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WSOP 2006 Day 2
Thursday night I've got a meet-up with a contingent of online poker players with whom I regularly discuss poker strategy. This is my first time meeting most of them in person, and it was a blast. Unfortunately, I had pre-paid $55 for the event, which was to include entree (salad, in my case, since the other options are all meat), dessert (which I don't end up getting), and unlimited beer (which I don't want to take advantage of since I am playing the next day). So basically I had a $55 salad. However, the value of getting to talk poker and WSOP strategy with these guys cannot be underestimated, so really I think I got a great bargain. In particular, I got to spend about half an hour talking with one of the best tournament players on the internet, whom I know by his online screenname, Rizen. He's one of the nicest, smartest, friendliest, humblest guys you could imagine. I remember reading an interview with him after he won upwards of $200,000 in an online tournament, and he was asked whether he woke up his wife to tell her the good news. He responded that she was pregnant and not feeling well, so he didn't want to disturb her, and waited until the next morning to share the big news. Anyway, I get to talking with Rizen and another great player named Paul about strategy for Day 2 of the WSOP, as we are all playing the next day. Rizen says that Day 2 will be the day of the re-raise. The blinds and antes are high, meaning that everyone will want to steal the pot, but stacks are still relatively deep, meaning that you can re-raise someone whom you suspect to be stealing the pot without risking all of your chips.
I file this away in the back of my mind and get to sleep around 12:30 AM. I wake at 9AM, shower, and head downstairs to the buffet for breakfast. I want to eat a solid meal, since the food they are selling at the Rio is mostly junk, but I don't want to wait a real long time either. On the way down, I am regaled by "master magician Lance Burton" who performs the same card trick in an endless loop on the TV screen built into the elevator. Lance shows me five cards and allows me to choose any card I like and remember it. He then shuffles and cuts the deck, removes one card, and shows me four different cards, asking if he hasn't successfully removed the one I was thinking of. Sorry, sir, but I won't hand over hard-earned money to someone who dangles his prepositions. The food is kind of cold, which is standard for a buffet, but I get a lot for my money and it doesn't take long.
I'm about to go catch the Poker Stars shuttle to the Rio when I realize I am wearing a Poker Stars.com T-shirt, which the Rio will not allow. I need to get a Poker Stars.net T-shirt, and I wonder if the Poker Stars hospitality suite in the Monte Carlo is still open. I swing by the second floor, but no sign of anyone giving out T-shirts, so I head back up to my room to see if I can find a phone number for them. A scruffy-looking, middle-aged guy in a Poker Stars.net T-shirt gets on the elevator with me, and I ask him if he knows where I can get one. He tells me he's got an extra in his room, so I get off on the 18th floor and go with him. I introduce myself and learn that his name is Bill (not his real name, as I'm not sure if he'd want me to use it). On the way to his room, we pass an attractive young Latina from housekeeping. Bill is just saying to me, "I like getting to know other players here," and decides it would be really smooth if he adds, "I wish I could get to know this pretty little thing better."
The woman laughs awkwardly and mutters, "Thank you" in a heavy accent. I feel a little sleazy just being with Bill right now, and more so when I enter his room and see that it's awash in toys. "I brought the whole family," he says by way of explanation, tossing me a 2XL shirt. I thank him and we walk back to the elevator. The same woman is still in the hallway, and Bill keeps at it. Bill: You sure are a pretty little thing. Woman: Thank you. Bill: What's your name? Woman: Candy. Bill: You should let me take you to dinner some time. Candy: Thank you. Bill: I've got my sister with me, she can babysit for me. Candy: Thank you.
I'm still feeling kind of sleazy since Bill's advances are clearly unwanted, but at least it seems like he's not married, which at first I thought he was. We part ways at the elevator, but I see Bill again on the shuttle over to the Rio. We talk for a bit, and he tells me a little more about himself. I never do find out why, but he's divorced with sole custody of his two-year old daughter. He's from the St. Louis area and used to play poker three times a week at the Harrah's there, but once he got full custody of his daughter, that was no longer an option, so now he plays online in the evenings after putting her to bed. It's a cute story that adds a lot to Bill's likeability, but the kicker for me is when he takes off the cap he's been wearing and shows me the picture of her tucked inside. She is adorable, but the inks on the photo are all smeary in the corners. "I was wearing a lot of mousse in my hair yesterday," Bill apologizes.
I wish him well and take off to find the Starbucks that is bound to be hiding somewhere in this casino. Fortunately, I stumble across the Poker Stars hospitality suite in the Rio first. I pick up a net shirt and hat of my own, and learn that there is free coffee inside! Beats paying Las Vegas Starbucks prices, which is like $3/cup. I grab some coffee and take a seat on a couch next to a middle-aged man from Denmark. It's tough to determine how good his English is, because when I am talking to him he just nods and says "OK" kind of awkwardly and at odd intervals, but when he talks he seems to have understood everything I said and speaks pretty fluently. Maybe he is just an awkward guy? We make awkward conversation for a few minutes, then lapse into awkward silence, which is interrupted by Bill's entrance into the Poker Stars lounge. He gets to talking with another guy in the room about the construction industry, as Bill owns a construction company of some sort and the other guy does home inspections. Interestingly, they've both had guns pulled on them several times while on the job. Bill's stories I thought were especially interesting: "The first time, they were trying to jack my bike, and usually I'm real careful about getting boxed in, but this time I wasn't paying attention. I'm sitting at a light, and suddenly two cars pull up on either side of me. They're still a few yards back from the light, and immediately I know what is going on. I see a gun as one door starts to open, so I kick back as hard as I can on my bike, gun it, and tear off through a gas station parking lot.
The second time I'm in an alley putting up some siding and this guy comes walking down. He gets about six feet away and I tell him, 'Stop there. If you come any closer, we're going to have problems.' That's when he draws his pistol. I take $10 out of my pocket, cuz I don't carry my wallet when I'm working, and tell him, 'This is all I've got, so I guess you're gonna have to kill me,' and I put it back in my pocket. I wasn't sure what he was going to do, but he just put the gun away and ran off.'
We talk some more about poker, and he offers me some valuable tax advice. Seems he's been getting gouged lately by the IRS. When his daugher was born, he decided he wanted to clean up his record so he sent them a check for back taxes he owed them. His accountant told him it was a terrible idea, and that if hadn't gotten a bill in years he could probably get away without paying, but he wanted to do the right thing. Well, then they came out of the woodwork and started auditing his business, and have hit him up for over $100,000. Talk about your bad beats. It's about time to get started, so we walk down to the tournament room and wish each other good luck one more time. Today's table is less colorful than my last, probably because as the stakes get higher, everyone gets more serious. To the dealer's left is a guy named Lane. I had searched for his name on the internet and turned up an article from his hometown newspaper about him going to the WSOP. I found this quote from him encouraging: "I just want to make Day 2." I was hoping he'd be playing too tight and I'd be able to run him over, but in fact he had more gamble in him than anyone. He started the day short-stacked and was not reluctant to move all in order to pick up a pot. Still, he is probably the 'soft spot' of the table. To his left is a guy I will call the jackal. He never really did anything mean, but didn't smile much and had an angular face and Jack Nicholson-esque receding hair line that made him look kind of frightening. He is a tough player who doesn't give up a pot easily and makes some very good reads. Next is a guy I will call Bob just because he looks like a Bob, friendly but a bit on the oafy side. After me, he is the biggest stack at the table. I am thinking maybe he will be reluctant to risk his whole stack against me, but the first time I re-raise him, he re-re-raises all in and I have to fold. Mostly he just likes going all in, which isn't a bad strategy given his stack and the way the table is playing.
To Bob's left was an older guy who didn't say much or get involved in too many pots. I don't remember much about the next three players, and I don't think any of them lasted real long. Then comes me, then to my left a real friendly guy from Atlanta named Derek. There's one other non-memorable guy to his left, then a gaunt, bony, very quiet older man who I think is European, but it's hard to tell because he rarely speaks. He seems to be in a bad mood, and someone from the Rio offers to bring him some Tylenol, so I guess he has a cold or a toothache or something. Level One, blinds 250/500 with a 50 ante. My gameplan for the day is to come out swinging and use my chiplead to muscle the table and pick up some small pots without a contest, but that doesn't pan out. I don't get the cards for it right off the bat, and the first two times I try it, I end up losing medium sized pots, once after trying to bluff the Jackal (before I knew what a jackal he was!) when he made a great call on me. So I'm not off to a great start, having lost like 15% of my stack, but when I decided on this strategy, I knew that was a possibility and I have enough chips to survive these kinds of swings. Not long after I get a pair of aces, raise, and end up having two people re-raise all in. I have the best possible hand, so of course I call, and am in great shape against ace-king and ace-queen. I eliminate two players and get back the chiplead at the table. Then, continuing my streak of winning big pots just before breaks, I get Ace-King, one of the best possible starting hands, the last hand before the first break of the day. I make my usual raise to 1600, and the gaunt European calls from the big blind. The flop comes out A-K-J, giving me top two pair, which is a huge hand in this situation. Best of all, a board like this could also give my opponent a big but second best hand that would allow him to pay me off. So this skeletal old man checks and calls bets of 2000 on the flop, 6000 on the turn, and 12000 on the river. I show my cards and he throws his hand away while I scoop a pot that increases my stack by about 33%. I go on break with 85K in chips, off to a great start. I had seen my father and brother on the rail looking for me earlier, but couldn't get their attention. I think they didn't recognize me because I was wearing a cap, which I usually don't. They kicked spectators out of the area near me not long after, so they didn't get a chance to see me playing, though it turns out they did watch Phil Ivey, perhaps the best player in the world, for a little while. Apparently, although my brother has had no trouble getting seated at casino poker tables, he is hassled constantly by security at the Rio for being a few months shy of 21, so they don't stick around to watch for long. Level Two, blinds 300-600 with a 75 ante- Honestly, I don't remember a whole lot of what happened here. I don't play any big pots, but I get away with a bluff re-raise or two, so thanks to Rizen for that insight.
There was a big pot where it was folded all the way around to the Jackal in the small blind. With only one player left to act, he raises with QJ of spades. However, the player left to act is All In Bob, who goes all in. The Jackal thinks about and realizes that even though he is probably behind right now, he isn't likely to be far behind, and there is enough money in the pot and Bob could be doing this with a wide enough range of hands that he can call profitably. So he does call, and Bob has Ace-Ten, but the Jackal pairs his Queen on the river to cripple Bob. I don't like seeing so many chips go to a strong player. A few hands later, Bob is down to just 5000 chips and is first to act. He declares "All in," then a moment later says, "All in blind," meaning that he is claiming to put his last remaining chips in the pot without looking at his cards. I have no idea whether he is telling the truth or not, but regardless, this could create a profitable situation for me. Sure enough, the quiet old guy to Bob's left calls, meaning there are now about 12,000 chips in the pot. Bob has no more chips left, so he can't fold, but the old guy still has at least 30,000 behind, so if I can get him to fold, I only have to beat Bob's hand for a shot at winning 12,000 chips, and if I don't beat Bob, I only lose 5000. I decide I'm going to raise anything decent, and when I look down Ace-Queen, it's a no-brainer. I make it 20,000 to go, everyone including the old guy folds, and now I just have to beat Bob, who flips over a pair of Queens, one of the best possible hands. I stare at him for a minute. "Were you really all in blind?" I ask him. He says he was, but I still have my doubts. In the end, though, it didn't really hurt me, because I was getting good enough odds to play with him even if I knew what he had. The real victim was the old guy who had called the all in and folded to my raise, because he just lost 5000 chips with no chance of winning the pot, so he starts insisting that Bob had looked at his cards. Bob swears he didn't, nobody else at the table can say for sure one way or the other, Bob offers to wager $50,000 cash that he didn't look at his cards, his interlocutor says he doesn't have that kind of money but still doesn't believe him, etc, etc. Bob goes out a few hands later and is replaced by a middle-aged man with a grey beard. Level Three, blinds 400-800 with a 100 ante. I start this level with about 80K. We've got two more new players, both pretty young. The guy two seats to my left is exuding a lot of confidence, but the guy two to my right looks very young, probably just 21, and I hope that he will prove easy to push over. He actually does lose a few medium-sized pots to me, but wow was I wrong about him. Both of these kids turn out to be very high stakes cash game players, sometimes playing as high was 200-400 no limit, a game which would have a $40,000 buy in. So in fact, a $10,000 tournament to them is not really the big potatoes that is to me. Whoops. I win another big pot this level when the bony European raises from first position (suggestive of a strong hand, since there are still nine players to act behind him) and gets called by Lane. I have a pair of 3's, which I can't really expect to be the best hand right now, but I feel that if I catch a third 3 I could win a very big pot, so I decide to gamble and call them. The flop is 742, a pretty safe flop for me, as it is unlikely they have either a 7 or a 4. Either could have been dealt a pair, though, so even though they check to me, I don't bet. The turn is an a Ace, a very bad card for me, as it is very likely that if neither of them had a pair before, then one or both of them just made a pair of aces. They check to me again, and I check behind. The river is a 5, making a straight for me. Best of all, my hand is well concealed, since 33 is about the only starting hand I could conceivable have that would give me a straight. Skeletor bets 3000, Lane folds, and I try to raise to 13,000, but I accidentally make a 'string bet', meaning I put 10,000 chips in the pot and then try to add 3000 more, which is not allowed. So I am only allowed to bet 10,000, which may be good, since I'm not sure Skeletor would have called 13,000. He calls angrily, knowing he is beaten, and when I show him the 3's, he hurls an Ace and a Queen face up into the muck in disgust. I'm not sure who he is angry at, since he played the hand badly at several points, but whatever. I've got 95,000 chips when we start our hour and a half dinner break, and am delighted to hear that we've eliminated so many players already that we won't have to play until 4 in the morning. Instead, we'll play one and a half more levels (three more hours) after dinner and be done for the night. I spot Paul, who I met last night at ESPNZone, because he is like 8'4 and towers over the crowd of thousands. He started the day kind of short but has worked his way up to like 40,000 chips, which I'm glad to hear. He suggest that we grab dinner at the Sao Paolo Cafe, which sounds like it will beat eating pizza while standing over a garbage can, so I follow him. It's a great place, a sit down restaurant with no line, good food, and reasonable prices. He orders a Turkey Club and I ask for Mediterannean Grilled Salmon. A perky waitress named Courtney scampers off to place our order, and Paul and I get to know each other. He's a thirty-something lawyer who got sick of life at a big firm and now splits his time between poker and 20-30 hours a week defending people who have been illegally hassled by debt collectors. He seems like a really nice, down-to-earth guy, and I'm glad to see that he's in a better mood than he was last night, after getting off to a good start today. Courtney returns in a panic and asks if we are poker players. She warns us that it will take a while to make the salmon, and would I like them to grill it a little on the rare side so it will be ready sooner? I don't think we're really in that much of a rush (or that it takes all that long to grill a salmon filet), but she seems very concerned about it and I usually like fish less well done anyway, so I give her the green light. Meanwhile, Rizen and his family sit down in the booth behind me, and he brings his toddler son over to meet us. The kid is adorable, and I'm starting to notice a theme: internet poker has enabled Paul, Rizen, and Bill to earn a decent living without having to compromise time with their families, something that is obviously of great value to all three men. I point this out to Paul, and I tell him my theory that any job that pays you a lot of money wants either your time, your soul, or both. That's very consistent with his experience at a big law firm, but then we start talking about whether poker involves such a sacrifice. Although it can be time-consuming, it does provide convenience and flexibility that can free up time for family. As for your soul, well, there is always the question of who is losing the money you are winning, but Paul, Rizen,and I all make most of our money playing tournaments, which means that we are winning usually $100 or so from many different people rather than several thousand dollars all from the same person, which seems considerably better. Courtney returns with my medium salmon, which is fantastic, but no turkey club. Apparently it was no longer fresh by the time my salmon was done so she had them make him another one. I don't get the impression that he would have cared, but he thanks her and we wait for the sandwich. By the time we're done eating, we've got only about 15 minutes before the game starts back up, we're on the opposite side of the casino, and we're still hoping to hit the bathrooms. Thankfully Courtney has anticipated our rush and left us the check. We're ready to leave money on the table but we have to pay up front and there is a line. The two people in front of us, however, see our Poker Stars and Party Poker shirts, and when they find out we are still playing, they let us go ahead of them. The bill comes to $30, but we both drop a twenty, leaving a healthy tip for Courtney because she deserves it. Just before the end of the break, Paul introduces me to Jason, who may well be the chipleader of the tournament with over 200,000 in chips. He's a well-known high stakes internet player, and, it turns out, a very friendly and well-grounded 21-year old engineering student from Duke University. I had previously read about a $50,000 pot he had lost to an unlucky river card a few weeks ago (yes, he's a 21-year old with a poker bankroll that can absorb a $50,000 loss), so I'm glad to see that he's doing well today. Level Four- Blinds 500/1000 with a 200 ante. The pot is enormous now, containing 3500 chips before any cards are dealt. We've thinned out most of the dead wood from the table and there are a lot of tough players left, so I know we will be fighting tooth and nail nearly every hand. Unfortunately, I am catching the worst cards I've caught all tournament, and am not able to make much happen.