Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Aria WPT 500 — The Sardine Tournament

OK, time to resume talking about the tournaments that I played while in Vegas this past trip.  I refer you to the 4-part epistle that started here. In telling that saga, I made it clear that tournaments drive me crazy.  And I said that even after winning over $1K in that tournament.  But I did point out that although, at the end of that day, I felt like I should stop playing them….I didn’t (stop playing tournaments, that is).

About a week later, I returned to the Golden Nugget to play in the $350, $100K guarantee tournament that I mentioned in that earlier post.  Yes, that meant I had to get my ass out of bed early to be downtown for the 11AM start—which I did.  I lasted around 10 levels.  The most notable hand was when I had pocket Kings around the fifth level.  There was a raise and a call in front of me.  I three-bet.  The original raiser four-bet.  I shoved.  He called and had me covered. He turned over pocket Jacks.  I saw a King in the window.  Also nice, the third card on the flop was a King as well.  Tip: flopping quads, especially when you’re all-in, is a good play.  Even I can win with the dreaded hand by flopping quads.  Just to piss my opponent off a little more, he caught a Jack on the river, so his Jacks full lost to my quads.

Alas, that was the high point for me.  I lost most of my chips calling a shove with Ace-King.  The shorter stack had Queen-Jack and of course hit a Queen.  A few hands later, crippled, I shoved Ace-7 off and got called by pocket Jacks.  This time pocket Jacks was the winning hand.

A couple of days I returned downtown for Binion’s $160 tourney. I recognized one of the players at the table as a dealer there.  The funny thing was her shirt.  She had obviously come in expecting to deal, and I guess based on the turnout, was allowed to play instead.  But she must not have had a “normal” shirt to wear.  Dealers can play in the room they work (on or off the clock) but they can’t be in uniform.  Right next to the tournament area at Binion’s there’s a store where the sell cheap t-shirts and jackets, mostly touristy type things that say “Las Vegas” or have Vegasy type designs. The lady dealer must have had to have bought a t-shirt to play—and for whatever reason the one she got said, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  All her fellow employees were cracking up at this, and teasing her mercilessly, because no actual Vegas resident would ever wear such a shirt.  It’s strictly for tourists—first time tourists at that.  Unless she had someone to give it to, she probably burned that shirt when she got home.

At one point, a middle-aged woman was moved to our table directly on the lady dealer’s left.  On the dealer’s right, a gentleman shoved and the action was the new player.   She asked to get a better look, so the dealer/player, who wasn’t in the hand, gave her an estimate of the guy’s stack.  But she insisted the lady dealer move out of the way, and before she could explain further, she actually put her hands on the lady dealer and shoved her back in her chair, explaining that the lady dealer was blocking her view of the guy who had shoved—she wanted to see his face to determine if he was strong or weak.  That bought new meaning to the term “shoving” in poker (and yes, I used that joke at the table).  The lady dealer was surprised but didn’t say anything, although we had a good laugh about it later.  Anyway, the shove didn’t work—she called and lost the hand and was done.

For me, the most notable hand was when I doubled up a few rounds in with set-over-set. My set of Jacks took down a set of 9’s.   Then I made possibly a bad play based on an exposed card.  I had about $37,500 at the level where the blinds were 200/800/1600.  A guy raised to $4,500.  I looked down at the dreaded Kings.  But as the dealer was dealing, he had exposed a King.  Hmm….I probably wouldn’t have shoved there ordinarily, I would have just made a three-bet.  But knowing the odds of me hitting a set if I need to were halved, I decided to shove.  Not sure if my logic there is any good or not.  Anyway, the raiser had a slightly short stack than I did and called with Ace-Queen.  Can you say Ace in the window?  And, for good measure, there was also a Queen on the flop.  I needed to hit my one-outer (or go runner-runner Jack-10) and of course I didn’t. I shoved my few remaining chips with King-9 a bit later and was done.

Suddenly my final weekend in town was approaching and there were a lot of big tournaments coming up right before the Main Event at the WSOP.  Even before I got to town—when I was entering the details on PokerAtlas—I started thinking of playing in the WPT 500 at the Aria.  The buy-in was $565—a little steep for me, though the same price as the Colossus which of course I had played in at the beginning of my trip (see here).  This was an unusual tournament design, the second time they held it at the Aria.  I didn’t play last year, but I did mention last year’s event in the post here. 

Anyway, this was a big tournament with like 10 starting days and a cool $2MM guaranteed prize pool.  In order to win, you actually had to play three days, a full second day to get down to the final table then the final table on the third day.  Some of you may therefore wonder why I would consider playing it, since I complained so much about the Golden Nugget tourney I cashed in being a two-day event.

But there are a lot of differences.  For one thing, Day 2, if I made it, would be a whole day (potentially), not just a final table.  Another thing is that, since I was staying in the Strip area, returning to the Aria for Day 2 would be a lot more convenient than heading downtown.  Not to mention that the potential payoff from a $2MM prize pool (at least) could be a lot more money than anything I could have earned from the $150 Golden Nugget tournament. 

Also, they were paying people off each Day 1.  If you made it to the last 12% (I think) of any particular Day 1, they’d give you something like $800 even if you busted before making it into Day 2.  Plus, if you did make it to Day 2, at the end of Day 1, they would actually give you some prize money after you bagged and tagged (I think it was like $1K, but don’t quote me on that).  So, if I made it to the end of Day 1 with say, just one big blind left, I could take my money and not bother returning the next day to play my one remaining chip, if I wanted to.

Then there was the fact that I’d never played in a WPT event, and I thought it would be kinda cool to do so.

And then I looked at the structure sheet.  It was pretty damn good.  A different “style” of a great structure than the one Sam used at the Golden Nugget.  The antes kicked in at level 3, but what a slow progression of the blinds!  I’d never seen so many levels.  There were 75/150, 150/300, 250/500, 500/1000 levels, etc.  And the first level was 25/50, not 50/100.   The first 8 levels were 30-minutes, then 40-minutes after that (60-minute levels at the final table). The starting stack was $15K.  Since Day 2 was a full day, I didn’t object to such a great structure, I assure you.  And if I was “forced” to come in for just the final table on Day 3, well, even if I were to bust out on the first hand of that day, I’m pretty sure the money would have been more than worth my while.

So, I figured I’d give it a shot.  The tournament started at Noon and I remembered from last year that the last few Day 1’s were total mob scenes.  This was on a Thursday and Day 2 was on Sunday.  It was also the start of the July 4th weekend.  I tried to get there as early as I could and left my temporary headquarters at around 11:15AM.  I got into my car which was like an oven.  Not only was it very hot, there was a ton of humidity in the air (it was unseasonably muggy).  The car never cooled off in the short drive over to the Aria and by the time I parked, I was sweating profusely.

Now, I should mention that whenever I go to the Aria, I never park there.  Parking at the Aria (self-parking, anyway) means driving on the Strip, something that I try never, ever to do if I can possibly help it.  So I park at the Monte Carlo.  The two are connected so that you never have to go outside to get from one to the other.  Actually, it’s probably not really any longer a walk from the Monte Carlo parking structure to the Aria poker room than it is from the MGM parking structure to the MGM poker room. 

I parked before 11:30 and walked at a rapid pace towards the Aria.  I knew there would be a long line to register and I sure didn’t want to be an alternate.  The registration for the tournament was not at the poker cashier as usual but in the Sports Book—more walking.  By the time I took my place in a rather long line to register, I think I had left a trail of sweat all the way back to my car.

I didn’t stop sweating the entire 30 minutes or so I was in line.  There were only three cashiers taking entrants, plus they had everyone sign a TV release (not sure if/when the event is/was being shown).  I finally got my entry ticket a few minutes before Noon, and then raced over to where the tournament was.  I missed all the pre-tournament announcements and probably missed the first hand or two—not bad. I was mainly concerned with not being an alternate.

But I have to say my seating assignment was probably the worst in the entire tournament.  I don’t mean because there were tough players at my table.  No, I mean the actual location of the seat itself.  When the Aria Classic began, they had added a bunch of tables of course across from the actual poker room.  Then I saw that there were bringing a whole slew of additional tables for the final few days of the WPT 500.  I was in one of the newer, newer tables.  And these last added tables were really, really packed in tight.

And unfortunately, I was in seat 5, right in the middle.  Everyone else was seated when I got there, and there was no way I could squeeze in without asking a couple of folks to stand up and let me slide in.  And once seated, my chair was practically jammed up against the dealer’s chair from the table directly behind me. So the dealer would bump into me on occasion, and every half hour when a new dealer pushed in behind me, I was sure to get clobbered. We were packed in like sardines.

Ever since I started playing poker, when I play in a room that doesn’t have a lot of space, where the tables are packed in, I realize that I have an ever-so-slight case of claustrophobia.  It’s not like I get sick, I just find myself real uncomfortable whenever I feel like I don’t have the ability to come and go as I please.  I pretty much knew there was no chance that I’d be able to get up and use the restroom, should the need arise, until the breaks.  That alone made me uncomfortable.

And I was still sweating like the proverbial pig when I took my seat.  It took about three levels, minimum, before I stopped the sweating.

All told, it was probably the most uncomfortable I’d ever been playing poker.  The entire time I was there, I kept praying for them to break the table so I could move anywhere else, it would have had to have been roomier.  But they took registration for 8 damn levels and of course they didn’t break any tables during that time—there was a steady stream of alternates the entire reg period, constantly filling up the empty seat. 

Since I didn’t cash, I’m not going to give a detailed accounting of hands.  So let’s fast forward to the end of level 11. That level had blinds of 200/600/1200 and my stack was around $55K.  Not great but not bad. I seem to recall the average stack was around $44K.  I thought I was playing pretty well and at that point, had never been all-in with a risk of busting out.  My tournament “M” had never gotten below 10.  It was just a few minutes before the end of the level which meant the 1 hour dinner break.  

And I was really looking forward to that break.  Not only was I quite hungry (I had had a very early lunch before heading to the Aria), but I really had to go the restroom.  Before the previous break, I had gotten lucky and was able to sneak out mid-tournament when the player to my right busted—I made a mad dash to the Men’s Room before they filled that seat.  But this time I caught no such break.  There was a time when I was waiting for the button to pass so I could ask the guy on my right to move so I could get out.  Unfortunately, there was a hand where he raised, I three-bet him (with pocket Queens, I think) and he folded.  I thought that asking him to move so I could hit the head would be adding insult to injury, so I just suffered.

When I was able to stop thinking about how badly I needed to pee to think about the poker, I was pretty happy about the way things had gone and was looking forward to a long run after the dinner break.  I was starting to indulge in the fantasy of making it to Day 2, possibly with a decent stack.  There were just one or two hands to be dealt before that dinner break.

And so….I looked down at pocket Aces.  A player in early position opened for $3K.  It folded to me and I made it $9.  The raiser shoved, which was fine by me.  He had a bit over $20K, but I didn’t bother with a count, I of course snap-called. 

He showed pocket Jacks.  And of course, there was a god-damn Jack in the window.  I took a big hit—over $23K.

I was stunned.  Yeah, that’s poker.  But I was thisclose to going into the dinner break with a decent stack.  And if my Aces had held—and I was like a 80/20 favorite—I would have a very nice stack indeed.  Damn it.

Very next hand, which was definitely going to be the last hand before the break, I got Ace-Queen.  I hadn’t had a chance to count or confirm that I was in desperation mode, so when a big stack raised in front of me, I just folded.  One of my motivations was that I didn’t want to stay at the table any longer than I had to because I needed to hit the bathroom so bad.  Anyway, had I shoved and been called, I would have lost to pocket 9’s.  I made a mad dash to the Men’s room on the way to dinner.

This flight of the tournament had over 800 entrants, and there were still quite a few left (I didn’t make a note, but probably at least 200-300, maybe more.  I didn’t want to bother trying to find acceptable food at the Aria (cuz I’d want to use my comps and that would take long and everyplace would be crowded with all the tournament players on break).  So I headed over to the Monte Carlo food court and ate at the world’s most overpriced Subway.  Because it is in a Strip hotel, the once $5 foot longs are like $10.   

So I ordered an overpriced tuna sandwich.  I left my soda at the table and just needed a cup of water to take a pill with after dinner.  So they charged me $10 for the sandwich and I asked for some plain water.  They said they didn’t have any water!  What? Every Subway I’ve ever been to that has a soda jockey (which this one does) has a lever for plain water.  Not this one.  She said I could buy a bottle of water.  For what?  Three bucks?  Are you kidding me?  I told the girl it was probably against the law for them not to make plain water available to their customers.  She said she could give me some tap water and I said fine. 

I was not a happy camper.  I couldn’t get that Aces hand out of my mind.  By this time I’d figured out that with a $31K remaining stack, I basically had one move left.  Find a hand to shove with.  And I was pissed that I had to have an overpriced dinner where I had to beg for water and was likely to return to the tournament long enough to bust out possibly with minutes of the tournament resuming.  Grrr… frustrating.

Back to the tournament for level 12. The blinds were 200/800/1600.  The very first hand back from break, I was on the button with Ace-Queen of clubs.  The big stack raised to $4,500 in front of me.  Since he opened most posts with his big stack, I didn’t put him on a big hand.  I shoved.  Unfortunately, the small blind behind me shoved too. He had me covered. The big stack folded, and the small blind flipped over pocket Kings. They were definitely dreaded to me.

But what a flop.  Jack-10-x, two clubs. I had all kinds of outs.  And sure enough, the turn was a King, giving him a set but me Broadway.  I was one card away from my desperately needed double up.  And then a friggin’ 10 on the river gave him the boat.  I was done. 

I’d had that crappy, overpriced dinner to play one more hand after an hour break. I could have saved myself from the overpriced dinner by shoving the last hand before break! I had sat in that sardine tin all day, doing really well until the second to last hand before dinner where I went in as an 80/20 favorite.  And now I was finished.

Pretty sure there was steam coming out of my ears as I walked to my car.

As I said before, poker tournaments make me crazy.


  1. Ug... rough times. This is why I hate playing tourneys as well - though it won't stop me from playing the $350K guarantee during the Baltimore WSOPC event coming up... At least there's always more predictable cash games :-)

    1. Thanks.

      Not sure how more PREDICTABLE cash games are, same things could have happened in cash. Difference is that tournaments make you play some hands and play some differently than a cash game. Obviously unless I was really short stacked in a cash game (which I'm usually not), I'm not shoving Ace-Queen there!

      But as I keep saying...tournaments make me crazy.

  2. Rob, I'm particularly interested in the hand where you called a shove with AK and villain turned out having QJ. Do you recall how much of your stack you were risking, what your stack was, and what the blinds were at that point. I aske because wouldn't you agree that since tournaments are survival and unless you have reason to believe you had him dominated which the case was you were only a 3 to 2 favorite which means you're going to lose two out of five times, was it not more likely you were facing a coin flip. Do you believe that coin flips should be reserved for a must do situation such as your your stack is relatively low compared to the blinds, or when you are dominating the all in shove in chips where it's not going to hurt your stack or do you believe that part of tournament play is to gamble along the way with coin flips when such a situation presents itself.

    1. OK, so I checked my notes. I had about $18K in chips and the blinds were 100/500/1000. So I had an M below 10. That's about the point where I'm in shove or fold mold. Maybe I start a little earlier than "the book" says, but I've found that works for me.

      I do remember almost shoving instead of just was a close call, especially with AK. It might have been better, QJ may not have called my shove. Or maybe would have anyway. But AK was definitely a hand I was happy to get it all in with there.

      Once I raised I knew I would shove in response to any any raise based on my remaining stack.