Thursday, December 24, 2009

Season Finale - Chicago's Largest Poker Tournament

Main Event Charity Games and Windy City Poker Championship teamed up to throw the biggest poker party in Chicago history. On Friday and Saturday, December 18 & 19, 2009, 180 tournament players, and a host of cash game players, spectators, and sponsors made history at the Irish American Heritage Center, raising funds for two worthy charities in the process.

The tournament kicked off at about 8pm on Friday, after tournament organizers scrambled to accommodate their largest field to date. The play went until 1AM, when the 140 remaining players bagged their chips, and headed home for the night. Play resumed at noon on Saturday.

The publishers of Ante Up, Florida's Poker Magazine, Chris Cosenza and Scott Long were on hand to kick off the event and handle emcee duties. They could be seen throughout the event representing their business, and playing plenty of Chinese Poker and mixed cash games.

The television crew at Windy City Poker Championship, of which this author is affiliated, did an incredible job of converting the lounge area of the facility into a TV set, home to the "featured table", and when the field was down to 8, the Final Table.

At the start of day 2, there was a buzz of discontent in the crowd as the tournament organizers announced a change in the tournament structure. This author had estimated that we were about an hour short of the time required to complete the tournament - as the State of Illinois does not permit charity games to be played after 2am. The tournament organizers, concerned that we would run out of time for the conclusion of the tournament, particularly given the overhead of the televised final table, announced that levels would be temporarily shortened from 30 minutes to 20, and that 3 levels would be removed from the structure over the course of the day.

When the next few levels brought a host of bust-outs, the organizers returned the structure back to normal, having made up the one hour via 10-minutes off of three levels, and the removal of one, single 30-minute level. The event was back on course.

The event feature a number of notable attendees, including Chicago's own Richard Roeper, 2008 WSOP Main Event Final Tablist Dennis Phillips, host of ESPN Inside Deal Bernard Lee, and author of Eat Professional Poker Players Alive Frank Wiese.

I had the good fortune of playing between Roeper and Lee at the featured table on Day One (at left).

Day Two saw the field shrink from 140 remaining players down to 20 when the tournament went "hand-for-hand". Some players tightened up, trying to eek their way into the payouts which were awarded to the top 18 finishers. About five hands in to hand-for-hand the field narrowed to 19, and the then three hands later, the field celebrated making it into the money.

The event played with two balanced tables until this author (yeah, me!) found Ah Qc at our five-handed table. With a reputation for being a loose, aggressive player, and only 9 big blinds remaining, I happily shoved all of my chips to the middle. The player immediately to my left, on the button promptly called, and when the blinds folded, showed me two Kings. My hand did not improve, and the remaining players combined to a single table.

Once the field eliminated two players, the remaining eight, including the Windy City Poker Championship Executive Producer David McDermott, moved to the televised final table.

After a battery of player interviews, television preparation, and several introductory takes and re-takes featuring WCPC hosts Kirk Fallah and this column's author, the televised final table was under way. The players competed for over two hours, until an eventual champion was crowned.

Leroy Carver was crowned the season finale Windy City Poker Champion, followed by Marty Masar in second, and Ken Felten in third place.

[Featured at left, Windy City Poker Championship's Creator and co-host Kirk Fallah, Chicago Poker Club author and WCPC co-host Jason Finn, and previous WCPC co-host Michael Lapidus.]

The event will be televised on Chicago's Comcast Sports Net and Florida's Bright House Network in late February/early March 2010.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Dec 18th & 19th Windy City Poker Finale!

Last Filming of Season One

The final filming of Season One for the Windy City Poker Championship TV show will be a two day spectacular event

$55,000 Guaranteed Prize Pool *

Probable Payouts

Blind Structure

Dennis Phillips

Poker Pros and Celebrities Who Are Coming!
Dennis Phillips
is Scheduled to Attend
Bernard Lee is Scheduled to Attend
Richard Roeper is Scheduled to Attend
Tai Streets (former NFL player) is Scheduled to Attend
Scott Long and Chris
Cosenza from Ante Up magazine will attend

December 18th and 19th.

Irish American Heritage Center
4626 N. Knox Ave, Chicago 60630
Plenty of
FREE parking

Tournament will begin on Friday Dec 18th at 7:00 pm and will go until 1:00 am. If you pre-register without pre-paying you must arrive 1 hour before the start of the event.

Tournament will continue on Sat Dec 19th at 12:00 sharp for those players still in the tournament

There will be a Feature Table on Friday night, at the start of the tournament, with players moving in and out of, at the discretion of Main Event Charity Games. The Feature Table, along with the Final Table will be filmed for broadcasting on
Comcast SportsNet Chicago and Bright House Sports Network. **

Friday 7:00 PM

Buy In: $300
Entry: $60 ($10 discount when paying with cash)
Add On: $10
Starting Chips: 20,000
Add On Chips: 5,000

It is highly recommended that you pre-register.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

WSOP Circuit - 2009 Hammond IN

The 2009 WSOP Circuit Season is underway, its 6th season, kicked off with the 13-Event schedule at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, IN.

Despite a so-called down economy, the Chicago market showed strong, featuring 1,412 entrants, breaking the previous WSOP Circuit attendance record.

Event #1 saw 23-year-old poker pro Josh Schmerl, or "Schmu" as he's know at the table, take down an approximately $60,000 first prize, after arranging a three-way chop with our own CJ "Seeej" Sullivan (okay, I call him that) taking 3rd, and Windy City Poker Championship final table-finisher Aaron Massey taking 2nd. (From left to right, Massey, Schmerl, Sullivan featured above.) Event #1 was $345 buy-in NLHE event.

Third-place finisher CJ Sullivan is a professional comic, co-host of The Visitor's Locker Room, and the 11th best player in my home game.

Schmerl finished 2nd in his first official WSOP cash, last February in Council Bluffs, IA, and finished one spot better this year to win this, his first WSOP Circuit ring. Schmu also finished 2nd in a Venetian Deep Stack event last year in Las Vegas.

Event #2 was a $555 event, featuring 550 entrants, and a total prize pool of $261,550. Marvin Thompson of Fowler, IN won the $60,156 first-prize and WSOP Circuit ring, featured below:

More results as we have them, and as time allows. WSOP official results are found here.

Special thanks to Nolan Dalla, media relations at WSOP/Harrah's for the results and photographs.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Windy City Poker Championship - Annie Duke, Joe Navarro

A few of you have asked me when Windy City Poker Championship next airs on Comcast SportsNet. To the best of my knowledge, the next broadcast is next Sunday at 7pm. You can find their broadcast schedule here, though it is subject to change.

The next broadcast is a replay of the most recent episode (ep. 9), part 1 of the Chieff O'neills event. Part 2 will be broadcast near the end of the month, including my interview with Joe Navarro (teaser below), Kirk's interview with Annie Duke, and a hand analysis involving the lowly 7-2!

Find Comcast SportsNet on your local provider here.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Setting Goals

Lately, some of the players I've talked to have discussed 'setting goals' in their play. Some examples include:

  • I'd like to increase my bankroll to $XXX by the end of the year,
  • I'd like to be able to move up from $2/5 NL to $5/10 NL by the holidays (very similar to the first),
  • I'd like to play 30 hours a week,
  • I'd like to increase my win rate to $XX per hour.
How do you set your goals? Personally, I'm always trying to eliminate leaks my game, including focus issues. I have a tendency to lose focus on the game, but to continue to play as though I have a good read on all of my opponents. This can be an expensive mistake!

I like to set mini in-session goals, things like making some sort of mental note each time a hand completes, who won, and what did they show (if they did). This exercise seems, and is, quite fundamental, but can be more difficult than you'd assume.

Another goal, update this blog more than once a month! :)

How about you? What are you poker goals?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sensing Weakness, Playing Your Opponent

On tonight's Windy City Poker Championship, down to 6-handed, the two chip leaders get into a heads up hand in which the chip leader perceives weakness from his opponent, and takes advantage to take down a good pot without a fight.

Brent is in early position with a medium-strength A9 off. He looks at his cards, and then contemplates his action, showing his opponents his diffidence while considering his options. He engages in what WCPC-friend and interviewee Joe Navarro would refer to as "pacifying behavior", holding his torso, lowering his head, and rubbing his opposite shoulder with his palm.

He makes a small raise to 25,000 chips, and the action folds to Chris on the button, who has 88.

Normally, I believe Chris would probably just call here with 88, after some thought, but in this case I believe he has two strong indicators to make a raise.

  1. Brent's early position raise was smallish, and seemed tenuous. I believe Chris observed his behavior and did not read him for strength.
  2. Chris and Brent are the two big stacks at the table; Chris is the only player that can eliminate Brent from the tournament, and Brent has been playing survival.
Chris makes a small re-raise to 60,000 chips. At this point, there's 106,000 in the pot, and it would only cost Brent 35,000 to call. However, he started the hand with just 129,000 chips, so the call would reflect about half of that starting stack. Chris is effectively testing Brent's resolve by re-raising small, rather than pushing all-in. This move shows great strength, and is quietly putting Brent to the "All In" test.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Exploiting Your Opponents Tendencies

If you caught last night's Windy City Poker Championship, you heard me comment on a few hands of a recent televised final table. In one particular hand, we witnessed Kevin Thanonsinh make a big bluff with half of his chips out of the small blind, holding 9-4 off-suit. Brian White, in the big blind, wakes up with a big hand for this stage in the tournament an Ace-9 off-suit, having Kevin dominated. Kevin has committed half of his chips, and if Brian raises he'll either fold. getting 3:1 on his money, or will call completely dominated for his tournament life.

Brian Folded.

What happened here? How did Kevin make this bluff, and why did Brian fold?

The key to long-term success in poker is understanding your opponents' playing styles and tendencies, and looking for opportunities to exploit them.

If your opponent plays too loosely, making calls out of position with mediocre holdings, you need to punish him/her by making big raises with premium holdings. If you flop your hand, bet for value on every street. There's no sense getting tricky with an opponent if they'll call you all the way down with one pair and no kicker.

If your opponent is too tight, don't let them limp. Your tight opponent limps in middle position, you know he or she doesn't have a premium holding. If they can't call a raise, you'll pick up the extra chips, which add up quickly. If they do call the raise, they will fold to a continuation bet unless they flop a strong hand. Finding out which is which generally won't be too expensive.

In the prior hand, Brian demonstrated that he was playing the tournament for survival, and that he was playing extremely tight poker. When the players folded all the way around to Kevin in the small blind, he knew he only had one player to beat, and that player was playing way too tight. He exploited this flaw in Brian's game, and Brian demonstrated a tightness in excess of what Kevin likely suspected.

In the prior hand, Brian found himself in early position with a suited AQ. He made a minimum raise to 20k chips. Another player, David Marcus, sitting in middle position also found AQ suited, and decided to make the call. Getting almost 6:1 on his call, Kevin makes the call of one additional big blind to see a flop with two suited cards. He checks dark.

The flop comes Q-high (Qs 8d 7h), exactly what Brian had hoped for, and he leads out for a bet of 40k chips into a pot of 71k. David also hits his top-pair top-kicker, and reraises for the rest of his chips, an additional 36k in chips, ballooning the pot to 187k. Kevin quickly folds, and Brian goes into the tank, facing a reraise that will pay him over 5-to-1 on a call.

Brian did much of his thinking out loud, and was concerned that David might have flopped a set of 7s or 8s. This is certainly a possibility, as I commented on the show, but when you're 6-handed, late in a tournament, you raise with a premium hand, you're short on chips, and you hit your flop, you are going to commit yourself to the hand. If your opponent flopped a monster, like a set, you simply got unlucky, and you're going to go broke.

The rest of the table notices how slowly Brian acted in making the call, and how tightly he's playing. The good players at the table put this in their memory banks for future exploitation. The players at the table, and the viewers at home don't have to wait long, as Kevin takes advantage on the very next hand.

When Kevin bets 30k into Brian, Brian doesn't even think for more than 15-20 seconds before folding his relative monster. Kevin then turns his hand face up to show it (incidentally, I'm not a fan of this sort of advertising). Brian realizes that not only was he ahead, he had Kevin dominated, as they were sharing a 9. (Brian was better than a 3:1 favorite.) Brian comments to Kevin what he had, "I had an Ace Nine off".

Kevin's only response is "Wow." And so was mine.

Tune in to Windy City Poker Championship to see what happens next!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Two weeks late, but on my way...

Mrs. Chicago and I are sitting at Chicago's Midway airport, waiting for our delayed flight to Las Vegas. I had planned to head out two weeks ago, and to spend at least 8-10 days in toasty LV for the World Series of Poker this year. Alas, life got in the way, as it sometimes does.

I'm looking forward to seeing what changes this year's event have brought. Certainly the advance of technology and social networking have continued to have an impact. Once again, "real time" chip counts are available on the WSOP site, but this year, there's an added twist, a number of professionals have Twitter feeds, so you can sweat them from afar (or right at their table).

If you're interested in following my progress, you can do so at, or in the feed in the right column of this here blog.

I plan to play in the Deep Stack Extravagaza event tomorrow at noon at the Venetian. Sunday will likely involve satellites at the Rio. And Monday, I'll play in WSOP event #54. My fourth year of playing at least one event at the WSOP.

In other exciting news, I make my Poker Analyst television debut this Sunday evening at 7pm Central. For those of you in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Iowa, you can tune in on Comcast SportsNet (DirecTv 665, Comcast HD 300, Comcast 37).


Friday, June 19, 2009

PokerStars WSOP 4X ShootOut

This is sick - just finished Level 1 of a 4x ShootOut on Stars. The first round literally lasted 20 hands (there are 10 players). My stats:

During current Hold'em session you were dealt 20 hands and saw flop:
- 2 out of 5 times while in big blind (40%)
- 5 out of 6 times while in small blind (83%)
- 4 out of 9 times in other positions (44%)
- a total of 11 out of 20 (55%)
Pots won at showdown - 6 of 6 (100%)
Pots won without showdown - 6

I won the table in 20 hands. There were still MANY other tables with 10 players remaining. I had the best run of cards I've ever seen. Got it in good 11 of 12 times. Got 66 in against AA and flop was 6TT.

The saddest part is that there will still be 1000 players left after this level. If I win two more levels, I'll make it to another tournament where I need to beat 4000 players or so to get a seat....

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Register Now - Chicago Poker Open - This Friday!

This year's Chicago Poker Open is shaping up to be a great success, and with your help, will be our best event to date!

Join Chicago's great celebs, like Richard Roeper, Pro-Bowler Jerry Azumah, Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, WTMX's Melissa McGurren, and Fox Chicago's Sondra Solarte on the green felt, and take your chance at winning WSOP Circuit Event Entries, Curacao vacation getaways, and much more!

Reminder that the Fourth Annual Chicago Poker Open to benefit the General Wood and Little Village Boys & Girls Club is THIS Friday, May 8th at the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown Chicago. Doors open at 6:00 PM. RSVP online now at:

Hope we see you Friday and please tell your friends!

Chicago Jason

PS – Even if you cannot come, please make a donation<($50 does a lot of good!!!) and forward this to your friends!!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Friday, May 8 - Chicago Poker Open!

Please join us on Friday, May 8, 2009 at the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago for the 4th Annual Chicago Poker Open. Click the logo above for more information.

Prizes will include Amex Gift Cards, Buy-Ins to World Series of Poker Circuit Events, a Harrah's Entertainment Package, and a trip to an exotic and tropical locale!

Sponsorship opportunities are available, so let me know if you're interested.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Poker Best of 2008 - Podcasts

As I sit here in my favorite coffee shop, less than a week before Tax Day, I lament that I have not updated the blog more often this year. More frustrating is the fact that I have not yet posted my annual favorite, the "Best Of's..."

The most important of these posts, in my mind, is the Best of Podcast version. 2008 saw its best Podcast product, with the rise of, a Joe Sebok joint (with Barry Greenstein in tow). Last Year's Best Of, Ante Up, got new digs and a new lease on life. Team 1040 lost their Rounders: The Poker Show as Mike and Adam moved to Two Plus Two, to produce a superior output.

Without much time for writing, and hence, without much ado:

Best of 2008
Cash Plays, hosted by Bart Hanson. Sadly, this show, in this format, is gone as of the time of this writing. This is a bit of a shame as the production of Poker Road, paired with the cash game perspective of Bart Hanson, in this format, made for the all-time greatest poker podcast. Bart has since moved his show over to Deuces Cracked in the form of Deuce Plays, with a similar format, but hasn't quite picked up the steam he had at Poker Road. Time will tell, but I suspect this will soon be the new best poker show on the internet.

Bart's weekly show featured one-on-one discussions with successful cash players. Bart asked insightful questions and dug deep into the strategy, psychology, and meta game required for successful cash game play. His celebrated interview with Samoleus (Niman Kenkre) was one of my favorites. Recently, Jeremiah Smith has taken over the version of the show with a similar format. He is slowly gaining momentum, but the show is currently lacking that je nous se qua.

Runners Up
Two Plus Two Pokercast, hosted by Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz. This is a beast of a show, weighing in regularly at 2 hours plus, and offers something for everyone, if you can get through the full show. This Podcast generally takes me a few days, over many sessions, to get from start to finish, but they don't disappoint. Adam Schwartz is the resident poker professional, while Mike Johnson does play-by-play duties. In the early years, at Team 1040, I had difficulty with Johnson's cadence and audible breathing, but he has smoothed it out and makes a great co-host over at his new Two Plus Two home.

The show regularly features top guests from the world of live and online poker, both cash and tournament players. The conversations are always topical, and mix the news, strategy, and personality quite nicely. They are well complemented by an active forum on TwoPlusTwo.

Poker Road Radio, hosted commonly by Ali Nejad, Joe Sebok, and Gavin Smith, with occasional guest hosts including Scott Huff, Jimmy Fricke, and regular appearances by Court "The Hick"Harrington. This is the latest incarnation of a show started at CardPlayer called "The Circuit". When they're at their peak, and all in the studio, this is the most entertaining poker show in the internet. They don't spend much time discussing strategy, but rather focus on news and happenings from an insider's perspective. The show seems to have lost a little traction in early 2009, with travel and other obligations taking the hosts away from regular appearances, but Sebok and Huff have carried the torch and continued to pull together an entertaining show.

Sentimental Favorite
Ante Up PokerCast brought to you by Ante Up Magazine, brainchild of Scott Long and Chris Cosenza. Our long-time friends at Ante Up, formerly a St Pete Times and TBT (Tampa Bay Times) production, picked up their personal items and headed off on their own to start Florida's only all-poker magazine. As one might expect of two guys leaving the security and cush of "paycheck jobs" in this economic environment, and heading off to start their own business, their attention waned in 2008. When they began making their plans, it seemed the poker show lost a little momentum. When they started under their on auwning, they also took some time to get rolling. The company relies on three media - print magazine, poker podcast, and their website/forums for attracting and entertaining their fans and customers. While we once shared an active forum at, they have moved exclusively over to their own site, losing a bit of crossover traffic, but building their own loyal audience.

Recent months have brought entertaining shows, new guests, and big name sponsorship. Chris and Scott continue to build on what made them great in the first place, promotions like the AIPS online tournament series, and a new listener event, a poker cruise. Time will tell what brings Scott and Chris in 2009, but we certainly wish them the very best.

Also Rans
Fiercely entertaining, and now defunct, Big Poker Sundays, with Bob and Huff was a favorite of mine in early 2008. Haralabos Voulgaris and Scott Huff hosted a seriously un-serious show that predominantly poked fun at the goings on of the poker world. When "Haralabob" left the show, no one could quite fill his dry-witted and sarcasm soak shoes, and the folks at Poker Road decided to retire the show near it's peak. ... You have a purpose for me... Let... Me... Win..." we miss you.

All Strategy with Justin Bonomo and Daniel Negreanu has the potential to be the best poker show on the Internet, if they continued to produce the show. I suspect its just too hard to get Bonomo and Negreanu in the room together, and away from the table, long enough to produce the show. The concept is a good one, and fills a gap in poker programming - let's hope they get back at it soon.

Tuesdays with Ivey and The Bear Blog are great productions, also from, featuring Phil Ivey and Barry Greenstein, respectively. They are quick snippets, generally 10 minutes or less. Tuesdays features a weekly phone call from Greenstein to Ivey, trying to extract his latest thoughts, experiences, and prop betting adventures. This is one of Poker Road's most listened to shows. The Bear Blog is typically a quick stream of consciousness from Greenstein related to a single strategic topic. Both are worth the listen.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

An Omaha Conundrum - Flop the Nuts, a Set of Aces, and Have 31% Equity!

Ferret and I were just talking Pot Limit Omaha post-flop and I was musing about the sort of trouble you can get into with top set on a semi-connected board. One situation we considered was flopping top pair with second set, making it unlikely your opponent has top set. Another is flopping top set against two opponents - its good on the flop, and yet you have less than 33% equity in the hand.

Both situations are employed in this example.

Ferret is in the big blind, Gramps is in middle position, Scotty is on the button.

Gramps is well behaved today, and just limps in with his 5h 7s 8h 9s.

Scotty wakes up on the button with Aces, and another Broadway card which is suited. Ah Ac Qd 2d. He raises pot.

Wil folds the small blind and Ferret finds 6s Ad Td 6d. He has a suited Ace, two Broadway cards, and a small pair. He knows Gramps will call, so he figures he’ll take a flop.

Gramps calls.

The flop is 4s 6h As. Ferret flopped second set. He also believes Scotty will continuation bet, representing Aces, but thinks it is unlikely he has them, since Ferret holds an Ace himself. He checks.

Gramps checks his disgusting wrap with 9-high flush draw and backdoor 8-high flush draw.

Scotty bets full pot, protecting his flopped top set. Ferret believes he has trapped his opponent, and re-raises the full amount of the pot.

Gramps is now getting sickening pot odds, and has a full pot-sized bet remaining. He believes the numbers support getting it all in and he does. Scotty has the nuts, and calls off his remaining chips. Ferret feels he’s committed, and believes he may be wrong about Scotty’s holdings, but knows he’s capable of having a wrap here as well. He calls off the remainder of his chips.

Who is in good shape? Scotty doesn't know... says the players have the following pot equity:
pokenum -o ah ac qd 2d - 5h 7s 8h 9s - ad 6d 6s td -- 4s 6h as

Omaha Hi: 666 enumerated boards containing As 4s 6h

cards win %win lose %lose tie %tie EV
Scotty Ac Qd 2d Ah 213 31.98 453 68.02 0 0.00 0.320
Gramps 9s 7s 8h 5h 417 62.61 249 37.39 0 0.00 0.626
Ferret 6s Ad Td 6d 36 5.41 630 94.59 0 0.00 0.054

Interestingly, the set of Aces, currently the nuts, have only 31%, while the wrap and two live flush draws have nearly 63% equity! The small mammal is in mammal jail, drawing to the case 6 for quads.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Win a WSOP Main Event Seat Next Friday

Tomorrow is the last day to register at the discounted rate of $250 for this terrific charity event, being held next Friday night at McGrath Lexus on Division. Click the picture for more details and registration!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

2009 WSOP Schedule Posted

The 2009 WSOP Schedule was just released.

Some observations -

There are no rebuy tournaments at all. This was discussed recently, and apparently, concluded.

There are a couple $1000 events early on to stimulate the amateurs. There were no $1000 "open" events last year.

There's a $40,000 buy-in No Limit Hold 'em event early in the schedule (Event 2).

Event 10 is a mixed pot-limit Hold 'em, pot limit Omaha. Yum!

Event 50 is a Limit Hold 'em Shootout, on top of the return of the NL Shootout.

Event 52 is "Triple Chance" tournament, which I believe gives players three stacks of chips, and they can elect to take the second and third stacks at any time in the first few levels (i.e. start with all three, or take them at two or three disparate times).

There are 57 total events this year, 38 of them are $2500 or less. Ten are "Championship" events. Two are $40,000 or more.

Monday, January 26, 2009

One Night in the Hard Rock Poker Lounge

Last Saturday night, while in Las Vegas, Mr. F and I headed of to Hard Rock to check out the still-fairly-new Poker Lounge. The 18-table room features nice, if loud, decor, nice poker tables, comfortable chairs, and ample space for getting to, and reclining at, your seat. The room was spreading 1-2 NLHE, 2-5 NLHE, and the final table of a Vince Neal's charity tournament. I did not observe other games, but that isn't to say they didn't exist.

The table depicted in this post shows the nice purple felt that was featured on the lowest limit tables. The $2/5 tables, on the other hand, had very busy purple felt, covered in promotions, and reminiscent of a NASCAR driver's jumpsuit (but prettier). Often the cards and chips would become camouflaged in the design.

Room highlights:
First of all, the dealers were hot. Pretty much all of the dealers were attractive females. Distracting, but nice. They were not great dealers in the technical sense, but most of the male players were willing to let things slide. Once I caught a dealer shipping a pot to the incorrect recipient. I pointed this out, Mr. F corroborated the oversight, the floor came to oversee, and the rightful winner was awarded the pot.

Second, the limits are nice. The $2/5 table has a maximum buy-in of $2000. Like it.

Finally, a unique, if un-kosher, twist on the rules - the Hard Rock Straddle (Alright! Nrrr nrr!) The room allows the button to post a straddle of two times the big blind. The action proceeds in the typical fashion pre-flop, starting with the player to the left of the big blind having the first action. Then, action proceeds around the table, SKIPS the button, moves to the blinds, and then the button has last action pre-flop. There's an exception. If there are two raises prior to the action reaching the button, he then proceeds in order (before the blinds) with his $10 committed to the pot. This clearly generates action, and seems to be a gigantic advantage for the button. I do not appreciate the inconsistency of the progress ased upon the number of raises pre-flop. Beyond that, I'm not sure how I feel about this bastardization of rules.

Highlight Hand of the Night:
Early on I got a bunch of speculative hands, and played them passively. I saw a bunch of flops, very few turns, and even less rivers. I blew off a good chunk of my initial buy-in, and then added on. I had moved seats, and was out of position against a fairly new joiner to the table. After my early run of passive play and missed draws, I had tightened up consideralby, and perceived that my opponent in this hand labeled me as an A, B, C player.

I had 8s 5s in early position - a pet hand of mine, and know in my regular games as "Suited Bears" (as in the '85 Super Bowl Chicago Bears).

I raised to $25 up front and got 4 callers. With $127 in the pot, the flop came Js 9h 6s. Not exactly 'gin', but with 8-high, what did I expect. It was actually reasonably good, I had a four-flush and a gut-shot straight draw. I decided to feel out the field, and set up a play on later streets. I ventured out with a $40 bet. The new joiner smooth called. Mr. F also "flatted", and the other players folded. Both my opponents were fairly tricky players, as I perceived them, so their calling range here is fairly broad.

There was $247 in the pot when the turn came with the 5d. Certainly that card was unlikely to help my opponents, and now gave me a pair to add to my draws. Despite improving (ehem), I decided to check, and evaluate the response. I considered that calling, folding to, or check-raising a bet were all possibilities, depending on the action. The player behind me, either sensing weakness, protecting a big hand, or both, et out nearly the size of the pot $220. Mr. F folded, and I went into the tank.

I felt fairly confident that my opponent had a made hand. I thought it could be a strong Jack (A-J), but was more likely to be two pair. I actually thought he put me on an overpair, based on our short history, and his strength in the hand. My read was that he was most likely "trapping me" with J9. If that was the case, making two pair wouldn't help me - an 8 on the river was no good. Cards I was looking for included the last 2 fives, any of the 4 sevens, or the 8 remaining spades (not recounting the 7s). That made 14 outs, or gave me 29.5% equity in the pot. (Add 3 8s against an AJ, and my equity goes up almost to 39%).

Clearly I wasn't quite getting pot odds, but a call balooned the pot to $687, and I had another $430 or so behind. If I hit my 5 or 7, I was pretty certain that I'd get a big bet on the river. If I made my flush, I was less likely to get paid, but realistically, I thought he wouldn't give me much credit for a flush draw, and might pay me there as well.

I called.

The river was a nice, shiny 4s, giving me a flush. I paused, glanced at my opponent, and dramatically announced "all in". My opponent tanked (great sign), and after about 45 seconds made a crying call. I announced "flush", he gave me a concessionary nod, and I flipped over my cards. He blinked thrice in rapid succession, and I scooped in a huge pot.

Highlight Event:
The final table of the charity tournament was playing behind us. Without warning, two players jumped to their feet, and one yelled something incoherent at the other. Seconds later, a hippie-looking 40-something had pinned his over-sized opponent on the floor and landed 8 or 10 punches to the guy's ear before tablemates and on-lookers could seperate the two. It took another 3 or 4 minutes before Hard Rock security made it to the table. Both players were kicked out, but one was allowed back into the room later. I was told it was to "collect his chips", but as they were tournament chips, not cash equivalent, that didn't make much sense to me.

Mr F and I combined for a number of one-liners after things cooled down. The winner - "Boy was he disappointed to learn that the Bad Beat had just been paid out."

The real punchline? All the players at the table were actually co-workers.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Picking Up, Dusting Off, and Rebuilding... My Bankroll

Lovingly borrowed from New Yorker magazineThis, my first full day back in Chicago after an enjoyable weekend in Las Vegas, is also the first day of Barack Obama's administration as the 44th president of the US of A. Being in Las Vegas is like being in Neverneverland - the outside world, news, politics, fades away, and the lights, sounds, and poker chips take focus.

For me, this trip to Las Vegas was a chance to pick myself up, dust off the bad poker decisions of November and December, and rebuild my poker bankroll. Returning to Chicago, and my reality, I got to observe Obama's first days away from Chicago, where he faces his new reality - a place where he intends to pick up, dust off, and rebuild a nation, indeed a world, in distress.

For dramatic purposes, I'd argue my poker bankroll was in distress in late 2008. I was playing poorly, making bad decisions, and to top it off, simply running bad. I can count the number of bad beats I applied on one hand, and for the bad beats laid on me, removing shoes and socks simply would not suffice.

Mr. F, Meester Dave (formerly Omaha Dave), and I headed out on Soutwest Airlines on Thursday night. A check in and a dinner at CraftSteak later, and we headed off to the biggest game running in the MGM Grand poker room, $2/5 NLHE. :) Several uneventful hours later, I headed off to bed, up less than a half buy-in in this game.

Friday morning Meester Dave and I decided to hit the best low-buy-in tournament in the city, the Venetian Daily. It is a $150 buy-in ($130 to prize pool, $15 vig, and $5 staff bonus). The tournament had 211 runners.

The beauty of the tournament is that the starting stacks are deep, T$7500, the levels are decent, 30 minutes, and the blind increases are reasonable - typically increasing by about 50%. In the first several button revolutions, I had already lost about a third of my starting stack, having flopped big draws, playing slow, and not hitting. But I understood, as many of the players did not, that the structure of the tournament allows its participants to play a little looser, a little more like a cash game, early on. After losing 1/3 of my chips, of course, I needed to tighten up a bit, conscious that as my stack shrank, the blinds increased, and I was looking at more tournament-type ratio of blinds to stack.

I was impressed by the general competition level, particularly in a $150 buy-in tournament. At my starting table six or seven of the players were reasonably cabable - three were regulars, one or two were full-time grinders, and a couple were recreational players from out of town.

After a few levels I managed to consume a little breakfast at the table, and pick up some additional chips. By the first break, I was back above the starting stack level and looking good for levels 4+. After the break, my table broke, the first of several times over the course of the day. Time to learn a bit about my new opponents.

The tournament itself was largely a blur to me. Looking back, I can find few memorable hands.

By the time we were down to 27 players, I was ready for a table massage, and for $2/minute, she didn't disappoint. I immediately felt more relaxed and tuned in to my opponents.

By the time we had made the money (top 18 participants), I was starving - I started to get the shakes from low blood sugar, and was again losing my focus. Fortunately, Mr. F had come over to The Venetian, and was kind enough to pick up a couple Balance Bars for me.

It was at this point that I was starting to recognize the fact that I had made the final two tables without picking up a single big hand. I hadn't had a pocket pair above 9s the entire tournament. I had AK once, and AQ never. I never flopped a set. I merely played solid hands, in position. I was never the first limper, and I never went crazy with my draws.

I really settled in as we approached the final table. The blinds and antes started to get fairly big, but I never felt short-stacked, and never was I all-in. Finally I started to pick up some pre-flop hands. When we were down to 14 players, I went on a tear, raising 2 out of 3 hands for a period of 10 or 11 hands. I picked up lots of antes, blinds, and several pre-flop calls. I didn't lose a hand.

When we got down to 9 players, and drew seats for the final table, I was the tournament chip leader by a small margin. I also had a great seat, immediately to the left two of the more talented and aggressive players. It took some time to get down to 6 players, but when we had, both of those dangerous opponents had been eliminated. Down to 6, we had many short stacked all-ins who refused to be eliminated. I faced a couple of losing coin-flips for about 8-12% of my stack each time. I continued to play aggressively, however, and stayed amongst the chip leaders.

When we finally lost player #6, i was second in chips by a close margin, and well ahead of #s 3 & $. Player #5 was very short stacked. It was #5, of course, who was strongly encouraging a chop. The other three players at the table agreed that a chop would be acceptable. Given the disparity in chips, I was really surprised by the chip leader's willingness, and also myself unwilling to agree. The chip leader confessed that he'd gotten "really lucky" and didn't care that he was giving up some value. Clearly he was a relative rookie.

We had the tournament director run a "chip chop", assigning the remaining prize pool to each chip stack size, based upon ratio of chips to total chips. I indicated that I'd be willing to give up a little bit of my equity to make the chip chop work, but not much. Since everyone seemed eager to make a deal, I was able to work out a fairly strong one, and we agreed to two tiers, with the chip leader and I taking the effective First Place prize, and the remaining three players splitting a smaller prize amount.

First big win of the trip.... more story to come.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Horseshoe Memories - A Letter to Mr. F

Mr. F –

Mr. C and I played some cards last night, and I had one of my worst losing sessions of all time. In my estimation, I played pretty well, having gotten very few opportunities for getting value out of strong hands (had none) and only a few real steal opportunities (two fairly loose passive tables), I am keying in on my key hands.

We started the evening at the $2/5 PLO table, with its sick variance. We were 8-handed, on average, with a few solid-aggressive players, and one total nut job, whom Mr. C and I have played with on many occasions. Mr. Nut Job basically raised every hand.

Due to the aggressiveness of the table, and the relative stack-size to pot-size ratios (especially mine), I was playing very tight pre-flop. An average flop cost about $30, or 5% of my average stack during the session. Certainly hitting a flop would be rewarding, with 4 or 5 players seeing many flops, but hitting a flop was not my specialty on this night.

I kept my stack-size hovering around my initial $600 buy-in by stealing orphaned pots from Mr. Nut Job. Only on a couple occasions did my hands rate playable (note: not strong, just playable) enough to three-bet Mr. Peanut, but on those two occasions I was able to take the pots away from Mr. Nut on the flop, despite never improving.

Finally, I got all my chips in on a hand wherein I flop trips with three over cards, and turned the third nuts. At this table, third nuts was generally immortal, but on this unfortunate hand I was sandwiched between Mr. Nutty Bar and Mr. C, and when I got my chips in on the turn, and Mr. C quickly called, I knew I was the sawdust in his whipsaw. Mr. C had flopped the top boat, and I was drawing to an 8 or one of two kings to improve to a better boat. I did not. Had Mr. Nutskies not been in the hand, I would have played my underfull much more cautiously, but his aggression and Mr. C’s savvy lead me off the cliff.

One buy-in and many folds later, I woke up with a reasonable hand, a mediocre set of Aces. I had shy of $800 in front of me. Being in early position, and immediately to the left of Mr. Nutballs, I decided to limp my Aces. Mr. Nuts, of course, raised to $20. I smooth called with what I’d like to call Bears Aces (AA85). The Aces were not suited, but the 85 were both diamonds. This is a good hand head’s up, but far from a great hand, and one in which I’d like to get all my money in without having to make any later decisions, if I think I can get someone to make a big mistake pre-flop. Several players behind me called, and the big blind, a solid and aggressive player raised to $200. Play folded to me, and I considered whether to fold, call, or raise. Certainly folding Aces, in position, is difficult without a really strong read that my opponent has better Aces (certainly his range was much broader), if I’m confident I can get head’s up and can withstand some variance. I favor calling when the stacks are much deeper, and we can have some play after the flop. On a bad flop I could evaluate my opponent’s strength, and occasionally fold when conditions were ugly, or play slowly in the face of uncertainty. When I can get most, if not all, of my chips in pre-flop with Aces, I think I must.

I re-raised to $700, effectively putting me all in. It folded back to the big blind who pondered for a moment, and then shoved with Ac Ks Qc Th. According to, I was a 2-to-1 favorite to win this $1850 pot, having contributed only 42% of the funds. I like those odds. Alas, it was not to be my Omaha day, again. My opponent made a flush on the turn to leave me drawing dead on an unpaired board.

I made my way over to the $2/5 Hold ‘em table, where there were some very deep stacks. I bought in for the full amount, and bided my time. My cards were absolutely terrible, with the occasional 6d7d looking like pocket Aces. I won a few small pots, and limp folded or call-folded a few hands over the course of a couple hours. I’d say my VPIP was around 9-11%. There were a few weak players at the table with really big stacks, and I never found an opportunity to tangle with them. In fact, I didn’t have any tangles for much of the session, and after a few hours, found myself with $485 of the $500 for which I had bought in.

Finally, I flopped a flush in a 5-way limped pot. I bet about $20 into a $25 pot and took it down. Four hands later, I flopped another flush in a limped pot, holding 6h7h. I bet $25 into a $25 or $30 pot and got two callers – one from a small-blind chaser with a big stack, and one from Mr. C who was now sitting at my table under the gun. The turn was an off-suit Queen and Mr. C bet out $50. I thought this was a quite odd bet for him, leaving only three real likely holdings, in my mind. First, the Queen could have made him a straight, and he didn’t believe either of us had a flush yet. Second, he had flopped a larger flush, which was certainly possible. Finally, and least likely, he had made a set (possibly even on the turn, holding two Queens with one of them a heart), and again, believed he was good. I didn’t think it likely that he limped pocket Queens up front, and with a smaller set, he’d likely have made a move on the flop. I decided that he made a straight, probably with a big heart, and he was hoping to get some value from a bad call, defend his pot by taking away odds to draw, and also determine if he was badly beaten, and could release the hand.

I decided to let him know where I was, and raised his $50 to $150, leaving myself only about $155 behind. The small blind smooth called (??) and Mr. C called as well. At this point, I wasn’t sure what was going on, except that a heart was the last thing I wanted to see on the river. On cue, the 3 of hearts peeled right off. The small blind checked (wha’?), Mr. C check, and I gave the little speech – “well, I flopped it, but I guess you both beat me now”. Mr. C turned over QQh, for the turned set and the Queen-high flush. Then, the small blind slowed the Kh6d. Nice hand sir. And way to extract that value.

I had $150 left in front of me, and elected not to add-on. After another 20 minutes of folding, I went on a baby tear, and worked my now $122 up to $395. My objective was to build to $400 and call it a night. I was only $5 short of the goal when the $5 big blind came to me. A smarter man than I would have noted that $5 blind is $5 in the wrong direction, and picked up just short of goal, but not I.

Crazy Max had moved into the seat to my left an hour earlier, and had been playing aggressively, but not overly so. He had straddled twice before, and elected to waive his raising option once, and folded to a raise the second time. I had a strong sensation that he would raise with almost any two cards if the field limped to him, and I prayed for a set-up hand.

Important observation: a new player had come to the table recently and sat to Max’s left. When he was seated, he was overheard talking to the floor. He wanted a $1/2 seat, his “usual game”. Rather than wait, he somewhat hesitantly sat in our game. He asked for the buy-in limits, indicated that he only brought $500 with him, and bought in for all of it. He played his few early hands diffidently. He wore sunglasses while he played, and stared down his opponents (or one would assert that, behind his glasses, based on his head movements). I read him as a very weak player, but hadn’t tangled with him.

The new player called the $10 straddle in the one-hole. Most of the table followed suit. In the big blind, I hoped to find a hand in my pre-selected range of stealing hands, and found one at the bottom for this particular situation – KcJc. I called the $5 more, and Max immediately said “raise”. He counted out $110 in chips and pushed them forward. The new player to his left, paused, hesitated, paused, and then counted out $100 more, in the way that a semi-green player would. As the rest of the table folded to me, I had to consider what his call meant. I put him on a small pair, and bad call, or a bad Ace, hoping to play Max in position. With a big holding, I had every confidence, this player would simply shove and take the already big pot – a full buy-in at $1/2 with no risk.

When the action got to me, I had decided to continue with Plan A. I promptly, and without pause, stacked my loose chips on my three stacks of red, and pushed forward $495, including the initial call. Max folded instantly. The new player tanked. He stared me down. I calmly looked back at him for a few seconds, then at the chips in the center. I moved slowly, and without purpose. Someone said something to me, and I looked and acknowledged, but didn’t really engage. The player pondered for about 90 seconds, then stacked his chips, and pushed his full bankroll for the evening into the pot. In my head I screamed, “oh shit”, for surely he had me dominated, or I was flipping a coin for $1000. I really didn’t put him on a hand worse than 88 or 99, which cut into my straights as well.

The flop came off K75, beautiful beautiful King. I stood up and said to the player, “I have a King”. He looked unhappy. The turn was a blank – deuce, or similar, and the river a four. I asked, “is my King good??” In slow motion he reached for his hand and ever… so… slowly… turned over 4h 4s.

ChicagoJason a.k.a. Gramps