Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bet or Die.

Aggression is a constructive energy at the service of development, differentiation, mastery, object relations, and the maintenance of a satisfactory balance between the self and the environment.
~~Ana-Maria Rizzuto, The Dynamics of Human Aggression

Success only feeds the appetite of aggression.

~~Lyndon B. Johnson

Aggression unopposed becomes a contagious disease.
~~Jimmy Carter

Thursday afternoon was starting to look up! Things could not have been going better at the Aria 1pm daily NL tournament. I was enjoying my half day off of work, was chip leading my table, and had a great view of Doyle Brunson and Jean-Robert Bellande playing a cash ring game (this crappy picture is just of Doyle, Bellande arrived later on).

I was playing a very aggressive game and frequently opened in late position with a fairly wide range. By level 5 I had a strong chip lead at my table. In middle position I watched 3 people limp into the pot before me. I peeked at my hole cards and was delighted to find KK.

This isn’t just any KK. This is a KK that has some serious equity. I have been opening and 3-betting in late position a lot, and people have been getting stubborn lately. Luckily I have been exercising control, giving up most pots when I encountered what I considered resistance.

This kind of discipline is a big deal for me, since lately I have had a hard time reeling myself in. Earlier that same day I entered the Venetian noon daily and busted out within 20 minutes after failing to bluff Grandma off middle pair. To think that just a year ago I started this blog as a proud nit, and now I’m firing 3 barrels at someone who clearly will not be folding. Clearly I had a subconscious desire to be a strong loose aggressive player, concealed by (or revealed?) by my loudly spoken disgust for aggros.

The bee sting from Grandma had smartened me up. At the Aria playing I was playing with much more control. Things look good and feel good. I’m in a great position to chip up with my pocket kings. I raise 6x the big blind.

The next two players fold and the button snap raises all in. The button can seriously hurt me since he is 2nd in chips at the table. He was a fairly tight player and the thought that I may be up against aces crossed my mind. I figure that although possible, it is very unlikely, and so I almost never will fold this hand preflop.

I call and he turns up AK off. I fade the board and become a huge chip leader in the tournament. The table now has a new respect and fear for my three-bets. I grow my stack slowly and stay aggressive, always in position, and pick up as many blinds, antes and pots that I can. My open hand range depends on who is to my left. If their range is tighter, mine is looser. If there range is looser, mine will be tighter. Eventually I get such an overwhelming stack advantage that chips just effortlessly start flying into my stack. Eventually it becomes impossible for anyone to compete with my huge lead and I win.


Okay that last part was a lie. I didn’t fade the board. The freakin Ace spiked me on the river crippling me and eventually leading to my demise. Tournaments. You need to dodge both bad luck and bad decisions…oh and there are lots of opportunities to run into both.

In my last post , -ahem-, quite some time ago, I had just won my first major daily Vegas tournament at the Venetian (Excalibur and Mandalay Bay don't count). Since then things had been going very badly for me. I played an average of 2 events a week and barely cashed once over 10 tournaments. My wife began asking me why I was losing so much. She had never done that before.

In late March I remember busting out of a Thursday Venetian event after my straight was squashed when the river boated up my opponent. The real bad beat that day was somehow I lost my iPhone in the Venetian parking lot. Shit, that was a bad day.

Things started looking better for me in May after I made an unusual last minute decision to play an event at the WPT's Five Star World Poker Classic series at the Bellagio. Unfortunately the only affordable event, $500 NLH was on Wednesday. Making a Wednesday a half day at work is no small task. Patients get re-scheduled, staff gets grumpy, explainin needs to happen with the wife. I decided Tuesday afternoon that I was going to play this event. I can get away with it since I do these kinds of sporadic things as often as Haley's comet comes around.

Playing this event for me was a big deal. My last WPT event I came just short of a final table after I took a bad beat. I was excited to play in the Fontana room again and enjoyed having the tournament room directly behind the Bellagio fountains. The environment brings an authentic Vegas ambiance making the poker experience much more fun.

I played very well in this tournament despite that every table I encountered had numerous players that were strong and aggressive. I was able to mount an above average stack but eventually misplayed QQ vs KQ post flop and lost 2/3 of my stack.I swear to God that Queens are the death of me. Soon after I busted, #69/207. It was very disappointing, especially after all the work I had gone through and the guilt that I harbored, trying to get this time off.

The very next day I played the Venetian noon daily. No, I do not give up my Thursdays if I play Wednesday. The 130 player field seemed ridiculously weak relative to my WPT experience. With allot of aggression, some blind I admit, I made a final table. This tournament felt very easy to me. The deck ran about average, no serious good or bad fortune, except I busted #7 with AsKs vs AdJh after a fourth diamond hit the turn. Interestingly I left the table happy and confident.

The next week I made my way back to the Orleans. They have the biggest regular Friday night NL tournament in Las Vegas. Entry is $125. The fields are massive for this kind of tourney, and have a dramatic variety of players at all different skill levels.

I have played this tournament only 5 times as it is luxury to get a Friday night where I do not have family responsibility. Its worth paying another $50 for babysitting though, since I find this the most fun tournament in town.

This particular Friday night was a record setting field of 371. I played my usual aggressive style and the deck hit me both pre and post flop. I got a lot of action and had a serious stack by level 5. I slowly grew my stack for most of the night and without any major pots made my way to the final table where I agreed to a 4 way chip-chop and took second place. Although not error free, I felt real good about my play.

I had so much fun that the very next Friday night I played the same tournament in a 237 player field. My second hand I had pocket aces and doubled up after flopping a set on an otherwise dry board. I checked the flop and the turn brought a second 10, filling me up, while making trip 10s for some girl to my left. Now that's fortune. Once I'm in this chip position its very hard to stop me and my aggression without risking some serious chips.

Being the chip leader brings a lot of interesting social elements. Some people want to be your friend. They start talking to you more on breaks and stuff. I want them to my left because they are usually afraid of me. Some people are so jealous that they hate you, and raising their blinds pisses them off even more and they become volatile with a wider range of hands. I try to play these guys more conservatively, and let the cards come first.

That night I made the final table 4th in chips. In addition to playing very aggressive, and at times very smart, the deck also hit me allowing me to take out 7 of my 10 opponents. I had donked off a bit of chips to one other opponent, who I had a 2/3 to 1/3 chip lead on heads up. He called a bluff of mine and soon after surpassed me. As I dwindled I was able to trap him with a set of 10s and re-take the lead. He got scared, as did I, and offered a chop. With the stipulation of taking first place (for the purpose of player of the month points) and a reasonably larger share of the prize I agreed. The gravy was learning that in just two tournaments I placed 2nd in the Orleans tournament player of the month and took home a fairly large additional prize.

The next Thursday I played in the $230 NL Caesar's Summer Mega Stack, with some ridiculous structure where blinds leap in bounds and antes do not start until like level 10 or something weird like that. I would say the skill of the players were, on average, slightly higher than both the Orleans Friday night and the Venetian noon daily.

I played very confidently, very aggressively, and very well in terms of control. My game fell to crap after a set of 8's got spiked by an inside straight that took most of my stack. Still I felt strong and confident.

I entered day 1a of the first 1K WSOP NL event. Last year when I played this event I had no appreciation for how crappy the $3,000 starting stack was, and how you really had only 3-4 hours to make something good happen. Armed with that knowledge, and my newly found aggression I came into this event guns a-blazing. It served me quite well, as I was able to quickly bring my stack up over 10k, which at the time was more than twice the average. My initial table draw was awesome. The table was easier than both Caesars and even some of my daily Venetian tourneys. There was a lot of easy post-flop pickups. I felt way more experienced, aggressive, controlled and confident than last year.

Things went bad after I made a table change and I started to screw with a bigger stack than me. After some time I could not get him off middle pair, and lost more chips than I would like to admit. Eventually I got put in a situation in which I shoved on a nut flush draw and missed. I am trying to be more careful taking these kinds of risks, but at times I reason to myself that the fold equity + the 1/3 of the time I get there, + the advantage you get from a larger chip stack = it's worth the risk. Having a large stack in tournament poker, I am learning, is the easiest highway to make a final table and get into serious money.

The following Thursday, however, was not only painful but thought provoking. I once again entered the $230 NL Caesars Summer Mega Stack, entered a field of over 330. I played my usual style and made a pretty above average stack. After moving to a new table I once again began to poke the bee-hive of a big stack, ha ha, on my left. I raised his blind with a 54 suited, and he 3-bet back. I didn't believe him, and I 4-bet. Ha ha, he 5 bets! Sometimes this little voice comes into my head and tells me to do crazy crap. It said "He has nothing. All-in" and then it came out of my mouth. Did I just, with an above average stack, 6-bet shove all in with 54 of diamonds??? He folds. Holy shit. I was right, but this is not good for my heart. HUGE HUGE POT! I'm left wondering if I am a genius or a donkey.

He dwindles away and I begin swallowing everyone again right through the money. Please welcome opposite tilt to the room. I can not lose. My unapposed aggression, as suggested by Jimmy Carter, became addictive. I got involved with a dude that has a stack size that can injure me pretty good. I raise pre-flop and he calls in position. I flop a flush draw on a board with no broadway cards. I shove all-in. He debates and calls with Queens. I miss the flush.

Ugghhh! What am I doing? Am I out of control totally? I make a few more stupid moves after that and lose some more chips. Soon I find myself short, open shoving in late position with crap and just a few big blinds. I bust #27.

I am really upset at myself, and even lost a little bit of confidence in my game considering the nonsense that I pulled. But to be quite honest, I cannot remember a tournament that I truly crushed without taking some serious risk before hand.

This past Saturday I entered my first deep stack event at the Venetian. The field was 727 players. I played exactly as I describe in this blog. Once again, I was a massive chip leader for 17.5 of the 18 hours I played. Once again, in the end I feel I beat myself, this time at the final table.

to be continued...

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