Thursday, January 24, 2019

Long Day at Commerce (Part 1)

Note: This is the first of two parts.

Taking a break from my Xmas horror story, I want to tell you about the tournament I played last weekend.  Commerce started their L.A. Poker Classic series with a $120 buy-in, $500K guarantee event.  You read that right.  Half a million buck guarantee for a $120 buy-in.  Sounds pretty good, right?  How about if I add the fact that they were guaranteeing $100K for the first place winner?

Well to me, the guarantee for first place actually reduced the appeal of the event.  You all know how I feel about those top heavy payouts in tournaments.  And such a large guarantee for first seemed to insure an even more top heavy pay scale than normal.  I frankly think huge first place guarantees are a terrible idea, but I guess they figure it will somehow attract more players   But only one person is gonna finish first and get all that money, and there will just be less money for the rest of the field.  Since I was voted most likely to place in the rest of the field (if I placed at all), it wasn't really to my advantage to have the big first place guarantee.

Let me just give you some of the final numbers to prove my point, even though it means I'm telling the story a bit out of order.  They ended up with 6,454 entrants, so they smashed the guarantee and had a total prize pool of $603K.  Despite beating the guarantee by that much, first place was still "only" $100K, they didn't increase it all.  But they were able to bring second place prize money up to $50K.  Imagine what it would have been if there had been an overlay. Third was $32K and fourth was $25K. Only 81 players got four figure payouts. 

The details are that they had four starting flights for this tourney for four consecutive days, concluding Saturday.  Day 2 was Sunday and for good measure they had a final day 1 flight Sunday morning at 8am (a turbo).  The regular flights were at 10am, 2pm, 6pm and 10pm, with the 10pm having 20-minute levels, the others having 30-minute levels.  At some point on day 2, the levels would increase to 40-minutes. 

Each individual starting flight would play past the money bubble.  One in eight players would be in money, with only 3% of the each field advancing to day 2. 

When I looked at these details I made a few observations.  For one thing, with such a big guarantee and relatively small buy-in, I knew the turnout would be huge and they wouldn't have much trouble hitting the guarantee.  I also knew that those day 1 payouts would be very small, and the min-cash would really be somewhat pathetic.  I knew you'd really have to hit that 3% who advanced to day 2 to have any chance of making any serious coin. Honestly, there haven't been many tournaments I've played, especially with huge fields, where I've lasted down to the final 3%. 

Through Twitter, I asked the Justin, the tournament coordinator at Commerce, what the day 1 payouts were. Justin use to run tournaments at the Aria by the way, and I knew him there.  He told me it was $160, $200 and $250.  So the dreaded min-cash would be essentially your buy-in back plus another third of that buy-in on top.  Well, I knew it wouldn't be close to the "double your buy-in" amount that I think is fair.  I asked him what the day 2 min-cash would be.  At that point, he didn't know because that would be determined by the number of total players.  He said it would be at least $300 but probably considerably more.  That was important to me because it is pretty much a pain for me to drive down to Commerce, and a second trip the next day needed to be worth it.

It was tempting to skip it, truth be told.  I mean it's a great tournament and you don't get an opportunity to play in events like this all the time in L.A.  But driving all the way down there for most likely a very small pay day gave me huge second thoughts. I probably would have had a much easier decision if Commerce was close to where I live and easier to get to.

But for reasons I don't want to get into, this was really my only viable poker option on this particular Saturday.  And I hadn't played since New Year's Day. So I headed down there.  Of course I opted for the 2pm flight, which I suspected (correctly) would be the largest flight of the tournament.  That wasn't the reason I picked it, it was just the most convenient for my schedule.  They were saying the day 1's were running like 8 hours but I figured that this one would run longer for sure.

Traffic getting down there was just horrendous—on a quiet Saturday afternoon when nothing was really going on around town.  Just unbelievable.  I recently got criticized for using Waze or Google Maps to get around Vegas, but the latter was a life saver.  I mean, I know how to get to Commerce but Google actually had me get off the damn freeway at one point to get around a major bottleneck.  Shaved 20-minutes off my drive. 

Then it took me forever to find a parking spot, and it was a long ways from the casino (and that parking lot is terribly designed, but I won't bother you with an explanation).  By the time I finally entered the casino, I was mentally and physically exhausted.  I really was tempted to get right back in my car and head home, but there was no way I was ready to face the freeways again so soon.

I realized that years of working from home has softened me up. I think if I was still doing an awful commute twice a day, five days a week, the drive through downtown wouldn't have bothered me so, it'd likely be better than my daily drive.  But now that I only have to walk downstairs to get to work, I just have no tolerance for the damn traffic—or the horrible condition our roads out here are in.  I mean, half the time on the drive it felt like I was riding on railroad tracks.

I had an very unproductive thought at that moment.  I wasn't sure I even wanted to make day 2.  I mean the thought of doing that drive again was so unappealing to me.  I was actually thinking I'd prefer to bust-out early than face that again.  Great attitude to have before a poker tournament, right?  Well, I managed to talk myself into wanting to come back.  But only with a really big stack.  No short stack. No way I wanted to come back and just get the day 2 min-cash, it just wouldn't be worth the wear and tear on my mind, my body, and my car.  Go big or go home.  Play reckless near the day 2 bubble and either bust out or build a huge stack that would make me a contender for a pay day worth that doing that horrible drive a second time in two days. Sounded good in my mind, anyway.

I was about 45 minutes early.  I purchased a bottle of diet 7-up from the gift shop, had a nice chat with Justin and was ready to go.

I must say it was quite a project running all these flights the same day and the Commerce handled the logistics of it flawlessly.  I was watching and wondering how they figured this all out. The tournament is held in a big ballroom of the hotel, I believe they had 68 tables. I kind of laughed when I thought about that, although I've played in the exact same location before.  Commerce is the largest poker room in the world.  There are more poker tables in there than any place else on the planet on a normal day.  Yet to run this series they needed to bring in 68 more tables?  Amazing.

Anyway, they had 527 entries for the 10am flight.  So by the time they started the 2pm flight (my flight) they were breaking tables from that flight pretty fast.  Late reg was only open for four levels so the field was shrinking.  Still, I think I saw that they had over 200 players left by the time our flight started.  Meanwhile, they eventually seated 821 players for our flight.  Talk about a huge field!  So they had every table in use when our flight started.  And still they had alternates. I think everyone who was able to register by 2 was seated right away, but at some point I was able to see a long line of alternates just waiting for bust-outs to start playing.  At one time, like 3pm, the lines for both registration and alternates were both really long (my table was very near both lines so I could see).  Yet the TD's had everything running smoothly.  They were replacing busted players with alternates with almost no loss of time.  I swear, when we lost players a new one showed up in what seemed like a minute or less.  It was impressive.

And of course, every time they were able to break a table from the 10am flight, they wasted no time in setting it up for our flight.  How they kept track of all this, I have no idea. Must have mapped it out in advance.  But then I started wondering if they knew at what point they had to stop turning 10am flight tables into 2pm flight tables and start saving them for the 6pm flight?  Or were they sure there'd be enough players gone from the two flights that they didn't need to hold any open?  I dunno how they would know that.  Because anyone who registered by 4:15pm was allowed to enter even after late reg closed, there were still alternates to be seated during level 5, and maybe even level 6.  Not sure.  My hat's off to the management of the tournament for running this huge event so smoothly.

What didn't go smoothly was the tournament for me.  Same old story, totally card dead.  But this time it was even worse than usual.  I think I set the indoor record for garbage hands.  I started looking for spots to be creative but the dynamics of the table made it difficult.  I thought it was pretty obvious early on that I wouldn't have to worry about returning to Commerce on Sunday.

For a tournament with such a big guarantee and a three-figure buy-in, the structure was not all that player friendly, mostly due to the 10K starting stack.  That's kind of small these days for this price point.  Like all Commerce NLH tournies these days, it featured the Big Blind Ante.  The blinds started at 100/100 with the ante (which is always the same as the big blind) kicking in on level 2.  So you only start with 100 big blinds.

The only hand I noted on the first level was when I was the big blind with Queen-6 and no one raised.  I lost some chips as it was a Queen-high flop but someone flopped two pair.  Fortunately he played it kind of weak and it didn't cost me too much.

Started level 2 (100/100/100) with $8900 and already my tournament life was about to be on the line.  I called a small raise from the button with King-10 of diamonds.  Three of us saw a flop of King-10-2.  It checked to me so I bet $2,300.  The preflop raiser then check-raised enough to put me all-in.  It folded back to me and I wondered if he had a set.  But his overbet made me think he wanted me to fold.  So I called.  He had King-Jack.  My two pair held and I had some more chips.  

I didn't note any hands for the rest of that level, or for the next two after that.  I made it to level 5 with $12,600.  The first hand of the level I opened King-10 off to $1K and had two callers.  The flop was King-high and my $2,500 bet took it.  The very next hand I was under-the-gun and opened to $1,200 with Ace-King.  Only the small blind called.  I bet out on a King-high flop and took it. 

And then I went back to being card dead.  During the whole tournament, I only saw a pocket pair higher than 9's only once (I'll get to that) and I think Ace-King maybe twice.  I didn't see that many smaller pairs either; fives a few times, nines once, threes maybe once and eights.  That was it.  Suited connectors?  What are those?  Two Broadway cards?  Almost never.  Even suited Aces were virtually non-existent.

So level 7, $10,600 (800/400/800) I open shoved Ace-6 off from the button and didn't get a call.

That didn't help much and I was really convinced my tournament life was just about over.  And that wasn't so bad.  It'd be past 6pm at the next break (after level 8) and I'd have to shove some dinner in my mouth.  Of course there were no dinner breaks for this tourney.  And only the first two breaks were 15-minutes.  After that, they were only 10-minutes.  I had to take advantage of the big blind ante format for both my bathroom breaks and my meal break.

The only Men's room on the mezzanine where the tournament was taking place had only three urinals (and four toilets).  That was to serve 68 tables full of poker players.  This made the lines at the WSOP Men's room seem short.  So I waited to play my button and my cut-off and then headed over to the restroom when nature called. 

Dinner was trickier.  I had a good lunch at home before the tournament, but I knew if I made it to level 8 I'd have to eat then.  The ballroom had a small snack bar with a very limited menu.  The closest thing to dinner cuisine were the hot dogs.  They also had chips, cookies, bananas, pastries and soft drinks (maybe beer, not sure).  Perhaps they had some other hot items but nothing that I would eat.  Actually they had another snack bar on the same floor too, a specific snack bar for the free food coupon they would give you.  All items were $7, which is the value of the food comp you get for playing in a tournament.  They had a $7 hot dog (much bigger than from the other snack bar) and maybe a premade sandwich of some kind and a chicken salad and a few other things.  Again, only thing there for me was the hot dog. 

Except that for this tournament, there was no food comp.  I asked Justin about that.  He said that because the juice was so low ($100 of the $120 was going back to the players), management wouldn't let him give players the food comp for this particular tournament.  Damn, I was kind of counting on a free meal at least.  Also made me wonder why that snack bar that just was for the comps was open. They don't even have prices on their menu (tho I think everything is $7, the value of the comp normally).  Weird.

Anyway, that snack bar would be real busy if I waited to the break at the end of level 8.  It might take me more than 15 minutes to get my hot dogs, let alone eat them.  So as I spied the clock, I had to plan for getting up early before the break and grabbing my dinner then if I could.  Fortunately the big blind cooperated and I saw that I could get up about 2-3 minutes early, beat the rush, and even have time to eat before the tournament resumed. 

Well that was one plan anyway.  But as the last few levels had gone on, and as I had been failing magnificently at accumulating chips, I had another possible plan.  Just bust out of the tournament and go somewhere nicer than the Commerce snack bar for dinner.  It seemed like it was inevitable that I would bust out long before the money anyway. To me, the worst scenario would have been to be alive just by a thread, having to eat there and then bust out right after that.  A crummy meal for nothing.

But as the 8th level started, I realized I was too hungry and had gone too long without food for that plan to work.  I knew that even if I had busted out before the break, I wouldn't be able to wait until I drove somewhere to get a nicer meal.  It would take too long (especially with traffic that time of the evening).  So at a certain point I was committed to eating there no matter what.  I should have busted out during level 6, the latest.

And that's where I'll leave part 1.  Part 2 can be found here.


  1. I don't know if they run them where you play but your distaste for the top heavy payout would lead me to think a Survivor tournament might be more to your liking.

    1. Thanks, Anony. I'm familiar with them. Venetian used to run one regularly on Friday nights, and I played a few (didn't cash). They discontinued them but now one may show up in one of their series. Wynn also has one or two each series.

      But on a regular basis they are hard to find and rarely convenient for me.