Monday, July 12, 2010

Third Times a Charm at the Venetian DSE

So this past weekend I decided to give the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza one last final crack at the $340 buy-in NLHE.

I had a great run and placed 6th out of a 762 player field. Although I am still hesitant to say this I have had a nice start to my casual attempt at a tournament career.

Since the WSOP I have played this tourney 2 other times. The first time I played I beat myself (see here). I did not blog about my second attempt where I had a great start and then got burned hard by trying to play tricky with a 2-4 as advocated by the Poker Grump ...thanks Bob. After that I tilted a bit more away and then ended my day when I stupidly had all my money in with AQs against a nitty old man.

I have also played a few of the Venetian's standard $120 7pm tourney's. Since the DSE began, they have been intelligently labeled as the "second chance" tournament boosting the fields from the standard 150 to 250. These are turbo minefield donkaments and if you don't hit some big hands within 90 minutes you could be looking at an M less than 5. Two of the three times I played this event I got knocked out on the bubble.

Although I have played some smaller tournaments prior to 2/2010 I was almost exclusively a cash game player and have made a regular income doing so. After I made some nice small cashes I dabbled a bit more in tourneys but maintained a 70% cash game slant. Since the WSOP I would say I have spent 90% of my poker time in tournaments...and have not cashed since. I was getting worried and thought maybe I was making the wrong move and my time was better spent playing cash games. I have to say though, since I have caught the tournament bug, cash games just are not as fun for me. They now seem incredibly slow and feel strategically bland without all of the varying inflections that tournaments carry.

There is no question I ran well in this last DSE. I had my share of bad beats and bad plays but I survived them all. I knocked out 5 players total on day #1. Early on I hit a number of sets, but really wasn't able to pull in a huge pot and eeked my chip stack up over time. Before the dinner break on day #1 I hit a set of Jacks that popped me up to 94k...double the average stack at the time. After the dinner break I made a very bad play followed by a few smaller losses and came close to losing half my stack. As the night approached I was short stacked on the bubble and was regularly raped by a number of large stacks. The bubble felt painfully long, and the field stood still at 74 (72 to the money) for close to an hour. The pay out for the first cash bracket was around $689. I remember thinking how this is no way to make a living. It was crap load of work surviving 690 players only to make a few hundred bucks. At that time I felt strongly that tournaments were a waste of my time.

After the bubble broke I did fairly well playing short and before the night was over I was able to bring my stack to 103k...which was still short. I was in 37th place on day 2 with a 49 player field, 180k average stacks and blinds of 4k/8k with 1k antes. That morning I re-read Harrington's short stack sections and was true to his advice. I picked my spots and played the short stack extremely well and was able to mount a great comeback within the first 90 minutes. Before the final table I knocked out another 4 players and had a chip stack that varied between 600-900k.

We were 10 handed at the final table when I hit a rush of cards that was a blessing but ultimately a curse. I knocked out player #10 with JJ VS. his 66; player #9 with QQ VS. his 99 and player #8 with AA vs his KJ. I was up to 1.9million but was still only about 3rd in chips. This all happened over 20 minutes. 2 Hands after my AA I had QQ in the hole. Blinds were 40k/80k with 5k antes. I raised to 125k and the button re-raised to 250k. I guessed that he thought I was abusing the table and so I shoved. He called with about 1.5million and showed KK, the same preflop cards that busted me in the WSOP. The board was riddled with small cards and he crippled me. As I think about this hand it would have certainly been smarter to just call his raise as I had a healthy stack. I was unfamiliar with this player and don't know if I could have let the hand go after that flop. I guess that is what separates me from a true professional and probably something I need to work on and examine more. I played my short stack for a while and did well, surviving one other player. Eventually I had to shove with an A4 and got called by a K10 and lost to a KK7 flop.

Picture of me tearing up the final table just before I walk into the QQ vs. KK pit.

So here is a list of things I learned (or need to re-learn) from this tournament:

1. Don't bluff bad players.

Its easier to play good players than bad players. It is hard to know what goes on inside the head of a weak player. They are volatile and can do anything. I lost a big pot when bluffing a player who called me on the river with pocket 8s when the board had 3 over cards. His inability to lay down small pairs was eventually what knocked him out...I just wish I had recognized earlier to value bet him only.

2. AJ is a shitty preflop hand when someone has raised.

I have learned this lesson before and usually I am disciplined enough to fold it in any position. I lost a good sized pot when I called AJs in position. When the Flop came A310 and he checked I bet and ultimately lost a bunch of chips to AQ. I know better than this.

3. Stay disciplined with controlling pot size.

Sometimes I get carried away and greedy with my top pairs or even two pairs and do not make a strong enough effort to control the size of the pot. My QQ loss to KK is a good example of this. I can only justify what I did because I was clearly on a rush and felt I was being challenged by a non-believer.

4. Call draws more often at early stages of a tournament or any time deep stacked.

Sometimes I am too tight in the earlier stages of a tournament, calling my draws only when the math dictates. Its hard to calculate implied odds when you are unfamiliar with people, but generally in tournaments players like to get their chips in the middle with average hands. I reminded myself of this during the early stage of the tournament and called a $400 bet in a $600 pot on a nut gut shot straight draw. I hit my card on the turn and won close to 8k. If I would have missed, it would have been an easy fold to a turn bet and the damage would have been minimal to my 14k stack.

5. Poker does not burn calories.

Although it is not really a lesson for me, I was amazed at the number of morbidly obese players in this tournament. Some individuals were easily over 400lbs. I wanted to hand out my card at times...but you can't do that.

My pet peeve at the late stages of the tournament was the large number of players that did not know to check down a multi-way pot when a very short stack was all-in. I saw people betting bottom and middle pairs heavy in this situation only to watch others fold and the short stack double up. I have not played a large number of tourneys but it amazes me that people do not know this.

Although I played far from perfect, at the end of the day I was pleased with myself. So far playing tournaments has earned me much more money than my cash games. I doubt I will ever again be a regular cash game player. I have much more confidence in my tournament skills and hope I will be able to find the time to play in these events.


  1. Dominic,
    I just started reading you blog, via a link from the Poker Grump. I wanted to let you know I was enjoying it.

    I also try to repeat those 5 ideas from your latest post every time a play a tourney.

    Keep up the good work, there are people who enjoy it. And good luck at the casinos!

  2. Thanks Dan! I appreciate the feedback and I will try to keep some good stuff coming!