Tag Archives: travel

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!

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……