Category Archives: poker

WSOP 2016 Adventure: Day 4

 After playing in the $1500 WSOP and $235 deepstacks at the RIO I decided for my 4th day to head to downtown Las Vegas where smaller buy in tournaments were taking place. I had heard about the Golden Nugget tournaments. This is an “old school” casino that has been renovated in recent years (or at least, half of it was renovated with a great swimming area). I had also heard their Claim Jumper restaurant praised so I arrived early for a hearty breakfast. And I can highly recommend this cafe.

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The Golden Nugget was hosting a tournament series in their Grand Ballroom. The 1 pm tournament was $150 and started with 15,000 chips while the 7 pm tournament was $100 and you started with 10,000 chips. Blinds in both were every 30 minutes so you got some good play for your money.

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I entered the 1 pm tournament and played until around 4:30 when I got knocked out. I do not remember any hands from this event. I decided to play in the 7 pm tournament and the two hours free time gave me an opportunity to do something I’d been looking forward to for a few months: have a drink at Atomic Liquors Cafe! This is a very cool place where the hipster Vegas crowd hangs out. I had a couple of excellent pints of craft beer before heading back into the tournament fray.

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I should note that the end of town on Freemont where Atomic Liquors is situated also boasts an excellent bookstore and record store. There is also a cool “container park” and much of this development is sponsored by the Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, “who leads the Downtown Project, an effort to revitalize downtown Las Vegas as a vibrant cultural and economic hotspot, has said he wants ‘to be in an area where everyone feels like they can hang out all the time and where there’s not a huge distinction between working and playing.’”

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Anyway, back to poker:

I entered the 7 pm, $100 tournament with $10,000 in chips and there were 140 people registered. My first table was fairly friendly. There were two women to my right, the one furthest away was in her 60s and was a “local”. Apparently she played Omaha with her friends in a weekly game. The woman directly to my right was about 35 and was co-owner/manager of a poker club in Dallas. She had actually cashed in the Collossus tournament but she said it was a “min cash” and she’d bought in 3 or 4 times and had been partially bankrolled.

After about an hour and a half I was hovering around $12,000 chips and I had Ac,8c. I believe the older lady raised and I called with a couple of other people. Two clubs came on the flop so I had a nut flush draw. She bet the flop and I called and I made the flush on the turn! She bet again and I called, and then the river paired the board which brought on the possibility of a full house, but I did not think she had that. The river action went Bet, raise (from me) and call and I won a pretty large pot with my nut flush! I was up over 24,000 chips at that point. The older lady expressed surprise at my flush because she did not realize there were three clubs showing on the board! The younger women to my right made a comment about “well, a pair out there could mean a full house” indicating she may have thought me a bit reckless to be raising on the river. But I was quite sure I was ahead and wanted to get some value from my flush.

After about another 45 minutes I got my dream hand. The blinds were 100/200 and I was in middle position. I looked down at J,J so I raised to 600 and was called by one person to my left and the older woman (again). The flop came with another J giving me a set! However, it was checked to me and I thought “no one is going to bet and they will fold if I bet” so I just checked (the board was “rainbow” meaning all the cards were different suits so there was no immediate danger of a flush). On the turn came another Jack so I now had quads!! Finally the older woman bets 700 so I think “great, at least I’ll make a couple of thousand chips” and I call. A guy to my left calls as well! On the river the older woman goes “all in” for another 2100! Oh happy day! So I just call the 2100 hoping the guy to my right will call as well. He surprises me by raising another 5,000 chips! Oh happy day! I love poker! (At this point the older woman says to the younger one “ok, I know I’m not going to win this pot!”). So I surprise him by raising another 5,000. I could have raised all in, but I wanted to let him have a few thousand chips left because I think this will make it easier for him to call if he is not going totally “all in”. My re-raise really shocks him and he actually says “what could you have? I have a full house!” and he takes a minute or so but reluctantly calls and I turn over my JJ to show quads! So I knock out the older lady and take most of his chips and I’m up to almost 50,000 now. Nice!

I had a few good hands after this including one where a player goes all in, and is called by one other player and me. The flop gives me an open ended straight draw and I check, believing the two of us will “check it down” to have a better chance to eliminate a the all-in player. This is an established practice that not everyone follows. The idea is that it is more important to eliminate a player than it is to gain a few chips. So I check the flop and to my surprise the other player bets. I’m a bit irritated, but I have a good draw so I call and with the turn I make my straight!  The other guy bets again and I call and we both check the river. He turns over the set he flopped and starts to reach for the chips and I show my straight. He looks kind of irritated as the dealer pushes over the chips to me! This guy also looked a little pained throughout the tournament because he was in the process of getting a large tattoo on his arm and had some paper or gauze over it to help with the healing. He pushed me off a couple of other hands with his aggression but by around midnight I think he had gotten knocked out.

So I had several good hands and then there is the inevitable 2 – 3 hours when you get nothing and the blinds are higher and your large stack begins to get smaller. By 1:30 am there were only a couple of tables left and the blinds were very high. I was hanging in with an average chip stack and looking for spots to raise or even jam but mostly I folded. One on the fun things about playing poker is the great “cast of characters” you run into because it is a social game and people talk. There was a guy from New Orleans who, like the woman I had met earlier, managed a poker club back home. He was down to only 2 or 3 big blinds but managed to chip up and make the final table.

By around 2 am (7 hours of playing) I had made the final table! This was pretty thrilling although getting knocked out at that point would still only get you about $330 which is not much profit considering all the time invested. When I made the final table the blinds were around 2000/4000 with a 500 ante. With 10 people at the table, that meant there were 11,000 chips in the pot before any betting had taken place. I had just over 40,000 chips which was 10 big blinds and is not quite short stacked, but not great either.

In one of the first hands I was in early position and looked down to see 5,5 in my hand. I was not crazy about the idea but I felt my only choice was to shove all in. With another 8 players to come it was possible someone else would have a higher pair, but if they called with A,J; A,K; Q,K etc. I was slightly ahead. Understanding how many big blinds you have left is an important factor that dictates how aggressive your play should be. The shorter you are, the lower your range for shoving all in. There is also something called the “M Factor” which Dan Harrington uses in his books. It is a number that shows how many more hands you can last. For example, with the 2000/4000 blinds and 500 ante, it was costing me about 11,000 chips every round so I had an “M factor” of around 4 which is pretty low. There is also a concept called “fold equity” which basically means the more chips I have when I go all in, the greater likelihood others will fold.

At this stage most players had between 40K and 120K in chips so I had a good hand with decent fold equity. So I took the plunge, went all in and…..everyone folded! So I now had over 50K in chips and could be a little patient for a few hands.

There was an older guy to my right and a few times over the next 45 minutes he just called the big blind or “limped in” as we say. So two or three times that he did that I had hands like A,10 and A,J and I was in late position so I jammed all in. He reluctantly folded. At one point I believe the blinds were 2500/5000 he raised to 12,000. I looked down and saw 6,6. I thought about calling but I’d basically be doing that to hope I flopped a set which is going to happen 12% of the time. I had around 60K in chips which is not enough to call in that position. I thought of going all in, but previously he had only limped in and now he was raising so I suspected he had either a high pair or an A,K kind of hand. Against a higher pair my 6,6 is crushed and against the A,K; A,Q range I am still only slightly ahead. So I folded. So did everyone else and he gave me a disappointed look, turned over A,A and said “why did you fold? You went all in every other time I raised”. I shrugged and did not correct his misreading of my play: I’d only gone “all in” when he had called (thus showing weakness) and not when he raised.

I had a few other good hands. I got it all in with A, K against 10,10 and a King came and I doubled up. Another player had had a huge stack and had lost a fair amount raised and I looked down a J,J so I went all in. He thought about it for almost a minute which I took as a good sign. I was thinking he had a smaller pair and eventually he called and turned over 6,6 and I won that hand as well.

There were two German friends who made it to the final table. They both spoke English well but occasionally had to be cautioned about speaking German at the table. I will always remember one player saying “I’m going to raise” and one of the Germans, in a very precise manner, and with his accent, replied “That is always a good idea”. At one point I raised all in with A, 10 and the one German really thought about calling for a while and then folded. I said “I’ve heard Germans are very disciplined and that was a disciplined fold. You should do more of those!”. He smiled.

Eventually we began to discuss a chop because, as one player put it, “I’d be pretty pissed if I played for 8 hours and still only made $300!”. When the final table got down to 8 we did the math and figured we would each make slightly over $1100 so we settled on that!

It was after 3 am when we came to the agreement and it was all very exciting. By the time I got my chips and cashed them in for money and drove back to my hotel it was around 4 am Vegas time and 7 am Eastern. I texted my wife (who was just getting up for work) and expressed my excitement. It was a real thrill to have played for that long and had a decent cash. So that was the poker highlight of my trip!

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WSOP 2016 Adventure: Day 3

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.

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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.

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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.

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(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!

WSOP 2016 Adventure: Day 2

On Sunday I drove to the Rio hotel/casino to register for Monday’s $1500 tournament and play the afternoon “Rio $230 deepstack” to get a flavour for the venue and “feel the vibe” of the WSOP.

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The above photo is from the entrance into the convention center at the Rio so you “know you have arrived” at the WSOP.  Originally the WSOP was held in Binion’s in downtown Vegas. As more events were added it moved to the Rio but they held the final table of the “Main Event” at Binion’s for a few years in a special room. But several years ago that too changed, and they moved the final table to the Penn and Teller Theatre in the Rio (in fact, although the 60+ WSOP events are held from June – July the final table of the main event is in November for additional publicity and suspense).

The first order of business was to take out the $1500 I had won in Orangeville and use it to buy into “Event # 6” the next day. And also bought into the $230 Rio Deepstack that started at 2:30 in the afternoon.

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“Deepstack” means you start with more chips, usually at least 15,000 which is twice the 7,500 you get at many of the official events. The blinds are every 30 minutes so you can afford to wait for better hands. The Rio deepstack is a little deceptive because after 2 hours they ‘skip’ a couple of blind levels which means around hour 3 many people start shoving, or going “all in” quite frequently. A true one-day “Deepstack” should last 10+ hours so hour three is a little early for so many “all in” moves.

A big issue with playing poker in Las Vegas during the WSOP is the chronic lack of good dealers. The Rio Deepstack has about 1700 entries (which is around 170 tables to start, requiring 180 dealers to be ready) and there are many other tournaments running at the same time including satellites to events and cash games. And the $1500 tournaments have close to 2000 players. Here is my photo of the main Pavilion room at the Rio:

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There are a couple of other ballrooms where they play poker but this is the largest. And all the poker I mentioned above is just at the Rio. Many other casinos (like Caesar’s, Wynn’s, The Venetian, The Golden Nugget etc.)  all have their own series to take advantage of people coming in for the WSOP. So many dealers are required for this 2.5 month “bubble”. And they are often not that great. I’ve been sitting at tables where an older dealer is trying to shuffle the cards and I’m thinking “just give the cards to me, I’ll shuffle them more quickly and efficiently and then you can deal”. Sometimes the pots get complicated with the chips and multiple bets and some dealers get overwhelmed. So the players wind up working out how the chips should be split! And some of the players are surprisingly slow to act as well so the advantage of the half hour blinds get eroded by slow dealing and playing. I would not expect that at the WSOP, but it happens!
The poker on Day 2 was not so great. I played in the $230 Deepstack from 2:30 to around 6:30 pm I think and never had very many good hands (meaning, none) and eventually got knocked out. I decided to play a cash game which means the blinds remain the same so there is no pressure to go all in. You can lose as much money as you wish! I chose the 1/2 No Limit game and bought in for $200. It was a fun table and we all joked about stuff, the drinks were free (I think) and you tipped the waitress $1. So it was a relaxing time. Here is a photo of my table.

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I believe I was up over $100 and was preparing to leave soon (it was around 10 pm which would be 1 am Eastern time). Then I got into a hand with the young guy to my left (who had actually re-bought for $200 a couple of times!).

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I was dealt KK and, rather unfortunately, he was dealt AA! I suppose I could have avoided losing all my chips on this hand, but it would have been tricky. I raised initially and he re-raised. Then the same thing happened on the flop, so a better player might have folded KK, but I did not and lost. So instead of leaving up $100 I was down $200. Some people would say, “hey, you sat at the table for a few hours and had a good time and did not lose that much in the bigger scheme of things”. But at the time I was frustrated that I’d played well and made some money and then lost it all on a freaky hand. But as they say, “That’s Poker”.

I drove back to my hotel to prepare myself for my “big day” playing the $1500 tournament.

WSOP 2016 Adventure: Day 1

My plane landed at 12:15 (Saturday, June 4th, 2016) and the first tournament I wanted to play was at Binion’s. I have a soft spot for that old hotel where the magic of the World Series started back in 1970. They have not held it there for many years, and overall it is a little run down. But the dealers are great and it has a kind of “history aura” around it.

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On Saturday afternoons at 1:00 they have a $160 buy in tournament where you start with 20,000 in chips and have 30 minute blinds. It is a good structure and the dealers are very smooth so you don’t have to wait for cards.

<digression>During the World Series in Vegas it is difficult to supply enough dealers because of all the events at the WSOP at the Rio plus many of the other casinos have their own tournament series. So it can be very frustrating to be at a table where the dealer has trouble shuffling the cards and sorting out the chips with the betting, raising, etc. So I appreciate that Binion’s has their regular folks who do an excellent job, even if the tables have seen better days.</digression>

By the time I got my rental car, drove downtown and parked in Binion’s garage and walked to the poker room, the tournament had been running for over 1/2 hour. There was still plenty of time to get in because they allow entry at least until four rounds (or perhaps even six). You can even re-enter for another $160 if you get knocked out in that time.

So I gave them my money and was seated about half way through the second blind level. I wound up sitting next to a retired guy who was Canadian but lived in some warm place  (Mexico?). He had worked for a couple of hotel chains, I guess in some executive position and I had my Marriott Lifetime Platinum status, so we chatted about hotels, travel, Canada etc. This is another thing I like about poker: it’s a social game. At its most cutthroat you have to stop talking so you do not give away too much “information” but generally there is a good conversation somewhere at the table. It is a lot of fun because you are folding 95% of your hands, and other than observing people, there is not much to do. Throughout the week I wound up meeting him a few more times in other tournaments so that was fun.

In this tournament I never really saw many good cards. I think I played quite well and hung in there, but it is difficult when you are “card dead” for such a long time. I had been reading Kill Everyone, which has several great sections in it on different aspects of tournament poker. It is the “advanced” version of Kill Phil which is kind of a “cheater’s guide” to playing tournaments with professionals. They discuss a “shove” strategy: the general theory being that if you get a decent hand you should often shove (i.e. go “all in”) and pick up a pot rather than playing “post-flop” where the professionals have an advantage. Professionals generally like to play “small ball” where there is less room for variance (other word for “luck”) to mess things up. Kill Phil is ok, but I really preferred Kill Everyone with its more detailed strategy. There is a lot of good discussion in there about equity, bet/fold/shove ranges given your chip stack and general strategy around the “effective stack”. I should read it again because any decent poker book takes several readings before you really “get it”.

Anyway, I hung in with this tournament until around 6 pm and applied a few of the “Kill Everyone” strategies to keep me in. I believe in my last hand I went “all in” with something like pocket 9s, and the fellow who called was new at the table but he had a ton of chips and had been winning everything. I believe “steamrolling his previous table” would be the correct expression. I think I was ahead of him when he called, or perhaps he had pocket Jacks. In any event, by the river he’d made a full house so I was history. Sometimes poker is just like that, you play well, but someone comes along who just dominates.

So I went back to my car and drove to the Polo Towers where I was staying.

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It was on the strip next to the Hard Rock Cafe so quite central. It was a time share place that also rented hotel rooms so it had no casino and it was nice to get back to a quiet place each day. Aside from the guy who tried to sell me a time share right after I checked in (by offering me several 15th generation photo-copied sheets of “deals”) the stay was quite pleasant. Its main problem was driving there because it was a bit tricky to get into the parking, but the rooms had fridges and microwaves and were very comfortable. I’d stay there again, for sure.

OK, that is all the excitement for Saturday. Next up…..Sunday!

Las Vegas Trip, 2016, Prologue

I have probably been to Las Vegas over 20 times in my life and it is usually a lot of fun. But in 2016 I went for a singular purpose: to play poker for 5 days straight!

I play poker regularly in the fall and winter at the Orangeville Poker Tour (OPT) and at other games around Kitchener and some tournaments at the Brantford Casino. The competition at OPT is quite good and most of the players work to improve their game. In addition to the league games (12 – 15 over the winter) they have satellites to various tournaments, including Montreal WSOP and Las Vegas. I don’t usually play satellites but in early 2016 I said “what the heck” and drove out to Bolton and played in an event.

We paid $260 USD to enter and I also paid for a $100 “add on”. There were 10 of us playing and we raised enough to give away two entries into $1500 USD WSOP tournaments and I won one of them! This was an “equity” tournament and everyone signed an agreement so if either of the winners made money in a tournament they would take 15% of it and split it up amongst the other 9 players at the table.

This was a pretty exciting event because prior to winning the entry I had never thought about going to Vegas on my own just to play poker. Several of the people from Orangeville do it every year, but now it was something that was happening to me!

There are over 60 events in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas each year in June and July. I had to find the $1500 event that I wanted to play in. Complicating the issue was the fact my company was holding its user conference in Nashville in mid-July and I had over a week of work to perform in June in preparation for this. So I had to pick the event to play.

No Limit Hold ‘em is by far the most popular poker game being played but of the 60+ events many are other forms like Omaha, Omaha 8, 7 Deuce triple draw, limit hold ‘em etc. and they have buy ins at $1000, $1500, $2500, $5000 and the “main event” which is $10,000. But I was just looking for a No Limit event with a $1500 buy in. Even then, there was a “deep stack” option which had you starting with $15,000 in chips instead of the $7,500 you get at the regular event. The $1500 event normally lasts 3 days and has over 2000 entries. Occasionally the final table can take longer and it can reach a 4th day!

I thought about the deepstack option but it was a 5 day tournament. Even though the odds are good that you will get knocked out in the first day or two you must still prepare optimistically, and so 5 + 2 days of travel = at least 7 days total compared with the 3 day tournament and travel which = 5 minimum. The well known professional poker player and author/trainer Jonathan Little wrote a great article about how amateurs are better off playing shallower stacked tournaments where variance is higher. They stand a better chance of making money in one of those whereas the pros have a big advantage in the deep stacks.

Once I settled on playing in a $1500 3-day No Limit Hold ‘em tournament I found there were only three of these out of the more than 60 tournaments scheduled! I was surprised because this is the basic “everyman” entry level into the WSOP and fairly popular and I thought there would be more. There are also a couple of $1000 buy-in events but they start with even fewer chips and there is the $565 “Colossus” event but with more than 20,000 entries your chances of cashing are pretty slim.

I decided on playing the $1500 event #6 on June 6, 2016. It started on a Monday and I booked my flight and hotel from Sat June 4 to Thursday June 9. This gave me 5 days to play poker! My attitude was: I will play poker all day for 5 days. If much of that is in the $1500 tournament, then great. But if I bust out of that, so what? I’m in Vegas and everything is good and there is always more poker!

Flights and hotel: I scoured Travelocity for a few days and got a pretty good deal: Flight on Westjet and 5 nights at the Polo Towers (on the strip, next to Planet Hollywood) for just over $1000 (including tax). I also booked a rental car on my aeroplan points: all the W.S.O.P. events are at the RIO and it is off the strip. So a cab to it costs $20 to $40 depending on where you are coming from so that can be a big expense.

I had a choice of renting from Avis or Hertz and chose the latter since the compact car was 3,000 points cheaper. I have spent almost 15 years traveling for my work and was, at one point, a member of Hertz #1 Gold but now I’m just Avis Preferred. I did not think of that when booking because I’m used to the bus dropping me off at an electronic board with names and stall numbers where I go to my car and drive it out. At the Vegas airport my Hertz experience was quite a bit different. I arrived to a lineup of 8 people and there were only 2 desk agents! But the lineup was actually for the bank of video kiosks and there was one agent directing us to the next available one. This seemed like a punishment when I had already booked the car yet still had to line up to get the paperwork completed. There was one guy at the front of the line with an frustrated/disgusted look on his face and when I asked him “I already booked my car, is this the right line?” he assured me it was and that he was waiting for one of the “live” agents who seemed totally tied up with the two people who had been there all the time I was waiting. After about 15 minutes I got to the video Kiosk and took the phone and was talking for a couple of sentences before I realized that it there was a screen and an agent was talking to me (with cloth backdrop showing trees and a mountain). I had to provide my license and rental information which was awkward because there was no counter upon which to rest a phone or wallet or paper. Eventually she found me a car and the kiosk spit out six narrow pages of paperwork that I was warned was coming because if I had not caught each piece they would have just fallen on the floor.

The car rental was a major pain because my flight landed around noon and my first tournament I wanted to play in was at Binion’s in downtown Vegas and it started at 1 pm. By the time I got in my car, drove downtown, parked at Binion’s parking lot and found the tournament, it was 1:30. The tournament buy in was $160 and they had 40 minute blinds and you could enter (or re-enter if you busted out) any time within the first four rounds. So there was no risk of my missing entering the tournament but I still like to get there on time to see all the hands I can. So I paid my entry and got in the tournament at the second blind level.

To be continued……

How No Limit Hold ’em works

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Ted’s quick No Limit Hold ‘em primer: for those unfamiliar with “No Limit Hold ‘em”, here is how it works. This is just a guide to the basic elements of play for this one version of poker. When I was in high school and part of our chess club turned into a Poker Club, we played “dealer’s choice” which included crazy games like Baseball, Guts etc. These all had wild cards to make the play more exciting. When I first started going to Vegas the most common game was 7 Card Stud and I played that for several years. A typical poker room might have 5 tables of 7 card stud and one table of Texas hold ’em (and this table was often a lot louder than the 7 card stud games). Over the past 10-15 years the game has shifted so that No Limit Hold ’em is by far the most popular game played and almost the only one you see on tv. But in larger casinos Omaha and some other versions can be found.

In No Limit Hold ’em, players must make the “best 5-card hand” out of any combination of their two “hole cards” (which only they see) and the 5 “community cards” which everyone sees. There are two compulsory bets called the “small blind” (SB) and the “big blind” (BB) which move clockwise around the table. In a poker tournament these “blinds” get larger and larger as time goes by–if they did not, then everyone could fold their bad cards and the tournament could last days, or weeks! Blinds “force the action” and they get their name from the fact that you must put in your chips “blind”, before you even see your two hole cards.

N.B. for tournaments that last only one evening the blinds increase every 15, 20 or 30 minutes. For the $1500 tournament I played they increase every hour and for the $10,000 “main event” it is every 2 hours.

After everyone is dealt two hole cards the action starts on the first person that is in “front” of the big blind and moves clockwise around the table. This first player (called “under the gun”) has a choice to “call” (i.e. match the amount of the big blind), “raise” (put in a bet larger than the big blind) or “fold” (throw away their cards). Let’s say the small blind (SB) is 50, big blind (BB) is 100 and the “under the gun” (UTG) player raises to 300. Now if anyone wants to keep playing this hand they must at least match 300 (“call”) or they could raise.

Raising: The original BB is 100 and UTG raised to 300. That is a raise of 200 so if another player wanted to re-raise they would have to at least double the 200 chip raise therefore betting 500.

N.B. It is called “no limit” hold ‘em because there is no limit to how many chips you can bet during your turn. Anyone can move “all in” with their remaining chips when betting. There are many “limit” versions of poker as well.  

In our example, let’s say there are 9 players and 3 additional players have good enough hole cards that they “call” the 300 bet. You now have 4 players left in the hand and at least 1200 chips in the pot (if the SB and BB folded then you have 1350 (300 x 4 + 150), but if the SB and BB are 2 of the 4 players, you only have 1200 chips). Now the dealer deals 3 cards called the “flop”. At this point the players have seen 5 of the 7 total cards possible and have a decent idea about the value of their hand. The second round of betting begins with the SB (if they are still in the hand), BB (if they are still in the hand) or UTG player and continues clockwise. Let’s say the SB and BB are 2 of the 3 players who called and they “check” (they are not forced to bet at this point) . UTG bets 600, one other person calls 600 and the SB and BB fold. There are now 2 people left “in the hand” and the pot contains 2400 chips.

The dealer deals another card called “the turn” so the players have now seen 6 of the 7 cards possible. UTG “checks”, other player “checks”. The dealer deals “the river” (the final card). UTG bets 1000 and the other player folds so the UTG player wins 2400 chips!

Some things to consider regarding strategy:

  • The power of position. It is better to be in late position, after other people have acted, than early. Having good cards is great, but putting in a big raise (after players have just called the big blind) can get people to fold. The more “information” you can gather, the better.
  • “Putting people on a hand”. If someone raises you have to think about their range. In early position it will be something like AK, AQ, AJ, AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 10 10, 99 etc. But in later position, if no one has raised, it might be “any two cards” within reason (e.g. K 10, Q 10, J 10 etc.)
  • Putting together the story: the fascinating part of poker is trying to figure out what other people have, and acting accordingly. Poker has been described as “like playing chess but only seeing half of the chess board”. Even when you are not playing in a hand you should be observing what other players are doing. How often do they raise? Do they “check raise”? If you do get to see their cards at the end of a hand you should memorize them  (“wow, he raised in early position with Q 10, that is a really wide range”).
  • Paying attention is important: In the above scenario (blinds are 50 and 100) if 4 people just “call” the big blind and it gets back to the SB and that person folds, you know they are a weak player. They would only have to put another 50 chips in to have a chance at winning 600. So they are getting “12 to 1” on their money (e.g. they only need to win the pot slightly more than 10% of the time for this to be profitable). So they should be playing “any two cards”. If a player folds then you know they don’t understand “pot odds” very well and are weak. You can “exploit” that later on.
  • Aggression is often a good idea. Why bet when you can raise? It’s hard to make a pair. Most hands are won by a higher pair, or two pairs. But sometimes things get much more complicated!
  • David Sklansky is one of the earlier writers on poker theory and he presented a detailed and complex analysis of the topic. This is his “fundamental theorem”. “Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.”