Day 1 – The Entourage is Stunned!
Thanks to everyone for their support.
Well I survived the first day but not without heart stopping drama at the end – we’ve all kind of caught our breath after 24 hours so I’m ready to share the story of what only felt like a dream in the haze of the wee hours...
First a backdrop to setup the story.
There are two basic styles/strategies players can adopt in a tournament. Some poker authors call it “foxes and farmers”. Farmers are conservative playing only the best hands picking up chips here and there when the cards are favorable. Foxes on the other hand take advantage of the farmers – stealing lots of pots without great cards by gambling that the farmers don’t have sufficiently strong cards to defend. The foxes can build big chip stacks because the gamble is a good one except of course if they run into a farmer with a hand, well…
Now you can probably imagine that poker authors advocate the fox approach putatively laughing at those miserly farmers as poor sods that sit on the sidelines halfway through the tournament muttering to anyone that will listen – “I got so close – if only I could get some cards - how come the poker gods never smile on me? – why, why, why?”.
I admit it – on day one of the WSOP – I’m pretty much a farmer!!!
You see the thing is you start off with so many chips (10,000) in the main event relative to the blinds and antes in the early rounds, and the rounds themselves are so long (it used to be a full 2 hours per round but with the explosive fields they have cut it down to a still leisurely 100 minutes) that you can afford to wait for the cards to patiently build your stack up and perhaps steal a few small uncontested small pots while avoiding confrontation. The key is to survive and build up a stack of close to 20000. By near the end of the first day and into the second day as the blinds and antes increase to more meaningful amounts you need to shift gears a bit – and a stack size of 20000 is enough ammunition to support the transition. That’s why I busted out in the second day the first two years I played – I didn’t understand how to make the transition. Last year was different. This year I feel even better.
Anyway there I was happily tending to my farm slowly building up my chips, avoiding big confrontations and smugly watching the stack of Barry Greenstein (one of the top dozen or so players in world – he routinely plays in the highest stake games at the Bellagio with nightly swings that can reach millions of dollars) get chopped down to size at my table as his foxy style ran into some farmer hands (not mine) when out of nowhere in the second round BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! I get involved in four BIG pots. I still don’t know how it happened – it just did.
Now you won’t see it in the box score because even though my stack went through some wild swings - going as low as 4000 at one point - I ended up with 11000 at the end of the round just as if my nice little seedlings were growing at a nice tortoise like rate as my trusty farmer’s almanac said they would.
And the entourage got to witness it all! By luck my table was right along one of the main aisles where they allowed spectators to stand.
Now as they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Boy when you’re down to 4000 chips you get reaalll quiet – hunkering down – nervous – the bigger stacks are coming after you – heck even the farmers smell blood as they think “just maybe I can be a fox too as everyone folds to them and they raise your blind and you can just feeeeel them winking at you and that wink means “hey I’m only a farmer in real life and I don’t have much of a hand but I know you certainly can’t call me and put your tournament life on the line by calling this raise with 25% of the chips you have left – hey you know what - this game really is FUUUUNN!” – and you look down at another marginal playable hand that you might play if you had more chips but (sigh) you know they’re right and you just fold and fight to hold down the thought of wanting to rip that winking eye out of the skull of someone who’s probably a really nice guy who you might even share a dinner break with later on. Now the really bad players would probably bust out at this situation as they do pull the proverbial eyes out of the skull and call the raise with the marginal hand – try to steal the pot on the flop with say the a pair of 4’s and thirty seconds later they hear the dreaded words “SEAT OPEN Table 135”.
But my patience held up and I my bile stayed down when I had the short stack and I made it through to round 3 and then fortune smiled baby!
By the end of round 5 I was up to 23000! – half due to hitting some hands on the flop (and true to my day 1 style shutting down the action right there with a big bet to lock in the nice size pot rather than gambling to win even a bigger pot by making only a small bet that the other players could call risking that the turn or river card could be the miracle card that makes their hand). The other half of my stack got built up from some really good calls of some fox’s bluffs with hands that weren’t great but I was pretty sure good enough to win.
And yes when I got over 16000 I even put in small raises pre flop with more speculative hands and stole some blinds and antes.
And boy was I chirping. Now chirping is a term for the inane small talk that players who are lucky enough to have chips make when you’re hunkered down really quiet with a SMALL stack and can’t everyone just shut up and play the game so I can get my chips back – don’t they understand this is a frigging CRISIS? – have some respect for heaven’s sake! Who cares about whether you think playing in this convention center is better than playing at Binions – just SHUT UP. And yes I was chirping with the best of them and got to know everyone on my side of the table – and with 23000 chips don’t you know it – they really all are nice guys!
And on the break the entourage was just brimming with confidence – heck they’re not even tired even though they’ve been up now for 24 hours straight after flying in from New Jersey and sitting on the tarmac for 2 hours with mechanical problems on an early morning flight that turned into a mid-morning flight that made them miss the whole first round . But I’ve been here before - I cautioned that adversity was bound to hit again and that I wouldn’t be surprised if my stack might got down to say 6000 again.
And of course my prediction almost nailed it as it hit 6125 at around 1 AM! And the entourage was suddenly tired and even though I was tired for some reason I was still kindof’ chirping – which surprised me even. For some reason I still had confidence – and having the confidence gave me even more confidence. The entourage was praying I would make it to day 2 which wasn’t guaranteed now because with the blinds and antes costing 1250 every ten hands and then at 2 AM moving into round 8, 1650 for every ten hands this was truly at risk. But I was playing well even having the composure to lay down some good hands that I knew were beat (correctly as it turned out) rather than panicking and calling the bet hoping to win the pot.
At around 1 AM I pick up 1100 in blinds and antes uncontested by raising with an ACE-KING (a strong hand) and from there slowly build my stack up to back over 10k with a few more uncontested plays. And then it happened…
But before I get to the dramatic ending I’ll share the hand that pushed me down off my lofty hill of 23000 not only for completeness but also to share the unnecessary antics of the one dealer who better not meet me in the parking lot (not really but it’s a good story anyway).
So about 10:30 sitting with 22000 in chips with 25 antes and 200 and 400 blinds (1100 in the pot pre-flop) I raise to 1275 (most are bringing in the first raise for 1200 at my table - more about my odd size raises in a future post) with two beautiful queens. A young very good player from the other side of the table (who I keep mistakenly calling Gavin the whole night when someone at my side of the table tells me he is Gavin Griffin who was the youngest ever to win a bracelet in a preliminary event at last year World Series - but it turns out that was wrong and he only looks like Gavin and I only find that out when I go to shake his hand at the end of the night and he says “huh- my name is Andrew” and then I have to apologize for calling him Gavin all night) raises all in with his short stack to about 6100. Now I don’t have to think too quickly about calling him because if he had two kings or two aces I’m pretty sure he would have made the more standard re-raise of about 3000 to hopefully make me call – so with such a large raise I’m pretty sure he actually doesn’t want me to call – so I call and sure enough he has a pair of tens and I’m about an 5 to 1 favorite to win and build my stack up to over 30000 with his 6100 and the 1100 in antes and blinds
So when the dealer turns the three flop cards over and everyone sees (gasp!) that the top card is a TEN!, rather than quickly spread the three cards out like he’s been doing on every single hand since he got to the table I guess this creep decides now is the time to practice being the dealer on the ESPN camera table and lets the ten just sit there for a good 3-4 seconds for dramatic effect for the non-existent cable audience. And the entourage is just STUNNED for the first time of the night. That 3-4 seconds is like a twisting knife in your gut and when he finally spreads the three cards and please let one of the other two be a queen – but no – and neither is the turn card or the river card – my stack has just been chopped down to about 16000 and even though I’m not in any sort of trouble yet you just knew the test of emotions was about to begin when that push began the slide back down to 6125. But even though I couldn’t hold my emotions enough to avoid pleading for a queen OUT LOUD when the dealer turned the turn and river card I was strangely calm when the dealer counted out the 6100 from my stack and I didn’t stop chirping or lose my nerve all the way down to 6125. And even though I was exhausted and my stomach told me I probably should have thought twice about eating some more of the ridiculously large turkey sandwich I bought from the Carnegie Deli at the Mirage six hours after I stuffed it into my backpack – so much so that even sipping water was making me even sicker - panic never set in.
So anyway I’m hovering about the 11k mark at 2 AM which is a bit small to take into day 2 (remember you really want about 20000) the announcer says that we still need to eliminate 20 more players to get down to the targeted 650 from the original 1900. They need to get to 650 on each of the first three days because when they combine the survivors on Sunday the total number has to be under 2000 to fit in the room.
And now the blinds and antes are 300-600 and 75 – a total of 1650 for every 10 hands. At about 2:15 AM the announcer asks the spectators to clear the room because they’re getting close to the 650 player mark. I’m two hands away from having to pay the big blind of 600 and then the small blind of 300 which would chop 10% of my stack away if I have to fold. The entourage thinks that the announcement means that they hit the 650 player mark so they start screaming at the dealer from about 10 feet away in the doorway they’ve been pushed back to “stop the dealing – stop the dealing we’re done”. But no they’re wrong and I have to take and fold the blinds and then a few hands later the announcement finally comes – dealers this is the last and and I look down at ACE-KING of diamonds (a really big hand) and raise to 1875.
I look over and the entourage is cheering from the doorway that I made it to day 2 and they make the the thumbs up sign and I shake my head and yell “Not so fast I’ve made a raise”. They’re stunned for the second time of the night.
Now there are four players left that can either call my raise or fold and concede the 1650 in antes and blinds that will get me to 12000 at the end of the night – two of them with big stacks. First player – fold. Second player, Barry – one of them with a big stack starts thinking. And I’m into the best strong pose I can make – hands in front of me on the table staring through my prescription sunglasses at the felt, not moving a muscle, not giving away any information and he starts thinking out loud. “Gee I really probably should call this hand – but this is the last hand of the night RIGHT, last hand of the night RIGHT, maybe I should just take my 35000 in chips right now why get involved and risk going out on a losing note and have to live with that on my mind until Sunday. Finally he folds but boy am I pissed. You see the fourth guy who has to make a decision is in the big blind with a big stack (I think about 60k) and he’s a big guy to boot, he’s not that good a player – he’s been playing a lot of hands and getting lucky – but he’s not really a thinker. I’m upset that Barry’s out loud emphasis that this is the last hand of the night is planting a thought in the big guys head. “Hey this may be a good time for me to reraise that chirper for his remaining 8k in chips – he can taste the second day – is he really going to risk not coming back by calling the all-in bet”. And the truth is even with ACE-KING suited I’m probably not going to call because I still probably would need to pair my Ace or King to win the pot. So as Barry ponders out loud emphasizing that this is the last hand of the night and I’m staring at the table not moving a muscle inside I’m screaming “Barry – SHUT UP – don’t give the big galoot any big ideas”. So anyway Barry folds, the small blind folds and now its up to the big galoot.
He thinks and thinks and finally (thank god he didn’t get any ideas from Barry) just calls. So now everyone else at my table and all the tables around me are congratulating each other for making the second day and counting up their stacks and I’ve got 20% of my stack in on a raise and a guy that plays wild with a big stack of 60k facing me and the entourage screaming at me for raising when I could have just quietly folded to make it to the second day and they’re pushing past the security guards to get back into the room to see the flop and it comes…
KING TEN FOUR and the big galoot checks to me and I’ve got a pair of kings with an Ace Kicker – probably the best hand but who knows. If I make the proper bet of say 3k to 4k and the big galoot has any sort of hand, say even a ten to make a pair of tens he may re-raise me back all-in thinking that maybe I’m just representing I have the King but really don’t – then what will I do? Would I call the bet and risk getting knocked out AFTER they’ve announced play is done for the day and congratulations for everyone surviving to day two? If I don’t call the re-raise and protect my pass to day two I’ll be left with only 5k left in chips after betting the 3k and folding.
I pretty quickly arrive at the decision. Hoping he picked up something from Barry’s emphasis about this being the last hand I figure that the best play I can make is go all-in. I figure that the big galoot might think “hey if this guy is willing to risk losing all his chips NOW after he’s already guaranteed to get to day two he must have a REALLY strong hand (maybe three kings)”. I’m hoping this would make him fold so I could get to day two with 14k (the 1650 in blinds and antes plus the 1875 raise he called pre-flop). If he has say a ten or another ok hand I don’t want him to stick around to hit a miracle card on the turn or river.
So I sit back in my chair, put a smirk on my face and wave my two hands at my chips “ALL-IN”.
And now the entourage is just plain PISSED! as they’ve pushed their way to the table. “Are you NUTS???”. We sat on a tarmac for two hours 26 hours ago and stayed here all night hoping for the satisfaction of spending two days in Vegas knowing that we’re coming back on day two and you do this – NOW??? - TO US??? Are you NUTS???
AND HE CALLS!!!!!!
And I die.
And he turns over a KING-QUEEN! I still have the better hand! (A pair of kings with an Ace kicker versus a pair of KINGS with a queen kicker). But two cards remain to come.
And from my end of the table at 2:20 AM I can barely see the cards. And I’m thinking “no queen – no queen” (would give him the better hand of two pair Kings and Queens).
And the dealer turns the fourth card and it’s a QUEEN! And I’m sick – “what did I do” “what did I do” “this is just unbelievable” – but wait no one else is screaming – the big galoot is not cheering – what – let me look again – I rub my eyes and get up and lean across the table and NO – IT’S ONLY A JACK. But there’s one more card to come and now he can also make a straight if a nine or Ace comes (he’s got KQ and board has a Ten and Jack).
And the fifth card comes (and I’m standing now leaning over the table so I make sure I see what it is this and it’s another JACK). And I Win!!!! And the big galoot is saying something about a straight and everyone’s shaking their heads and I’m in a fog through the late night and all the emotion and I look at the board again and I suddenly can’t figure out if I really won and I ask the dealer “DID I WIN, DID I WIN” and he says “Yes you won” (they were only remarking on the possibility of him having a straight) and I suddenly realize that because he called my all-in bet, I’ve now doubled up to 22200 in chips!
And that’s all that shows in the box score – Mike Zelin, Plainsboro – 22200. Right on my boring farmer’s almanac schedule.