The huge payoffs in the World Series of Poker championship event, in which thousands of people participate — each paying $10,000 to enter — make it hard for any professional pokerBob Ciaffone is one of America’s best-known poker players, writers, and teachers. He has numerous poker tournament wins and placings, the most prominent being third place in the 1987 World Championship. He has been a poker teacher since 1995, with his students having earned well over a million dollars in tournament play. Bob's website is www.pokercoach.us player to resist. This year, one of my friends offered to put up the money for me to play, and we were able to work out a mutually satisfactory financial arrangement. It was the eighth time I have played in the world’s premier poker event, but my first appearance in well over a decade.
I did not expect the number of entrants to double again this year, after tripling in 2004, but it did. Imagine what the line would have been five years ago against the 2005 world championship paying 560 places, and a million dollars just for finishing ninth. It would have sounded like an impossible fantasy, but that is exactly what happened.
The tournament room at the Rio Hotel and Casino was big enough to accommodate 200 tables, but there still needed to be three “starting days” to accommodate the huge field. Your starting day was assigned to you by random draw when you paid your buy-in. I drew day three, the one I had hoped for, so that I would be away from home the shortest length of time. However, after playing from 11 o’clock in the morning until 2:30 a.m. the following day, I will hope for day two next time. I do not mind playing that many hours — I was able to maintain my concentration the whole time — but I sure paid a price for it the next day, struggling on short sleep. I think the playing schedule should be rearranged so that players do not have to play past midnight in any session.
I did not know a single player at my starting table, and was never at any table where I knew more than one person.
Furthermore, I think few opponents knew who I was. I like being unknown, believing it is to my advantage in this event, so I do not appreciate it when a dealer who knows me greets me by name. It’s fine to smile and say hello, but please don’t be a stoolie. I am sure there are others with fairly well-known names who feel exactly as I do.
Most of the participants got into the “big one” by winning an online entry. I thought that I would see some weak players who had simply gotten no-brainer lucky one time. However, after playing at several different tables over the course of three days, I have to say that I did not see any truly weak players in the event. I am not saying that everyone was a strong player, but there were no patsies giving their money away. On the contrary, the play starting out was very solid, as if everyone wanted to savor the experience of staying in the world championship event for a while. Fortunately, although there were no weakies, the very strong players who keep you under constant pressure were few and far between.
There were lots of young guys in their 20s who played in the event. I think having white hair like I do can be an advantage, especially if you are struggling to stay alive with a short stack, as I was my first two days. There were three hands in which I am still amazed that I did not get called. (I am not going to say whether I wanted a call or not, as I am only showing how some people played against me.)
In the first hand, the blinds were $400-$800 with an ante. The player on my right, who habitually open-raised from late position every time it was folded to him, opened for $3,000. I raised him $5,400 all in, hoping that he was playing his usual garbage. He threw his hand away. I do not know what he had, but he was getting about 2.5-to-1 on the money.
The second hand arose when the blinds were $500-$1,000 with a $100 ante. I was on the button with $11,400, and open-raised all in. The guy on my left went into a big tank-job and finally folded. The big blind also folded, so I won an uncontested pot. The guy told me later that he had laid down A-Q offsuit. I think the chance of him folding such a quality hand (to a button raise) against one of the young guys was close to zero.
The third hand came up in the same structure. A fellow in the cutoff seat who usually open-raised when he could from that position opened for $4,000. I was in the big blind and raised him $9,000 more, and he called. The flop came down 9-5-3 rainbow and I moved all in for $26,000 (having finally gotten my hands on some chips). He went into a monster huddle. I figured that he probably had two tens, although it was possible he was thinking about running me down with a small pocket pair, hoping I had A-K or A-Q. Finally, he flashed his hand and folded. He had laid down two black queens! I also attribute this result mainly to my having white hair.
Late on day three, I finally achieved a comfortable chip position. Here is the hand in which it happened. I picked up two aces on the button and the usual occurred — everyone folded to me. I raised to $7,000. The big blind was my only caller. He was a young fellow from Denmark who had several hundred thousand dollars in front of him, a huge amount for this stage of play. The flop came 5-3-2 rainbow. He bet $8,000 into me and I “mustered a call.” The next card was the Q, creating a diamond two-flush, and he put me all in for $51,000. I called him after some thought.
My huddle was mainly a mental pause just to make sure that I did not make a knee-jerk reaction in what was obviously a key hand; I really did not have any doubt about what had to be done. I expected to see something like a straight draw and flush draw, rather than a better hand than mine. When we turned up our hands, I was more than a little surprised. He had J-9 offsuit, which was no pair and no draw. Welcome to modern poker, Bob! This put my stack into a comfortable six figures.
My last hand of the event had an element of déjà vu. I picked up two red aces on the button, everyone folded to me, I raised, and the big blind called. The flop again came small: 7-3-2 rainbow. At this point, the betting diverged from my previous A-A hand. He checked, I bet $12,000, and he called. The turn was an offsuit 8. My opponent checked, so I bet $25,000. Now, he sprang to life and put me all in for about $45,000 more. I thought this one over, also, but had to call. There were legitimate hands he could hold that I could beat, such as an overpair. I have even seen this kind of betting from a small pocket pair that’s playing the button for a no-pair bluff. However, my opponent showed up with pocket deuces, and his set eliminated me. I had been lucky up to that point, not running into a trap, but finally I fell into one.
Although I should not complain about winning $24,465, I had my heart set on a lot more. But as The Terminator said in the police station, “I’ll be back.”
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