Going Deep in the WSOP Main Event
Extra levels were added to the early stages of play for this year's WSOP Main Event. The result was a huge improvement on what was already the world's best poker tournament. To illustrate this, one could merely maintain the 20,000 starting stack for the duration of day one and return with 40 big blinds for day two.
Despite the incredible structure, roughly half of this year's 6,844 Main Event participants managed to find the exit doors on their respective day one. Players busting out at a quick pace relative to the blinds was an unrelenting theme in the tournament that perfectly complimented my strategy of playing patient and taking what was given to me.
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I spent much of the day with Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier, one of the best French players in the world, on my immediate left. Aside from Grospellier, the competition was generally very easy to deal with. Without having to play any big pots or survive an all-ins, I chipped up to 42,000 by the end of the day.
Day two was fantastic for me. Simply by winning a countless number of small- to medium-sized pots, my stack went from 42,000 up to 244,000 by the end of the day. By my observations, people bluff too much and call too much in the Main Event. Adjusting one's strategy in light of this is quite simple. When holding a strong hand, bet, bet, and bet again. When holding a decent hand against an aggressive player, try to control the pot size by letting them do all the betting.
Day three began with about 1,300 players, roughly half of which would be celebrating an in-the-money finish later that night. I mostly tried to win small pots by picking on players who were clearly trying to fold their way to the money. By the time we reached the money bubble, I found myself around some entertaining chatter. Mike Matusow and Phil Hellmuth were each at nearby tables. Those guys are just natural entertainers. They act no differently whether the cameras are on or off.
At one point, Jack Effel announced we needed to lose five more players to be in the money. Upon that announcement, Matusow shouted, "who cares? Let's go!!" It was funny and also true; the hand for hand play on the bubble was a pretty slow process when over 70 tables were still in play.
When the money dam broke, players began flooding out of the tournament. It took an hour to lose nine players on the bubble. In the next hour, over 150 players made their way to the exit.
For me, day three was pretty uneventful. I went to bed with 260,000 chips among 474 remaining players.
After another night of just four to six hours of sleep, players were looking pretty exhausted on day four. Jack Effel must have picked up on this. Midway through the day, he received loud applause upon announcing that we were only going to play four levels rather than the scheduled five.
By this stage in the tournament, the inevitable began to happen: it became harder and harder to identify the fishy players. Looking around and seeing a bunch of young guys with sunglasses talking about "pot odds" and "folding equity" made me miss the fishy tables from day one. Thankfully, the cards were doing the best they could for me. I knocked a player out with top pair versus his middle pair and also flopped a set in a six-way raised pot. Those two hands sent a lot of chips my way. I ended day four with 556,000 which was below average for the 189 remaining players.
On the morning of day five, I got online to check who was at my table for the day and saw that Allen Cunningham was two to my left with 1.1M in chips. That wasn't an ideal situation to be in, but the table draw was mitigated by the fact that we got to play at the ESPN secondary table due to Cunningham's presence. It was kind of cool to have to show your cards to a hole camera and wear a microphone. Just when I was really starting to feel that this tournament might turn out to be very, very special, the following hand came up:
A player opened in late position to 35,000. I called on the button with Ace-Jack. The flop came Jack-Six-Two. He led out for 77,000. I sensed a lot of strength from him, but I really didn't have much of a choice but to raise. I slid a tower of high denomination chips into the pot. He took about 15 seconds to say "call". "Ugh... do you have an overpair?" I asked. He sort of sheepishly turned over King-Jack. Sweet! I flipped over my cards and only had to fade three-outs twice for a 1M pot. The turn was an innocent four. With multiple ESPN cameras focused on myself, my opponent, and the board, the dealer burned and turned the river... A KING!
Only if the hand winds up on TV will I know exactly what I did after that card hit. I just remember standing with my back to the table about fifteen feet away trying to remain composed. After several seconds, I turned around to walk back to the table and noticed cameras were still on me. With that in mind, I made it a point not to go on a tirade or do anything else that I'd later regret in case the hand winds up on TV.
Totally crushed, I sat at the table and listened to the guy who won the hand, Michael Carroll, talk trash to the table about how good he is and how much he deserved that river card. It must have been the first time he'd been in a big situation like that. Rather than stay cool, he opted to embarrass himself instead by rambling senselessly for several minutes afterwards.
That hand left me with 140,000 in chips which was a little under 12 big blinds. An orbit or two later, I shoved all-in with Ace-Five suited after Alex Outhred raised. For those of you who don't know Alex, he was on the U.S. TV show "Are you smarter than a fifth grader?" and is also an instructor for WSOP Academy. He was a cool guy and went out of his way to console me after the hand I lost to Michael Carroll. With no choice but to call my all-in, Alex admitted he got his hand caught in the cookie jar and turned over Eight-Seven of hearts. I immediately hated to see his hand and said to the table, "what am I? Like 25% to win here?" Allen Cunningham wittily responded, "you're basically drawing dead." The flop was King-Queen-Seven with two hearts. Good call, Allen.
I went out in 159th to win $41,000. Michael Carroll went on to finish 27th for $257,000, which will certainly tilt me to think about for the next several weeks.
If I don't wind up on TV for the hand against Carroll, there was another hand played at our table that will almost certainly wind up on TV. Tiffany Michelle and Alex Outhred got it all in on a flop of Nine-Eight-Five. Alex's pocket Fives had Tiffany's Aces crushed. With 1.3M chips in the pot, Tiffany spiked an Ace on the turn. That card allowed her to remain in the tournament where she eventually finished 17th for $334,000. The fact that she's quite good looking means ESPN will probably want to have her on TV as much as possible. Additionally, since this hand was played against Alex, a small-time TV personality himself, I'll almost certainly have a role as Guy With Jaw On Floor in some upcoming WSOP episode. Just look for me on Alex's left.
Hopefully next year's Main Event will yield a more significant television appearance!