Sunday, August 28, 2016

"I'm Feeling Lucky"

Continuing now with my review of the tournaments I played in Vegas during the WSOP.  As I mentioned in the post here, the one tournament that really caught my eye was the daily 1PM at Golden Nugget.  It was a $150 buy-in with a $15K starting stack and 30-minute levels throughout.  There was a guaranteed prize pool of $20K (on most days, anyway).  And with a 45-minute dinner break after 10 levels, it was pretty much the ideal tournament for me.

So my second weekend in town, I had that one penciled in for Saturday.

I got off to a promising start.  Very first hand I was the big blind, and it folded to the small blind who just completed.  I woke up with pocket Queens, so I added $200 to the $50 big blind.  The small blind folded.

I raised to $150 with Jack-10 of hearts.  Only one caller.  The flop was Ace-Ace-x and my c-bet went uncalled.

I opened to $125 with Ace-Jack offsuit and had four callers.  The flop was King-Queen-10, rainbow.  Pretty sweet.  I bet $250 and had three callers.  A low spade hit the turn, it was the second spade on the board.  I bet $700 and only one called.  The river was a red 5 and I bet $1,500, he called.  He showed only a King after I showed my straight.

That got me to level 2 (50/100) with almost $19K.  From the button I called $250 with King-Queen of hearts.  The small blind made it $1,200 and the big blind called.  The original raiser folded, as did I.  The flop came Ace-high and it was checked down on every street.  Really?  The river paired the Ace but on the turn I would have had Broadway.  The three-bettor took the pot with pocket Queens.

Skipping ahead to level 5 (25/150/300), I was at $18.5K.  After a limper I raised to $1,050 with Queen-Jack, two callers.  The flop was King-Jack-9.  I bet $1,600.  The first player called and then the other guy shoved for $12,000.  I tanked.  The player who had called my bet had me covered, I had to consider that she might shove behind me if I called.  Even if she folded, I’d be crippled if I called and lost.  I did have a pretty good hand though, a pair and a gut-shot.  At the time, I decided it was still too early in the tournament to take that kind of risk, and if I folded I still had a decent stack to work with.  So I folded as did the lady.  The guy didn’t show, but he told us he had a set.  Afterwards, and the next morning when I was reviewing my notes, I wondered if that was my big mistake of the tournament.  Maybe that was exactly the kind of chance I should have been taking in order to try to win a big pile of chips.  But I do tend to believe that he had a set (mostly like of 9’s).

Or maybe the mistake was on this next hand.  I opened to $800 with Ace-King.  That lady made it $2,600.  She still had me covered.  I folded, thinking it was too soon to risk it with Ace-King.  Reading it over now, I hate my fold there.  Especially since she was called and the dealer put out a King-high flop.  She won it there with a c-bet so I never found what she had.

I raised, c-bet, then folded to a reraise a couple of more hands.

That got me to level 7 (75/300/600) with $10,200, basically shove-or-fold territory.  So when I had Ace-Jack, I open shoved with it.  A big stack called me with pocket 10’s.  The only face card that hit was a King and my tournament was over.

I had busted before the end of registration and I didn’t stick around to see the final numbers.  But by then they had over 200 players and were well beyond the $20K guarantee in prize pool money.

On my way out, I had a nice chat with Andy, the manager of the Golden Nugget poker room.  He’s a good guy.  Anyway, he mentioned he was expecting a really big turnout for this same tournament the next day (Sunday).  This was Monster stack weekend over at the WSOP and he figured a lot of the players who were in town for that but had busted would be looking for a good tournament to play, and this one at the Nugget would be a good option for them.  He anticipated over 400 players, which would make for a huge prize pool.

Up until then, my plan had been to take it relatively easy on that Sunday, and play in the first flight of the WPT 500 at the Aria on Monday.  But I started thinking this tournament at the Golden Nugget might be too good to pass up.  A prize pool of over $40K for a $150 buy-in.  And the way the schedule worked out, it was going to be my last opportunity to play this tournament with a big guarantee.

So I changed my plans a bit.  I would return to Golden Nugget the next day.  If I had a nice run at the tournament, I would take it easy Monday and play the WPT 500 on Tuesday instead.  If I had another early bust-out, I’d still be able to make to Aria on Monday.  Since the Aria tourney started at the ungodly hour of 10AM, there was no way I would try for Monday if the Nugget tournament kept me out too late.  I figured if I made it through the dinner break, I’d skip Monday and hit Aria on Tuesday. 

There was one nice benefit from busting out of the tourney early, as it turned out.  I ended up playing at MGM that evening, and that was the night I found myself playing with the beautiful, delightful Anna Khait, a story told here.  Not a bad consolation prize by any measure.

So the next day, Sunday, I returned to Golden Nugget to try again.  Actually, you’ve already read about the most “heated” incident from this day.  This was the tournament where the young punk accused me of “rubbing it in” when I complained about not seeing his hand after I won an all-in pot from him (see here).

So let’s pick up the tournament after that hand, which got me to about $20K at the beginning of level 5 (25/150/300) and kept me from a really early demise.

I plodded along, treading water until level 7 ($19K, 75/300/600) when I saw the dreaded pocket Kings.  I opened to $1,500 and had one call.  The flop was Queen-9-x.  I bet $2,200 and the guy shoved.  He had a similar stack to mine.  I called.  He showed Queen-8 offsuit.  It scared me for a second because I thought it was Queen-9.  But no, my dreaded Kings held.  It was a full double up, he had just a few chips left.

Last hand of the level I raised with King-Jack of diamonds and was only called by a short stack who didn’t have enough to cover my raise.  He had garbage and King high was good enough to take the pot.

Next level a guy opened to $2,200 and I shoved with Ace-Queen.  He tanked for a long time.  He finally said, “I guess you have something like Ace-King?” And then he folded. I saw him on break and he told me had a pocket pair but it was too small to call with.

That particular player, a young Asian fellow, was the most aggro player at our table.  He called a raise from me with pocket 10’s, and then called a flop bet on a 9-8-5 board.  The turn was a 2.  I really didn’t think I could bet again without shoving, so I checked.  The river was a 4. We both checked.  He showed 8-4 to take the pot.  Yuck.  I said, “nice catch.”  He answered, “nice check.”  Well, I guess he was right.  I should have shoved that flop with the overpair. He had me covered so if I had done that and lost, I’d be through and that figured into my thinking.

By level 10 (200/800/1600) I was once again desperate with only $22,600.  And I went almost the whole level just sitting there waiting for a hand or a spot where I could make my move.  It didn’t come….until the very last hand of the level.

Level 10 is important because it was after this level that the 45-minute dinner break took place.  Yeah, it was kind of an odd format—the breaks were every four levels but they stuck an extra break in there after only two levels back from the last break to give us the dinner break.  It was 6:30PM.  I think they could have waited to 7:30PM for the dinner break but they didn’t ask me.

As I’ve made clear, I really appreciate having dinner breaks. That said, there is kind of a downside to them.  You often get in that situation when you’re just hanging by a thread and that dinner break hits.  Then you take the long break (30 mins, 45 mins, 60 mins, whatever is), only to come back to the short stack, and if you don’t get lucky you’re out of the tournament 10 minutes after it resumed.  And then you’re pissed that you wasted all that time on the break—and rushed through a crappy dinner—for absolutely nothing.  And you wished you’d just busted before the dinner break instead.

Well, as we got down to the last few hands, I was thinking of that.  I was semi-tempted to just shove with any ol’ garbage hand just to avoid having to rush through a meal downtown.  But I never, ever play that way. Nope, as long as I’m alive, I play to win.  I’m never going to try to bust out of a tournament, even one where it looks hopeless, as this one did.

But I suppose it being the last hand before dinner may have affected how I played this one.  A guy opened the pot (I didn’t note how much but it seemed reasonable) and another guy called.  The preflop raiser had been pretty aggressive, I didn’t necessarily put him on a big hand.  I looked down at Ace-Jack, the best hand I’d seen by far in maybe an hour.  I figured if the caller could beat Ace-Jack he would have raised the aggro.  So I shoved.  Now, against a raise and a call, it’s probably a questionable call, going all-in there.  But as I said, it had been a long time since I’d seen a hand this good (or even close to it).  And yeah, maybe the thought that if I busted there it wouldn’t be the worst thing, maybe that had some effect on my thinking.

So I shoved.  The guy who opened the pot snap-called, but the other guy folded.  Turned out that the raiser had pocket Queens, so I was definitely a dog there.  But the card in the window was an Ace.  The rest of board blanked.  I had my double up.

This hand started just before the break hit, our table was the last to finish, so I got a late start to my dinner break.  I practically jogged to the Plaza, where there is a Subway in the food court.  Fortunately it wasn’t too crowded.  It was, however, expensive.  Subways located in casinos are about 25-35% more expensive than ones located in your average strip mall, in case you didn’t know.  But at least I was able to get the sandwich made (by the Sandwich “artist”) and consumed in time to get back to the table for the tournament to resume.  But just barely.

When I got back to my table just as the tournament was resuming, they were breaking my table.  They stopped the clock to get us all settled in.  So instead of sitting down to catch my breath, I had to rack up my chips, gather all my stuff, and find my new table.

They had 412 players, and I think by the time the tournament resumed we were down to approx 150.  They were paying 45 so there was still a long way to go to get to the money.  But the players had been busting out really fast the last two levels before the dinner break as the blinds were increasing faster and faster.

I took about $40K to the new table, with blinds 300/1000/2000.  The very first hand, I found myself looking at a couple of Jacks, under-the-gun.  I raised to $5,500.  It folded to a guy who took a long time in the tank.  He was clearly in agony over the decision.  He had about half the stack I had.  Finally, he announced “all-in.”  It folded to the woman on my immediate right, who also took some time, but ultimately folded.  Her stack was something like $45-$50K.

What to do, what to do?  It’s so bad when you’re in a spot like this at a brand new (for you) table.  I had no idea what to make of the guy’s shove, I had no idea how he played.  Was he maniac?  Was he a nit?  Had he been shoving a lot?  Did he just lose a big pot to be where he was, or had he just doubled up his really short-stack. I had no idea.  But unless he was Hollywooding, it was pretty clear he didn’t have Aces or Kings.  And with his stack, he probably didn’t have Ace-King either, although, that’s more speculative, he could be afraid to risk it all with Ace-King.

I decided to call.  I figured it was probably a race, and I knew I had to win some races to get to the money.  My biggest fear was that he had pocket Queens.  But he flipped his cards and he only had one Queen.  The other card was an Ace.  OK, it was a coin flip, slight edge to me.

There were two face cards on the flop, both Kings.  The third card was a blank.  But he got the damn Queen he needed on the turn.  I didn’t pull off the miracle on the river.  I was down to $17K.

That woman on my right started whining and bitching something awful.  “I had Ace-King.  I never win with Ace-King.  I shouldn’t have folded.”  She wasn’t the only one upset.  So was I.  She probably calls his shove easily if I wasn’t around, but losing to me would have crippled her.  And she knew that if she just called, I’d likely shove if I didn’t fold.  More likely, she would have shoved if she didn’t fold.

Now if she had shoved, I almost definitely fold.  I wouldn’t think my Jacks are good there against two all-ins.  Not sure how I would have played it if she just called.  But if she had shoved, I would have saved a lot of chips.

My stack was super short.  And I was the big blind looking down at Ace-9 off.  It folded to the button, an older Asian man who had the most or second most chips at the table.  He opened the pot to $5,800.  The lady who was still pissed at folding Ace-King the hand before folded.

My situation made a shove pretty much inevitable with almost any hand, I was a pretty lucky to get such a relatively good hand to do it with.  And the Asian’s button raise smelled of a play to steal the blinds and antes. And again, I had no idea how this guy played or how he had gotten all those chips.  I shoved and the Asian man stared at me for a long while and I swear I thought he was gonna say, “I’ll let you have it.”  But nope, what he said was, “You know, I’m feeling lucky.”  And he called.  I flipped over my hand and he said, “Oh, you’re way ahead,” and showed his hand: Queen-7.  Offsuit.

He flopped a gutshot but he didn’t hit it.  Instead he caught a Queen on the river to end my tournament.  Don’t you just love it?

So I had lasted through the dinner break, ran to get an overpriced Subway sandwich for dinner, only to last exactly two hands after the tournament resumed. 

That was annoying but what was even more annoying was when I finally had a chance to study the prize pool distribution.  As I said, 412 entrants.  They were paying 45.  First place was over $10K, second was $6,300. Then $4,600, $3,400 and $2,500.

How do they come with these amounts?  Does first place really need to be $4K more than second?  That seems crazy on its face.  Talk about top-heavy!  Absurd. 

Note:  I’m not necessarily opposed to all things that are top-heavy.  See the pic below, for example.

And the dreaded min-cash?  Why the last nine finishers took home a whopping $210 each for their efforts.

Seriously?  It cost $150 to enter, and they get their buy-in buck plus a lousy $60 profit?  How the hell does that make any sense?  Must have taken a good 8-10 hours to break the bubble (educated guess).  For sixty bucks?  I just don’t get it.

Of course you know I’ve been advocating for the min-cash on a tournament this size to be at least double the buy-in (see here, if you need a reminder).  This payout structure seemed even worse than most.

So, as I frequently wonder when I get pissed off at this, why do I keep playing tournaments?  It’s a good question.  Well, for one thing, it’s still the best way to make a big score in a poker game, if you do get well past the min-cash and last into the final table—and then maybe make a deal.

By the way, I looked it up and in this tournament a deal or two was definitely made.  The actual result was that the top three finishers each went home with almost $5K each (exact same amount).   And the next five all took the same amount nearly $3,400.  Which meant that that the 9th place finisher didn’t even get $1K out of a $46K prize pool.  He took home $968.  Just doesn’t seem like enough for the time invested, the total prize pool, the number of players.  Am I crazy?

And the other reason I continue to play tournaments is, I still think, rightly or wrongly, that I’m a better tournament player than a cash game player.  

The sad fact is, as bad as I felt this prize pool distribution was, it wasn’t really that much worse than others I’ve seen.  So yeah, I came back and played this tourney again before leaving town.  A story to be told later.


  1. The AK fold to a 3 bet may have been correct, it all depends on your effective stack sizes and what kind of player she is, and what kind of player called her 3 bet.

    The 1010 hand, why didn't you shove on the turn? Turn was a blank, perfect time to go all in.

    AJ shove before break was a good play given your stack size, and aggressive players often will try raise and take the last pot before break. Most of the time your AJ is good here.

    JJ and A9, no questions you made the right moves. Just unlucky there.

    1. Thanks, Pokerdogg. On the AK fold,the lady who 3-bet was a solid player with a big stack and based on her play, I doubt she was 3-betting with a huge range against me. Very possible would have been a race there but certainly AA & KK are a huge part of her range in that spot, at least that's what I thought at the time. I said I hated my fold but I go back and forth on that one every time I have reason to think about it.

      The 10/10 hand...tough one. The guy I was against was a tough player and I couldn't get myself to put my stack in play against him without a stronger hand. Definitely a misplay on my part.

      Yeah, the last two hands, that's just poker. I mean, you would love to get called by Queen-7 when you hold Ace-9 every time. Most of the time I'd be writing about how I got my double up and then gone on to describe the rest of my tournament. But that's poker.

  2. "Skipping ahead to level 5 (25/150/300), I was at $18.5K. After a limper I raised to $1,050 with Queen-Jack, two callers. The flop was King-Jack-9. I bet $1,600. The first player called and then the other guy shoved for $1,200. I tanked."

    Am I missing something, you folded instead of calling $400 more in a $9k pot?

    1. Typo. $12,000. Thanks for catching that. I'm always impressed when I find out people read my posts so carefully!

      Its been corrected.

    2. I read it carefully because I put myself in your shoes and try to figure out how I would have played the hand!

  3. With a $46K prize pool most tournaments pay 50% of the prize pool to the top two places where first is 30% of the prize pool and second is 20%. With first and seconded combined to $16,200 that is actually $7K south of 50% of the prize pool going to the top two places. So I agree the $60 profit for the bottom 9 to cash is ridiculous.

    1. Are you sure about that Lester? I can't think of any multi table tournaments that pay 50% to top two. I can see that in a 2 or 3 tables tourny, but not in a 400 players tournament.

    2. I have seen it in tournaments up to 100 players. A different model may be applied to 200 to 400 players. I remember my second place finish in a 102 player field with a $100 buy-in was just a hair over $2K and the winner got $3K.

    3. Yeah, not sure about this. I do get some structure sheets that show the payout schedule, I'll try to find a few and see if they explain it.

      Thanks, Guys

  4. Tournament prize pool distributions are indeed ridiculous. And don't seem to be getting any better. Unless you are among the top 1-2% of players skill-wise, tournaments are -EV all day long. 85-90% of the time you will finish out of the money. Most of the time you finish in the money, it is such a pathetic return it cannot come close to making up the cumulative buy-ins.

    1. Thanks, David. I guess you're right....pushing more and more to swearing off tourneys.

  5. You might want to consider picking an open raise size at each level, and using that consistently, while perhaps adding a bb for each limper. By varying your raise size, you are spewing information to opponents who are paying attention

    1. Thanks...but that's exactly what I do now. At least in cash games in and tournaments when I have a good working stack. I might adjust it when I'm bordering on short-stackedness and don't really want a call but am not quite ready to open shove. But I don't really adjust for the strength of my hand.

      But if I ever did, it would likely be to raise LESS with AA or KK, not more.