The view from 32nd place
By Christopher Mayer (aka "terrapin")
What follows are thoughts and reflections on TexasHoldem-Poker.com's first league tournament, a packed freeroll event with 807 entrants held at PokerStars. It was also my first tournament and, consequently my expectations as to where I finished were rather low. While I enjoy Texas holdem and play frequently online, I have otherwise never played in a casino, nor have I ever played against tough competition. Moreover, I have played very little no-limit. I lay all this out just to be frank about my poker pedigree. I am no poker ace.
I do love the game, however. While I have played poker all my life, it has been only in the last year that I have become more serious about the game (i.e., by reading and studying poker books). Therefore, confronted with this new challenge - tournament poker and no-limit, at that - I turned to a reliable guru; David Sklansky. Sklansky's (and Malmuth's) books have done more to improve my understanding of the game than any other source.
Having less than a week to prepare, I delved into Sklansky's latest offering, Tournament Poker for Advanced Players. I bought it about six months ago, I think, shortly after it came out. I remember thinking that it would probably never help me much because I don't play in tournaments. But, I make it a habit to read everything Sklansky writes and besides, I thought, there may be tournament in my future yet.
With less than a week to prepare, I did not read the whole book. It is not a long book, but, in typical fashion, reading poker books in not necessarily like breezing through a summer novel. You have to stop and think about things, as they slowly seep their way into your brain, hopefully retrievable when you need it at the tables. Being human, that is seldom the case.
Nonetheless, there were important concepts that I did take from the book. The one that sticks out in my head is the idea that if you think you are as good as the best players in the tournament, then you should not take gambles when you are only a slight favorite. A Sklansky example sticks vividly in my mind. He has you throwing away (or seriously considering throwing away) a pair of fours if you knew you were up against AK offsuit with slightly better than even money and if losing meant losing all your chips - even though the fours are a slight favorite over AK.
So, as I did not consider myself among the tournament's best players, I thought such small edges would be worth my whole stack when the opportunities arose.
I recall during the tournament, fairly early on, that I pushed all my chips in on TT and got one caller, an AJ suited. The board came A J 7. I thought I was done, but then came a 9 and then an 8, giving me a straight. I suppose we all need some luck to get anywhere in these tournaments, since it seems you are frequently all-in, at least a lot more than what's comfortable given the strength of your hand.
Anyhow, as the tournament got underway, players were predictably tight in the early going with only some sparring here and there. Another idea from Sklansky that stuck with me (and may be intuitively obvious) is that idea that small stacks are frequently ready to give up. I specifically recall a situation where a small stack went all-in (he was on my immediate left). Everyone passed, and it came to me, holding a pair of nines. I called. He turned over J8 suited. When the board failed to help him, I took the pot with a sigh of relief.
As the tournament rolled along, I liked to check the standings and see where I was in stack size and how many players were gone. I stayed above the average stack size consistently and felt pretty good. I was having a blast and it was all for free!
I was dealt pocket aces twice, and both times, I was able to get all-in before the flop with one caller. These hands helped me move along pretty good.
As the hours rolled by, I found my stack starting to get eaten up by the ever-increasing antes. There were only about 30-something players left. I had about 18 grand, well below average. The highest rank I had achieved, at least that I saw, was twelfth place. But a cool run of cards - it seemed an awful long time before I last saw an ace or a king - got me thinking my time was short. The big blind was $2,000 and so, I figured, I would only have one more opportunity to make a good dent.
I thought to myself that I would go all-in on any pair 9 or higher, any ace suited combo, or any ace-king, ace-queen, ace-jack and maybe even ace-ten. Fortunately, with about fifteen grand, I looked down and saw two wonderful kings. My, that looked like a nice hand! No hesitation, I pushed 'em all in and got one caller. He flipped over ace-king offsuit. I knew I was a solid favorite. Later, I referred to Petriv's Holdem Odds Book and discovered that when holding KK and one opponent holds an ace, another ace will fall about 15.7% of the time.
Those are good odds. But, in this instance, my opponent caught his ace and I was out of the tournament - 32nd place.
Not bad. I was very satisfied. It was a lot of fun and I got to go down swinging with a strong hand and favorable odds. I felt pretty drained when I was done, approximately 3.5 hours after the start. I have often read about how tournament poker was tiring. Anyway, I had played poker til 2 am the following night. So, I was all pokered out, having played about 8 hours in the last 24. I live in the Washington area, and we were under a bunch of snow, with heavy rains and high winds. My power went out about seven o'clock and I went to bed.
Let's give thanks to TexasHoldem-Poker.com and PokerStars for a great tournament. Let's hope we can do it again soon.
Oh, and one more thing. Go Terps!
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