Tuesday, July 21, 2015

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.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Toughest Call I've ever made: WSOP Main Event 2015 part one.

I look at his bet, it sat ominously in the middle.  A pile of large denomination chips simply sitting on the felt. In any other situation, about as nonthreatening as a stalk of celery, but in this case they looked like the barrel of loaded gun pointed at my forehead.

If I called it would cost me every tournament chip I had.

The power of putting an opponent all in is obvious.  If he calls and he's wrong then he busts.  Here, I could bust the Main Event early on day two.

That would be a bit like tearing up a power ball ticket before the drawing.  If I fold... I counted my remaining stack for the fifth time...  I'd still have plenty of chips.

"Discretion is the better part of valor."  That's a quote I recall in these spots.  Sometimes the bravest thing you can do in poker is fold.  But...

The hand just didn't make sense.

I felt I should call.

Still, this wasn't a $365 or a $1500 buy-in where I can just go with my gut and deal with the consequences.  Even worse, the investors who put me in will know I called off with a hand that only beats bluffs.  Did they really put me in the Main Event to bust in this fashion?  On top of that, some of them weren't happy the day before when I was the only one from the group of five to advance.  Me busting in this fashion might put one investor, in particular, in an asylum.

I told the table I needed time and everybody, all deep stacked, told me to take all I needed.  I looked at the bettor.  He nonchalantly stared into space.  Perhaps, a bit too casually.  I feel tanking for a long time always give you some piece of information from your opponent, whether you receive it consciously or just feel it subconsciously.  Something clicked, I couldn't put my finger on it, but I felt he had to be bluffing.

Now my head AND my gut told me to call.

I wanted to throw in a chip to indicate I was calling for my stack... but...

It's the Main Event of the World Series of Poker the biggest tournament in the world.  You only get one chance a year... if you are lucky.  The entire hopes of the group of investors were on my shoulders.

I can't think about that, I told myself.  Okay I asked, would I call if I had slid every single dollar of the $10,000 buy-in to the cashier from my own wallet?  That's a lot of dollars.  Would I wager $10,000 of my own money on a bluff catcher?

I studied him some more.  The answer was yes, I would put 10k of my own money on this.  I knew I would call.  Then I asked myself would I be fine getting on the plane if I was wrong.  Could I deal with the all the anger that call might bring if my head and gut were wrong.  Could I handle letting down Will Souther who organized the investment team and all the supportive and positive people who took a chance on me.  Would I regret the decision?

I felt strongly that calling was the right thing to do.

I knew this wasn't a time for discretion, this was a time for valor.

I pulled off a solitary chip from my stack and flung it into the middle.  It indicated I was calling.  My tournament life was a stake.  My heart went to my throat.  He didn't insta-show which I knew meant he probably didn't have the nuts unless he was cruelly slow-rolling me (a major breach of etiquette to not turn over a strong hand in that situation).  He turned and looked at me.  Uh oh, that felt like he might have something...  I could only beat a bluff.  Did I really just call of my stack early on day two with only a bluff catcher?  

His stare lingered.  It wasn't fear that his hand wasn't quite strong enough, no it was anger,  Finally I heard, "Nice call," he said it practically spitting through his teeth.  He flung in King Jack with the King of Spades face up.

Phew...  I just doubled.  By far the hardest call I've made in my life.  Not the best call (10 high National Championship) but the hardest.

I turned over my hand triumphantly, and the table oohed and ahhed.  The Irish kid who I heard tell his neighbor earlier he had recently finished second in a Pokerstars Sunday Millions or something like that was especially generous in his praise.  I didn't really hear it, my head was buzzing and it could have just as easily been Bono jibber-jabbering in brogue in the background.  All I could focus on was I had chips on Day Two, so many it was difficult to stack.  Wow...  that was hard.

I thought back to the investors, especially the ones who had the players backs on Day One after the one went ballistic on the facebook group page.  If some of them didn't stand up for us, I don't know if I could make that call.  Some of them understood poker is a game of partial information and you have to used your skill to make the best decision possible.  It's not always the right one, but it's the best one most of the time.

The single most important hand of the Main Event for me and I made the right decision.


For the poker players, here's the nitty-gritty...  Let's preface it with the one hand history I had with this player.  (Incidentally, he went on a freefall after losing that hand and busted a level later.  When he did the players at the table sang his praises as a high stakes cash pro from L.A. and said he was playing really well until I ran him down.  He had a Sammy Farha vibe to him (was not Sammy

When I moved to the table, my stack had taken some lumps.  I entered day two with a decent stack but quickly lost momentum and chipped downwards after some run bad.  I felt the closest I had come to tilting during my entire run.  I switched tables immediately after getting five outed in a pot, I could have played a little smaller, and I lamented the lost chunk as chips were becoming more precious.

I sat down in the small blind and looked at Qd7d.  It folded to me rather quickly.  I like to raise my first hand at a new table.  I feel you get a little suspicious respect as players would rather only come at you with the top of their range until they have a better idea about how you play.  That said, I don't like to bluff too much out of the small blind.  I'll be out of position and when it's folded to you the big blind is giving you a much wider range.

I hadn't even stacked my chips and blinds were 300-600.  Go with the steal attempt, the tilt part of my mostly nit brain told me.  I picked up a 1k chip with then intention of making it 1300 and as I do I see the big blind, my future nemesis had a giant stack.  I hesitated.  I intended on calling a raise but why bloat the pot.  I'd limp and call, rather than bet and then have to call.  The 1k chip dropped to the table and I said nothing.

The player turned to me and asked if I meant to bet,  Well, I did mean too, before I saw his stack.   I wasn't about to say no as it roughly translated to "I'm weak here please raise me."  So, I just nodded nonchalantly.  He stared at me.  Though I didn't ask for it or suggest it was a raise or claim it should be, the dealer called the floor.  We all knew one chip was a call but I had dug myself into this spot and went through the process in a bit of gamesmanship as the floor obviously ruled it was a call.  The big blind studied me some more and he just checked.


Flop came out J7x (rainbow).  I checked.  He bet.  I called.  Turn a 10.  I checked.  He bet.  I called.   River a K.  Check.  Check.  He shows A6.  I flip over Queen Seven and he starts to seethe.  Probably I would have folded to his third barrel.  He's also mad he didn't raise with his Ace preflop especially with the way the whole thing went down.  I'm prepared for some action from him out of spite.

An orbit later I open my first hand from the hijack (Ad5d).  He immediately three bets me.  Something a little too fast about the action, I notice.  I also notice he still a little mad.  Folds back to me and I look at my Ace blocker and decide to go to the flop.  It comes out Qc4s3s.  I check.  He bets.  Ace high is good here sometimes.  I also have a gut shot and outs to the Ace if I'm not good.  I call with the intention of possibly trying to steal later and reassessing as the hand progressed.  Turn is Ah.  I check and he bets.  I call.  I decided I'm calling his value bet on the river now.  I hoped he didn't have AQ.  River is a third spade (eight or nine).  I check.

He gathers a massive stack and plops it into the center covering me.  I didn't expect that.

Okay, what does he have here.  The bet size smells suspicious.  It's bluffy.  Why would he do that?  I don't know much about him at that point but he has the baring of a competent or decent player.  He seems aggressive.

What's he putting me on?  Okay, say he puts me on top set (unlikely as most would four bet aces pre) he's getting max very value there if he rivered a flush.  That's really unlikely though.  Okay maybe second set (possibly I just call with Queens preflop) and thinks he can get me to call off my chips.  Hmm..  In that weird scenario a flush makes sense kind of.  He could also put me on AQ or KQ but wouldn't he be fearful of pushing me out of the pot.  He's not getting any value against those hands.  Maybe he thinks I'd call off with top two, but any other Ace or Queen I'd hold would fold.  He's losing a ton of  money.  Okay, Say, he thinks I have a set of 4s or 3s?  Really, would I play them like this?  No, wouldn't I protect my hand a little bit against the flush draw?  Same with my other hands.  It's hard for him to put me on a strong holding so the bet makes no sense.  It only makes sense if he's putting me on a weaker hand he wants to fold.

Okay,  So if he rivered a flush, this would be an incredibly bad bet.  Sometimes good players overshove the river to look weak and induce a call.  Does he know enough about me to think I might call.  I did just call two streets with Q7.  Maybe he's labeled me a call station.  That said, this is the Main Event, people aren't calling off unless they have a lot.  Again, a bad strategy for a good player.

Okay, this screams bluff.  He wants a lesser hand to fold and he's using the threat of extinction to push me off the hand.  What if he's turned a better hand into a bluff?   All he needs is any Ace besides Ace2 to beat me.  Ace4 and Ace3 are two pair hands.  The 3 and 4 also allow any other kicker to play.  Would he play an Ace this way?  No...  An Ace would have show down value.  Wouldn't he just check or maybe put out a value bet with say AK or AQ?

Would he play a set of Queens this way?  Most people don't check the river when they make their hand so maybe he's not scared of me having the flush, but still it's rather ham-fisted to simply shove a holding like that in that situation.  It might not be good but it's way to strong to simply bet out all the hands he'd get some value against.

This had to be a bluff and a bluff only  Finding the courage to call it, that was the issue.


Tuesday, July 07, 2015


I bricked two flights of the 777.  I felt I played well despite getting few cards.  In Flight A I double up by attacking my table who were all week.  Dream table draw.  Then a late comer arrived and they put him immediately to my left.  A gregarious Russian who immediately played every pot in position on me.  That made things harder.

I wanted to say, "Hey, Ivan these people are just giving us their chips slowly, why don't we just take turns instead of beating each other up."  Nope, didn't happen.  He got crippled.  Then I got got run down.  Then he got some chips, then I made a comeback and to be honest with all the poker I played since then, I don't even remember the bustout hand.

I do remember the second flight...

I sat down and promptly lost the first two hands.  Made top two with AQ, my queen giving the other guy a gut shot straight.  Next hand I flopped a queen and a different guy rivered a straight, and I had to pay off.  Fun.  Nothing like begining a tournament with a half stack.

I switch tables and like my new seat.  Again, a bunch of players looking to fit or fold but no real action drivers.  A sponsored pro got moved to my right, but she wasn't active.  I thought I might be able to grind a stack up, then they moved a dangerous active player... to my left.  This becomes a theme for the week.

Regardless, I grinded and went deeper in that flight than I did the first but always at like 8 to 15 bbs.  On the hand before a break later in the evening, I got AhKh and there was plenty of action before me.  I shoved and got called by the right player who had queens.  I flopped an ace.  Another player had mulled over calling and I would have beat him too.    Didn't matter I finally had chips.

Go on break and I allow myself to think I'm going to run this up.  They were going to back up in a few levels and then the money would break early in day two.

We return and the player to my left open under the gun.  He gets called by a player who kept calling from way behind after giving a speech saying he just didn't believe his opponent.  Action folds to me in the big blind, I look at Kings.  I think I might be able to overshove and elicit a call.  I'm also happy with what's in the middle.  I push.

Player to my left, as he did all night made the correct decision and folded.  The other player gave the speech and then called off for all his chips (I finally had people covered).  He showed A... J.

So, the runout obviously not good.  I barely have any chips left.  I win a multi way pot to quadruple up and then promptly lost my still smallish stack when I shoved AJ and the bb called with... Q10 for most of his chips.  Oh... yeah.  That's why they call them minefields.

The WPT event went much better if I have a chance I'll blog about some big hands I played.  Made a call that is probably top five of my life.  I chipped up huge, ran KK into AA of the big stack, got a compliment from Mike Sexton for not going broke in that spot, then tried to bluff off a girl who's probably unbluffable (mistake) and then min-cashed.

I next played the Planet Hollywood survivor tournament.  Gah...  198 entered and five got 10k in cold hard cash.  I finished about 11th or 12th when an under the gun player tried to blow up.  She put out a third of her stack (on a steal?)  Folds to me in bb.  I look at Aces and shove.  Obviously, she had no plan, but she did have me barely covered.  After a quick tank, she angrily calls with J10.  Run out is Kxx... wow.  I win this pot, I'm getting 10k, my investors will be in the profit for the week and life is pretty good heading to the Main Event.

Turn is a Q.  Players start oohing and ahhing.  I know it's coming before it hits.  9 ball river.

Tough, tough beat.  I played some of the better poker of my life the last two tournaments so I'm eager hopeful that continues in the main.

So yesterday, I took the day off and did some things like meet up with Monkey and the other Minions.  I wanted to play more or something but the schedule did not allow it.    

I did get to sweat Kenny Milam and Steve Bierman a bit in the Main.  Both played great and Kenny overcome a couple of early coolers to get some traction.  Steve started hot, took a couple of body blows and still finished the night with almost a starting stack.  Plenty of chips for day two.  Also, had a nice long chat with Ben Saxton about some of the projects he's working on.  Going to talk to him about some main event coverage as he has a press pass.

Day 1 is today for me.  Run good time baby!

Friday, July 03, 2015

Landed in Vegas

For Package buyers:

Bought into the 777 for both flights yesterday A and B (just so I wouldn’t have to deal with registering again). We start play this morning at 10 am. If I advance through the first flight they will refund the second bullet. That will then be put to future events. Updates to come on twitter and my facebook. Starting bankroll for events is roughly $5550. (-$777 x2)

Just to reinforce, this package does not include my main event. That was through the Monkey Minions. If you bought a piece of that you have shares of my Main Event. This package is for all other events I might play.

 If I play under the total of $5550 you will get full refunds dollar for dollar (no markup). Here are the percentage breakdowns, I ended up selling a little more of myself than I planned to (as a couple of longstanding investors got in late).  Regardless, it’s good to be wanted.

Mike, Justin: 7.27% Morgan: 6% Tai, Joe C., Linda, Todd, Jerry: 5% Charlie: 3.635% Matt: 2% Ryan: .5%

I want to say a big thank you to all those who invested in me. Feeling good about this year. When I have a chance I will blog more about this. If you have any questions about any of this feel free to email me at ez ed cota  (at)  yahoo (dot) com.  (no spaces)