When the world’s poker elite come to London every September for the World Series of Poker Europe, it almost feels as if us Brits have home advantage, having played away from home for six weeks in Vegas.
Of course home advantage doesn’t mean much in poker, but being able to wake up every morning in your own bed, not having to play Russian roulette with the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign and the illiterate maid, and being able to grab some breakfast from the fridge rather than looking for a restaurant and hoping their service isn’t too tardy before kick-off all have little benefits which make playing poker a bit easier.
Last year’s WSOPE proved pretty fruitful, with my own £5k PLO final table following on from a half decent performance in the £1k that was supplemented by an excellent strategic move to swap 10% with eventual winner and former Blue Square pro JP Kelly.
After two World Series final table in Omaha, I was looking at this year’s £5k as my main event, with plans only to play in the £1k as well, unless circumstances changed.
There were 120 runners this year, a little down on last year, but as far as I was concerned, that just made it easier to win.
Every table was crammed full of big names, although in terms of their Omaha prowess, your guess is as good as mine
I’ve seen legends of the game bosh it in drawing dead on this game, sponsored pros making tournament leading calls and tabling their cards in disgust at seeing their opponent’s hand, only to be given the news by the dealer that they’d actually won the pot, so reputations really count for very little in PLO.
The two players who impressed me most last year were durrrr, who smashed the tourney up on day two before getting it in on the flop with about 15 left with top set for about a third of the chips in play only to see a guy hit his flush, and the eventual winner, Jani Vilmunen, who played brilliantly, and I later found out is a regular player in the online nosebleed PLO under the nickname KObyTAPOUT.
So while missing durrr in the table draw was good, sitting beside Vilmunen was not so good, and it was to him I lost my first buy in in this bizarrely structured event.
We started with 3000 chips and had three rebuys lammers, each worth 4000 each. I’m never sure what the best tactic is in these style of tournaments, but the success I’ve had has always been just playing my normal game as oppose to gambling, and taking my re-buys when I lose a flip, or collecting them after the four levels maximum.
I’d built my 3k up to around 7k when I got coolered, limping behind Vilmunen’s limp with TTxx and getting it tin on an A-T-3 flop against what I knew was a set of aces by the time he made the fourth bet.
By the time the table broke two hours in, I’d got those back and more, making a house against two guys with straights, so I headed for pastures new armed with about 20k.
Again a table of names, Justin ‘Boosted J’ Smith, Robert Williamson, Huck Seed and Miami John Cernuto to my left, Andrew Robl and a super aggro young Fin who plays 200 400 online with Robl, and is apparently the next big thing to my right.
Huck played super tight and seemed more intent on chatting, Justin limped into a load of pots and wanted to play every flop, and Robl just seemed to want sympathy for the fact he reckoned he’d be ‘at least another million to the good’ if he never played a tournament.
He stuck it in preflop pretty soon after with kings against aces and was given plenty of time to add the £5k buy-in of this comp to his tourney losses.
There weren’t many spots on this table, but with blinds low and my experience of how the tournament changes later on day one and early in day two when there’s numerous short stacks on every table forced.
After Robl departed back to the internet, Howard Lederer replaced him with a short-ish stack and lit the blue touch paper for the biggest hand of the day.
Lederer limped and Richard Gryko next to speak potted it
I called on the button and Williamson called in the big blind. Now Lederer re-potted, getting most of his stack in. Gryko, who already had a hefty stack, moved all-in very quickly with his obvious aces, I folded and now ‘Mr Omaha’ went into the tank.
I say went into the tank, he sat talking, saying how sick it was, calling his wife over to say it might be time, asking the dealer to work out exactly how big his side pot would be against Richard should he call, telling us sometimes you have to gamble, and generally dwelling forever.
Eventually he called all-in and told his wife, ‘this is how you win Omaha tournaments honey’
His hand was 6-8-9-10 with one suit, with Howard showing kings and Richard the requisite double suited aces.
The flop came 8-3-2 rainbow and pairs of eyes darted all round the table to check who was winning and what they needed. Fortunately the Williamson camp had their own commentator. ‘That’s a good flop baby,’ he said presumably to his wife, with one pair now having plenty of kickers to hit to crack the overpairs.
Quite a crowd had gathered, and I was stood with Karl Mahrenholz, who had taken a break from folding on his own table to come and watch me fold on mine.
The turn was a seven and Williamson yelped with glee and clapped his hands….before noticing he hadn’t made two pair just yet, though he now had more outs.
‘Damn, I thought that was two pair, that just gives us the wrap as well now honey, any card between jack and five, come on dealer, one tiiiiime!’
The dealer burned and turned the river….and other seven! ‘YES!!’ exclaimed Robert, thrilled to see one of the cards he’d asked for between a jack and a five.
A couple of seconds passed and a fair bout of smirking and stifled giggles ensued as more and more of us noticed he was celebrating the same card he’d accidentally celebrated on the turn again on the river, and he still hadn’t got anything other than a pair of eights.
The dealer shipped the pot Gryko’s way and the Williamson’s departed into the Leicester Square evening…I do hope Mrs W didn’t ask him to explain again how you win Omaha tournaments.
The day two table draw looked fairly decent, when despite coming back with just under average, I was the second or third biggest stack on the table.
Neil Channing, as he often does, noted the draw online and gave me a ring on the way to the casino with his take on each player and how they play, a useful dossier, although I started so quick I made the information redundant as I quickly flopped a set to knock one player out, and got it in blind against blind against Hoyt Cawkins with aces to send the cowboy back to his ranch. My new table was like table England, with my mate Andy Miles two to my left, John Kabbaj beside him, and Steve Jelinek, Paul Zimbler, Richard Gryko and a loose player from day one all present.
This was a friendly table in more ways than one, and I managed to chip up pretty consistently without too many showdowns.
The main sticking point was the young American kid to my left, who I later learned was Joe Serock
He played beautifully and was a real handful, and was unlucky not to win the tournament outright in the end. I played one big hand against him that I’m not sure made sense, with me raising the cutoff and him three-betting the button pre-flop.
My hand was far too big to fold, KKJT with a suit, but I knew he didn’t need much of a hand to put a raise in, especially considering the amount of pots I was opening.
I called and we saw a raggy flop which went check-check. I picked up a gutshot on the turn and a flush draw and fired three-quarters of the pot, which he dwell-called.
The river was an absolute blank and I knew I couldn’t really be winning, so I needed to either fire orgive up. The pot was already pretty big, so I decided to put in a value bet-sized river bet, which he thought about forever before folding.
I’m not sure the way I played that hand made sense, and I kind of think Joe knew that too
The only saving grace was he can’t have had too much either, and he would have to put all of his big stack in to run a bluff and hope he was right and I couldn’t call. I certainly know if I’d lost that pot I would have been beating myself up for bluffing more than half my big stack away, but thankfully it got through and I was chipleader in the tournament or close to it.
As the bubble approached, the table broke again and the play slowed right down. We were down to three tables, and I was sat with big stacks Justin Smith, Chris Bjorin and Jeff Madsen, and life wasn’t easy playing six-handed.
I was hoping the bubble would be over quickly, with the big stacks getting bigger and putting the pressure on
Next out would go home with nothing, after that we’d be guaranteed almost £9000, so I wasn’t really in the gambling mood.
However, the shorter stacks on the other table were also not ready to leave, and each time one of them broke the folding monotony and got it in, they doubled up and we were back to square one.
Four hours on and we still hand-for-hand, and I’d already been forced to get my chips in the middle following a Boosted J limp and a Madsen raise, my aces staying ahead of his kings.
Eventually John Kabbaj, a fine player of all the poker variants and especially this one, was the unlucky man, playing back at November niner John Racener preflop with his aces and refusing to back down when the kid asked him to play for all of his above average stack.
Racener had what is known in the trade as an ace high bag of spanners, but he got there somehow and we were all off home to prepare for the final the next day.
I was pretty proud to be the only player to make the £5k PLO final two year’s running, and was determined to use the experience of last year to help me improve on that eighth place, and, hopefully, the second place I’d slumped to against JC Tran in Vegas a few months previous.
The final started with fireworks
With Jeff Lissanndro getting his stack in pretty light against Bjorin on a flushing and straightening flop with a bare pair of kings.
Maybe he thought Chris was making a move, which he does at regular intervals (once every 20 years), but the Aussie managed to hold against Bjorin’s top pair, flush draw, straight draw and straight flush draw and was now big chip leader.
I only swapped two percentages in this comp, and all three of us made the final, thought Andy Miles was next out after expertly nursing his short stack and getting a bit unlucky not to turn it into a big stack when the crucial time came.
With eight left I was probably shortest or close to it, but I still had around 110k at 3k 6k, which is not really short in any game, never mind PLO, which crucially never has antes.
Unfortunately, that was going to be as good as it gets, as my exit hand approached and I finished once again in eighth
I think I got a little coolered, but I also think perhaps I didn’t need to play this hand and could have just folded and waited for a better spot pre-flop.
Big stack Racener limped UTG and I did likewise with 7-8-T-J before Lissandro potted it to 33k.
Everyone passed to Racener, who called the extra 27k, and I was left with a decision
It looked pretty certain Lissandro had aces, but did I want to gamble against them by re-raising again and hoping he bet Racener out of the pot. Certainly if I was playing this hand in an online cash game that would be my move, as these two were the two chip leaders and therefore Racener would probably be forced to fold if I reopened the action.
However, this wasn’t a cash game, and tournament chips are precious
Having said that, I was now getting too good a price to fold, and I would still have around 70k if I called and missed, and I’d have a nice two-thirds pot-sized bet to put in on the flop should I catch something.
The flop came down J-5-4, giving me top pair and a gutshot, in itself a pretty good hand to take on aces, but when Racener checked to me, another option opened up.
If I moved all-in now, Lissandro would face a tricky decision with his aces
He couldn’t really call with the kid behind with a stack almost as big as his. Also he couldn’t really reraise all-in to isolate with just one pair as Racener might have checked any kind of monster here.
Even if he did do either of these, I’d be flipping against his aces and who knows, I might actually win that and give myself a chance to win the bracelet. I moved in.
Before I got my chips over the line Lissandro was all-in too….that wasn’t part of the plan, and when Racener passed I got the bad news – Lissandro did indeed have aces, but his backhand was 5-5, and he’d flopped bottom set.
I was down to cheering in my gutterball
But the turn gave me hope – an eight – giving me a double gutshot and top two pair, now I had plenty of outs, two straight draws and a pair up of the top two cards.
Just when you don’t want to see it though, the old offsuit deuce drops, and I was left to go and pick up by £19,000 and try and rail Karl while not thinking about what I might have been doing if I’d hit that river.
Unfortunately Karl departed in sixth, and Lissandro continued to run hot all the way to the bracelet, getting it in with kings against aces heads up against Serock in the crucial pot and pinging the butcher of Baghdad. It’s a sick game sometimes.