Pot Limit Omaha (PLO) is not my best game. Against a good PLO player or in a tough PLO game I'd normally be at a big disadvantage. But I liked my chances just fine in the $565 PLO event at this years WSOP for a few reasons.
First off, the dynamics of managing a tournament and sensing strength or weakness cross over from game to game. Secondly, I had the mindset that this was a minor part of my schedule so I was feeling zero fear of going for it when needed. Thirdly the players I faced generally fell into three categories that were a function of the fact that this was an official WSOP event that allowed for unlimited reentries - 1) Not good PLO players who were just playing because it was the only event starting that day 2) Good PLO players taking big risks early planning to reenter as many times as needed to build a healthy stack 3) Decent PLO players for whom this event was a big deal who were only willing to enter once. Almost everyone fell into one of these buckets.
My challenge was to sort out who was who and then exploit the weakness in each of these types of players. The first two types will end up calling to raising too much with middling strength hands and the last group will fold too much and play too passively.
As we were first sitting down there were only 3 people at the table and one guy asked what would happen if he waited a while for more people to arrive before playing (answer - your stack gets blinded off). I put him in category #3. Other guys when they came to our table mentioned how many times they'd bought in already (i.e. "This is bullet number 3 for me") I usually put them in category 2.
Another big clue was - "Is this guy from Europe?" PLO is much more common in Europe, they can play online which means they probably have more experience and if you're traveling to Vegas from Europe it's much more likely that you're a serious player than if you drove out for the weekend from L.A.
Eventually there were 2,419 entries with a first place prize of $181,790 and the top 363 finishing in the money. We started with 5,000 chips, blinds of 25/50 and the levels increasing every 30 minutes planning to play 18 levels on Day 1.
I ended up re-entering one time after going nowhere this my first bullet. After getting a run of garbage hands for the first couple of hours I was down to about 3,000 chips when I got dealt AK99 with K9 of spades which was the best hands I'd seen all day. The cutoff raised to 500, the button called and I was in the perfect spot for a squeeze in the big blind. I raised pot, the cutoff went all in with KJT3 with two hears and the other guy folded. I was a 55/45 favorite preflop, after a flop of Q76 with one spade I was 72% to win and after a turn of the 3 of spades I was 80% to win, but the river was a red jack and that was it.
I re-entered and I was sent to a new table with a fresh stack of 5,000 chips. At my new table the person who stood out was 2010 Main Event winner and 3 time bracelet winner Jonathan Duhamel. He was the 9th different world champion that I've played against which I think is pretty cool and he ended up finishing 6th in this event. A little later Barry Greenstein who has at least one PLO bracelet joined our table as well.
My first big hand came up with blinds of 200/400. I got dealt AQT2 with the AT of spades, raised to 1,400, someone went all in for 2,250, another player cold called and I called the extra 850. I only had 1,500 left and my plan was to shove almost all flops as I was basically pot committed. To my delight the flop came down Q92 all spades meaning I had the nuts. I didn't see much point it checking so I just shipped it, the other player folded and I help up against the all in. Now I had 8,300 chips.
A couple hands later I raised QQJ7 double suited with spades and hearts to 1,400 from the cutoff and got called by the button and the big blind. The flop came down JT2 with one spade and two diamonds. This is where a good PLO player would know if this was and obvious time to bet, a good time to check or in between. I wasn't sure, but my thinking in the moment was I'd be ahead of a flush draw or straight draw unless it was a big wrap like KQ87, I'd have some backdoor flush and straight equity against TT or JT and since I had a J in my hand JJ was much less likely. I ended up going for it and bet the pot which was 4,200. I got called by the button and the turn came out the 4 of diamonds. This was a dreadful card and I was now drawing dead to a flush and that was a highly likely hand for him to have. But with 12,600 in the pot and only 1,900 left in my stack I fired it all in. My opponent called and flipped over AQ95 which was a bare straight draw. The river was a 7 and I was up to about 17K.
In the next big hand I made a read, trusted it and was right. I was in the big blind with AKJ7 with KJ of diamonds, two early position players just called and the small blind came along as well. This hand might warrant a raise here, but I'm not sure. Anyway the flop came down A74, rainbow with one diamond. I bet out 2,000 with top two pair and the first limper raised me to 6,000 with about 1,900 left. I stopped to think about what my opponent could have. If he had AA in his hand he'd likely have raised preflop. There aren't too many hands with 44 or 77 in them that are playable from early position. There was not a possible flush draw. What I was left with was he must have some kind of straight draw. I thought it was probably something like 4567 or AK65. After about 45 seconds I put him all in and he turned over 5678. With his wrap straight draw vs my two pair we were almost exactly 50/50. The turn was a 3! No! The river was an A! Hooray! Now I was up to 26,000 and feeling like no matter what re-entering was a good idea.
In the next hand there was only one way to go. I had AAKT with the KT of hearts (which is a premium hand) and 23K in my stack. I raised in the cutoff to 2,100 and the button raised to 7,200. In PLO a hand with AA will be favored against any hand that does not have AA in it, and not only that but I had a good hand with AA in it. When it got back to me I paused for 10 seconds, said "Pot" meaning I wanted to raise the max and we both put all of our chips in. My opponent who had me covered by a couple thousand chips turned over AA75 with the A5 of hearts. I assumed that I would be ahead here as we both have AA and I had KT compared to his 75, but it turns out that we're 55.3% to chop, I'm 17.9% to win and he's 26.8% to win. I guess the ability of 75 to make straights and him having me dominated in hearts is a big deal. Anyway the flop came out 644 with two hearts which made me want to puke. I was now less than 1% to win and 48% to chop. The turn was the 8 of hearts meaning I needed a 4 on the river to chop, but instead it was a brick and I was out.
It's never fun to get busted with a strong hand, but I'm glad I was 100% sure what to do on this one and not left with any regrets or doubts.