Well it's almost time to head
over to the Rio for my day 1.
As always these last few hours before are pretty nerve-wracking. You wait for this event all year, the structure of the event (how quickly the blinds and antes go up relative to the initial 30,000 chip stack) is so favorable such that you should able to make it well into day 3 or deeper and enjoy the experience - but it only takes one bad turn of luck or a moment's loss of concentration at any time and the experience can be cut short.
My biggest fear is having a table with a few young kids gambling it up because that's the style that prevails on internet poker tournaments. At some point if the table goes this way you have no choice but to gamble along with them or you are at a big disadvantage. That's not my game and in the Main Event the slow structure can favor careful play - not to say that careful play doesn't include stealing some pots under the right situations like a fox (see 2005 writeup) and my skills over the years have improved in that way - but that's way different than playing "uber-aggressively".
So what does that mean? Well the basic idea of the uber-aggressive gambling style is constantly making big raises gambling on the idea that the player you are raising is not willing to take the gamble along with you. Here's an example - lets say I raise preflop with a beautiful pair of Kings and get two callers. The flop comes say with a Jack, seven and a four with two spades. I make a nice size bet and one of these 22 year olds reraises me all in. Now he could have made three sevens lets say but more likely he has two spades (needing a fifth spade for a flush) or a five and six (needing a four or eight for a straight) or maybe just a single pair or MAYBE JUST NOTHING!. He's gambling that I'll fold. Now put yourself in my position - even if I knew (e.g. I saw his cards) he doesn't have three of a kind and is pulling for a flush - he'll only complete the flush 1 time out of 3. So I'm a 2 out of 3 shot to double up with a lot of chips. But am I willing to put my tournament on the line with a 1 out of 3 shot of going bust right away? Would you be? They're gambling that you won't and if you don't they keep building up their stack which allows them to withstand losing some of these confrontations. If they don't build up a big enough stack then they're likely out when they inevitably lose some of these confrontations. They'd rather build up a stack quickly so they can use their bigger stack size to increase their intimidation tactics or go bust quickly. The last thing they want to do is grind away slowly and be on the other side of these decisions. In their mind that's just part of the game and they're on to another tournament online tonight. On the other hand if you have some of these gamblers at the table and you choose to "wait for a better spot" rather than risk your tournament life right away they can steal your chips all day long. So at some point you may be forced to gamble! I hate that.
Many players go deep with both styles. Because some gamblers get there it can look like the style inevitably works but really its an illusion - you're just seeing the small percentage that were able to build up the big stack while the rest went bust. No doubt the non gamblers that get there had to withstand some of these confrontations along the way but weren't necessarily looking for them constantly (I think). You do wonder. It's almost like why a lot of people got caught up in the housing bubble - at some point you wonder if you're a sucker for not jumping in when you watch others build up wealth by constantly flipping houses (i.e. winning these smaller pots when the other guy backs down) even though you know it could be playing with fire. And if the tournament "ends before 2007 rolls around" then that style looks correct. You want to believe that slow and steady will get you there but could it be that you have to play with fire more than you're comfortable with to go deep in one of these things?
Anyway those are the thoughts I'm tortured with right now. I'm hoping I'm not faced with such a table and I can stick to my game waiting for the right hands, conserving chips and stealing pots without cards when the situation is right and my opponent inadvertently give away weakness. I'm confident in my ability to read other players to take advantage of these situations and I generally have finished in the top 15% to 20%. But they only pay the top 10% and I've only gone really deep (top 3%) once - so was I only a few more good hands away from getting deeper with a few less obvious mistakes or is it inevitable that the only way to get really deep is to jump in like a lunatic and gamble it up on occasion - oops there I go again! Torture! And I can tell you it's a lot more tortuous when you're in the 11th hour of play for the day and you're tired and you REALLY, REALLY want more chips and you think maybe its time to MAKE something happen and not just wait for the right circumstances.
So what's my plan for today? Well unless there are too many gamblers at my table I can easily play my game all day today because the blinds and antes won't get too high today. My goal is to play "perfect poker" - to make every decision correctly (you can't always be right because you can't exactly know what the other guy has but you can make the best statistical decision based on the probabilities of what he has) to feel minimum emotion, to concentrate at picking up information about how each of the other players play (and hopefully tells) so that I can make informed decisions when I get involved in a pot with them and to have the discipline to not give any information away (no talking about my hands, acting slowly and deliberately and no outward reaction to any situations). If I can do that then I can feel empowered no matter what today's outcome. I have never been able to play perfect poker in this way (virtually no one can) but I do want to believe that if I can get closer to perfection than I have in previous years that perhaps that's the ticket to a deeper without having to seriously think about the higher risk style that is tantamount to buying a lottery ticket.
I'll work hard to keep you posted!