I know that 25,500 is not what it used to be but still, inflation included, that is serious coin to put up for the right to play in the second biggest event held every year. I am talking about the World Poker Tour Championship Event which is held every year in April in the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Nevada at the end of the preliminary events leading up to it over the weeks before it kicks off. I played in seven events myself and placed 9th, 15th, 22nd, 32nd, and 37th in five of those tournaments which sounds good until you realize that I was in Las Vegas for almost three weeks at a significant cost and that the 25,000 I won was swallowed whole by the 50,000 that I put up in entry fees. Remember way back when, like five years ago let us loosely say, where one was excited about the World Series of Poker main event? That rare event where you got 10,000 in chips and started at 25-50? That tournament we all planned our year around and schemed to be sure and get in? Well those days have gone the way of glass milk bottles and now there is a 10,000 dollar buy-in event some where, and sometimes two, or even more, in a single week!
The new standard for chips in a major event has been raised by the Bellagio tradition for doubling your buy-in—in other words for the championship event you got 50,000 in chips for a 25,500 buy-in! Even at 90 minutes a level and starting at the 50-100 level it was level 9 that began before you should feel short if you were able to maintain your starting chips. Now level nine was the next to last level….of day two! This meant that you had plenty of time and lots of play before you were theoretically stressed and had to make hard decisions that might determine your future existence in this event. As you will see this is all theory because when you were confronted with a tough decision on day one that is exactly what it was—a tough decision.
The fellow that was the weakest in chips at my table and had an excellent shot at being the first person in my part of the world to go out was a guy you all know—Doyle Brunson. Let me tell you about three hands he was involved in, though, and see if you think that he thought that 25,500 was serious money—my theory is that he had better things to do and simply did not care about being there, even though he entered the event and felt obligated to be there.
In the first hand at the 100-200 blinds limit I watched him look more and more balefully to his immediate right, where Al “sugar-bear” Barbieri was displaying the fruits sometimes gathered by the relentlessly aggressive and had built his stack to 80,000. I have never seen Doyle berate a bad player but can feel it when he disapproves of someone and thinks they are living on borrowed time. On one hand a tight player limped in first position with 8-8 and Al raised him to 800 with QJ off-suit from the third position, the other seven players behind him mucked and the 8-8 player called. The flop was 7-3-3 and after the 8-8 checked Al bet 1200 and Mr. Tight called, off came a Q followed by check, check. On the river 4 a check by Mr. Tight and a bet of 2500 by Al. Mr. Tight fidgeted awhile and paid the bet off, leaping out of his chair and shaking his head when he saw the hand that had beaten him. I was watching Doyle and he was looking away, as though it was another day in the office, but I promise that this play got his attention and removed all doubt about the fact that he was going to be coming after Al as soon as he got a chance.
His chance came when it was passed to Al on the button and he made it 650, as you would expect him to with absolutely any holding. Doyle called from the little blind and the big blind passed. The flop came 10-4-3 and Doyle checked to Al who bet 1400 and Doyle made it 5000 with a check-raise and Al called right away. At this moment I was clueless about Al’s hand but for whatever reason I strongly felt that Doyle held 65 and was on a semi-bluff. The turn came 8 and Doyle checked and Al bet 6000, Doyle called and the river brought an ace. Now Doyle went into a huddle, he crumpled up his hat, he looked away from the felt, he came back to the action and then he bet 16,125, one of every denomination, a big bet at this point, but not as big as this pot already was. Al looked uncomfortable to me but tried to call within a minute for 6,225, Doyle started to come over with his hand, but the dealer waved him off. Was Al color blind? Was he hoping to see the hand for less? The dealer now tried to straighten it out and after two more tries where Al threw in smaller chips the dealer did something I have never before seen in any game—something that neither Doyle or Al questioned, but wow! The dealer reached into Al’s stack and took a red chip, a ten thousand dollar chip, out to complete the call, so that he could get it right. Doyle surrendered his hand without us ever seeing it, although I still think it had to be 65 and Al showed AQ and took the pot. This hand left Doyle with about 17,000 in chips out of his starting stack.
Four hands later three players limped for 200, including Al, and Doyle called with seven taking the flop for a total pot of 1400. The flop came QhQc7h and it was checked to Al, who bet 2000. Doyle called with five players behind him and a stack of only 16,400. All the other players mucked and the turn was the 3s and Al bet 3000 with Doyle calling again. The river brought the Ah and Al checked and Doyle instantly went all-in for his last 11,400. A disgusted looking Sugar-Bear called him and Doyle turned over the Kh4h.
Doyle went on to the next day and at one point after he sagged to 24,000 in chips with blinds of 400-800 and antes of 100 he raised it to 2300 and when another player re-raised him all-in he called the other 20,000 plus with A-7 off-suit? I cannot imagine that you want to make this call if you are taking the tournament seriously. The other player had QQ and Doyle won when an ace came off and from here he built his chips steadily and became a contender.
Starting the tournament with 50,000 in chips you had a lot of choices as to how you wanted to use your ammunition although it was possible to go broke with some of them it was fairly unlikely. It felt to me like every time I held a good hand that someone would flop a set and after I gave up they would show it to me, which was friendly enough.
At the next to final level of day one after 350 minutes of play I was down to 36,000 when the following hand came up. James Van Alstyne fumbled out 600 from an early position when the big blind was 400, what could this mean? As he had half a raise in he had to make the minimum raise. I had 10-10 in the big blind and as James had 80,000 and I had to play the hand out of position I just called. The flop brought 965 and I bet out 2,000 with James calling. I did not have an exact read on him but knew he was capable of calling with two over-cards, or just a gut-shot with the extra potential of taking the pot down with a bet following a check on the turn. I also was not entirely sure that he was not mad at himself for “accidentally” raising before the flop by chasing good money with ‘bad’ money. The turn brought a 5 and I bet another 2400 with James calling easily. Now I was certain I did not like my hand very much and after a two came on the river I checked and James flipped a 5000 dollar chip into the pot. I could not find an adequate reason to lay it down and called. He showed AA and took the pot while I re-played the hand in my mind and tried to find a way to get away from it cheaper—not an easy thing to do I decided, even though I lost over 10,000 on it.
Until next time play good…and get lucky!