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2016 – Year In Review (part 1)

January 3, 2017

I just read my 2015 Wrap Up again and there were a lot of positives in there. Notably, how beneficial our move to Tacoma was, how I felt about my new job, our new car, and just how it was the best year of my life in general. Well, somehow, my 2016 topped my 2015. By a lot. I have talked about my WSOP final table already in this blog post and that was one of the massive life-changing events that happened this year, but it was just the first of many huge positives last year.

In that 2015 post, I mentioned that the only negative still hanging over my head from my past mistakes was a $20,000+ medical debt for an appendectomy I had done in 2008 and have been running away from ever since. For years, I haven’t been able to use a bank account because the collection company had a lien on my account and were allowed to take whatever balance I had in my bank whenever a judge approved it, which seemed to be every few months or so. They got me pretty decent the first time, but I learned quick, and never kept any of my money in the bank. I would just deposit cash when I needed to pay a bill and then pay it online while I was still standing in front of the ATM. So they’d get like $3-$5 every few months, but every time they got a judgement on me they would add hundreds of dollars to my balance in administrative and lawyer fees.

It was just a huge, dark cloud hanging over my head that I had no idea how I was going to get rid of – but I certainly didn’t plan on paying it. I spoke to a bankruptcy lawyer about this debt, but I was informed that I could not file a Chapter 7 (that would wipe it out entirely for a small fee) but that I would have to file Chapter 13, which basically still required me to pay the amount in full over time via garnishments from my paychecks. Uh… no thanks.

I had made the decision that I was going to have to quit my job so that I could qualify for a Chapter 7 when my wife spoke to one of the local poker players who was a retired lawyer and he offered to help us with the situation. He advised me to go to the court where my case file was and have a look. He wanted me to find something specific, but as I was looking through the file I found approval for garnishments for my income at Silver City Restaurant and All Star Lanes – my two previous jobs. I had no idea they were after my wages. I had quit both those jobs just a few months before they were about to start garnishing me. They had been after my wages since late 2011 and as of spring 2016 they still hadn’t caught up to me. But it was only a matter of time.

However, I found the document the laywer/player told me to look at (I forget the official title) but I discovered exactly what I needed to. They tried to serve me papers at my parents’ house, but never actually handed the documents to me. My dad refused to take them, so they just dropped them in the driveway. After doing some research, and with the help of a previous landlord, it was discovered that the date they served me the papers I had already established residency somewhere else… and just like that, I had a case – and someone to present it for me.

It was really that easy. My lawyer contacted the collection agency, sent over documents my former landlord provided and BOOM! Case dismissed. Not only did I get that entire debt erased, but I was refunded all the money they took from me over the years too. I’ll get to all the awesome poker stuff in a minute, but in a lot of ways, this was the best thing that happened to me in 2016. I mean, what a relief. I didn’t have to quit my job. I didn’t have to file bankruptcy. I didn’t have to pay back over $20,000. It was totally unbelievable. I can’t thank the lawyer who helped me enough. He probably has no idea how much pressure he has taken off our shoulders. Even though I didn’t feel the affect of this debt on a day-to-day basis, it still loomed over me like a dark cloud and it was eventually going to affect my life in a very bad way if something didn’t happen. Much like driving a car without a breathalyzer for the first time in five years in 2015, it was strange to have full use of a bank account again in 2016 with no worries that the money in it might be snatched up at any time.

I don’t want to give off the impression that I was in the right here. I originally had this medical bill cut in half and I was on a payment plan that allowed me to pay $30 a month, interest free, for basically eternity. It was a pretty fair and awesome arrangement, all things considered. I could have followed that process and paid it off in a few decades and everything would have been fine and it would have been at little cost to me financially in the short term. But I was stubborn and I just thought it was wildly unfair that I had to pay such an enormous fee for a medical procedure that I had to get or I would probably die. Pay $20k or die. Whatever happened to saving people’s lives without raping them at the same time? Anyways, my rebellion against The System was immature and not very well thought out. It made my life inconvenient for years and was very close to being devastating. I ended up getting the best of it in the end, but only because I got lucky – and I’m not really proud of it. Certainly it would have been plenty easy to just pay the $30 a month.

Still, I’m not sad about it either!

Now on to the poker. Let’s take a look at the goals I set for 2016 and how well I did at achieving them.

play 1250 hours

I knew this was a pretty soft goal when I set it, so it’s not too surprising that I smashed it with 1591.5 total hours in live games this year. Interestingly, my volume from January to April – when I was still working my day job – was 142 hours per month and my volume from October to December – when I’ve been playing full time – has dropped to 132 hours per month. I do think there is a reasonable explanation for this, but I’ll get to that next. I played my most hours (185) in June when I was at the WSOP and I played my least amount of hours (101) in August when I went on a road trip with my wife that only included one poker day.

Do the Advanced Poker Training weekly challenge every week and spend at least an hour a week playing hands on APT

Unfortunately, I have been a bit disappointed with this training site. I bought a lifelong membership because the price seemed too good to pass up, but I have found the AI on the site to be unbelievably bad at times. I don’t want to get into all the details of what feels wrong about it, but I’ll just say I don’t feel like the site does a great job of simulating actual poker games. I still find use for the site though and the weekly hand challenges are still on my to do list every week, although I probably played less than half of them all year. On the bright side APT has forever to improve things – my membership never expires! I can’t help but feel any number of training sites would have been a better investment. Any site that offers a plethora of video instruction is more constructive by default.

I feel good about my lack of participation here for one reason only. I have decided to treat Ignition Poker like an online poker training site. I feel like if CardPlayer can advertise for them in their magazine then I can talk freely about playing on the site. I mean, it’s just for play money anyway, right? Right?! Well, after having a sizable amount of money locked up on Full Tilt for years following the Black Friday fiasco, I don’t trust the procedure enough to try to make real money at my normal stakes, so the goal is to sharpen my skills playing micro stakes at things I don’t get to play as often; like tournaments, pot limit Omaha, no limit hold em, etc. So the reason I feel okay about my slight volume dip in the last three months of 2016 is because I’ve put in over 300 “training” hours online during that time. That number isn’t as massive as it sounds though, as I almost always play at least two tables at a time and when I’m playing tournaments, I frequently register for as many as six at a time. So I would guess that the actual number of hours I’ve played online is significantly less than half of 300.

Obviously I have found playing against real people for “real” money to be far more rewarding than the simulated stuff on APT and it has really helped keep my tournament game sharp, in particular. Normally, I only play tournaments when a series comes up, which averages out to about two a month for the year, but online I’ve had numerous nights where I’ve played 15-20 tournaments in one sitting.

Play 150 hours of Omaha 8 or better and maintain a 1 BB/HR win rate

I came up short here, on both portions of the goal. I only played 110 hours and I ran at -0.61 BB/HR overall. Obviously, I’m not going to draw any conclusions from a 110 hour sample size, as it means very little in the grand scheme of things. I did fine in $15/$30 and $10/$20 games but I got crushed at $8/$16. I lost almost $1500 in 35 hours in the $8/$16 O8 @ The Orleans in Vegas which is kind of absurd. For whatever reason, I was not allowed to turn over a winner at showdown in that casino. I also played in the $1500 O8 event at the WSOP and whiffed it, so Omaha was definitely not a profitable venture for me in 2016.

In addition to the previous stats, I also played 35.5 hours of O8 online and ran at -0.49 BB/HR while turning a profit – which means I did well in the big games and bad in the small ones. I played three O8 tourneys online, cashing one of them, which actually happened to be a first place finish.

Between tournaments and cash games online, I played about 25 hours of PLO or PLO8 and lost a little bit of money, even though I finished with a positive win rate in the cash games.

There is obviously plenty of room for improvement in my Omaha game. I can play a fine ABC game, which should actually make money in the long run, but my hand-reading skills and ability to figure out how to exploit opponents seem minimal.

Play 100 hours of no limit cash games

I played seven hours in live no limit cash games over four separate sessions, which means I went to the casino for the sole reason of playing NLHE exactly zero times in 2016. I managed to win about $1000 over these four sessions, which is pretty remarkable considering I only played in $1/$2 games last year – the final win rate comes out to over 138 big blinds an hour! I stopped in Harrahs during the wee hours of the morning on my way back from my real session to donk around a bit before going to bed a couple of times and I was playing a hyper-aggressive game and decided that I couldn’t fold the AQ suited preflop considering my image and wound up getting 150 big blinds in against pocket aces. I did not lose that hand. These are the kinds of things that can happen in the short run that can skew a player’s interpretation of their results. I did not crush the NLHE games in my incredibly small sample size… I got stupid lucky in one big pot and it made up a significant portion of my NLHE profit for the year.

I’m not upset about missing out on my goal here. At the end of the day, becoming an expert NLHE cash game player just doesn’t make a ton of sense for me. With 20/40 limit hold em regularly available every day of the week relatively nearby there’s just no need for me to make the transition in Washington state and even when I’m in Vegas I can find big games that are better tailored to my expertise. I might go back to playing at Muckleshoot on Super Sundays, but other than that, I don’t feel compelled to start playing more live NLHE.

With that said, this is one of the skills I don’t mind developing slowly at micro stakes online. I played roughly 18.5 hours the last few months and lost about 44 big blinds an hour. Obviously, both the samples I just presented are incredibly small, but I don’t doubt that my NLHE cash game ability needs a lot of work.

Play 3-5 WSOP events – Cash a WSOP event

I actually ended up playing in five total events. I have already written a long blog post about my final table run and third place finish in WSOP Event #1 – and you can watch the whole final table on YouTube by starting here: WSOP Event #1 (Part 1). So obviously a great start to my WSOP that helped me achieve a ton of my goals for the year.

Next up was the Colossus, which I managed to hang around in until the money. I think they had four different day 1 flights and each flight paid 15% of the field. I don’t remember too much about this event now except that my initial table draw was far more favorable than it was in 2015, which had multiple notable pros at it. I also remember moving tables after cashing and being incredibly impressed with everything about Taylor Paur’s game. This guy is one of the best tournament players in the world right now. He currently ranks #63 on the Global Poker Index and has over $4 million in lifetime cashes. He’s in the top 30 on California’s all-time money list, which is pretty impressive considering almost all of his volume has come since 2011. Anyways, his whole demeanor at the table was on point. He played a ton of hands and was plenty intimidating, but he was also quite friendly when people made conversation with him. He was basically a total beast.

As is usually the case when I play with a high level pro, I lost a very big, key pot to Taylor… when I had him crushed. I was relatively short when I first moved tables, but found myself doubled up back into a playable stack pretty quickly. Taylor opened in front of me and I decided to flat call with AQ because I realized that if Taylor four bet me I was just never going to fold the hand and I felt I was too deep to put all my chips in preflop. The flop came down A9x with two clubs on board and Taylor made a standard continuation bet. I just called because that’s a huge flop for me – it’s super dry and I’m in position against someone I view to be overly aggressive. I wanted him to keep putting chips in the pot. The turn card brought the 9 of clubs and he bet again. I had the Q of clubs in my hand and called again. The river bricked off and he fired a bet that was probably in the 60-75% pot range. I thought for about zero seconds and called and he showed me Q9 for trips. I was back to a short stack after that and I didn’t last much longer. I have to say I’m not super happy about that hand. I like my postflop plan: I flopped huge and let my opponent barrel into me on all three streets and I was never planning to fold. Obviously I got super unlucky; first that he caught his two outer on the turn, and second that I missed my 11 out redraw on the river. What I don’t like about the hand is my preflop thinking. I knew Taylor was opening way too many hands and AQ should be punishing that range. It’s too good to flat with in this situation. I was too deep to want to get stacks in preflop – which very well might have happened if he four bet – but that’s no excuse for not making the right play and if he did four bet me, well, time to gamble. Still, I locked up my second consecutive WSOP cash in this event, albeit a pretty small one.

My next event was the $1500 H.O.R.S.E. and my starting table featured the likes of Karina Jett ($500k in tournament cashes), Carol Fuchs ($316k), Ryan Tepen ($943k), and Shannon Shorr ($6.13M). I can’t really remember any interesting hands as it has been nearly half a year since I played this event, but I spent a good portion of the latter part of day 1 playing at Norman Chad’s table and I have to say the experience wasn’t as fun as you might think it would be. This is a guy that clearly turns it “on” for the cameras. He was friendly enough, but I saw basically zero of the personality he has during his ESPN commentaries. Amy Schumer mentions in her recent book The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo that she is an introvert, which is surprising given her chosen profession as a stand up comedian, and my take was that Norman Chad is the same way – a dude that seems like a total extrovert but that would probably just rather be left alone when he’s in public. No judgement here: I’m the same way. On the other hand, Carol Fuchs and Karina Jett were both super nice.

I finished day 1 with a sizable stack, thinking that I was almost certain to cash and that I was in a great position to make another final table run. Carol Fuchs even went out of her way to tell me how well she thought I played, which was a pretty cool compliment. I can’t recall exactly, but I believe I started day 2 in the top 20-30% of all chip stacks. I met Ian Johns, a pro from Washington state that specializes in limit hold em, at my new table and he started the day with less than 2000 in chips, which was one or two big bets at the time, I think – he was in what poker people like to call “the dead zone.” Well, he won the first pot he played, more than doubling up, and eventually built up a stack that would take him to the final table and ultimately win him the bracelet in this event. It was a super impressive run and yet another story of why you should never give up in a tournament, no matter how grim things look at the moment. Ian would also go on to win the $10k limit hold em bracelet to cap off a huge summer. Meeting Ian Johns actually changed my whole perspective on what I want my career to look like. He has proven that you can succeed on an every day basis and at the WSOP even if you primarily focus only on games that have a fixed structure, which is definitely my specialty.

Unlike Ian, things didn’t go my way on day 2 and I never picked up any momentum. Still, I had a decent stack when this very key pot came up with around 125 players left. We were less than ten spots off the money when a player with a 7 up in stud high completed the bet in front of me. I started with a T up and AK in the hole, so I was very happy to reraise and get heads up against someone that likely had split 7s. I caught a Q, an 8, and a blank to complete my open board and continued to fire as my opponent’s board also bricked out. On 7th street, I caught bad again and finished with Ace high but since my opponent had played his hand like he hadn’t improved, I just had to fire one last bullet and hope he would lay down his pair. He did not. He called me all the way down unimproved and I was left decimated. I busted shortly after that, 7 spots shy of my third consecutive WSOP cash. I was pretty mad at myself for punting my whole stack so close to the money bubble, but in retrospect, I think I played the hand fine. I had five overs to my opponent’s pair, plus a gutshot to Broadway, on 5th street and I really feel keeping the pressure on was the correct play. On 7th street, my bluff doesn’t have to succeed very often to be profitable and I obviously found myself in a position where I had to bet to win. Still, it was quite the eye opener coming off multiple days of having things really go my way. I never even considered the possibility that I wouldn’t cash this event until I lost this pot. It was a good reminder to stay grounded and not get ahead of myself.

I feel like this post is getting really long winded and I’m not even close to being done, so I’m going to go ahead and publish this as part one and I will have part two up tonight or Thursday.

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