WSOP Circuit Event: New Orleans
The last World Series of Poker Circuit Event of the year (and possibly forever, but that's another story for another time) was held in New Orleans last week. A couple friends and I made the trip to The Big Easy to enjoy some live poker action. New Orleans is an interesting place, certainly one of the most unique American cities I've ever visited.
One evening we had dinner with a friend who has lived in New Orleans for most of his life (save a ten month stay in Houston due to Hurricane Katrina). It was interesting to hear him talk about how much the city was changed by that storm. Apparently, only about half of the people who evacuated the city ever moved back. In a sense, the city seemed drained of its spirit and destined to experience more trauma if the local bureaucracy doesn't find a way to safeguard its vulnerability to ravaging hurricanes. But, that's enough social observation for now. Let's talk about poker.
online poker 468x60
The $5,000 buy-in for the WSOP Circuit Main Event was a little rich for my blood, so I decided to play a $500+$50 multi-table satellite. Winning a seat was surprisingly easy. During the tournament, I learned that the prize was a tournament chip worth $5,000. Players were discussing how they might sell the chip to someone buying-in directly to the tournament, and thus walk away with $5,000 in cash instead of a seat to the tournament. At the time, this plan sounded very tempting to me. However, after winning the satellite, I decided to take a gamble and play the $5,000 event based on the weakness of the satellite competition.
We started with 10,000 chips, 25/50 blinds, and 75-minute levels (read: great structure). All told, there were 346 entrants in the tournament, only about 5 of which were well-known pros. I was able to climb to 17,000 in the first couple of levels without any significant confrontations.
Later, I semi-bluffed all-in with an open-ended straight draw into a large pot. After several minutes of contemplating, my opponent called himself all-in with a pair. My straight draw didn't get there for a 23,000 chip pot, and I was reduced to a stack of 6,000. It should be noted though that, had I made my straight, I would have had 30,000 chips at a time when the average stack was only about 11,000. Needless to say, I was a bit discouraged after losing that hand.
I was able to build my chip stack to the 12,000-18,000 range, which is where I stayed for most of the day. The last level of the day was 600/1200 with an ante of 75. At this point, it was about 1:30 am. We had been playing since noon. Since I only had about ten big blinds, I was looking for a spot to double-up. An older player limped in while I was on the button with Ace-Two offsuit. He had been limping in quite often, so I moved all-in for 11,000 not expecting to be called. However, I was all-in for the first time in the tournament when he called off most of his stack with King-Ten suited. Thankfully, I won the hand.
On the very last hand of day one, I started the hand with 16,000 chips. Blinds were going to be 800/1600 to start day two. I wasn't looking forward to going to bed with just ten big blinds. With that in mind, I moved all-in with Ace-Ten offsuit after an older, weak player limped just before me. It folded to the big blind who, to my utter disappointment, immediately called himself all-in (I had him covered by just 2,000 chips). The limper folded and I begrudgingly turned over my hand. Astonishingly, my opponent turned over King-Eight suited and I was fortunate enough to win the pot and go to bed with 31,300 chips.
Just 87 players returned on day two to chase one of the 36 payout spots. Phil Gordon was the talk of the tournament. He started the second day with over 300,000 chips. Not a bad chip count, considering the average stack was just 40,000. In a rumor he was able to substantiate for me later, at one point on day one, he was all-in for his last 525 chips with King-Two on a King-Jack-Ten flop against Ace-Queen.
The early part of day two was good to me. I went from 31,300 up to 90,000 chips in the first level thanks to calling a tough all-in with top pair (my opponent turned over queen high and was basically drawing dead), and then later winning a race with pocket eights to bust a shorter stack.
I had a comfortable 105,000 chips with 38 players left and was clearly cruising to the money. However, my situation became a little more tenuous when I raised from the button with Jack-Nine offsuit. Both of the blinds were short-stacked and trying to fold their way into the money. I was stealing here with any two cards, so Jack-Nine was a fine hand in this situation. A woman in the big blind actually called my preflop raise (for about 30% of her chips, an odd play for sure).
The flop came Queen-Ten-Seven and she pushed all-in. Because of pot odds, there was no way I could fold my open-ended straight draw. I called, she showed Ace-Queen, and unfortunately I wasn't able to get there for a 90,000 chip pot, leaving me with just 65,000.
After a three-player bubble bust-out, I was moved to Phil Gordon's table. Gordon, who was seated two to my right, had amazingly climbed up to 700,000 chips, which was 20% of the chips in play with 35 players left. My position in relation to him was great. I had about 60,000 chips and we were playing 2000/4000. I knew he would raise my big blind from the button with a very large range of hands, but would have to fold a lot of those hands if I pushed all-in.
I played just two pots against Gordon. On the first one, a loose, young player with about 250,000 chips (average was about 115,000 at the time) raised to 11,500. Phil Gordon called. The original raiser had been raising frequently. Phil Gordon was probably calling his raise with a very large range of hands due to implied odds. Before I even looked at my cards, I knew I was moving all-in simply because the pot was already 30,000. I looked down at Queen-Ten offsuit, far and away a fine hand for this situation, and moved all-in. The original raiser contemplated for over a minute and finally folded. As Phil Gordon folded, he said "good play." In an adrenaline-fueled move, I turned over my Queen-Ten and said, "No, that was a great play."
On the second hand, during 3000/6000, Phil Gordon raised my big blind from the button to 16,000. I looked down at Queen-Eight offsuit and pushed all-in for 65,000 total. He folded almost immediately while asking, "Queen-Ten again?" I showed him my hand and said "close". I think I actually got under his skin a little bit because he kind of rolled his eyes and said "I folded the exact same hand, only mine was suited." Me: 2 Phil Gordon: 0.
The most crucial hand in the tournament for me came during 3000/6000 while I was no longer at Phil Gordon's table. With 140,000 chips to start the hand (at this point, average was 170,000, but thanks to Phil Gordon, the median was really only about 125,000), I raised to 15,000 in early position with Ace-Queen of diamonds. The loose, young player from before called on the button. A good, tight player in the big blind also called.
The flop came Ace-Ten-Nine, one diamond. The blind checked, I checked (expecting the button to bet), and the button checked. The turn was good for me, the three of diamonds. So at this point I had top pair, queen kicker, and the nut flush draw. The blind checked again, and I bet 25,000 into a pot that was about 55,000. The player on the button called, and the blind folded.
A black jack came on the river, not an especially good card for me, but I was still fairly certain I had the best hand. I checked and was prepared to call almost any bet the button made. He asked me how much I had left. After telling him "about 100,000," he announced a bet of 50,000. I called fairly quickly. He showed King-Queen offsuit, and scooped the 205,000 chip pot. As questionable as he may have played that hand, I have to tip my hat to him, he made an absolutely perfect river bet. I probably would have folded to a bet of 60,000.
With19 players to go, I looked at just one of my hole cards, a Jack, and pushed all-in for 47,000 under-the-gun during 4000/8000. The only player at the table with less chips than me called himself all-in. It folded to the big blind who called both of our all-ins and turned over pocket Jacks. The other player showed Ace-Ten. My second hole card was a Six, meaning my tournament was virtually over before the flop ever came. The case Jack came on the flop, and both myself and the other player were busted out. Since I had him covered in chips, I officially placed 18th, which actually paid $3,334 more than 19th. In total, I cashed for $13,337.
The player who crippled me with his completed gutshot straight draw was Louie Esposito, who eventually won the tournament and $516,000. Clint Schaefer, the guy who eliminated me and the 19th place finisher with his pocket jacks, went on to finish 2nd which was good for $266,000. As for Phil Gordon, his unprecedented domination of the tournament came to a stall at the final table. He had to settle for the $116,000 fourth-place payday.
Looking back, the one thing that sticks out to me about this tournament was how easy the competition was. I've played $10 online tournaments that featured harder competition than this $5,000 WSOP Circuit Event. There are a few reasons why the competition in this tournament was so easy. First, since the buy-in was just $5,000, many pros from Vegas and California were not motivated to travel all the way to New Orleans to participate. Secondly, a $10,000 buy-in tournament at Mirage in Las Vegas was running simultaneously with this Circuit Event. This was the icing on the cake for those pros who might have otherwise made the trip to New Orleans. Finally, most poker pros don't regard Louisiana as a desirable destination. Let's just say that the viewpoints of a typical resident in the Southern states aren't quite as progressive as most poker players living on the West Coast.
Due to those factors, only a small handful of well-known pros showed up for this tournament, possibly the most notable of which was Chris Moneymaker. On the first day of the event, I got to play with Moneymaker for about an hour. I'm not the type to become starstruck, but it was hard to avoid looking across the table at him and thinking about how cool it is to be playing poker against the guy you idolized on WSOP re-runs when you were first learning that Ace-Six isn't that good of a starting hand.