Monday, June 15, 2015

A Colossal Failure (Part 1)

As you probably already know, I played in Colossus a few weeks back, and I finally have a chance to write about it.

Colossus was pretty much guaranteed to be the world’s largest live poker tournament (by the standard of the most entrants) from the minute it was announced.  A $5 Million guaranteed prize pool for a $565 event, held on the first weekend of the WSOP.  Except for the annual Employees only event, a $500 buy-in, this would be the lowest entry fee ever for WSOP bracelet event and the lowest ever for any event open to everyone.

As soon as it was announced, everyone started talking about and I got swept up into the hype.  Knowing there would be a massive tournament, I figured well, I had just as good a shot as anyone.  Now, I don’t mean winning the damn thing.  Let’s not be crazy.  Obviously I had as much chance of winning the bracelet as I have of having Kate Upton, Emily Ratajkowski and Scarlett Johansson show up at my door and offer to take turns giving me lap dances. OK, maybe even less of a chance than that.

But I figured I had as good a chance as anybody of cashing, even if not big.  With such an expected huge field, I figured a lot of lousy-to-mediocre poker players would luck out and finish in the money.  And let’s face it, when you think of lousy-to-mediocre poker players, you think of me.

I actually thought that there would be so many bad players that I might actually be better than the average player.  Not that that would help me get in the money.  I knew with such a large field, luck would play even a greater role than in a normal tournament.  It was pretty much a crapshoot—at least until the field was narrowed down and the good tournament players that had survived were fighting for the top pay spots. 

The thought of playing in what was going to be the world’s largest live tournament was too enticing to pass up. Even if it promised to be a gigantic fustercluck. And of course, no matter what happened, I’d get a blog post out of it.

So before I left town in March, I went ahead and pre-registered.  There were four starting flights (Day 1’s), two each on Friday (5/29) and Saturday (5/30).  The times were announced as 10AM and 6PM.  I opted for one of the 6PM starts as I believe that 10AM way too early to be playing poker.  The evening session sounded more reasonable to me.  Yeah, it would end a bit past 2AM (if I was still alive), but I’ve played that late before.  Sounded a lot better than starting at 10 in the freaking morning.

Then, the day before the event, the WSOP threw me (and everyone else playing) a curve.  They changed the starting time of the evening flights to 7PM.  And they added another level of play to Day 1. The reason for this was based on the play of the first few events, they figured out that not enough people would bust out Day 1 if they only played 10 levels. So they needed to add another level of play to all the Day 1’s so that Day 2, with everyone returning at the same time on Sunday, would have a manageable number of players.
This meant that my starting flight would end at almost 3:30AM.  Ugh.  Not what I was anticipating.

So….I took it real easy the day of the event, tried to take a nap in the afternoon, so I would be as rested as possible.

I got to the Rio a little early and walked around.  The place was totally mobbed.  Not just the WSOP area, the entire hotel/casino.  I walked past the Rio poker room and they were set up for the Colossus, not regular cash games.  The hallway leading to the convention center had poker tables in use for the event.  They even closed down half of the Poker Kitchen, the fast food place that serves the WSOP, to put tables in for the tournament.  I think if they had enough tables and enough dealers, they would have put some out in the parking lot. The closer I got to the convention center, the bigger the mob.  The halls were just packed, as people were still leaving from the 10AM flight and everyone was coming in for the 7PM one.  And the rooms themselves were locked up as they were setting up for the new flight.

Now to give credit where credit is due, the fact that they did in fact get everything set up so our flight could start in time is a minor miracle and I must salute the WSOP staff for doing such a great job under extreme circumstances.

They had some different rules for this event because of the sheer size they were anticipating.  Unlike most bracelet events, this was a re-entry event.  However, you could not re-enter the same flight.  And unlike some multi-flight tournaments, you could not play more than one flight if you still had chips remaining from an earlier flight.  So if you survived Day 1 with just a couple of big blinds, you had to decide right away if you wanted to fire another bullet or if you would take your incredibly slim chances with a really short stack on Day 2

They anticipated that many players would want to take more than one shot at this.  In fact, many folks were prepared to play all four Day 1’s if necessary to make it to Day 2. And because of the demand, they allowed players willing to fire multiple bullets to buy into multiple flights in advance, and if they survived one of the earlier flights and wanted to take that stack forward, they would refund the money.  That meant that after the very first flight, there would be seats sold to the event that wouldn’t be used because the purchasers had already qualified for the next day.

Therefore, they would hold a seat for you for X-amount of time (three levels, I think), before opening it up to someone else who wanted to play.  And since they didn’t know at the outset if a person who wasn’t there at the start was going to show up or not, they did not put their stacks in play if they showed up late.  This is pretty different from any tournament I’d ever played in, but it was the only way to do it under the circumstances.

At my first table, for example, there was an empty seat from the start into the second level.  Finally a player showed up to claim the seat.  Now the action had to stop, because one of the regular WSOP policies is that every player must show the dealer his identification (driver’s license, or passport) before being dealt a hand (in addition to turning in his tournament receipt).

So waiting for the dealer to confirm the new player’s identity took some time off the tournament clock for our table.  Remember, the levels are 40 minutes, whereas for most bracelet events, they are a full hour.  The player explained that he had played in the morning flight, but had busted out late, so he went back to his room to take a little nap.

Frankly, I don’t understand the thought process behind playing multiple flights.  The appeal of the tournament is the huge prize pool (well above the $5MM guarantee) for a relatively low buy-in.  If you are prepared to buy in four times, you’ve turned it into a $2K+ buy-in tournament!  And one that you’d have to survive more land mines than any other event to cash in.  Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to buy into it once and use the rest of that money to buy into a $1,500 event where you’d probably have a better chance of cashing in (just based on the sheer numbers)?

And I guess because of the sheer crowds, they couldn’t do “alternates” the normal way a tournament does, though I’m not sure why.  Instead of adding alternates as players busted, they had several additional “waves” at scheduled times.  All the original seats sold out before the tournament.  Then they sold seats to people who would be seated hours after the tournament started.  These were all at scheduled times, and they somehow knew exactly how many seats they could sell for these second and third waves.  Players would come in with full starting stacks but at the blind levels that were in effect at that time.  Considering the starting stack was only 5K to begin with (with blinds starting at 25/50), this was a pretty bad deal but plenty of people were willing to do it.  This is why I had the sense to register two months before.

In my mind, they still could have entered people one at a time, as people busted out.  But no, they just had scheduled these second and third waves to bring the “alternates” in.  I bring this up because it certainly affected how the tournament played out—for everyone, but especially for me.

In order to accommodate the second and third waves, they started breaking tables almost from the first level. They needed tables asap to set up for those second and third waves.  In an ordinary tournament, they would have just filled those empty seats as players busted with an alternate, but instead, they wanted whole tables available for the next waves.  And they had it all set up in advance which tables they wanted emptied.  So it didn’t matter if one table had lost a lot of players and another table hadn’t lost any.  If that latter table was one they wanted to use for a second wave, they would send all 10 players to another table.  It was kind of weird, honestly.

I guess to best illustrate how this affected the tournament, I’ll talk about my all-too brief tournament life.  I got stuck with the big blind on the very first hand, and looked down at Ace-King offsuit.  There were two limpers, I raised to $250 and both the limpers called.  The flop was Jack high, two hearts.  I c-bet $600 and took it down.  Exciting!  Won the very first pot of Colossus.  Only 154,759 more hands to win and I’d get a bracelet.

I raised to $125 with pocket 8’s, and had four callers.  The flop was 4-3-3, rainbow and I c-bet $500.  One player called.  We checked it down the rest of the way and my 8’s were good.

On the button I opened to $150 with Ace-8 offsuit.  But the big blind made it $525 and I let it go.

I started level 2 with $6,125, the blinds were now 50/100.  Midway through the level I stumbled.  I raised to $250 with pocket 9’s and had one caller.  The flop was 9-6-5, rainbow.  I foolishly checked, deciding to slow play my set.  He checked behind.  The turn was a 7 and I bet $600, he called.  The turn card was an 8.  Damn.  There was a straight on the board, making my set worthless.  I checked and he bet $1,025.  Did he really have a 10 or was he playing the board and trying to steal half the pot?  I felt compelled to call and see.  He showed 10-8 (it was soooooted).  He actually turned the straight and just called then.  Yes, he called my raise with 10-8 suited.

And....that's where I'll leave it for now.  You'll see exactly how the format for late entrants affected my tournament life in the second (and final) chapter which is now posted and can be found here.


  1. The one thing about bringing in those late entrants in "waves" is that they all start the tournament at tables with a level footing. In other words everyone at their starting table will have 5,000 chips. Normally an alternate entering late is likely to land at a table with at least one or two bigger stacks putting them at somewhat of a disadvantage. I'm not sure how I feel about whole tables of late entrants getting to dodge big stacks and playing against players with the same M rating as them. If I registered early like you, I would probably not be too pleased.

    1. Excellent point, Jeff....I hadn't really thought of that. Of course, it could work the other way...they are missing the chance to get a quick double up getting lucky against a big stack trying to push them around, but the odds are way in the other way.

      Of course, all the players coming in on those late waves are so shortstacked they are ALL going to have to take chances from the get-go, so after a shortwhile that would likely straighten itself out.

      Another way to argue is that there are only 50,000 chips at their table to start, whereas they might be a lot more chips at a table they'd be sent to as an alternate.

      All in all, it does add to the element that this is different from your average tournament.

    2. Oh...and Scar Jo and Kate Upton are on my short list of favorites, so good job on the illustrations too!

  2. Haha great article and even a better eye for details! Cool blog!

  3. Hi Rob Great post you really gave the feel of how crazy the atmosphere was. I too wanted to be there but I chickened out. I am so glad I stayed home. I hope and get the courage to come out next year.

    1. Thanks, Ed. Wait to you see the second part, it gets even crazier (for me, anyway). Hope to see you out here one of these days.