First tournament post-education

First tournament post-education

My goal for this tournament was to make it to the final table. Everyone at the final table makes money and also gets entry to a “free roll” tournament later in the year.

I had prepared myself for general poker playing with the previous two books, but I felt that I needed more instruction on how to play in no-limit hold’em tournaments specifically. Because the of the ability for any player to bet his entire stack on any pair of cards the dynamics are significantly different. The book that I read in preparation is:

Tournament Poker 

Although this book is not purely for Hold’em it covers it quite well and is very applicable. I also ordered a background book that is a must for beginning players and for those that want to more deeply analyze every play:

The Theory of Poker 

I have not read that book yet, but I am going to consume it as well. One of the skills I have not yet put into practice is the mathematical weighing of various options. Currently I mostly use intuition to determine if I have pot-odds. If I expect to succeed, I should probably explore every possible advantage over the casual or amateur player.

Again I went to Artichoke Joes on Sunday in order to enter their no-limit hold’em tournament. This time I got there a bit earlier to ensure a seat. They ended up having 100 players with 6 alternates. This translates in to 10 tables of 10 players each. The structure of their tournaments is as follows (straight from their website):

Sunday, 6:45 pm
No Limit Hold’Em
 $40 + $9 Buy-in ($500 in T-Chips)
 1 — $20 Re-buy ($500 in T-Chips)
 1 — $40 Add-on ($1000 in T-Chips)
 $3000 Guarantee

So what does all this mean? Essentially, you pay them $49 and they give you $500 in tournament chips. Any time you are at $500 or below you may buy $500 in chips for $20 until the break at 7:30. At 7:30 any person my buy $1000 in additional chips for $40. The advice from the tournament poker book is for you to buy any and all discounted chips to give yourself the best possible chance to win. So my first action at the table was to buy $500 in chips for an additional $20, bringing my starting chip total to $1000 and my real money investment to $69.

Before the break one person at our table was busted 4 times, with a rebuy the first 3 times, and on the fourth he got up and left. When this happens, alternates get a chance to enter the tournament. They have their stack reduced equal to the number of blinds that they missed. The initial blinds at the tournament were $20-$20 and they go up from there over time. The final blinds were $7k-$15k + $3k ante to give you an idea about what your stack needs to look like at the final table. I was the chip leader at my table the entire time. I busted one person with Ad Jd when he had AQ, that was lucky, as I was dominated to nearly triple up my stack right off the bat. The won two other hands at showdown with AQs and AJs. I won about 3 other hands on post-flop bluffs. My reputation at the table was tight and therefore I got respect on some hands. Additionally, being the chip leader, allowed me to play all-in without fear of being busted while everyone I was up against would have to rebuy if they lost. At the break I had around $7000 in chips and the nearest player at the table had around $2000.

After the break our table got broken up and redistributed to the other tables to bring the total down to 8 tables. My first hand at the new table was my friend AJs, a decent hand but not amazing. Fortunately, someone at the table was mildly short stacked with a couple thousand in chips and went all in but I could see on his face that he had nothing and was making a grab for the pot. Since I was also chip leader at this new table I called his all-in and he exposed some truly awful cards I do not remember. He was beat and his chips solidified my lead. I busted a few others at that table with KJs and even KJ. Once someone gets short-stacked and their all-in is absorbable it is usually to your advantage to call them. Every person out is one fewer person between you and the final table.

At the second break I was sitting with about $17000 in chips. Looking around the room it appeared as if there were 3 other people out of the 40 that were still in that had comparable stacks. At this point I had a choice to make, I could either go for the win, or I could coast into a final table position by simply posting the blinds and antes. Since my goal was to make the final table, and the risk associated with playing a more aggressive game was fairly high, I decided to go with coasting. I probably played about 4 hands with mixed results. I got hurt pretty bad by one player who I tried to bust, it turns out he is a very tight player and his AQ beat my KJ pretty badly. The next hand I busted someone else to recover most of my chips that I had lost to him with KJ vs QJ. My best move here was I needed another steal but I had crap on the button. I made an all-in bet and it went around to one of the best players at the table. He started to consider whether to call or not. At that point I decided to do a little acting. Knowing what the tells are for a great hand I decided I would send one. I leaned back in my chair, relaxed my posture, and looked away from the table. He immediately folded his hand and everyone else folded around to me as well. It was a perfectly executed bluff and I was very proud of it considering how many good players were at the table. At that point I decided that I really couldn’t risk any more losses and still make it. The chip leader was to my direct left, which made raising almost impossible, he was busting people left and right so I decided to lay even lower. Eventually we were down to 13 and people tightened way up. I was able to steal one set of blinds and antes that added some insurance. 2 more people at our table busted out and then someone busted at the other table, and my position in the finals was assured. However, at this point I was pretty short stacked. The blinds and antes were jumping to 2K-4K+1K to start at the finals and I had about 12k total. Fortunately, the button started on the guy to my left, so I had a few hands to play before it came around to me.

Getting to the final table also gives you some credit, especially if you got there by toughing it out, and not by lucking into it. It also generates a small cheering section of people from your tables that want to see someone they have become familiar with win the tournament. Additionally, these people are typically regulars and can give you good insight into the play tactics of your opponents. They have a lot of information to offer and I suggest you take their advice until proven otherwise. For instance, on the hand that I called AQ with KJ I was told later that there was no way that that guy had anything less than AT. He just wouldn’t risk it.

Here is the sad part. My only hand came to me under the gun, and it was barely a hand. I was dealt A7 and had to run with it, as I was quite low. I got two callers, the small and big blind. They both had pairs, 55 and 88. A 7 came, but I of course still lost to the pair of 8s but I beat the 5s. I had the 8s covered, so at that point I had $2600 left. $1k for the ante and a short big blind means I have to play my next 2 cards. I get dealt 84 unsuited. Oh well, that pretty much means its over. As luck would have it, someone else was even shorter stacked than me and also had to go all in. A heavy also called and knocked us both out, she got 10th, and I got 9th. In retrospect, all the short stacked people should have agreed to split their prizes evenly since it was such a crap shoot. Here was the final prize structure (as best as I can remember):


My investment of $109 returned $131. Not terribly bad, but a much worse hourly rate than working the low-limit tables I think. Since I don’t plan on quitting my job and making my living playing low-limit poker I can forgive it that. The real story that comes out of this is that taking the time to learn the craft can really help you in poker. One of the most surprising things about my final table appearance in this tournament is that I never got a pair better than 6s the entire time (5 hours of playing). If I were to use Phil Hellmuth’s advice to no-limit poker players from his book to only play AA, KK, AK, QQ, AQ, JJ, TT, 99, 88, and 77 I would have only played 3 hands the entire night.