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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day One at NAPT...Observe and Learn

Wow.

What a day.

There is a distinct difference between $300-$1000 tourneys and Main Events. The players.

When I arrived yesterday there was a definite energy in the room. Not to mention a LOT of players, as well as cameras, reporters and reps from various poker sites. As I roamed around the poker room it was a 'who's who' of the poker world.

Intimidating? Mmmmm...I wouldn't say that exactly. But it was for sure a lot different than the feeling you have before a 'typical' tourney.

I stood looking myself in the mirror in the bathroom before we started, trying to convince myself that I was every bit as much on their level. "Monkey...you're the All Around Champ at this place. You know what your doing. Just play smart. Get dialed into your table. If you think you are making a bad call...don't make it."

Then the tourney started...and I quickly came to the realization that I am NOT the best player at my table. Not even close. Seated in the 4 seat was Carter "CKingUSC" King...a total monster on Pokerstars. Then in the 8 seat was Christian "CHARDER30"  Harder, who might be the best online player in the world...and final tabled the $25k at Bellagio last year. There were two or three other young, internet specialists. The style of play was very definitive. There was a lot of this:

Player limps in from early position...another player calls....and a late position player 3 bets. Which resulted almost ALWAYS in at least one of the players calling then playing after the flop, or trying to. Which usually became a huge shootout, a 'who's gonna blink first' contest. Or you would get an early limp...followed by a raise...maybe a call of that raise...followed by a late position guy who would RE-raise the raiser...thus setting up a huge decision for almost everyone.

And since we started so deep in chips, with 30k in our stacks...you were rarely seeing those moments where the final bet behind the raising was an all-in, so the ability to play after the flop became tantamount to your existence. It really had an effect on how I had to play. I am pretty well known as a tight player who sits around and waits for quality hands to bang with. And its true. I do like to play a lot of hands in the early rounds and try to make something happen...but in this event, we started at 50/100...went to 100/200 then 150/300...so if you played TOO many hands...you ran the risk of blowing out half your stack early if things didnt go right.

I sort of had that happen. I was getting a lot of middle pairs and limping in with them and calling the light raise, and went on about my way 'set mining' and trying to drill someone. Granted, these players, being as good as they are, are a lot tougher to 'felt' when you DO flop a set. I had one such moment against Harder not once, but twice. On a hand where I raised with 99 at cutoff, he flatted me (which he did a LOT, not only against me but other players...and he calls with a LOT of hands, not because he is loose, but because he is just an awesome fucking player...and has no problem or fear of playing after the flop) and when the flop came 8-9-10 I was feeling optimistic...but still, danger existed. I checked the flop. And for the first time checking to the guy...he didnt bet. Hmmm. Interesting. What are the chances this guy has QJ? Well, on the turn I binged an 8. Nice. I bet out pretty small...to which he called. The river didnt matter, maybe it was a 6 or 7....I bet out about half the pot...and he folded. Damn. Just a good player sniffing out danger.

Then on the following hand, literally, I decided, since I was on a bit of a heater, to raise in middle position with Ac7c....a hand that I had been folding all day...the suited aces, like A3, A8, A9...but for some reason I decided to try and sustain some momentum. He again called me. I flopped A-4-7, with two diamonds. I bet out. He called. I turned a 7 and announced "I'll check my full house." To which he checked behind. Then...in an attempt to confuse him and throw him off I bet 4k in the dark before the river. A flush was completed on the river...and I was secretly hoping he had hit one. But he folded quickly. Damn again. These guys arent rookies, donkeys or morons. They are solid, solid players...and getting all their chips will not be easy. Nope. Winning this tournament will require a LOT of skill.

So, even though we only played 8 levels yesterday, and didn't take a dinner break...when the day was over, and I bagged 51k in chips, I knew that I had been to battle. When you finish a Day 1 or a Day 2 of a Main Event, you are thoroughly exhausted, both physically and especially mentally, well...if you have been playing well. If you arent...then you either played like crap, or busted.

Prior to playing yesterday's Day 1 I read Danny Negreanu's blog and really took something from it. Basically it touched on pros needing to always try and get better. He was a little critical of guys like Hellmuth and Cloutier, who have been playing for years, their style, and insisting they are 'the best NL player on the planet' while failing to conform to the current players' style of play and refining their game. He talked about how he is always learning, how he learns from todays up and coming stars that mainly dominate online. I admire Danny's humble nature, and his desire to improve. I know for a FACT that there are a lot of players out there better than me. Not even a shred of doubt. I have my strengths, for sure...and I know what they are. But I also know I have some holes...and I am always searching for them.

One critical error I made yesterday, I actually announced I was making it when I made it. How effed up is THAT? After having just double up...on a hand where a guy who stole my blind every chance he got....had raised from 200/400 to 1100...and gotten not one, not two, but THREE callers....I look down at KK. Oh boy. Here we go again.

I decided that with a little over 20k in chips after an abysmal first 4 levels that I was going to try to just take this down preflop...with nearly 5k in the pot and me needing to get back some chips. So I raised a bit too much probably, but in a way that I wanted to announce that I was 'pot committing' myself with my raise. I made it 6000 to go. When the 1 seat started sizing me up I just stared right into his eyes. He looked at me for over three minutes before finally asking me "How much are you behind?" I told him..."I started the hand with 20,700 chips" and kept staring at him. Now it started to dawn on me...was this guy Jedi mind-fucking me with AA...and wanting to make sure every last one of my chips got in there? Or was he genuinely nervous that I actually had a monster and wasn't just squeeze-raising in late position?

Well, he re-raises it to $13k. The other three fold. I ask the dealer for the 'frisbee', the disc that indicates a player is all in. And I see his expression drop a bit, which is encouraging...and he turns over AK. Whew. Well, sort of whew...there are still those three troublesome aces out there. Okay, two...as the guy next to me does that thing we all hate....tells me he folded AQ. Yikes. But something that HASNT been happening on this trip, happened. I faded the ace! And I had a nice double up plus...to around 45k.

So after that I win 2 out of the next three hands and get up to over 50k when I make the stupidest play of my day yesterday. I'm in the BB with 6h8h...and there is another 1100 raise...followed again by three callers. And what do I do with that nice, live (most likely) hand? I fold! And announce "I can't believe I am folding here...but I suck." So what flop comes out? Why not 8-8-2? No!!!! And then two players start firing into the pot. The turn is a 2. Good gawd. Pretty much the nuts...assuming no one had 22. That would be sick. The loosest guy at the table, who seemed more concerned all day with his mountain of horse racing wagers...was just firing chips into the pot. Had I made that damn call for 700...it would have translated into a pot of at least 20k for me. And I would have likely bagged over 70k last night. That is a call I simply HAD to make there. It was a bad play, and I learned from it. It won't happen again.

Amazingly, we lost 200 players by Level 6. I find that astonishing. Being so deep in chips and having hour long levels, I just find it hard to believe that we could lose that many players. It took us 3 hours to finally lose a player at my table. Then in the next 4 hours we lost 3 or 4. One player we did NOT lose, which I found amazing was this lady in the 10 seat, from France, who spoke NO English at all. Nor does she have any idea what she is doing. I mean, its amazing to me that she is even IN this event. I had this hand where I raised her BB with AhQh...I seemed to get a lot of good hands when it was her big blind, which was a bit scary, since she was so hard to figure out. Anyway, the flop comes 8-high...with two clubs. And with 3200 in the pot she bets out 500. Huh? I mean...I can't find a good reason to fold there. So I call with air. The turn brough another club...and she checks? I guess thats my invitation to steal this pot. So I fired out 2200 and she was gone. Thanks, Mademoiselle.

It was a long day. I really did learn a lot. And I was also very, very patient. I folded a lot of hands that I think I might have played were it a $300 or $500 tourney.  A lot of my ambivalence to play hands was the players involved and my desire to avoid playing flops with them. Was that me being a chicken shit? Or just being cautious? I talked to Joe Cutler about it on a few breaks and he said, pretty bluntly, "Dude, you do not NEED to get into it with Charder...you have no reason to. Get through Day 1, get your redraw to another table and go to work on them." And I have to say...I think it was wise advice. The guy is just a beast post flop. And unless I flop a set or two pair, later making a boat...its a bitch playing after the flop against him and players like him.  It really impacts the way a player like me plays.

One thing I like to do...is to build an image throughout a tourney...and use it to my benefit when it matters most. One thing these internet guys all seem to do is mix it up early and often. You will see a lot of variance in their stacks. They arent afraid to go from 30k down to 10k, back up to 55k and down to 25k. They are fearless. They want to establish their presence. They want to build fear in the other players. If you are scared or intimidated by this, you shouldn't be at the table. I am neither of those. Just mindful of what I am up against, and what I have to do to avoid becoming a victim. I garner a certain amount of respect from these guys. When the monkey goes on the cards, and a raise gets put in...it carries a lot more weight than most of the players at the table. And sometimes that is good, sometimes bad. Which is why...in this field, if I pick up AA or KK in early position, you can bet I will be limping, as I did once yesterday...to find a caller, another caller...and my little internet buddy from Oregon making it 800 (at 150/300) in late position....getting one caller...and me sticking 2500 out there. They ALL folded. And folded quickly.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And hypothetically, a good fold by them...as I was sitting there with QQ. Which I was happy to see end there, if you recall my luck with QQ.

We return today with still around 500 players. A lot. Things are going to get sticky quick. I am pretty much going to wait to see who I have at my table before I decide how I want to play today. But I assume I am going to stay fairly tight. There is no reason to get crazy. Patience is the staple of my game...and has been responsible for every tourney I've ever won. There are very few examples of me winning where I just piled up chips all throughout the tourney. Stick around....win a few pots here and there...and then get to Level 12 and later and try to play 'flopless' poker...to me, that is the recipe for survival, and eventually, victory.

$800,000. That is the number. A little more actually, I think. EIGHT.....HUNDRED....THOUSAND....DOLLARS! Okay, well...I am staked...and I am only in for 40% of that. Whatever! Make a final table here, a televised final table...and a lot of my dreams in poker will be realized. Just have to stay focused. And play smart. And hope for some good breaks.

After we bagged up our chips, I met up with Dave and Stacy Kopacz and joined them for dinner at a steak house in Palazzo. We had a really good Pinot Noir...I had a smoked, fried octopus appetizer, which was incredible...and then a Bison Ribeye, which was phenomenal...along with some Shitake mushrooms, which were equally delicious. It was my first really 'good' meal on this trip. Dave picked up the tab, which was very kind of him. But he's a 'big baller' and that meal will surely be comped, but still, I'm appreciative all the same! We had a really fun dinner. They are a great couple...and a pretty good team when it comes to poker too. They both made it into Day 2. Dave had a helluva table himself...with Dennis Phillips, Barry Greenstein and Miami John Cernuto at his table.

All of my pals made it into Day 2. McLean Karr has a nice stack, Joe Cutler also...and my roomie Tim Burt has around what I have. I'm glad no one I know busted.

Today is the real day....we should be (but not definite) in the money by the end of the day. They are using a Pokerstars-based payout structure...so its paying 127 places...which is only $7200 I think to cash. Which for me will be a mere pittance. Yeah...once we make the money, if I am that fortunate to be around...I will have to adjust a bit, as I will need to get into the top 50 to actually make anything worth a shit. But honestly, all I am focused on is making the Final Table. I will need some luck, clearly. I am NOT the best player at the tourney, not even close. But I feel that I am good enough to put myself in position to get there.

So lets just see what happens!!!!!!

MONKEY

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