I’ve never played on PKR, and never at Aspers in Stratford, but the lure of a Mix Max Tournament, together with loads of online qualifiers, meant I couldn’t resist giving the $500 Mix Max a whirl.
Mix Max is a fairly new concept, invented at the WSOP, which sees full ring played on day one, six max on day two, and heads-up on day three.
I’ve always questioned whether my game is aggressive enough to play high level six max, but I like playing full ring tournaments, and I was the World Heads-Up champion in the past, so that should be okay, and the only way to improve at six max is to play more, so off I went!
My starting table, where I was to stay all day, had only two players I recognised – one, a good young guy I played with in the £1k DTD Sky Poker Championships who built a big stack on that day one a few weeks previous, and Ross Jarvis, the editor of Poker Player, and a handy player in his own right.
There were two Bluff journalists, and Ross and one other from Poker Player. They were having some banter on Twitter about who would last longest, and as a Bluff columnist, I took up their offer of a bounty to anyone who could take Ross out.
Ross was big blind to my cut-off so I figured I’d have plenty of chances to take him on, but it was an innocent bystander who was my first victim on the nine-handed day one.
I raised with a suited ace on Ross’s blind, and after the small blind called, he came along.
I flopped the nut flush draw along with one over card, so I c-bet when it was checked to me.
The small blind, who looked like a 14-year-old Scandi paper boy, check-raised me. He’d already three bet a couple of times and four bet once, so I wasn’t in the mood to play passively.
I raised again, he shoved, and before I knew it my whole stack was in the middle on a draw. Even worse, he had a monster, a set of tens, so even if I hit I could still lose.
The poker Gods were smiling on me though, I made the nuts on the turn, held the river and all of a sudden I had 50k.
I maintained a big stack throughout the day, before another big clash, this time with the good young player I recognised.
He’d played really well all day, but had been very loose, showing bluffs and telling me some of the hands he’d had, confirming some of the bluffs I thought he was running.
I rasied under the gun with pocket eights and he was one of two callers.
The flop fell with two clubs but included a lovely eight. I c-bet, the guy in between got out of the way, but the good player check-raised. I raised again and he smooth called.
The turn was a brick and I bet fairly big, but as we were both so deep, I knew he could call and try and complete any draws, and he did.
There was a straight draw as well as the flop flush draw, but rather than watch the river be dealt, I turned to my opponent and watched his reaction.
My first impression was he didn’t like it, but he soon looked down at his chips and started thinking.
He moved all-in, and it was time to look at the river.
It was the disaster card, a club that completed the straight draw too, but coupled with the fact I know he has some moves, I went with my read and made the call.
He mucked and said nice call and I had a lovely big stack with the end of the day approaching.
I made day two with a top five stack of over 80k, perfect to test out my six max skills.
Day two and again I was on a table of strangers.
I’ve learnt, sometimes through bitter experience, that making too many assumptions about players can be a mistake.
If they look unsure what to do, inexperienced, stack their chips awkwardly, it could be that they’re not very good, but it could also mean they’re excellent players, but are used to playing online and know exactly what they’re doing.
In a comp with loads of online qualifiers it was bound to be a mixture of the two, but I soon got a hang of each player’s tendencies.
I played pretty aggro, though every time I got a big hand I seemed to just pick up the blinds.
Nevertheless, my stack kept growing and having knocked the player out on the bubble by winning a race, I started to build a stack for day three, even though I wasn’t sure I understood the format.
It turned out that the top stack played the 16th in the first round, 2nd played 15th etc, which you could probably try and fix should you be trying to avoid certain players.
As Phil Ivey wasn’t in the field with the lowest stack though, and I didn’t recognise anyone bar WSOP bracelet winner Scott Shelley, I thought it pertinent to grab as many chips as I could.
Play ended for the night in pretty unfortunate circumstances, two players getting it in in a massive coin flip which saw one of them take the chip lead, the other left with a bowl of rice, and as someone bust on the other table at the same time, the two were forced to face each other on day three as the biggest and smallest stacks.
I stood second, and was therefore against the 15th stack, a new PKR Team Pro.
The guys had obviously put a lot of work in on the structure, as round one of the ‘Sweet 16’ gave us big stacks a massive advantage, which felt right as we’d built up our chips over two days.
My opponent started with just 10 bigs, so on hand two when we both flopped top pair, we got it in and my better kicker played and I was on to round two, with eight left.
As with any heads-up tournament, there’s a lot of waiting about if you win quickly, and stacks eight and nine were in a proper deepstack battle.
I felt my experience from the World Heads-Up helped me busy myself, wandering to watch some sports and get a drink, but always being ready to switch back to playing again.
Round two was against a decent player. I again held the bigger stack, although this was now evening itself out, as he’d played an opponent with more chips so had won more in round one.
I tried to keep things small ball and value bet my big hands well, and eventually I ground him down to win in 45 minutes of so.
The semi-final could have been much quicker than it was. I got it all-in for the win in a limped pot with 8-3 having flopped top pair and turned a three.
My opponent called the check-raise all-in with just top pair, but the river paired his seven kicker and I was left as the short stack.
Soon afterwards I found a nice cooler, getting it in pre with aces and surviving a sweat, and eventually I small balled him down to 15 bigs and he took a stand with a flopped second pair. My top pair held and I was in the final.
My opponent in the final was yet to be decided, and the other semi went on and on and on. For a while I felt lucky that I’d gotten through so quick, but the waiting was getting tedious and in the end I wished I was playing.
Eventually, after I’d waited close to three hours, the game finished, and a young guy I’d never met called Dan O’Callaghan was my final foe.
I was ready to start but he needed a break, and decided it was a good time to take an hour for dinner! I wasn’t keen but felt it fair to let him have a break so off I went to wait another hour and stay focused.
The final was really deep stacked, with both of us having 100bb and the blinds not going up at all. I felt it was going to be an additional battle with that structure, but I soon fell behind, as a combination of not making many hands, plus Dan playing well, saw me down to 20 bigs.
He’d made some big river overbets, and I folded to every one, partly because I never had much, and partly because I didn’t want to play high variance poker, guessing for my tournament life.
However, with 20 bigs it was time to get involved, and I managed to win a flip with AJ against tens.
Dan was visibly deflated, he’d played longer matches than me and had seen his chance at victory snatched away.
I made some adjustments, threw in some different tactics and soon I started to get the upper hand. Dan looked knackered and was then obviously trying to wake himself up, which gave me more heart, I knew I could win this and if it took a long time I was fresh enough and experienced enough to grind it out.
After a six-hour plus battle I had him down to 20 bigs when we finally found two big hands.
Dan raised the button and I just called with pocket aces.
The flop came 10-high with two clubs and I check raised. He went to fold, double checked his cards and said all-in. I didn’t know what to make of that but was calling anyway, and it turned out he thought he only had a gutshot. He actually had a flush draw as well, meaning we were flipping for the title and the first place money of over £10k. My hand held up and victory was mine!
Even though it was now 4 or 5am I had to stay for 20 minutes and do the obligatory pictures, always nice when you’ve been sat in a casino for 16 hours, but there’s far worse jobs than having to smile when someone gives you 10 grand for playing cards.
I’d felt I’d been playing well for a while without getting any breaks, but things had gone well for me and almost as importantly, I’d shown what a good poker player I am no matter how many people are at the table, not bad for someone who feels PLO is his best game!
John Scanlon and his team at Aspers put on a great show, and the PKR boys really did well with their structure and how the event played out.
As I travelled home in a car organised by John and the casino (nice touch that) I started to think about my next event, and carrying on this good form to bigger and better events…namely GUKPT Edinburgh.