WSOP Academy Review

This past weekend I had the opportunity to work the WSOP Academy in New Orleans.  Jeff Madsen was the lead pro with Layne Flack his right hand man.  I mean this in a good way... it felt like the seminars were led by a rapper and a rock star.  Madsen's grip on the microphone looked like he was about to segue into a Beastie Boys's lyrics at any moment, and Flack, he's just an affable and gregarious presence.  As some one in the class said he could have easily been a stand up comedian.  I got more a lead guitarist type vibe.

Either way both presenting players had the presence to hold the attention of everybody in attendance, and both were able to impart a lot of excellent strategy and poker knowledge.  They quickly progressed the class from beginner stuff to thinking at a much higher level.

I was there to assist with the hand labs.  I rotated through the class with Layne and Jeff.  We'd each have a table and deal out hands.  After a hand was completed we'd turn everything face up and analyse what every player did.  Over the course of two days, I sat a little awed as the class went from wildly and passively speculatively in their hand ranges, to acting with an informed, ramped up and purposeful aggression.  I dealt one table and realized that within 24 hours these players had transformed from rank beginners to being the type of table I wouldn't want to be seated at.  They were applying pressure at every opportunity, and nobody was getting a pass.    


Not only were the going as far to multi-level each other, but they were practicing what Jeff and Layne preached at every chance.  Stack size, position, image, and other table dynamics were factored into every decision and even when I quibbled with a play they had strong arguments for making it.  I also loved it when a player late in the last session caught something I missed and created a teaching opportunity for a classmate.  I really enjoyed discussing the hands with them and I hope I was able to impart some tips to win them some more money in the long run.  I suspect we'll hear from a few of them in the very near future.

The Academy, run deftly and smoothly by Ace McFarland, was first class in every way.  He saw to it that catered New Orleans specific food greeted the players on the breaks with a buffet for lunches.  He also provided a private tournament with significant prizes on Saturday night, swag bags, and all the little extras to make the student's experience that much better.
From a strategy perspective, I found myself in agreement with almost everything that was taught.  A couple of times Layne solicited my opinion during the class and outside of it, and I appreciated the invitation.  Once when discussing how we'd play KQ under the gun with a set amount of bigs in a tournament (think it was ~15 to 20) he said he'd shove it close to 100 per cent of them time.  Then he asked what I'd do.  I didn't want to contradict any of the lead pros, and my logic might be wrong on my line of thinking, so I simply said I'd always play it.

I should have continued with my thought. (***My strategy thought below)

My rationale and logic may be flawed in this situation, and if I were having a debate about poker with Layne considering his results vs. mine I'd win a lot more money siding with him than me.  Still, I regret missing the opportunity to not discuss this with him in more detail though.  Just the conversation probably would have benefited the class (and me).

In retrospect, I should have picked those spots more, as the class was best when Jeff and Layne were playfully debating with one another.  It fleshed out different ways to look at poker and showed sometimes there is more than one right answer.  An imperative I tried to stress during the labs, was the thought process is more important for the students to learn than the short situational answers.

I hope in the labs that I was able to stimulate that line of thinking.  Of course, in the hands the results sometimes undermined the lessons when the hands played out, as the bad play would be rewarded and I'd be suggesting the right play which in that specific spot would cost the player chips.  Results oriented thinking is hard for any of us to overcome, but everybody seemed to understand when I'd make that distinction.

Another small point, discussed in the class was M and BBs regarding when it was time to shove.  I agreed with everything Layne and Jeff said.  Though, I think they missed an important consideration, that most books miss and one that I think serves me well in these circuit events and could help the students that I tried to stress during the labs.  Yes, there are rules and guidelines about fold equity and the need to accumulate chips but sometimes the scale slides.

Sometimes, you are at a table with people who have no idea about pot odds and having to call with any two.  You can tweak the dynamics and allow yourself to steal in those situations and survive a little longer, until you can find a hand worth doubling.  You might also scare them off when you have a hand that you want to get all the chips in the middle, so sometimes you need to finesse your big holdings.  Sometimes the opposite is true and they'll be calling off for high percentages of their stacks with hands you think they should fold, so you have to adjust the other way.  In the second situation obviously, you can shove bigger hands for value more readily than the first.

I get annoyed when a player will say something like "How can he call there?" when we've both watching that same guy make those bad plays all day.  You have to expect it.  I think this is a mistakes new players and even experienced ones make too often.  They know their hand has fold equity and when the guy doesn't fold when he should they get irate.  Yet, the evidence or information at the table was the bet size wasn't fold equity for that guy.  A subtle point, but maybe one I should have brought.

Anyway, I'm really enjoyed the chance to work the event and really liked all of the students.  They were eager to learn, open to instruction and correction, and all improved.  I expect to see many of them on the local circuit soon... and winning.  Ace and his chief of staff, who handled all the logistics, ran a first class operation, They selected two great instructors and I recommend it to anybody who's thinking about getting lessons in the near future.  I know they got one coming up in Chicago with Kenna James that should be well worth the trip.

*** I feel like for my level of buy-in and tournaments, and the level many of the Academy's players will first enter, KQ is played better by simply raising UTG.  Certain "too tight" players come over the top and I can fold.  Their ranges include hands that mostly dominate me and only a couple of hands I'm in a coin flip with that I lose value by folding.  For example, they'll three bet with AK, AQ, AA, KK, QQ (all crushing me), and JJ, 1010, maybe 99.  Arguably some of the tighter players will just call with the coin flip hands (but on the other side might fold them to a shove too).  So, raising allows me to get away from being in bad against some very specific opponents and hands.

Also, I feel shoving, shuts the door on a ton of hands I crush like KJ, QJ, K10, Q10, Q9 that might call from late position and then double me if they hit top pair.  Then there are other small pairs that will call the raise I'm flipping with that I, can play fairly well against, even out of position, post flop.

Other opponents have much wider ranges.  If they 3bet without putting me all in, probably I shove then.  If they put me in, I call off.  With them yeah, when they have a big hand I get it in bad, but same thing happens if I shoved from the start.  Also, the door is open for them to try to steal with some pretty crappy hands like loose players are apt to do against a player like me (who usually maintains a fairly tight image) including a lot of suited kings.

Table dynamics and situation in the tournament come into play obviously.  Some tables I want to try and double and have some bullets to play with and will take the risk of shoving right from the start.  Other tables, I might want to make as few shoves OOP as possible because I feel, even shortish, I can accumulate chips without hands.


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