Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What Really Happened

As my last post was just a few paragraphs trying to give a brief account of my short run at the 2009 WSOP Main Event, I figure I owe a more complete telling of the story, so here goes:

I arrived at the Rio Monday morning, probably around 10:30. I was a bit nervous, a bit anxious, and while I hadn't had any breakfast (except a bite out of a blueberry thing that Lori got me from Starbucks that I thought was way too sweet for my taste), I wasn't really hungry. Nervousness and anxiety tends to make it difficult for me to eat and I'm sure some if not most of you can relate to that. So while there was plenty of foods in the Party Poker hospitality suite, I wasn't in the mood for it. I chewed down a banana and drank water. Had some crackers. More water. Waited for the clock to strike 11, which is when we were supposed to get our table and seat assignments.

Sometime during the water drinking and waiting, I heard one of the Party Poker representatives hang up a phone and mutter "shit!" to herself. "That doesn't sound good," I interjected and she shot me a slightly stressed out smile and mumbled something about how it was probably not a biggie. As it turned out, that "shit" was more ominous than I thought at the time because, as you should be aware of by now, the Main Event's last day was sold out and the Party Poker players weren't in it. But of this I was blissfully - or, well, nervously and anxiously I should say - unaware at the time.

But as the clock not only strikes 11 but passes it, I start hearing conversations about how we're still waiting for more information because apparently there's a "situation." I ask if it's alright if I can go to the bathroom quickly or if I need to be here right this minute to be informed about the "situation" and am told that no, that's fine, there won't be anything happening for quite awhile. I realize that those words were uttered as a reassurance, but to me they were anything but. The fact that cards would start being dealt in less than 40 minutes combined with how I didn't have a seat assignment yet didn't make it feel alright that I could just take off for awhile and not worry about missing anything.

I could make this story several pages long, but I won't. Suffice it to say that what had apparently happened was that Party's players were preregistered and were guaranteed seats but somehow Harrah's had sold our seats to other players, so we didn't get to start playing until after the first break. A lot of those of us who were supposed to start playing at noon were bitching at the Party Poker crew about how fucked up this was, but I wasn't one of them. I've been around for long enough to know when bitching has zero effect, and this was definitely one of those times. Better to save my energy for things that I could affect, like my mental state and making sure I was prepared to play. I was unhappy about missing the first level because the first level was the time we would be playing 300 blinds deep which, as I've mentioned before, was huge for a cash game player; lots of wiggle room and creative four-street play.

So I finally get my table and seat (table 39, seat 6) at 2:20 and sit down and start folding hands. I've been card dead before, but being card dead in live poker and card dead online are two different beasts. I went through the first level winning only a single hand and it played out weirdly enough to warrant recounting:

I'm second to act preflop and find pocket aces. Awesome. And then I make the classic beginner's mistake of forgetting about the one-chip rule and toss in a $500 chip without declaring "raise" which means that it's a call. Fortunately I was fast enough to realize my mistake and not go "oh crap, no I meant to raise" because then I'd not only put in the minimum but also let everyone else know I had a hand. So I openlimped aces. Not a great start, but then again, I'd seen some aggressive play at the table (raising limpers, etc.) so it probably wasn't a disastrous mistake to make - I was still miffed that I forgot about it though.

It's folded to the button, an elderly gentleman who was very loose postflop and who liked to bluff when checked to, but didn't do a lot of raising, who also limped. Small blind folds and the big blind - asian woman in her 30s or early 40s - checks her option. Effective stack is more than 100 blinds deep. The flop comes Td8d4c and it's checked to me. I bet 400 into the 700 pot, and the button calls and the asian lady checkraises to 1300. Hrm. I had seen her involved in only one pot, and then she had been very nervous in getting money in with bottom set so this set off an internal alarm in me. I called - considering how vastly underrepresented my hands was, I definitely couldn't fold - and the elderly gentleman called as well.

Turn was the jack of hearts which was a bad card for me. 97 just filled up, and two pair became a real possibility now. The lady checked to me and I had to decide if she was trapping or if I should bet for value/to protect. That's when I remembered that the older guy had previously done some betting when checked to and I figured that I could perhaps kill two birds with one stone by checking; it might encourage him to bluff and if she then checkraised again I would feel pretty good about just folding. If he bet and she folded, I would checkraise to extract value from his draws (and fold to a 3-bet) and then check the river if called. Sure, I run the risk of giving free cards to lots of different hands but I glanced at the gentleman and he sure looked like he was preparing to bet.

Indeed, he did bet. Asian lady called. I now figure that she had an aggressively played flushdraw or maybe a combodraw of some kind (T9 or so) and so I just called which I don't think is correct but I was feeling terribly confused by the whole thing. This was my second worst decision in the hand, and sadly the preflop mistake wasn't #1. The river came an ace (not of diamonds), which gave me top set (and a very likely candidate for having the best hand since only the straight beats me) and she checks to me. I don't think either of them have KQ unless she has specifically KdQd so anyone filling a straight on the river to beat me seemed unlikely. Should I bet or hope to check/raise the field? I think there's a good chance that the older guy will bet when checked to and I think she will not be folding much when he does. So I check, which I now consider my biggest mistake and watch as the older guy checks behind. Why was this the worst mistake of the hand? Because it would take balls of solid brass for him to try to bluff two people on an A-high river with air, and there was very little air left even in a very wide range. I sheepishly turn over AA, for rivered top set.

Quite a few eyebrows were raised at that point and I felt kinda dumb but figured, as the results-oriented kinda guy that I am, that the pot I ended up dragging was probably about as much as I could realistically have hoped to win anyway. And all of this because I managed to forget about the one-chip-rule. Not a mistake I'm likely to make again.

After that, like I said, I didn't win any more pots in that level. I was involved in a few other hands, the most notable of which was when I opened 8c7c in the cutoff and Josh Arieh calls in the small blind. Flop comes Kc-Tc-4h and he leads out for 2/3rds pot. I consider raising but decide that with all the folding I've been doing he's unlikely to fire a second barrel on a naked bluff if I call the flop, and if he checks the turn I can probably represent something big enough to get him to fold when bluffing when checked to.

The turn is the 6s, which gives me a few more outs to the nuts and Josh bets again, again sizing his bet to about 3/4ths pot. Now I think his range has narrowed considerably and is more polarized. Again I consider raising but I had also seen him make some relatively loose calldowns with weak top pairs when raised and if he has a monster, I wouldn't want to forfeit my 12-out equity if he 3bets so I call again after thinking a bit. The river is an offsuit ace and he bets half pot. I think one last time about raising (I think I could represent quite a few hands) but then I remember that I'm new at this and chances are I would be horrible at disguising the fact that I'm bluffing and that a failed bluff would leave me with less than 13k in chips and that trying to out-aggro the aggressive player with a small stack is not ideal at this point. So I fold.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, one horribly played AA and a calling-station way to play a draw; that's the guy you've been rooting for the in the main event. Sad, isn't it?


Then I went back to mostly folding again. Josh was very active in stealing, 3-betting and squeezing and with my dwindling stack that didn't leave me a lot of options in terms of getting creative with trash - which was all I was dealt. I won three hands in the third level of play (my second level since I missed the first one) and all of them small. I open kings and everyone folds - of course they do; I hadn't opened a single hand in that level up until that point - and I open AQo and take it down on the flop with a continuation bet, and one more hand like that. My stack was down to about 20k when we went on dinner break. My fan club - the CardsChat people who had been railing me - had left for the party at Nick's suite, and I was alone in an ocean of people. I sat down and talked a little with some fellow Swedes in the Party Poker room but couldn't shake the feeling that I wasn't having fun, that I'd rather be somewhere else.


Came back to the fourth level of play and it was more of the same. I got no cards, and when I did get something just strong enough to open, I was 3-bet and had to fold. Now, no one likes to listen to a whiner, let alone read a longwinded whine, so I'll stop here and just say that from this point on, I don't believe I made any more mistakes. Not that it helped; with a stack this short you have to get it in over and over again and hope that you double up. I didn't; I stole the blinds a couple of times before I ran 99 into AA and that was that.


Something interesting did happen in the fourth level though, and it's this: It turned out that five of the players around the table were high stakes online pros and had played each other, in some cases extensively. They had a little chat about it, "really? what's your screenname?" and after that the dynamic of the table shifted dramatically. They were outlevelling each other left and right; valuebetting AJo on a K-J-4-5-9 four-flush river without a flush in position (and being called by the ten-high flush), value-betting tiny on a scary river card and calling a river checkraise because they thought that they-knew-that-he-knew-that-they-knew-that-he-knew that they could be bluffing etc. It was hilarious. Or would have been, if I didn't have that drowning feeling.


All-in-all, I was about 30 minutes away from day 2 when I busted but I have no regrets about not trying desperately to fold my way into day 2. Because seriously, what am I going to do in day 2 with an 8 blind stack? My decision to double up or go home was trivial, I thought, and I'd play it the same today if I had the chance.


One of my better moments at the WSOP was meeting Pauly. Now, I've read his blog for a few years - although I'll be brutally honest and admit that sometimes I've been skimming through it - and while I'm usually pretty good at estimating what kind of a person someone is based on what they write, I was a little off when it came to the good doctor. I thought him a person with a good sense of humor but understandably cynical after his tours around the poker circuit, and wasn't sure what to expect when confronted by a reader who held out a hand to shake. I assumed he wouldn't just ignore me and walk off, but I also didn't expect him to be anywhere near as cordial and nice as he actually was. He not only shook my hand but stopped and talked to me, asked questions about how I was doing in the tournament, what the deal with party poker was (admittedly could have been his journalistic duty, but still) and even told me that if I wanted to, he could try to track my standings on his blog if I just let him know how I was doing here and there.

Now, don't get the wrong idea. I'm not easily star-struck and this isn't me telling you how cool it was to meet my lifelong idol. But I'm not used to meeting someone who is THIS easy to talk to when he's clearly busy doing his job. And for all the poker so-called celebrities that were roaming the corridors, the Iveys and the Hellmuths and the Matusows and what have you, I think my conversation with Pauly outranks them all on the "hey, this is really cool" scale.


And I must not forget Shamus, who Pauly was nice enough to direct me to, and who - for reasons I'm not sure I can discern - apparently reads my blog. I've been reading his blog as well for years and he was there reporting for PokerNews and getting to say hi to him was also cool. The world suddenly felt a lot smaller; two people just went from "virtual-and-unreachable" to "real." There's a value in that that can't quite be measured. As a sidenote, I'm not sure if Shamus had drawn the short straw or if he had pissed some WSOP official off, but the poor guy sat all by himself in a corner. I hope he didn't mind me interrupting him by coming over to introduce myself, but he certainly seemed like a genuinely nice guy. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised to meet genuinely nice people but the world of poker generally speaking doesn't create a lot of friends, so while I'm happy to have my cynicism cracking a bit I hope I'm forgiven to have expected less.


I'm not sure what the rest of our Vegas experience will look like, but our options with a soon-12-week-old baby are pretty limited. Two friends are flying in and one of the CardsChat people is still in town, so I'm sure some socializing will be in order and probably another visit to the Rio on Friday to see what's going on there but as to whether or not I'll be playing any more poker, well... We'll see. Maybe to see if I can turn some other virtual stranger into a real person.


Jen Curtis said...

Hi Fredrik,

Is there any way to get in touch with you directly? I work with marketing a large poker resource website, and I'd like to discuss something with you.

All the best,

Fredrik Paulsson: said...

Hi Jen,

You can email me at [my first name].[my last name] (and I assume you'll be able to figure out the necessary substitutions).


Anonymous said...

Cheap flights to Alicante? - Matilda is longing for Benjamin (so am I!)

Fredrik Paulsson: said...


I don't know if you tried sending me an email but I haven't received any. Leave a way of contacting you and I can try to straighten it out.