200 is ok, but when he calls I know I’m probably not good. I have no diamonds so no further money should go in the pot.
I am now down to just under 2000 in chips! The blinds are 50/100 so that is 20 big blinds which is not terrible exactly, but is very short stacked for this early in the tournament. In the hand before our first break I had 3,3 in late position. There may have been a couple of calls so I decided to go all in. I’m hoping that someone with an AJ to AK kind of hand calls and I’m 50/50 to double up. Unfortunately the same person who took my chips on the “flush” board calls and he has pocket 10s! A 3 does not come and I am out! Ouch.
It is strange to have built up to this moment and then have it crash down so quickly. On the other hand, I always knew this could happen in so many ways and I told everyone “I’m going to Vegas to play poker for 5 days straight. If I do well in the $1500 event that is awesome, but if not, there are plenty of other tournaments.”
I thought of going to another casino like Wynn’s or Aria but ultimately decided to just stay at the RIO and play in the 2:30 “deepstack”.
So I paid another $235 to enter the tournament and sat down with 15,000 chips and the blind levels were 30 minutes. Ultimately this tournament would have 1700 entries so it was a large field. It was held back in the Amazon room and over the several hours I played I saw a real cast of characters.
I snapped this photo of the “man in black” (MIB) who sat next to me for the first few hours (that is my water and bag on the chair). He did not talk much but had a southern accent and his outfit was a bit over the top. It was certainly a “uniform” of sorts. He seemed to play ok but at one point, about three hours into the tournament, a couple of “young guns” had joined the table. They were chatting and carrying on like “junior poker pros” and knew each other from other tournaments around the USA. I’d call them a little “rough hewn” in their manners. At one point the man in black was in a hand with one of the young guns. The young gun bet on the flop and turn and the MIB called both times. Ultimately the MIB won the hand when he made a straight with his KJ. The young gun was livid because he had AQ for top pair and was ahead of the MIB until the river when the MIB had made an inside straight. The young gun yelled “why did you call me? I was way ahead and I bet to get you off the draw”. The MIB replied with is draw “I thought you were floating so I called”. And the young gun said “Floating? I bet out with the best hand, how is that floating?” So that was a bit of drama. The young gun was correct in his analysis that the MIB misjudged what “floating” was and should have lost all his chips. However, as we say “that’s poker” and you have to calm down a bit.
I never had great hands and was mostly short stacked all afternoon, but I hung in and jammed when necessary. It was fascinating to see so many players who accumulated a ton of chips (one kid had a couple of full houses) and then to meet them at another table a couple of hours later when they had very few left. Many of the people playing had also been knocked out of the $235 Deepstack so that was somewhat comforting.
(Above: I thought the Elvis dealer and the guy in his undershirt make an amusing couple)
I played from 2:30 until 9 pm when we had our “dinner break” of half an hour. The other breaks had been 15 minutes and I’d only had time for peanuts. Just before the break there was an interesting hand. We were almost at “the money” and were told the bubble would break after we came back. It was a little confusing because there were several tournaments going on at the same time and our dealer was very slow, and I could not see the tournament information very well, so I thought we had played the last hand. So I actually walked away from the table and then a dealer who was one table over shuffling cards yelled to me. He said “hey, they are calling you back at your table” so I ran back the 12 feet and it turned out they were dealing one final hand! It was very nice of my table to call me back because, technically, if I’m not at the table my hand should be folded. I was in middle position and looked down to see 9,9, so when the action came I shoved “all in”. Eventually everyone folded and I picked up a lot of precious chips. One of the players said “hey, we called you back so you have to show us what you shoved with”. I felt that was fair so I turned over the pocket 9s and everyone nodded since it was a no-brainer move.
I realized at 9 pm that I had not really eaten since breakfast so I went to the “Poker Kitchener” at the RIO where I had a wrap with veggies and grilled salmon for $16. This was amazing food! I ate standing up at a table with two other poker players and we had 15 minutes of shared camaraderie over poker and travel etc. It was a very uplifting break.
When I came back we very quickly played “hand for hand” so it would be clear who was the “bubble boy” and we were into the money very quickly. I played for another hour but had virtually no hands. I went all in with A3 once and was called….with A3! The other player joked “how do you play cards like that”? Eventually I made it to 163rd place (out of 1700) and cashed for $407! This was not a huge amount but it was a moral victory to hang in for so long and gave me a bit of an upswing from my brutal tournament experience. So I played poker for almost 12 hours that day!