I'm back from my trip.
I ended up playing in one WSOP event, and four other Las Vegas daily tournaments between the Rio and Caesar's Palace. Between these five events I had a total of six entries (I re-entered one tournament after busting out) and I made the money one time. For WSOP events, they typically place the top 15% of entries into the prize pool, and for Vegas dailies the number is the top 10%. So converting 1 of 6 entries is only a slightly better result than expectation for player with average skills.
Fortunately the event I cashed in was the biggest buy-in and the true reason for my trip. For Flight #5E of the Colossus, I took 286th place out of 3966 entries. I've officially got a Hendon Mob
entry (which means that in the future when opponents look me up, they'll see that I've actually played poker before). I'm in the top 2000 money winners in all of Colorado!
The one re-entry, however, also occurred in the biggest buy-in event, which means that the net poker profit for the trip was rather paltry and easily swamped by my expenses. Still it was a fun experience and I'd love to make a return appearance next year.
They say the WSOP is something you have to experience to understand, and now that I've gone through it I would agree that no words, VLOG, or 3D AR drone footage could ever do it justice. The pros who appear in the media (on TV, in online reports, writing books, producing tweets, running websites, releasing videos, etc.) are everywhere. My first sighting was Chris "Judas" Ferguson (surrounded by a horde of sycophants) during a break of The Colossus Flight #5D. But you could almost reach out and touch a pro anywhere you went for the extent of your time in the WSOP area. I'm not prone to being awed by celebrity so this was more of a neat side note to the trip, but I ran into some true fans of the personalities in the sport who seemed to make this a focus of their trip (so it was really cool for them).
Seeing thousands of people playing poker in the same room at the same time, literally, was a moment (probably the moment) for me best embodying the word awe. Walking through the Amazon room and hearing the cascade of people from all around you riffling tournament chips nearly stopped me in my tracks. The first moment was unlike anything I've ever experienced and likely something I'll not forget. I'm glad I came in a day ahead of my tournament and walked down there just to get a lay of the land ahead of time. I ended up wearing long sleeves the whole time (good choice) and cargo pants with a few Clif Bars in my pockets (also a good choice). Breaks were sufficiently long to use the bathroom (though the men's room lines were LOL long), but not long enough to really have a meal. They did have drink services at the tables, but with "real" money on the line most players shied away from alcohol.
Knowing that MHS and a few of my local buddies wanted to follow my performance, I used a phone app called "My Stack" to keep my chip counts up to date during each level. I had hoped that I'd have been able to access the history of my entries (as it also allowed me to put in notes about significant hands for each level), but it appears that information is now lost. Probably good news for any short attention span OOers as that's going to keep me from giving you the full core dump.
My first table was all men. A couple of guys were wearing sunglasses (no one in a hoodie, though). Play was restrained as everyone was getting used to the mechanics of the room and the tournament. I half expected to run into aggro players fixated on making the opposition uncomfortable, but no one at my first table fit the bill. I chipped down a bit at first (first hand, me with KJ; flop: KJ6, turn: A, river: 5; me losing half my stack to his KK and flopped top set), then chipped back up to a peak of 6700 chips (from a starting stack of 5000), before going busto before the first break. I only have my SMS messages with MHS to tell me what happened, and it appears that I three-bet into an active player at my table with AQ and he had AK to knock me out. (I have no recollection of this whatsoever, but I've played a lot of poker in the last week.)
What I do recall is marching back into the cashiers' area at 11:30 am and asking the poor girl to put me into the "noon deepstack tournament". The Rio has multiple daily deepstack tournaments which get hundreds of players. They play out over the course of 12-15 hours. They're not bracelet events, but still hold pretty good value for the poker players. I wanted in and I wanted in the noon. The poor girl behind the cashier's window was confused and eventually showed me the list of events going that day. There was no noon deepstack tournament to be found. And since I was in no mood to wait around for the (actual) 2pm DST, I spite re-entered Flight #5E. As it turned out, that was a good choice.
I got seated shortly before the first break, and again I was at a pretty nondescript table. For the most part stacks weren't grossly larger than my (new) 5000 entry chips, though I did end up getting seated at a Bosphorusean seat between the two Symplegades at the table. I was quickly forced to no screw around and just play solid starting hands (which forced me off of any mild tilt I had been experiencing, and was probably a pretty good thing). Both players were European by accent, and they sort of epitomize my experience with the Europeans over the course of my stay in Vegas. I liken it to the hockey world, where the league is filled with skilled Euro players but doesn't tend to have its second-tier roles filled with Euro muckers and grinders. Only those players good enough to travel across continents bother with coming over to North America to ply their skills. And "good enough" in poker means aggressive.
Well, I made my stand by pushing all-in preflop, first-to-act, with JJ and ended up getting called by both guys on either side of me. Guy to my right had AK and to my left AJ. When all hands were revealed, someone at the other end of the table mentioned they threw away a J, so I had no realistic opportunity for my hand to improve. I felt rather low when a K-high flop came out, but was somewhat relieved when I noted it was all diamonds and that I was the only player with a diamond in my hand. Sure enough my perfect
came on the turn and just like that I tripled up vs. the other two big stacks. I knocked out the guy to my left in the very next hand (which felt great, as he was pretty douchey), with me holding KK and outlasting his A4. In the span of five minutes I went from meek mouse to a legit player at our table.
I also got a lot of chips in a hand where I 4-bet shoved from the big blind over a UTG raiser (bad player), UTG+1 3-better (short stack), and UTG+2 cold-caller (who looked not strong). Only UTG+1 called my shove. I had AQ, he had A9s. I flopped 2-pair and won all his chips.
Shortly after the next break, our table got broken down and I got moved to where I would spend the next six hours or so. This table dynamic was very different from what I had seen so far. There was a dominating stack three seats to my right and a couple of other active (and good) players at the table, one sitting two to my left and another sitting just to the right of the dominating stack. Only the big stack was one of those aggressive Euros, but he epitomized everything I learned to "hate" about their play. He opened between 1/2 and 1/3rd of his hands and since he had so many more chips than other players he was able to play aggressively throughout the hand. I ended up taking a stand against him on two separate occasions and both times he had the goods (making me look silly). One of those hands is pretty notable.
Playing many blinds deep from UTG+1, I raised with 44 to only get called by the Euro in the SB. One of the strong player tendencies I had noted was that he had been checking every flop on which he had made top pair (no matter the value of his kicker). The flop came out Q76 rainbow. My plan had been to flop a set and take a big pot off this kid, but apparently the dealer wasn't down with my intention. I was feeling done with the hand (planning on checking behind if he checked) but to my surprise he bet into me. Well that was interesting (and unexpected). My initial reaction was to just fold anyway as I can't beat anything here. But it felt like unforced aggression on his part and I convinced myself to float (just call behind) and see what developed as the hand played out.
The turn comes a 5, giving me an open-ended straight draw. This time he checked, and I've got two legitimate options. Option A would be for me to take advantage of my live read that he never bet out with a top pair hand meaning he's probably weak and would fold to my aggressive act. Option B would be for me to check behind and take advantage of my last-to-act position which enables me to play rivers very intelligently (getting my chips in if I make a straight, not paying him off if a bad card comes and he bets). Option B is the more standard play, and what I ended up doing.
The river comes a 9 making the board read: Q7659. He checks again. At this point I'm sitting there thinking that while this card didn't hit *my* open-ended straight draw, I could've just as easily had 88 in this hand in which case I've now got monsters in my range (from his point of view). Sure, he also could have an 8 in his hand, but he'd been playing so aggressively in the hours before that I'd have thought there was no way he'd check with a made straight here. So I mustered my courage and fired in a large river bluff. Well he instantly started pissing and moaning and shifting around in his seat uncomfortably and initially seemed convinced that he was going to lay down his hand. I sat there stone quiet, just focusing on my breathing and staring at the button (which is my way of being inscrutable at the table). He probably internally debated for about four minutes before he finally called. All I could do is say "you're probably good" as I flipped over my little baby pair, and he was exuberant when he flipped over AQ for top-pair top-kicker. It was a gutsy call on his part, but the right one. And it just had to happen to be against me that he broke strategy and actually had bet his flopped top pair. Argh.
Not long after I had gotten moved to this table (I was sitting in seat 6), a long-blonde-haired hippie dude with a purple-hat-on-sideways, carrying a paperback and a backpack got seated across from me (in seat 10). He instantly looked familiar, but it wasn't until break that I confirmed that I was now playing with Leif Force. He had gotten TV coverage years ago for a deep run in the Main Event, and the production team made him look like a laid-back slacker type who was just too cool for school and all the money and math involved in playing poker. Turns out he was a relatively chilled-out surfer dude who mostly just wanted to read his book and play his cards when good ones came along, but also was as narcissistic as I've seen at the table. When he folded his cards, he'd push them forward about a quarter of an inch, and then his eyes would go right back to his book. If you were sitting directly across from him (as I was) you'd question whether he was folding or thinking. But if you were the dealer at the table, sitting next to him, you'd have about a zero percent chance of knowing his intention. And if you verbalized this to him (as nearly every dealer had to), he'd just say, once, "If I'm not holding on to my cards, I've folded." If a second (or third or any additional times) time came up where the dealer paused before irrevocably mucking his hand, he'd just look up from his book and smirk (generally to me, as he knew I had been paying attention) at the discomfort he was putting the dealers through. The dealers were understandably hesitant about just pulling in players' hands, as once cards are mucked, there's no reversing things. But he didn't care (he definitely delighted in their discomfort, actually) and kept playing his too-cool-for-school game to his own amusement.
Shortly before the money bubble, I ended up knocking him down to an insignificant stack, when he raised from EP (sitting on about 12 BB) and I convinced myself that he was sort of just goofing around after not having played a hand in a while. As action was proceeding around to me in the big blind (sitting on 11 BB) I had considered pushing over the top with any two cards. With action on me, I looked at my cards for the first time and without really considering it, I fired all my chips into the middle. It took him a few minutes of agonizing before he actually called my all-in (another bad read on my part, I suppose). He had AQ and the board ran clean for me and my 55. He had no troubles telling me what a bad play I had made (as did the Euro in seat 3) and I've spent a lot of time thinking about what they didn't like about my play. Near as I can figure there are two things at play: It was close to the bubble and there's no way an amateur player like me should be willing to lose his whole stack with a small pair when I could easily just fold my way into the money and my unpredictability made their game harder so they'd try to "control" my play (making me easier to play against) with a bit of social engineering. It's sort of the Phil Hellmuth bratty outbursts where he tries to convince other players to not play garbage cards so he has an better shot at reading their ranges. Anyway, I doubled up and this terrible play on my part gave me enough chips to avoid going out around 595th (which was the beginning of the payouts) to my eventual finish at 286th place. Leif did stick around for enough hands to mincash (his fourth mincash in four Colossus flights, according to him).
But I've sort of skipped ahead of myself. An hour or two after getting to the table and fortunately being able to dodge Seat 3's aggression due to my favorable position, I went on a pretty good heater. I wish I'd had my notes available as I had a good combination of playing well and running well. At one point, well this happened:
Now I wasn't really third in chips for the whole Flight, but I *was* third in chips among the people using their My Stack app and the folks their live reporters were following. And I *was* doing better than actor (and Popehat antifan) James Woods.
My bust out hand was a lot like what happened to me in the daily tournaments in the days that followed. I ended up getting short stacked and in a position where I had to push any favorable cards preflop and hope for the best. Somehow I ended up with this terrible power to push my hands into someone holding pocket aces. In this case I busted The Colossus holding pocket 3s and managed to not outdraw the guy holding the preflop nuts. (I also busted two of the other five tournaments holding 77 into AA, and 98s into AA.) Good game me. Go collect your money.
What I liked about The Colossus was that I was capable of playing my game and winning some money. I didn't have to be all aggro over the table to stay steady with the other players. I didn't ever have to be playing junky hands like J9 or the like. It took going into the fourth break, the sixteenth level before I really started feeling like I was not in the top half of player skills at the table. Realistically I ran well when it mattered (I chatted with many folks over the course of the next few days who had horror stories of firing 5 bullets, 6 bullets, one guy said he had a buddy enter an amazing 11 times — without cashing. But then I look at Leif Force's story about how he could literally sit there reading his book and honestly only playing his quality starting hands and he converted that into four of four cashes.
I'd love to go back and play again next year. But I don't think I'll ever be returning to Vegas for a five day trip by myself again. The solitary poker tournament life, it's not for me.