Thursday, August 31, 2006

How many games is too many?

When I first started playing online poker in January of 2004 the first thing I did was play a $10 single table tournament (which I won by the way). I was already a seasoned poker player, so It wasn't long until I moved up to bigger games and started playing more than one game at a time. Playing two games at a time wasn't much more difficult than one. After all if you're spending most of your time folding before the flop like you should be, why not get in twice as many hands in the same amount of time. I quickly jumped from two games at a time to three at once, but there I stayed for a long, long time. Of course I tried to play 4 at a time, but adding that extra game really threw me off and I found myself making plenty of mistakes.

Eventually I did make the jump to four games. I recall a time after I'd been playing online for about 6 months when party poker sent me an offer. It informed me that if I played 400 hands in cash games any time in the next week they'd send me a free polo shirt and a hat. There's something about getting a prize that I find exciting. If they had been offering me $20 (which is probably twice what the stuff they were sending me was worth) I almost certainly wouldn't have done it. But I wanted that stupid shirt and hat!

I decided to jump into four $3/$6 limit hold'em games and knock out 400 hands in about an hour and a half. I kindly asked my wife and our roommates to not talk to me at all during the duration of this experiment. I took a deep breath and dove in. It felt like things were moving fast and furious, but since I was nervous about getting distracted playing so many games, I was able to handle it and won $250 on top of the free goodies (which of course went directly to their home in the back of some closet the moment they arrived).

Thinking back it amazes me how much trouble 4 games at a time gave me, because soon after that day I started playing four $55 or $109 single table tournaments (sit-n-go's or SNG's) at a time all day every day. After about a year and a half of that, I felt like I needed a new challange.

I was curious how many games I could play at a time, but I was limited by the fact that my computer was a laptop. Even with just 4 games, the windows (which were not resizable at the time) overlapped significantly and if I added any more I wouldn't be able to see what was going on at all of the tables. Finally I had the crazy idea that I could get 8 games going at once if I used two lap tops ("no need to play 5 or 6 at a time, I'll just jump right up to 8" I thought) So I grabbed my wife's laptop, logged on to two different websites (since you can't be logged on to the same site on more than one computer) and hopped into eight $55 SNG's. I quickly discovered that while I could handle the decisions (barely) using two mice at the same time was not easy. Rather than using two mice with my right hand and potentially getting confused about which one went with which computer, I used my left hand for the computer on the left and my right hand for the one on the right. Not surprisingly, it turns out that it's much harder to use a mouse with your left hand after you've been using your right hand to operate one your entire life.

The first time I tried this experiment I did insanely well finishing 1st in three of the eight along with a 2nd and a 3rd. I did it a few more times with moderate success, but not long after Jen and I moved to a new house and I bought a desktop...a desktop with an uber monitor!

I figured after 2 years of doing this online thing for a living I was ready to improve my equipment. I toyed with the idea of getting two monitors and setting it up where I could have one mouse sweep the magic arrow across both, but then I decided I wanted one big monitor. I thought if I had two normal monitors I'd wish I had one big one, but I'd never wish I had two smaller ones. With great excitement, I went on the Dell website and spent $2,000 on a 30 inch flat screen monitor. It's awsome and may be my favorite possesion. At max resolution it will run at 2560 X 1600 meaning you can run 4 full size windows of internet explorer, or word or whatever with no overlap. More importantly I can run 9 poker games with no overlap. So of course as soon as I got it, that's what I did.

I decided to go with $200 buy-in no limit cash games because apparently I'd been taking crazy pills all morning. In retrospect this was a poor choice, because unlike SNG's where you just sign up and you're in, in cash games you have to do much more just to get in. First you have to join a waiting list and then you have to click on the open seat to join when it becomes avaliable and then tell them how much you want to buy-in for and then decided if you want to wait for the big blind or play right away. Normally this isn't a problem, but when you're alreay in 7 games and you have to go through all this nonsense it's tough. Another problem is once your 9 handed game gets fewer than 7 people in it, it usually collapses as the rest of the players leave to join a full game. It took me the better part of 20 minutes to just get to the point where I was getting dealt in in all 9 games.

Playing this many games at a time in totally insane. Not only can you not talk to other people you can't think about anything that isn't directly related to one of the hands you're in. I'd find myself thinking "what should I have for dinner later...oh shit I just missed three hands." I bet if you looked at me, you could see steam coming out of my ears. I went on like this for about 2 hours during which I played over 1100 hands (I ended up winning a whopping $70). In a casino if you played every hand that was dealt at a table without a break it would take you 32 hours to play 1100 hands. Unfortunately I felt about how you would if you played 32 hours of poker - pretty much brain dead.

These days I usually play 6 games at a time, and I've recently been thinking that I might actually make more money if I scaled it back to 5. Every game you add you make less per game. If you're in one game you can watch all of the players, keep track of what they're doing, and use that information to predict their future actions. If you're in 3 games you can remember what a few of the players have done usually just in the hands in which you were involved. If you're in 6 games you have very little information about the actions of the other players and just have to hope that your general strategy is better than theirs.

Imagine in your favorite online game you can make $10 an hour on average. If you play 2 games you can't make twice as much because your attention is split, but you might be able to make $8 per game per hour or $16 an hour total. Add another game and you might be able to make $7 an hour per game or $21 an hour total. If you go to 4 games at once however you might drop to $5 per game or $20 an hour total so you'd be better off sticking with 3 games. But consider this; what if the gap between you and your opponents is such that it takes almost no thought on your part to make $4 per game per hour and you can handle 8 games at once. Now you're making $36 an hour.

Another thing that goes into this equation is, you can play 1 or 2 games all day long without much drop off in your level of alertness, but if you're playing 7 or 8 at a time it's tough to go for more than 2 or 3 hours at a time without needing a long break. You just start to feel a little fuzzy, sort of how you feel right after you get out of bed in the morning (not how you want to feel with big bucks riding on your decisions)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Party Poker Monster and an Old School Beat Down

The Party Poker Monster! AHHHH Don't let it get me! No it's not a mythical beast that eats online dollars and spits fiery aces at your fleeing pocket kings; it's a series of "freerolls" on Partypoker.com. A freeroll is a tournament that costs nothing to enter, but has "valuable" prizes to be won. These prizes are almost always cash prizes, but sometimes there are things like entries to big tournaments, various goodies, or even cars (like Ferraris and Porches) to be won. Some of these tournaments are open to literally anyone who wants to enter and are offered as a promotion to get new players to join or to get existing players to log in and start playing (most people once they start will play more than one game at a time or continue to play after they go broke in the freeroll). To play in other free rolls (the good ones) you have to qualify by playing normal games a certain amount in a given period of time.

Party Poker has come up with something a little different which is somewhat complicated, but should be profitable. I'll try my best to explain it and hopefully any of you poker players out there will be able to see the value. The first step is to win your way into the "$100,000 weekly freeroll." There are three ways to get into one of these events. The rarest way is to be playing in a "monster jackpot" game when someone hits a "bad beat jackpot." Everyone who is playing the same game at the same limit at that time wins an entry into the weekly freeroll. The second way in is to finish in the top 3 of a few designated tournaments. In addition to winning whatever they normally would win (except something like 8% of the prize pool goes to the final monster prize pool which I'll get to in a minute) these lucky few also win an entry into the weekly freeroll. This is also pretty tough. The third and easiest way is to win a Monster single table tournament. $5 from every player goes to the final monster prize pool and the rest of the tournament plays out normally with the winner getting an entry into the weekly freeroll. Confused yet?

So let's say you've won your way into one of the weekly free rolls which allow a maximum of 8000 players to enter. They're giving away $100,000 and there are probably going to be 8,000 players so an entry to this tournament is only worth as much as a free buy-in for a $12.50 tournament. Not too exciting. But, the top 2000 players in each of the weekly freerolls win an entry into one of the $1,000,000 monthly freerolls which will also have a max of 8000 players. So making to the top 2,000 in the weekly is worth about $125 in equity. Now we're getting some where. But wait there's more, and this is where it gets really interesting. If you finish in the top 1,000 of any monthly freeroll you get entered into the Monster Final. Do you remember the money from the bottom level that I said was getting added to the monster final prize pool? Well in the Monster Final that's what everyone will be playing for. They "seeded" this prize pool with $5,000,000 and after 3 weeks it's up to about 9.5 million dollars. If everything stopped right now an entry into the Monster Final would be worth over $1,000 in equity. But, there are 32 total weekly freerolls (with 29 left to go) and 7 monthly freerolls so there's lots of time to keep adding to the prize pool. It looks like the final could have a prize pool approaching $50,000,000 if the pace stays the same (and I think it will increase as more people do the math and realize how big this thing could be). To my knowledge the biggest prize pool in online history was the main event of last years World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) which was just over $3,000,000. The largest prize pool in poker history was this years WSOP main event which was around $87,000,000, followed by last years WSOP main event at just over $56,000,000 and the 2004 WSOP main event at around $25,000,000. It looks like this thing could be a piece of poker history, but I get the sense that right now no one cares about it and most of the good players out there aren't going to bother with it (there's a lot of leg work at the begining and no guarentees that it will lead to anything).

So far I've missed the cut in the two weekly tournaments I've played (I went broke with big pocket pairs in both) and I didn't bother to qualify for one since I was at E.B. and Jean's wedding. My wife Jen, on the other hand, finished 675th in today's weekly tournament so she'll be in the $1,000,000 monthly qualifier for sure. I've got 3 more shots before the first monthly event goes off so I still like my chances to get in.

Now for the old school beat down portion. I realized this morning that I didn't have any entries to the weekly events lined up so I sat down at 10:30 a.m. knowing I had until 1 p.m. to win one. Although they offer Monster single tables with various buy-ins the only ones that seemed to be running were of the $11 and $6 variety which were going off about every 90 seconds. So I jumped into 6 of the $11's. I'd forgotten how badly low limit players play and after the dust had cleared, I'd ended up with three 1st's and a 3rd. I've been running kind of bad lately so if felt nice to really beat down some weak competition and now I've got my weekly entries for the next few weeks lined up. Hopefully I'll be able to make it to the Monster Final.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Learning from my sports heros

I saw a Saturday Night Live sketch recently when Lance Armstrong was the host that was funny, but also (intentionally or not) had a great message behind it. In the sketch Lance had entered a triathalon and after the swim found himself in last place. But, of course when he got to the cycling leg he blew past everyone easily and took the lead. Then when he got to the run he started waving his arms and legs around wildly without making any progress. The commentators said things like "oh my god it turns out Lance Armstrong, one of the greatest atheltes of all time does not know how to run."After the "race" he was "interviewed" and when asked what happened he said "geez, I guess I focused too much on the cycling." The point that came out here is that you can't just focus on what you're best at if you want to be great at something.

Larry Bird used to have this idea as the pillar of his off season training. He was always a great 3-point shooter, but instead of shooting three's all summer he'd work on rebounding or ball handling or whatever he was having trouble with.

One of the tough things about poker is there aren't any drills and there is no practice. It's hard to work on your weaknesses even if you know what they are. And most of the time it's tough to tell if it's something you're doing wrong, something your opponents are doing to you or something the cards are doing. The closest thing to a dry run is playing for less money against weaker competition in order to try out some new tactics. Unfortunately there isn't much to be learned about beating down weak competition for not much money. Playing against people better than you is the best way to improve, but in order to do that you've got to put more money on the line than you normally would (the more money you're playing for, the better the players).

A few things I've been working on are stopping to think and challanging convention. It's easy to go on autopilot and just make a standard decision (especially when you're playing 6 games at a time), but sometimes if you think about it you can come up with something better. I tend to act on my first impulse, my first read. But, I'm trying to stop more and take some time, even if it's just 5 seconds, to make sure I've thought about the pros and cons of every reasonable course of action. Usually my gut reaction was the best, and the vast majority of the time decisions I'm making are totally cut and dry. But sometimes I'm surprised at the difference taking a few seconds on a key decision can make. Furthermore, there are certain ways that almost all "poker experts" would recommend that you play certain hands. The problem is all the books and articles, even if they are on one specific topic, aren't written specifically for me; they're written for everyone. I know more about the way people play in my games than the authors. In my specialty, online single table tournaments, I've got more experience than any author writing about general no limit tournament strategy so I need to first look to my own opinion of what's best.

Another athelete that I'd like to emulate is Tiger Woods. Of course he's talented and has a great work ethic, but you'll also hear that he's the best golfer in the world between the ears. I wouldn't mind having the ability to hit a 350 yard drive, but I'm more interested in what it takes to make a 6 foot putt with everything on the line. Furthermore he treats every shot with equal care, whether he's 10 shots off the lead and trying to finish 45th instead of 46th, or he's tied for the lead going into the last hole of a major tournament.

I'm trying to take the emotion out of my poker game. It's easy when I'm winning and have been winning to be logical, calm and cool headed. And this attitude usually leads to more winning. On the other hand when I'm losing, and have been losing day after day, I find it almost impossible to stay calm and play my best. Also I'm trying to take every hand seriously. Sometimes after a long day where I've played literally thousands of hands it's easy to let my concentration slip on the last few (or last few hundred) hands. Some hands are more important than others, but they all need to be treated with care.

I read an article recently that talked quantitatively about winning and losing. The article claimed that for the average person the pain of losing was about 2.5 times as severe as the joy of winning. So winning $250 is as pleasant as losing $100 is painful. This sounds about right to me. If you take this as a given then you can find yourself ahead and still be pretty upset. Give yourself 1 "happy point" for a dollar won and 2.5 "sad points" for a dollar lost. Now imagine a scenario where you play 10 hands and win $100 on 6 of them and lose $100 on 4 of them. You're ahead $200 in 10 hands. Great! But how do you feel about it? Well you picked up 600 happy points, but all that happiness and then some was washed away by your 1000 sad points. Sounds pretty sad to me. As a professional poker player part of my job is to buck these natural feelings and try to stay as logical as possible.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

E.B and Jean's wedding

I took a few days off from poker to attend the wedding of our good friends E.B. and Jean. The wedding took place at a beautiful mansion in the Napa valley. We drove up on Friday afternoon and Jen and I were two of the lucky dozen or so people who got to stay at the site for the weekend. At the rehearsal dinner on Friday night, about 50 people enjoyed food provided by Top Dog catering (which is owned by the groom) and while most of them were gone by 9:30 a few of us partied until after midnight.

The following morning, 12 of us, including the bride and groom descended on Gilwood's cafe in St. Helena for some coffee, eggs, an obscene amount of bacon, and other delicious breakfast goodies. I had to be ready for action at 3:00 for pictures, because I was the one performing the ceremony! That's right, I was ordained reverend Dave, by the Universal Life Church to make it legal for me to perform weddings (as well as a few other ceremonies). When 5 o'clock rolled around I was surprisingly not nervous. E.B. had written the bulk of the ceremony and I plugged in a few of my own words here and there.

From start to finish the Ceremony took less than 15 minutes and couldn't have gone better. The only hitch came when E.B. and Jean read their vows which they had written themselves. A professional vow writer couldn't have done a better job and their vows were so beautiful and heartfelt that I found myself getting misty eyed. I think it's ok for anyone to cry at a wedding, but I've never heard of the officiant getting caught up in the moment. I managed to make it through without actually crying and more importantly I got all of the words out in a smooth clear manner.

The reception involved lot's of booze, a live band, dancing, and general merriment. Also the four Sandberg men (E.B., his brothers Paul and David and his dad, Sid) gave 4 of the most eloquent and interesting toasts that I've ever heard. The entire weekend was a Joy...except for the hangover that I had this morning. After another trip to Gilwood's on the way out of town I felt much better. Here are a few pictures.



Here I am performing the ceremony. In my opinion I've never looked smaller. If we could just rid of those silly people standing in front of me this would be a great picture.



Hey! Look at this! It's the greatest thing in the world! A black folder! I bet you've never seen one of these before. Yeah I got a real sweet deal on this baby. Bought it off the back of a truck down at the docks. I could let it go for maybe $150. Who knows maybe it's filled with somethin' worth somethin'. I heard about one guy who bought one of these that was filled with 500 pounds of gold. He just thought it was a folder and then when he go home he opened it and gold came pouring out. Now he's set for life. I haven't looked in this one yet. Could be all kinds of stuff in here. Are you interested? Maybe I could go as low as $125, because you seem like such a nice person. The girl? Yeah what the hell, give me the $125 and I'll throw her in for free.


If you guessed "preparing to smash a huge bug" or "trying to roll a hard 8" you guessed wrong. I'm actually threatening the earth. Not really. This was me on the dance floor doing one of my many signature moves that involves little more than thrusting and flailing with an occasional spin.

Tomorrow it's back to work and I've got a lot left to do. I'm still 600 tournaments short of my goal of 1000 for August. I think I can make it, but my ass is going to be glued to my chair for the rest of the month. On another note you can catch the first hour of coverage of the WSOP Main Event on ESPN this Tuesday at 8 p.m. eastern time. If your lucky maybe you'll catch a 5 millisecond glimpse of the back of my head.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Going Pro and August So Far

I've read countless articles and sections of books talking about "going pro." Almost everyone who's played poker seriously and doesn't love their job has at least thought about playing for a living. All of these writings talk about how much money you need to have in reserve (a ton), what kind of sample size you need to figure out how much you can expect to make at a given game (you need to play every day for the rest of your life and you'll have a close approximation), how you need to take it seriously and treat it like a business, and how you need to pay your taxes (really). But, I've only seen one person mention what I think is the most important thing of all - you better LOVE to play. When you have a 9 to 5, you better be dreaming about getting into a poker game the second you get off. If it hasn't had a negative effect on your performance at work, you don't love it enough. You should want to play so much that if you had a fight with your wife about how much you play, you'd storm out and go to the casino. Of course these aren't healthy behaviors, I wouldn't recommend acting this way and as soon as I started playing for a living this kind of thing stopped happening :) The point is if you only kind of like to play, you'll never be able to make yourself do it when you've had three losing days in a row or its a sunny Saturday and you're friends are going to the beach.

Another thing which they don't mention which I think is huge is having a supportive spouse. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten totally killed in a game and felt like total shit on the drive home (or usually the walk down stairs now). But, when I tell Jen what happened and she gives me a hug I always feel fine again. I don't know how some of these guys can come home to nothing but the TV and get themselves right again. If I say "I lost $2,000 today" she says "are you ok" when plenty of wives would say "You lost how much? Oh no, how could you do that?" which would only make things worse. I think it's because she's been through it all before with the amounts of money gradually increasing. When I started if I lost $100 I'd almost be in tears. Now if win or lose $100 it's a break even day and it takes a few four digit losing days in a row to get me upset. By the same token winning has lost a little of it's luster. I remeber when I had a running count of the number of days I'd won over $1,000 (it's probably at around 75 now) and it was huge deal every time I did. Now I've got a running count on $10,000 days (5) and I'm hoping one day I'll be able to say "I won $10,000 today" and hear in response simply "Oh that's nice."

So far in my quest to play 1,000 single table tournaments in August I've played 352 and won $3,010. I'm a little behind schedule both in terms of tournaments played and my $10 per tournament goal. I've won 8 out of the 13 days that I've played which is also a little lower than I'd expect in the long run (something like 75% is more normal). The main reason I haven't been blogging is I've been trying to stay focused on working as much as possible. In the past the main benefit of my job has been working whenever I wanted and not working much. I'm trying to shift my thinking and focus to the point where my main job benefit is making a lot of money.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

What's next?

Now that the WSOP is over for 2006, I'm sure some of you are wondering what's next for your favorite (or at least most familiar) professional poker player. In terms of day to day poker playing I've made it a goal to play 1,000 single table tournaments in the month of August. The most I've ever played in a month before is about 600, but if I'm able to do it, I should net some where in the neighborhood of $12,000-$15,000 (plus whatever I make in other poker endeavors). This kind of thing isn't very sexy and there is certainly no glory in doing it, but the dollars are worth the same no matter how you win them.

In other news I keep hearing from friends about how they've told 3 people who I've never met about my blog and they all enjoy it. I'm sure those people, as well as some of the one's I do know, are more interested in the next time I'll be competing for fortune AND glory. The answer is the middle of September in the dubbaya coop. No it's not where the president keeps his chickens, it's the World Championship Of Online Poker (WCOOP)! The WCOOP is a series of 18 tournaments hosted by pokerstars.com with buy-ins ranging from $215 to $5,200 taking place between September 16th and October 1st. I'll be playing 12 of the events with a mix of $215, $320, and $530 events plus two $1,050 events (with a chance of the $2,600 main event if I do well in the earlier events or win my way in via satellite tournament). In "brick and mortar" casinos (meaning not online) $500 and $1000 tournaments aren't a huge deal, but online they are few and far between. The WCOOP is the biggest and best series of online tournaments and between all 18 events pokerstars is guaranteeing $10,000,000 in prize money.

In addition to No Limit Hold 'em I'll also be playing Limit Hold 'em, Pot Limit Hold 'em, Seven Card Stud, Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo Split, Razz and H.O.R.S.E. Crazy huh? What the hell are these other games? If you don't know about hold 'em or how to play you can check out the link "some poker basics" which will explain it all with pictures and descriptions. Here is a very brief and I'm sure lacking description of the other games. In 7-card stud players are dealt two cards face down, 4 cards face up and then 1 card face down. After the first three cards are dealt to start the hand there is a round of betting. Then the rest of the cards are dealt out one at at time with a betting round in between each card for a total of 5 betting rounds. Unlike in hold 'em there are no blinds. Instead each player antes at the beginning of each hand. Other than the first round, where the lowest card starts the betting with a small "forced bet" called the "bring in," the highest hand showing starts the betting on each round. At the end players use their 7 cards to make their best 5 card poker hand. In 7-card stud hi-lo split the best hand and the worst hand split the pot evenly with the rule that the worst hand must have 5 distinct cards 8 and below (straights and flushes DO NOT count against you). Sometimes this game is called stud-8 or stud 8 or better. Razz is the same as 7-card stud (and stud-8) except the WORST hand wins (there is no requirement that the winning hand have five cards below 8). In H.O.R.S.E. players play 5 different varieties of poker, each for equal amounts of time. The five games are (H)old 'em (limit), (O)maha (just like hold 'em except each player gets dealt 4 cards, but must use EXACTLY 2 to make your best 5 card poker hand), (R)azz, (S)tud, and stud (E)ight or better. Needless to say, you need to be a complete poker player to excel in 5 different flavors of poker and the cream really rises to the top in horse.

Although hold 'em is my specialty (and where 90% of the buy in money will be focused in the WCOOP), I'm experienced (and pretty good) in the other forms of poker and am looking forward to the variety. All of the other games are available online (and sometimes in person), but since they aren't as popular it's rare that you can play them for any serious money (which is why I don't play them much anymore). Since I'll be having a few backers, just like in the WSOP, I'll be making daily blog updates with details of what happened. It might have been more exciting to hear things like "I put Chris Ferguson on one pair and then..." than "I figured moneyluver2344 must be bluffing because...," but the money is still real and there is still some prestige involved.

In other news I had the realization that one of the poker websites is paying me as much in kickbacks as I used to make dealing cards for a living. Let me tell you how it works. For every dollar in tournament juice (ie if you play a $11 tournament $10 goes to the prize pool and $1 in "juice" goes to the website) you pay, pokerstars will give you 5 frequent player points (fpps). Once you've earned 100,000 fpp's in a year you gain what's called supernova status (there are actually 5 levels of status and supernova is the highest). Once you've made it that far they give you 3.5 fpps for every fpp a normal person would get. So every time I play a $109 tournament I get 157.5 fpps. I can play about 8, $109 single table tournaments an hour which amounts to 1260 fpp's per hour. Pokerstars sells tournament entries to online events with buy-ins $215 and higher for fpps and $1 equates to 62.8 fpps. So they're giving me back $20.06 an hour in tournament entry fees (which I would have been paying anyway). Pretty sweet!

If that didn't make sense what you can take away from it is I'm getting paid about $20 an hour on top of what I win to play on this one website. Another thing you'll notice if you do some more math is I've paid them over $20,000 in fees so far this year. That's my primary site, but I've also paid about $10,000 to a combination of a few other sites. In fact, if I make it to 1,000 single table tournaments this month (which I'm almost certain I will), I'll be paying the website $9,000 for one month which is more than out of state tuition at Berkeley for an entire semester. When I think about this kind of thing it sure seems amazing that I've made any money at all, but I certainly have.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Main Event Recap

I'd been dreaming about playing the main event of the WSOP since I first saw the movie Rounders in the year 2000. At the end of the movie the hero (played by Matt Damon) heads to Vegas with $30,000 and dreams of fortune and glory (quite an amazing coincidence that this is exactly how much I went with). This was back when 1st prize at the main event was "only" a million dollars and around 400 players gathered in old down town at Binion's Horseshoe to play the only $10,000 event of the year. Oh how things have changed. These day's there's a $10,000 buy-in event somewhere twice a month and a few tournaments have pushed their buy-ins as high as $50,000.

My dream has changed as well. I was talking to Jen (my wife not my sister who is Jenn with two n's) in the days leading up to the main event about how I wasn't as excited as I thought I might be. After all if you've been dreaming about something for 6 years whether it's a vacation to Hawaii or a new car wouldn't you be excited? She said to me "honey, you're not as excited because you're dream has changed. Your dream isn't just to play it, it's to win it."

Of course the chances of winning the main event are super slim at best for anyone. But then again I’d never have believed that I’d be playing in it against 9,000 other players at the age of 26. I don’t plan on winning outright, but I do plan on going deep. I want to respond to “how did you do?” with “I won a hundred grand” or “I finished 77 out of 9,000.”

Even thought I wasn’t exploding with glee, I was still looking forward to playing and felt a little nervous (and nauseous) as we left the room around 10:30 a.m. On the way to breakfast a group of 4 people joined us in the elevator. Three of them had on matching T shirts with a picture of the fourth guy’s face on it. Also their shirts said “Team Googs WSOP 2006.” While the three cohorts said things like “that’s right folks you are sharing an elevator with Tony Googs,” and “VIP comin’ through” the guy who I assume was the legend himself looked like he was about to puke at any moment. I’m sure this fellow had qualified online and his friends had come out to support him. Clearly this was a huge deal for him if not a once in a lifetime opportunity so it’s easy to understand why he might be on the verge of vomiting all over the rest of Team Googs.

After a nice breakfast at the swamped Studio CafĂ© at the MGM we headed to the Rio around 11:15. When we got there, the place was a total zoo. They’d roped off the main hall way to the tournament area so you had to walk through the poker expo to get to the tournament area. As I’ve mentioned before there were tons of super hot girls wearing almost nothing trying to draw attention to various booths and it got old pretty quick. Furthermore, poker players are not known for being attractive and I found it pleasing to see mega dorks blow off hot chick after hot chick. Normally these girls wouldn’t give these ubergeeks the time of day, but this time the rolls were reversed and it was interesting to see the surprise on the faces of these women who are certainly not used to being ignored.

Once we made it through that obstacle course we discovered that they weren’t yet letting anyone into the tournament room. As a result 2,000 players plus a few hundred alternates and probably at least 1 friend per player (as well as a few spectators, just checking things out) all milled about in the hallway. Once they started letting us in it took quite a while because they wanted to see your tournament receipt to get into the room. Finally I took my seat at good old table 138 and that’s where I stayed for the entirety of the tournament.

Seated around the table with me were (I learned these thing about the people as the tournament progressed) a Norwegian who was a strong player, a 25 year old Fidelity stock analyst, a guy from Atlanta who had a 4 year old daughter (who’d drawn him a very nice sign that said “good luck daddy”), a super low limit player who by some miracle had won his way into the tournament, a 50ish fellow who was covering the event for AOL by playing, a French jerk (who was a very strong player), a quiet man in his 60’s, a quiet young kid (who may have been older than me for all I know), and an Argentinean who was also a good player. The gulf between the 4 good players (myself included of course) and the 6 others was enormous.

I was surprised to find out when I got there that the blinds would start at 25/50 not 25/25 and that the limits would last 2 hours and not 90 minutes. We were scheduled to play 6 levels so to make it through day 1 I’d have to play for 12 hours and with breaks we wouldn’t be done until 3 a.m. At another table someone went broke on the first hand of the day when they lost KK to AA. At my table on the second hand the super low limit player open raised to 175. When he put out his chips his hands were shaking like crazy. He won the blinds and even said “I can’t believe how much I’m shaking. I had a good hand, but this is the god damn world series.” I could almost see his heart beating in his chest. Of course I wanted his chips, but I also wanted to tell him to calm down, to take his time and breath a little.

I, on the other hand, felt great, but didn’t have much occasion to get my chips in the pot for the first hour and forty five minutes. I did have a little drama about an hour into the first level. I hadn’t won a chip yet and after the young kid open raised to 175, I was happy to look down at two red aces in the big blind. I made it 425 to go and the kid paused for a moment. I was thinking “raise me you bastard!” With aces I was no worse than a 4 to 1 favorite and I wanted to get as much money in the pot as possible. After some thought, he just called and the flop came down K Q J with two spades. Yuck! If he had KK, QQ or JJ I was in big trouble and it was also possible he could have something like KQ or A 10. But, I still had to bet and I was hoping he had AK or AQ. I bet out 600 and he just called. Now what do it do? The turn was a red 7 and I bet out 700. If he raised me here I could be pretty sure I was beat. But, he just called. The river was a 3 and I checked. I was trying to decide how big of a bet I would call when he also checked. “Good it must have been AK” I thought as I flipped up my hand. At the same time he turned his hand over and showed me the black aces! The chances of getting aces when someone else already has them on a given hand are 270,725 to 1! We split up the pot and I made a net profit of 1 $25 chip.

Other than that one chip I didn’t win a pot until there were only 10 minutes left in round 1. I was getting a little frustrated and after losing a big pot on a hand that might have misplayed against the Argentinean and was down to about 6,500 chips. Then I got aces again and won a small pot. And then I won another one by rebluffing a bluffer (that pesky Argentinean!). After that I picked up 66 at the start of the second level and called behind two people who also just called preflop. The blinds also called and the flop came down K J 6 with two spades. BINGO! I had a set of 6’s. If someone had KJ I might get all of their chips and it was VERY likely that someone had a K, a J or a draw of some kind. After the blinds checked, the stock analyst bet out 200 and was called by the Norwegian. I was next to act and made it 700 to go. I figured they’d both call, which they did and as we went to the turn I was thinking “no spade, no spade, no spade.” I guessed that one had a K and the other had a flush draw and I was happy to see a red 5 fall on the turn. They both checked and I decided I didn’t want to screw around with so much already in the pot. There were already 2600 chips in the pot and if I somehow lost this hand I’d be in big trouble so I bet out big – 2500. They both thought and both folded. After the hand, the stock analyst said he had Qs 10s and that he would have called a bet of 2000 or less and the Norwegian said he had As 9s. I probably could have picked up a few more chips on this hand, but it would have been risky to give either of them a cheap look at the river and if it was an A or 9 I would have gone broke (I would have folded if it had been a spade and I faced a big bet). I won a few more small pots and went on break (half the field went on break at the 2 hour mark while we played the first 20 minutes of level 2 and we went on break at the 2:20 mark while they returned and started level 2) with the same 10,000 chip stack I started with.

I found myself treading water for most of the rest of the tournament. I managed to stay afloat by stealing enough blinds and winning enough small pots to keep myself right around 10k. When I went on dinner break at 6:45 I had made a little progress and found myself with 12,500 chips. Jen came back to the Rio to have dinner with me at Buzio’s Seafood Restaurant. Smartly she had made a reservation and while there were huge lines at other restaurants and plenty of people getting turned away while the 1,500 players left in the tournament all looked for some place to eat, we enjoyed a nice, relaxing meal.

We came back from dinner at 8:15 and around 10:00 I played the hand that was the turning point of the whole tournament. With the blinds at 100/200 with a 25 chip ante, the father of the 4 year old and the Norwegian each called 200 in front of me and I called in the cutoff (one to the right of the button) with 97 of spades. I hadn’t been playing a ton of hands and I thought if I could hit big I’d catch the other players by surprise. The blinds came along too and with five way action the flop came down 9 8 3 with three different suits. Following three checks, the Norwegian bet 1,100 into the 1,250 chip pot. This guy was pretty solid, but not beyond bluffing at the pot so I decided to put him to the test. I raised to 3,000 and the other three players quickly folded. I was hoping to pick up the pot right there, but to my chagrin the Norwegian called my bet. The turn was a 4 which didn’t change anything and he checked. I made up my mind quickly that I was going to check, but I decided to stall for about 45 seconds so it would look like I was thinking about betting. There’s some chance that this act may have backfired on me, because as soon as a 2 came on the river my opponent put all of his 15,000 chips into the pot. At this point I decided to think things through and in fact I spent the better part of five minutes (twice as long as I’ve ever spent thinking about any hand in my entire life) trying to make a decision (10 times as long as the Final Jeopardy song!). First of all, what did I think he had? In this situation it was easier to eliminate the hands I thought he didn’t have that could beat me. I figured he’d have raised before the flop with a pair of 10’s or higher and I thought it unlikely that he’d call on the flop with 22 or 44. I considered that he could have 99, 88 or 33, but I had one of the 9’s, I think he might have raised before the flop with 99 or 88 and I think he would have reraised the flop with three of a kind anyway. That left one pair of 9’s with a bigger kicker which I couldn’t rule out. I thought maybe he had J 10 or A 8 or even QJ. The real problem was I would have to put all of my chips into the pot to find out. The good news was if I called and won I’d have over 25,000 chips which would probably be plenty to carry me through the rest of day 1. What made me want to call the most was the thought “why would he bet so much unless he didn’t want to get called.” If he did have a great hand he’d bet 4,000 or 5,000 and give me room to call with a marginal hand. At the same time I still had a pretty weak hand and if I folded I’d still have 8,000 chips which was plenty to maneuver myself back into good shape. I made up my mind to call several times and then decided to think some more. I actually reached for me chips and put my hands of them to push them in the pot more than once. I was thinking about calling like pulling off a band aid – just do it and it will be over. In the end, I folded and it’s the biggest regret I have for the entire World Series. You’ll hear me say that it’s important not to risk your entire tournament on one hand if you can avoid it, but you’ll also hear me say that you have to have confidence in your reads. If you can’t trust your own judgment or be willing to make a mistake then you’re doomed. I was getting 2 to 1 on my money and I was about 75% sure I had the best hand so clearly I should have called. The good news is I’m sure as hell not going to forget this hand, and rather than let it haunt me I’m going to use it to help me learn to trust my reads. And who knows maybe I was beat and made a good lay down.

The rest of the tournament was all down hill. I hung right around 8,000 for a while and then the limits went up to 150/300 with a 25 chip ante. This meant that every 10 hands I would be putting 700 chips in the pot and if I didn’t do something my stack would quickly get ground down. I was looking for just about anything to be aggressive with, but the other players were doing plenty of raising and I wasn’t getting anything remotely playable. Finally, after my stack hand been ground down to about 5,000 I moved all in with AQ after the stock analyst had open raised to 900. I got called by a player who had just moved to our table (he’d replaced the quiet old man) who only had about 6,000 chips. The first player folded and the new guy showed me pocket 10’s. I was 43% to win the hand at that point, but the first card off the deck was a 10. On the turn the board was 10 J 3 9 so an 8 or a K would have made me a winner, but the river was a brick and I left the table. I finished in what equates to about 4,000th place.

It was about 30 minutes past midnight and the early excitement of the day had passed. Most of the spectators had gone and the poker expo featured lots of closed booths instead of throngs of floosies. I called Matt and asked him to call E.B. and give him the bad news. In the past when I’ve been eliminated from a tournament I’ve felt angry. Angry at the cards, angry at the other players or angry with myself. But this time, I just felt sad. I’d REALLY wanted to do well at this year’s WSOP and this was my last chance. After months of anticipation and planning and dreaming I was done and it was a spectacular failure. A total train wreck. Of course it was a great experience, it was only my second year at the WSOP and my first at the main event and I know I belong at that level, but let’s be honest. I got hosed. I had more than my share of bad luck, but I also could have played better. You’ll hear most players (especially the one’s who lose all the time) looking for something or someone to blame for what went wrong. I try to look at myself first, and if truly there was nothing I could have done differently then I should feel fine about how things went. But, over the course of 10 events I’m sure I could have done something different.


I made it back to the MGM a little after 1 in the morning and Jen and I decided to get out of town. I had a room booked at the Paris for the next four days and Jen wasn’t set to leave until Monday night, but after spending half of the previous month in sin city I was a little Vegased out. I cancelled the room at the Paris and we switched our flights to a 6:35 a.m. flight which would be leaving in about 5 hours. We (actually mostly Jen) packed up our things and rather than going to sleep we went out and gambled and had a few drinks at the New York New York across the street. We both fell asleep as soon as we got in our seats on the plane and before I knew it we were back in the bay area.

Thanks again for all of your comments and best wishes. I’ll be back next year with more experience, more determination and hopefully more money. Check back from time to time and hopefully you’ll find some new blog entries. Don’t forget that you can sign up to get notified via e-mail anytime I update.