Even after all these years, and knowing all about variance, how to handle downswings, how hard Vegas can be, and how easy it is to go through a succession of events bricking everything, it’s still a massive relief to get your first cash of the trip on the board.
Winning the Big O comp at Planet Hollywood put a new pep in my step, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the tables and play some more.
This year’s trip to Vegas had started with lots of fun events with the group of qualifiers Grosvenor Poker had flown across to play in the Colossus.
We’d had nights out Downtown, visits to Top Golf, nice meals and plenty of bars, but while it was sad to wave Rory from Grosvenor and the great group we’d brought over goodbye, I was now in work mode, determined to taste more success.
Next up was WSOP event 29, another $1500 entry NLHE event.
I’m a big fan of the structure of these tournaments – plenty don’t like them, but I think they’re great.
The one danger of course if you can’t really afford to lose your first significant pot, especially if you’ve not won any smaller pots before then.
Of course that’s exactly what happened here.
I’d not found any good cards or situations before I got into a pretty hefty pot and came out on the wrong side.
A new player arrived and immediately played a few pots.
He raised again, this time in early position, to 500 at 100/200.
I smooth called with 99 in position and we saw a flop, along with the big blind.
My new friend c-bet 500 on the K52 flop, shaking off the big blind, and made the same bet on the king turn.
I called again, and we saw what was a fairly innocuous looking 4 on the river.
He bet 1k, I called, he showed pocket fours for a rivered house and I was left with steam coming out of my ears!
With 20bb left, I was forced to play tighter with the blinds up at 150/300.
I found pocket sevens in the big blind and squeezed all in when it went raise in early position and call by an old guy in the small blind.
I stuck it in and found the original raiser with pocket queens that held for him.
Keen to kick on and play some more, I headed to the Wynn and got on the alternates list there.
Their $1k tournament had $500k guaranteed but they’d already gone through the $1million barrier, meaning over $200k for first.
I joined at 300/600, and could have got my 20k stack in first hand.
I just called an under the gun raise with TT and passed on a king high flop, seeing the raiser’s AK get busted by a flush draw.
I’d increased my stack to 30k at 600/1200 when I found myself in a pretty similar situation.
The chip leader made it 4k in early position, an Irish guy made it 11k on the button and I found AK in the big blind.
I shoved my 30k in, the raiser passed and the Irish guy called with pocket tens.
It felt like I was going to be rewarded for passing the tens earlier, but no, his pair held up and the 70k pot went to Ireland and England headed to the bar!
Next day was game 7 of the NBA Finals, the biggest day of the year for basketball fans like myself.
It was also the $1600 PLO at the Venetian, one of the best comps of the summer!
I decided I could do both, watching the basketball in the bar with the lads, then heading to the PLO comp and late regging six levels in.
With a deep stack but blinds now at 400/800, I played very tight.
In fact so tight that I soon had a reputation for passing every single hand, and any hand I did play my opponents presumed I had aces.
I sat and watched the bigger stacks play too, noting the bluffers, the nut peddlers and the hold em players trying to get by!
I also really felt fresh as we got to the later levels, having only played half as much as my opponents!
When day one was done, I was a top five stack with 21 left, and $69k for first place!
There’s no doubt this was a quality field, at least on day two, and finding spots and avoiding blinding off was very tough.
PLO is such a fun game, and can be played so many different ways, and I must admit I’m still not sure which tactics to employ.
We had one guy who raised every single pot, and called every single three-bet, though he didn’t bluff too much post flop.
Even though the pressure was ratcheted down after the flop, he was tough to play out of position.
We went to a final table of nine, and I was struggling with about 15bb and lying in seventh or eighth place.
With no antes of course I could wait to pick up a hand, but after seeing two short stacks double, it was time for me to make my move against Mr serial raiser.
He made it 21k at 5k/10k, I raised to 75k on the button with 25k back and of course he peeled again.
He was looking to crack aces, but I’d made my move with AQ97 double suited and had his draw crushed when we got the rest in on the J86 flop – he had peeled the old K753 with three diamonds.
The nine on the turn gave me two pairs but completed his straight and the river was a brick.
Still, another $9400 won, meaning I’d won nearly $20k in a week, and after that slow start, I felt like my Vegas trip was on track!
Next up was a $1500 PLO at the WSOP.
I was seated beside Vic legend Jeff Duvall, one of the finest PLO players in the world, and though we’re good friends, it wasn’t long til we clashed.
One of the few bad players on the table three-bet preflop to 1k, I called with 7766 double suited from the small blind, Jeff called from the big blind and the under the gun raiser came along.
The flop fell seven high with two hearts and I bet the pot with the nuts.
Jeff repotted and we were heads-up and both just about all in. Jeff had a gutshot and nut flush draw and said ‘Well at least one of us will get a stack’.
The board paired on the turn and it looked like it was me who would carry the torch.
It wasn’t to be. While I suffered a couple of accidents before eventually getting it in good but run down by one of two raggy hands to get back to average, Jeff rebuilt and rebuilt and eventually made it all the way to the final, coming second of 776 for over $130k! Well done that man!
A Venetian Round of each comp didn’t quite go my way, busting in the final level of day one.
Usually these are filled with NLHE players trying to get by in the PLO round, but because the Monster Stack was on at the WSOP, it seemed only the PLO regs were bothered, meaning all the value was in trying to dominate the hold em rounds.
I went out trying to steal a pot, never a bad thing, but annoying as the guy could have folded.
I called a raise with KQ98 from the big blind as the fourth entrant to the pot, and fired away first to speak on 367, trying to rep the nuts against big hands and knowing I could always hit the nut straight if I was unlucky enough to run into a monster.
I got past the raiser and the first caller, but the last guy decided he wanted to give me a spin with just the flush draw, which as it was ace high, meant he was winning as I had no pair.
A brick on the turn meant we were both sweating the river, which was a 5 to complete my straight, but a club to complete his flush.
Another chance missed – I finished about 20th, but that was a 75k pot and with $33k up top, I would have fancied it if I could have nicked that one.
I played day 1b of the Monster Stack.
It was one of the comps I had circled on my schedule as one I was looking forward to, 15k in chips to start and the usual mixed bag of players at the WSOP.
Unfortunately, I was just after the first break, through no fault of my own.
I’d watched this hoodied up kid play super aggro on a pretty passive table for two hours, just waiting for him to shoot himself in the foot.
Having played only two one-hour levels, I’d already seen him three-bet at least 10 times, and the two times he’d been four-bet he’d five-bet.
He was definitely the target, and I soon got my opportunity.
A guy in early position raised to 1250, I just called with AK hoping the hoodie would three-bet for the second hand in a row, and of course he did just that.
Under the gun called pretty quickly, making me sure he didn’t have a monster.
I then sprung the trap, raising to 7k. He tanked for a few minutes not sure what to do before eventually moving all in, folding out the third guy.
I called off my 15k stack and found the perfect situation – he had AQ.
Unfortunately the board ran out QxxAA and it was bike time for me….how annoying.
Having felt great after the two decent cashes, things were going wrong, none more so than in the next comp, a $1500 WSOP ROE where I won precisely zero hands!
I lost a few chips early and eventually got down to 4k from 7500 starting.
At 75/150 I limped under the gun with decent aces, hoping to find a raise behind.
The button potted it and even better, the big blind cold called, allowing me to get 75% of my stack in preflop. I did so, and they both called.
I was all in on any flop, and KQx would have to do.
The preflop raiser had KKxx and that was all she wrote there. Back to the drawing board.
I was quite glad next up was the $1500 Shootout.
I have a good record of winning my first table, and therefore cashing, in these – I think I’d done it in three of four attempts previously at the WSOP, and I did it again here in what was a pretty soft line-up.
Heads-up I was three to one down in chips but I confident the old boy I was playing would let me get him, and eventually he did, calling my four-bet all in preflop with AT, my AK holding up.
With $4900 locked up and $17k minimum if you could win table two and then be one of 14 shooting for the close to $300k first prize, my second table was as expected much tougher.
I sat and played tight, and waited for my chances, as I believe you should in a sit n go.
I won a race against the chip leader with 66 v his JQ, then found AK when he raised again. I three-bet and he four-bet all in.
He wasn’t a great player and I was sure he’d call pretty wide, but of course even bad players can find the aces, and that’s what he had.
I felt like it was my day though when the KKx flop saved me and I moved into second place with six left.
Quickly we got down to four-handed, and went on a break with the bad player having 300k, me 160k and two good players having 60k at 2k/4k.
I fancied if I could get one of the shorties and the chippy the other I’d win the heads-up – if I could get both I’d make myself a pretty short priced favourite.
First hand after the break I got my chance.
Shorty number one shoved first hand, I called with AJ from the big blind and found he had 89 of spades.
We saw four blanks before the ace of spades on the river gave me top pair but him a flush. Sigh.
Next hand the other shorty pushed. I fould AK of hearts in the small blind and called. I was up against A7.
After a blank flop, the 7 of hearts on the turn gave me a flush draw but a brick river meant I’d lost another one and was now the short stack.
Two hands later I shoved A9 (note, still better than the two hands my opponents had shoved with!) and ran into the big blind’s pocket jacks and I’d gone from hero to zero in five minutes.
I never blame a dealer, but even Queenie, the deliverer of those brutal beats, looked guilty as she called the floor to get me paid out.
The 888 Super 8 WSOP tournament was a crapshoot but fun, and I actually got going to a point.
I’d lost a race with KT v 22, and run AJ into JJ for 10bb each, but I still had double average at 200/400 when I lost a massive hand that saw me depart.
The other big stack on the table min-raised my blind and I took a flop with 53 of diamonds.
I found a great flop in 953 with two spades and check-raised; my opponent set me in.
I was up against KJ of spades for just a flush draw – all I had to do was avoid a spade and I’d have 4x average. I didn’t, and I didn’t! Bike time.
A couple of days later, I finally battled through to a day 2 of one of these WSOP $1500 events, and finally I could look at what was up top and think about how I could go about getting close to it.
I finished day one with 32k going back to 600/1200, 293 left with 278 paid.
The first obstacle of cashing was soon overcome, and I played really well, picking spots to reshove and maintain my stack.
I moved to a new table and with 15bb and about 150 players left, and knew if I could double up I’d have a playable stack.
A Russian guy raised the button and I found two nines in the big blind.
I moved all in for just about his whole stack.
It was obvious he didn’t have much by how long he took to call, but call he did with the mighty QTo, a pretty horrible call I felt, and one that usually seems to knock me out.
Not this time though, a nine on the flop and I doubled up to a healthy stack.
Happy with my new situation, I then found another lovely spot.
A guy with 20bb at 800/1600 open shoved with KJ, I reshoved from mid-position with two queens and Ryan Laplante called all in for just about the same stack as mine with AK from the big blind.
All I had to do was avoid an ace or king and I’d have the lot! Four blanks were great….a king on the river wasn’t.
A countdown showed I had 1bb more than Ryan.
I quadrupled up next hand with pocket nines and got it in again with Q7 against Ryan’s pocket fours.
Another race lost and off to the cash desk to pick up my $2801 for 148th place. Definitely an opportunity missed.
After a brief visit to the Venetian for a $600 Big O comp where I took a gamble with the nut flush draw that didn’t hit early on, I ventured back to the WSOP to try and run a little better in a $1k buy in.
It couldn’t have gone much worse.
I ran up a big stack early but straight after dinner a short stack shoved A7 over my raise with AQ and made a straight.
It wasn’t a massive pot, but instead of 30k I had 14k and it meant I had to play tighter.
After two hours or passing rags, I was down to 10k.
There were about four to go til the money but I felt the fact this guy had raised so many hands, the fact I had just enough to make him pass, and the fact that pocket fives was probably the best hand all equated to me shoving all in.
I did, and to be fair he had a hand to call with AQ. Still, I just hand to win a race….like that could happen.
I negotiated the flop but the turn saw my opponent make broadway and I was out of there, 12 hours work for zero return.
My last tournament before the WSOP Main Event was the $1650 Planet Hollywood Main.
Despite being far too dark to play poker, and having dealers not fit to lace the boots of our treasured GUKPT staff, Planet Hollywood held happy memories after my Big O success. Not any more!
I planned to play the 7pm flight but they cancelled that at the last minute. However, I could still late reg the 3pm one, and that seemed like a good idea at the time.
The standard of play was pretty awful, but I still managed to turn my 25k stack into 12k at 300/600 when my exit hand occurred.
I was in the small blind, with the big blind an older lady who had passed a lot and was more interested in playing Words With Friends on her iPad.
I’d already decided I had a nice stack to three-bet shove if either of the young guys in the cut off and on the button decided to pick on her big blind, and when the first of them did, I was delighted to find I had pocket nines anyway.
I moved all in, the old girl got back to her game and the young guy asked for a count.
He dwelled for a good two minutes, having me covered by probably three times, and eventually found a call with AK!
The slowroll Gods normally don’t reward those taking ages to call in spots where they should snap, but not here, as he hit some aces and kings to send me skidding out.
So that was it, side events done, and I’d made a small profit, playing about $25k worth of events and cashing for $30k.
Of course the Main Event is, well, the main event of the summer, and with a $10k buy-in and $8million for first, it can make or break your six weeks in Vegas.
I felt so lucky to have won my seat to the Main Event on Grosvenor Poker just before I flew out, meaning the swing wasn’t so big for me.
I’d entered a feeder with loyalty points, won my seat in the $500 final and won the one seat between the 18 runners, giving me a £10k package, including hotel and expenses.
Grosvenor were expecting a lot and so was I, but could I turn that online run good at home in London into a deep run in the most exciting poker tournament in the world 6000 miles away?