Friday, September 07, 2012

That was a close one

Today I played the weekly Friday noon tournament at Orleans, which is a $75 equestrian event--i.e., HORSE. I tried this for the first time last week, and though I went out mid-pack, I got the clear impression that this should be a hugely +EV event for me. With a handful of exceptions, the players are easily lumped into two categories: The uber-nits who fold everything except premium hands, and the passive, loose calling stations who play nearly everything they're dealt, and keep calling when there is any hope of improving. That makes playing against both types incredibly straightforward. Against the former, you stay out of their way when they proclaim themselves to have a real hand. Against the latter--who outnumber the nits something like 5:1, you play a significantly tighter starting range than they do, and value-bet the hell out of your hand as long as it appears you're good. Easy peasy.*

Note how different this is from the Tuesday night HORSE tournament at the MGM Grand. I've done that one three times, and you're lucky if you get one player per table who is so easily pigeonholed and conquered. That thing is mostly populated with the city's best lower-stakes mixed-game connoisseurs. I am not alone in this assessment. My friend Brad Willis, a.k.a. _Otis_, played it a few weeks ago. After a short time in the game, he tweeted, "It appears I grossly underestimated the quality of a $120 weekly HORSE tournament." A little while later, he added, "And I mean GROSSLY underestimated." As Bill Clinton might say, I feel his pain. I have never felt that I have any edge at all in that event.

The Orleans Friday noon, though--well, let's just say that it's a HORSE of a different color.

I started off like gangbusters today. I had a tricky tactical situation, with three of the passive calling stations on my right, but one of the rare ultra-aggro young guns on my immediate left. They called for completely different approaches, and when both were in the hand, it became challenging. But Mr. Aggro went away fairly early, after I got most of his chips in a razz hand in which I made a wheel while he had a 7-perfect. (His style was terribly ill-suited for the opponents he was up against. Trying to bully calling stations into folds is to commit tournament suicide.)

I was also getting clobbered by the deck: quads, flushes, wheels, etc. So 45 minutes in, I had doubled my starting stack, and I had nearly tripled it by the first break. That isn't terribly uncommon in big-bet games (no-limit and pot-limit), but in limit? Unheard of. This was the proverbial running like God.

But all good things must come to an end, and that 3x-stack benchmark seemed to be my upper limit. I couldn't exceed it for another two and a half hours. (When playing a tournament, I amuse myself by jotting down my chip count every ten minutes or so. It makes an interesting record of the ebbs and flows.) By then, I had long since stopped being chip leader, and was just a little above average with ten players left out of the original 25. That dropped to a little below average with eight left.

Then with just five left, disaster hit. I made a straight in stud and raised a guy who had been getting out of line more than his demographics would suggest likely. But he reraised me with a pair showing on 6th street. He could see my 6-7-8-9 plain as day, and it did not faze him in the least. I reluctantly concluded that he would only do this with a full house, and that I was therefore drawing dead. It hurt like hell to do so, but I folded, after having invested two-thirds of my stack. He gave me the courtesy show that I had been correct.

That made me the shortest stack with just five players remaining, and only three spots were to be paid today. It looked gloomy for me. I had that awful feeling of foreboding that I was going to be either bubble boy or bubble to the bubble.

I clamped down tight on starting hand requirements. With the blinds becoming huge relative to everybody's stacks, the chip lead was bouncing around the table, except for me. Finally, two huge hands collided, and one big stack knocked out another, putting us on the bubble.

At that point, somebody proposed a $75 save for the bubble boy; i.e., whoever went out next would get his entry fee taken out of the prize pool and returned to him. My stack was much, much shorter than the other three at this point, so I readily agreed to it. I would not ordinarily do so if I had a dominant or even reasonably competitive position, with somebody else's stack as crippled as mine was. Poker is not a game in which showing mercy is rewarded.

But I was not the one to take advantage of the save. I picked a couple of good spots to get the chips in and doubled up twice. Then I was the one to bust the bubble boy on my left, and we were in the money.

It was not immediately obvious who was ahead. All three stacks were comparable to a quick visual inspection without an actual count. We could guess that we all had between 60,000 and 70,000, and the limits were now 8,000 and 16,000--meaning that we all had around four big bets remaining. That in turn meant that it was almost purely luck as to who would go out in which position if we kept playing. I might get the $650 for first place, or the $390 for second, or the $260 for third, all with approximately equal likelihood.

With that understanding, we all quickly agreed to an even chop of the prize money. We decided that whoever had the biggest stack by actual count would get the odd extra dollar. That turned out to be me. I had 68,500 and both of the others were in the low 60s. So I'm just gonna go ahead and say that I won the tournament. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

I got $434, the other two $433 each. We each put $20 into the dealer tip pool.

It was quite a ride, going from hitting everything early, to stagnant for a few hours, to critically short, to a miraculous rebirth just in time for the payout. It was kind of like, oh, I dunno, riding a bucking bronco?

I'm not about to commit to making this a weekly affair. But I'm pretty well convinced that there is a lot of value to be mined, if one can tolerate the large variance due to the luck factor, and I think I will keep it in mind for semi-regular sampling.

*Given the venue, the type of game, and that description of the most common players, you might form a general impression of the typical player demographic. You would be correct. At age 51, I was easily the youngest among the final five left in the tournament, and there were no women among the final ten or so. This is a geezer game.


Memphis MOJO said...

Congrats on the win. If I were you, I'd play on a regular basis. Even with variance, it's like an annuity.

Chris Abramski said...

Nice score sir! Again, sorry I missed you by an hour or so. Would have loved to have railed.