Friday, December 14, 2007

Pressure on Poker:'s Texas Close'em

Recent busts, crackdowns, and related press stories have gotten many of us thinking about the societal impacts and legality of the game, and the rights and concerns of people who play it.

Author Lou Krieger has this to say about the poker:

I believe in poker the way I believe in the American Dream. Poker is good for you. It enriches the soul, sharpens the intellect, heals the spirit, and - when played well, nourishes the wallet. and Drew Carey present their perspective in "TEXAS CLOSE'EM: COPS RAID POKER GAMES"

Jack Binion mused:
I've often thought, if I got really hungry for a good milk shake, how much would I pay for one? People will pay a hundred dollars for a bottle of wine; to me that's not worth it. But I'm not going to say it is foolish or wrong to spend that kind of money, if that's what you want. So if a guy wants to bet twenty or thirty thousand dollars in a poker game, that is his privilege."

Other famous poker quotes.

John Luk√°cs, in Poker and the American Character -"Poker is the game closest to the western conception of life, where life and thought are recognized as intimately combined, where free will prevails over philosophies of fate or of chance, where men are considered moral agents and where- at least in the short run- the important thing is not what happens but what people think happens."

Mark Twain - "There are few things that are so unpardonably neglected in our country as poker. The upper class knows very little about it. Now and then you find ambassadors who have sort of a general knowledge of the game, but the ignorance of the people is fearful. Why, I have known clergymen, good men, kind-hearted, liberal, sincere, and all that, who did not know the meaning of a 'flush.' It is enough to make one ashamed of the species."

Krieger again - "Poker is a microcosm of all we admire and disdain about capitalism and democracy. It can be rough-hewn or polished, warm or cold, charitable and caring, or hard and impersonal, fickle and elusive, but ultimately it is fair, and right, and just."

And finally, Steven Wright - "Last night I stayed up late playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died."

”There's opportunity in poker.... If Horace Greeley were alive today, his advice wouldn't be "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country." Instead, he'd point to that deck of cards on table and say, "Shuffle up and deal.”
- Krieger

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Full Tilt's Charm - Art of the Uneccessary Suck Out

I've been meaning to pull together a couple new posts since I got home from Vegas a week ago. Something about catching up on business and in life always seems to get in the way. Look for a couple new posts soon.

In the meantime, feast your eyes on this Full Tilt hand. Are you sick of seeing these every time you play? I know I am.

I was in an $8 + 0.70 two-table Sit-n-go. The top 5 finishers win a $26 token, which I had planned to use in the Ante Up AIPS Main Event this Sunday. I was merely treading water by playing tighter than O.J. Simpson's glove, when I was pushed off a pre-flop raised hand by two opponents with worse hands (of course). I was left with less than 700 chips and blinds were at 120-240.

Under the gun plus one, and I find myself with a middling Ace - which I normally don't like to go broke with, but the blinds would wipe me out in two hands. I pushed all-in, and miraculously no one called.

The very next hand, under the gun, I find myself with Ace-Jack off. Save the AJ salvo, please. 8-handed, with players trying to get into the cash (top 6) or pick up a token (top 5) I shoved my remaining 1230 chips. The average stack was around 2400, and a double up would put me back in a position to get my token. That said, the 360 in blinds would have been just fine.

It folded around to the big blind, who had 9700 chips, the prohibitive favorite, who insta-called with 3-4 off. (You expected a face card?)

The flop came 6, J, 7 rainbow, giving me top pair top kicker and 90%+ equity in the hand.
He had only four 5s in the deck for a gut shot straight.

If you could have paused time for an instant and offered me even money that a 5 would come and eliminate me, I would have bet $1000 right then and there, calling you a sucker for taking the bet all the while... The turn brought the 5c, of course, and I was drawing dead.

Full Tilt.

The Aristocrats!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Barcelona Poker - A Little Variety

Should you focus on one game, or learn them all? That is a common question posed by players who’ve reached a plateau in their poker education.If my recent trip to Barcelona is any indication, and I think it is, I suggest at least some combination of the two.

Poker authors and educators like Steve Zolotow and Bob Ciaffone extol the virtues of learning a variety of games. They suggest that playing multiple games will help you across the board – being a good Stud player will make you a better Hold ‘em player, and vice versa. They also make the argument that you may not always have the opportunity to play your preferred game, or another variety may have a much weaker table running in your purview, and hence choosing another flavor of poker is your superior, or only, option. “When would I not have the option to play Hold ‘em, but have access to only something else!?” you ask ever so calmly.

Just this last week in Spain, such a situation arose. Fortunately, I have been playing a more mixed bag of poker in recent months. More than anything else, I’ve been playing a good amount of Pot Limit Omaha (PLO). What a game! And I think I’ve gotten to the point where I am comfortable enough with the nuances to apply my skills in other games, namely No Limit Hold ‘em, to the game of PLO.

I visited the Gran Casino Barcelona on three consecutive days last week. I can’t say the room is well run, and despite about 18 people waiting to get into action, there were only three tables being spread on the Monday night I arrived. There was a €5/€10 (about $7.50/$15) No Limit Hold’em (NLHE) Game, a €10/€20 NLHE game, and a €5/€10 PLO game. After about 90 minutes of waiting, it was getting late, and I was getting no closer to a seat. The wifie had an early morning, so we headed back to our hotel with no poker played.

On day two I arrived within an hour of the casino’s opening (yes, the close. This one is open from 3pm to 2am). I put my name on the list for €2/€5 and €5/€10 NLHE and €5/€10 PLO. Only a €10/€20 NLHE table was running, with a list. After maybe 75 minutes a €5/€10 PLO table was opened, and I was given a seat. How much to buy in for? I really didn’t have access to enough local currency to buy in for more than the €300 amount I decided on. Yes, I know, only 30 BB in a PLO game, I needed to play tight-tight-tight.

I was very patient, and watch the table play loose-passive, and generally poor, PLO. I didn’t get many raising hands, and saw a handful of cheap flops for a limp, in position. I had a little up and down, but hovered around €200 for most of the session.

Finally I woke up with a 7, 8, 9, J three-suited. I saw an unraised flop in mid-position and the board came 4,7,10 with two suits. I bet out for about ¾ of the pot and got a ½ pot raise and a call behind me. I decided to push with my super wrap and one pair, and both opponents called. Both opponents caught their shared flush draw on the river – putting me in third place behind an ace-high and a king-high diamond flush (diamante color).

I called it an evening and headed out for dinner with my wife and her colleagues.

On day three, I headed to the casino around the same time, and had approximately the same experience in getting a seat and buying in. This time my marginal edges held up and I began to build a bit of a stack.

After a short time, a new player was seated to my left, and I could tell he was unfamiliar with playing live poker. He seemed very tentative in his actions and nervous much of the time. He had a friend in the casino who would come by occasionally, and they would speak in hushed tones. I noticed that he opened his hand at every showdown, even if it had been established that he could not have the winning hand. When he did show his cards, they were often very marginal holdings, with two or three cards working together, but never a complete Omaha hand.

Later, I found myself in the big blind with a suited ace, a J, and two small connected cards. There had been a small raise early (a "pot builder") and several calls. I had €10 in, and decided to make a loose call of €15 more, given the pot odds. The board came with two aces and two hearts. With four players to act behind me at this loose table, I was unsure how to proceed. (What WAS I hoping for with this hand?!) I had trips, but was probably in trouble against the case Ace, which I suspected was out, given the number of opponents. If I bet an opponent raised, how could I know if they were on a flush draw (people bet flushes into paired boards here) or a bigger Ace (or even a smaller Ace at this table). I checked, and it checked around. I decided that if a non-heart came, I was in good shape, and I would bet out the turn.

Voila! The turn was the case Ace. Well, that settles that. I decided to be coy, since there were no other real hands to be had out there. Maybe someone with pocket kings or queens would decide that there was no ace out and would make a bet.

It checked around and the river put a third heart on the board. I grinned inside, thinking to myself, "if this guy [to my right] was on a flush draw, he'd probably call a bet". No one else at the table was poor enough to do that. I bet out about €90, he thought for a minute and then called. Everyone folded behind. "Quads", I said, and turned over my hand to avoid any language confusion.

My opponent turned over (of course he did) his hand, a big heart flush. Geez... I was right, but 'huh'!?

This was a nice pad to my stack, and I continued to play my tight-aggressive game. I didn't raise a single hand pre-flop for about an hour until I found myself with AA double-suited in the big blind. I hate having aces up front, but at least they were suited.

The rookie to my left had been replaced by a new, loose player with deep pockets. The whole table had gotten crazy loose-aggressive pre-flop.

I was praying for someone to make a raise as I watched the table limp, fold, limp, fold, limp, around to the button. He raised it up to €30, which of course was going to get nothing but calls with €75 in the pot, including his raise. The small blind smooth called the raise, and the pot-size was €100 with my big blind. "Pot," I said. "Ciento cuarenta", came the response from the dealer. I plunked €140 onto the felt.

"Ahz Ahz doble color," my new neighbor inappropriately declared my holding to the whole table in his native tongue. Not that it was really a secret to anyone. "Posiblemente, pero quales colores?" I jested back in my lousy Spanish. He was both surprised at my comprehension and tickled by my response at the same time. I got a pat on the back.

Then he called. Called. He just... called. Then, three more players called behind, including the small blind. Five players saw the flop for €140. Five players. WTF?!

There was €700 (over $1000) in the pot as we watch a Jack, 7, and 4 dress the felt. Not a bad flop for my hand, but not a great one, and I was in terrible position. The small blind paused, riffled some chips, turned to look me straight in the eye, got completely wide-eyed, and said, as if he was talking just to me, "POT!" He said it with an almost playfully mocking American accent. He had only about €540 behind, so that was the bet.

At this point, it really didn't matter what I thought he had - as if I had enough information to detect anything. There were three players behind me, three unmatching cards on the board, and I was facing a several car payment-sized bet. One pair and one backdoor flush draw didn't look so delicious and I mucked.

After some fanfare and Hollywooding, the rest of the table conceded the pot to the small blind.

So much for Aces.

Not so fast my friend.

Later I got two Aces, three-suited in late position. I made a pot-sized raise pre-flop and took down the pot with a flop bet.

Even later I found two aces, three-suited again. I was in mid-position, and a player on either side of me called my pre-flop pot-sized bet. The flop came A-7-4 with two diamonds. Bingo! Top set, currently the nuts. I was aware that there were two draws, but was less worried about the 7-4 than I was the "diamante color". I bet 'pot'.

The player behind me thought for only a moment and then called. Eek! I had to put him on diamonds AND something. Maybe he had a gut-shot or something? If he had a huge two-way draw, maybe he'd put it all in then. But what hand do you call with that has a straight draw AND a meaningful flush draw here? Not too many.

The player to my right when into the tank. I had respect for his game, so now I really wondered what he was considering. After a couple minutes, he mucked and it was head's up. The pot was huge, and I prayed for a blank. The turn brought a black face card. I don't know if it also gave my opponent a gutshot broadway draw, but when I pushed the rest of my stack in (close to the size of the pot), my opponent decided that he needed to call. The river blanked out and I took down a GiNormous pot.

Stacking those chips was a fine feeling.

About 30 minutes later I cashed out a big stack, and headed to a big, fancy dinner with my wife and some colleagues. Guess who treated?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chicago Sports Weekly Covers Chicago Club's Demise

The latest issue of Chicago Sports Weekly covers the recent Chicago club theft as its cover story! Take a peek.

Kudos to author Clay Champlin for his fine research and storytelling. Thanks also, for the Chicago Poker Club shout out.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Armed Robbers Take Down Underground Chicago Card Room

A local Chicago underground poker room was robbed last Saturday, August 6, amidst a 30-player No Limit Hold 'em tournament. The club, located in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood was hosting a $250 rebuy tournament that had been advertised amongst its "members" in the weeks leading up to the event. The tournament had been underway for a couple hours and was down to two tables when the masked gunmen reportedly entered through the back door of the second-story club.

All participants and observers present in the club were told to lay face down on the floor while the gunmen heisted an estimated $20,000 from the club and the players. The players were also made to surrender their wallets, jewelry, and cell phones, and were warned against calling the police. According to one interviewed player, another player refused to give up his wedding ring, and one of the robbers made a remark about respecting the institution of marriage and did not take wedding rings from the players.

The gunmen appeared to have a general awareness for the layout of the club, including a third-story annex and the location of the cash box, leading many to believe that this was some type of inside job. Aside from a couple minor injuries, including one player who was pistol whipped for acknowledging a comment that he mistakenly believed was intended for him, no one was seriously hurt in the theft.

The Bucktown-neighborhood poker club remains closed indefinitely.

This reporter was present hours before the robbery occurred, and was deeply saddened to hear of the stress inflicted on the players and card room operators. I also lament the loss of what was becoming a Chicago institution on the local poker scene - a room full of genial Chicago area residents full of good conversations and many new friendships. While the connections made will endure, the game will be sorely missed.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fixing a Hole Where the Rain Gets In

And keeps my mind from wondering, where it will go...

The Beatles recorded it in 1967, and I've been replaying it in my head all week. My game, at least my online game, at least my online SnG game, has taken a bit of a beating in recent weeks. Hell, who am I kidding, my live game, my online game, my tournament game, and my ring game have probably all suffered. Its hard to know exactly, when playing against a variety of competition, at different levels, in different games. Some of these sessions have been winning ones, but could they have been more lucrative?

I've felt some holes in my game, and during a series of SnGs on Full Tilt in the last week, its been downright breezy! If memory serves (and I'm 500 miles from my desktop and Poker Tracker), I failed to cash in seven straight Sit-n-Gos of 9 to 45 participants. That is unusual for me at the stakes I play.

In live games, I've gotten careless. I've occasionally missed logical holdings of my opponents, I've played middling holdings for big pots out of position, I've made loose river calls against opponents who rarely bluff beyond the flop.

Here's a hand I played where I lost a "big" pot. A year ago I'd have gone broke on this hand every time, but in the last 12 months, I feel my game has progressed. I have focused on controlling pot-size, reading my opponents, narrowing their hand ranges, etc.

I was playing in a micro-blind No Limit hold 'em game in the neighborhood. This is a weekly game with many regular (repeat) players. There's a maximum $200 buy-in and blinds are $0.50/$1.

A player who I seemed to get tied up with regularly was under the gun, and came in for a BIG raise - 12x the big blind. This guy seems to have a very high opinion of his own game, and for whatever reason, I enjoy get involved in hands with him. This is probably my first mistake, as most players have more success when emotion isn't involved in the hand. I was on the button with a suited Jack-Ten, and after all of the players in between us folded, I made the call.

Jack-Ten suited is a fun hand against multiple opponents, and I will often play this in a raised pot. However, against a single opponent, facing a big raise, when I have no money invested in the hand, this should typically be an easy fold. I decided that I wanted to make a big hand and get paid off.

The flop came QTT. Gin! I flopped trip tens, and unless my opponent played AT for a big raise, I should be WAY ahead. Notice that this is the first time I've mentioned what my opponent may have. Notice my incredibly myopic assessment of what could beat me. I'm not just foreshadowing here, this is demonstrative of how careless and short-sighted I've been playing.

My opponent made a standard continuation bet, and I decided to set a little trap. I smooth-called behind him.

The turn was an incidental 6 (suits not relevant in the hand). He checked. Oooh, did I freeze him with my smooth call on the flop? I got cagey and checked behind. Plus, what if he DID have me beat? At least I could control the pot size. Note again, I didn't really consider HOW he might have me beat, just that he could - I knew enough to consider that I didn't have the nuts. The turn was like magic - a nice shiny Jack. There were no flush possibilities, but AK would give my opponent Broadway (the Ace-high straight). I had a monster, tens full of Jacks.

My opponent made a smallish bet into me with little thought. "I've got him in my cross hairs", I thought to myself. I put on a little act - considering his bet, counting my chips, reviewing the board. Then I cracked a little smile and said "raise". I put in a pretty good size raise. I had started the hand with less than $200, and had now just put the majority of the remainder of my chips in the pot. Now my opponent went into the tank for a full minute. Finally he said, "okay, I'm all in". I insta-called and turned over my full house.

He turned over... QQ, having flopped Queens full of Tens for a bigger full house. I shook my hed and re-bought. Then I proceed to get bad beat (yes, truly bad beat) for another $200 when I got outdrawn on 5 of the next 7 hands I played (I'm being literal here - I got my money in good all five times).

Most of the table seemed to think there was nothing I could do about this full house over full house hand, and that made me feel a little better. In fact, it made me feel good - their deterministic attitude is the reason I like playing in that game. Perhaps they would have all gone broker there, but when I'm playing tuned in, I should have lost a small pot. Better yet, I would have folded pre-flop.

Where was my biggest mistake in that hand? I should have folded pre-flop, certainly, for my aforementioned reasons. Against many opponents in many positions I will make the call here - but in this case, the right decision would have been to fold.

My bigger mistake, however, was not considering what my opponent held. In fact, had I considered it for a moment, I would have know with 99%+ accuracy that I had to be beat on the river, and with 75%+ accuracy that I was beat on every street. This particular player will make a big raise under the gun (UTG) with only a very small range of holdings. With AK, AA, KK, or a medium pocket pair he will make a standard raise UTG the vast majority of the time. With "trouble hands" like QQ, JJ, TT, he will always make a big pre-flop raise. He has expressed that he'd rather "just take it down" before the flop than play one of these hands out of position. Of course, this is a big hole in his game - why risk $12 to win the $1.50 in blinds? If he does get a call, now he's playing a $25 pot out of position with no idea where he is. Nothing requires him to play these hands in this seat, and while it isn't the play I'd recommend, I think he is better off open folding than making a 12x raise.

So, had I considered his play, even for a moment, I would KNOW that he had QQ, JJ, or TT in this spot. I've never seen him play any other holding this way. That's pretty damn good information to have - if you use it. When the flop came QTT, which of these holdings could I beat? AHA!! We have a decision here. I should have considered that before. Since I have JT, before the flop I should have thought it less likely that he had JJ or TT. QQ is most likely. Since there was a Queen on the flop, now JJ and QQ are equally likely (I know where one J and one Q are that are not in his hand). Because there are two tens on the board, he is highly unlikely to have the other two, but its certainly a possibility. [EDIT: Um, no it isn't. Thanks to Kenneth for pointing out that two tens on board and one in my hand makes it exceptionally unlikely for him to have two tens. If he did, at least I'd get my money back. :) ]

Now I know his holdings - he has Queens full of Tens or Jacks and Tens [D'OH: or Quad Tens]. I can beat one of those. When he bets the flop, I can call behind, to save money and see if he fires again, or I can raise to find out where I am. Because he might call a raise with Jacks and Tens, I think calling is my best option here (or folding?)

We both check the turn. He's likely to check with an of these holdings. He likes to slowplay monsters, and if he has Jacks, the Queen on the board, coupled with my call, has slowed him down. I could actually get him to fold with a bet on the turn, if he has Jacks. If he calls or raises I know I'm beat and I fold (or check it down).

When the Jack comes on the river, I am up a creek. I cannot beat QQ or JJ at this point. Calling a bet on the end is not advised, but my play, making a big raise... well, now we all know how smart that was.

I'm filling the cracks that ran though the door and kept my mind from wandering where it will go
See the people standing there who disagree and never win

When I start playing poorly, and when I know I've opened cracks that were previously closed, I go back to my spiritual guides. Those guides, of course, are David Sklansky, Mason Malmuth, Dan Harrington, Phil Gordon, Chris Ferguson, etc.

I recently picked up The Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide: Tournament Edition, which has been sitting on my nightstand waiting for me to finish reading the two other non-poker books I've been reading. (Incidentally, one of the "non-poker" books is Positively Fifth Street. I'm a junky).

I decided that I could wait no longer, and started reading Ferguson's chapter on No Limit Tourneys. I've only read the first 15 pages or so, and I've found nothing revolutionary or profound. In fact, I haven't read anything that I hadn't already considered and applied. But... I hadn't been applying it well lately, and Jesus' text (heh heh) really helped me to eliminate mistakes that I'd been making, mistakes that I used to make when I was a beginning player. Jesus helped me to eliminate some of my original sin. (Cue the rim shot).

I have continued to find that continued play, and continued success, leads me to get careless, cocky, and impatient. Just spending an hour or two thinking about the game, reading about the game, or talking about the game turns me back towards the correct direction.

Since I read those eighteen pages, I have played in two small online tournaments. I cashed in both, winning the first. I plan to finish the book next week.

I'm taking my time for a number of things
that weren't important yesterday

and I still go

I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in

and stops my mind from wandering
where it will go
where it will go

Friday, September 14, 2007

Chicago Poker Hand of the Week

In a ring game, No Limit hold ‘em, at a local poker club. The stakes are $1/$2 blinds with a $300 max buy-in. I have about $850, and am the biggest stack at the table by at least $150. We are at a full table (9 or 10 players) and I am UTG + 2.

The table is fairly loose pre-flop, typically we’ll will have one raise pre-flop to between $8 and $16, depending on the position of the raise, number of limpers, and identity of raiser.


There is a $5 live straddle, so there is $7 in the pot when it comes to me – one player has folded.

I look down to find QQ. I would raise here about 80% of the time, but this is not one of those times. I have two aggressive players behind me in late position, and the straddle will raise his option about 15% of the time. I call the $5 straddle, as do 2 people behind me. The small blind folds, and the big blind, who is the tightest player by far, calls the big blind. There is $26 in the pot, and the straddle uses his option to raise, $35 more. This is a typical raise for him in this spot with a strong hand. He does not want to play this big pot out of position against 4 or 5 callers, and he would probably be content to take it down right here.

I am next to act and there is now $51 in the pot. This is exactly the way I had hoped this hand played out. Given the action on the first rotation, I don’t believe anyone else is in a position to call a big bet. If I re-raise, we are likely to play this hand head’s up with me in position. If the straddler comes back over the top, I may have to consider folding, but I’ll know where I am. He is most likely to merely smooth call a modest re-raise.

I raise to $82, or $47 on top of his $35 (this is ignoring the round of $5 straddle-calls). There is $133 in the pot. One of the callers behind me puts his last $93 in the pot (raising me $11). It folds to the big blind who, much to my GREAT SURPRISE smooth calls the bet. The straddle position, the original raiser, folds. It is $11 back to me, and I do not have the option of re-raising. There is $319 in the pot pre-flop, and it is $11 to me. If I know for a fact that my two opponents have AA and KK, I must still call the $11. I call.

At this point I am not thinking about the all-in player behind me – what’s done is done. I am thinking about the exceptionally tight and solid play in the big blind who merely called the $3 straddle against four other opponents, with only the straddler left to play. There is no way that he could make the assumption that this would be the 1 in 6 time that the straddling player raises – could he? The three of us have played together enough to know one another’s tendencies. I want to rule out AA or KK here, as those would certainly get a raise from his position. Wouldn’t they? He IS the tightest player at the table. I consider that he has one of three hands – a monster (AA or KK). A larger middle-pair like 88 through JJ is possible. Maybe he wants a baby board, or to flop a middle set to crush me and double-up. Or, and most likely, he has AK. He can call most bets with this hand, he’s probably a coin-flip or dominating, but doesn’t want to commit to a “drawing hand”. If a A or K hits the flop, he’ll bet out and take it down – or better, check raise.


The flop comes 2, 4, 5 rainbow. This is a great flop for me. I am 99.999% certain that he doesn’t have A-3, and he certainly doesn’t have two pair. I also can’t imagine this player would have called a very large bet out of position with any pocket pair that would give him a set here. Other players at this table would – not him.

Here’s the thing… he bets $100 INTO A DRY SIDE POT. There’s $331 in the main pot and $100 in the dry side pot. Why did he bet? He has about $250 behind… what should I do?!?


I cannot call here and face another bet on the turn. With $441 in the pot, if he puts another dollar in he will be committing himself. What can he have? Pre-flop I assumed AK was most likely. I am way ahead of AK, but would he have bet $100 into the dry side pot with it? Unlikely. What about the second most likely 99-JJ. Absolutely. This was a perfect flop for that range, and if I have two overs, he may assume that he can get me to fold with that bet, after all, there’s no money in the side pot other than his bet. I have to beat him and the all in player to be eligible for the main pot. Is $100 too small? Is he trying to induce a re-raise? Finally, the third most likely holding, AA or KK. Could he have that? I still feel that he pre-flop raise action is very perplexing if he holds either of these hands. On the other hand, is he tight enough to keep a small pot out of position pre-flop and fold he big holding to any scary board or resistance? Even with Aces? Maybe, but that’s hard to take.

What do I do?

I am on the fence, but after about 90 seconds I decide that my opponent is most likely to have the medium pair. In fact, I convince myself that he has JJ. I push all in, which puts him to a decision for his remaining $255. He thinks for a minute or so and says “you can’t have A3, can you?” I love that he finds me unpredictable enough to even consider this. Then, I think I hear him say, “maybe you have 8s??” This makes me relax a ton… Now I believe he has 99.

After another minute, he calls and shows…. TWO KINGS!?! I’m dead to two outs and neither comes on the turn or river and he rakes in a monster. The all in player mucks face down. I decide that he probably had 7s in this spot, but perhaps he would play AJ suited like this.

I ask my crafty opponent two questions:

1. “Why did you ask if I had 8s?” He responds “I said ACES, not eights!” – I misunderstood his accent, and it gave me a false sense of security.

2. I mused really, rather than asked, “I can’t believe you’d limp there, pre-flop, with Kings”. The original straddle says, “did you really think I was going to raise there? Can you take that chance?” My opponent just shrugged, smiled, and stacked his chips….

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bad Mouthing Ace Jack!

Many of our friends on the Card Club Forums have been bad mouthing Ace Jack as a starting hand in No Limit Hold Em, and those who play it poorly. They are breaking bad under the guise of helping their forum buddies to become better tournament players, but the reality is, they just can't stand losing to such a "mediocre" hand.

I was able to reach Ace Jack by telephone yesterday, and he asked me to do a little sticking up for him.

Now, I don't advocate calling off your chip stack with Ace Jack, don't get me wrong, but it does have a lot of value.

First off, when opening the pot, from any position, AJ is (any) two cards, which sometimes is simply good enough. I have played 8T and 46 in a manner which these AJ-naysayers would quickly chastise my play, were I to have two cards as good as AJ - and I have had a lot of success doing so. To talk about the hand, irrespective of your image, position in the hand, and general playing style of the table, I believe, is a mistake. I concede that we are starting to discuss the hands themselves, but please don't bad mouth Ace Jack in a vacuum!! Now his mother, AQ, is even starting to call me to ask for my help.

Ace Jack, against a random hand, is a 2:1 favorite, and against two random hands it is about even money. Of course if you're facing heat after the flop with it, you're not against any old random hand, but if you can make good on an inexpensive flop, there's obvious value.

Would I ever call an all-in bet, pre-flop, with AJ?

Of course! In the following situations:

  • Against a short-stacked opponent who is all in, and the call represents a small percentage of my stack.
  • Against a player who consistently overvalues his holdings, and plays aggressive pre-flop and passive post.
  • Against a player on whom I have a good read and I am in position.

Would I ever raise pre-flop from early position with AJ?

Yes! In the following situations:
  • Against a tight table, where there is much to be gained by taking the pot down pre-flop (blinds and antes are significant)
  • Against a predictable table where most opponents will re-raise with a hand that beats AJ and call with marginal holdings, like a smaller Ace or a medium to small pair.
  • Against one or two very loose opponents who will consistently call with worse hands, hoping to out-flop me. It is best if these opponents will play predictably when they hit or miss their holdings (and many do play this way).

I'm confident that in most of these situations I will play my opponents and the board to an advantage post-flop. I also know that a disconnected board, with a single ace, can be very dangerous. I might check-call a small bet on the flop to see what happens on the turn. I might check fold to a big bet (fearing an overpair or bigger Ace). Of course, it all depends on my opponent and his/her tendencies. Sometimes, the bigger the flop bet, the weaker their holding.

With a medium tournament stack, this becomes a very marginal hand. You cannot afford to "explore" with this hand, nor to make a mistake that will cost you any measurable portion of your chips.
  • I will fold this hand up front.
  • I will fold this hand in late position with any action up front.
  • I will come in for a raise if no one has acted, and get away from a re-raise (unless odds strongly dictate a call - AJ is a 5:2 dog against AA-TT and AK, AQ).
Each hand has its merits at the right place and the right time. When faced with a tough decision, consider your table, consider your image at the table, consider your position relative to the button, and consider your transportation options should AJ suffer the inevitable bad beat. ;)

My phone is ringing.... If this is Ace Ten calling, leave a message!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

WSOP2007 - Event #38 Recap Part 3

Continued from this part 2 post.

Coming back from dinner break, I felt like a new man. I was rejuvenated, refreshed, and well nourished. I don't know if it was the overfull bladder keeping me awake, but I was now focused on my opponents and their play.

I kept ahead of the blinds and antes for the next couple hours and just played my game.

I moved tables twice after the break. The second move was to a table along the rail all the way at the north-end of the Amazon ballroom. I had been broken from table 36, which was really good news. We were 9-handed at this point, and 35 tables meant 315 people remained in the event. The top 270 would get paid.

I was seat next to a very tall, muscular, athletic, and intimidating looking fellow. Actually, he was intimidating in build and size, but had a friendly face and a warm demeanor. I decided to break the ice right way.

After stacking my chips at the new table, I found an unused chair a few feet away and stacked it on top of my chair. I had done this a few times throughout the tournament, preferring to sit a little higher on the table. After sitting on my double-stacked chair, I turned to the physical speciman to my right, who had noticed my stacking efforts, and said "it's for physical intimidation". He broke into a huge grin. We became fast friends... until I took some of his chips, that is.

I soon learned that he was Audley Harrison, Superweight olympic gold medalist boxer, Briton, Audley Harrison. The dude's hands were so big, I never knew if he had cards under them. Hell, I often didn't know if I had cards under them.

Within an hour or so, we were down to 275 players, five from the money. From here, the whole field would play hand-for-hand, meaning that each table would start each hand simultaneously, and then wait for all of the tables to complete that hand. It seemed to take forever to lose five players, and coordinating hand-for-hand across 30 tables was a logistical challenge.

There were short-stacked players at my table who simply stopped playing. They reported of AK hands and midle-pair hands that were simply mucked while they tried to squeeze into the money. And they did. One player at my table had 3 antes left (less than a small blind) when the bubble was burst. He busted in the next hand, in 270th place - the first to cash.

Now it was back to work. I had a fairly aggressive table, and as time went on, all of the chips were accumulating to my left. I continued to maintain and pick up a few chips here and there. When 2 AM rolled around, and we were packing it in for the night, I had a decent and above average stack, but it felt short compared to the three players to my left.

About two hands before we broke for the night, the player to my immediate left, already the table chip-leader, busted two players in a huge pot to nearly double his stack. After we broke for the night, I learned that he was the big stack in the tournament at the end of Day 1.

What a bad beat! I was coming back Sunday morning in the absolute worst seat in the tournament, to the immediate right of the biggest stack in the tournament. And what's more, the two stacks to his left had me covered as well.

Regardless, I was ecstatic to be coming back the next day, and exhausted. It took Mrs. Chicago and I more than 30 minutes to get a cab back to Caesar's, and less than 30 minutes to pass out upon returning.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 01, 2007

WSOP2007 - Event #38 Recap Part 2

Continued from the first recap post.

After my big call, the cards dried up completely. It felt like I passed on 40 or 50 hands and we were getting close to the break. It became evident that the hand being dealt would be the last hand before break.

I was in the big blind, and as I watched the action proceed around the table, I reflected upon all of the anecdotal stories and tips about playing right before the break. "Don't go broke before the break" say some, while others like to take advantage of everyone's desire to get to break and get aggressive. I decided that if I woke up with something playable, I would put pressure on my opponents.

There was a mid- late-position raise from a somewhat quiet, tight player. The button thought for a moment, and then smooth called. The SB folded, and I looked down to find pocket kings! I think I had four premium hands in two days of poker (and never aces) - this was one of those hands.

I was out of position and there was already a good stack of chips in the pot. I wasn't particularly deep, so I decided to simply push and hope that the first raiser didn't have Aces. I pushed and he pondered. This was a good sign. Eventually both players folded, and I picked up a nice little pot without a fight. I was short, but comfortable going into the break.

Coming back from break, I looked for my opportunities. I played very tight, very aggressive. I continued to get my money in good, but was chased down twice. My opponent got his money all in twice against me, both times that overcame the odds (two-outter once, three-outter another time) to suck out and chop out my proverbial chip legs. Fortunately both opponents were short-stacked at the time, and I managed to hang on. I built my stack to about 9500 by the second break. Personally, I had been all in at least four times in those two hours, but called only once, where I had the best hand.

Four hours down and I felt like I had been playing for days.... I was exhausted, not as exhausted as Mark Vos (pictured above sleeping on a bench in the huge hallways of the Rio), but exhausted nonetheless.

We broke and returned for round five. The details of rounds four and five are very fuzzy to me. It must have gone well, because I built my 9500 chips to 45,000 chips. This put me in the chip lead for the table, and probably near the higher end of the field. I was counting down the moments until the dinner break, and when it finally came I ran straight to the Tilted Kilt bar and restaurant.

An hour and a half break, a vodka tonic, some pasta, and about six glasses of water rejuvenated me for the post-dinner run. I missed most of the next round in the men's room, but I was rejuvenated....


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

WSOP2007 - Event #38 Recap

Like the first Star Wars movie, this post comes first in delivery, though not in chronology. The recap of my trip is forthcoming, time allowing.

Saturday morning came early for me. I was still tired from the night before, when I decided to get in a couple hours of cash game before bed. I had been playing bad and running bad since arriving in Las Vegas. Nevertheless, I was undeterred, and jumped out of bed with both feet hitting the ground simultaneously. I showered and dressed for comfort, with a t-shirt layered under a long sleeve warm-ish collared shirt. The over-shirt was black with a collar, for a little subconscious intimidation and a little concealment of my neck (pulse and adam's apple/swallowing motion.) As it turns out, the room was a little warmer than I expected and than was advertised. Most of the first day I was sporting my Pink Floyd t-shirt with the pink pig. I also wear a hat in tournament play, which keeps minimizes distractions (like blinders on a horse) and to conceal my eyes when I opted to tilt my head down. I selected my Detroit Pistons hat for this occasion. (Yes, I'm a huge Pistons fan living in Chicago).

We got on the Caesar's-Rio shuttle around 10AM, 2 hours before cards were in the air. I had already registered, so I just needed food and walking time from the front doors of the Rio to the Amazon Room (about 3 days by dogsled).

When we got to the Sao Paulo Cafe, there was a line out the door of about 50 people. It seemed to be moving fast, so I was unconcerned. After 20 feet, the line slowed considerably, and then seemed to come to a stop for many minutes at a time. It didn't help that there was a separate line for "Platinum Guests" (which reflects their tier of privilege in Harrah's Total Rewards program), and that they would simply walk in and be seated rapidly, and ahead of all the patiently waiting "Gold" and Gold-minus guests.

We finally got our food at about 11:35 or 11:40. I finished eating at about 11:56am, and left Mrs. Chicago with the bill. I hoofed it to the table, arriving about 5 after, or 8 minutes before the first cards were actually dealt.

I didn't recognize anybody at my table when the game began, but about 12 hands in, a familiar face sat down. I couldn't place him at first, but after 30 minutes I had a good idea - it was Brian Fidler, Daniel Negreanu's first Protege. He struck me as overly confident, but was nice enough.

I played mainly tight poker for the first 40 minutes, and refrained from voluntarily putting chips into the pot for the first two or three rotations. On the third rotation or so a player in early-mid-position put in a 3x raise. It folded around to me on the button, and I looked down to see the JT of clubs. Since I had been talkative, friendly, and confident, but had yet to play a hand, and the player seemed to be a bit concerned when he put his chips in, I decided to see how a smooth call would be perceived. The raising player immediately shot me a glance and I nodded.

The flop came fairly innocuous and with two clubs. My opponent made a continuation bet and I called. The turn was a blank and we checked it through. The river was a third club, giving me a flush. My opponent checked, I bet half the pot, he called. I had more than my starting 3000 chips for the first moment of the tournament.

I played very tight for another few rotations until it became obvious that the table was playing extremely tightly. I played a couple hands merely to benefit from that fact, and before long the table broke and I was moved all the way across the room - Table 199.

This table was substantially more aggressive. I recognized a player four seats to my right, but couldn't place him. I knew who he was, but didn't know WHO he was. I just got to the bottom of that mystery - he was Shannon Freakin' Shorr! This 22-year old poker phenom won the Bellagio Cup II main event last year after having won one of the undercard events. He cashed twice already at the WSOP this year, and has 26 cashes in major events for a total of $1.6 Million in winnings. He finished 4th in the POY standings last year.

I'm glad I didn't know who he was for sure, as it may have intimidated the hell out of me. He was pretty quiet, as he was short on chips for much of the time we shared a table. He did make a few fancy moves to keep himself in the game. We played a couple hands together, though I was aggressive and he couldn't play on without committing his stack.

After a few rough hands, I was back below my starting stack again. When the second level ended, I was getting nervous.

An aggressive player in his young twenties moved to our table two seats to my left. He was wearing a hood, and was not a pleasant addition to the table. [Sidenote: the vast majority of people I shared a tournament with were polite, conversational, and in many cases, even fun. I was pleasantly surprised.]

As I was getting nervous about my shrinking stack (back around 3000), I was looking for opportunities to pick up a few chips. I was on the button with one limper in the pot and found A6 of hearts. In general, this is NOT an automatic raise, and a strong argument could be made for folding in this spot with short chips. A better argument might be made for folding. I made a smallish raise (3x?) and got the aggressive player in the BB and the original limper to join me for a flop. The flop came 5,6,9 with two spades. Both players checked to me and I decided to protect what I thought could be the best hand. Both players called. I wasn't sure where I was in the hand. Could they both be drawing?

The turn was a non-spade ten and both players checked to me. I thought I might be behind at this point. A big bet would probably get two folds, but would risk my tournament life. A check seemed safest, despite the fact that I may be sacrificing the pot. The pre-flop limper was likely to have the best hand, I surmised. And I was almost sure that the big blind was on a draw - spades most likely. That was my feeling at this point anyway.

The turn came something unhelpful (3c maybe?), though if I remember correctly, put three clubs on the board (running clubs). The big blind thought for a moment and then put out a bet of 1800 chips. This was about half his remaining stack, and about 70% of mine. The mid-position player folded. Now all I was left with was third pair on a messy board, but his bet was so fishy. What could he have that would cause him to call pre-flop and check-call the flop and check the turn? If he flopped a made hand, there were draws to fear and he would have to protect them. If he had a club flush, his cards would have to be good in another direction (i.e. pair and straight draw?) to call the flop bet. I was confident that he either had made two pair with two little cards or had absolutely nothing (still imagining a spade draw). Also, his bet was a little too big for me to call without a big hand, which I wasn't likely to have either. At this point, I was sure he wanted a fold... so I called.

He said, "nice call" and held his cards face down over the muck. He clearly didn't want to turn them over, and I didn't want to be a jerk.

I said, "third pair", with a half-grin that someone who knew me would describe as a little bit smug. I turned my cards face up and proudly spread them on the felt as if to say, "Don't f@*k with me!" This guy was an agressive pot stealer, and I didn't want him in anymore of my pots.

He released his cards and I got at least three "nice call!" and "wow, excellent"-type remarks. Not only had a gotten my chips healthy again, but my confidence was healthy as well.

The mid-position player, who folded to the flop bet with me remaining to act behind him let me know that he had actually folded the best hand. Now I really felt good about the way I had analyzed the hand.

I stood up for a few minutes during the next hand to get rid of the heebie-jeebies that crept in when I thought I may have just called my way into deep doo-doo...

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Teaser Post: ChicagoJason vs Chris "Jesus" Ferguson

ChicagoJason and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson at WSOP #38 2007
ChicagoJason assumes the "Jesus" pose against Jesus himself.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Out in 81st Place

Getting slightly short, I needed to find some chips. A mid-position player raised and a late player called. I tried the ole squeeze with Q9 of hearts. The initial raiser folded, as planned. The caller called my bet with AKc. Neither of us improved and I finished in 81st.

115k in chips second break day 2

And Chris Ferguson just busted from two seats to my left.

The Aristocrats!

This is me on Day Two Baby...

This is me on Day Two.

(No picture, just a BNL reference.)

End of Day One

Its 2:30 and I'm in a cabs line with no cabs.

We're down to 176 players and I have just under average chips with 37,100. I took a bad beat about 30 minutes ago when my pocket tens raise was called all-in with A-7. There was a 7 on the flop and a 7 on the river to take more than 1/4 of my chips.

I went through the both blinds afterwards and was raised off both hands.

We're back tomorrow at 2pm and I'll try to rebuild...

We're in the money....

We're down to 252 out of 2770 and on break. Another 45 minutes of play after break.

I have about 50,000 in chips. Average is 31,000.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Dinner Break

I've got around 37,000 in chips, which is a little above average. I went head's up with the guy at the table most capable of inflicting damage, and he did. I folded to an all-in re-reraise on the turn after giving him over a third of my chips. Oops.

I've had kings twice and no other pocket pairs above 8s all day. I did run my AQ into an AK a couple hours ago. He was all in from a blind, and I felt I was priced in. The flop came AQQ. The case queen on the turn eliminated all hope for him.

I feel like I've been playing for a week. It requires all my focus to calculate bet sizes and pot sizes.

Perhaps a nice dinner at the Tilted Kilt will straighten me out....

Strong Run

A strong run in level 6, after being in a little scary territory (M=7) has put me in decent shape. I have close to 45,000 chips, putting me at the top of my table.

By the way...

The fourth round was brutal. I got snapped off by a 3-outter and a 2-outter. It was dangerous territory treading back. I picked off a big bluff to win a big pot (with fourth pair). Losing it would have crippled me.

5th round starting now....

2nd Break

About 9500 in chips. Blinds going up to 150-300 with 25 ante.

I've been all in way too many times!

Table 35, Seat 3.

First Break

Thanks to Kings in the small blind right before the break, I turned 50 minutes of frustration into a little gain. I'm a little below average, but can afford to wait for some cards before getting nervous....

Morning Of....

Its 10:30 local, and I'm standing in line at the Sao Paulo Cafe. It is a long line, but moving quickly.

As we walked past the Rio's "regular" poker room, Mrs. Chicago looked as if to say "that's way too small!" I smiled and said "wait until you are the Amazon Room, you won't believe it."

She's checking it out now while I hold our place in line. I'm looking forward to her reaction.

We were walking through Bellagio two days ago and she suddenly exclaimed "hey, there's him! That guy!".

I swung around to see TJ Cloutier. I reminded her of his name.

Yesterday she called him "JT Cloutier". She's so cute.

Last night the "Big Game" was going on at Bellagio. She was excited to see all the recognizable faces - Doyle, Gus Hanson, Johnny Chan, Allen Cunningham - she even did a little Norman Chad bit - "He's ALLEN CUNNINGHAM". It was hilarious. And fun.

Well, the line has come to a halt. This could be a hungry tournament....

Friday, June 22, 2007

Table 14, Seat 7

I registered for event #38 yesterday. Table 14, Seat. The Rio was eerily quiet. The $1500 NL event had started at noon, but by 6pm it seemed to have emptied out substantially. This was a vast departure from the scene last year, where the halls were packed with people, booths, and hanger's on. Granted, this was a Thursday afternoon, but it was pre-dinner break and super quiet. All of the online poker lounges/hang-outs are long gone, courtesy of the UIGEA.

Southside and I headed into the "Poker Tent", which was filled with recognizable poker pros. David Benyamine, Eric Seidel, and Marcel Luske were all seat in adjacent seats. Men "The Master", Jennifer Harman, Layne Flack, Tony G, Freddy Deeb, John D'Agostino, and loads of others were in the final stages of the Omaha event. Back inside, Jesus Ferguson and Phil Hellmuth were working their way through the No Limit field.

More one the way....

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Final Countdown

Twenty-four hours until take off, and yes, I'm a little fired up. The good news is that we'll be in town for a few days before the WSOP event I plan to play in. That should give me time to simmer down now! Simmer down.

We're headed to Midway Airport tomorrow evening to fly the last remaining airline that we aren't boycotting. Yes, even Nippon Air has screwed us at one point or another. Mrs. Chicago may have to take an "alternate bag" as her most recent (non-) air travel was a mess. She was at O'hare yesterday to fly to Minneapolis. After three delays, she was informed that her flight was being canceled. The two flights scheduled to depart after hers had been canceled hours earlier, and the flight was only an 18-hour trip, so she decided to cancel altogether.

Baggage claim indicated that they couldn't giver her bag to her.

"Why?" she asked.

"That's how it works, it's checked to Minneapolis", they said. "There are no flights to Minneapolis tonight!" "We'll send it tomorrow." "I'm not going to Minneapolis"... and so on... and so forth. Anyway, her suitcase is in Minneapolis. Still. 24 hours later. "We'll call you when it comes in," the phone rep shared. "No, we don't know when that will be..." Etc.

So I don't really care if our bags make it, actually. Many before me have demonstrated that poker can be played without sufficient deodorant or a clean shirt.

We'll arrive tomorrow night and head right to Caesar's Palace to check in.

After check-in, depending on the mood and exhaustion level, I may head to the Poker Room to get in a little play, I may head to the Rio to register for my event (and avoid the reportedly insane lines), or I may just hit the sack. I can't imagine my adrenaline levels will be low enough to get to sleep.

Then what...?

To be determined, I suppose. A little poker. Some pool time. More poker. Good food. Poker. Shopping with the wifie? Poker...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

WSOP 2007 Preparation

Just three days to departure, not that we're counting over here...

You should be able to find regular updates on my progress at PocketFivesLive, sponsored by PokerXFactor. I cannot seem to find the "official" results of Pocket Fivers, but do see the live text updates. I plan to send a few.

As a reminder, I'm playing in event #38, the $1500 NL Hold Em event.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Phil Hellmuth Wins His 11th Bracelet!

Holy crap, Phil Hellmuth won his 11th bracelet today, and I haven't even won my first yet.

How embarrassing.

Just before 10PM Las Vegas Time (a.k.a. PDT) Phil Hellmuth outlasted a field of 2,628 players and bested Andy Philacheck heads up to win event #15 of the 2007 WSOP, a $1500 buy-in no limit hold 'em tournament. But you knew that, all of Phil's bracelets are in Hold 'em.

Philly (as Mr. The Mouth refers to him) was awarded his bracelet by the competition, 10-time bracelet winners Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson. Classy.

In (un)related news, I am heading out to Las Vegas in 8 days. Next Wednesday afternoon Mrs. Chicago and I will be heading out, meeting up with the infamous Southside Darnell, and crashing at Caesar's Palace for a few days.

I plan to get in on juicy side game action at Caesar's and the Venetian (where the Deep Stack Extravaganza is going on) and playing in Event #38 of the WSOP, which is another $1500 NLHE event.

It looks like 2007 will be tremendously bigger than 2006 for the WSOP. Way to go Jeffrey Pollack! (Or is it Jeffery :) ).

Let me know if you'll be there June 20-25.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Another Good Tournament Result

I took a big chunk of time off from tournaments after starting to play poorly in many of them. When I did play well, I felt like I was continually getting sucked out on , and I couldn't take the frequent frustration.

I've improved my discipline a bit, and had some recent success. I decided to play in the AIPS No Limit Hold 'em short-handed event.

It went well...

More soon...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Couple Chicago Poker Open Pictures

As promised, here are a few pictures from the Chicago Poker Open. First, Richard Roeper is flanked by two of the incredible volunteers that made the tournament a success.
Next is a picture of yours truly, Chicago Jason, looking in disbelief. "You want a picture of me?" I was an early chip leader at this point.
Finally, this embarrassing gem was taken just after I knocked Roeper out in third place. We tried four times to take the picture with both of us looking at the camera and my eyes open. I was so tired and the flash was so bright, that we were unsuccessful each time. Roeper made some crack, and as I looked at him to make a smarmy response, this picture was take. "Hey look, its Richard Roeper!" What a dork I am.

Monday, April 23, 2007

CPC Represents at Chicago Poker Open!!

Friday night the Hard Rock Hotel on Michigan Avenue hosted the 2nd Annual Chicago Poker Open, which benefited a great cause in the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago.

I attended this event last year, and had a great time. It was well run as events go, though the tournament itself was not quite to the standard of a casino-run tournament. Dealers, "Floor Staff", and the Tournament Director were all volunteers, most of whom were also Boys & Girls Club volunteers. Things like breaking tables and getting "floor" input on calls, etc, were challenging early on when there were many players remaining. Later in the tournament, when the Tournament Director could effectively oversee all the remaining tables, things moved more smoothly.

The tournament featured a number of local celebrities, including WTMX's Melissa McGurren, NBC5's LeeAnn Trotter, and The Sun-Times and Ebert & Roeper's Richard Roeper. Poker Author and Chicago Local Jim McManus was supposed to participate as well, but he appeared to be a no show.

There were two tournaments offered, a Novice Tournament for a $100 buy-in and a "Card Shark" tournament for a $250 buy-in, with unlimited $125 rebuys available for the first hour.

Cards were in the air at 7pm, and I was seated a table with players of mixed experience. Most of the table believed themselves to be talented poker players, though few of them were truly talented. I was comfortable with the competition fairly quickly, and was efficient in picking my spots and playing solid hands. My objective was to accumulate chips early, and continue to do so throughout. Blind levels were every 20 minutes, and went up in 50-100% increments depending on the level. I felt they moved less quickly than last year, but were still quite aggressive. I pushed all perceived marginal edges.

That approach almost got me into real trouble in the first hour. At the end of the second level, or early in the third, I found myself on the big blind with pocket tens. The table had gotten a little "limpy" and there were 4 or 5 limpers when the action came around to me. I did not want to play my 10s up front against 5 opponents in this situation. Occasionally I would check behind and hope to hit a set, or fold. Against these players I surmised that most limped with truly marginal hands and should be quick to fold to a big raise. With only 15 or 16 big blinds in my stack, I would gladly take down 5 big blinds without a flop. If I did get called, it would undoubtedly be by two over-cards and I would be a slight favorite to double-up and take a big early lead.

I pushed and was quickly called by a player in the four seat. The rest of the table folded and he turned over pocket queens. Pocket Queens!?! "Why the hell did he limp?", was the now irrelevant demand bouncing in my head and frivolously aching to fall out of my mouth.

"I've got outs", were the only three words that came out.

I did indeed, as a ten came on river and eliminated my opponents stack. He re-bought and taunted me for the next hour.

I continued to play aggressively and went to the first break, and end of the rebuy period with about 12,000 in chips, or 6 times my starting stack. There was one player with about 16,000 chips across the room from me, and no one else even close.

Eventually the other chip leader got moved to my table and we tried to stay out of one another's way for awhile. He took a few big hits, and then became a target of mine. He tightened up as he lost chips, and I took advantage.

A few hours into the tournament my stack had continued to grow, which made me an intimidating figure at my table. Another player got moved over to our table with a stack about equivalent to mine. Again I tried to stay out of his way, but he continued to get into my pots. He was aggressive and a defender. He took a pot from me with a well-sized flop raise after calling my pre-flop raise. I took back about the same sized pot about 15 minutes later when the flop favored my cards a little more.

After a few heads up battles we got into a doozy. He had raised pre-flop on my big blind. it folded around to me, and I looked down at Ks 4s. Given that we both had (comparatively) deep stacks, and his propensity for aggression, I thought it was worth a call. I was getting a little better than 2-1 on my money.

The flop came Q,5,4 with two spades. I had flopped bottom pair with a king-high spade flush draw. I checked to him, knowing full well that he would make a continuation bet. He made a pot-sized bet or bigger on the flop, there were now 12+ big blinds in the pot, and I had about 22 left. He had a few less. His flop bet struck me as a scared bet, not a strong one. He could've made this play with AQ, KQ, QJ, AA, KK, or QQ, but I thought it was equally, if not more likely that he had nothing. He would probably call a big re-raise with the aforementioned hands, but would have to fold anything else. If he called with those hands, I would have 9 outs against KK, QQ or KQ, and 14 outs against most others. Hands with a King were less likely, given that I held one.

I pushed all in. He insta-called. Oops. He showed 5h5d, for a set of fives. I had not considered that. The turn didn't help, but the river was a big spade, giving me a flush and eliminating him from the tournament. I hit a 9-outter (about a 2-to-1 dog) and became a massive chip leader at my table, and probably the tournament's chip leader at that point.

Now I was feeling very lucky and I tightened up considerably. Of course, I had the luxury of doing so with all my new found chips.

I played tight-aggressive for the next hour or so, not finding any big hands or opportunities, and just trying to stay our of harm's way. At this point we were down to 20 players, and we collapsed to 2 tables. I had a substantial stack, probably in the top 4 or 5 at this point.

With 20 players left and blinds rather large compared to stack sizes we saw a lot of fold, fold, fold, all-in, fold, fold. And an occasional fold^4, all-in, call, coin-flip, elimination... if you get my drift.

Soon we were effectively hand-for-hand. I had lost a few small pots, which weren't so small given the blind-to-stack ratio. Eventually player number 11 was eliminated and we were down to the final table.

The final table featured three players that had been at my table most of the night, three players I had played with when we were down to two tables, two people I had not yet played with, and one deep stacked Richard Roeper.

After 20 minutes I had discarded most hands given to me, all of which were unplayable. My deep stack had become a quite middling to short one. I needed to find cards, or a spot, or both. When I was down to about 10 big blinds I found pocket 7s. I was in middle position and there was one limper. I pushed all-in, thinking that my tight play since we had gotten to the table, coupled with most player's reluctance to risk all their chips this close to the money would give me a good opportunity to add nearly 40% to my stack without a flop. As earlier, a call by overcards would be fine with me here as well. The top 5 players got paid, but the only real money was in winning the tournament. I needed to give my self a shot.

The tight player to my left immediately and quietly called my raise. He had me covered by about 30%. I instantly new I was dead in the water. The cutoff, with a shorter stack than mine, looked at his cards and got a pained look on his face. He then shrugged and put the rest of his chips in the pot. I knew I was drawing virtually dead. Finally, the big blind, having about as many chips left as the cutoff knew that he could not fold most hands here. He called and we had a four-way pot.

The player to my left turned over pocket kings. Ick. The other two players turned over something like Q-J and A-8. They all had live cards, and so did I. Nonetheless, we were all drawing pretty slim against the kings. The flop brought no help, nor did the turn. Then, the poker gods smiled on me again. A glorious seven came on the river to give me a giant pile of chips, eliminate two players, and cripple a third.

We were down to eight-handed, and I was the new boss.


There were two other big stacks at the table. There was an unfriendly player in a WSOP shirt to my left. He seemed to play solid, if unspirited poker. Two seats to my left was a very short-stacked player. He was on the big blind when I was on the button. That limited my steal attempts somewhat. To his left was Richard Roeper, who was second in chips at this time, and throughout the final table. He was a tough opponent. The rest of the table was pretty short-stacked.

I made a few marginal plays over the next 8 or 10 hands. I took several pots down pre-flop with a standard raise. Some players had tightened up trying to outlast their opponents and make it into the "money" (in the top 5). I tried to limp a few times from middle position. Blinds were substantial enough at this point that most reraises were all-in, and I was limping with hands that did not want to commit pre-flop. What's more, some of the players were short-stacked enough that a limp on my part might put me in a situation where I HAD TO call an all-in because the number dictated it. I did not want to show "any two cards" to the table at this point.

Several all-ins came and went, and we lost a couple of players. Down to six and the two deeper stacks were still looming. The player immediately to my left butted heads with me a few times. I did not want to play a big pot with him unless I needed to. He had position and enough chips to hurt me. He also was one of the stronger players at the final table.

After a few heads up hands, I had gotten the better of him, but only marginally so. The table folded around to me in the small blind, and his stack had shortened notably. I found a good ace and raised all-in, hoping to just take it down. He looked at his cards, scowled, and stated "you're just trying to steal... push me around with your big stack... I'm going to call you next time." He mucked, and I folded with my cards high enough in the air that anyone looking would see the Ace.

He was now short-stacked, but faced and survived a couple all-ins. The second all-in saw a call and his hand held up. Two or three players to my right sighed, and pleaded "bust this guy!" His personality was not winning him any friends.

A rotation after our last blinds run-in it folded to us again. I looked at pocket jacks. I thought he would play back at me if I showed any weakness, so I just completed the big blind. He thought for a moment and checked behind.

The flop came 3-5-9 or similar. I didn't have a great read on his cards, except that he opted not to raise. Certainly two pair was possible, but not likely. I made a pot sized bet, which amounted to a chunk of his stack. He pushed all-in immediately. I was concerned only about two-pair, but continued to believe this was unlikely. Why wouldn't he try to extract more money. He would make this move with any pair or a good draw. I called.

He turned over 2 4, for an open-ended straight draw, and a back-door heart flush draw. If I lost, it would make me an above average stack. The turn brought the three of hearts, pairing the board and giving him four to a flush. He had lots of outs now.

As the dealer pulled 5th street, something seemed odd about the deal. He turned up the 2 of hearts, giving my opponent a 9-high flush, and the hand. WAIT....

He didn't burn a card, did he? "Hey, you didn't burn!" I stated. "There was no burn", two spectators noted at almost the same time as one other, and in chorus with me. The dealer reflected, and replied, "shoot, I'm so sorry, I didn't!"

He turned over the deuce and pulled the "real" river card. It was red. Another heart. Crap. No, wait, the Jack of hearts, giving him a flush, and me a full house. I took down another huge pot and eliminated the player I most feared, based on his style and position at the table.

Players 5 and 4 were eliminated in quick succession, and we were down to three. The player to my left was deep-stacked Richard Roeper, and to my right was a short-stacked player I had faced all night.

He pushed at opportune times, and continued to maintain his small stack. Mainly he stayed out of the way of the two deep stacks and tried to cruise into head's up.

His strategy was successful as Roeper and I saw a number of flops together, and I got the best of him in most of them. Eventually he went all-in on the button and I found a biggish hand (AT suited, maybe?) in the big blind. I called and flopped my second card (the ten?), and it held up.

I had eliminated the last local celebrity in Richard Roeper. We posed for a few pictures (hopefully those are forthcoming here) and took a break. We returned for head's up.

I had a prohibitive lead over my remaining opponent, making the finish largely anti-climactic. After a half dozen hands my 8-10 off paired up to defeat my opponent's Q high.

I stood up and shook his hand. Then it dawned on me that I had won! The last 20 or so people in the room clapped and many congratulated me on a good tournament.

This was my largest live win to date, and I was pleased as punch. There were a lot of "you played great" comments, though in my head I was still focusing on the hands I had played poorly, or the 3 times in the tournament that I sucked out horribly on my opponent.

I had to sign some tax forms on the way out, and then I headed home for some sleep.

As I continue to think about the event, I do dwell on some of the lucky spots and poorly played hands. I often hear that "you have to get lucky" to win tournaments, and especially those with this type of field and blind structure. The reality is that I feel I played very well for the speed and structure of the tournament, and that my aggression found me in unlucky spots on several occasions. On some of those occasions , my bad luck was reversed to find me at an advantage when the river card fell. The key, I believe is continue studying my own game, looking for opportunities to play better in hopes of being lucky enough to be in the position to win another one some time soon.


Saturday, March 31, 2007

Moss Goes Back-to-Back

Excerpt from "52 Greatest Moments, World Series of Poker" by Mark Rogers

At an informal setting in 1970, Johnny Moss’ peers elected him the first World Series of Poker champion. The following year the freeze out was introduced. Johnny Moss would be the last one standing in 1971. With his victory he became the first back-to-back and only champion the tournament saw.


Much like the Green Bay Packers had dominated football before winning the first two Superbowls; Johnny Moss had been the poker’s elite player long before the WSOP. The year prior to the inaugural WSOP, Johnny Moss competed in the Texas Gamblers Reunion in Reno, Nevada. The assembly was put together by Tom Moore in an effort to attract gamblers to his new Holiday Hotel. At the end of play Johnny Moss was elected the best overall player. For his victory he received a silver cup and the title “King of Cards.”

Benny Binion had been at attendance for the Texas Gamblers Reunion and thought it wise to hold the gathering at his Horseshoe casino the next year. In 1970, Binion was host to 38 players over the course of 10 days. The field included the top players of the day including Amarillo Slim, Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson and Jack Strauss. They played a variety of games often determined by what the players at the table dictated. Only food and sleep would hinder a player from breaking the action. At the end of play, the gamblers convened in the Sombrero room to share steaks and award prizes. Johnny Moss received “Best All-Around Hold’Em Player” and “Deuce-to-Seven Lowball Champion.” The vote for “World Champion Poker Player” did not go as smoothly. Initially, each voted for themselves but Jack Binion asked for everyone to vote on who they thought played second best. Johnny Moss was the clear choice.


In order to defend his title, Johnny Moss would have to participate in a new freeze-out format in 1971. Each player would buy-in $5,000 of chips and the one holding all the chips at the end would win the entire purse and be crowned the new WSOP champion. The game to determine the champion was easily decided to be No-Limit Texas Hold’Em. The six entrants were Johnny Moss, Puggy Pearson, Sailor Roberts, Jack Strauss, Doyle Brunson and Jimmy Casella. This made for a $30,000 pay day to the winner. Going heads up against Puggy Pearson, Johnny Moss proved his peers made no mistake voting him the WSOP champion the year prior. Johnny Moss retained his title and was the only champion face the young WSOP knew.

In any budding game that seeks to grow, icons or legends must emerge as measuring sticks to the greatness the game can achieve. Johnny Moss’s back-to-back championships gave him the right to be such that person. As the nation came to respect and love the game, the stories and feats of Johnny Moss impacted the WSOP in Babe Ruth type ways. Johnny Moss gave the WSOP the first of many great moments the game would see.