Over Labor Day Weekend, I went down to Commerce Casino to play in a $100 tournament.
This year I couldn’t make it to Vegas for the big weekend, as I usually do. I was recovering from minor surgery—cataract surgery, to be precise. I’m happy to report it went very well, and my vision is much improved in the eye they worked on. I asked if they could give me X-ray vision while they were at it, but apparently that is still only in the experimental stage and hasn’t been approved by the AMA. Note: The only reason I wanted that was so I could identify the cards from the backs in order to improve my poker game. It was not for prurient reasons. Get your minds out of the gutter.
I had the procedure the week before, and by Labor Day weekend I was well enough to resume normal activities. For me, that meant playing poker. It was too late to head to Vegas, but fortunately there is poker in Southern California. You can look it up.
Originally I figured I’d just head to Ventura. But then I noticed that Commerce Casino was just starting a tournament series heading into the long weekend. That made sense. The Bike just completed one of their bigger series of the year. In fact, that weekend before my surgery, they had a big multi-day event at the Bike that I was thinking of playing in. But it turned out that Day 3 of that event would take place the afternoon of my surgery. Now of course I’d be a long shot to make it to Day 3 of that tournament for sure, but you can’t enter a tournament knowing that, if you do have a great run, you won’t be around when the big prize money is awarded.
Anyway, I checked the schedule at Commerce and saw an interesting sounding tournament taking place Labor Day weekend. It was a multiple day event. It had a $100 buy-in and had a $50K guaranteed prize pool. That’s a very nice guarantee for just a hundred buck buy-in. One thing I really liked was that the pay bubble burst on Day 1. The final 12% of each Day 1 were in the money, and then the last 5% of each starting flight would come back for Day 2 (which was the final day in this case). I’ve talked before how much I like that format—I mean you are only making a second trip to the poker room if you are guaranteed to pick up cash no matter what happens on Day 2.
That’s nice anywhere, but it’s really especially desirable for me when I’m playing in L.A. I stay 10 minutes (really less) from the Aria when in Vegas, so making a trip back there for a day 2 wouldn’t be that big a deal. Same for most any other poker room in Vegas, really. But a drive back to Commerce, or the Bike, for a second day, only to bust on the first hand of Day 2 and have nothing to show for it would be a real pisser. Especially if that return trip was during the week, as they frequently are. I would have to give myself at least two hours to make it down there in weekday traffic. So it’s not very convenient.
But this $100 tourney had its day 2 on the weekend as well, so that wasn’t an issue. And of course, if I made it to day 2, I’d know for certain I’d be leaving that day 2 with more money in my wallet than I got there with, so it’d be worth the return trip.
I took a look at the structure sheet for it. It was good—actually, it was very good—except for one thing. It only had 20-minute levels. It’s been a long time since I played a tournament with less than 30-minute levels. Obviously, that’s a huge difference. But I did like the structure and I couldn’t help noticing it resembled the structure of the Aria WPT 500, which I played this summer and just wrote about (here). That’s not surprising. The tournament director at Commerce is Matt Savage who also happens to be the T.D. for the WPT. Matt actually designed the structure for the WPT 500. And of course, that pay format (12% cash each day, 5% go onto day 2) is also the same.
It sounded intriguing. My concern was the 20-minute levels. I wanted to compare the structure to one I’m familiar with, while taking into account the shorter levels. I’ve heard that there are formulas and/or apps that evaluate a tournament structure, but I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t know where to find one. Does anyone know? So I decided to compare the structure of the Commerce tournament to the regular Aria $125 tournament I play in frequently (and not the WPT 500 structure). Both tournaments have the same starting stack, $10K.
To take into account the shorter levels, I just looked how many chips you’d need to have a tournament “M” of 20 at various points in the tournament. But I didn’t compare level to level, I compared time to time. In other words, at the end of two levels of Aria, you’ve played on hour. It takes three levels of the Commerce to play one hour, so you’d compare start of level 3 at Aria to start of level 4 at Commerce. I was actually thinking that the structure was so good at Commerce that it might be better by the standard I was using throughout the tournament.
But it turned out, that wasn’t the case. Those 20-minute levels eventually catch up with you. After four hours of each, you need the exact same $88K chips to be at an M of 20 (that’s start of level 9 for Aria, start of level 13 for Commerce). But an hour later, you only need $170K at Aria as compared to $190K at Commerce. And the difference keeps expanding to Aria’s benefit the longer you survive.
BTW, it was easy for me to do this comparison, as I keep a spreadsheet with all the structures of each tournament I’m going to play and am likely to play, complete with the M’s at each level. I print this out as a cheat sheet to use live so I know when I am approaching (or have arrived at) shove-or-fold mode.
I decided that the difference wasn’t a deal breaker for me. It was only a $100, tournament, so I couldn’t really expect it to have a better structure than Aria’s $125 tournament. And it did have the great $50K guarantee, an incredible amount for that price point. Aria’s tournament doesn’t have a guarantee but the prize pool for the afternoon event is usually around $10-$15K. And I figured that it having the same or even better structure for the first four hours (when most of the real poker is played anyway before it becomes a shove fest), was good enough for me. And the plus about the shorter levels is that you wouldn’t be playing 10 plus hours on that day 1. I inquired on Twitter and got an estimate of day 1 wrapping up around 7:30pm for the flight I wanted to play (which started at Noon).
One other note about the tourney that made it a bit different than what I’m used to: there was only one entry per day. You could enter a maximum of three times, one each day. And if you made it to day 2 more than once, you’d forfeit the short stack and would get paid minimum day 2 money for it.
Now, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve been to Commerce Casino. For some reason, I’ve always preferred The Bike. Commerce is a fine poker room—hell, it’s the biggest poker room in the world—but if you live in Southern California, you likely either prefer the Bike or your prefer Commerce. It’s like some people like Coke and some like Pepsi. So I was a Bike person (until I discovered Player’s Casino in Ventura).
In fact, I’m pretty sure the last time I was at Commerce was before I started the blog—and before I started playing No Limit! Yeah, I played 2/4 limit at Commerce a few times. I even played 1/2 limit there when I was just getting started (dunno if they still spread that). I know for sure that I’d never played a tournament there.
So I wanted to get there early. I knew I needed to get a player’s card to register for the event, as I never had one. I also wanted to get the lay of the land, so-to-speak, Find the tournament area, see where the restrooms were, etc. I was surprised when, ready to leave my house, Google maps told me that traffic was lighter than usual and I should reach my destination in 44 minutes. That made me stop rushing. And of course, by the time I drove thru downtown, some congestion had developed and it took longer than promised to get there. Thus I felt I was late, even though it was around 11:30—I hoped to be there no later than 11:15.
I have to tell you, I had forgotten just how freaking big Commerce is. It is really, really huge and I know I didn’t see all of it on this trip. I didn’t remember the table games section being as big as it was, and I know I didn’t see all of the poker tables. Feeling I was running late, I broke with my standard personal rule and actually asked someone for directions to the tournament registration area.
There wasn’t a long line when I got there. I had been told that I could get the needed player’s card when I registered. Although that was true, it turned out that I had to see a different person at the registration desk to get a card since I never had one before (I think the original person I spoke to would have been able to do it if I was just replacing an existing card). Then the process was delayed even further when the printer that was printing the tournament entry tickets broke down and everything came to a complete halt. Fortunately, someone from IT showed up very quickly and got the issue resolved. Good thing—by the time I had my ticket in hand, the line had grown considerably, and the tournament was only minutes away from starting. One nice perk: with the seat ticket they gave me a coupon good for $7 off food at the various eateries in the casino.
I was directed to where the tournament was being held and I was surprised, it didn’t seem like an ideal location to me. Part of the main poker room floor was clearly reserved for tournament tables but the area I was at was on sort of a mezzanine a few steps up from the main poker room. It looked like it was a temporary set up for a bunch of tables. Turns out I was right. I later learned that the tournaments (at least when they run a series like this one) are usually held in the ballroom, but they had to give up the ballroom for this day as it had been reserved for a wedding. I hope the groom wasn’t getting married to pocket Aces.
I put my stuff down in my seat after finding it and couldn’t help noticing that the dealer looked very familiar. I figured out where I knew him from almost immediately. “You’ve dealt to me before….in Vegas, right?” He said he probably had. “The Golden Nugget series this summer, right?” Indeed, I had this dealer several times during my Vegas tournament endeavors, always at the Golden Nugget. He must have been a travelling dealer, not a Commerce full-timer. I asked him where the nearest restroom was and he directed to one that was quite a good walk from where we were playing. I later discovered there was a much closer one that he apparently didn’t know about.
One observation (criticism?) of Commerce before I get to some actual poker. I immediately recalled once play was underway one of my issues with the casino. I’ve never been able to figure out how to get a drink there. I’m just talking about my usual diet Coke (tho I think it’s Pepsi there). They have cocktail waitresses but they only serve booze, not soft drinks. I guess there are both food servers and porters who maybe can bring you a coke or coffee, but I almost never saw any of them in the area, and when I did, I could never get their attention. They don’t just come around like a cocktail waitress in Vegas does. I managed to order one diet Pepsi but after that I was pretty much on my own. And by the way, they charge half a buck for the soda. Fortunately I discovered the gift shop was very near where were playing and bought a bottle of diet Mountain Dew on one of the breaks.
One odd thing I discovered after I connected to the casino’s Wi-Fi. It refused to let me access my own blog! It said my blog’s web address was blocked because it was a site that promoted gambling! This was, I repeat, while I was in the Commerce Casino, which I have reason to believe wants you to gamble. Weird.
I was a little surprised they didn’t delay the start of the tournament a few minutes to make up for the snafu with the printer. I thought they should have since a lot of folks got to their seats late through no fault of their own. And what with the levels only being 20-minutes, it was more impactful missing hands than it would be if the levels were 30-minutes as I’m used to.
Speaking of those 20-minute levels, it didn’t take me long to realize how big a difference that made. Every time I looked at the clock, it seemed like the levels were about to increase. There just didn’t seem to be any breathing room. For someone like me, who likes to play tight in the beginning and was also fairly card dead, it made things very tricky. It didn’t take much time for me to get the feeling I wasn’t likely to be playing very long.
First level (25/50) I had pocket Queens and raised to $125. One caller. The flop came 9-8-7, all hearts. Yeesh. I had no hearts, but I dutifully c-bet $200. My opponent made it $600. I folded and he showed Jack-10. His cards were both black though.
In the big blind I called a raise to $125 with Ace-10 off. It was just heads up and the flop came King-Jack-x. I called $125. The turn was an Ace and I called $350. It went check-check on a blank river and my Ace was good.
Level 2 (50/100) with $11K. First hand of the level, in the big blind I had 10-6 off but no one raised. Five of us saw a flop of 10-6-5, two diamonds. I bet $300 and had one caller. The 2 of spades on the turn put a second spade out there. I bet $1K and he called. The river was a third spade and I checked. My opponent showed just a 10 and I took it.
Before I could blink it seemed like I reached level 3 (75/150) with $11,400. After a limper I made it $525 with Ace-King, the limper was the only caller. I bet $800 on an Ace-high flop and took it.
The antes kicked in on level 4 (25/75/150) and I had $11,700. There was an interesting hand where I limped in with 9-8 of hearts and it was five way. There was no betting any street. The board read King-King-2-2-Queen. It should have been a five-way chop since no one had anything that connected with that board. But one of the players folded when he saw his neighbor’s hand (which I think was Jack-high) not realizing that we were all playing the board. So it was only a four-way chop.
I opened to $400 with pocket Aces and had three callers. The flop was Queen-high, two diamonds and my Aces were both black. I bet $800. The first guy thought for a long time before folding, the other two folded immediately.
And that’s where I’ll leave part 1. But the fact that I need to do this in two parts is kind of a spoiler that my tournament life lasted longer than I had originally anticipated. And now you can read the conclusion and see how I did right here.