Friday, May 11, 2018

It Was Like Pulling Teeth

(First of Two Parts)

Poker Tournaments are like women.  Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

I have such mixed feelings about tournaments.  There's something really exciting about them. They can really get your juices flowing.  And of course, there's that chance, however great or remote, that you can make a really big score in them, much bigger than you can in a cash game.  But then, as they drag on, they can wear on you, they can make you a little (or a lot) crazy, even a little bored.  And then there's that moment when they post the prize pool and you realize (or at least I do) that cashing in it is going to be at least partially disappointing unless you finish in the top 3.  For sure the dreaded min-cash is going to make you think, "I played X hours of poker for this?"

I realized how much I missed playing a tournament as I was sitting at the table waiting for the first hand to be dealt.  It had been too long since I played tournament poker.  Christmas Day of last year, to be exact.  The problem is I haven't been to Vegas since then, and there are really no good regular tournaments in L.A.—good as I define it anyway.

So when I saw that Commerce was running a tournament series in late April/early May, I checked out the schedule to see if there was anything that caught my eye.  And one did. It was a $240 "Double Stack" tourney with a sweet $200K guarantee.  The event had five starting flights, Tuesday through Saturday, with a day 2 on Sunday.  Each starting flight would reach the money before finishing.  One in eight players would get paid, and the top 8% would advance to day 2.  So by playing on Saturday, the final starting flight, I'd confine all my poker to the weekend, which is what I wanted.  Of course I knew with this format, that the min-cash for those that made the money on day 1 but didn't advance to day 2 would be extremely min , but I was resigned to that.  I figured that with this set-up, with these numbers, the day 2 min-cash would almost certainly be more than double the $240 buy-in.  As I've mentioned numerous times before, I think in a tournament of any reasonable size, the min-cashers should get back at least twice what they paid to enter (so that it's at least an even-money bet, like a bet at the blackjack table or the pass line at a Craps table).

The one drawback for this tourney was that the levels were only 20-minutes.  I've gotten spoiled because usually in Vegas I play tourneys with 30-minutes (or even 40-minute) levels.  I played a tourney with 20-minute levels at Commerce about a year and a half ago (see here) and really noticed the difference with the shorter levels. But there was no other decent alternative—it was either play in this tournament or wait until next month when I'm in Vegas.  And you know, I thought I could use the practice, having played nothing but 1/2 all year. 

Besides, the tournament was using the "Big Blind Ante" format (see here).  And since the main benefit of using that format is getting more hands dealt per level, I was hoping that would mitigate the shorter levels to some degree.  In reality, it didn't seem to help much.  As the tourney wore on, the amount of time players spent tanking, and then with all the delays for the dealer to count stacks and pay off bets made the number of hands per orbit not particularly player friendly (I do imagine it would have been worse with the standard ante).

By the way, Commerce is now using the big blind ante for all its NLH tournaments.   Matt Savage, the TD there (as well as TD for the WPT) was reluctant to use it at first, but he gave it a try in a few events and got near unanimous positive feedback. As I've said previously, it will become the industry standard in the very near future.

All that said, I almost didn't play the tournament.  On Thursday, I had an appointment to finally get a tooth pulled that has been bothering me on and off for some time.  I assumed that I wouldn’t be feeling well enough two days later to want to play poker.  But in fact, although I couldn’t eat normally, I felt pretty good the next day, and when I felt even a little better Saturday morning, I thought I could take a chance and head down to the tournament.  BTW, I didn't have general anesthesia for the tooth extraction, just a local. I was awake the whole time and didn't feel a thing.  Piece of cake.

The starting stack was $15K and the starting blinds were 25/50, which was interesting.  The Aria $240 weekend tournament where I first encountered the big blind ante (and where it originated) starts with the ante right away, and starts the blinds at 100/100/100.  But this tourney had more of a traditional early blind format, with the ante not kicking in until level 4. And like the Aria, sometimes the big blind is not double the small blind.  Sometimes it's only 1-1/2 times the small blind.  You'll see as I describe the hands…..

Second hand of the tournament I called $100 with Ace-2 of hearts.  It was heads-up.  The flop was Ace-high and the preflop raiser put out $175. I intended to call.  Now, this was only the third time I'd ever played a tournament at Commerce and I wasn't familiar with the chips.  I saw a stack of chips that had the number "1" in front of some zeros.  I grabbed two thinking they were $100 chips to make the call.  As soon as I saw the chips out there after I dropped them, I realized they were $1,000 chips and that I had raised to $2K!  Ooops.  I did my best not to react like I had made the mistake I had indeed made.  And I saw another stack in front of me that had $100 chips.  The color was at least vaguely similar to the $1K chips.  Anyway, the other guy tanked for awhile, said something like, "I don't like my top pair that much," and folded.  A few of the players were about to ask me if I meant to do that and I beat them to it.  I confessed that it was an accident and that I just meant to call.  I mean, my bet made me look stupid—it was a ridiculous overbet.

Let me mention one thing about the guy on my right (my opponent in this hand).  He seemed like a nice enough of guy (in fact all the players at my original table were nice people) but he had this really annoying habit.  I don't think he started out doing this but at some point, whenever he folded, he would just drop his cards in front of him, not push them toward the dealer.  It was weird.  He'd bend the cards to look at them, but then when he'd fold he'd pick them up and just drop them right in front of him.  And none of the dealers said anything to him.  They didn't ask him to push them forward, and they didn't ask him if he was folding (because really, it wasn't obvious). 

Finally near the end of his run, he had a run-in with a female dealer.  The action was on him and he got involved in a discussion with another player (it might have been a spectator, not sure) that had nothing to do with the hand.  The dealer gently reminded him that the action was on him.  He got nasty, saying something like, "I know it's on me…I'm not going anywhere, relax."  There was a nasty tone in his voice.  I don't think the dealer said anything, and then he folded.  The next hand, when he folded by just dropping his cards, the dealer did ask him to push them forward.  He grunted and continued to fold the same way.  But fortunately he busted a few hands later.  A player from the other side of the table apologized to the dealer for having to put up with that, and told her she was doing a good job (which she was).

That was the only pot I dragged in the first level.  I went to level 2 (50/75) with $15,050.  After a limp, I limped with Queen-Jack of clubs.  It was four way.  The flop was King-Jack-9, two spades, one club.  I bet $200 and everyone called.  Everyone checked on a blank turn.  I checked a blank river and a guy bet $500.  It folded back to me and I had a feeling he was just trying to steal it.  I called.  He had Ace-high.

Level 3 (50/100) $15,825.  After a limp, I made it $350 with pocket Jacks. It was five-way.  The flop came 8-8-2.  I bet $1,200, two called.  No one bet on the turn or river, both blanks (though the river was a King).  Nobody turned over their hand when they saw my Jacks.

Level 4 (100/50/100) $19K.  Didn't write down a single hand.  Level 5 (150/75/150) $17,800.  After one limp I made it $550 with Ace-King.  Limper called.  The flop was Queen-10-x.  I c-bet $1,200 and got a fold. 

In the big blind with 9-2, no one raised and four of us saw a flop of X-X-2.  No one bet any street and my deuce was good.

Level 6 I didn't write down a hand.  Level 7 (300/200/300) $17,300. From the big blind I called $600 form the small blind.  It was heads up.  Ace-high flop, I called a small bet.  There was no more betting.  He had pocket Jacks and my weak Ace was good.

Level 8 (400/200/400) $17,700.  I raised to $1,400 with Queen-10 of clubs.  It's not in my notes but there must have been a limper first or I wouldn't have raised that much. It was three-way.  I didn't write down the cards but I had a flush draw.  I bet $3K and one guy called.  The turn put four to a straight out there, and a guy made a big bet.  There was no way to call, it was either shove or fold.  I decided not to risk my tournament life on a non-nut flush draw.  I folded.

Level 9 (500/300/500) $11,500.  That last hand was at the very end of the level and it really hurt.  I was starting to get short stacked.  As you can tell from the few hands I've discussed so far, I had been seriously card dead all day.  I'd had just one or two pocket pairs, nothing bigger than those Jacks, and Ace-King just once.  And I didn't get a hand to play this entire level.

Level 10 (600/300/600) $10,200.  I opened shoved $8,700 with Ace-5 off.  No call.

With about $10K, I open shoved with Jack-9 of spades.  I was called by Ace-Queen.  Well, what's the expression?  "Two live cards," right?  There was a Jack on the flop and then another Jack on the turn.  I had my much needed double up.

Level 11 (800/400/800) $20,400.  Still card dead, I didn't like my chances of cashing, let alone making it to day 2.  But then….with pocket 8's I called $2,200.  It was heads up and the flop was low but no set for me.  There was no betting and the rest of board bricked out, still no betting.  I won the pot with my 8's, beating A-2.

Very next hand I got pocket Jacks.  I opened to $2,100.  Only one player called, a guy who had been fairly aggro.  The flop was King-8-x.  I c-bet $2K because he was short stacked.  In fact he had a little bit less than my bet.  He called and showed an 8, don't remember the other card.  My Jacks held.

Then the very next hand I got pocket 10's.  After not seeing hardly any pocket pairs, this was my third one in a row.  Could I win my third hand in a row?  This time I limped in and no one else raised.  It was five of us seeing a low flop.  My 10's were an overpair so I bet $3,500 and didn't get a call.

That was a nice little run and it got me up to $36K for level 12 (1K/500/1K). I had some chips to play with.  And then went that entire orbit without getting a hand to play. And then the next orbit, and the next one and the one after that.

Not sure if this is right, but I didn't write down a hand for levels 12, 13, 14 and 15.  I gotta figure I played some hands, but I guess I didn't win anything, maybe I just played a blind or two when it wasn't raised. 

I'm going to leave it here and do a part 2 in a few days.  I will bring you up-to-date with where I was in the tournament (number of players, how close to the money) at that time.  And now part 2 has been posted here.


  1. "On Thursday, I had an appointment to finally get a tooth pulled that has been bothering me on and off for some time."

    Dang. And I always thought that PPP was his secret identity.

    1. Nah, I gave it away by saying I used local anesthesia. You-Know-Who would insisted on being knocked out.

    2. I chuckled at the tooth statement thinking of TBC. Thanks for sharing tournament hands, I always enjoy reading tournament summaries.

    3. Thanks, Ace.

      Yeah, I was definitely thinking of Tony during my dental procedure. Heh heh.

  2. Hi Rob its been awhile. I have stopped playing tournament poker just because of some of the people you have to put up with. Just like the guy you described. Not only do you have to play all day just to make the money but you have to put up with insane people who have attitudes. Some how its always about them. I have even seen some guys brag about being kicked out of rooms because of their obnoxious behavior. It takes all kinds I guess.

    1. Sorry to hear you've given up tourneys. Yeah its tough running into jerks. And the bad thing about a tournament is you can't ask for a table change to get away from the jerk.

  3. It seems like every hand you describe has you calling on the flop and checking through the turn and river. I exaggerate a bit, but where are the check-raises? The value bets? The bluffs? The semi-bluffs? Your lines tend to be to catch a piece and hope to see if it wins at showdown. Maybe this was just a weird run of hands and you are actually more aggressive than this post shows.