Saturday, June 27, 2009

How Jeff won a seat in The World Series of Poker

We leave tomorrow for Las Vegas to watch son, Jeff, play in the World Series of Poker(WSOP). I need to pack today (what does one wear to the WSOP?)

We have been asked many times how he got in the event; the answer is I still have no idea -even after he summarized it for me. Here is my short verson - of what I understand. For die hard poker players, Jeff's summary is below mine (warning: non poker players eyes may glaze over).

My version: Jeff entered an online poker tournament. If a player was able to knock the pro player out of the game (in this case Phil Hellmuth)then they advanced into another tournament. Jeff beat Phil's pair with a full house.
In the next tournament, he had a chance - along with 1,000 other players - to win one of 50 seats in WSOP. He won the entry fee of $10,000 - plus they gave him $2,000 for travel expenses.

Of course I asked if he can just take the money. At first he thought the answer was no, it had to be used as his buy-in only. But then he learned that he could in fact just pocket it.

Wow, what a dilemma. Pocket the money or go for every poker player's dream and possibly hundreds of thousands or even millions more (last year's winner took home 9 MILLION dollars, the record over 16 million).

We get to go along with him for the ride! I was so happy when he said he wanted us to go. He even said, "that it would be fun."

Here is where I keep my (mom) mouth shut. On one hand, I want my recent college graduate son, to take the money, move out of his studio garage apartment and leave behind the student housing and lifestyle. On the other hand, he has no dependents, or commitments, preventing him from entering the main event and I think - go for it!
I am glad it is his decision and not mine.

So, what did he decide? Well, Jeff is like his father in analytical thinking. Here, in his words, is how he decided:

I could just play a $1500 event and get 80% of the once-in-a-lifetime WSOP experience at 15% of the cost. If I busted out early in one, I might even be able to squeeze into another for a better shot at getting a return. And should I be fortunate enough to go deep, I could then feel a little more comfortable buying into the main event.

But I mustn't forget one of Ben Franklin's certainties... If I took the money and ran -- that $12K would only be worth 8K after the IRS and FTB get their rake. Still better than $2000 (if I failed to cash), but Uncles Sam and Schwarzenegger are basically giving me a $4000 incentive to play in the main event -- (and how I love overlays). So I'm not quite sure what I'll do -- still weighing options and getting opinions. But it's been quite a nice run so far.

So, at this point he is entering event 54 and playing on Monday June 30 at the Rio hotel. We don't know which events, if any, will be televised on ESPN except the main event which starts July 3rd.

Click here for the tournament schedule.


Now for all those poker players that wanted to know all the details, here is Jeff's summary he wrote the day after his win.

A lot of people are asking for the full story, so here it goes (and I
apologize in advance if my analytical nature gets too boring). A few months
ago the site (Absolute Poker) sent me one of their emails with all their
upcoming promotions. One of them was a "VIP 45 seat" tournament with Phil
Helmuth and a $4000 prizepool. The kicker was if you knock Phil Helmuth
out, you were awarded a seat into a $530 WSOP satellite where they were
guaranteeing 50 seats. The buy-in for this 45-man was 10,000 AbsolutePoints
(very similar to Pokerstars FPPs & Full Tilt points). Like FPPs, Absolute
Points can be redeemed in 3 ways -- in cash bonuses, by purchasing
merchandise in the store, or by entering tournaments. If you exchange your
points for cash, those 10,000 points are worth ~$70. Items in the AP store
can vary, but generally that 10,000 points would buy something you could
get online elsewhere for $30-$40. Tournaments, on the other hand, generally
offer the largest face value. With a $4000 prizepool split between 45
players, those 10,000 points are worth $89. If you include the $530 bounty
in the prizepool, then those 10,000 points are worth just over $100.

That makes the tournament seem pretty appealing. But it has some downsides
-- the first being the obvious that if you don't cash, you don't get
anything (and I think only the top 5 paid). The second is that tournaments
require a decent time commitment -- and this one would probably take over 3
hours if you made the final table (so if you could be doing something more
profitable during that time your hourly would go down). And the third (and
probably largest downside) was that this particular tournament was for the
top 2 tiers of their VIP system. On AP this means any eligible player rakes
at least $1000/month so even though many of these players typically play
cash games, you're not very likely to come across any complete donkeys in
this field. Normally I'd probably just redeem the points for cash and keep
playing my normal game (6-man 1 table sit-n-goes), but the chance to play
Phil Helmuth and the additional overlay his bounty presented persuaded me
to register.

When the tournament started, I was not at Phil's table so I fired up some
sngs on the side and kept an eye on his table hoping he'd still have chips
when the tables combined. After 30 minutes, the first 9 players busted and
I was fortunate enough to move to Phil's table. I let my running sngs
finish (they typically take ~20 minutes) so I could better follow the
action. Phil was down to 800 chips from the 1500 starting stack, and had
been getting bullied by a couple of the more competent players. Still, most
people seemed to be avoiding him which I found odd given his bounty. My
plan was to see any cheap flop whenever he was in the hand, and hope to
make a monster and take his stack (and the bounty). Now Phil Helmuth is
without question the best live no-limit hold'em tournament player today
(and he'll often mention his record-breaking 11 bracelets as proof). But
the style he has developed to win in fishy live tournaments relies a lot on
trapping & on making great physical reads/laydowns. Online (and against
competent opponents) this style is terrible as people will mercilessly
exploit his predictability. Anyway, after about 15 minutes he'd played 3
hands and I'd stolen 2 pots from him with another player taking the 3rd. I
should note that I was pretty fortunate to have position on him so when
he'd miss a flop and check, I'd bet and take it down.

Anyway, the hand where I busted Phil went as follows: Blinds were 30/60 and
he had about 600. I had around 2000. He limped under the gun and I put him
on AJ+ 66+ and maybe KQ. He hadn't been raising preflop at all so I
couldn't eliminate JJ+ from his range. It folded around to me and I limped
along with the powerhouse 53 offsuit. The flop came 439 rainbow. The big
blind checked, Phil checked, and I bet the minimum (as I had the last 2
pots I took down). The big blind folded and Phil called. Now unless he held
99, that flop completely missed Phil (indicating that he probably had a
pocket pair or possibly was going to try and take a stand, picking off a
bluff with Ace-high). I was prepared to check (or fold) the turn until it
came 5. He checked again, and I bet 60. Normally this would be a terrible
bet size (and it may still be less than ideal long-term), but at the time I
was thinking of the following:

a) He only had 600 chips at the start of the hand and I wanted to make as
easy as possible for him to commit more (and I know that he loves pot-odds)
b) He had never seen me play a turn and wouldn't know that this bet was
unusually small for me
c) I wanted to give him the opportunity to bluff -- with 480 chips left in
his stack and a pot of 330, he had the illusion of having fold equity if he
d) I was hoping to allow the strongest part of his range the chance to
check-raise **
e) I was hoping to setup a bluff-catch against the weaker part of his
range... My flop and turn bets are weak -- if I shove the river Phil might
call with a weak holding thinking I am a donkey and have absolutely nothing

In hindsight:
c)* he'd probably only shove KQ here -- any other holding he might
reasonably have would still have some showdown value and he'd just call
d)** This isn't likely since Phil is the consummate trapper and would
rather his opponents do all the betting (if he's going to check-raise, it
would probably be on the river)
e)*** Bluff-catching hands (basically ace-high and 66-88) are going to be a
smaller part of his range (which would be weighted towards premium pocket
pairs since I'd expect him to fold most of the time on the missed flop)

Anyway he just called. The river came another 3 (filling me up) and he
checked. The pot was now 390 and he had 420 left. I'm confident that he has
a pocket pair, but there is also a chance he has something like AJ+ and is
hoping to get to a cheap showdown against someone who's been bullying him
(me). So I shoved. If he has a pocket pair he'll call and the only possible
hand he could hold that I lose to is 99. If he has Ace-high, he might fold
(where he might have called a smaller bet). But he's already invested a lot
of his stack into this pot, and my min bet, min bet, shove is precisely the
kind of play a fish would make in a live tournament with a bluff. And the
board is 43953 -- its very likely to have missed me as well (even though I
happened to make a full house). In his mind, I might have gotten lucky with
76 or A2s, but I'm far more likely to have something like JT since I
wouldn't shove 98 or J9 here (I'd only be called by a hand that beats me
when I have good showdown value).

He called and mucked and I won entry into the 50-seat WSOP satellite. I was
waiting (and secretly hoping) for the famous Phil Helmuth chat tirade, but
he just said "nh gg" (nice hand, good game). I pulled up the hand history
and he had AT offsuit (ace-high) -- a little surprising since ATo is a
loser for most people under-the-gun. Sure Phil is a great player who might
be able to play AT profitably against fish -- but to limp ATo utg with a
bounty on your head (not to mention with only 10 big blinds) is just lol
bad. Then again, this tournament meant nothing to him -- it would be like
me playing $0.01/$0.02 poker. I ended up busting in 12th out of the money
in this tournament, but I didn't care -- I had knocked out Phil Helmuth.

That was about 2 months ago, and I watched in disappointment as the entry
list grew from 50 to 500 to 1000. When it reached 1000, I had a 1/20 shot
of winning a seat and I figured I'd rather just take the $530 and see it as
a 10 buy-in upswing in my normal $50 sng game. Thankfully AP made this
event a "must play" and wouldn't let me unregister, so I played. It started
at 2pm yesterday and the first hour was like most donkaments -- people
going a little crazy and busting out left/right. I played fairly tight and
after an hour had 3500 chips (starting stack was 2500). 500 people were
left so the average stack was 5000, but the distribution was off with a few
people having 15,000-20,000 and most players having 2000-4000. I remember
thinking "Okay, we're halfway there" but the bust-outs slowed to a crawl. 2
hours later we were down to 200 players and I was still below average with
7000 chips (average was ~12,500). I hadn't had any all-in confrontations --
I'd just been slowly chipping up small pots and hoping for others to get
out of line. Another 2 hours later, and there were 100 left. I had still
been slowly chipping up but had also doubled up when I went allin with AQ
against KQ on a Qxx flop. I remember thinking "ok, I'm in the top 50, I can
ease up a bit." An hour later there were 75 left and I was still around
50th in chips and feeling pretty good -- staying out of confrontations and
stealing the blinds about once an orbit to maintain my stack.

At that point, I began to stall. Now I know stalling is frowned upon
(especially live) but it is a powerful strategy in a satellite. Where a
table that isn't stalling might play 1 hand every 90 seconds, I could add
30 seconds to the length of every hand played at my table by running out my
timebank. This means I pay antes and blinds less often which helps conserve
my stack. It also makes the game frustratingly slow for the action-junkies
-- and they tend to start getting bored and making mistakes. Unfortunately,
there was at least one other person like me at every other table -- so the
net result was all the tables played about the same number of hands/hour --
just that the game really dragged. The other downside is that I'm telling
my table how aware of my position in the standings I am -- and my blinds
become open-season (you might expect a "walk" -- where its folded to you in
the big blind -- once every 10 orbits normally, but you'll never get a walk
if you're stalling). The flipside is that when I do raise -- people will
give me much more credit since they know I don't want to commit any chips
without a good hand.

But an hour goes by and we still have 65 left (I'm now in 55th and not
feeling quite so confident). The biggest stack at each table is basically
stealing every hand and now everyone else at the table is stalling as well.
I had just under 10 big blinds -- which would still be somewhat comfortable
for me as a sng player, except the antes were big enough that I only had
enough chips to play for 3 more orbits. The big stack in the small blind
shoved on my big blind and I've got ATo. In a regular MTT this would be a
snap call, but I mulled it over -- I'ma 63% favorite against a random hand
(and this villain is really shoving any two cards -- in fact probably worse
than random since he'd likely raise small with a big hand) but that means
there is a 37% chance I get knocked out. What makes satellite bubbles so
interesting is that even though it isn't looking good for me, I could still
very well have more than 63% equity in this tournament (in which case
calling would be a mistake). In a regular MTT -- winning more chips is good
since it would move you up the payout scale -- but when all 50 spots pay
exactly the same -- it doesn't matter whether you have 150,000 or 500
chips. But since the guys who were 45-54th at the other tables were in much
better shape than I was, I made the call. I haven't run the math yet (it
gets pretty complicated with more than 1 table) -- but it is quite likely
that folding would be the best play (though I'm pretty sure its close).

Thankfully my AT holds up against his 32 (yes really). But even against the
worst-possible hand (heads up), I was still just a 66% favorite. So now I'm
25th in chips and basically celebrating -- its gotta be smooth sailing now,
right? Wrong. I still had only an "M" of 10 (the number of orbits I could
post blinds/antes before being allin). And an hour later, I find myself
52nd in chips with 55 left. I've played a number of satellites before, and
I've never seen a bubble last this long. There were basically 10 guys with
100,000+ stacks, 10 with 50-90,000, and then the bottom 35 with 15-30,000
-- all looking at each other and hoping someone else will go first. I now
have about 2 big blinds and zero fold equity so I'm hoping for a premium
hand or for other tables to buck the trend and knock 5 people out quickly.
Thankfully I pick up QQ and the big stack shoves from under the gun. I call
from middle position, and even though I'd normally get 2 overcallers from
people wanting to check-down and knock me out -- the big stack's shove
prevents them from over calling. My QQ holds up against his 97o (83%
favorite) and I move from 52nd in chips to 20th.

It takes another hour for 4 more people to bust so we're now at 51 players
left and 50 paid. I'm 35th with only 15,000 chips. Blinds are 6,000/12,000
with a 1200 ante so just about everyone is in bad shape and hoping for
someone to bust. Each hand there are one or two people allin but they keep
on doubling up. Finally on the one table no one was really watching
(everyone on it had 50,000+ chips) the big stack pushes allin and some
idiot calls with AA (even though AA is an 80% favorite to win the hand,
with over 50,000 chips that guy must have been well over 90% to just fold
into the money). The bigstack had JT suited and wound up with a flush --
much to the delight of the guy at my table with 498 chips (he had
previously pledged to treat us all to a Ceasar's buffet if he made it).

Mathematically, I ran above expectation in my allins (not having lost any
of them).
AQ vs KQ on Qxx flop: 87.3%
ATo vs 32o preflop: 66.3%
QQ vs 97o preflop: 83.0%
Odds of winning all 3 allins: 48%

I was also pretty lucky to have not run into any coolers when stealing (AQ
vs AK / KK vs AA -- types of situations where that hand plays itself). But
I also think I played significantly above average overall -- just in terms
of picking good spots to steal/resteal and avoiding getting into big
confrontations when I didn't need to.

Anyway, so here comes the dilemma. The Rio does not allow US-friendly
online poker rooms to buy in directly to the WSOP. Instead, AP (and
apparently Stars/FTP as well) credits your account with $12K and hopes that
you register on your own. Now I would have been perfectly happy to play in
the main event from my ~$70 initial investment if I had no other choice,
but when offered the cash I don't know... MTTs (multi-table tournaments)
have high variance (as my math above sort of shows). In a normal (non
satellite) big-field MTT I might expect to cash 20% of the time -- most of
that being for the minimum. 3% of the time I might go deep, and less than
1% of the time I'd expect to reach the final table (where all the money
is). This would probably result in something like a 30% ROI. So while I'd
fully expect to be profitable long-term, the idea of putting up $10K for a
1/5 shot of getting a return isn't particularly appealing. Then again, it
comes with the whole once-in-a-lifetime WSOP experience (and what is the $
value of that?).

I could just play a $1500 event and get 80% of the once-in-a-lifetime WSOP
experience at 15% of the cost. If I busted out early in one, I might even
be able to squeeze into another for a better shot at getting a return. And
should I be fortunate enough to go deep, I could then feel a little more
comfortable buying into the main event.

But I mustn't forget one of Ben Franklin's certainties... If I took the
money and ran -- that $12K would only be worth 8K after the IRS and FTB get
their rake. Still better than $2000 (if I failed to cash), but Uncles Sam
and Schwarzenegger are basically giving me a $4000 incentive to play in the
main event -- (and how I love overlays). So I'm not quite sure what I'll do
-- still weighing options and getting opinions. But it's been quite a nice
run so far.

1 comment:

  1. We are so proud of Jeff, and so excited for you guys as you're there to cheer Jeff on. We'll be with you in spirt. Go Jeff, go! :) xod