Thanks to Red Chip Poker I have bumped up my flight to Vegas from a flight accommodating a short family visit and a concurrent $1000 NL paper chase, to a free lotto ticket in the so-called Colossus reentry marathon beginning May 29. The four starting flights of this inaugural tourney will be spread over two busy days without dinner breaks, with felted players allowed entry into any remaining starting sections, will have fairly short forty minute levels. Day two, with the presumed bunnies consigned to the bin, reverts to a more typical WSOP hour long structure. However, with its small buy in of $565, short starting stack of 100 blinds, its early placement on the exciting schedule of events, and the rapidly increasing possibility of up 12,000 entrants, this tournament will be a SNAFU no matter how it is organized. No limit indeed; buyin beware.
Which is why I very grateful to have my ticket earned through a Red Chip freeroll two weeks ago, held on Pokerstars Home Games. With this victory, participating in a WSOP crapshoot will only cost me about $1000 in planes, trains, automobiles and resealed water bottles. Focusing more on the upside, the distinct possibility of having less than twenty five big blinds within an hour and half of play and less than sixty hands means my number one focus will be upon the most classic and wise of poker strategies: running pure.
A strategy, I will say, that got me to where I needed to be in the Red Chip freeroll. I ran well even before the cards were dealt, in fact. In misunderstanding of Pokerstars Home Games tournament limitations, a number of aspiring lotto winners were not allowed to participate, knocking out an unknown number of participants. While minor blowback over customer service was swirling around the RCP bureaucrats, with blame briefly being knocked about in the forum, the real lesson seemed to be lost on the aggrieved parties. Which is to say, nothing but planning in advance and knowing where you stand is right for poker players, that lonely bunch of plastic rectangle entrepreneurs.
My run good continued, fortunately for me, as the cards were dealt. I was granted immediate position on Skors, a poster whose multiple hand histories left me in a very comfortable information position. It was with this in mind that I started my run by trapping myself for my tournament life- but I like my play quite a bit. With close to starting stacks it folded around to Skors on the button, whose 3x raise, fine for this level, I flatted with KK. There are multiple reasons to commence the hand this way. Most important among them, the chips at this stage of the tournament have little value compared to what they will be worth in about an hour of a fast tournament; I can set up a dynamic of stealing from him, but this is secondary, as I do not know if I will be even at his table in a level; in other words, my stack is more important than our interplay. Third, the possibility of a flat from the blinds with a premium pair will generally escape the notice of both the button and the big blind, who is suddenly presented with a squeeze opportunity, which can yield yet another bet to capture at a stage where no one should be trying to give away too much. In any case, the BB decided to squeeze my flat, and Skors responded with a 4bet. For me, the pot was growing too large, too fast, and I realized that the possibility of being up against AA just increased significantly. However, there was nothing to be done, having played my hand this way, so I moved in, the BB called, and Skors folded. I was up against AA, but the flop was favorable, yielding me a gutter, and I binked the cleaner K on the turn to immediately take the table chip lead.
I immediately became very active, possibly too active for these early stages, but the table did not fight me until I let another player hang himself. I had opened a weak ace, hit top pair, checked the turn, and river, letting him rip it in mistakenly. I felt that the way the table was playing and hiding from my opens, someone was ready to self-destruct, and I became chip leader.
Within a level of this development, the last portion of my run good concluded with a resounding felting of a forum poster. I raised min raised 99 from EP at 20/40 and was three bet by the poster JackofClubs to 200. I felt this was a strong sizing from a player who seemed positionally aware and had at least fifty big blinds, I think, so plenty of tournament equity protect. Everything added up to him holding a very strong hand, so I discarded the idea of four betting, and flatted the raise. The flop came 9JQ. While in a cash game I would prefer to lead, I decided to check raise and represent a possible pressure play with a pair and a draw, like tens or KQs, in hopes of playing for stacks. He responded by shoving, I believe, and AA lost. GG.
With twice the chips of the rest of the field, I continued to try to bully this and next table I was moved to. We were far enough along, as evidenced by the 99 hand, that I was using the min raise to steal and set up steals. This may not be ideal according to the very latest poker theory, but it was better than most of the field’s strategy, who were continuing to waste precious chips with 3x opens and suspect flats. While I was able to keep my exact chip stack for the next hour, nothing really went my way again, and the field eventually caught up with me, dropping me down to second, then third, and as the final two tables were set, as low as fifth, I believe.
It was around this time that the slight chip leader and the second position player played a giant pot of which I missed the preflop action. However, somehow, in what is probably not the wisest tournament poker, the two big stacks got all the chips in the middle on a coin flip for the apparent tournament, with Valvejob1 downing QQ with AKhh. I nearly congratulated him on the tournament win in chat then and there. From this moment on, with three times the chips of the nearest stack, he played big boy poker and pressured much of the field into collapse. Sets and broadway cards were long ago, and this card dead section was slightly trying, but it had the benefit of forcing me out of any confrontations. I made several important light three bets apparently leveraging tournament lives very well, because all of them got the folds one needs to thrive in a freezeout; these were all the blinds I needed to survive three levels of inactivity.
At this point my memory is a little hazy, unfortunately. I was tired. I play cash games almost exclusively, though I follow and think about tournaments, and being forced to interact on someone else’s terms was little like accepting a roller coaster ride with someone who wanted to go far more than I. I know I did not recognize any of the players at the table by their forum names. I picked my spots well enough, and kept my twenty big binds intact. I watched a few drowning stacks suffocate, and coasted to the final table. I had twenty bigs, and was comfortable.
Valvejob1 dominated the final table both in play and in showdowns. I don’t think the other players handled him very well, and while the final table featured more aggressive play, I distinctly recall several third down punts. I didn’t admire a lot of the bet sizing going on, a recurrent theme throughout the tournament, something for forum players to consider as they countdown to their WSOP effort.
All of which added up to what felt like a somewhat inevitable heads up match. I had chipped up a little, and his lead started at about 2.5:1. My strategy was to play pots, we did not engage in a folding war; however, I continued to see complete air pre and post, and Valvejob1’s chip lead grew to a dangerous 4.5:1. I could imagine an onlooker wondering why I was not playing for stacks, but I wanted to give my strategy a little more time. After all, coming into this tournament, I had won the only three sitngos I’d played in two years, and the only other freeroll: heads up is not foreign to me. My monthly late night battles with the Lobster for real money was serious, if slightly ridiculous, experience with aggression.
In any case, down on the point of danger, I made my first hand, raising with Q5, a fine holding for heads up. I flopped two pair, and checked a full house. My opponent not only had a hand, he had shown what would ultimately be his undoing, an overly aggressive style. I checked, nearly completely sure he would bet his entire range, which he did, and I doubled up.
From this point onward I felt very good about my chances- despite his tough play and even after getting him down to eight blinds and letting him actually retake the lead. We played a lot of cat and mouse preflop, but the key to maintaining my control and never letting him finish me off was recognizing his overdone check raising strategy. While I surrendered an appropriate number of times, I was able to bet/3bet all my marginal made hands and draws over the right board textures where he was representing very little, thus regaining all the blinds, and more, than he would steal from me preflop, justifying my strategy of seeing more than seventy percent of flops.
At one point exactly half way through the match I was able to claim a significant pot, maybe 15% of the chips in play and after a long series of preflop stunting, which was probably the tipping point for my confidence in winning. After going with 65o pre, I was able to call with fourth pair a river bluff representing very little after a draw came in that Valvjob1 had not semibluffed.
It not too much later when I had him completely on the ropes. He had adjusted his preflop raise sizing in an effort to end the postflop play, and I allowed myself to make one calling error before I again speculated with the 76cc despite it being a bad deal stack wise. I felt the equity of the hand was good, and I was playing post well enough. The flop came 8510, and when my draw bricked and he again failed to follow up his flop bet with turn aggression, I put him all in with 7 high, and he elected to save his tournament life and last few blinds, which turned out to be a great decision for him, because I almost immediately made my biggest mistake of the entire tournament.
With something like a 7:1 chip lead, I immediately forced the issue and gambled to end the tournament, which he survived. Now with enough chips to play, he shoved over my min open with A6cc, and I snap called. Whether you like this call for its equity vs. his range or not, my giant mistake was “snap” doing anything. I did not even think for a second. As it happens, he won for the second time a saving pot with AJ, only this time, he had doubled twice, and the match was nearly even. Valvejob reverted to smaller raises, which I think was either for his stack size or a recognition that 3x was not going to help him; either way it was the right adjustment and he was still ready to play.
However, despite this error with the weak suited ace, I was still firmly in control of what I wanted to do, and I proceeded to wear him down some more, nearly certain of the result. Further, the deck return to my favor, showing me QQ and AA, although Valvejob1 did not bite on either. In fact, during this final fourth of what was over two hours of heads up play, Valvejob seemed to be saving himself for the right spot. His frequencies modulated downward; I could see and sense his energy and confidence slightly tapering in short but costly sequences where he surrendered preflop, whereas before he would have raised his entire range. I foresaw the end, and, after again regaining a near critical advantage, I picked up JJ, and shoved over his open. After some consideration, Valvejob made the call with A7ss, perhaps an artifact of my dump with A6ss. He flopped top pair, but I held for a happy victory over a valiant effort by my opponent. Hail and well met.