Saturday, July 7, 2012
My WSOP in review
-Don't fly in the day before the event. With a 2-hour time difference and the excitement of the big stage, it's tough to sleep. Get to town a day earlier. Enjoy the sites and sounds of Vegas away from the poker table because the sessions during the tournament are LONG & grueling.
-Know the venue: where the closest restrooms and vendors are. Even more, leave about 2 minutes before the break to use the restoom!!! I can't stress this enough. Obviously, don't miss your blinds or button action- but plan ahead, watch the clock, and pick a time to use the restoom. During the breaks the lines are long and slow, and you will use your whole break waiting in line. Breaks are crucial and important. It is important physically, to walk around, stretch your muscles, get a drink, etc. But mentally, breaks are imperative, which takes me to my next point...
-Have a cheerleader! That's right, have a friend or companion close by at breaks. Practically, they can save a seat for you for a short, busy dinner break. They can grab you a drink or snack. But mentally and emotionally, it's so helpful to have a cheerleader. It is so helpful to have someone to discuss key hands with. How they went down, who did what, and what could have been done better. Coaches play key roles in all sports, helping competitors be the best they can be, why should poker be any different? THis tournament is a very long, slow, grind. There will be swings in chip stacks, times you'll prosper and times you'll get coolered. It is imperative to stay off tilt (for non poker readers, tilt refers to the emotional collapse in a game that causes players to make rash, bad decisions because they are frustrated with a previous hand and can't let it go. Otherwise sane, smart people, can make horrible decisions when they are on tilt.) Take for instance two players sitting at the same table, both have stacks of 20,000 in chips, and the average player at the tournament has 11,000. Player 1 just had a horrible level. They were at 42,000 at the beginning of the level, got coolered on a big hand early, played a few hands poorly and just can't seem to connect with anything. Player 2 had a great level. They were at 8,000, played well, hit a few cards, got a few reads on other players. Now at break, both players have 20,000, and they are at the same table, presumably equals. But player 2 is positioned for all the success in the world, while player 1 is ready to throw their tournament away. THIS is where a cheerleader is crucial. Player 1 can esaily turn the next level around. They can get their head straight and continue to grow their stack, but they HAVE to sometimes be reminded to look forward, not back. Learn from the bad hands then put them in a bubble and LET THEM GO! Find the positives, make a gameplan looking forward and EXECUTE!
-Don't be intimidated by any one or any stack. It's good to be educated about your competition. If I am sitting with a big pro (which happened a LOT) I anticipate a little more strategy poker, some more pressure, more 3 and 4 betting. But I will NOT be intimated next year by anyone. I trust my game and my reads and getting a new big player immediately on my left will not get into my head. I will adjust accordindgly and move forward.
-Always be courteous, respectful and kind. Competitors or not, these are just people, not enemies. Emotions can run high for anyone with stakes this high. Variance happens. Bad plays happen. That is poker. Be courteous to dealers. Lose hands gracefully. And go out of your way to compliment someone at each break. People are people, and in the end, we are all on the same team. I want to take your chips, but it doesn't hurt me to say I love your shoes if it makes your day brighter.
OK, this is my humble opinion of the ladies events I have played in. I've had success in playing poker, but even more so in ladies events. My obversations are my own and my adjustments to the game seem to work for me. I don't know everything by any means, and certainly don't want to offend players. The generalizations I make here I would say apply to about 80% of the field. The remaining 20% play a different game and require different adjustments. All in all, I would say the field is largely tight-aggressive. Meaning, players are waiting for premium, monster hands, then hoping to cash big on those hands. There isn't a lot of confidence from players on preflop raises. Players like to call bets. They don't want to be "outwitted" by an opponent and will sometimes make bad calls becuase of it. That means there is value to be had out there, but be very cautious trying to bluff someone off or betting on a draw. You will often get called if they have a decent part of the board. Be extra cautious of trying to represent the flush or straight post river. I believe a lot of players just frankly don't see the threat and will call with their top pair.
-The WSOP has benefit of hour long levels. That means there is quite a bit of play before your stack is really in jeopardy. I believe there is no harm in taking things slow. Play premium cards and premium position. Gain an advantage on players before tangling with them too much. Look for their visual cues that indicate strength and weakness. The vast majority of the players are not thinking about tells, or even watching for them. The eyes give off SO much! Probably 30% of the field wore sunglasses, making it difficult to get those reads, so zero in on the other cues. When I was in a late position or blinds, I kept my glasses on. Out of position, I took a few breaks with them, as I played far fewer hands. I honestly don't believe many players were watching for those tells anyway, but there was no reason for me to take that chance. I sat with at least one pro, JJ Liu, that apparently could see into the soul of other players!! Her intent stare seemed to pull information from her opponents, and because of that, it's better to guard yourself as much as possible.
-Get some information. While it's smart to protect your chips, you still need to be gathering some information, and you can do it cheaply in those early levels. Play a few hands, try a few steals, see who is going to protect blinds and how they react.
-Don't get invested out of position!!!! I cannot emphasize this enough. If it costs a lot for me to play, I am out of position, and I don't love my cards, get out. There are so many temptations: "the pots odds say call," "I think I can outplay her postflop" "but I need to defend that 2k I just put out there" "Dang, I love these two cards" etc, etc. But without position, it's not a good decision! Take your time and make the disciplined decision that wins tournaments! Lets say I make the donk call to the raiser out of position with Q,J. The flop comes J,4,7. A dream flop, right??? I decide to take a stab, throw out another 3k. Get reraised to 7K. Now what!? They could easily have A,J. I'm beat. They could have pockets A,K,Q,4,7s: beat. They could have K,J, but that seems unlikely, not a very good reraising hand preflop, but you COULD feasibly see that in this field. Beat. So, now there's at least 7 no brainer hands that would have me beat, and we aren't even to the turn yet. Do NOT play these cards out of position!!
-Women, generally, do not want to be seen as bullies or bluffers, especially if they like you. That means, with some friendly table talk, you can often get them to show you their cards, gaining valuable free information. So, I fire out at the flop, friendly opponent reraises me. I look at her cues and body language. I see that she's relaxed in the arms, not looking at me, mouth kind of tight. I act agonized, make the fold and say painfully, "Ugh... OK, Michelle..you seem too nice to bully me here...(pause) nice hand... show me the monster!" And she, feeling kind of proud and bad at the same time, shows the set. I reiterate to her what a nice hand that was, and we're both feeling good that she showed. So, now, for a minimum loss, I know that when she's avoding my eyes, when her mouth is set and tight, she is very strong.
-A lot of the players have limited strengths in the game. Components of a great game are knowing strategy (position, bet amounts, how and when to pick up chips etc), reading tells, knowing the odds and math. I was truly shocked at how little some of the players knew about the math or the betting. It was apparent some players had virtually zero knowledge of odds, pot odds, or even basic math regarding bets, reraises, etc. I can't tell you how many times players relied solely on the dealer by asking confused, "so... how much more to me?" They were often reaching for chips and trying to call before they even knew the amount. They were hasty and making uninformed decisions. And a few times the dealers got the #'s wrong! Don't rely on another person to look out for you- dealer or not! Know the rules and know the math (at least at a basic level!) What I saw was a lot of players, relying solely on the cards they were dealt, dwindling their stacks off, and eventually pushing all in, praying for a double up to postpone the eventual dwindle again.
-A lot of women don't want intricate tangles post flop. They want quick, easy decisions that don't involve a lot of stress or aggression. In this game, that means "All in." I saw this time and time and time again. Women with 25+ big blinds, would push all in preflop. Sometimes just for the blinds, often to capture the chips of 1-2 callers as well. They are putting their whole tournament at stake, with plenty of play left, because they don't want to be put to a decision post flop. It's easier for them to tell the story later, "Ya, I ran A,K into pocket 8's all in pre flop" than to say, "Ya, I played A,K, didn't make my hand, was forced to call off 75% of my stack to an aggressor and got crippled." What does that mean? It means, be weary of those stacks left to act behind you. Always be aware of these potential pushers when you are entering a pot. They are lurking behind you and will try to force you out of a lot of pots. This awareness saved me thousands in chips at the Queens Grand Championship, with two pushers on my left. If I was going to raise with a hand preflop, I had to be prepared to go with it if they pushed. Luckily, these players start to get weeded out as the night wears on. It's not to say there's not a time and place for an all in. I had the perfect squeeze opportunity in the same Queens event. I was sitting about 15K in chips. The blinds were 100/200. I have AJ suited. 1st position opens for 1,200, which was very typical at our table. I just call, being in pretty early position, but liking my suited cards here. 5th position makes it 5k to go. The initial raiser thinks for a while, finally calls the 5k. Action is on me. Now I have 13,800 left. There is about 12k in the pot. I push all in. The 5k raiser folds quickly. The next gal tanks forever and feels a lot of pain. You can tell she has mediocre cards but feels the pot adds are forcing her to call. I didn't really want the call, and thought I had enough fold equity with my chip stack. But, she calls with K,Q and I hold up- double up and then some. I didn't really want to risk my tournament with those cards. But I knew things were heating up. Stacks were growing, blinds were jumping, and the situation presented itself. Generally, I do NOT want to get my cards all in on a draw or a big question mark. I feel that if I am patient and disciplined, I can play better poker than that. That being said, you have to capitalize on situations and players and a squeeze there was hard to pass up.
-By and large, what I noticed about the top 20% of players, and the pros I sat with, is that they were more patient and disciplined than other players. This bucked my notion of what I expected. I guess I thought they'd be all "Pius Keinz", acting like money was no object, throwing chips around half hazzardly, stealing pots left and right, being bullies. What I saw was disciplined players that played good cards, or picked up chips in LOW RISK situations. I learned a bit, and changed my perceptions by playing with these players.
By now, many of you know how my first WSOP turned out. I made a nice, deep run. There were about 1,000 players entered. I placed about 260th after about 11 hours of play. The top 130 were paid. I ran QQ into AA all in preflop. I'm not sure if I could have gotten away from it, as even the flop of J,8,3 was beautiful for me. But, I have folded such hands before. I will say the player I was against on that hand was good and she was a statue! I was fairly new to the table, it was maybe my 8th hand, but I could tell she was an aggressor (she went on to bluff her stack off later). She had huge, oversized glasses on, I just had no read whatsoever. She raised, I reraised, she went all in, I thought about it and called. Boom, over. At the time, I had maybe 20-25 big blinds in my stack. I've replayed it a hundred times, trying to learn and better myself, and I'm just not sure if I can find a way to play if differently?
In addition to the WSOP, I played in the Ladies International Poker Series (LIPS) Queens Grand Championship later that weekend. I won my first/only LIPS event last year and was excited to try this venue again. This event also drew a lot of pros. I felt like I played great in this tournament. There were about 400 players. I got about 55th place. 38 got paid. I had a really nice stack and I am sick about the way this tournament ended. I played a hand poorly, out of position, against the biggest stack at my table. I felt the pot odds forced me to call her raise on my big blind and it was the beginning of a very bad decision, as of course, I hit a great flop. I went out of this tournament with 2nd pair and a flush draw. I had a nice, healthy stack, and I went out on a draw. So terrible. I am appalled at the way I played it. It was an expensive learning opportunity. I will never make that mistake or go out in that fashion at that stage of a tournament again. There are numerous scenarios where a persion might have to be all in in that scenarion. But a healthy stack, close to the money, was NOT one of them. I lost sleep for a week over this one hand. I have now put it behind me and playing great poker! I played for almost 12 hours at this tournament, with the last 6 of them being at the feature table. I played elbow to elbow with Karina Jett, JJ Liu (both Hall of Famers...), Jana DelaCerra and more. I quadrupled my stack the 6 hours I shared with them, slowly and carefully. I was in no way at a disadvantage against these big name players, and the confidence I gained from this experience was invaluable.
I have what I call my "Poker Fiscal Year" and it begins July 1 every year. The MBA in me needs things orderly and businesslike. All spreadsheets and sessions are wiped clean and we begin again. I have played two live tournaments in my new fiscal year. I took 4th for a decent cash in the first one and 1st for a nice cash in the second one. I feel I am playing the best poker of my life and I have no doubt this will be my best year ever. I will cap this fiscal year with the WSOP in June 2013!