Thursday, July 28, 2016

Why I Played the Tournaments I Did

Sooner or later, I’m going to start talking about some of the individual tournaments I played while in Vegas last month.  I played in a bunch.

I thought as a way of introduction to this series of posts, I’d go over which tournaments I played, and also explain why I played in those particular ones.  After all, there were a near infinite number of poker tournaments being offered all around the city while I was there; how did I decide which ones to play?

Everyone probably has a different set of criteria to decide how to pick one tournament from another.  Some no doubt study the structures intensely to find the best value. I think there are even apps or spreadsheets that you can use to evaluate a structure.  Others look at the vig—some tournaments charge less juice than others.  Or they have some rooms they really like and some they really don’t like.  And of course there are guarantees.  Naturally, players tend to favor the tournaments with the biggest guarantees for their preferred price point.

I consider all of those things to some degree, but none of that is the most important thing to me.  Or to put it another way, there has to be one basic feature of a tournament for me to consider putting in the pile of tournaments that I would evaluate further for playability.

My own personal convenience. 

All those other things are nice, but if a tournament is inconvenient for me to play—by my standards of convenience of course—then I’m unlikely to be able to play my best.

What makes a tournament more or less convenient for me?  Well, as I explained at length in the post here, the two biggest things for me are starting time and dinner break.  If a tournament has a good starting time for me and offers a dinner break, then I’m likely to want to play in it,  assuming the buy-in is reasonable.  Of course, if the guarantee is low enough to suggest it might not have much of a turnout—or there is no guarantee at all—I might have to reject it.  But there are tournaments without guarantees that you just know (or at least, I just know, because it’s kind of my job) will get good turnouts.  Like pretty much any tournament at the Aria, for example.

An 11AM start is pretty much a non-starter for me, and Noon is only slightly better.  Noon on the strip is maybe doable for an exceptionally good tournament.  But 1PM would be so much better.

Since it’s my job to enter every single tournament held in Vegas into the PokerAtlas database, I got to see first hand what the tournaments were going to be like for the summer long before anyone else did.  Well maybe not that long before.  As I explained here, a fair number of rooms were pretty late with their schedules and their structures.  So I didn’t really have to time to study the tournaments as I entered them.  But before leaving for Vegas, I did take time to review them all, compare them, and I actually made my own personal spreadsheet of which tournaments running each day I would consider playing—and even ranked them in order of preference when there were several to choose from. 

Wouldn’t you know it, lucky me, there was one particular tournament that jumped out at me that was being offered almost every day that seemed like it was designed with me in mind.  It was a $150 NLH tournament at Golden Nugget.  Start time 1PM, 45-minute dinner break, and a $20K guarantee on most days.  It was so perfect that I likely would have played it even if it had a bad structure.  Fortunately, the structure was fine, 30-minute levels, blinds starting at 25/50, and a reasonably slow progression. 

Honestly, it was so perfect for me, I didn’t really have to spend a lot of time considering most of the other daytime tourneys.  They either started at 11AM or Noon, or were too expensive for me.

But there was one “big” daytime tournament that I wanted to play in, in fact, to some degree, I had timed my trip for it, based on the dates it ran last year.  That would be the WPT 500 at the Aria, a $565 buy-in with a whole ton of starting flights and a huge guarantee.  I played in it last year when it had a $2MM guarantee and really liked the format and the structure.  You can read about it hereI definitely planned on a repeat try this year.  Now last year, I played in two events at that larger (for me) price point.  I also played in the first Colossus event (see here).  This year I only budgeted for one $500+ buy-in event, and definitely preferred the WPT 500 over the WSOP event.

Why?  I really liked the Aria format, and especially the fact that if you survived to Day 2, you were automatically in the money.  In fact, you could even bust out on Day 1, and if it was late enough, you could still be in the cash.  So no worry about having to go back there on another day with a short stack, only to bust out in the first orbit of Day 2 and have absolutely nothing to show for it.  And Colossus had been such a fustercluck last year, it had kind of left a bad taste in my mouth.  Then I looked at the new structure, which had been made a lot worse. 

Colossus was at the beginning of the summer and the Aria event was at the end.  Since I couldn’t stay in Vegas forever, I picked my time in Vegas based on the WPT event.  Before I made plans, the WPT announced the dates for the tournament (but not the details). As soon as they did, I booked my room to be there for it, and thus “officially” opted out of any chance of playing Colossus.

So imagine my surprise when, quite some time later, Aria sent me the official schedule for the entire summer series showing the starting times of all the Day 1’s for the WPT 500 as 10AM.  Note: the guarantee was “only” $1MM this year, but that didn’t mean much to me, I was sure it go way past that (and I was right).

Yes, that’s 10-freaking AM in the freaking morning.  Seriously?  I was quite upset, and initially assumed I would just not play in it, even though I did kind of have my heart set on it.  And by then it was too late to go to Vegas earlier for Colossus.  BTW, Colossus had 10AM starting flights too, but it also had 4PM starting flights, and I likely would have hit up one of those if I had played.

But I got to thinking and started trying to figure out if once—just once—I could be flexible enough to play that damn thing at 10 in the morning. In response to the post I linked to at the beginning of this one, I got some suggestions on how I could make playing some of these tournaments work.  I thought about that and realized that I could just bring a sandwich with me and have it on the first break—Noon.  I don’t usually have the “ingredients” to make a sandwich with me when I’m in Vegas, but you know, they sell bread and luncheon meat and mustard in Vegas. And I could also take some nuts and some Kind bars with me to make it work.  Fortunately, there was a 45-dinner break in the tournament, so I could have a somewhat decent dinner if I lasted that long.

Once I made the mental commitment to break with tradition and bring a sack lunch to a poker tournament, I decided to re-check the tournaments in town and see if maybe there were some 11AM or Noon events that were good enough to get me to show up for, lunch in hand, as I planned to do at the Aria.

And actually—there was.  It turned out that on a number of weekends while I was there, a certain poker room was offering an event that was similar to the Golden Nugget $150 I liked, but that started at 11AM.  The buy-in was only little more than GN’s, but it had a $50K guarantee and it was still a one day event.  So I checked the details for it that I entered on PokerAtlas—I made no mention of a dinner break.

I went to the structure sheet, maybe it was mistake on my part, as unlikely as that was.  Nope, the structure sheet they had sent me made no mention of a dinner break.  Then I remembered the back and forth I had with this particular room over getting the details for their series.  I had to start entering the series with, let’s call it “generic” info.  Nothing was said about dinner breaks on any of their events.  Before I got the real structure sheets, I asked them, “What about dinner breaks?”  They replied they weren’t sure but that they didn’t think there would be any.  So when they sent me the structure without dinner breaks, it made sense.  By the way, some of their other events did indeed have dinner breaks, so it made sense to me—dinner breaks for certain events only.

I actually went to this room early in my trip, and double checked the printed structure sheets they were handing out. And indeed, there was no dinner break listed in there.  So….no dinner break, right?

Well, I’m sorry.  I’m not going to wake up early for an 11AM start, bring a damn lunch to gulp down during a break, possibly play till 2-3 in the morning, and have to gulp some crummy dinner down during a break on top of that.  That’s too much to ask.  That’s unreasonable.  So I did not play in that tournament.

Tell me, am I the only person on the planet who would refuse to play in a poker tournament they would otherwise play in because of the lack of a dinner break?  Am I just that much of a freak?  Or do you think there are others out there like me?

There is a punch line to this little part of the story.  On one of the last days they were running this particular tournament, I saw the room tweeting out that they was a possibility they wouldn’t make the guarantee and an overlay was possible.  And they kept tweeting about it and then they were tweeting when registration ended.  And I looked at the time they had and it didn’t make sense, it didn’t agree with the time I had on PokerAtlas.  And I thought, they only way that time would work was if there was an hour dinner break before registration ended.  But I knew there was no dinner break.

So I contacted them and asked and sure enough, that very tournament had a dinner break the whole time.  Grrrr…..That rather annoyed me to say the least.  Not only did I have incorrect info on PokerAtlas the whole time, but of course, I would have played in that tournament once or twice myself if they had only supplied me with the correct information.

You will note I have not mentioned the name of this poker room.  I don’t want to embarrass them.

Now, someone, either on Twitter or on a blog comment, asked me if I had played any of the WSOP Deepstacks yet.  And the answer is no, I didn’t and never planned to.  A few years ago, I tried them once or twice, but this year they made a change that made it unplayable for me. 

The $235 Deepstack used to start at 3PM.  This year they moved it to 2PM.  That’s no big deal.  But they used to have a half hour dinner break in them.  This year, they took out the dinner break.  All the breaks were 10 minutes. Those things go at least 12 hours.  Without a dinner break?  Seriously?  The question for me is not, am the only one who wouldn’t play it without a dinner break.  The question is, why would anyone play a 12-hour tournament without such a break? The only food option (other than bringing your own) is the Pizza Kitchen, which sucks and would be crowded as hell at any break.  I don’t get it.  Frankly, the Rio is so big and so crowded, that 30-minutes isn’t enough, but the times I played in the past, I never lasted long enough to confirm that.

There are other issues with the Deepstacks.  The fields are so damn large, it seems like a Herculean task to maneuver through it and get deep into the money.  Yes, a lot of people get paid, but I think the payscale is even more top heavy than the average Vegas tournament, I always hear about people getting the min-cash, or even more than the min-cash, and complaining about how small the payout is.

Also, the WSOP refuses to offer any assistance at all if players want to make a deal or chop once it gets down to a few players.  The players have to do all the calculating themselves, and then they will pay out based on the original pay scale, not based on the deal.  This could not only have tax implications but I’ve heard stories of players who agreed to a deal going to the pay window, taking a bigger prize than they agreed to with the other players, and then taking off without paying the players they made the deal with.  And since the WSOP didn’t sanction it, they will do nothing to stop the crook.

So no, I didn’t play in any Deepstacks, and was never tempted to do so.

I did find a couple of evening tournaments to play for when I worked all day and wanted a tourney during the evening.

The one I almost played was the $240 at Aria at 7PM.  I was real tempted, but I asked them what time the event was finishing up.  They told me it ran to like 5-6 AM.  Um…no thanks.  Work all day and then stay up all night playing a tourney (if I ran well, that is)?  And then my next day of work would be shot too.  I couldn’t see doing it.

But both Planet Hollywood and Golden Nugget ran $100 tourneys at 7PM that were very similar, decent structures for the price, 30-minute levels.  No prize pool guarantees.  I’d give each one a try.

So final count:  I played tournaments 6 days while up there.  I played the Golden Nugget $150 three different days, the WPT 500 at Aria once, the Golden Nugget 7PM once and the Planet Hollywood 7PM once.  How’d I do?  Well, one of these days, hopefully soon, I’ll get around to writing up the details for you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dear Rob: About that Guarantee

This is going to be somewhat of a different type of post.  I found an email in my inbox the other day from Charles Hall regarding a bad experience he had playing in a tournament during the big summer series they had at Planet Hollywood.  At first, I assumed he was one of my blog readers and that’s why he was telling me his story.  But then I noticed the email came to my work email, and I realized he was writing to me as the columnist for Ante Up magazine, not as the blogger.  I’m going to reprint his original letter and then post a few of Charles’s comments that came in follow up emails.  I knew that his report would not be appropriate for Ante Up, so I asked him if I could run his email and my response in my personal blog, which he agreed to.

Rob?     I would like to tell you a story if I may.  Well, I was in Vegas where I go every year (June). I was playing the tourney at Planet Hollywood, the Quantum $300,000 guarantee. Bought in the first day and lost so I came back for the second day and bought in again, and I did ask if I was buying into the Quantum $300,000 guarantee. He said yes.  So I paid my money and sat down and played one hand! And the guy next to me just then told me they cancelled the guarantee.

I got up and went over and asked the man in charge and he said they did (cancel the guarantee) so I asked for my money back. They said no, because I played one hand. Now what I would like to ask you (after I was there 15 more days and played downtown and Aria after that)—can you write something in you mag. on this for what they did because I believe they should have told people they cancelled the guarantee.  I was late to sign up and they still didn't have (a sign about the cancelled guarantee) up.     

Thank you, Charles Hall.

Now because of my assignments for both Ante Up and PokerAtlas, I know a little bit about this. Some of what Charles said made perfect sense to me, and some of it was a bit odd.  But I think I have an explanation for all of it, and it is really most unfortunate.  I guess I should add that what Charles is telling me is just his word, and thus not verified.  But I do tend to believe that most, if not all, of what Charles is saying is very likely accurate.

It is important to note that in a subsequent email, Charles said he called PH a week or so before tournament and asked about the starting chip stack and also asked if the guarantee was still on and was told that it was.  In another email, Charles said that when he arrived late for the second day to buy in again, “the guy didn't say anything when I said that only about 40 people signed up for this big of a guarantee—he just looked at me and didn't say (anything) and I was the only one there in line.”

When I read his first email, I was feeling a little guilty, and thinking perhaps Charles was blaming me for this mix-up.  You see in my Ante Up column about the series (see here), I did talk about both Quantum tournaments (one in early May, at the very beginning of the series, the other in mid-June) having guaranteed prize pools.  The Quantum type tournaments—a staple at the Bike here in the L.A. area—were coming to Vegas for the first time, that was one of the most noteworthy things about the Goliath series PH was running. The original schedule that was distributed—back in March, I believe—showed the guarantees that I referenced in my column.  .

However, by the time the Goliath series started, the guarantees for those events had been removed, and I knew that.  Well, there’s always a potential problem when you are writing something that will be printed and not distributed for about a month.  It happens all the time.  Events in a big series get changed, starting times, chip counts, the events themselves.  An Omaha tournament can become a NLH tournament.  It happens with room updates too.  I talk about a room offering a special cash game or a unique tournament or an interesting promo and by the time the magazine hits poker rooms, it’s completely different.  Can’t be helped.  Although Ante Up has a great website, it is still basically a printed magazine made for distribution in poker rooms. 

When I got the final schedule and structures for Goliath, long after my column with the out-dated info was in poker rooms, I noticed the guarantee was no longer there, and some details about the tournaments themselves had been changed. The guarantees that had appeared on the original schedule had been replaced with “estimated prize pools” (and with smaller amounts).  It was too late to do anything about the Ante Up column.  But for PokerAtlas, I had time to correct the info I had originally entered for the Quantum tournaments based on the original info I had received weeks earlier.   So if you looked at the series on PokerAtlas before the Goliath series started, you would have seen that neither of the Quantum events had guarantees.

I do know that when the original schedule was announced, PH distributed printed schedules that showed those tournaments with guarantees.  I also know that when they changed the schedule, they distributed new schedules, without the guarantees.  I should note that there the removal of the guarantees from the Quantum events was not the only change from the original schedule.  There were quite a few tournaments that were changed or replaced with different events.  This is not all that unusual.  Tournaments in a series often get changed before and even during a series.  This series had a few more changes than most, but it also had the most events of any summer series (outside of the WSOP itself) so it is somewhat understandable.  Also, some of the events were changed, cancelled or moved just a day or two before they were to occur, mostly due to how popular some of the other tournaments were.  They actually cancelled an entire tournament the day before it was to take place because the tournament they were running the day before had such a great turnout they didn’t have room (or dealers) for the next day’s event.

I know when I finally personally visited PH, a few days after the second Quantum tournament was completed, I saw that they were distributing the correct printed schedule in the room.  But exactly when they started distributing the revised version, I can’t say.  It’s possible that the old version was distributed longer than it should have been.  And if you picked up a schedule in March when it was originally released and never went back to the room—or if you did, never thought to pick up another schedule—you would have the outdated info.

Also, when it was announced, PH posted the original schedule and tweeted out links to it.  They subsequently tweeted out links to the revised schedule. I noticed at least once they tweeted out either a link or an image of an incorrect schedule and brought it to their attention.  But the inaccuracies I noted were different tournaments, I didn’t notice if the guarantees for the Quantum events were still there or not.  I do know that after I pointed it out to them, they did tweet out only the current schedule, with all the revisions.

Now if a room takes away a guarantee at sort of the last minute, they are obligated to let players know before they buy-in.  A sign at the registration area saying, “The guarantee for today’s tournament has been cancelled.”   Or the cashier saying, “You know, there is no guarantee for that event,” when they buy the entry.  But I am thinking that PH didn’t feel the need to do that because they had removed the guarantee sometime back and had been distributing the updated information for quite some time. I can tell you that I knew about the guarantee being dropped at least a week before the Goliath series started, so that was almost a month before the event Charles played in took place.

During the second Quantum event, the one Charles played in, I do recall seeing tweets from other players expressing surprise that there was no guarantee, after they had bought in. So it wasn’t just Charles who was affected.

Sigh.  The problem is that a lot of third-party sources of poker information (like Ante Up magazine, for example) had the original info out there and probably never corrected it.  There are all kinds of places to find info on Vegas summer tournaments during this time, and it may very well be that the only sources that had the correct info were PH’s corrected links and PokerAtlas.  And Planet Hollywood is not responsible for incorrect info on third-party sites.

What about the phone call Charles made a week before asking about the guarantee?  Or the cashier apparently ignoring his mentioning the guarantee when he bought in?  Well, if it happened the way Charles said it did (and I am not questioning him, just trying to be fair to PH), I would have to say I’m not surprised. 

Rooms that run big tournament series have to bring in a lot of temporary dealers, floor people, cashiers, etc.  It is real easy for me to believe that inexperienced help didn’t have the right information—or the ability to process it—right at their finger tips.  Maybe the guy at the window when Charles bought in didn’t hear him say “guarantee.”  Maybe the guy on the phone confused the tournament with another one that had a guarantee.  Or maybe he didn’t even know what a guarantee was.

I can tell you, I call poker rooms all around the country (not just Vegas) for PokerAtlas and am amazed at what some poker room employees don’t know.  Seriously, I ask “how long are the levels?” and some go, “what?” (they might be used to calling them “rounds”). I recently tweeted about calling a room—definitely not in Vegas—to ask about new Omaha tournament they had started.  I couldn’t tell if it was a limit tournament, a pot limit tournament, or possibly a No Limit tournament.  Yes, I’ve heard of No Limit Omaha tournaments—usually run by rooms that never have spread the game and don’t realize it “should” be pot limit.  Anyway, the woman answering the phone didn’t understand my question!  I asked if she had a structure sheet she could look at. I was going to have her read it to me, until I could determine whether it was limit or what.  Fortunately, a fellow employee overheard her repeating my question and told her it was limit. 

So it is possible Charles ran into a couple of novice poker room temps who didn’t really understand about the guarantee. 

Now, I can understand why PH would think they didn’t have to put up a sign about the guarantee being taken away—in their mind they had been (recently) promoting the event as having an “estimated prize pool,” not a guaranteed one.  But since they did originally distribute information that showed a guarantee, I think it would have been a good idea to have a sign right at the registration desk.

So, I feel real bad for Charles, and I apologize for any part I played in the misunderstanding.  I suggested to him that he email the manager of the Planet Hollywood poker room and explain what happened.  I’m not sure what, if anything, will come of that, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

I am curious to hear what you folks think about how this was handled. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Buck Naked's Excellent Vegas Adventure (Guest Post)

Recently, I received an email from one of my readers.  It was a brief recap on his two visits to Vegas during the WSOP.  Unfortunately, the timing was such that we weren’t able to get together while he was in Vegas, his report will have to do.  He told me it was ok to publish his report as long as I didn’t identify him.

So this post is his report.  Now, it occurred to me if I just posted this and attributed it to “Anonymous,” people might think that it is my report, and due to the salacious nature of it, I was merely claiming that it happened to someone else because I didn’t want to own up to it.

But I assure you, this really was submitted by one of my readers.  You have to trust me, it’s not me.  This particular reader is someone I’ve met in Vegas in the past, and he is a really good guy, and he is very real—and definitely not me.  I think you’ll believe me because, if nothing else, you’ll see the writing style doesn’t resemble mine at all.  If I was capable of writing in a different style, I’d write in Raymond Chandler’s style, because man, he was a helluva writer.

But I still don’t want to credit this to “Anonymous.”  I have to give my reader a fake blog name.  Since the story is bit salacious, I was thinking of a salacious pseudonym.  And I remembered that on Seinfeld, George Costanza once (at least) said that he thought the perfect name for a porn star would be “Buck Naked.”  The name seems perfect for the story from my reader, so we are going to call him “Buck Naked.” However, I am pretty sure my guest blogger is not a porn star.  Here’s his story.

Sorry I missed you during both my trips to Vegas this summer.  Wanted to let you know I managed to cash in two deepstacks this year at the Rio.  First was a min cash, nothing interesting to relay about, but my second was a little more interesting.

My second trip was 6/19-6/23.  Had a direct flight on Spirit airlines XXX-LAS, and as you may know my hobbies are poker, cars, and beer.  So after one brewsky at the airport prior to boarding, and two on the plane, we landed @ 6:50 pm.

Picked up rental car and drove straight to Rio, no, I was not driving, left that to my buds. Got to Rio about 7:30 and jumped in the 7PM deepstack, a little late.

I tipped a red bird on my first beer at the table and the cocktail lady kept them coming.  I really hate to admit this, but about 14 beers and 7 hours later I made the final table and busted 8th, for a decent score.

So I was free-rolling the rest of my trip, which is always nice.  Sad part was, I felt so bad the next day, couldn't play any, and just recovered in my room, drinking plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, with my buds telling me what a pussy I was..  They are all at least 20 years younger than me, and time will sneak up on them as well.

The next day, we went to the Rhino—in the "daylight"—which usually means you have a problem with titty bars, but we had other plans for later, and had a 2-hour gap for lap dances.  We soon discovered that going during happy hour was + EV, we got there around 4pm.

As soon as we entered, we were attacked by a bevy of hot ladies, and we couldn’t see for shit, took a while for eyes to adjust from the bright daylight, to very dim light in the club.  So the 3 of us had 2 girls each with table lap dances @ $20 each. Due to my superior negotiation skills, I had 2 for $20.  Beer was regularly priced @  $12 each, but $4 during happy hour, so we downed a few, while the girls kept trying to lure us to the VIP rooms for big $$ dances and more a touchy/feely experience; which consisted of them dry humping us while they were wearing g-strings only.

The girls were mostly unsuccessful, but one of our group did give in and dropped $300 only to be teased to the max.  I'm too old/frugal/cheap to make a purchase of "fantasy booty", so when our bud re-appeared from the VIP room, we made a hasty exit and headed to Pahrump for the "real deal".

Buck ended his tale with “more later” but he never got back to me with details of their visit to Pahrump.  In case anyone doesn’t know, Pahrump is a city about an hour outside of Vegas where prostitution is legal.  Actually, I’m not sure if the report from that part of Buck’s trip would be suitable for my blog’s family values.

Anyway, thanks for the report, Buck.  I trust you had a fine time in Pahrump.