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.