Sunday, December 31, 2006

One Bad Beat Per Tournament

I'll save you the gory details, but I cannot seem to get passed even a field of 18. Despite getting my money in good in both hands I played (yeah, I'm averaging two hands per tournament), I was short stacked going into this hand.

The eventual hand winner put me all in on the flop, with four outs... only a jack could bust me out.

I guess you were right, Chris.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Frustration of Tournaments

Were it clear if online poker were legal or illegal, I would've played in the $12,000 guarantee tournament this evening at midnight. Had I played, I would have joined 865 other players in a $26 buy-in tournament. The prize pool was $20,784, paying 81 places, and awarding $4,884.24 to the first place finisher.

I've been jonesing for a tournament for some time now, playing mostly in cash games (only where it's legal, of course) of late. This seemed like a good way to dip my feet back in with only a little outlay and an opportunity for a good cash.

I, hypothetically, bellied up, virtually.

For the first 37 hands I waited impatiently for two cards worth playing. I did not intend to risk chips with a mediocre hand, and all I saw were mediocre hands.

I noted three or four serious donkeys at the table. The player immediately to my right was playing virtually every hand. He had a few lucky flops and a few aggressive steals (with or without the best hand, I don't know). He soon doubled his stack, and then some. He continued this approach, and began redistributing the wealth. He called down several players with second pair or top pair with a lousy kicker. He was one of a few players at the table against whom I'd be willing to risk my entire stack with only top pair, top kicker, save for the scariest of boards.

There were also a couple of Fischman-followers who only played an unopened pot, and only with a 6-8x raise. I avoided these guys like the plague. Actually, I avoided everyone for the first 37 hands.

On hand 38 (or so), I found myself with A-Q in the big blind. This was potentially playable. The blinds were 25-50. It folded around to a late-middle position player who called the big blind. The small blind, the aforementioned any-two-card donkey called as well.

I knew pre-flop I was against one player. The small blind would have raised with any ace or any pair. The middle position player had just moved to our table, and I had no information, except that he limped into an unopened pot from late position.

I decided to avoid playing from up front with A-Q, and felt content taking down the 150 chip pot (50 of which came from my stack). I raised 6x to 300. The middle position player thought for about a half second and re-raised all in. The small blind folded.

There were a few possibilities here.

My opponent could've had a monster that he decided to trap with. It would've been a poor decision from his late position as the first opener, but it was possible. I decided it was unlikely and I'd take the chance.

Second, it could've been AK, and this player like to see a cheap flop and then contest it if he hit something. If he saw some pre-flop money in the pot he'd push, and with good fold equity, and about a 50% chance at most pots (and better against any other Ace), he'd be in good shape. I doubted this too. It was a scary possibility, but an unlikely one, I decided.

Finally, a small crossed my face. I thought about Clonie Gowen's interview on Ante Up. She talked about players that limp with a smallish hand, like a small pair, and then push all-in to any raise. This is scared poker; this is bad poker. I'd seen it before many times myself, and I was pretty sure that's what it was.

I clicked "all-in", and my opponent turned over Ace of hearts, 4 of hearts. Sweet! This was best case scenario. "But it was soooted!" I imagined my opponent saying only seconds from now as I doubled up and he was eliminated.

Alas, this was Full Tilt.

The flop came with a pair and a middle card. No help for my opponent. I was about a 87% favorite (including 50% of a tied pot).

The turn was another blank. I was now a 93% favorite.

The river, of course, was that dreaded 4 of spades.

I was left with 20 chips, which were ripped away from me in the small blind the very next hand.

I was out in 664th place. Only once have I finished lower in a tournament, and that was after 6 hours and 1400 eliminations before me.

Patience. The right read. All my chips in ahead, way ahead. Worthless.

Getting lucky - priceless.

... of course, this all assumes I can play online within my legal rights, which is perfectly unclear...

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Championship Shave

The following is an excerpt from "52 Greatest Moments World Series of Poker"
Book details and ordering can be done at

“If Robert Varkonyi wins this tournament, I will shave my head today!” This was the bold promise Phil ‘The Poker Brat’ Hellmuth made after making the point that amateurs in recent years were finishing no better than second. The amateur poker player and professional investment banker already knocked Phil from the Main Event. Now Robert Varkonyi would steam roll through the final table to become the 2002 Main Event champion.


The 33rd annual WSOP hosted 631 entrants and would award $2,000,000 to the winner. Leading the pack at the final table was John Shipley with one-third of the chips in play- more than $2M. Robert Varkonyi started the play with $640K. Combining his position with his amateur status, made Varkonyi a clear underdog. However, the novice from Brooklyn would show no fear against the chip leader. Early in the final table, Varkonyi raised from the small blind holding a King. Shipley called with a suited connector- 8c-7c. The flop paired Varkonyi’s King, but he decided to slow play the best hand and checked. The trap worked as Shipley moved Varkonyi all-in. Varkonyi wasted no time in calling. When the board finished dead for Shipley, Varkonyi had doubled up.

That was just the beginning of the dragon slaying. In another Varkonyi-Shipley showdown the two held pocket Jacks and A-J respectively. The board kept the status quo. Varkonyi won the $2M pot. The tide was turning. Varkonyi had taken what Shipley once had and he did it by going straight to the source. The final blow came when Varkonyi’s Aces eliminated a stunned John Shipley. He was just the first.

Scott Gray would be another victim as he was unlucky enough to go all-in against a Varkonyi Q-10. The history of the Q-10 started with Phil Hellmuth. It was the Q-10 combination that Varkonyi used to knock off the ‘Poker Brat.’ In fact the hand became so renowned in just a short time that it would lead Varkonyi to announce, “Since this is Phil’s favorite hand, I’m gonna call...” And when he did, Varkonyi saw a flop that featured two Queens. Scott Gray was eliminated in fourth place.

Varkonyi set-up the heads up match when his pocket Aces defeated Ralph Perry’s pocket Jacks. Varkonyi’s final obstacle was the 23 year old Julian Gardner. The young man at the table had a chance, if he should win, to become the youngest player to ever win the Main Event. This would break the record set by, who else, but Phil Hellmuth in 1989 who was 24 at the time.


Before heads-up play began, the ‘Poker Brat’, announcing tableside with Gabe Kaplan explained to the crowd his dilemma. On one hand, a Varkonyi win would render him hairless and on the other a Julian win would strip him of his record. In jest, Gabe Kaplan praised Phil for once again not thinking about himself.

The final hand started with an all too familiar pocket for Varkonyi- the Qd-10s. Happy to see his old friend, Varkonyi raised $50K. Julian called with the Jc-8c. The flop came 4c-4s-Qc. While Varkonyi received top pair, Julian sat on a promising flush draw. Again, Varkonyi raised $50K, but this time was met with a Julian all-in raise. The Q-10 had yet to disappoint Varkonyi. He would call. A 10d on fourth street improved Varkonyi’s hand to two pair. Still, the same threat remained. A club would give Julian a winning flush. That is, all except the Ten of Clubs, as Gabe Kaplan pointed out, would instead give Varkonyi a winning full house. And that is just what happened. The 10c on the river completed Julian’s flush but simultaneously gave Varkonyi a full house. Varkonyi was the proud recipient of the red jacket presented by the former champion Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson.

The celebration that followed had Becky Binion holding a shiny blue trimmer waiting to do its work on the ‘Poker Brat’. The crowded chanted “shave’s Phil’s head” and a congenial Varkonyi exclaimed, “Phil has learned his lesson and is going to be a good boy from now on.”

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Poker - Best of 2006

Its time for the annual "Best of Poker" awards.

I'd like your suggestions for Best...

  • Poker Book

  • Poker Podcast

  • Poker Blog

  • Poker Podcast

  • Poker TV Show

  • Online Cardroom

  • Worst (yes, "Best Worst") Poker Moment

  • ... and any other write in categories you deem worthy.

Each nomination should be for a media source that achieved, excelled, made its mark, or was introduced in 2006.

Please use the comments for suggestions. If it gets unruly, I'll start a forum thread.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Trip Report - Casino AZ

I was out in Scottsdale, Arizona for the weekend for a family event. I was there for about 2 1/2 days, and had a number of family members to catch up with, so I opted not to make a casino visit.

I'm a degenerate, as many of you already know. Despite the conscious decision not to go play cards, I did do a little research before heading out there. Turns out, the biggest cardroom in the area was only about 15 minutes from my hotel/resort, as the Casino Arizona located at 101 and Indian Bend (there are two locations not far from one another). This information was effectively useless, as I decided not to go.

My wife and I flew in Friday morning, and one of the first things we did was hit the pool. I grabbed the Linda Johnson issue of Card Player and Joe Navarro's Read 'Em and Reap, which by the way, I'm really enjoying.

After about 45 minutes of failing to relax, but succeeding in immersing myself in Mr. Navarro's new book, my cousin Drew discovers us at the pool.

"Alright, I have a poker buddy!", is our greeting.

"Oh no," says my wife.

"Sorry Sweetie," I concede, for we all know it is a forgone conclusion.

Friday night I passed out before my cousin could find my cell phone number. I had my phone on vibrate, and it's situation on the couch in our "mini-suite" prevented me from hearing its gyrations. Ultimately, this was a good thing; I really needed the sleep.

Saturday night, technology was not a factor. Drew grabbed me at the party and said, "let's go". 20 minutes later we were on the road.

At first we couldn't find the place. The drive went something like this - left turn, left turn, strip mall, strip mall, strip mall, countless Tex-Mex restaurants, strip mall, right turn, desert....

All of a sudden, there ceased to be lights, Walgreens, and Del Tacos. I picked up my cell phone to call Casino Arizona. As I did, two gigantic semi-permanent tents, poor man's teepees, appeared on the horizon, surrounded by a purple glow.

Drew and I ran in, and right to the board. The highroller board, actually, but we didn't realize it at first. Only after the words "20-40 Limit is the smallest game?!" had left my lips did I realize what a ludicrous sentiment that was. I turned around to find 45 poker tables, and an elevated board/desk/brush staging area thingie. It dawned on me how tired, and off my game I probably was.

They had a variety of games, Hold 'em Fixed Limit and Spread Limit, "Mixed Games", H.O.R.S.E, Omaha, and Stud. My cousin, a relative rookie, put his name on the $3-6 limit list. I signed up for the "5-150" game, which was a spread limit game that played like a no limit game, but the max bet on any street was $150. Likewise, any raise could be for up to $150 more. You could get all your money in, it just took some work.

I played for a few hours, and was really disapointed by a few hands I played.

In the first I played against the strongest player at the table, who had position on me. Not smart. I must've been in the big blind, because I saw a flop with King Ten. By the river, I had two pair (including a pair on board) and no kicker (the board beat my kicker). A KQ or AK were the two most likely hands to beat me. I had check-called a small turn bet, and the river was seemingly a blank. I checked to my opponent who bet about $150 into a $90 pot. This didn't make any sense to me. I simply could not figure out the hand (and I'm certainly not giving you the details to figure it out, I realize), but I could not figure the bet as anything but an attempt to take down the medium sized pot. I believed my opponent to have a monster, or absolutely nothing after the turn. Now he was making a gigantic bet which would only be called by a better hand. I contemplated. Finally I said "I'm totally lost in this hand, but that bet smells awful". My opponent turned over three jacks and a pair of nines, and I lost nearly $200. ... the bourbon drowning next to me...

By the second disappointing hand, I built my stack up to about $250. I found myself in early position with 89 suited. I limped and managed to see a cheap flop. The flop came K,9,8 - disco! I checked, and it checked around to the table donkey. He understood the game well enough to have won a few big pots, but was often passive, and paid off a lot of obviously strong hands with things like second pair. He also occasionally overplayed his draws. He bet $15 into a pot of $23. I check-raised to $40, and it folded to the better. He re-raised to $115. His body language indicated a lot of strength. The play indicated a lot of strength. I was perceived as a tight player, and I check-raised from early position. Anyone else at the table would have put me on a monster. Would he?

After considering his possible holdings - KK (no, no raise pre-flop), 99 or 88 (unlikely, he'd probably raise these too knowing him, also, I had one of each, making it that much less likely, K9 (yes, this made sense, he limped pre-flop from late position, he played easily dominated hands often). Could he have AK? That was the real question. If it were me, I'd have strongly considered laying down AK here to the tight player's (actual me) check-raise. At best, I would smooth call in position. Could he make this play with AK? I thought it unlikely, and mucked my hand.

"That sucked", I said.

"King Queen?" someone asked.

"Eight Nine", I replied.

"Eight Nine!?!" my opponent almost fell out of his chair.

"Shit", I lamented.

Finally, I had AK of hearts in the cutoff. A middle position player raised to $15. I made it $40 to isolate. The small blind, my tough opponent from earlier, hemmed and hawed and said "I think I have to make it $115".

The early player folded. I had only about $220 in front of me. It was fold or all-in. I believed my opponent to be a strong player and I didn't think he'd put in a third raise with anything short of Jacks. Worse case I was dominated, better case, it was a conflip, best case, we were probably tied. After much contemplation, I folded face up. My often-honest opponent later admitted "I had A-Q, I just wanted to isolate". Ick.

Somehow I managed to build my $250 up to about $770 over the next hour. I packed up, grabbed Drew, and head to the hotel for three hours of sleep.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Cowboy Bluff

The following is an excerpt from "52 Greatest Moments World Series of Poker"
Book details and ordering can be done at

Described as “our greatest tournament” by Jack Binion, the 1984 WSOP also provided for the greatest bluff in its history. Byron ‘Cowboy’ Wolford steadily used his remaining $156K to completely bluff Jesse Alto out of a seemingly strong hand. Not only did Cowboy win the pot, but his bluff sent the chip leader Alto on tilt and eventually out of the tournament.


The Byron Wolford and Jesse Alto past was colorful. Before the 1984 WSOP, both were playing a game in Corpus. Alto had been drinking during a losing streak. His famous temper was in full swing. ‘Cowboy’, talking to someone else at the table, caught Alto’s ear. Whatever said was not well received by Alto and he proceeded to slap ‘Cowboy’ right there at the table. ‘Cowboy’ rose from his chair and brought on a fight. ‘Cowboy’ got the best of the duel before cashing out and leaving.

Come the 1984 WSOP, the two fighters had become friends and were pitted against each other at the final table along with a new face Jack Keller. The tournament had started with 132 entrants. Now Jesse Alto was in a comfortable chip lead over ‘Cowboy’ and Keller. Of the $1.32M, Jesse had almost $1M. Jesse was no stranger to the Main Event’s final table. He had placed second behind Doyle Brunson in 1976 and fifth in 1978.


It appeared Jesse Alto’s victory at the championship was inevitable. That was until Jesse’s ill fated run in with ‘Cowboy’ Wolford. Jesse was using his chip lead to push around the table. Down to $156K, ‘Cowboy’ was done with Jesse’s bullying. And so, when Jesse opened with his typical raise, ‘Cowboy’ had already predetermined he was going to call. The flop came Ac-Kd-9c. First to act was ‘Cowboy’ who bet $15,000. Jesse wasted no time in calling the bet. Another King came on the turn and again ‘Cowboy’ would bet into the pot- this time $40K. Jesse was not as quick to call this time. After an uncomfortable pause Jesse eventually did call. Then the river showed a 2s. Cowboy, climbing the betting ladder, took one giant move all-in.

Over the course of the flop, fourth street and the river, Cowboy had coolly and strategically played all his chips. Now the pressure was put on Jesse Alto. He deliberated for a long five minutes. During which Cowboy Wolford found his wife, Evelyn, and son among the crowd and gave them a wink. While only Alto knows what he had, it was clear by his contemplation that he had a solid hand- but not the nuts. The moment of truth came and Jesse folded his hand. An elated ‘Cowboy’ doubled up and showed the crowd his 5-3 off suit. Showing amazement, the cheering gallery put a smile on ‘Cowboy’s’ face and sent Jesse into a tailspin.

In the following two hands Jesse would blindly go all-in and lose to the forgotten third man at the table, Jack Keller. Reeking the benefits of a tilted Alto, Jack Keller would go on to win the 1984 WSOP. ‘Cowboy’ would finish second with $264,000 in prize money. Bobby Baldwin would write that ‘Cowboy’ Wolford’s bluff on Jesse Alto ultimately won the championship for Keller.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Bluff the Donkey" Launched - Chicago Rejoices

Chicago-based Donkey-in-Chief, Andrew Wain, has launched the latest in online parody and satire. Bluff the Donkey ( takes pokes at poker's top names and also-rans through speculative storywriting/storybaking, tongue-in-cheek exposes, and The Onion-style conjecture.

The site launched last week, headlined with a feature titled "Daniel Negreanu Announces He's Not Gay, Again". What poker parody would be complete without questioning Mr. Negreanu's (happily married) sexual orientation.

Check out the site, and sign up for the newsletter for regular updates.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Mark Rogers to Join Chicago Poker Club as Guest Columnist!

Mark Rogers, Chicago native and author of 52 Greatest Moments will be joining our site as a guest author. Mark is a poker historian and enthusiast with an uncanny knack for telling a poker story.

Learn more about the history of the world's biggest and most prestigious poker tournament, as Mark tells tales of Stu Ungar, Benny Binion, Doyle Brunson, Bobby Baldwin, Johnny "Orient Express" Chan, Puggy Pearson, Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson, and many more...

Tune in for his regular contributions.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Stop. Think. THEN Act. Oops.

I was playing in a 45 player Sit-n-Go on Full Tilt poker. I was making dinner when I started the game (I know, I know), so I decided to play a derivation the Scott Fischman Online Ace approach to sit-n-gos. Basically, I was going to fold every hand but a top ten. Four rounds went by, and I saw two flops from the big blind, nothing doing.

In round five I had finished dinner preparations and blinds had increased a little, to a notable proportion of the stacks. I decided to loosen up and play a few hands. In a couple rotations I managed to double my stack via one big hand and a few small ones.

In the hand I want to focus on, I was in the cut off (CO) with a suited ace. There were 22 or 23 players left in the tournament, and I was eager to accumulate some chips. I had become a little more aggressive, and planned to raise if the pot was unopened when it got to me. The player just to right limped in, and I decided that seeing a flop four ways with a suited ace was preferable to building a pot with a modest holding. I limped.

Full Tilt Poker
No Limit Holdem Tournament

Blinds: t50/t100
8 players

Stack sizes:
UTG: t2075
UTG+1: t2025
MP1: t2025
MP2: t3645
J_Chitown: t2630
Button: t3155
SB: t2205
BB: t5465

Pre-flop: (8 players) J_Chitown is CO with
3 folds, MP2 calls t100 (pot was t150), J_Chitown calls t100 (pot was t250), Button raises to t300, SB folds, BB calls t200 (pot was t650), MP2 calls t200 (pot was t850), J_Chitown calls t200 (pot was t1050).

The button raised to 300 here, and without a couple other players, I would have folded. To my surprise, the big blind and the late limper (MP2) both called the raise. My decision was apparent - I had serious odds to call, and did.

Flop: (t1250, 4 players)
BB checks, MP2 bets t100, J_Chitown raises to t475, 2 folds, MP2 calls t375 (pot was t1825).

The flop was a mixed bag for me. It came with two hearts, giving me a four flush. It was also paired, which means less chance that it hit the other players. On the negative side, a paired board opens up the possibility of full houses, which kill flushes. Theoretically I could already be drawing dead.

The pre-flop limper made a t100 bet into a t1050 pot. This was a peculiar bet. I didn't give this player a lot of credit, and in a low limit SnG this bet could mean a number of things. I thought he may have a small pair (fours, fives?) and was probing to see if they were good. Personally, I make a much bigger bet to try that theory, but as I said, I gave him little credit. He could also have two big cards and was trying to control the bet size on the flop. In hindsight, this is where I needed to consider the possibilities for a little longer. Ahh, hindsight.

I decided to see where I was and to take control of the hand. I raised to 475. Now this is still a small bet into an 1100 pot, but a meaningful one. None of the players had huge stacks compared to the pot, and there wasn't much room for making a move. It was almost a 5x raise, however, and sent a clear signal that I had a big hand (which I didn't, not yet). It folded back to the early player who considered, and called. He only need to call 375 into a nearly 1600 chip pot, so he could have had nearly anything. I guess that's the problem with the smallish bet.

Turn: (t2200, 2 players)
MP2 bets t2200, J_Chitown calls all-in t1855.
Uncalled bets: t345 returned to MP2.

The turn brought an Ace, which gave me two pair Aces and Nines. My opponent immediately pushed all in. To me, this was a move of weakness. If he had what I originally assumed, a mid-pair, he was making a big push to get me off the hand. In that case I was way ahead. In case of that holding, however, he would probably be afraid of the ace.

Maybe he caught an Ace, which was unlikely based on his pre-flop play, but possible given the way the table had been playing. If so, I had 9 outs to a flush, and many outs to avoid our kickers playing (a chop). Maybe he was slow-playing a 9, in which case I was in the same boat as the turn, with 9 outs to a flush. In this case, I'm only getting 2 to 1 on my money, with a 4 to 1 longshot. On the other hand, all those chips would put me in a great position. I'm a much stronger big stack player than average or short-stacked.

After far too little consideration, I called. All my chips were in. Simultaneously our cards were flipped and the river came.

River: (t5910, 1 player + 1 all-in - Main pot: t5910)

Gin! No wait, I looked... He flopped a full house! I was drawing virtually dead the whole hand.

Final pot: t5910
MP2 showed 3d 3s
J_Chitown showed Ah 4h

"I had not considered that dude." What I did do well was talk myself into believing I was ahead. I accurately surmised that he must have a small pair, but never considered the possibility of the dangerous pair - threes. I did not, even for a moment, put him on the most logical holding for the way he played pre-flop and the flop.

He made a great move on the turn, pushing in an oversized bet with a monster hand. I read it exactly how he wanted - for weakness.

I dabbed my tears away, and went right to the blog to complain.