WSOP: The long version

The Biggest Poker Tournament Ever Held

I went by the Rio early the day before to pick up my ticket. It was awesome looking into the empty poker room at the Rio and seeing hundreds of poker tables lined up and ready. When it was full it was chaos — the halls were packed and lines at restrooms and food stations were very long. I missed a couple hands after a break once because there was a traffic jam at the door. It was moved from Binion's to the Rio only two years ago — I can't imagine that the Rio will be able to host it much longer if it continues to grow as quickly.

One side effect of the WSOP event was that every poker room in Vegas was packed. It was obvious that the 9,000 people who came to play at the WSOP (along with all the media, family, friends, and fans) weren't satisfied with sitting in their hotel rooms when they weren't at the Rio. There were plenty of juicy games at the major poker rooms. Main Event week is definitely the time to come to Vegas if you're a poker player.

Celebrities

I don't really get too excited when spotting celebrities, and hardly ever feel compelled to ask for an autograph or picture, but it was interesting getting to see so many names from the poker world. T.J. Cloutier was at the table next to me. I gave the head nod to Greg Raymer in the hallway and at the sink in the bathroom. I walked with Jennifer Tilly to get into the poker room, and saw her with Phil Laak later. I crossed Scotty Nguyen in the hall as he was nursing a Michelob Ultra. I also spotted Jennifer Harman, Marco Traniello, Gavin Smith, Joe Seebok, Kenna James, Lon McEachern, Norman Chad, and others. I also got to talk for a while with David Huber from PocketFives and got to talk to Pauly for a second about how much I love his blog.

Daniel Negreanu

The highlight of the tournament was having the unfortunate pleasure to be seated two to the left of Daniel Negreanu, one of the greatest poker players today. He was the WSOP player of the year, WPT player of the year, and has won almost $8.5M in tournaments over his career (which puts him at the top of the all-time money list). He also plays in the biggest cash game in the world - blinds are $4,000/$8,000 for limit games and $1,000/$2,000 with a $1,000 ante and $100,000 pot cap in no-limit games.

I was conflicted coming into the tournament about whether or not I would be happy to be seated at the same table as a big name pro. Even though it would be cool in a sense, I would much rather have an easy table and a better chance at making $12M than being sat at the table with anyone in the world. I'd be happy to meet all the pros after having the $12M in my pocket.

Aside from the threat of playing with an excellent player, Daniel was one of the best people I could have at my table. He's friendly and very talkative — we chatted about things like vegetarianism, marriage, high stakes poker, the book he's writing, the WPT lawsuit, and so on. It was also very interesting to see how he played that day. I've seen Daniel on TV in probably over a dozen tournaments, watched him in the GSN cash game, read his blog, read his columns, and seen his play analyzed in books. It was something else to see him play in person and be involved in hands with him.

But yeah, I would have traded the experience to have a weak player in his seat. Daniel was down to about 4,000 chips in the first level and was visibly frustrated. We came back from a break and he managed to get back up to a decent stack and then started terrorizing the table. He started raising over 1/2 the hands pre-flop, and would often re-raise someone, even with garbage hands. He was involved in almost every single pot. He had made up his mind that he would try to outplay everyone at the table in almost every pot despite the hands he held and despite his position. Unfortunately for us, he soon had more chips than anyone else at the table so could threaten anyone with elimination. Even worse, he was getting lucky and hitting some of his garbage hands, so frequently won at showdown when he wasn't able to get someone off a good hand.

Listen to this video blog entry of his where he describes his strategy. And no, I'm not any of the people he specifically mentions. I do think he exaggerated somewhat, as only about ½ of the table were Internet players that didn't have any live experience. I have no doubt that he had a read on everyone at the table though.

The fact that he was two to my right meant that I was in the big blind whenever he had the button. In the whole time I played I never once had everyone fold to my big blind. However, I had much better position than the guy to Daniel's right. I think there was probably only once the whole time that he was in a hand that Daniel wasn't. Every time he had a hand Daniel gave him some tough decisions, and frequently re-raised him. e.g. the guy had KK and raised pre-flop. Daniel re-raised with suited 63. (Unfortunately for Daniel, he flopped two pair but the other guy ended up getting a better two pair on the river).

One other bad thing about Daniel at my table was that there was always a camera and boom mike around along with a handful of reporters and fans lined up 3 or 4 rows deep asking for pictures and autographs (the temperature at the table dropped noticeably when fans had to exit before breaks). It was rather distracting, although Daniel didn't seem to notice. Everyone had a laugh when he made a "private" comment to a neighbor about someone's big behind, and then quickly noticed a mike hanging over his head. All the media attention was quite surreal.

That's my hat and ear in the foreground. Another problem with having the media all over Daniel is that nobody wanted to take a picture of me. Photo from cardplayer.com.

John Esposito

While Daniel was two to my right, the guy who started directly to my right was John Esposito, a pro who won a WSOP bracelet in 1999. Maybe he was just having a bad day, but he acted like a jerk pretty much the whole time. He berated some of the players who obviously hadn't had any live experience. He muttered something about the guy to Daniel's right only having played in his mother's kitchen, and even snapped at a media intern who was standing behind him keeping track of chip counts.

Daniel had started joking around with him about some of the amateurish things that the inexperienced players were doing (one guy counted his chips out one-by-one, another tried to make change out of the pot, some guy threw his toy frog card protector into the pot to signify an all-in, and so on). It was pretty funny, and most people were laughing at it, but then John just took it from joking around to abuse. I have to give Daniel a lot of credit because he ended up shutting John up. John criticized a player for taking a long time to call a bet on the river, and then asked the dealer to see the hands the guy mucked. Daniel went off on John (semi-privately) pointing out how he was out of line, and that the rule was designed to prevent collusion, etc.

Anyway, nobody seemed very disappointed when John busted in the first few hours.

That's my hat again in the lower right-hand corner. John is in the sunglasses on the right. The guy on the left is the one who put his chips in one at a time, and was berated by John for having only played in his mother's kitchen. Photo from pokerpages.com.

My Play

The tournament structure was the best I've ever played — 10,000 starting chips, 2 hour levels, with blinds starting at 25/50 — it allowed for us to sit back and play solid poker without pressure to move all-in early. So my focus was to play solid "by the book" poker. I was planning not to risk my entire stack early, and survive through the 1st day. If I ended the day with 20,000 chips I'd be comfortable going into the 2nd day. Even if I ended with 10,000 chips I would still be in OK shape.

I think I played pretty well, and saw my share of good hands, but unfortunately was never in a situation where I could get much higher than my starting stack. Daniel's aggression and big stack definitely cut off my potential to be as aggressive as I normally am. I was also playing pretty short for a large part of the day, and was forced to pick up a major hand or sit back. My best hands came early when I won small pots, and when I needed them the most they didn't come.

Key Hands

The blinds are 25/50 and the cutoff raises to about 200. Daniel re-raises to about 600. I'm in the big blind with AKo and call. The cutoff calls. The flop is Qh Th 9? and everyone checks. The turn is 8h and everyone checks. The river is 6? and everyone checks. The cutoff and I split the pot with our AK. Think for a moment what Daniel could have to re-raise preflop and lose with that board. That's key to understanding how many garbage hands he was playing strongly. Even if he had a K or J in his hand I think he would have fired out a bet at some point. The hand was mentioned in this Poker News article (no, I wasn't any of the people specifically mentioned, besides in that hand). I raised on the button w/ QQ and the fairly tight SB player re-raised. I called. The flop was AcKcTc and I didn't have a club. I had to fold to the SB's bet, leaving me w/ about 7000.

I was grinded down to a little over 6000 after a few hours of play when I found AA in early position. I raised to 600 (blinds were 100/200) and the guy who I folded QQ to re-raised to 1600. It folded to me and I called. I checked the 762 rainbow flop and he bet 2000. I raised him all-in and he thought for a couple minutes before folding. This brought me to a little over 11,000.

A little bit later I was in the BB when an aggressive player from early position raised to 600. Daniel called on the button and I called with AKo. The flop was AJ9 with two diamonds and I bet out 1000. As I'm throwing out a 1000 chip, the EP raiser throws out 600. He immediately realizes that he acted out of turn and seems disgusted that he now has to call my bet. (He later said he definitely would have folded if he saw me bet). Daniel called. The turn was a non-diamond 8. I bet 3000, the EP raiser folds and Daniel calls. The Kd falls on the river - a very tough card for me. I was hoping to win the pot on the turn, but knew Daniel had to have something to call my bet there. The K would let me win it if he'd had a smaller two pair, but would also make him his flush if he was drawing. I check, Daniel bets 5500 and after some thought I figured I had to call. Daniel had 76d for the flush.

That hand left me with 775 and with the 100/200 blinds I was crippled and on my way out. It was a tough hand to play, and I wonder if Daniel would have called my flop bet if the other guy hadn't been forced to call. He read me for AQ so may not have called, although I wouldn't bet on it. He actually said that if he'd read me correctly for AK he'd have put me all-in on the river instead of leaving me with chips. I'm not sure if I would've called an all-in bet there. I certainly would have folded if he would have bet that much and the K hadn't come.

As I was waiting to put my 775 in the middle with any decent hand, Daniel proceeded to raise every single hand, leaving me with no choice but to wait for a great hand. When it came to me in the BB the EP raiser from before raised to 600 and three others including Daniel called. I looked down at KQo and figured I was beat but had no choice to push all-in. Of course, everyone else called for only 175 more. I got a few good luck wishes, and Daniel declared, "I'll just bet 2000 on the flop to get everyone else out and protect you." Everyone laughed, but checked the 6c6?5c flop to Daniel. He bet 1000 and everyone folded. Daniel had Q7c so I had to sweat two more cards for no 7 or no club. Luckily, I won the hand and quintupled up to 3875. A couple people who had called pre-flop declared that they would have busted me if Daniel hadn't bet.

A couple hands later someone raised in EP and I pushed all-in w/ AKs. After trying to get a read on me for a few minutes he called with AQo and I won the pot, doubling up to about 8000. So in the course of about 10 minutes I went from 775 to 8000 and couldn't quit grinning.

That was the most of my excitement for the rest of the night. I went card dead for a while and played very few hands. I got up to over 10000 by about 9pm but then lost a few thousand w/ 88 when I was obviously beat. I lost a few more thousand to Daniel w/ 99 when again I was obviously beat. The blinds ate up some more chips and I was below 4000 by about 11pm. Our table finally broke and I got moved to a new table with several massive stacks. I was forced to go all-in under the gun on my second hand at the new table w/ A7s. I had two callers who ended up all-in on the flop w/ KK and QQ (interestingly enough, the QQ was the guy who had acted out of turn on the hand I had AK). I could make a straight on the river w/ a 4 or a higher pair with the ace, but no help came and I was out at around 11:30pm, when more than 1/2 of the field had been eliminated.

Those are my elbows and tiny chip stack on the right. This was at my new table, about two minutes before I busted. The guy on my right won his seat in a PokerStars freeroll and was one of the chip leaders at that point. I played in a cash game with him the next day and he seemed frustrated after I convinced the table to live straddle every hand. Photo from pokerstarsblog.com.

Epilogue

I wasn't angry or sad when I busted. I was actually joking with Otis, the guy who took the picture above. It wasn't until I woke up the next morning that I started feeling down about it. And I really felt it on Wednesday, when I would have played Day 2. But all in all, I don't think I played badly, and I don't think I got hit with any bad beats so I can't complain. It just drives me to want to do better next year, and crush Daniel the next time I play with him.

Daniel was one of the early chip leaders while at my table and went on to build a massive stack over the next couple days. He was eliminated in 229th place however, good for a $32,882 profit (considering he bets $20,000 per hole while playing golf, I would assume this would be equivalent to me winning $3).

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