Thursday, May 29, 2014

If I Want a Bracelet, I Better Find a Jewelry Store

This is the story of my first ever WSOP bracelet event, an all-too brief experience that took place on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, there’s no way I can tell the story of my pre-mature exit without making myself look like a total idiot.  And I seriously considered not even posting about the event, other than to give the result without the detailed explanation that I am noted for. For a few hours after my bust-out, I was certain I would just punt on this post.

But no, I paid $500 to play in a bracelet event, and damn it, if nothing else, I’m going to get a Rob-size post out of it.  I paid $500 for this friggin’ blog post, so, at the risk of all of you never taking me seriously as a poker player again (assuming you ever did in the first place), here goes.

I do have an excuse for my screw-up.  But it’s just that—an excuse.  It’s really just an explanation of where my mind was when my brain took a few minutes off.  But it is the truth, and the reader is welcome to buy it, or think I should never be allowed near a poker table again for the rest of my life.

But before we get to the climax, you’ll have to bear with me while I go on a tangent to explain my state of mind at the crucial moment.

As I revealed here, I was allowed to play in Event #1 at the WSOP, the casino employees event, because I work for PokerAtlas (which now encompasses AllVegasPoker).  I debated quite a bit about playing in it.  It would be the most I ever paid for a tournament entry.  And, like all WSOP bracelet events, it doesn’t have a very good structure, to put it mildly.  You start with $3,000 chips.  That’s the same as the $1,000 bracelet events, but at least the $1K events have starting blinds of 25/25.  This one starts at 25/50 (because of the “discounted” buy-in, I assume).  At least the levels are a full hour each.  But starting with 60 big blinds is rough.

But as I said in the prior post, this is the only event that is under $1K.  So, unless I was able to satellite in, this was the cheapest way for me to experience a bracelet event first hand.  I was concerned that I could end up spending at least as much as the actual entry fee trying to win satellites to get into another event.  This was a sure thing, for “only” $500.  Since I now make my living from poker (though not from playing, thank goodness), it seemed like something I should do at least once.

I knew that a lot of my friends and acquaintances would be there, but unfortunately, I didn’t see hardly any of them.  Too many people there, and I didn’t get there early enough to mill around and hunt for my friends.  Just as well, I guess.

The festivities got off to a bang—literally—with canon explosions and dollar bills floating down from the roof.  It turns out that they released $10,000 in one dollar bills over the tournament area.  Some tables had tons of dollar bills fall on them, but not the one I was at.  Missed our table completely.  But I was able to see a bunch of dollar bills behind a nearby table on the floor, and I did scoop up some.  Sixteen in fact.  So it wasn’t a total loss.

I had posted about being in the tournament, and also tweeted about it, and I really appreciated all the good luck wishes I received.  But, after tweeting my table and seat number, I announced that I was turning off my cell phone so that I wouldn’t be distracted and could give my full attention to the matter at hand.  And so I did.

But, during the tournament announcements, I heard the Tournament Director announce that late registration for this event ended at the start of level 5, although most events had late registration through the start of level 7.  Why was that meaningful for me?  Because it’s my job.

I had entered all the tournament info on PokerAtlas (and also on AVP, even though you can’t see that anymore).  Someone at the office questioned the late reg time for Event #1, but I pointed out that it clearly stated that all Noon events had late reg until basically 7:30 PM (two extra levels from last year).  It noted a few exceptions, but Event #1 was not one of the exceptions. 

Even as my co-worker insisted that this must be wrong, I knew it was right based on the info on the WSOP site, so that’s what I entered.

And now I had just heard that I was wrong and my co-worker was right all along.


PokerAtlas is actually being referred to, by the WSOP, as “The Official Player’s Guide to the 2014 World Series of Poker,” so it is critical that we get these details right.  And however inadvertently, I had some incorrect info on there.  But there was still time to fix it.  I didn’t want people showing up at 7:15PM trying to buy in and being told that registration had closed hours before.  So, I emailed the office and told them of the change so that they could fix it.  If someone had planned on arriving that late based on earlier information (which was also on the WSOP site), there was nothing that could be done.  But if I could prevent anyone from arriving too late going forward, I wanted to do that.  Hey, I am dedicated to doing the job right.

To be clear.....the WSOP's own website had the wrong information on their site.  It wasn't my error, it was theirs.  I was trying to clean up their screw up.  No matter, it wasn't the first time a poker room or a website has given me bad information.  I'm used to it.  I point out errors like this to poker room managers all the time.  You'd be surprised how many tournament schedules or structure sheets I see with missing, misleading, contradictory or downright wrong information. I get thanks all the the time from managers and tournament directors for catching these errors and calling them to their attention.

I had to turn my phone back on and sent an email to the office.  Then, I wanted to wait until I got a response that it had been fixed.  Unfortunately, this was at lunch time, so I didn’t get a response right away.  All I could do was put my phone on silent and check it periodically between hands.

The fact that my phone was on is absolutely critical to my fast exit from the tournament, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.

With a structure like this, I thought the only way to play was to be extremely tight.  Sometimes I play looser in tournament situations but this didn’t seem the right time.  In fact, most everyone at our table was fairly conservative, seeing fewer hands than usual and raising in smaller amounts than you usually see in a tournament.  Everyone was probably playing the tightest version of their normal game to start.

Early I had QQ and raised to $125 (normally I would have raised to $150).  I had one caller.  The flop was Ace high and I bet $200.  He called.  The turn didn’t help me and I didn’t want to lose any more chips on this hand, figuring the most likely hand he had that he called my preflop raise with was Ace-something.  I checked, he bet, I folded.

Still on the first level, I had Ace-7 spades on the button.  With one limper, I raised to $175.  The limper was the only caller.  The flop was pretty good, King-Queen-7, both the paint cards were spades.  I bet $300 and he folded.

That was the only hand I won.

I started the second level (blinds 50/100) with $2,650 in chips.  Other than the QQ hand, I lost all the other money just on blinds, maybe once or twice I limped with small pocket pairs.  I was card dead.

Between hands, I took out my phone.  There was a message from the office that they would make the correction.  Good.

But I noticed I had also received a text message from a close family member.  Of course, I read it.  It seemed that this family member, who had recently had surgery, was having issues and was headed back to the hospital.  This was quite upsetting to me.  And there was nothing I could do about it.  Of course I wanted to receive this info.  But from 300 miles away, all I could do was worry.  I obviously couldn’t help them.  I knew I would call or text another relative during the break to see if I could get more details.

Within a hand or two of receiving reading this text, and with it still very much on my mind, I was dealt Ace-King offsuit, under-the-gun plus one.  First in, I made it $250.  One player called, the big blind, who was the guy who had stayed in the hand when I had the Queens.

I knew this guy was short stacked, he had lost a big hand.  But he had come back some when he called a raise out of position with Jack-9 offsuit and hit something.  I thought his play was questionable.  I can see being aggressive with a shortish stack and raising or shoving with Jack-9.  But calling a raise with it when you don’t have a lot of chips seemed incredibly risky.  But it worked out for him.

Now, I was in seat 7 and he was in seat 3 and my eyes aren’t very good and I couldn’t really see his stack very well.  But I certainly knew he had less than me.

The flop was Jack-10-9, rainbow.  So I had a gut shot.  But I’m not risking a lot on a gut shot.  He checked, and in that situation, heads-up, I’m almost always gonna make a continuation bet, no matter how much the flop missed me.

I put out a routine c-bet of $700.  Now, if that doesn’t sound routine to you, you’re right.  And I’ll get back to that bet in a moment.  For now, just know that that was my bet.

The guy announced all-in and put out his stack of chips.

OK, so much for that.  I’m not calling an all-in with just a got shot.  No way.

But I didn’t just insta-fold.  No, I didn’t want to do that.  I wanted to go through the motions of asking for a count and making it look like I was considering calling.  Why?  Well, I figure if I insta-fold there, it makes look obvious that I was just c-betting.  I don’t want to give out that information.  I wanted to make it look like I had a hand I could conceivably call with, and that I was making a thoughtful fold.

Big mistake.  I asked the dealer for a count.  She had just come to the table.  She had a soft voice and an accent.  She was Asian.  That’s actually relevant to the story because I think there was truly a language problem.

As I said, from my seat, I couldn’t tell how much his bet was, I needed the count.  Besides, it was part of the mis-direct (that I wasn’t c-betting with nothing) that I consider the exact size of his bet.

She counted and said, “$1,080.”  That’s what she said, or at least what I heard.  “One thousand, eighty.”

Instead of thinking, “How could it be $1,080?  We aren’t using $5 chips, the bet has to be in multiples of $25,” all I was thinking of was, “That’s only $380 more than my bet, there’s no way I can fold for that.  And I do have outs.  I have overcards and four outs to the nut straight.”

I wanted to be sure.  I said, very clearly, “One thousand, eighty?”  She repeated it, “One thousand, eighty.”  OK, to be extra, extra sure, “One thousand eighty total?  Not one thousand eighty more?”  The answer came back “One thousand, eighty total.”

I said, “Well, I have to call,” and threw out a $500 chip, which more than covered the $380 I needed to call his bet.

He flipped over King-Queen for the flopped straight.  I only had three outs, since he had one of the Queens.

Of course, a Queen never showed up.  When the dealer went for my chips, I was surprised when she asked for more.  The $500 chip should have covered it and I had change coming.  WTF?

Suddenly, when she said, “One thousand eighty” to me, I realized she was saying, “One thousand, eight hundred.”  And I felt very, very sick.

OK, honestly now, have you ever heard a dealer call a bet like that “one thousand, eight hundred”?  Who does that?  Every other dealer on the planet would have said, “Eighteen hundred.”  And it would have been clear to me that it was $1,800 and I would have folded easily.

Did she really say, “one thousand, eighty” or did she say “one thousand, eight hundred”?  I know what I heard, but I’ll allow for the possibility that I misheard it.  Three times.  But I know when I repeated it to her, I said, “One thousand, eighty?” and not “one thousand, eight hundred.”  I would never say, “one thousand, eight hundred.”  Never.  So when she confirmed the number I quoted back to her, she was giving me incorrect information, to be sure.

Note:  I know there’s only a $700 difference between the two amounts.  But when you start with only $3,000 in chips, that’s a huge difference.  I was down to $600.  $1,300 would have given me one move before having to shove.  But $600 did not.

I was sick.  At least it made me forget, very temporarily, about the disturbing text I had just read.

OK, now let’s get back to my flop bet of $700.  I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.  That bet should have been $350-$400, something like that.  My brain was obviously still obsessed with that text.  I was thinking that the pot was $1,000 so that was around a 2/3’s pot bet.  I don’t know where I got $1,000.  My mind was totally distracted.  If I had bet $350, I don’t think I would have any trouble folding even if I did hear “$1,080” instead of $1,800.”  Easy fold.  And if he raised less than a shove, I still easily fold there.  Yikes, that was a bad bet.

And I didn’t even realize it until an hour later, when I finally got around to writing the note about the hand.  When I remembered betting $700, I was sure that had to be wrong, how could I possibly bet that much?  It just then dawned on me that the flop bet was the first mistake I made on the hand, even before mishearing the amount of the shove.

I can’t blame the dealer on that one.  And I can’t blame the dealer anyway, because, you know, I should have been smart enough to know that the bet could not possibly have been any amount that ended with ‘eighty.”  Duh.

Two hands later I was the big blind.  With 1/6 of my stack already in the pot, I was probably shoving with any two cards, but I was happy to see two Broadway cards, Jack-10.  The player UTG raised a normal amount, it folded to me. I shoved, he called and flipped over pocket 5’s.  I was happy about that.  It was a race and I had two live cards.

Until the flop.  There was a 5 on it.  Also a 4 and 6, so I had a shot of going runner runner to get a chop with a straight on the board.  But that didn’t happen, and I was gone, feeling worse than I ever have after busting from a tournament.

I’d like to think that I’m not really a bad enough player that I would have butchered that hand so badly if I hadn’t been distracted by some bad news.  But of course, you’re welcome to think otherwise.

And of course, I wouldn’t have received that bad news at precisely the wrong time if I hadn’t been so diligent about doing my job well—even when I wasn’t on the job, and was supposed to be on my own time, having fun. Even when it was a case of my cleaning up the WSOP's own goof. If I had ignored trying to make the correction for my employer, my phone would have been off, and I would have read the disturbing text during first break.  So it was a series of bad things that led to my distraction.  1. WSOP's initial error on their site.  2. My learning of that error that I had duplicated. 3. My turning on my phone to get it corrected.  4. My still having my phone on so I got that disturbing news at precisely the wrong time.

At least I’m good at my job, cuz I suck at poker.

Now, what does the pic below have to do with this post?  Well, it’s a picture of a big bust, and that aptly describes my WSOP bracelet event experience.

Note:  Just got an update and my family member is doing much better and seems well on the road to recovery.


  1. Hi Rob I think you are being to hard on yourself. Yeah maybe your play was questionable but with the small amount of chips you get on these buy ins even if you play perfect poker you are going to have to suck out on people to go very far. Given your state of mind about the screw up on the times posted and being informed of a sick relative I think what happened is kind of expected. Look we all have the dream of wining but tournaments are tough to go deep. You could have been card dead and blinded off. These things happen. See you on the felt.

    1. Thanks, Ed, I appreciate your comments. I knew the odds were overwhelming that I would make it into the money, but I was sure hoping for a better story than this. Even busting KK vs AA first hand would have been a better story.

      Oh well, I've mostly recovered from it, and writing the post was actually cathartic.

  2. TOO MUCH SHIT GOING ON 4 U TO PLAY POKER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NICE MOTORBOAT BOOBIES THOU. sorry 4 the caps.eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek

  3. Get back on the poker tables as quick as you can so that you can put this behind you (even though I think that you're stressing way too much about it). You still had a long way to go to cash in that field, and you're going to see many more hands. Glad to hear the positive update on your family member too... :)

    1. Thanks, Coach. I played later that night after taking a long break. My mind is better. I still suck at poker, but that's a different story. :)

  4. Maybe I could recommend an article about how to deal with performing badly in your first WSOP event....

    1. You mean this one:

      Yeah, I actually did think about your article at the time.

      It helped

      I was thinking, "I reenacted Grump's first WSOP experience, so maybe there's hope for me."

      But I refuse to move to North Carolina.

      Thanks, Bob.

  5. did u wear sunglasses,Rob??????????

    1. No way. I can barely see as it is, without making thinks artificially darker.

    2. oh ok . i wear a welding mask. NO TELLS HERE.

  6. Now that you've had some time for the sting of screwing up to fade, let's talk about a brutal truth.

    "With a structure like this, I thought the only way to play was to be extremely tight. Sometimes I play looser in tournament situations but this didn’t seem the right time."

    100% wrong. Completely ass-backwards. Fast structures demand ramping up the aggression, not dialing it back. The fact that everybody else at your table was playing their tightest game (as you say in the rest of that paragraph) is all the more reason that you should have been the table maniac. A whole table full of opponents afraid to put chips in the middle means tons of golden opportunities for bluffing and stealing.

    Playing exactly the same way as everybody else means that you're relying solely on luck, not skill, to make you the winner.

    Are you familiar with Arnold Snyder's method for mathematically analyzing a tournament structure, and calibrating your aggression accordingly? It's in his book, "The Poker Tournament Formula." One might quibble with specifics of his recommendations, but his general point is unarguable: the faster the structure, the looser and more aggressive you have to be.

    1. I had a hunch you'd have more to say. I did consider that playing super aggro was a viable alternative.

      Then I remembered your article (and blog post) about how you hated yourself for ending your first WSOP experience prematurely by trying an outrageous bluff. Hmm....maybe that's why you said don't read this article till after you bust out.

      I've heard of Snyder's book but haven't had a chance to read it yet. I'll definitely check it out.

      As always, thanks for your extremely thoughtful and valid advice.