Friday, June 12, 2009

Did anybody get the license plate of the truck that hit me?

WSOP 2009, Event #24.

I arrived at 12:09 due to traffic (plus due to not really caring much if I missed a few minutes). No time wasted finding my table and seat, as I already had that mapped out. I recognize just one face at my table: John "The Razor" Phan, 2008 Player of the Year for both Bluff and Card Player magazine and double bracelet winner at last year's WSOP--in other words, on the hot streak of a lifetime.* My stack is 4425 chips, having lost one set of 25/50 blinds while absent.

My third hand, I have A-K offsuit in 2nd position. I raise to 150, get one caller from the small blind. Flop is 8-9-10 with two crubs. He checks, I check. I'm intending to play conservatively, and I'm willing to let one go rather than get into a sticky spot early. It's just too likely that he has some significant piece of that coordinated flop to go sticking my nose out. Turn is a queen. He bets, I fold. No muss, no fuss.

Next hand I play is from the big blind. I have pocket deuces. I call a raise to 150, just set-mining. Flop is 10-8-10. I check, somebody bets, I'm outta there.

When the button comes around, I see As-Qs. John Phan and a woman have both limped in. Of significance, Phan has a few hundred more chips than I do, because of having won an earlier pot. I push it to 200. They both call. Pot is 675.

Flop is J-7-4 rainbow. Phan bets 350. Woman folds. I decide to call. I know of Phan's aggressiveness, and it seems to me that he could easily think my pre-flop raise was pure position, or a small/medium pair, or exactly the kind of hand I had--two big cards without a jack. All of those would have missed the board. Besides, he has twice seen me give up without a fight when I've missed. So even with the woman and her unknown status in, it's not a bad spot for him to launch a probe bet and see what happens, no matter what he has. I think that with two pair or better he gambles that one or the other of us in the hand with him will bet so that he could check-raise. Therefore, I conclude that he has either missed or has no better than one pair. He could easily have a jack; top pair is certainly a hand he'd be likely to lead out with. Pot is 1375.

Turn is deuce of the fourth suit. No flush draws, almost nothing in straight draws. He bets 450. My first thought was to let it go. Again, no need to be splashing about with a significant fraction of my stack 15 minutes into a 3-day affair. And had this been any of the other 6 players at the table (we still had two empty seats), I probably would have. But Phan is aggressive enough, I think, to fire twice without much, and good enough to fold either air or a single pair to evidence of strength. He has not gotten to where he is by being a careless calling station. His sometimes frenetic play is when he has the initiative, not calling. So I think a bit, and raise to 1500.

My impression is that he finds this disconcerting--unexpected. It's hard, though, to tell whether it's more puzzlement or worry. He thinks for quite a while, staring me down, but eventually calls. I have a very strong impression that he is not Hollywooding a big hand. Pot is now 2875.

River is another brick--an 8 maybe? Can't remember for sure, because it wasn't a card that affected my analysis. Phan checks. I hesitate maybe one second before picking up my last two chips--yellow 1000s--and pushing them in. Phan shakes his head and makes a face, and as he tosses his matching yellows he has the distinct look of one who feels resigned to his fate.

I, of course, feel that more acutely than he could know. I say, "You called, so you must have the winner," and show my A-Q. He looks surprised but relieved, and turns over A-J. Stick a fork in me, I'm done.

As you might imagine, I've spent much of the last several hours going over it in my mind again and again and again. I'm trying to figure out just where on the stupid scale it rates, between "mildly" and "outrageously." I may not be able to arrive at even a semi-objective conclusion because of how crappy I feel. Every criticism of my actions I think of seems like 20/20 hindsight and outcome-oriented thinking, while every justification that comes to mind seems like wishful thinking and excuse-making.

Here's where my head is at the moment: I'm willing to defend everything up to the turn raise. Given his range and what I believe he's thinking about me, I don't think I was crazy. It was the first time he had seen me willing to put in money after the flop, on a board that had no draws, so he would have to think I have something. The turn raise is the most aggressive action he has seen from me, so he has to give it some credit. He has to worry that I have an overpair or a set, either of which I could easily have played as I did. I think that he won't want to risk virtually his entire stack so early in a tournament on one pair, in a situation where he must simply guess whether he is ahead or behind. If he folds on the turn, he's down to just a bit under his starting stack, but not anything like crippled.

So I think the flop float and turn raise are OK. (Of course, playing completely ABC and folding on the missed flop would have been OK, too. "He who fights and runs away," and all that.)

The harder question for me is the all-in river bluff. I did not feel pot-committed. I could have given up after he called the turn raise, and still had 2000 (40 big blinds) to work with. Had he fired out again on the river, I would have folded, no question. But his hesitant call on the turn and his check on the river suggested to me that this was not a spot in which he wanted to go all the way.

Was he pot-committed? Well, he was getting better than 2:1 for the call (2000 to win 4875). But that's hardly the end of the analysis. If he takes the chance and loses, he's down to less than 500 chips, and resigned to shoving preflop one time with any reasonable two cards, and hoping to mount a miracle comeback. I can't imagine him wanting to be in that position when he could find better spots. If he folds, he still has maybe 2500, which is still 50 big blinds. I think that is probably a more useful way of looking at his situation than just the pot odds, and by that metric, no, I don't think he was objectively committed to going all the way after making the turn call. However, I don't know his mind, and he may feel that being cut down to less than half the starting stack is tantamount to being out, and decide that he'd rather gamble on getting a substantial head start on the field than fight back from a half-stack early. Maybe he even had thought in advance that he'd enter the 5:00 event if he busted out early here, so that made him more willing to take a chance than he'd otherwise be. I just don't know.

My self-recrimination is eased a bit by having been right about his actual card strength and by having read correctly his bet sizing and body language. They really did represent apprehension--he really was worried. In fact, as I was standing up, I heard him tell the guy next to him, "I thought for sure he had a big pair." So I apparently succeeded in making him think what I wanted him to think. That comment is what makes me really wonder about what other factors prompted him to make the turn and river calls, though. Did he think it through? Did he really think that a player unknown to him would make that audacious a bluff at him, especially so early in the game?

I am disappointed. That, in fact, is an understatement. I can't remember the last time I felt this disappointed. I'm not angry or frustrated. Just enormously disappointed. And it's not because I had any serious high hopes. I knew going in that the most likely outcome objectively was leaving with nothing, and I was psychologically prepared for that. Part of the disappointment is that I didn't at least get to take from it the experience, the fun, and the stories that would have come from a more typical duration, even if I didn't win anything.

But most of the disappointment comes from not having played the way I had intended to play, and therefore feeling that I blew it in the most obvious and avoidable way. I had even thought explicitly in advance about how I didn't want to be ousted. I had decided that the worst way would be to make a hero call that turned out to be a donkey call, and the second worst would be to try running an outrageous all-in bluff that blew up in my face.

[It is now Friday, 6/12, just after noon. That is as far as I got in writing yesterday. I had wanted to finish the post, but just couldn't bring myself to keep going. My apologies for the delay. This is literally the hardest post I have ever had to compose, and I just plain ran out of mental and emotional gas to finish the job yesterday.]

This is the first time I can recall wishing that I had taken a bad beat. Then I could feel annoyed but self-satisfied, have a good story to tell, grumble a bit, and be over it. I'd even prefer having been outplayed--e.g., somebody slow-playing a monster and inducing me to fall into his well-disguised trap. Then I could feel beaten but not despondent. As it is, I can't shake the feeling that I just plain suck at poker.

That said, I am slightly buoyed by an exercise that my friend Cardgrrl urged me to do a couple of weeks ago. I had mentioned that I don't consider myself a tournament player, didn't enter many of them, and don't have spectacular results. She encourged me to check my records and see what my cumulative results really were. I knew I was significantly ahead in tournaments overall, but I hadn't analyzed the numbers carefully. When I did, I was surprised to find that since being in Vegas I have played in 61 live tournaments (a lot more than I remembered), and cashed in 13 of them--a pretty respectable 21% of the time. I have also won outright three times, or 5% of the time. With an average field size of probably around 70 or so, that's nothing to be ashamed of.

But still, when I was presented with a chance at my biggest score ever, I completely botched it. The most generous way of looking at what happened is approximately this: "Hey, you made a move that had a decent chance of putting you way ahead in chips early on, and it didn't work out." The most damning way of looking at it, and the one that most occupies my thoughts, is approximately this: "You proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are the phony wannabe good-for-nothing moron donkey idiot that deep down you've always known yourself to be." I'm too bewildered and depressed to figure out at which end of the spectrum the truth lies, or perhaps somewhere in between.

Stu Ungar once famously said, "No one has ever beaten me playing cards. I have only beaten myself." Of course that wasn't literally true for him, nor is it for me. But it sure is true today, and it is the worst feeling I can imagine. People often say that there are certain life events the overwhelming emotion of which you cannot truly be ready for, no matter how much you might think you are--things like the birth of a child or the death of a parent. I thought I was sufficiently steeled for losing in this tournament. But not like this. Not for losing in the way that I told myself a hundred or a thousand times I absolutely was not going to do, one which (unlike falling into a trap) was 100% avoidable.

I feel like I let everybody down--my wonderful friends; my loyal readers; PokerListings for giving me the seat (which I now suspect they will regret; I wouldn't blame them for discreetly but deliberately not inviting me to join the blogger freeroll if they run another one next year); PokerNews for giving me the time off of work; Cardgrrl, who was arriving to support me for the day just as I was walking away overflowing with shame and remorse; and the other players I beat to win the seat, who undoubtedly would have performed better than I did.

I feel profoundly embarrassed, even while remaining uncertain to what degree I have reason to be. In three years here, I have never come so close to an uncontrollable reaction that would leave onlookers saying, "Hey, there's no crying in poker!"

I can't help wondering if the fact of it being a freeroll for me had something to do with my actions. I had literally nothing invested in it. I had anticipated in myself the possibility of treating it too lightly--of subconsiouly focusing on having spent nothing to get there rather than on the possibility of winning half a million dollars--and had spent a decent amount of time harshly warning myself not to let it happen. But maybe it did anyway. You'd think that the fact that I lost nothing in the process would make the outcome roll off as if nothing had happened. Actually, I thought that might be how it would feel. I was way wrong. In talking about that with Cardgrrl yesterday, she offered some insight: Maybe it being a freeroll makes it feel worse, because the prospect of getting something for nothing is so alluring and enticing, that when it doesn't happen it feels even more disappointing than when you have paid your money and taken your chances like everybody else. I don't know, but it's an interesting idea.

For those few readers who, judging by submitted comments, seem to revel whenever I step my foot in the dog poo, go ahead and speak your mind. Tell me what a pathetic loser I am. Tell me that I don't deserve even the modest success I have had in the game so to date. Tell me that I'm a poseur, a hack, a nobody. Nothing you can say will make me feel it any more viscerally and genuinely and thoroughly than I already do.

Last week rapper Nelly entered a WSOP event and lasted only a little longer than I did. His parting words to the table summed up what many must feel as they bust out of poker tournaments: "Stupid game."

But he doesn't speak for me. It's not a stupid game. It's a great game, endlessly full of excitement, challenge, and intrigue. I only wish I could have risen to the occasion and shown some part of what I think I'm capable of when at my best, instead of humiliating myself like a contestant on "American Idol" who commits the unforgiveable sin of forgetting the lyrics when he is finally given the opportunity of a lifetime and has the camera and spotlights on him.

Now I feel like I should apologize for this ridiculously self-indulgent, navel-gazing rant, in addition to apologizing for performing so horrendously badly. I don't know. I'm just utterly beyond the ability to know what I should think and feel at this point. So for it all, I'll just say, "I'm sorry."

*A cautionary note. It's possible it wasn't actually John Phan. Nobody mentioned any names, there was no press there photographing or interviewing him. He was at the other end of the table, wearing big, dark sunglasses, and people don't always look like their photographs. But if it wasn't him, it was a darn good impersonator. I'm in the vicinity of 90% confident of the identity, so I'm going with it here.


Anonymous said...

Something about that A-Q...Like a hooker whose pimp carries a straight razor (the Ace)....Oh well, there'll be a fire in your belly 'til next time... right grump?

Anonymous said...

After reflection, the A-Q is more like a Hooker who carries a razor herself (still the Ace). You still rock, Grump. Most of your analysis is very insightful and thought provoking.
Oddly enough, even the 2-4 offsuit thing makes sense when you tell it. Thanks for giving it your best effort and sharing a detailed account of your experiences.

Anonymous said...

I am a regular reader of your blog and I have a couple of thoughts....First, I would be willing to bet that you have not played in many live tournaments because from what I can tell from just reading your comments, you played just like you were playing in a cash game. That early in the tourney there was no reason to attempt to push anyone off their hand (especially with a high card Ace bluff). You had even said that you were going to play conservative, yet you did the complete opposite. After he called your raise to 1500 on the turn, did you really think he was going to fold to a 2000 river bet? I have to say, that was horrible play. Also why on earth would you throw in your last 2k when you are still at the 25/50 level and a pair of duck beats you? Did you really think he called your raise with King high?

Second, I think that you expected the competition to be below your level of play. From reading your post from a couple days before, you kept calling this a "donkament" and were kind of upset that you did not have a seat closer to the rail which would have given your "railbirds" an opportunity to watch your play. All I have got to say is be glad that they didn't get the chance to do so. In all honesty, you were not mentally prepared for the marathon race of a WSOP tourney. It seemed like you felt the need to press the action to make things happen faster then they needed to occur.

I know that you have got to be upset, but I think that you will benefit from this experience more than you can ever realize at this moment. A little bite of humble pie is good for all of us from time to time.

Keep your head up. There will be more chances in your lifetime.

Jordan said...

For what its worth, I don't think the problem was with the turn bet. It made sense based on the information you provided. The river push though was the problem. You are only going to win if he folds, obviously, but he has already shown that he had no desire to fold.

Now its time to shake it off and accept it for what it is: a lesson. Benefit from the loss with the lesson, but don't pay more by feeling too bad about it.

Anonymous said...

I did not read your entire post before I made my long winded comments earlier. You have beat yourself up long enough and you don't need me questioning your play at this time. I just wanted you to do well, but it is poker and at the moment in time you thought you were doing something that would put you ahead.

Get your head out of the gutter because you have a lot of poker left to play.

Anonymous said...

Grump, I was knocked out of the biggest tourney of my life when I flopped a king high flush on the first hand! It happens to all tournament players from time to time. Someone has to be knocked out first. Sometimes it happens when we make bad plays, take bad beats, get trapped or are just stupid. One time I folded the nut straight because I FORGOT I had a queen in the hole. What? How in the hell could I forget my hole cards? I could see the queen going into the muck when the cards were in the air! What an idiot. It was the difference between me winning $100 and probably taking home $10000. Literally.

kg_bettor said...

Factors working against the bluff:

1) Phan (assuming it was him) has played LOTS of large field tournaments, and lots of players in large field tournies are donkeys.
2) Phan knows he has an aggressive image, so he has to call down more often when he has medium strength hands, since others know he's often betting air and will try to raise him off his air.
3) Pot size for river bet.
4) the "go big or go home" mentality in the large field tournies - without lots of chips, his aggressive game doesn't work as well, so he must accummulate early.
5) Another tourney at 5:00pm for him to enter.

Unfortunate it didn't work out for you, but I think your biggest mistake was trying to 'outplay' someone so early in the tournament.

Lag said...

Rakewell, first and foremost: please do not beat yourself up over it.

You made a few mistakes in the hand, but the biggest was that you didn't need to pull off any sort of big bluff without a great read on your opponent. You're talented, so you certainly know that a good read on an opponent not only means that you're reading their hand range and body language well, but that you're also in tune to their thought process at the time of the hand.

I think what really hurt you was that you were facing someone whose play you had a predetermined notion of. Your actions were not perfect, but they were understandable given your notion. But, that notion was not a good read. It was missing a key component: his thought process at that moment. So, even though your story (bluff) made perfect sense to a thinking pro like him, it failed. Typically, an intelligent pro like him would fold to such a story, but he had other factors in his mindset at that time that obviously made him vary from his typical frame of mind.

That said, you should not feel so poorly. You went out playing aggressively and played the hand with largely valid thoughts in your head. Better to go out aggressively than to fold your way to mortality. There is no shame in following your read and being aggressive. You need to do that to win tournaments.

You made a series of missteps that can be aggregated into a "mistake". You will learn from this mistake just as you have learned from each of the previous ones in your life.

Keep the head up, Rakewell.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should make a post someday about how sometimes our hands or mouths do the exact opposite of what our brains are trying to tell us to do.

My only question would be how long did you take before you threw in the last 2K? I make my best laydowns when I stop and think for just a few seconds if it is really worth it in this spot. Sure I fold the winner sometimes, but at least I am alive and still have a chance.

Michael said...

Just my laymen style analysis. Coming from one who enjoys the strategy but hasn't delved as deeply as many.

My thoughts, it's too early in a tournament to make that move and I would feel the same way as you did if I did it. Why? I would have approached the tournament in the same way (play tight early) and I think you have to let the hand go on the turn.
If for no other reason based on your plan, but in addition there is no need to tangle with someone you consider dangerous early on, too much dead money out there to try and scoop up. I've made this play before and I understand the strategy. The one thing I've found in my limited tournament play is, you may be assuming that he thinks like you and while in many instances other 'pros' are going to have similar techniques, it's highly possible that he wasn't at the point where he made a decision on your style. Without him assuming your tight image it leaves him with almost a necessary call. These kind of bluffs are commonplace in tournaments in the early stages and I see them (and have had them) called alot, it's just too early to put a table image together. And even if he thought you were tight, he very well could have also made the assumption that you were an experienced player and easily capable of making a move like that.

Again, you have far more experience than I and I appreciate that, but I wanted to offer my perspective. Home games, limited games in casinos and micro stake tournaments are all I have under my belt and while I understand the dynamics I don't play textbook poker. But I wanted to give you an idea of my background. So my final analysis is that the fatal flaw was the assumption that someone is going to approach it in the way that you do.

I look forward to your next wsop follow up whenever that maybe and thanks for all the great posts and work on the blog.

Cotty said...

I never like to call off my stack with one pair so your play would have had a great chance against me. Saying that I think next time you should try to value bet terrible players more and bluff experts less.

EdakaEH said...

Something I either you didn't think about or didn't mention. Go to next level. What if you were giving off some obvious tells while you were doing your bail out bluff? Still makes the AJ call hard, but now becomes doable to a thinking player.

Chappy & Bailey said...

Judging from your post I think it is clear that you are not mentally prepared to be a tournament player. Whether you have the skills is open to debate... certainly putting your tournament life at risk on a bluff so early in the contest showed a fundamental misunderstanding of how to play the early stages of such a large tournament. There is simply no reason to take such a risk. That is an error in your game that can easily be fixed. What remains to be seen is if you can play tournaments and deal with defeat without having it cause the mental trauma that this one did. I am guessing that the more big buy in tournaments you play, the better you will become at dealing with not doing well.

Mike G said...

You played badly and you left early. You completely misread your opponent and bet your last chips when he was pot comitted. How is that any different than the way a donkey would do it?

So then the next logical question would be: should I develop a skill in something else where I won't feel so bad after I lose, or alternatively, won't lose so badly? I think anything else would be better, cooking, landscaping, dry cleaning, prison guard.

I'm saying the lows you've experienced here are not worth it, the game is not worth it. So do something about it.

The Vegas Flea said...

As I read this, it really reminded me of how I play tournaments (which, unfortunately, is not a complement).

It also reminded me of last years AVP tournament when you knocked me out of the tournament about three hands in.

I could be 100% wrong, but I think the freeroll has something to do with it. As well as (as we've discussed before) that tournament chips just don't feel like real money to cash players such as ourselves, hence our less than ideal play.

Unknown said...

The power of the pro's is most everyone thinks their bluffing all the time and they can stack you when your not. The power of the amateur is everyone thinks if you bet enough at them they will fold. Given that you had already folded twice, play the image, wait for a good hand let them double you up by trying to run you over.

angeroo said...

Brother, I'm sorry for your bust out. Remember that we've all donked out of tourneys we spent forever mentally preparing for. It also happens to the big-time pros more than we might assume. Losing is part of the game, even when the loss has little to do with luck. Let it go. (That also goes for all the commenters continuing to critique the play--are you really so socially deaf?) No one has died, you lost no money, and you can always play and win tomorrow. I think you should enter a satellite or two for the Big One!

Brett said...

This Mike G guy really bugs me. Why do you even bother reading the blog? Do you get some sick pleasure out of insulting people? Obviously you are perfect. Get a life dude.

EDakaEH said...

I'm an idiot. Misread the section on the board for earlier comment. I missed the part that said the flop was rainbow and instead read that the turn was a fourth suit. I understood that as 4 of a suit on the board instead of rainbow. Sounded like you gave of tells on got hero called.

After rereading, the pro will assume you're tight, giving you the range of AT+(maybe better) and TT+. The flat call on the flop looks like set or overs (not overpair), possibly another J. Given the range he puts you on, he's ahead of all the overs, tied the AJ, and way behind the JJ. He didn't want to believe you had the case jacks.

timpramas said...

You played the hand better than your opponent. I know that is not a lot of consolation, but it is true. Before the flop your opponent made a mistake calling your raise out of position with AJ so early in the tournament. How much does he lose from his starting stack if the flop comes with an ace instead of a jack? His play after the flop and leading out and betting on the turn are all fine. His call of your re-raise was incorrect and the relief he felt and comments he made after the hand showed he didn't call your bets because he had some great read of your play (perhaps you bet too quickly on the river, often a sign of a bluff). Your opponent played the hand perfectly, but incorrectly, if that makes any sense.

Unknown said...

Grump -

Regardless of how the hand played out, you are taking this way too hard. Perhaps you should have waited a couple more days before writing the post. Sounds like you need to be on suicide watch. Time will put this into perspective and you will feel better about it.
Play on!

Jordan said...

How to say this delicately...timpramas' comment is just plain wrong. You can't blame Phan for this situation and you cannot dictate how other players play. It just doesn't work this way. So saying that Phan played the hand poorly is not helpful, and frankly factually incorrect. Phan obviously had a reason for everything he did, and based on everything, I'm not surprised at all that Phan made the call with TPTK. Grump made plays intending to push out his opponent and the opponent read those plays correctly and/or felt his AJ was ahead. After all, Phan may have figured the over-aggression to be just what it was, an attempt to push him out of the pot. A bigger hand or set might've slowplayed it more. Also, Phan may've felt priced in OR quite frankly didn't give a snit about the tourney and was willing to double-up or go home.

My point is only this: if you focus on what the other guy did wrong, then you fail to improve yourself. This is especially true if you assume things about your opponents' play without cause.

Anonymous said...

Were you able to verify that it was Mr. Phan who knocked you out of the tourney?

SirFWALGMan said...

lol. We all get excited in one tourney or another and screw up. Get over it. You are a good player. You have a winning track record. Beating yourself up over one bad game is not helping anyone. While not being as good a player as you I have done the same thing in big stakes games where I was excited to be playing. You tell yourself your going to play your normal, solid way, and somehow your brain forgets to tell your hand. Better luck next time.