Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Boxing Day Tournament

Getting back to my December Vegas trip—you didn’t think I was finished with that yet, did you?  We’re now on the day after Christmas and I played the Aria $125 tournament.

Recall that at the beginning of 2016, the Aria changed their tournaments.  On Fridays and Saturdays they replaced the 1PM $125 with an 11AM $240.  That doesn’t really work for me.  It’s not the buy-in, it’s the time.  Just too damn early for me to make it work.  I’ll only rearrange my entire life to play that early for a really special tournament.  Maybe one of these days I’ll decide it’s important enough to do what I have to do to play in that 11AM tourney, but I wouldn’t count on it.

For awhile I was thinking, well, I’ll just change it up, and instead of reserving my Saturdays in Vegas to play in the Aria tournament, I’ll play on Sunday.  And then, wouldn’t you know it, while I was home in L.A., recovering from my open-heart surgery, I got word from the Aria that they were changing the daytime tournament on Sundays to 11AM for $240 too.  Is my luck good or what?

Well there are still four days of the week when the tournament starts at 1PM, so I’ll have to play one (or more) of those days, right?  Of course, when I’m in Vegas, it’s not a vacation.  During the week, I’m supposed to work during the day.  Well, I think you can count on me playing hooky at least one weekday per trip so I can play the Aria tournament. 

But as I said, this particular day was the Monday after Christmas, and since Christmas was on a Sunday, the Monday I played at Aria was a National Holiday anyway.  So I didn’t even have to take a day off work to play.  And besides, in many English-speaking countries, December 26 is a National Holiday anyway—Boxing Day.

I was surprised there were only 67 players when the tournament started.  The first dealer was guessing they’d end up with around 90 players. I thought that was off, I was sure it would be closer to 110-120.  I was right.  It ended up having 123 runners.  The total prize pool was just a tick under $12K.  They were paying the top 13, with first place being $3,760 and $2,207 for second.  Gee that seems like much too big a difference between first and second doesn’t it?  Why so much?  Third was $1,408, a big drop from second.  That was the last four-digit payout (4th was $984).  Have I complained about the top-heavy nature of these tournament payout structures before?  Anyway, the min-cash was $262, and the last three players would get that.  At least the min-cash was better that double the buy-in, which I always lobby for (to no avail).

We’ll start at level 5, where the blinds were 25/200/400. I had managed to chip up a bit to $14,400 from the original starting stack of $10K.  I was the big blind first hand of the level with Queen-9 of diamonds.  There was a raise to $850 and two callers.  So I called as well.  The flop was Queen-high, one diamond.  The preflop raiser checked after I did, but the next player bet $1,200.  I called and we were heads up.  There was another diamond on the turn and after I checked, he bet $3K, which I called.  I caught the flush on the river.  I led out for $5K but he didn’t call.

I called $1,200 with pocket Queens and we were heads up.  It was a low flop and he checked. I bet $1,500 and he folded.

That got me to $23K.  I raised to $1K with Ace-King and had three callers.  The flop was King-high.  I bet $3K and took it.

I was riding high and then a brain-fart cost me a bunch of chips.  I was on the button with Ace-8 off.  There was just one limper when it got to me, a tough player from New Zealand.  I made it $1,300, he called and it was heads up.  The flop was Ace-Jack-9.  He donked out $1K and I raised to $2,500.  He called.  The turn was a Queen and we both checked.  The river was a 10 giving me the bottom end of the straight. He checked.  Now normally in that spot, 100% of the time I’m checking behind.  But for some reason this time I decided to try to get some value for my hand.  I dunno what I was thinking because I knew a King would make a higher straight than mine.  But I thought his checking was a sign of weakness and he might call me with two pair or something like that.  I bet $4K. He instantly shoved.  He had me covered.

I did consider that his shove was an overbet and perhaps evidence of a bluff.  He didn’t have that much more than me and a loss if I called would have crippled him.  And my tournament life was at stake, and I’d still have a workable stack if I let it go.  So I folded.  I have no idea if it was good fold or not.  But I will say, writing up this hand just now, it felt like I misplayed every street on that hand.

Level 6 (50/300/600) $15K.  I raised to $1,500 with Ace-Queen of spades.  Only the New Zealander called.  The flop was 10-10-x, two spades.  I bet $2,200 and took it. 

Then I called $1,200 with pocket 6’s but had to fold to a shove.

In the big blind with Queen-6 off, no one raised and four of us saw a Queen-high flop.  I led out for $1,800 and no one called.

Now my notes don’t quite add up because they say I reached level 7 (75/400/800) with $28K. That’s not reflected in my notes, I must have left off a hand or two where I won some chips.  And/or my chip count was wrong.

In the small blind with pocket Jacks, there was one limper in front of me so I made it $2,800.  The big blind shoved $5,900 and it folded back to me.  I called.  He had pocket 9’s and my Jacks held.

I called $2,600 with pocket 9’s, we were heads up.  The flop was King-Jack-4.  After he checked, I decided to take a stab at it and put out $3,500.  He folded.

I completed when it checked to me in the small blind with Jack-9, the big blind checked. We both checked a King-high flop.  So after a blank turn, I bet $1,200 and took it.

I opened to $2K in late position with pocket Queens and took it without a fight.

Level 8 (100/600/1200) $32K.  It folded to me in the small blind with 9-6.  I added $3K to my blind and took it.  Next hand it folded to me on the button with King-Queen.  I made it $3K but had to fold when the big blind shoved.

Level 9 (200/800/1600) $28K. In the big blind I got a walk with Queen-Jack off. 

I opened to $4K from the button with 7-5 off but folded to a big shove from one of the blinds.

I open shoved with King-Queen and took it.

Level 10 (300/1000/200) $23,800.  We got down to three tables and I moved to a new table.
I open shoved with Queen-10 of spades and took it.

Then I open shoved approximately $22K with Ace-Jack of diamonds.  A female player called with Ace-Queen off.  There was a lovely Jack in the window and my pair of Jacks held for a timely double up.

I opened to $5,500 with Ace-Queen of diamonds.  One call.  The flop was Jack-5-5.  I shoved, with zilch, but there was no call.

Level 11 (400/1500/3000) $46K.  First hand I shoved under-the-gun with Ace-King and took the pot.  Didn’t note another hand that level.

Level 12 (500/2000/4000) $40K.  I open shoved Ace-Queen and didn’t get a call. 

We were now down to 15 players.  Remember, they were paying 13.  I had Ace-Jack off.  With my chip situation, that’s an easy shove.  But two from the money.  I think I my inclination would be to fold it there.  However….I had been so card dead, and had so few opportunities to play hands, I decided to take a chance and shove with it.  I got called by a much bigger stack—with Ace-King.  Gulp.  No Jack on the flop, but no King either.  There was a Queen and a 9 and a low card.  Then a 10 and I realized I needed a King for the straight. But instead of a King, it was an 8.  I thought I was done.  But the dealer announced a Queen-high straight—and it was mine.  I dunno how I missed that.  I guess it happened fast, and my mind was already starting to fill up with thoughts about what I was going to do after busting out so close to the money. Anyway, it was a much needed double up.

We lost a player and so we were on the bubble and thus hand-for-hand.  I was waiting for someone to suggest paying the bubble so we could forgo the sheer torture of playing hand-for-hand.  No one did for awhile, so finally I spoke up.  Nobody paid any attention to me (I’m used to that).  Although I wanted some money for my time, yes (it was now 6-6-1/2 hours of time invested), I mostly wanted to not play hand-for-hand. Finally somebody else suggested it and a guy at my table said no way.  “I don’t mind making a deal when it’s down to three players, but I don’t like paying the bubble.”

 So we carried on.  Now, the reason not to pay the bubble is so folks with big stacks can bully the table and chip up while everyone with a short stack is afraid to bust.  But at least at our table that wasn’t happening.  The big stacks were behaving themselves and thus no one was busting.

I got pocket Queens and shoved….no one called. 

That got us to level 13 (500/3000/6000) and we were still on the bubble. I had $88K.  In the big blind, I called $15K with pocket 10’s.  That was dumb.  I should have either folded or three-bet.  But I was trying to have it both ways.  There was an Ace on the flop and I check/folded.

Then I had pocket Queens again.  A guy raised, and the guy on my right, the fellow from New Zealand, three-bet.  He was a solid player with a huge stack, and I really didn’t think he was three-betting light.  Not there.  Now, if he had just opened the pot, I would have thought his range was pretty wide and probably shoved.  But I couldn’t four-bet shove with Queens on the bubble.  I folded, the original raiser folded and the guy showed two Aces as he took in the pot. Whether I played that too nitty or not, in real life it turned out to be a good fold.

It folded to me on the button with Ace-Jack.  I couldn’t see not shoving there, so I did.  No call.

Then I got pocket Jacks.  I open shoved.  But I got a call and the player showed the dreaded pocket Kings.  One of us was sure to dread them after the hand, and it was me.  No miracle Jack to save me.  Fortunately, his stack was shorter than mine.  It left me with but $32K.  BTW, this was the same guy who I sucked out on when I was all in for my tournament life with Ace-Jack against his Ace-King.  Payback’s a bitch.

The bubble finally broke just as we were about to go on break.  The entire level (and then some) had been hand-for-hand.  I honestly don’t know why it’s ok to subject poker players to hand-for-hand when the Geneva Convention would never allow terrorists to be subjected to it to find out where the bomb is going to go off.

Coming back to level 14 (1000/4000/8000), I was now down to a pathetic $20K.  I think I had played an orbit or so trying to find a hand to shove with, but my cards were so bad.  UTG I had 7-deuce.  Maybe I should have shoved anyway.  Because the first time the big blind came around, when I posted my $1K ante and my $8K BB, I had only $4K left.  I knew I was going all in that hand.  The trouble was, as soon as the bubble broke, there was a raise every hand; I never had a chance to open a pot with my shove.  Until UTG when I couldn’t bring myself to shove 7-2.  At that point, my stack was so short that anybody would call me, the big blind if no one else, and I didn’t want to invite that with such a nightmarish hand.

Anyway, this was it and it actually folded to the small blind, the guy from New Zealand with a lot of chips.  He said, “I’m gonna raise…what’s the minimum raise?”  Huh?  All of a sudden this guy had a brain-fart?  He could see my stack.  Any raise he made would put me all in (if I called).  It didn’t matter if he made the min-raise or shoved.  But he was trying to figure out the right raise!  I actually said to him, “It doesn’t matter, just go all-in.”  I’m not sure if that’s ok to say or not, but the dealer didn’t say anything.  Maybe the guy didn’t realize there was no one else in the hand but me?  Anyway, I was practically telling him what surely everyone at the table knew—I was going to go all in no matter what.

So he finally said he was raising to whatever (I didn’t care) and I announced all-in which was the only way I could stay in the hand.  Oh, did I mention I got lucky and actually had Ace-7 off?  That was a monster in my situation.  But this time, I would have called if I had 7-2, no choice.  He turned over a measly 8-5 offsuit.  So I was in pretty good shape I thought.  Yeah we both had live cards, but if we both missed I’d win and if an Ace hit I’d be hard to beat.  And since it folded around to the small blind, there was a good chance there was nobody folded an Ace and all three of them were in play.

But no, of course he caught a damn 5 on the flop and I was done.  I actually finished 12th, and had to settle for that $262 min-cash.  I played 7-1/2 hours.  At least I got more than double my buy-in back.


  1. Enjoyed the tournament summary and well done on surviving the bubble.

  2. This ends up being a structure that my previously stated 50% of the prize pool goes to the top two spots math actually works out. Rounding up to an even $12k first gets 31.3% and second gets 18.4% to account for 49.7% of a $12k prize pool. My previous speculation involved 30% to first and 20% to second. You would have needed more blessings from Lady Luck than you received to finish higher than the min-cash that you received considering your level of card deadness. But booking a win be it large or small is still booking a win!

    1. Thanks for the payscale analysis, Lester. Interesting.

      And yeah, a win's a win.

  3. Great tourney summary, Rob. Thanks for posting it.

    I did have a question about the following hand (You didn't provide a lot of details, but what was the rationale for calling with QQ in this spot, rather than raising?):

    "I called $1,200 with pocket Queens and we were heads up. It was a low flop and he checked. I bet $1,500 and he folded."


    1. Thanks, s.i.

      Yeah when I was writing that, I thought I may bet some questions about that line. I can't remember for sure, and I didn't explain it to myself in my voice notes.

      I will say at that point in the tournament, and with a decent (but not huge) chipstack, I'm not automatically three-betting Queens, but I would certainly strongly consider it. It might be that there was a specific reason based on who raised. Sorry I can't give you a better answer.

  4. After reading posts like this, I truly realize that I'm more of a recreational player. Rob, feel free to not answer this but I have to ask...how do you take notes like this? Do you whisper into your phone at your seat? Do you step away from the table?

    1. I used to have a small notebook that fits in a shirt pocket that I would put my notes into between hands. But nowadays I just type into my phone. I just open up a blank email in Gmail and keep adding to it to record any memorable hands.

    2. John, I just realized that maybe you were confused by references to my voice recordings when I do a hand history post, particularly a tournament summary.

      I don't do voice recordings at the table, just the typed notes. Later, usually the next morning, I do a voice recording summarizing the entire day, including the hands I made notes about, while they're still relatively fresh in my mind. My voice notes the next day will be able to expand on the quick notes at the table, perhaps describe colorful characters at the game, and explain my thought process about my decision making (if I can remember).

      There have a very few times that I've made a voice recording about a particularly memorable hand (usually a bad on) on the way out of the casino after a session. but that is not the norm.

      And one time I recall that, driving back to my hotel, I immediately did voice notes on a particularly interesting hooker sighting so I wouldn't forget any of the juicy details.