Archive for April, 2009

EPT San Remo Day 2 – second table

April 30, 2009

Whatever happens now in this tournament, i’ve already got great value from coming here and playing it. Apart from the first five minutes, when I was stiff as a board and could feel my heart beating out of my chest, i’ve been relaxed and confident and focused the whole time. Soon after the event began I realised that I was on the same level as a good number of the other players, outclassed by some, and streets ahead of most. It seems like whenever and wherever nine people sit down at a poker table, only one or two of them regard poker as a competitive pursuit that requires training and discipline. For the other seven or eight players, the game is in their eyes some combination of gambling and recreation – or a simple game that is easy to play, where the winners are determined through luck.

Whether I make the money in this tournament or not, I will return home full of confidence and drive to keep pushing my game and my bankroll on to the next level. I will dare to believe that I might be further along in my development than I had assumed.

Its inspiring to chat to Joel Gorton during the breaks between play. He is an online pro from the UK who now lives in Barcelona. His EPT comes to a sour conclusion when his aces are cracked by the 3-6 of diamonds. He gets an earlier plane back to Spain to get back to the grind of $150-300 HU PLO8.

Another level or two after the first break my stack has shrank a little as my heater cools down from blazing hot to chilly. Our table is broken as the field is now small enough to continue in one room. There are about 300 left of the 600 who started day 2. Still a long way from the pay bubble at 112, which for the record is far too small a number from a field of 1178. To make matters worse the pay structure is so top heavy its ridiculous, with more than one-third of the places earning less than double their 5,300 buy-in. I guess I won’t be complaining if I win the 1.5 million.

Over the next four hours the field is depleted rapidly as players continue to risk their championship life on dodgy hands. The second half of my Day 2 begins with my first and worst bad beat of the tournament – a sick table draw. I get three big stacks, with three pros handling them, in the three seats to my immediate left. The structure has caught up with my stack leaving me with around 25 big blinds and no room for error. I test the waters with a middle position raise and the Swede to my left re-raises. I fold. The tone is set. Later I try a late position raise. The 19-year old Frenchman Tristan Clemencon re-raises from his blind. I fold. The wonderfully charismatic and friendly Mauro Corsetti open limps his small blind into my big blind. I raise. He calls. The flop comes K high two spades. He leads. I fold.

I’ve had about enough of this folding when we reach the last hand before the dinner break. I get dealt the A-8 off-suit in my small blind and action is folded to me. I think about raising but i’m worried at what devious plans the great Swede is cooking up on his big blind. I decide to limp and 3-bet all in if he raises. The Swede checks as the players begin to amble upstairs to the fine and varied Casino San Remo buffet. The flop comes T-8-2. I should really bet for value, right, but I do expect him to bet if I check and the stacks are such that I would love to check-raise all-in and hate to bet-fold. To my surprise he checks behind. Turn comes another deuce and he surely has to bet if i check to him again. He bets small and I re-raise small, representing a deuce or a ten. He thinks for a short time then goes to dinner, flashing an ace into the muck. My two pair was very likely to be the best hand, and my A8o probably best preflop. So I guess I’m playing a bit scared against this Swedish pro and could have won a bigger pot had I taken the more straightforward line of raising before the flop…? Hmmm, not sure.

There’s a German in the 1 seat with a padlock and chain around his short stack. He seems to be waiting for aces or kings, but finally ships it all in from early position with the A-7 of diamonds. Mauro says ‘in bocca al lupo’ when the Brit with the big stack in the 7 seat turns over QQ. Mauro is wishing the short stack good luck in a dire situation, which seems to do the trick as an ace peels off on the flop. The Brit stands up and walks around complaining about how much bad luck he has had in this tournament.

Play grinds on in an excruciating fashion for me as I really do need a quality hand to attack the big stacks on my left. I need a great hand to re-raise action from the shorter stacks on my right, knowing that the big stack pros are yet to act behind me. Unfortunately I can’t find a good hand when one of the lock-ups raises, or find a good hand when they fold to me.

This is what I call torture poker. I’m frustrated at waiting so long for a good spot to present itself. I see one of the shorter stacks limp-fold a couple of hands. I see a new player come to the table with an average stack, which he soon disposes of by 3-betting all-in with AQ. He is replaced by an obnoxious Italian with an above average stack. He pisses everyone off by acting out of turn and taking a long time to fold weak hands.

Tournament director Thomas Kremser announces that we will play until the end of level 15 or until the pay bubble is burst, whichever happens first. I think there is no way we will get down to 112 players before the end of the next level.

The rest of the field obviously do not share my view as the the number of remaining players tumbles from 270 to 200 to 160 to 140 over the course of two hours.

We get halfway through level 15 with 128 players remaining and blinds at 1500/3000 + 300 ante. My stack has dwindled to 44,000. From the very start of this tournament my chips have fluctuated from big stack to short stack. The state of my stack sets the emotional background in my mind when I’m playing. I have a big stack, I’m optimistic of doing well, I have a short stack, I dig in and lower my expectations. Over the past two days my expectations have soared, dipped and soared again. Now, this close to the money, I can’t help but feel excited at the prospect of making the cut. I won entry to this tournament with 700 player points. Getting into the money would multiply my bankroll.

Would it be possible to fold my way into the money at this point? Probably not. I ask myself if I am willing to fold a great chance to double up in exchange for making the money, and I decide I am prepared to risk bubbling. I will not fold the opportunity to go deep in this tournament.

The obnoxious guy in seat 8 raises to 10,000 from second position. Seats 9 and 1 fold quickly. Seat 2 has a little think, perhaps contemplating a baby pair or weak ace, and folds his hand. While he is thinking, I look down at two red queens. I realise that this is likely to be either my last hand of the tournament, or the hand that propels me into day 3 and the money. Mauro in seat 3, who has just had a shouting match with the raiser, looks at his cards and goes into some kind of agony. He obviously has a second-tier hand. He would love to shove it up the obnoxious guy, but would hate to lose his chips to him. If that happened Mauro’s head would fall off as he stood to walk towards the door. He writhes in his seat muttering something in Italian, as the obnoxious guy gives him the eyeball.

Meanwhile, I’m quietly waiting to shove all-in. I know that my hand is far ahead of seat 8’s opening range. He has me outchipped by about 2-1. I expect him to call with jacks, tens or even worse pairs, and fold some hands like AJ, AT or QK. If he has AK he will call instantly, which is not a bad scenario, but I would prefer him to fold and let me have the 17,200 already in the middle. If he has aces or kings then c’est la vie. I’ll still shove if Mauro calls or raises because anything he’s dwelling this long over won’t beat QQ.

I sit upright with my hands clasped underneath my chin, looking at the middle of the table. This is the serious posture I have retained throughout this tournament, giving nothing away and taking everything in. Mauro folds, I announce ‘all-in’ and the chips are counted for the raiser in seat 8, who has to call 33,800 more to win 61,000. He doesn’t call straight away, so he doesn’t have aces, kings or AK. He thinks for about two minutes. I grow more optimistic and confident, realising that queens dominate his hand. Eventually I ask the dealer to call for the clock. His chips are in the middle as soon as she calls for the floorperson.

I flip over the red queens, and he rolls his eyes before tabling the A-Q off suit. His face says something like ‘yeh, I thought that you must have had a big hand to be putting all your chips in this close to the bubble, but I’m getting 2-1 pot odds and there was always a chance you were bluffing’.

I grit my teeth and prepare for the ace to hit the flop, but three rags hit the flop. I relax a little bit, knowing that if can dodge an ace on the turn and river I will double up into day 3 and the money.

I show a bit of class as I stand up, smile, shake everyone’s hand and say, sincerely, ‘thanks for the game’. I’m a bit stunned as I walk out the door, shaking my head and saying out loud ‘unbelievable’. For a while I will keep seeing the dealer peel off the ace of clubs and place it on the felt, installing it finally and irrevocably in its rightful place as the turn card. The victor tells me ‘I could say sorry but…’ and he’s right, why should he be sorry? He’s put his chips in and now he has more chips. I’m not sorry either – i’ve raised my game during this tournament and my efforts have been rewarded with a great experience and a lot of confidence to take home with me.

San Remo Day 2 – first table

April 29, 2009

I return to the tournament with the disadvantage of being in the bottom 10% of the field. However I have two factors working in my favour: firstly I am very experienced and confident at playing this sized-stack in this situation. It is easy to decide whether to shove or to fold. Secondly I have the good fortune of a perfect table draw. There is no big stack at my table. There are a couple of players with even less than my 11,500, and no-one has more than about 30k. That means that I should have plenty of opportunity to stick my chips in with a reasonable chance of others folding. Also I might be able to snap off a desperate all in if I pick up a good hand.

I get my first opportunity after six hands. I post my big blind of 800. An Italian who has already been involved in two or three pots opens the cut off for a raise.  One of the desperate stacks moves all in for 5k. I note that the opener does not seem thrilled at the re-raise before I look down at AJo. ‘This is it’ I think and shovel in the chips. The opener is pleased to fold his trash hand and his dead money plus the 10x 100 antes and the shorty’s 5k totals a pot of 18,500. The shorty has ATo and I fade the T, thats a good start. Now I can let the blinds pass through me a couple of times and find a good spot.

One or two rounds later I have KK after two early limps. I make a healthy raise and all fold to the second limper. We do not speak the same language but written all over his face is ‘for fks sake i now realise that I should not have limped behind with such a short stack, because if I call this raise I’m effectively all-in. The raiser is likely to have a better hand than I have but there is a lot of dead money in the pot providing great pot odds. I wish I thought this situation through a bit better before over-limping with this hand.’

I call his under-raise all in and he shows me 99. I win that one and now I’m up to around 30k. I allow myself a smile as we move into the second level of the day. Perhaps things will turn out OK after all.

My optimism is reinforced when the German in the small blind open raises all in for 19k. As I have already posted the 1000 big blind its a pretty automatic call with the AKo. He shows me AT, again I fade the T, and we’re up to 45k.

At this point the English player Steve Jelenek joins the table. He seems a bit disatisfied like he has just lost a big pot or is struggling to find hands. I’m grinning because things are going so well for me.

The seat on my right that the German player so kindly vacated is filled by another young Italian. Like so many of the Italian lads here, it quickly becomes obvious that he i) likes to see a lot of flops and ii) is willing to stake his tournament life on a second-tier hand like AQ or TT. A player like this will three-bet all-in or call all-in with these hands. I nickname these players ‘combustibles’ and hope that I will have the opportunity to catch them when they blow up.

On my left is an older Italian guy with a lot of chips who doesn’t play many hands. My impression of him as a tight player, however, is soon shattered. I see him call a raise with 66 in position then move all-in when the raiser continuation bets a Jack-rag-rag board. The raiser also had lots of chips, so the flop all-in was a big overbet to the pot. My eyes widen as I realise that this Italian guy on my left is also a ‘combustible’ who has no chance of getting deep in this tournament. It is simply a matter of how long before he donks off his chips. I hope I will be the one he donks them off to.

I raise the TT up and the Italian guy on my left looks at his cards, sits straight upright in his seat and reaches for the re-raise. My cards hit the muck almost as soon as his chips are in the middle. I make a little prayer to the poker gods: next time he raises, please let me have a premium hand to double up with…

There’s an American in seat 10 whom Julian Thew informs me is ‘a top player’. I don’t play a pot with him until he raises from second position on my small blind. I look down at red queens. Taking a careful look at the stacks I decide that we’re not deep enough for me to flat call and then get away from the hand if there is heavy action on the flop. We are too deep, however, to make a shove a good idea – he will only call with aces or kings. I decide to re-raise with the intention of folding to a shove, shoving any undercard board, and check-folding boards where I think i’m behind. As I reached for my chips I noticed my hands were shaking. This may or may not have influenced this top player’s decision to fold.

A round or two later and bang – combustion! The young Italian on my right raises under-the-gun and I have the KK. He has about 30k so the killing floor is set up beautifully. I re-raise to 10k giving him a chance to re-raise all-in or retain a pot-sized bet for the flop. He chooses the former, as clearly for him folding TT is not an option. He stands up as the cards are placed on their backs, and I do the same, relishing this EPT moment. Three hearts hit the flop. No ten. Turn bricks and the river another heart… a ten! He gets excited when the dealer announces ‘set of tens’ but I calm them both down by waving the king of hearts around to show that I have a flush. Up to 71k and double the average going into first break.

A sick footnote to that hand for Steve Jelenek who held the AhQh and surely would have himself re-raised all-in had I flatted. I’m never flatting there anyway, Steve, and I was sorry to see you go out a few hands later. Steve shoved his 20 big blinds over the top of an aggressive player who unfortunately held AK. Even more unfortunately Steve held the AT.

San Remo Day1b

April 25, 2009

Get into town with time to kill so eat lunch in harbourside fish restaurant where the choice is between seafood spaghetti and seafood risotto. We choose the spaghetti and its delicious and plentiful.  Feels weird being abroad having a great lunch and not drinking booze with it.

So I arrive at my table full of energy and anticipation.  There’s a german guy on my right called Krystoff in a similar mood. He is talkative but I’m not so I put my headphones on although no music is playing. Our table is next to the water cooler – thats useful as its going to be a long day, eight one-hour levels plus breaks with 596 runners starting. Tables are ten-handed. A similar number started day 1a yesterday for 1178 total, making this the biggest tournament ever held in Europe! First prize will be 1.5 million euros.

On my left in seats 3 and 4 are two quiet, serious looking guys who look like poker players I don’t really want to mess with. This first impression is later proved correct. Seat 5 an english guy in his forties who plays in a quite straightforward way, a bit too fond of limping. Seat 6 young Italian plays many hands but able to fold when played  back at. Seat 7 aggressive young scandanavian who turns up late. Seat 8 an Italian businessman who will be the most important player at the table.

The more experienced players will quickly realise that seat 8 has not played a lot of poker. He seems to be making up for lost time, limping in with more than half of his hands and calling any raise with most of them. If he has any piece of the flop he will call all the way down to the river. I do not exaggerate. Fortunately for him he hits quite a lot of hands against players who can’t quite believe how this guy is playing – and they roll their eyes as he rakes another pile. What these players should really be upset about is how they’re paying him off when they know he got there.

The most vocal and obnoxious contributor is the Dutch guy in seat 9 who is the type of player actually quite good at controlling the pot and making bets for value and reading his opponents. Unfortunately for the rest of the table he is equally concerned with chattering and insulting the other players. I grow quite annoyed when he berates seat 8 for another bad play, as educating the Italian businessman at poker would be like turning a tap off – a tap of chips. I tell the dutch guy that he must be a really good player if he doesn’t want people to play bad against him. He shuts up for a bit then pipes up when I call a misdeal after he has been dealt one ace.

Most of the dealers here are local ones and the standard is varied from excellent to poor. I see several misdeals, change given incorrectly and other minor things. I’m concerned that the dealers are given a float to change up the smaller tournament chips as it means I feel compelled to watch for errors.

To the right of the dealer there is a French wild card in seat 10 who plays some of the most bizarre poker I have ever seen. He makes one-sixth-of-the-pot value bets with air against Krystoff then, when his bluff is called, inquires as to how long he has being playing poker! His tone is sarcastic. He is clearly operating on another level than the rest of us.

The wild card is the driving force in the biggest pot I will win today. With blinds at 100-200 the English guy limps under-the-gun, the businessman limps behind, and the wild card, who has just bluffed off most of his 10,000 starting stack, moves in for 3200. Folded to me and I look down at JJ… wtf? I can’t fold this chance to get chips in against a random ace or lower pair and ffs he might be all in blind. But I have to worry about four players to act behind me including the two limpers. I have 20k. I call, prepared to fold only to the other big stack at the table – the businessman. Now action folds to the English under-the-gun limper, who writhes in his seat, muttering to himself for two or three minutes before shoving all-in. I mentally tick myself off for only now realising that he has but 3,800 more, meaning that after the businessman folds it is up to me to call 3,800 into 13,900.

Easy call? Problem is, he probably has queens. What else is he limping for 200, then considering folding to heavy action, then risking his EPT with when he knows he will be called? Perhaps AK, sometimes TT, most of the time QQ.

To avoid this horrible situation I could have conservatively folded my jacks to the first all-in, or aggressively shoved all-in. In the event I took the weak middle road, just calling the first raise and now considering calling off more chips when I think I’m well behind.

I’m reminded of a familiar explanation of the concept of pot odds: big pot odds are the excuse you use to make a bad call when you know you’re behind. Well, for one thing I’m not sure I’m behind, and even if I was sure… I’ve been wrong before!

I say out loud ‘oh shit – I call’ and he turns over queens. The wild card has A9 off suit and hits his ace on the river, but thats fine by me because I already hit my jack in the door.

Now I have 31k, more than double the average during level four of the biggest tournament ever held in Europe. I’d rather be lucky than good.

I quickly reduce my stack  to 20k by flopping the classic top-pair-queen-kicker-plus-gutshot-and-backdoor-flush-draw versus my opponent’s bottom set.

I slowly reduce my stack to 11,500 over hours of good-old-fashioned painful poker. I re-raise twice and fold to the four-bet both times. I raise blind under-the-gun and Patrik Antonius’ wife shoves me – I lay down the 4-7 offsuit. I prepare to open a pot then someone else opens it before me. I get to see a flop and I miss. All this time the businessman is going through his loop of seeing a flop, paying someone off horribly, seeing another flop, getting paid off terrifically, and his chips are fluctuating between 10k and 30k while mine are on a slow slide downhill.

The Englishman I bad-beated out of the EPT is replaced by an Italian who shows great pride in both raising with and folding his hand when it contains an ace. Every time he flips one ace up before mucking his cards, then declares – ‘thats the last time i’m going to show you’. He does this about twenty times. I really, really want to find a spot to three-bet him, to make him feel proud to raise-fold his ace-high-medium-kicker, but alas, that won’t happen today.

The one sweet oasis in this desert of hurt was a classic A7s isolation play from my button after under-the-gun goes all in for three big blinds and gets one caller. He wants to call the 900, will he want to call another 2000? Even with antes in the pot? …thought not. Amazingly the utg shover turns over jacks, but they don’t look too good on an A7T board. Imagine my satisfaction as the overcaller declares he folded the AT!

The businessman finally falls apart at the end of level 8, calling off, or rather donating, yes, actually donating his chips to a young german player with the AT high on a board of 3 6 4. No pair, no draw, no chance. The businessman is obviously not very interested in coming back for day 2, when the 600 remaining players from days 1a and 1b will join.

I will return with 11,500 with blinds at 400/800 with a 100 ante.  Frankly the outlook is grim, but hey, I made it to day two! I’ve gone from starting stack to amongst the chip leaders and all the way back again.

I feel a long way now from the excitement of the third hand of the day, when I flopped a set of eights, led out with it, and got raised by the aggressive scandanavian. I won a big pot calling down his three-barrel bluff. A few hands later I was lucky enough to hold kings when he shoved the rest of his chips in with nines.

I chat to William Reynolds of Iowa as we wait for the shuttle bus back to the hotel. He calls himself a ‘poker stars grinder’ which is quite modest for someone who plays up to 16 tables of $3/6 NL and has cashed for more than $400,000 in online tournaments this year. He earns enough player points on Stars to buy-in directly for EPT events, including the grand final at Monte Carlo next week.

Easy as Step 1, 2, 3, 4, 5?

April 18, 2009

Took a long walk today, did not manage to find a continental power adapter.  Did find an old Italian town called la Taggia, where I had a conversation in a foreign language with a cafe proprietor.  Unfortunately I only know a few words of Italian, but its amazing how much you can understand and convey with gestures and facial expressions. 

Can’t write much coz battery about to die. 

Tried to wear myself out with a gym, swim and sauna.  Formulated my general strategy for tomorrow.  The first step is easy, step two I need to work on as I go and step three is going to be interesting.

1. Commentary, range, options.  Thats the hard boiled shorthand of the poker analysis neccessary every single deal.  Constantly observing the actions, speech and body language of my opponents; putting them on a range of holdings; thinking through my options and deciding which is the best one.

2. Adopting the Joe Navarro/Phil Hellmuth method of concealing body language, while also trying to pick up as many tells as possible from my opponents.  This means I have to robotically follow the same routine every hand:- look at my cards, cup my hands together under my chin, announce my action… then keep the same position until the hand is over.  Minimum eye contact with my opponents. Should have got this downpat by now but haven’t played much live poker.  Hopefully should have plenty of practice over the next few  days. 

3. The unknown bit.  Have hardly played with stacks this deep before so have a new weapon at my disposal: the third and fourth raise! There’s enough chips to put a 4-bet in preflop and still be able to fold, to bet every street and be raised out of the pot on the river, etc etc.  I’ll need to work hard to keep abreast of the stack sizes and plan how the betting will unfold, with a view to i) being the player in the position to make the last significant action (i.e. i’m the one whose all-in bet is the final testing blow, rather than being the one facing an all-in bet) and ii) always being aware of where the commitment threshold is

Feel (almost) ready and can see myself in the zone.

Gonna do a bit of reading and get an early night, play starts at 2pm tomorrow.

San Remo friday

April 18, 2009

I don’t play till Sunday so i let myself have a few beers tonight at the Pokerstars welcome party. Fortunately the free bar had been exhausted by midnight when i tendered my request for a Johnnie Walker.  My desire for Whisky quickly retreated when i was told i would have to pay for it.

The price of a short, expensive as it might be to me, would not mean anything to many of the young cash-rich poker players knocking around this bar.  Outisde one of the Italian lads, who looks about 20, bets his friend 10,000 euros that he is the taller of the two.  The measuring tape shows that he is the shorter by an inch, and he pays up. 

Several times during the journey today i laugh when i remind myself that i’m here after spending a few hundred player points on Pokerstars – flying to Italy to compete in a 5,000 euro buy-in poker tournament which is tonight sold out at 1,000 runners with a waiting list of 200.  There is celebration at the welcome party as we realise this will be one of the biggest tournaments of the year.  My companion continues the party in town as i retire to write this blog, listen to Lucinda Williams, get some rest, not drink more alcohol and prepare to get up tomorrow to have a Rocky day in preparation for the Main Event.

There are two very sexy dancers at the party.  My companion is taken with the brunette, but unfortunately she brushes him off saying ‘its a shame you don’t speak Italian’.  He vows to learn Italian soon.  The bus driver asks us if we prefer English girls, and we say we prefer Italian.  He says he prefers English, because Italian girls are only after one thing – money.

A Norweigan pro sponsored by Full Tilt Poker tells me he gets 100% rakeback and is paid $35 dollars per hour to play on the site.  Unfortunately Full Tilt will not pay for his entry into this tournament.  He’s having drinks and enjoying himself.  Meanwhile Greg Raymer and Chad Brown take full advantage of the delicious-but-very-salty buffet, Evelyn Ng drifts around looking gorgeous, and Dario Mineri poses for photographs with the sexy dancers.   My companion downs another shot of sambuca and says ‘I could get used to this’.