Finding the Path: WSOP Main Event 2015 part II

I started off with the most important hand I played in the last blog post, as after I played it, it was almost like I got rewarded for my bravery.   I experienced my first run good in any WSOP event (ever) immediately after.     That was a theme for this Main Event.  Every time, I made a brave play good cards seemed to follow me in the aftermath.  The good cards were the easy part.  Those few spurts of big hands didn't dictate my run, it was all the tough hands in between that propelled me in the tournament.

Nothing given.

There is a rumor that your Main Event starting table will be soft.  Soft?  Yes, butter on the hood of a car outside the Rio in typically stifling 107 degree Las Vegas temperature soft.  For me, that rumor is as valid as me dating Kim Kardashian.  One multiple circuit ring winner told me he wouldn't pay $6 for a percentage of any of his starting table.  I'd gladly have paid much more than for most of my table.  I guess I run bad at table draws.  This would be a theme for the week.

I sat down on day one with three open seats.  Two to my left and one to my right.  I recognized one player, a very successful circuit grinder Roman Israelivi.  I purposefully played a little cautious early as I've overextended myself in the past playing shorthanded to start off tournaments.  Think I tend to start valuing hands for six people, but my opponents aren't adjusting and playing regular 9 handed hand ranges.  In effect, I don't give them enough credit and overvalue my hands compared to theirs.

So, it's pretty uneventful early, until Sorel Mizzi
arrives at the table and, thankfully, sits to my right.  For the non poker players you prefer to be on a player's left because you will get to act after them.  Mizzi (who is only, heavy sarcasm on the only, 22nd all time in career earnings with over 11 million won) would have been hell to have on my left.  That's him pictured with a stack he's capable of attaining in any tournament he plays.

Regardless, I immediately know who the best player is at the table and I decide even in position I'm only playing small pots with him.  Then a player sits down and pushes a Russian passport to the dealer.  Another Euro on my direct left.  It'd be a theme.  Euros are typically aggressive and often raising and reraising you.  They make life hell.  They also can still play online poker and in some ways are probably more cutting edge than Americans in strategy.

On the other hand Euros can also be bad too.  Let's see how he plays, I tell myself.

After about five minutes, Sorel who is separated between me and the Russian by the dealer makes eye contact with ~Vlad.
Sorel "Oh, I didn't see you there!"
Ruskie "I was wondering when you'd see me."
Sorel "That makes things interesting."

Oh.... no.

Typically players from far flung places only know one another from playing the same stakes or level.  Sorel plays 100k buy-ins and generally the highest levels in the world.  Him knowing the aggressive kid on my left can only mean I'd have to take him very seriously.  Nice table draw.

I remind myself that all week in the other events I had an aggro player usually from Europe on my left.  I did fine.  I looked for a silver lining.  His position actually might keep Sorel in line.  He might not fear me, but in his eyes the second best player on the table is on his left.  It could be a good thing.  I tried to believe that.

I quickly notice that all but two players on the table were very active and aggressive.  They liked to threebet and apply pressure.  There were no gimmes here.

Midway through the second level as I treaded water I thought back to a dream I had a couple of months ago.  In the dream, I wrestled with this writing project I've been working on as well as trying to play poker on the side.  In the dream I was being told to find a path.  Find the path.  When I woke up it helped me with what I had been working on.  The main character's journey needed to be more about finding a path rather than reacting to the events around him.  As I had written it he was kind of being pushed on a ride rather then steering it.  Find the path.  His character arc needed it, he needed ownership for his trajectory.

As I was sitting there in level two, wondering how to survive on this table, those words came back to me.  I knew we would be playing there all day.  I had to find the path.  I could just bounce around all the good players I had to assert my way.  My objective was not to beat Sorel Mizzi or the Russian kid or any of the competent three betting players it was to find a path of survival.  It was to find a path to make it through each level.  It was to find a path to get some chips here and there.

Then it clicked.

The businessman from Philadelphia three to my left.  The probable rec player two to his left.  Those were the chips I was going to go after.  Of course, those were likely the guys everybody was going to go after.  So 3betting them might only induce more action.  I decided I was going to have to play tighter even then I normally play.

After I'd cultivate my nit image to a degree then I might be able to pick and chose spots to isolate them.  The better players would likely give me a wider berth because of my tighter image.  I didn't care if those two would hold position on me.  I liked my chances out of position against them better then playing pots in position against Sorel or the young beast who was on his right that sliced through the table that day.  They also didn't press the fold button as much as they should so there would be chips to win when we'd play.

I played very cautiously.  Then I got into a big hand with the man from Philadelphia who I three bet pre to isolate.  The board read 5577A.  Based on the action I decided we were chopping the pot by playing the board.  I held KQ.  He bet the river and I put in a stiff raise thinking I could get a lot of hands to fold and I was basically freerolling.  To my surprise he did fold...  AJ faceup.  Wow.  It's nice to win a bluff when you don't even know you are making one.  Surprised he gave me credit for a 5 or a 7.

Later, we played a pot where again the board double paired 8877Q.  I checked the river and he bet.  The way this hand played out it didn't make sense.  Time for the old hero call with King high after a long think in the tank, I can't specifically remember why.  There was a physical tell and the hand as played didn't make sense.  He turned over J10.  That built my confidence and I think showed the table I wasn't afraid to mix it up and had pretty good hand reading skills.  Unfortunately, just as my hero call for my tournament life put my opponent on an exit trajectory this pot seemed to have the same effect on Philly,

Privately, I rooted for him to regroup.

In the meantime, I played three hands with Sorel that I can remember that I won.  I 3bet Aces once and based on the run out prepared myself to call off and possibly go broke if he got out of hand after he made a hefty bet on the turn.  That was one of the pressures you don't expect of the Main Event, knowing situation-ally that the hand could possibly be your last if the decision tree went a certain way.  He pumped the brakes on the river and I might have missed value but stuck with my strategy of playing as small pots as possible with him.  I also played Queens in position and he to folded to my river bet with some action in between.  Maybe I held AK for the other hand where he also folded to me on the turn or river.

I remember losing one hand to him.  I had disguised a rather strong hand just by calling his raise.  If it was another player I think I would have threebet.  Think, but not positive that it was KK (given how I run with that hand in the Rio let's go with it).  The board had an Ace and though his river bet felt big and bluffy, I laid down.  Afterward I got the feeling he had it when he stacked his chips.

The businessman from Philly would bust later and my source of chips went with him.  The guy two to his left started to open up and I changed my strategy to going after him a little more and occasionally applying pressure to the other players who had gotten short.

The Russian at one point opened under the gun about seven times in a row.  It folded to Sorel who pitched it in every time.  I never had a hand and around about the seventh time decided if Sorel wasn't going to check the stealing I probably shouldn't either and folded my strongest (but still marginal) holding.  The next orbit he failed to raise and I said to the Russian:
"You forgot something."
"What do you mean?"
"You didn't raise my big blind."
He smiled, "Well, if you aren't going to call it I'm going to keep raising it."
I smiled, "I haven't had a hand.  I just can't believe nobody else has either."
He nodded.  Then he didn't raise my big blind the rest of the night.

He played two very interesting big pots.  He called off for about 30k on a river into a guy that clearly had it.  Later the same guy made the same bet and the Russian picked up his Cranberry and Gray Goose and said, "I'm going to call, but since this might be my last drink in the Rio this year, let me enjoy it."  He guzzled half of it.  Then called off.  The other guy on a stone bluff just punted the 30k he won earlier into a pot of 15k for no good reason and the Russian cruised through the last level with a big stack.

Whoa.  Before I knew it, the day was over.  My mini goals complete.  Level one check.  Level two check.  Dinner break check.  Level four check.  Bagging up CHECK!!!.

Somehow, I parlayed my tight highly selective play into a day one bag up.  I had a lot of little ups and downs but finished really happy to be on the plus side of the starting stack.  Then I received the news I was the last surviving minion and it weighed heavily on me.  Despite wasting my mental energy at dinner responding to some negativity on the facebook page I had put most of it behind me.  I know Brigette, Seville, Michael and Michael had to run bad to bust on day one.

Part of me still considered it a tiny victory albeit a Pyrrhic one.  Definitely it was one I wanted to win in November, but I reminded myself one of my goals was accomplished.  Two years running last minion standing, not bad.  This one felt hollow, especially with the idea of no having any company going forward.

By the way, the last vacant seat when our table was filled by another kid who looked an internet wizard.  I don't recall him playing more than a couple of hands so he probably wasn't.  He must have lost a decent pot because he seemed short most of the day.  Late in the last level, after folding for ten hours basically,  Israelvilli, short stacked shoved over the kid's open.  He called but more short stacked he had less and was at risk.  Roland showed Ace rag.  He had King King. Five cards later he left the tournament.  Played all day to get it in good with King King.  King King.

Did he really just fold all day?  I thought to myself I'm glad I found a path to navigate that table. That kid clearly didn't.

While there I roomed with my good friend from college who came with a crew of his New York poker friends.  He traveled to Vegas with the intention of satelliting into the Main Event.  Just like ten years ago when I was playing a 1500 and he had the same plan.  He's two for two going to Vegas with nothing close to the buy-in he needed and winning his way into the tournament he wanted to play.  Wish I could do that.  His buddies also became a bit of my support system especially with my friends from NOLA playing on different start days.  A great group of guys.

My friend had to deal with Phil Laak on his starting table, and doubled through him and won some crucial pots against the Unabomber.  He also made day two as did two of his friends.  We celebrated a little.  The only time I let myself really have any fun in Vegas was that night with a day off looming.  I think there is a lot of stress of making it through day one.  You kind of expect it, but it's not easy.  Especially with my table draw.  Definitely more a sense of relief than on any other night.

That said when I went to bed, I had one clear thought.  That was one of the toughest tables I've ever played, but I found the path and chipped up.


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