WSOP 2006 I focus on playing No Limit Texas Hold 'Em tournaments

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WSOP 2006 Day 4

I get back to my room about 2AM Friday night, exhausted from another long day of poker, but there are no more days off, and I need to be in my seat at the Rio and ready to play at noon on Saturday. I wake at 9AM, head down to catch the Poker Stars shuttle around 10:30, and see several people in Poker Stars shirts standing in the taxi line. Seems Stars is no longer running the shuttle, so I split a cab with them to the Rio and we all head down to the hospitality suite for coffee and muffins. We are talking idly when a bearded journalist interrupts us to introduce himself, "Hi, my name is Jim McManus, and I'm covering the World Series for the LA Times. I'm writing a piece on bluffing in poker and bluffing in the Middle East, and I was wondering if any of you could share some stories about big bluffs you've been involved in so far in this tournament."

Jim McManus? I'm a big fan. In 2000, Jim was a poker enthusiast teaching creative writing at the Art Institute of Chicago. He got an assignment with Harper's to write a story about women at the World Series of Poker and flew out to Las Vegas to cover the event, but ended up spending his entire advance trying to win a seat in the tournament, which he eventually did. He went on to make the final table, win $247,760 (many fewer players competed in 2000- this year the top 12 competitors will all be millionaires), and chronicle the entire trip in a best-selling book called "Positively Fifth Street" ('fifth street' is another name for 'the river', the final card dealt in Texas Hold 'Em). It's a great read, especially for poker players, and I've been very consciously mimicing his style in these updates. In fact, someone suggested that I publish them under the title "Positively Better Than That McManus Book". Unfortunately Jim doesn't have time to talk, but he leaves his e-mail address with all of us and nearly begs us to send him detailed accounts of our experiences with bluffing.

That's pretty exciting, but right now I need to figure out my strategy for the day. The bad news is that the blinds start at 2000/4000 with a 400 ante, meaning that my stack of 66,500 will last only about 54 hands unless I make a move. I am getting to the point where I can no longer afford to play a pot for anything less than my entire stack, because once I commit any meaningful number of chips to the pot, it will be too large for me to give up on. But there is some good news, too. First, I have enough chips that I can be a little choosy about when I will commit them all, and second, I have so much experience playing fast-action online tournaments that I pretty much know what I am doing with a stack of this size.

This is probably a good time to explain a rift in poker culture that I've been hinting at for a while now. Ever since Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 Main Event (not 2004, as I mistakenly reported earlier), there has been an explosion of poker playing on the internet, and each year more and more people like me, who can count on one hand the number of times they have played live poker at a casino, pony up a few hundred dollars for a shot at poker's most coveted title. Decades ago, the quintessential professional poker players had names like Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim. They would leave home for days at a time, driving across Texas to play in every big (illegal) game there was. They couldn't afford to be selective about the players with whom they played or the games they were playing. Making a living at poker required a willingness to play any variant of the game at any stakes and to endure long road trips, armed robbery, and sporadic bankruptcy. Nowadays, there are thousands of professional or semi-professional players on the internet. Most are young, in college or recently graduated, but some are still in high school and others have forsaken college altogether. They can find a game of virtually any form of poker at almost any stakes (from $.01/.02, with a minimum buy-in of $.20, to $200/$400, with a minimum buyin of $4000) whenever they want to play. For instance, I focus on playing No Limit Texas Hold 'Em tournaments, and whether I want to play a $10 tournament or a $100 tournament, I can find one starting somewhere on the internet in the next 5 minutes. These internet pros, some of whom have up to 16 tables open at once on four big-screen, high resolution computer monitors, can play in a year or two as many hands of poker as a Texas road gambler might have played in his entire life.

Although some people who have made a living for decades playing live poker now play on the internet and some internet stars have made a big splash on the live poker scene, a gulf continues to exist between these two cultures. But at the main event of the World Series of Poker, our worlds collide. In any poker tournament, the size of the blinds and antes dictates how aggressively competitors must play. Generally, deeper stacks require more skill, as there are more decisions to be made. At the world series, the size of the blinds increases every two hours, guaranteeing a lot of room to maneuver in the early stages and ensuring that the tournament lasts for two weeks. In a typical online tournament, the blinds increase every 10-15 minutes, so that only the largest tournaments last more than a few hours. Internet players like myself, accustomed to these rapidly increasing blinds, have evolved a very aggressive style of play. We raise, re-raise, and move all-in very aggressively, knowing that we cannot afford to pass up even small edges and that if we happen to get unlucky, there is always another tournament starting any minute. Those accustomed to live play tend to be more cautious and conservative. There is only one WSOP main event every year, so they tend to guard their 'tournament life' carefully, reluctant to risk it even when they believe they have a small edge. You may have noticed that whenever I described an older player at my table, I almost invariably described him as a 'tight' or 'conservative' player who, in my opinion, folded too often and didn't raise nearly enough. These players have their own stereotypes of online players, who are sometimes derogatorily referred to as "internet donkeys":

1) We are too loose and aggressive, bluffing too often and calling raises with hands that more conservative players consider garbage. In most internet tournaments, it is rarely correct to fold if you have the third, fourth, or even fifth best possible hand. In deep-stacked tournaments like the World Series, there are more occasions where a good player can correctly fold even the second best possible hand.

2) We lack class. We are likely to cheer or celebrate obnoxiously when we win a big pot, even if we won it through luck rather than skillful play. I've been careful to avoid doing this, but I've seen plenty of it.

3) We aren't familiar with the ethics and rules of live play. Accustomed to seeing our cards as soon as they are dealt, we sometimes look at them before it is our turn to act and inadvertently broadcast our intentions, affecting the decisions of those acting before us. We put chips into the pot without verbally announcing our intentions, meaning we are sometimes forced to call when we meant to raise or raise when we meant to call (a mistake I've made more than once). We 'slowroll', meaning that even if we expect we have the best hand, we tend to wait for our opponents to show their cards because this is information we are accustomed to having, even though this is considered rude in live play (I did do this intentionally once, for the purpose of further frustrating an already frustrated player).






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