[Ed. note: Ashley's strategy column will resume shortly..]
When last I wrote about the World Series of Poker (WSOP) S.H.O.E. tournament held at the Rio on July 2, 2007, I was planning to play in the event. I discussed the many things I would and wouldn't do to get ready for the event – so I would be at my best.
I'm happy to report that I was at my very best when the tournament kicked off with a 30-minute round of my best game, 7-card stud, at 5:00 PM on Sunday. Let me share with you the highs and lows of my experiences. Even if this doesn't prove to be a learning experience for you, I trust it will be a vicarious thrill.
The tournament started with stud. The structure early on was completely different from the typical stud structure. Each player anted 5 and the bring-in on the low card was also 5. This created an initial pot of 45 in the eight-handed game. The initial limits were 15/30. So the ratio of bet to pot was 1 to 3. Contrast this with a typical mid-limit game of $20/$40. In that game the ante is $3 and the bring-in is $5.00 for a pot of $29. The initial bet is $20, for a ratio of 20-to-29 or, simplified, 1 to 1.45. The WSOP would tend to cause players to steal the antes – it being so worth stealing. Similarly, the large pot would make it worthwhile to call with hands that one might normally fold in a more tightly structured game.
I wondered if anyone else had taken these things into consideration when they contemplated their play. Perhaps I already had an advantage?
I started out well. I didn't notice any of the players at my table. There were no "big name" pros. This must be a good thing. Maybe I'm the best stud player at my table, I thought.
I was the bring-in on the first hand. Three players called me. This was unusual for the start of a tourney, as everyone tends to play very tightly. Even so, I was glad to see this, as I had three suited cards.
I hit a four-flush on fourth street. The high hand showing was to my left. He checked, as did the other two players. I had no high cards, just four low hearts. Two hearts were out. I bet my hand. Everyone folded. I won 45. Yay me!
A little later in the round I was dealt wired kings, with an 8 exposed. I completed the bet to 15 and was re-raised by a relatively tight player showing an ace. Another player called with a nine. I thought about folding my kings to his apparent aces. But I resisted the urge, convincing myself that he had raised without a pair of aces. I re-raised, hoping the ace would do the same and drive out the nine. The player with the ace obliged but the player with the nine stubbornly called, as did I. The pot was huge going into fourth street.
On fourth street, the ace was still high. Surprisingly he checked, as did the nine. I figured the ace was setting me up for a check-raise or that he just decided to stop pushing his bluff. I thought about betting – again with the hope of driving out the third player. I decided against it, deciding that I'd rather get the free card by checking.
On fifth street I caught a second eight, for kings and eights. The ace paired his fourth-street card, a four. I feared he might have aces up. Even so, if he had aces, why hadn't he bet fourth with his pair of aces? Was he trying for a check-raise? Maybe he didn't have the aces. So, with my two pair, I bet. He called. He didn't raise me. I figured I was ahead.
I bet sixth street, ready to go to the river. He raised me. I had to think. Could this just be some move he was putting on me? It would cost me two bets to find out. In a cash game I'd almost surely call. But in this tournament, with a relatively small stack, I decided to trust my read that he had the aces up and was just playing me for some extra bet. So I folded. I could have been mistaken, but…
The hold 'em round started soon thereafter. First hand and I was the SB. There was a raise on my right by the cut-off. I looked down and saw two jacks. I re-raised and got two callers including the initial raiser. At least he didn't re-raise. I was feeling good about my hand being high.
The flop removed all doubt. There was a jack and two low cards. I bet and got two callers. I bet again when a ten hit the turn. There was no flush or straight on the board, but an cce came on the river. No matter. No one was playing aces, I thought. I bet and got two callers once again. My trips were good. I won a very big pot.
I rocked through the rest of the round, playing no hands beyond the flop and only playing two hands that far when my blind wasn't raised and when I called in the small blind. I didn't win another hand on that round.
We started Omaha-8. I was dealt A-A-x-x. I called the big blind, as did three others. The flop was A-x-x with one babe. I checked from early position hoping someone would bet. It was checked around. So much for my check-raise. The turn was a king. I bet the turn and another player raised me. I re-raised. He called. The river was an x. I bet. He called. My trip aces beat his trip kings – and there was no low. It was a nice scooper for me.
I rocked around. On the last hand of the round I blew out some of my stack when my aces full of sevens lost to quad sevens.
I was moved to another table for the Stud-8 round. I didn't recognize any of the players at the table. I figured this was a good thing.
It was here that I noticed something about the official WSOP cards. They are "one-way" cards. This means that they look different if you turn them upside down. Typically, casino cards are "two-way" cards. They look exactly the same no matter how you turn them. This is a good thing, since it would otherwise be possible to keep track of a card if the entire deck were faced in one direction save that card. It's also possible to narrow down what card is in the deck based on which direction it's facing. A good shuffle tracker could gain a decided advantage with a one-way deck such as this, just by watching the washing and keeping track of the direction of some key cards. Unfortunately, I haven't acquired this skill and so it was of no help for me to notice that these were one-way cards. But it did give me a momentary feeling of superiority. Why were the official cards for the biggest poker tournament in the world one-way cards? Was I the only one who noticed? No one cared when I brought it up at my table.
There was a break after the second hour. I was at 2,360. That was slightly above the starting stack of 2,000 but probably no better than par, considering that at least a few players had been knocked out by this point. Still, I wasn't disappointed.
We returned from the break to Stud high at 50/100 limits. I was dealt (J-6) J. To my left were an ace and a aueen. The bring-in was to my right. I completed the bet to 50. The ace called. He wasn't a tricky player and seemed to pause and think before he called me. Maybe he had two aces and was thinking about re-raising? Maybe he had a three-flush and was thinking about folding? Two other players called after him, but not the queen.
On fourth we all hit blanks. The ace checked, as did the others. I bet again. The ace just called, but with a 100 chip. When the next player called, the player with the ace said to the dealer that his bet was a raise. The dealer said that he didn't hear him say "raise." No one else heard it either so the dealer ruled that the 100 chip was just a call. The player with the ace seemed pissed. Was this an act? Was it an angle, hoping for a check on the next round? Who knew? The fourth player called as well.
On fifth street I paired my exposed jack, giving me trips. I bet. The ace called; the others folded. I bet sixth street and the ace folded. This was the only hand I played that round. At the end of the round I had 2,600.
I got very few decent cards in the hold 'em round. I folded my A-9 under the gun. I folded a pair of eights on the button when the four seat raised. I won a small pot with A-5 from the big blind. Three players called the hand. Everyone checked the flop. A five turned and I bet. Everyone folded.
A few hands later and I was dealt on the button. Two players called the big blind. I raised on the button. The flop was K-10-x with two hearts including the king. It was checked to me. I bet. One player called. The turn was a blank. It was checked to me again. I checked. The river was a jack. It was checked to me. I checked and won the hand.
I was dealt no quality starting hands in either the Omaha or the Stud-8 round. My stack dipped slightly from the blinds and antes. By the start of the dinner break I was down to exactly 2,000. I was clearly below par but I wasn't upset or depressed. I still had a lot to play with.
We started back from break at 150/300 stud with a 25 ante and a 50 bring-in. On my first hand I was dealt () . I was in middle position and it was folded to me. I was the high card out. I figured that everyone would be playing tightly after the break. I raised. A woman player to my left, with a ten, re-raised me. I re-raised her and she called. On fourth street we both got blanks and I was high. I decided to continue with the bluff and bet. She folded, saying, "I thought you were trying to steal." I smiled and nodded.
The very next hand and I was dealt three diamonds. I raised on third and the same woman who had re-raised me on the prior hand called me. On fourth, with no improvement, but looking to knock her out again, I bet. She called this time. On fifth I hit my fourth diamond. She did not appear to improve. I was high and bet. She called On sixth she was high and checked. I paired one of my down cards and bet. She folded. I was up to 2,700.
I lost a hand when an opponent beat my pair of kings with a flush on the river. I took a stab at a couple of other pots when everyone checked, only to be called and to check and fold on fourth. By the end of the round I was down to 1,900.
The hold 'em round brought me good fortune. I flopped trips a couple of times when I started with a pair and started the 200/400 Omaha round with 3,100.
Early in the Omaha round I was happy to see A-2-Q-8 double-suited. I was on the button and just called along, as two other players also called the big blind. Four of us saw the flop. It was 4-8-J. It was checked to me. I had four to a flush with my ace and four to the best possible low. I bet. A player with a very short stack raised – a check-raise. The two other players folded. I figured I was drawing for the nut-nut; and I figure that he was just trying to go all in. So I re-raised him. He raised me all in. The turn was a six; the river an ace. His trips scooped the pot. I went down to 1,300. I'm blinded out of a few more chips before the next round.
I started the 200/400 Stud-8 round in bad shape, with only about 900 in chips. Antes were 50 and the forced bet was 50. I dribbled away my stack until I was dealt (2-5)-3. An ace raised the bring-in. There were two callers. I figured that I was not going to get any better pot odds than this so I raised, getting three callers. On fourth street I hit a perfect four and I was already thinking I was back in business. The ace bet, another player showing a queen and a seven called, and I raised. The ace raised and the third player called. I went all in for a hundred or so more and was called all around. All my money was in the pot against two others with four to a perfect low. I couldn't have asked for anything better.
Fifth street, sixth street, and the river failed to give me a low, though I did end up with a pair of fives for my troubles. I lost to aces up and retired gracefully from the tournament, out in about 200th place, at about 12:30 in the morning. No one applauded; no one shook my hand. I just left, hoping that no one in the tournament who knew me saw me depart so early.
I've read accounts from other players about how they fared in tournaments such as these. They write of moments of loss – of feeling as if they were punched in the stomach. I had no such feelings. I was more tired than anything else. I didn't even feel disappointed – at least not for the next hour or so. I was numb from all of the concentration I think. The disappointment didn't hit me until I read about the winner. Even then, I felt rather detached. I played as well as I could; I made some good plays; and I lost. Maybe next year.