Posts Tagged ‘texas hold em’

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2017 WSOP Trip Report – Part Two (the good stuff)

July 5, 2017

This is the second part of my 2017 World Series Of Poker trip report. In Part One I talked about the six non-WSOP events I played and the few cash game sessions I put in. This post will be all about the 2017 WSOP.

Those of you that are friends with me on Facebook know that I like to post sweat threads for most of the bigger events that I play in and I post a decent amount of critical hands on there. Not only does it make it more fun for anyone following, but it also gives me a great reference point for when I type up these blog posts. However, there are times when I’m not posting because I really need to focus so I’ll do my best to recall what I can.

My first WSOP event of the year was the $1500 Omaha 8 or Better, which was the only event I played in the 2016 WSOP that I didn’t go deep in. I’m looking at my sweat thread right now and I actually didn’t post a single hand in it and I honestly can’t think of any specific hands that really stand out. Starting stacks were 7500 and it looks like I peaked on Day One at around 18K at the end of the 200/400 level. There was a key blind versus blind hand at the start of the 250/500 level where I lost a bundle. My comment on Facebook says: “flopped the world and then counterfeit, counterfeit to get scooped.” If I remember correctly, I had an A23X hand where I went three bets with the small blind preflop and then I flopped the nut flush draw with three nut low draws and I paired on the turn and river, to give me two pair and a live card low, while my opponent made a wheel. I continued to lose chips, getting as low as 4300 before finding a double up just before the end of Day 1. I bagged 10,100 with blinds starting at 600/1200 on Day 2, putting me at 220th of 254 remaining, and only 136 players cashing – happy to still be alive, but not looking like a favorite to cash.

I did get to play with Jason Mercier for the first time on Day 1, but it was for a very short time. However, it was still notable, because he was sitting on my left and the player to his left was playing 30/60 limit hold em on Ignition while playing in this tournament and Jason keep peeking over at his iPad and making comments about the action. After watching this happen for quite some time, I finally said: “I wonder if anyone on that table would believe you if you said you were colluding with Jason Mercier right now.” Obviously, not a serious accusation on my part.

I led off Day 2 by getting scooped in my first confrontation, which left me with 4.5 big blinds, but I tripled up on my all in and an hour into Day 2 I had 32,000 in chips and over 15 big blinds. This gave me a relatively comfortable stack that I nursed over the next couple hours, but by the time the money bubble approached, I was back in the danger zone, with 4.5 bigs on the stone bubble. Daniel Weinman bet me $20 that I couldn’t remember the names of everyone at our table after the bubble burst, so when we all made the money, I happily collected from him also. I did triple up again, but my run finally came to an end when I called a raise with Ad4dQ3, saw the Qd5d3 flop, and eventually got all in on the turn, which was a 7. Obviously that was a very good flop for my hand, as it is really difficult to scoop me while I should have plenty of scooping potential. However, my opponent had a pretty miraculous A277, and a brick river gave him the knockout and I had to settle for 105th place and $2315.

Next up in the WSOP for me was the $565 No Limit Hold Em Colossus. Just like in 2016, I waited until the last flight to play this event. You only start with 5000 in chips, so it tends to play pretty fast. If you lose with a big hand early, you are likely to be out or crippled – there just isn’t much room for error or big folds. The first notable pot I played, I open with 33 from late position to 150 at the 25/50 level and only one of the blinds defends. The flop is AA3, with two diamonds, and she check-calls a bet of 150. The turn is a 9d and she check-calls 400. River is a 6 and she checks to me again. On the turn, I had determined that she was pretty strong, likely holding an ace or a flush, so I decided to go for full value by jamming 3600 into a 1500 pot. I guess it was a bad move because she tanked for a long time and finally folded 75dd face up. The early stages of this tournament are filled with recreational players so I just don’t expect people to fold hands that strong very often at all. On the other side of the coin, a lot of those recreational players might have taken time off work and flown down to Vegas just to play the Colossus and probably don’t want to bust during the first level… so maybe I misread the situation. Either way, a pretty sick fold that felt like a big missed opportunity for me – she’s probably calling 1000 100% of the time.

After four levels, I had built my starting stack up to 13.5K and I had it up to 18K during level five before losing with AA to J7 (!) and falling back down to 12.5K. By the 500/1000/100 level with the money bubble in sight, I was sitting on a 27K stack and playing poker with Cate Hall for the first time. I won’t go as far as to call Cate unlikable, but in this sample size of one encounter, she’s been one of the least friendly famous pros I’ve played with. She stared daggers at her opponents, had big headphones on, and I don’t think she said a word to anyone, except to ask for a chip count. In fact, I three bet jammed on her once with AK suited and had my chips in perfect stacks of 20 and totally visible, as easy to count as possible, and she still asked me how much I started the hand with. I had to resist the urge to burst out laughing at how comical that was. I’m not saying that everyone that has had success and becomes recognizable has to be an ambassador for the game and always be approachable and friendly, but I do think it’s a better table presence than being stone-faced and quiet all day. Shrug.

We reached hand-for-hand play around 11:30 PM, needing to lose one or two players to make the money. At this point, there were roughly 55 tables running, so each table had to deal one hand and then stand up and wait for all the other tables to finish. With that many tables, it seems like the bubble would burst on the first hand most of the time. I’m not sure how many hands were actually dealt because there was a lot of sitting around and waiting going on, but amazingly, no one busted for 45 minutes. Considering the circumstances, it was the sickest bubble I’ve ever seen. Shortly after the bubble burst, I jammed about 12 bigs from the button with QJ and it folded to Cate in the big blind, who tanked for a while before finding the call with A4 and doubling up through me. I got my remaining five bigs in shortly after and lost that confrontation, busting in 309th place and cashing the Colossus for the second straight year.

Next up was the $1500 H.O.R.S.E., an event that I really felt like I had something to prove in. I made it to Day 2 of it last year with over 50K in chips and managed not to cash after running a five street bluff and whiffing 20+ outs against a pair of 7s that called every street. Ultimately, I busted seven spots away from the money. In my initial post of my sweat thread on Facebook, I had this to say: “Not all tournaments are created equal: I want this one more than the others.” I had a really good starting table in this event, with zero notable players, three different players I had history with and none of them were strong. I felt like it was a pretty fortunate situation, especially when I glanced at the table behind me and saw at least four bracelet winners sitting together: Greg Raymer (1), Anthony Zinno (1), Vanessa Selbst (3) and Ian Johns (3). LOL! I chipped up steadily over the first four levels, with a stack of 11K at the first break and 17k by the second break. Unfortunately, tables were breaking the wrong way and my easy table broke and I got placed with 2015 WSOP Player Of The Year Mike Gorodinsky and another elite pro in Connor Drinan. I had just under 20k at the dinner break and I was mostly flat for the last five levels of the night before going on a little rush before the end of the day and bagging 30,800.

Day 2 started with 175 players and 111 of us would cash. I started Day 2 with 60% of the chips I started it with last year and I got a good taste of how bad I punted when I cruised to the money with ease this year. I’m not suggesting I played that big pot poorly and I would probably take the same line again, but it’s pretty clear that pot was the reason I didn’t cash last year. I was a little below average when the money bubble burst, but I had 62K after scooping a well known pro in a hand I thought was a little weird. I defended my big blind heads up with Q532 and check-called a bet on an A65 flop. I turned a Q and decided to lead out and my opponent called. The river was another A and since I expected my opponent to have one most of the time when he opened-raised from middle position, I checked and planned to call, hoping to get half. He did bet and I was pretty shocked when he turned over a naked 43 low and I got the scoop. I lost a big pot in limit hold em when the button opened and I three bet KK from the small blind and Don Zewin four bet from the big blind. The three of us saw an Ace high flop and, having no history with Zewin, I just check-called it down and he showed me TT, which turned a set. Having played with Zewin now and watching him play on the live stream of a later final table, I would have at least folded the river because he’s actually a pretty huge nit.

I ended up busting Mike Gorodinksy in this tournament, which is pretty notable because I had seen him go all in around 15 times (no exaggeration) and stay alive already. In fact, I had already joked with him that I was going to get all in for the first time of the whole tournament and end up busting before him. Alas, we got it in preflop when I had AJ92 and he had AT53 and I was in terrible shape after the flop came T62, but the board ran out a miraculous J-6 and I finally got rid of the toughest opponent at my table. I had 60k after that hand and then I played a huge Razz pot that really got my adrenaline pumping. The player on my left was playing super aggressive and seemed to have no method to his madness – just pure unrestrained aggression. I completed on third street and the player to my left reraised and we were heads up. I wasn’t planning to make a lot of folds against this player but he caught perfect on 4th, 5th, and 6th, while I caught bad, but not terrible cards. On the end I had a 9 low and he had a 456 showing on 5th street! Obviously, any number of those cards could have paired him and this player was very likely to run a big bluff, so after being in the tank for several minutes on 7th, I finally looked directly at him and said “I can only beat a bluff” and as soon as I said that he gulped. I actually laughed out loud after seeing that because the timing was so perfect I had to wonder if it was intentional, but at that point folding was out of the question and I put the call in and won a massive pot that put me just under 100K as we headed to dinner break with 47 left.

After dinner, the heater was officially on. I had 268k by the next break. We had a redraw at 27 left and there was nothing but wizards at my table… and then the last seat was filled by Wayne LaMonica. The first hand we played was Razz and LaMonica was first to act after the bring in and, at a table full of world beaters acting behind him, he completed from first position with the worst up card (a 10)! Naturally, moments later, someone busted at another table and LaMonica was moved to balance and the reactions from my table were hysterical. Basically everyone made some sort of audible groan while Max Pescatori actually asked the TD “are you sure that’s right” and A.J. Kelsall to my right mumbled “this can’t be real.” I ended up bagging 243k which put me in the top half of the remaining 18 players advancing to Day 3.

On Day 3, I went into hyper focus mode and didn’t post any updates at all on Facebook, but I can recall a couple of key pots I played leading up to the final table. The first one was against Esther Taylor when I defended a JJ97 against her open. I check-called the T82 flop and then check-called when the 2 paired on the turn. I don’t think she has a full house very often and I expected to scoop with a Q, J, or 9 river. The river was a perfect J and I lead out. I don’t know how great my river lead is since I expect her to bet all her A2 hands, especially the ones that are full, but I hate missing value on the river by trying to check-raise, especially when accumulating chips is so important, as it is in tournaments. Another key pot was against Max Pescatori. I can’t remember if I defended my big blind against an UTG open or if we were heads up in the blinds, but I do know I had a disguised AJ2X holding and I rivered a jack high flush on a double paired board and bet for value and got paid off.

By the time the final table was set, I was second in chips with 720k and only LaManiac (sorry, too easy) had more than I did. I had now cashed 6 of my last 8 WSOP events and was making my second final table appearance in 12 lifetime tournaments. Not bad! And it was particularly satisfying to final table the H.O.R.S.E., as it’s more of a testament to being an all around good player.

The final table was absolutely loaded: Max Pescatori is a four-time bracelet winner; David “Bakes” Baker and Brandon Shack-Harris are both multiple bracelet winners; David Singer won his second bracelet in this event; E-Tay is well-known high stakes cash game regular with over $800K in lifetime tournament winnings; and Kyle Loman and A.J. Kelsall appear to known quantities with rising status. I’d say that Kevin LaMonica and myself were the only total unknowns at the final table.

LaMonica was playing very crazy at the final table, doing things like straddling in limit hold em and completing dark first to act in the stud games, regardless of what his up card was. My wife made a comment on Facebook during this stage of the tournament saying that “one player is dumping chips to everybody but Mac (me).” Indeed, he had doubled up multiple short stacks in very precarious spots, but I did appreciate the fact that all of my formidable opponents were always at risk any time they entered a pot. However, it is safe to say that David Singer probably wouldn’t have won a bracelet in this event without a strong assist from LaMonica. I felt pretty unfortunate that I never really benefited from having such a loose, reckless player at the table.

Brandon Shack-Harris and E-Tay got their small stacks in a couple of times with safe results before eventually busting in 9th and 8th places, respectively.

With 7 players left, I found myself holding a four flush on 4th street in Stud high against Max who had an obvious pair of kings. I raised Max on 4th, planning to go with this hand and Wayne LaMonica came along also, and Max called. LaMonica paired the 10 he caught on 4th and checked to Max who lead out again. I had just under three big bets left and wasn’t planning to fold and I honestly didn’t think I’d lose LaMonica by raising – he’s the last player I’d expect to fold open tens – so I raised it up to get all in, LaMonica did fold (!), and Max put me all in. I didn’t have to sweat long as my next card gave me a flush and I more than doubled up.

Kyle Loman and “Bakes” busted in 7th and 6th shortly after and I headed to dinner break with 826K, which put me in third of the remaining five players. Max and A.J. were both coming back to less than 12 big blinds, so I really liked my chances of finishing in at least 3rd.

Unfortunately, I doubled Max up almost immediately after the dinner break when I opened with 76-3 two spades in Stud 8 and he defended with a 3 up. On 4th street, he caught a 4 and I caught the king of spades, which was a bad, but not terrible card. He’s never folding on 4th, so betting my hand doesn’t make any sense, so I checked it over and he bet. I’m no Stud 8 expert, so I really don’t know if folding or calling is correct here. It just seems like there are too many good 5th street cards for me to give up, so I made the call. Obviously I would fold if I bricked 5th, but I caught a ten of spades. Even though Max caught a 6 and could be freerolling me at that point, I had to make the call as Max was all in. Max had two pair and a three low at that point, so I was actually in a pretty decent spot to bust him; he bricked on 6th and I caught an Ace for some split potential but the 9d on 7th totally bricked me and Max got a full double.

I ended up opening another Stud 8 hand that I had to fold on 3rd (correctly) after the action got too hot behind me and finally I opened the 88-5, LaMonica called, and David Singer reraised from the bring in, I called and Lamonica folded (weird). Singer caught a 7 on 4th and I caught the 9 of clubs, giving me a three flush. I checked and Singer bet… It seemed like I had the best hand for high and I only had about 1.5 small bets left so I just went with it. Unfortunately, Singer had buried aces and I was in bad shape. I caught running deuces on 5th and 6th to take the lead, as Singer caught low and a brick, but he made two pair on 7th, and I would need to fill up to stay alive. I didn’t and I busted in 5th for around $45,000.

Obviously this was an amazing finish for me. It was my biggest tournament cash ever and my second final table in my last eight WSOP events. I’m really proud of myself, but in retrospect, I wish I would have played tighter in Stud 8. Fact of the matter is, I felt lost in a lot of the pots I played and the pay jumps were immense. Max Pescatori ended up busting less than ten minutes after I did and he made an extra $18,000 – that’s pretty huge. I would have felt a lot better losing my stack in Hold Em or Omaha because I would know I was making the right plays. In Stud 8, I’m not sure if I made mistakes or if I just got unlucky. Either way, it’s a clear area to focus on leading up to next year’s Series.

I got to play with a lot of notable pros in this event and all the people I final tabled with in this event were class acts with good senses of humor. Wayne LaMonica was an amazing presence and a game-changer at the table. Some of what I have said here may seem disparaging, but he took on a table full of players that were undoubtedly all better than him and played with absolutely no fear. He ended up going heads up with David Singer for the bracelet and had Singer almost all the way to the felt before Singer made an epic comeback to capture his second bracelet. Esther Taylor, Kyle Loman, and Max Pescatori were all really cool and E-Tay actually invited Dina and I to hang out, but we were unable to ever make it happen, which is pretty damn disappointing, as mingling with the elite players of poker is definitely something I’m interested in doing. I also got approached by Daniel Negreanu during one of the breaks in this event and we actually had a real conversation about the difficulties of balancing a relationship during the WSOP. I have to say it was pretty wild being treated as a peer by arguably the most famous poker player in the world.

My next WSOP event was the $1500 8-Game. I have to admit a hit a wall during this event. I had played 41 hours of H.O.R.S.E. over the previous four days and by about the sixth level of this tournament I could feel the exhaustion overpowering me. I felt like I got a pretty good starting table in this event, but I wasn’t really able to take advantage of the situation. I had a really loose player on my direct left that basically played every pot and played hyper aggressive. He was playing totally reckless and putting bad beats on everyone. I only beat him in one pot, when I flopped a set of sixes in limit Hold Em and he gave me max action. The rest of the time, I just lost every single pot to him, while he sprayed my chips around the table to everyone else.

I was down to 4k in the fourth level when I flatted a raise in no limit Hold Em with AJ of diamonds. I got my stack in after a flop of J64 in which my opponent flopped the nut flush draw with AK of clubs. He missed and I scored a full double up. I had a little over 12k after four levels and I didn’t really gain any momentum either way over the next four hours, but managed to peak at 16.5k heading into the last two levels of play for the night. At this point there were 160 or so players left and 70 of us would cash, but I was sitting on a below average stack.

As a limit specialist, it’s in my best interest to avoid big clashes in the big bet games (no limit Hold Em and pot limit Omaha) but I found myself in exactly that kind of spot when it folded to me on the button in PLO and I had the AJ97 double suited. This is a standard open, but my problem was that I knew the guy on my left was going to three bet pretty much every time – it’s what he’d been doing all day long no matter what game we were playing. So if I opened this hand, I knew that he was going to pot it and at that point he’d have half his stack in and we were going to have to play for the whole thing because there was no way I’m ever folding. And that’s what happened. He had AK53 and we both made club flushes, but his was the nuts and I went from having a decent stack to having a short stack. I didn’t find any good spots in the ante games to get all in, but I picked up pocket tens in no limit Hold Em and got my last ten bigs in, but David “ODB” Baker called me from the big blind with A8 and I couldn’t beat it at showdown. So I busted in 132nd at 1:15 AM after 10 hours of play and felt like I’d never been that tired in my life. I had been grinding mix game tournaments 10 hours a day for five straight days and my brain was ready for a break!

I ended up taking the next day off, but the following day I was playing what would be my last event of the 2017 World Series of Poker: the $1500 Limit Hold Em. No doubt about it, limit Hold Em is my strongest game and I suspect that I have more recent experience in this variant than 95% of the field. I got off to a rough start, dipping down to 5500 quickly, but I had an epic third level and emerged as the early chip lead of the tournament. In level three alone, I flopped three sets AND quads once and made it to showdown in every single hand. I also had an incredibly sick hand that I didn’t win. I had AK in a 5-way pot that was capped preflop where I got a QTxJT run out versus JJ. By the end of the level I had just over 19k despite losing that 8500 pot!

I was up to 24.5k after six levels and was getting to play with Barry Greenstein for the first time. I had gone through a dry spell and had only shown down one hand since Barry sat down (pocket aces), so I was pretty surprised when he called my UTG raise next to act at a 9-handed table and ended up showing me A5 of clubs to beat my AQ. That’s like a 0% play in my game, especially at a tight table, so it really makes you wonder. Barry was super cool though – funny and very friendly. Our table was pretty tough, so I appreciated it when it was breaking and he looked at me and said “pretty much any table out there has to be better than this one.”

My first significant pot at my new table is one of the most interesting LHE hand I’ve ever played. I got a free look with 98 from the big blind after four players limped and the small blind completed. The flop was T63 rainbow and one of the limpers bet, followed by calls from two more limpers, the small blind, and myself. The turn card was a J of spades, putting two spades on board. This time it checked around to the button and he fired in a bet. The small blind folded and I decided that the button’s range was too wide not to exploit. It’s unlikely he flopped top pair or better after flatting on the flop and it’s hard to imagine what hands he calls the flop with that have a jack in it, so I raised and the rest of the field folded. He called and the river was an ace. I continued my story and fired another bluff and he went into the tank for many minutes. In fact, I’ve never seen someone think so long in a limit format. And then he called… with Q9 of spades. Yes. Queen high. So sick! It seemed pretty genius until he said he put me on the 54 of spades, which makes it sound like he called because he thought of one hand he could beat. I peaked around 30k, but wound up bagging 14.4k after my 99 got beat in a big pot by AT. That put me 106th of 132 remaining players heading to Day 2 with 93 of us cashing. Maybe I’ll bag a big stack one of these days and not have to sweat the bubble? Not this year!

I started Day 2 off ice cold. In the first 75 minutes I only played two pots both of which I defended a raise from my big blind. I did score a double up when I got a T64QT run out with QT versus AQ, but that just got me back to where I started the day. Finally after over an hour of folding everything, someone in front of me raised and I played to get it in with AQ. He had AK, but I flopped top two pair and scored the double up. By the end of the first break, nearing the money bubble, I had built my stack up to a respectable 47.8K.

That was good enough to get my fourth WSOP cash of the summer, but I went right back into ice cold mode. By the time we had played four hour long levels, I had only entered a pot outside of the blinds five times – that’s just over one hand an hour! I dwindled all the way back down to 15k before doubling up with the K9 versus 77 and getting back up to 46k and immediately lost with AK to JJ and fell right back down to 15k.

I finally found some momentum by tripling up and then peaking at 70k after I opened with AQ and rivered Broadway against Alex Luneau. The rush I’d been waiting all day for was immediately extinguished, however, when the button tried to steal the blinds with 87o and I woke up with AA and lost a number of bets to his flopped two pair. I did end up busting Luneau to chip up a little bit one last time, but the same player that cracked my aces opened from middle position with A7o and I played to get it in with 88 and he made trips to bust me in 45th place for $3500.

I suppose I was happy to make a deep run despite having very little to work with on Day 2 and I should have busted with that AQ versus AK most of the time, so it’s hard to complain, but losing with those aces after being so card dead all day when I had finally caught some real momentum stung. If I had won that pot, I would have been a top 15 stack with less than 50 players left and had a real chance at making another final table run. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and the guy that crippled and then busted me went on to a 4th place finish.

So that was my 2017 World Series of Poker. After this event, I was in 27th place on WSOP Player of the Year leaderboard, which kind of blew my mind. I really wonder what I could have accomplished if I kept plugging along, but I busted my last event on the 13th and I didn’t fly out of Vegas until the 21st and in between I just played the downtown tournaments I talked about in Part One.

I can’t help but feel like this was another wasted opportunity and a little bit of poor planning on my part. My wife made a deal with me that I could stay for the whole Series if I made a final table – and then I did that. But what I should have done is flown home after busting the Limit Hold Em event, take a week off to relax and study, and then flown back in time for the $1500 NLHE Monster Stack and a number of tournaments I was interested in to follow. But instead, I burned myself out in the downtown events and I was ready to come home and any chance I had of being relevant in the Player of the Year race evaporated.

Still, it was another great Series for me, as I cashed for the seventh time in my last ten WSOP events and made a final table for the second consecutive year in what has been a pretty limited schedule. Next year – barring the addition of a newborn or the latest stages of a pregnancy – I will be staying for the whole Series and playing my biggest schedule yet, possibly including my first Main Event. I’m planning to drive myself down and I might fly back if there is a big gap in between events I want to play, but otherwise I will be in Vegas all six weeks. I owe it to myself to really see what I can do over a full schedule and I think that I have proven that I am capable of playing for bracelets, so that’s my new goal: I want to win a bracelet.

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2017 WSOP Trip Report – Part One (the not so good stuff)

June 28, 2017

With each passing year, I get better at doing the World Series of Poker. This goes beyond results – I’m talking about how to live in Las Vegas for weeks at a time. This year I felt I got a little bit closer to having the process mastered. I had a friend that let me stay in his time share for about ten nights for $20/night and then some friends from my high school days in Bremerton let me stay with them in their Vegas home (closer to Summerlin) for the rest of the trip for $20/night. Those prices would be 60% of just the resort fee at a strip casino! I also rented a car for about $23 a day and that proved to be about equal in cost and much more convenient than relying on shuttles and Uber to get around. Next year, I’m going to be even thriftier and just drive myself to Vegas and save on flight and car rental expenses. Finally, food is still expensive, but I did go shopping at Costco and bought some bulk necessities and I also bought a meal plan at All American Dave’s (a food truck outside the Rio). While AAD’s meals lack variety and are probably a bit overrated, you really can’t beat the convenience of ordering on Twitter and having someone deliver food directly to your seat at the poker table.

I flew to Vegas on May 30th and I flew back on June 21st and in the 3+ weeks I was there I played basically no cash games. In fact, I put in three total plays and none of them were serious sessions. I did put in an 11.5 hour marathon $4/$8 LHE play at Red Rock Casino, but I considered that a day off from the tournament grind while playing some recreational poker with my wife. I also put in a 1.5 hour $4/$8 play at Red Rock, while my hosts were playing slot machines after watching a movie at the casino. Finally, I had a successful (+$335), albeit very short (3.5 hours), $8/$16 Omaha 8 session at the Orleans. This is notable because the filterable data on my phone goes back to August of 2014 and $8/$16 Omaha 8 has been my absolute worst game (by a long shot) and the Orleans has been my absolute worst location (for cash games… I did win their weekly H.O.R.S.E. tournament a few years ago). Needless to say, cash games were not my focus on this trip. When I wasn’t playing a tournament, or I busted early, I just took time off to study or relax.

I played 11 total tournaments during my 2017 WSOP trip.

I’ll start with the six non-WSOP tournaments I played in since they were mostly uneventful. I busted $400 and $600 Omaha 8 tournaments at Venetian, both of which I went relatively deep in and didn’t cash. I busted 12 spots off the money in a $465 H.O.R.S.E. at Aria, another deep run but one in which I never had any real momentum. I went to defend my title in the $250 8-Game Mix at Golden Nugget and I did not bring my A-game that day. I was up and down in this one, but I felt like I wasn’t playing very good most of the day. My focus and patience just weren’t there. Still, the experience was notable because I had this kid named Michael Trivett at my table and you can read about my history with him here by scrolling down to this same event from last year. I saw plenty of evidence that suggested he hasn’t grown up much in the past year, but I also saw a side of him that suggests he isn’t a total dirtbag either. He had some friendly moments, so I don’t want to paint him as this constantly terrible presence at the poker table. Still, I can’t help but share an amazing exchange we had after a Razz hand we played. On 5th street I have 23-47A and his board is 92A and he raises my bet; I reraise and bet all the way after improving to a 6432A on 6th and win the pot, but then this magic happens:

Michael: I was a favorite when I raised (on 5th).
Me: Uh, I had a made 7.
Michael: I was drawing to a wheel.
Me: *speechless*
Michael: Check the math.

For those of you that don’t follow, not only do I have the best hand on 5th street, but I also have the same draw (to a wheel). I have now played with Michael Trivett twice and both times he has produced a classic moment attempting to berate me. I look forward to more encounters in the future!

I followed that 8-Game bust out with another O8 event at Golden Nugget and this time I got a min-cash by finishing in 16th, but it was really disappointing because I had double the average stack at dinner break and then came back and got scooped like four times in a row. I had basically no chips on the bubble though, so sneaking into the money felt kind of fortunate.

Finally, I played the $585 H.O.R.S.E. Championship at Binions and it was honestly kind of an embarrassing and humbling experience. First off, only 36 people entered. This wasn’t a bad thing since they had a $50K guaranteed prize pool and even with another Day One the next day, it didn’t seem likely they’d get enough entrants to meet the guarantee – so, a nice overlay. Secondly, the levels were long and the stacks were super deep. Thirdly, the field was incredibly weak – I knew I was the strongest player in room. I really felt like with the stacks that deep and the levels that long, I could overcome a lot of the variance and win that tournament way more often than my fair share. But I never had more than my starting stack and, despite the very forgiving amount of play, it was my second quickest exit of the summer. I thought I was going to print money and instead I couldn’t win a hand all day and I left frustrated and in disbelief. I don’t think my assessment of my skill level versus the field was incorrect, but it was still a good lesson in humility and I can admit that I didn’t make very good adjustments to exploit their weaknesses. I was kind of already feeling like I wanted to go home, but my performance in this event sealed the deal. I booked a flight home for the next day.

I was going to write one WSOP trip report, but in the interest of keeping my posts shorter (and thus, easier to publish), I will break it up into two parts. I played five WSOP events and I will talk about those tournaments in part 2 of my 2017 WSOP trip report.

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2016 – Year In Review (part 2)

January 4, 2017

Play 3-5 WSOP events – Cash a WSOP event (continued)

Here is an excerpt from this section of my 2016 Goals post: “I feel like I’m on the brink of a life-changing cash and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if that happens in 2016.”

This is what can happen when you work hard and believe in yourself. You keep putting yourself in a position to succeed and things will go your way eventually. I truly believed that and I finally saw it come to fruition in 2016. While final tabling a WSOP event was kind of a surreal experience and I thought I would break out in smaller way first, I do feel like that kind of success was a long time coming. Granted, I got lucky a bunch to get to that spot, but that’s what you need to happen sometimes. I’ve been deep in plenty of big tournaments and found myself in a great position to chip up late – only to lose in brutal fashion and hit the rail instead, so it was a nice change of pace.

That brings me to the $235 Daily Deep Stack at The Rio. I didn’t even plan to play this tournament. It’s not an official WSOP event, but a tournament that runs daily at the Rio during the WSOP and attracts some massive fields. I was going to play cash games all day, but my buddy was playing this and I decided to tag along with him.

I can say quite honestly that I dominated this tournament from start to finish. There were obviously some stretches of time where I had to build back up or I had to get lucky, but all in all, I really felt like I was playing some of the best poker of my life.  And the biggest change that I felt I made was that I didn’t care at all. There were a number of spots where I trusted my gut and put all my chips at risk with what most people would consider a very marginal holding but I felt the situation warranted it – and I was always right. All my moves worked. I know there was a key hand late in the event where I won a big pot with AJ where I did not have the best hand, but other than that, I can’t remember getting super lucky any other time.

I was fresh off two WSOP cashes, including my best all time score, and I was feeling zero pressure, so when I got to the final table and people started talking about deals, I stayed quiet, hoping we could just play it out. Fortunately, one lady spoke up and said she never makes a deal and she made it to heads up with me, so I never actually had to state my own opinion on the matter. Obviously this woman played pretty well to make it that far, but I bulldozed her heads up and her only chance of beating me was to win multiple coolers – and I knew it. There was just no way I was going to lose. She let me minraise every hand, folded to all my c-bets when she missed, never fought back unless she had something, and never adjusted. It was a total layup. I had to do zero guessing. And she just let me bleed her stack all the way down to the point where an all in confrontation was inconsequential. And then I won it. Eleven days after my life-changing, all-time best score in WSOP Event #1, I topped it by outlasting 1156 entrants and winning the Rio Daily Deep Stack outright for over $36,000. This tournament started at 2 PM and ended at 5:30 AM and I have to say there was no better feeling than having my wife go to sleep knowing I was making a decent run and then waking up to news of me winning it. It was such a sick run and I really can’t describe how good it felt not only to win the whole thing,  but to know how much of an impact my success was going to have on our family. The heater was real… and I wasn’t even supposed to play this one!

My next WSOP event was also relatively unplanned. I had initially planned two separate trips to the WSOP, but I cancelled my flight home after my first big cash and decided to just stay in Vegas. The $1500 Limit Hold Em tournament was an event I added during my extended stay. I felt really good about this tournament because I spend all year playing limit hold em and I felt like my edge was probably at it’s biggest here. Even when I had famous pros at my table, it wasn’t the least bit intimidating because all they can do is bet and raise the fixed amounts. They can’t apply the kind of pressure they can in a no limit situation. Not only that, but I’m sure I have more (recent) experience at this variant than pretty much all the big names. Among the notables I butted heads with in this tournament were Chris Moorman, David Chiu, 2015 Card Player Player Of The Year Anthony Zinno, eventual bracelet winner of this event Danny Le, 2015 Main Event runner up Josh Beckley, and 2015 Main Event Champion Joe McKeehen.

I also had the pleasure of playing at the same table as Alex Keating, the dude with the mountain man beard that got a decent amount of exposure in the 2016 Main Event coverage. I hated him. He was way more playful in front of the ESPN cameras than he was at my table in this event, but even during that coverage you could get a glimpse of someone that was being confrontational and acting like it’s all one big joke. It was way less subdued at my table. I thought he was clearly mean-spirited and harsh, trying to get under everyone’s skin, all while breaking plenty of rules that no one cared to enforce. I’m sure it’s all part of his game and maybe he’s a decent guy in real life, but I show no love to anyone whose whole persona is built around being a dickhead at the poker table.

With that said, I thought Anthony Zinno was an incredibly genuine, humble and funny guy, all the more impressive for someone coming off such a massive year. He seemed like someone I would become quick friends with if we crossed paths on a regular basis. Same goes for 2012 Main Event runner up Jesse Sylvia, whom I played a bunch with in the $1500 H.O.R.S.E. event. He was clearly new to the limit mix games and it was pretty funny watching how geniune and forthcoming his confusion was – or he was going for the ultimate level… but I don’t think so. Joe McKeehan was actually pretty pleasant too. I didn’t even recognize him for the first several orbits I played with him (he had abandoned the shaggy look of his 2015 title run and was more clean shaven) and then I got in a hand with him and saw ‘The Stare’ and I was like “Oh shit! I’m playing with the champ!”

I made another day 2 in this one and this time it was Josh Beckley that decimated me with a hand that I had crushed. I opened TT under the gun and Beckley three bet me in late position. I just called and we went heads up to a jack high flop. I ended up calling him down when no further scare cards showed up, but he showed me a set of 7s that he made on the river. I could definitely play this hand faster and take control of the pot by being the aggressor, but in a tournament situation, especially out of position, I felt the need to conserve chips if I was behind; and honestly, on a jack high board, he wasn’t the kind of player that was going to fold to pressure anyway.  This hand basically crippled me and I soon found myself all in with 55 and outdrawn by Zinno’s AQ on another river. I did cash this event though, albeit for another small profit, but I was now three for four in WSOP events and my lone bust out was just shy of the money. I was feeling it.

My final WSOP event ended up being the $1500 Omaha 8 or Better tournament and this is the only event I played where I really never had any momentum. Interestingly enough, it was also the only event my wife played and she was sitting right behind me. Like literally in the chair across from me at the table behind me – in a tournament that probably had over 900 entrants. Kind of crazy. Nothing too notable about this one except that I played the duration with Connor Drinan, who has over $10M in lifetime cashes and is currently ranked #12 in the world on the GPI. He was… interesting. He spent the whole tournament wearing sunglasses, which is kind of weird for someone of his status in a limit tournament, and pounding beers two at a time. And he lost with far less grace than I was expecting. He didn’t strike me as an asshole like Alex Keating did, but… he definitely had an odd vibe about him. My wife outlasted me in this one, but also failed to cash and watching her bust out actually broke my heart a little as I thought it would have been incredible for her to make a deep run in her first WSOP event.

My WSOP was unofficially over (I ended up skipping the last event I had planned), but I did have an event I wanted to play at the Golden Nugget: their $240 8-Game Mix Tournament. This is an event that features a mix of limit hold em, limit omaha 8 or better, razz, stud hi, stud 8 or better, 2-7 triple draw, no limit hold em, and pot limit omaha. It attracted 119 entrants and, again, I relatively cruised to the final table of six.

My key hand at the final table came against a player I would later identify as Michael Trivett, a guy that has a live tournament resume that resembles my own, but I thought acted like a total asshat after this pot. We were in stud hi and I had buried aces with an 8 up first to act after the bring in. With a couple of higher door cards behind me I decided to limp in and disguise the strength of my hand, but everyone ended up folding anyway and I was heads up against Michael. I took the betting lead on fourth street and continued to fire unimproved on 5th street when Michael check-raised me showing three wheel cards. He could definitely have a straight here, but my hand was way too underrepped to considering folding, plus I had a three flush working. On 6th street I caught another flush card and he caught a high card to take the board lead and bet out again. I decided that raising 6th street was a reasonable play since he was unlikely to reraise a straight when I was repping a flush and I thought I had at least 7-9 outs to a flush (can’t remember if any flush cards were dead) and possibly up to 14 more outs to trips or better – and if I missed, I could just take the free showdown. 6th street went as planned and I caught two pair on 7th and decided to go for value. He paid me off and my hand was good – and he really kind of lost it. I mean it wasn’t a total meltdown, but he was cussing at me and saying things like “that’s what happens when you get too cute,” which is a bizarre thing to say to someone after losing a pot. I kept his weak range in the pot, took an aggressive line on 6th street, and then realized my perceived equity by getting there on 7th and took him to value town… and he cried about it like a baby. He started the table with the chip lead and had a really cocky holier-than-thou vibe going on, so I was pretty happy to see him fizzle out in 6th place after this pot. Obviously this hand helped catapult me to the final two and I really thought I was going to pull off another outright win, but after my opponent pulled even with me for a second time and offered a chop, I relented and split the remaining prize pool with him.

The Golden Nugget insisted on giving a coin to and taking a photo of “the winner,” so I ended up taking first place in the record books. It was a $5700 cash in a $240 buy in, which kind of pales in comparison to my other two big wins, but would have been my career best score a mere 17 days earlier.

Obviously, it was an incredible trip for me – nothing short of magical really. It seriously changed our lives. I paid off a student loan, we bought a house, and I quit my job in October to pursue a full-time career in poker, which has always been my end goal.

While I’m still talking about tournaments it’s worth noting how these things go in streaks. I followed up my amazing WSOP run by going 0 for 13 in major tournaments for the rest of the year, including an absolutely horrifying showing during Jason Somerville’s Run It Up Reno series. I was going to blog about that experience, but I’ll just sum up by saying it was my all-time worst poker trip, financially, and while I obviously wasn’t running well, I can’t honestly say that I felt like I was playing my best either.

I have never had a losing year of tournament poker, but 2016 was my true breakout. I played 34 events with an average buy in of $494, I cashed 10 times (29% in the money), final tabled four times (including a WSOP event and a WSOPc event) taking 5th, 3rd, 1st, and 1st – and finished the year with a ridiculous and totally unsustainable 463% ROI.

Online, during my training sessions, I have played 130 tournaments, cashed 24 times (18%), final tables 14 times (10.7%) and took first 4 times for an ROI of 45%.

Read through Jared Tendler’s The Mental Game Of Poker vols. 1 & 2 and do ALL the work

This was the goal I did the worst at. While I still believe that the mental game is one of my biggest edges, I did very little to improve that muscle in 2016. It’s easy to get complacent when things are going really well, but I felt that lack of improvement when I was in Reno getting crushed and again in December when I had another rough patch. I can’t deny that it took me by surprise and I wasn’t proud of how it handled it mentally. With poker being my job now, there is no excuse for not making this a priority in 2017 to help better prepare for the inevitable bad stretches.

Maintain a 1.25 BB/HR win rate at the $8-$16 level

I spent most of 2015 hovering over 2 BB/HR, but finished at 1.12 after a terrible last three months, so I thought it was likely I could improve on that number in 2016 and I did, finishing at 1.8 BB/HR for the year over nearly 900 hours in what has been my main game the last two years. Between 2015 and 2016, I have now posted a 1.43 BB/HR win rate over 1653 hours.

After playing 0 hours of $20/$40 in 2015, I did play a decent amount in 2016 thanks to Fortune opening in Renton and the bankroll boost I got during the WSOP. In the past, I have found that I struggle in new places as I adjust to new players and learn how they play, but I still managed to post a 0.52 BB/HR win rate over 158 hours of $20/$40 against mostly new faces, which I’m not too unhappy about. I had two horrible sessions in Reno in what I felt was the softest $20/$40 game I’ve ever played in and I have a long history of winning at limit hold em, so I suspect my current win rate is a product of less than ideal run good in a short sample size.

Top 5 $8/$16 Sessions:
1. +$2377 on MY BIRTHDAY @ Palace – includes $130 for HH, $220 for straight flush, $1042 for another straight flush – CRAZY
2. +$1754 @ Palace – $250 for quads
3. +$1722 @ Palace – no bonuses
4. +$1563 @ Palace – no bonuses
5. +$1451 @ Palace – no bonuses
6. +$1250 @ Palace – no bonuses

Worst 5 $8/$16 Sessions:
1. -$1259 @ Palace
2. -$992 @ Palace
3. -$915 @ Palace
4. -$866 @ Palace
5. -$856 @ Palace

Top 5 non-$8/$16 Sessions:
1. +$4245 in $30/$60 with a $50/$100 kill @ Ameristar in Colorado
2. +$3275 in $20/$40 @ Fortune
3. +$3067 in $20/$40 @ Fortune
4. +$1525 in $20/$40 @ Fortune
5. +$1500 in $10/$20 O8 @ Clearwater

Worst 5 non-$8/$16 Sessions:
1. -$2300 in $20/$40 @ Fortune
2. -$2123 in $20/$40 @ Peppermill in Reno
3. -$1157 in $20/$40 @ Fortune
4. -$1027 in $15/$30 O8 @ Fortune
5. -$946 in $10/$20 O8 @ Clearwater

Reach a $30,000 bankroll

Even after buying a house and clearing some debt, I have quite easily annihilated this goal.

All in all, 2016 was nothing short of an amazing year. The run I went on from June 1st to August 7th is truly mind-blowing. Obviously June was the massive game-changer, but I followed that up with the best cash game month of my career in July, which was capped by the mammoth session on my birthday, and then my first session in August at Ameristar was my biggest net win in a cash game of all-time. So for those two months it really felt like I was on Cloud 9. My only losing months were in April and again in October (thanks to the Reno disaster).

That wraps up my 2016 and all the goals I set for myself. I will be thinking about what I want to accomplish this year over the next few days and I will have a post up with my goals for 2017 within the next week.

Thanks for all your love and support – I really felt it when I was down in Vegas and it was greatly appreciated!

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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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2015 Poker Year In Review

January 4, 2016

All in all, I’d have to consider 2015 the best year of my life. As far as gambling goes, it was my third best year ever, but I’ll get to that later. In my personal life, I had a lot of big things happen this past year: I married my beautiful, amazingly supportive wife, Dina, in May and then we moved out of Kitsap County across the Narrows Bridge to University Place in Tacoma in August. Shortly afterwards, I was hired to work at the Palace in Lakewood, where a slow day is when we only have four games going. This wasn’t just a great move for me concerning my day job, it was an absolutely essential move for me as a poker player. Sorry to say it, but there just isn’t a poker scene in Kitsap County anymore. Silverdale and Bremerton went from 3-4 rooms completely thriving during the poker boom of 2004-2007, to having three rooms within 5 miles of each other spreading multiple games at the same time as recently as 2010-2011, to having ONE poker room with ONE $4-$8 game – and maybe a second game for a few hours on peak nights, but more often than having a second game there was NO game after 11 PM in Kitsap County in 2015. You have to drive at least 30 minutes to find another option. Eventually, with a major assist from my wife wanting to be closer to her work and family, I found that option so attractive that I decided to cut out the commute altogether and just relocated. It was a decision that already has and will continue to let us realize a ton of growth. If you’re as sick of the Kitsap poker scene as I was, I have good news for you: people are still gambling in Pierce County and King County.

In addition to the overdue change of scenery, I also bid adieu to my last link to my 2010 DUI: the breathalyzer that had been installed in my car for the past 5+ years. Less than a week later, I got rid of my POS 2001 Pontiac Grand Am that I was driving into the ground and upgraded to a brand new 2016 Subaru Legacy. In fact, the only negative that remains from my past mistakes these days is a hospital bill for my emergency appendectomy I had in late 2008. With a balance of over $23,000 I simply have no intentions of ever paying it off. I still haven’t decided exactly how I’m going to tackle that issue, but since it is not on my credit report and doesn’t really affect my livelihood, it’s not really that imposing of a storm cloud.

Now back to poker. Technically speaking, 2015 was only my third best year of my poker career – in 2005, I had an absurd three month stretch that convinced me to play professionally and make all sorts of terrible decisions in my life that would lead to a downward spiral I wouldn’t really start to recover from until 2011; and I had a breakout year in 2012 where everything finally started to click – but it was quite easily my best year in terms of giving myself the cushion that will be needed to play for a living some day and continue laddering up the stakes. My new day job has finally allowed me to handle our monthly expenses without having to use any money I win gambling, so all my profits from playing poker are now entirely invested in our future.

As far as my actual 2015 goals are concerned, these are the goals I set for myself and how well I succeeded at achieving them:

I had a bunch of mental game goals for 2015, including: studying away from the table, profiling players at the table, improving my c-game, focus on how well I’m playing and my emotional control instead of focusing on results, taking notes throughout my sessions, studing opponents in tournaments to find mistakes and exploit them, and taking my time in critical pots. If I’m being honest with myself, I feel like I started out really strong in staying on point with these goals, but as I smashed the $8-$16 game all throughout the spring and deep into the fall, I got lazy and, possibly, – *gasp* – overconfident. I certainly stopped profiling players and I stopped taking notes of all the hands I played, and I can think of a few big pots in tournaments where I really didn’t think things through enough and made big, tournament-costing mistakes. Definitely not a great success here, but I’m way better at handling variance than I used to be. Perhaps the best stat that shows just how much growth I’ve made in this department is this one: in 2015, my main game was the $8-$16 at the Palace and, overall, I played 93 sessions totaling 701 hours for an average session length of 7.53 hours. What that number means is that I’m basically never quitting a session because I’m running bad. There may have been a time or two I should have, but most of the time, I powered through and, quite frequently, I’d limit the damage or even book a win in a session where I would’ve left a big loser in the past. It’s all about the long run and that’s a concept I seem to fully understand now.

I also had goals to spend less than 20% of my live hours in $4-$8 games, play 750 total live hours, and play at least 100 hours of no limit cash games. I smashed my 750 hour goal by playing 1487 total hours, including tournament play. I only spent 18.8% of my total cash game hours in $4-$8 games and over half of those hours were as the floorman propping the game at my old job. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the $4-$8 limit is a thing of my past. I did not play 100 hours of no limit cash. I only played 40 hours… over 12 sessions. So not only am I not putting in the sessions, but the ones I do play are super short. I played three reasonably long Super Sundays at Muckleshoot before I started working on Sundays, but other than that, I was in and out of any no limit game I played this past year.

I did play 2-3 events at the 2015 WSOP – two WSOP events and two daily tournaments – and went 0 for 4, to bring my career total at the Rio during the WSOP to 0 for 9. I did not play a tournament series in a city I’ve never been to before but I did set a new career high tournament score with my third place finish in the 08 event at the Wildhorse Fall Round Up in Pendleton, Oregon.

I spent most of my poker playing time in the $8-$16 game, where I exceeded my goal of 1 BB/HR by maintaining a 1.12 BB/HR win rate over a significant sample size, despite a monstrous downswing from early October to late December.

My five biggest $8-$16 wins were: +$2230, +$1835, +$1697, +$1360, +$1246.
My five biggest losses: -$1847, -$1238, -$1166, -$1081, -$896.

I had a 0.48 BB/HR win rate at $4/$8 with my top 5 wins being: +$616, +$499, +$456, +$441, +$425.

I played 151 hours of Omaha 8 for a whopping $478 profit despite a -0.29 BB/HR win rate (I hit and ran the $20-$40 at the WSOP pretty good).

I played 93.5 hours above the $8/$16 level and maintained a 0.46 BB/HR win rate. Most of those hours were in the $10/$20 O8 game at Clearwater where I basically broke even (-$34) and almost all of that win rate resulted from smashing the $20/$40 O8 at the Rio for an hour and having a good $15/$30 Razz session a few days later. Basically none of these stats are meaningful – due to lack of sample size – although I do feel like my O8 game could needs work. I see no reason for me not to be a 1 BB/HR player in most O8 game in the United States – it just seems so attainable.

My best location was the Palace by a mile. My worst location for 2015 was Diamond Lils and I only played one $8/$16 session there and it didn’t even crack my top five worst that I listed above. I posted a profit for the year on every single day of the week, with my best day being Saturdays by a long shot and my worst day being Fridays, which is a bit bewildering to me (note: after digging deeper, I discovered that my average session length on Fridays was less than 5.5 hours, which leaves me vulnerable to quite a bit of short term variance – it’s no mystery why my shortest sessions are far less profitable than my longest ones). I only had two losing months for the year and the worst month was in April and I only lost $289, so all in all, 2015 was a consistently very good year.

I played in 48 tournaments, cashed in 8 of them (16%), for a 25% ROI. My average buy in $183, which is a significant increase over years past. I’ve never had a losing year of tournament poker – even when I deep into the misery of alcoholism – but a week into November I was down multiple thousands in tournament buy ins before clutching up for that third place O8 finish at the Fall Round Up that put me squarely in the black for the year. I also won the weekly H.O.R.S.E. tournament at The Orleans in Vegas in June and cashed two of the major Muckleshoot events this year, but if I said I was satisfied with my tournament performance over the past couple years, I’d be lying. I know I can do better and I know I will. That’s the thing about tournaments – when you make a mistake, it can cost you your tournament life or cripple you and you have to wait til the next event to plug that leak. Hopefully I’ve ironed out enough leaks that I’m in store for a monster 2016!

I was going to post my 2016 poker goals in this blog, but I will do that in the next couple days. Good night!

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Poker: Nasty November

November 30, 2015

Okay, so it wasn’t a total disaster. Thankfully I finished 3rd in the $225 Omaha 8 Or Better tournament at the Fall Round Up in Pendleton, Oregon for a career high $5800 score (for the full write up, click here). It was a performance that saved my month from the abyss. It’s the other 29 days of November that made me sick to my stomach.

Outside of that tournament win, the best day I had was for a mere +$370. In contrast, I had four days where I lost at least $780. In all, even with the big score, I profited less than $1000 for the month. Now, I know plenty of people would be happy to make $1000 a month playing poker, and I am grateful to turn a profit despite what felt like a terrible month, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit defeated after the past two months.

What’s really eating at me is how poorly I’ve been doing in my main game, which is the $8-$16 in Lakewood. I haven’t just been losing, I’ve been getting TROUNCED. After polishing off nine straight winnings sessions for a $6k profit, I have gone on a miserable and mighty downswing. Over my last 16 sessions, I’ve posted a loss 10 times and 6 of those sessions have been for at least -$750. To make things worse, of my 6 winning sessions, none of them eclipsed +$750. I’ve shaved 39% off my win rate for the year in the last 6 weeks, dropping from 2+ BB/HR all the way down to 1.21 BB/HR.

Now I can’t really say this is all that surprising. I never really expected to sustain a 2 BB/HR win rate over the long run in a medium stakes limit game in 2015 – it’s just not realistic. The average player is so much better than they were a decade ago and honestly, I feel like 1.25-1.5 BB/HR is a more realistic number for crushing the game.

So I was due from some negative variance.

But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. In fact, it’s caught me quite a bit off guard. November is typically my worst month of the year as I tend to get lazier as the year progresses and my focus lapses before the new year kicks me into high gear again. So with my focus and my studying at its lowest point for the year, a monstrous downswing has played havoc with my psyche. I knew I was going to fall back to earth, but I wasn’t prepared to get my ass kicked – for weeks. There have been moments over the past two months where it felt like pure torture at the table… like the cards were mocking me, laughing at me. I’m just never going to flop a set when it gets capped multiway… or my huge draw is never getting there in the monster pots – and if I do get there, I’m finding ways to lose anyway.

I had a session last week where I flopped top pair with a premium kicker twelve times and every single time I got raised and every single time I lost the pot. It reached a point where I was expecting to get raised… and they never let me down. At the tail end of that session I flopped the nut flush draw, with a gut shot, after three betting an opponent who was opening a wide range, so even though he capped it preflop, I decided to take the point and play my ace high monster draw like it was the best hand. The board was 5323 and when I got check-raised on the turn, I felt it: a total loss of emotional control. My composure was entirely relying on the outcome of this river card. A brick… and I can’t fold…. and now he’s showing me the 63 of spades. I could feel myself boiling. Not because he beat with a trashy hand, but because I was fed up with the variance, annoyed that my aggression was getting punished to the max, and, more than anything, angry at myself for letting short term results affect me so much. Now I don’t cause a scene when I’m upset, but when you’re boiling on the inside, it’s pretty difficult to hide how you’re feeling on the outside. I might not say anything, but you can tell I am fuming. And that’s when it’s time for me to quit playing.

Fortunately, one of my strengths as a poker player is recognizing where and how my game is falling apart. I know I will get out of this funk – I have years and years of history that proves that I will – but when I’m blatantly struggling with my emotional control and letting results affect my mental state, I know it’s time to start holding myself accountable again. That means making studying a priority (starting with the mental game) and making sure I stay focused at the table. It’s easy to get lazy and go on cruise control when things are going extremely well, but I’m paying the price now for my lack of dedication. It’s not that I’m playing bad – although any deviation in your mental state is technically a form of tilt – it’s how I’m handling a series of poor results. It happens. It’s part of the game and I know that. So it shouldn’t be shaking me to my core. The variance will take care of itself eventually so I need to make sure I’m focusing on playing each hand as well as I can and making sure I have a game plan for when things go awry.

Bring it on December.

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Poker Goals – July 2015

August 6, 2015

July 2015 was one of the most turbulent and frustrating months of poker I’ve ever experienced. I started the month off hot, winning 8 of 9 sessions, including a solid showing in the Muckleshoot spread game on Super Sunday. All in all, after 5 days, I was up over 60 big bets at my normal limit.

I followed that happy start with back-to-back-to-back -$800 sessions over a three day period, which amounted to the largest downswing (in terms of money lost) I’ve experienced in at least five years – or since the days when alcohol used to wipe my entire bankroll out on a regular basis. Of course, now that I’m playing $8/$16 regularly instead of $4/$8 I’m not surprised to have bigger financial downswings, but having it happen so severely in three short days was a bit jarring.

It was a short lived disaster, however, as I quickly recovered by going on a massive heater that included nine straight winning days and profits in 12 of 13 total sessions. All in all, this stretch was good for a 260 big bet upswing and changed my game plan for the month. I initially planned to play the Muckleshoot deep stack tournament every Tuesday night, but since I was running at around $100 an hour in my normal game, I couldn’t really justify wasting my time in a tournament where my best result so far has been getting my money back. Even though running in the 4-5 BB/HR range is totally unrealistic, this wasn’t my first stretch like that this year, and running extremely well can affect your emotions and game just as much as running bad can. It’s easy to forget how hard poker can be when you go through a hot streak like this.

I was quickly brought back to reality over the last week or so of July. I played a mere 20 hours over 5 days, but I got clobbered again. I was losing hard and I was losing fast. My starting hands were running pretty good, but I was whiffing the flop almost every time I raised and when I did connect, I would win a small pot or lose a big one. My draws were pretty much never coming in and it really felt like an impossible task to show down a winner. Not only did I run at -$108/hour over this period, but I also lost more money in a single limit session than I have since I’ve started tracking all my results five years ago. Again, now that I’m an $8/$16 regular, this is to be expected. Not only are my downswings and single session losses going to be bigger financially, they are also likely to be bigger proportionately since the $8/$16 game I play in is significantly more volatile than the $4/$8 games I used to play. My worst result in a normal $4/$8 game was -66.25 big bets. That’s over thousands and thousands of hours – so probably as bad as it was ever going to get. In what is probably less than 1000 hours of $8/$16 lifetime, I’ve already far exceeded that bad result, by posting a -77 big bet session during this stretch of run bad.

All in all, it was a pretty bizarre month. I ended up with a pretty dinky profit for July which I guess is pretty nice considering I not only experienced my worst downswing of the past five years, but also my second worst downswing. On the other hand, it’s also pretty disappointing, since three weeks into July I was having an amazing month and felt like I was basically printing money. Oh well. It was a good exercise for my mental game and while I was incredibly disappointed with myself during that six rack loss – I felt physically ill and I was incapable of even pretending to be interested in what anyone was saying to me – the feelings didn’t linger and I felt normal by the time I got home usually and certainly by the next morning. So even though I felt some emotional collapse at the table, I could still see that my mental game has grown overall by my ability to move on quickly and put things behind me.

I decided to abandon the style of poker reviews I’ve been posting since the start of the year since it was a bit repetitive and a lot of the goals I set are shoo-ins to be met – for instance, playing most of my hours in $8/$16. Really, the only time I’m in a $4/$8 game these days is when I’m waiting for a seat in the bigger game or when I’m propping.

I did keep pretty studious notes during this past month, however, in order to post about hands that gave me trouble and to help identify how variance is affecting my results in the short term and to better help evaluate my own play. Here are the results of what I consider to be the key hand categories:

AA: 7-12 (58.33%)
KK: 13-17 (76.5%)
QQ: 6-9 (67.67%)
JJ: 7-10 (70%)
TT: 2-5 (40%)
99: 3-15 (20%)
88: 3-9 (33.33%)
77: 5-10 (50%)
66-22: 6-37 (16%)

AK: 6-29 (20.7%)
AQ: 13-33 (39.4%)
AKs-ATs: 8-31 (25.8%)
KQs-KTs: 11-23 (47.8%)
QJs-JTs: 10-20 (50%)
Sets: *14-21 (67.67%)
Flush Draws: **29-73 (39.73%)

*note: I made a set when I played a pocket pair about 16% of the time, which seems about average considering I’m including the times I made a set on the turn and river.
**note: I lost six times when I made a flush.

I ran well with my big pocket pairs and ran about average on making sets and flushes, but I lost a whopping 33% of the time I had a set and I lost over 20% of the time I had a flush. That seems unlucky. My AK results look less than ideal, but the rest of the hands look to have run pretty average overall. Variance seems to have had a modest affect on my results last month, it just seems worse because a lot of the losing hands happened in the last ten days of the month.

I missed the first Muckleshoot deep stack of August, but I likely will be playing them on Tuesdays going forward. I’m better off spending my time in cash games, but I plan on playing multiple events in the Muckleshoot Fall Classic next month so prepping for that series in the Muckleshoot deep stack makes a lot of sense.

Here’s to hoping August will be a smoother ride than July was!