Putting my skills through a challenge

The more you love something the better you want to become. The better you become the more challenging you want it to be. I know it sounds counter-intuitive when it comes to poker; you want to be sitting at a table full of fish when playing poker. But the truth is that none of us would ever question our plays if we didn’t want to improve, which is a challenging aspect of the game. It’s one of the many things about poker that has kept me interested in the game all these years. The ability to meticulously analyze and criticize a play that I made and figure out if I really did extract maximum value. Poker is a little puzzle to keep your mind occupied for hours. All interesting aspects of the game until it feels like you have hit a plateau. Naturally the way to keep poker challenging is to move up in stakes, play a different type of poker, or switch to a different format like tournaments.

Poker was starting to feel monotonous to me. Maybe it was because I kept finding myself playing in wild late night cash games that blurred together. Something needed to change, and a change of environment to focus on the game was the answer. I decided to spend a month playing daily tournaments at South Point casino. My plan would be to go play the nightly turbo 10:00 PM for $60 and when I was able to go in the mornings, I would go play the daily 10:00 AM for $60. My bankroll would only be $600 to start and see if I could run it up.

I learned a lot about myself as a player, my skill, and the game. Some of it I was able to address by studying a spot and reviewing all my options that I could have taken instead of the decision that I made. Other things were not as obvious to me, but I had some help to get them pointed out. It’s interesting to see the differences between cash games and tournaments. I remembered what my coach once told me, “You need to pick cash or tournaments and specialize in it if you want to be successful.” In cash games you are not incentivized to preserve your stack since you want to extract the maximum value out of the hands you play. In a tournament there are many factors that put pressure on your chip stack. The impending doom of the rising blinds that motivate you to make plays, preserving your stack to avoid elimination, and outlasting other players to make it into the money. Early in the beginning of the tournament you can be more selective and pick the spots that you get into. As the later stages of the tournament come then your criteria for good spots start to go down if you need the chips to survive. I lost count of the times I have seen what appears to be a horrendous play but in reality; it’s just a player that was backed into a corner fighting to stay alive.

I know in the grand scheme of everything that my tournament play is not a significant sample size. I know it’s not a huge payout or a prestigious event, but I am proud of what I accomplished. Here are some of my stats about the tournaments that I played.

  • Return on Investment – 58.81%
  • Tournaments Played – 28
  • Bullets Fired – 35
  • Total Buy-In – $2,100
  • Total Cash-Out – $3,335
  • Total Profit – $1,235
  • Tournaments Won – 2
  • Podium Finishes – 2
  • Number of cashes – 7
My tournament buy-ins and cashes graph

The first tournament I went to go play was on June 18th, 2022. I went with almost no sleep, and I was still little tipsy. The previous night I went to a Slipknot concert. After having a few drinks there, I decided that I wanted to have more drinks and went to Caesars Palace to play poker and have a few drinks. Next thing I know its 5 AM and I need to make my way home. After getting home and taking a nap, I made my way over to South Point. As I sat there playing, I realized that I needed some coffee to help me stay awake. Shortly after getting coffee, I had a big hand that put me in a good position to make a play later for a deep run. The key hand that happened later while we were getting close to the money helped me make the final table. Then finally just as I made the final table, I made a play that left me feeling like perhaps I made a mistake but at the end of the day I know I am never just flatting behind when I am in that spot.

The first hand to give me a decent chip stack I had flopped top set with pocket Kings. My opponent bet the whole way and I ended up eliminating him. The second key hand, I raised in late position with AQ off suit and was called by a couple of players. The flop came down with two hearts but also gave me a straight draw. It checked around to me and I made a small continuation bet which was then raised by one of the players that had checked. I thought about it for a little bit before deciding to call. In my mind it didn’t make sense why he would raise. The board was all high cards, this player never opened the action pre-flop, plus the raise was not very big. The turn was off suit ten completing my straight. My opponent checked and I jammed. My opponent called and I saw that my opponent was chasing the nut flush. Now with a large stack that I had just won, I was intimidating! Unfortunately, I lost a big chunk of it when I ran AK suited into pocket Aces just as we drew for the final table. This eventually led to my demise when I busted out in 8th place.

I was amazed at how easy poker felt. Yes, it fed my ego, and I was more than satisfied with the results of the first tournament that I played. After getting some sleep and thinking about my play more critically I started to think about how I would strategize moving forward. The first thing I recognized is that the nightly tournament levels were only fifteen minutes, half of that time could be used up in one orbit around the table. The next thing was to keep track of players and make mental notes. Now that I had played one tournament, I had an idea of how the player pool played and could focus on tells. I honestly thought I had an edge over the field and if I made sure to stay alert, I could make consistent deep runs. The last thing I wanted to do was dial in my ranges. There were a few spots that I felt like I had been a little too tight. My game plan was ready, it was time to execute. I felt ready to make some deep runs!

A few days later I made another final table! I remember at one point there was a hand where two players were all in versus a third player and I would have scooped. I was under the gun and thought about opening the hand, but in the end decided there was too much action behind me to go. I had pocket sixes and I knew that the ranges I was using, this hand was not an open from under the gun. The player to my right was the third player playing against the two all ins. I told him about my hand, and he immediately agreed with my logic; I assume he did so because he would have lost with me in the hand. I would use this conversation later to my advantage when we played heads up by consistently barreling most flops or turns. Once we were down to two tables, I picked up a few big pots and eliminated a few players. Going into the final table I had a chip stack that could have easily put me in third place. Eventually I picked up a big hand that would have just been absurd to fold, but the flop was not in my favor. I lost the hand to a flopped set, turned full house. This left me with very little chips; I only had my opponent covered by twenty thousand in chips. Shortly after that, I ended my tournament in fifth place that night.

I had met a regular player that night who had told me that I had a very good poker face. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to believe him at the time, but he kept insisting that he couldn’t get a read off me. This was later confirmed by other regulars with whom I became friendly. They would all have similar comments when we bumped into each other during breaks while we swapped hand histories. The relationships I formed also proved to be helpful later as it would give me an idea about how other players played before I ever met them on the felt. With each tournament I played, my strategy would be tweaked as I gathered information about the player pool. I was making the money on average about every four days, but I did hit a rough patch. The next few tournaments I was just barely making a little more than the minimum. The biggest lesson I learned during this time was how to be more versatile and adjust my game play accordingly. Not only did I need to be aware of how to maneuver my chip stack; I also needed to know how to slam on the brakes when playing fast. The other thing I needed to figure out was how to manage the clock. Once I figured these components out, I started to make deep runs again.

My next three cashes were all final tables! Two out of the three were first place finishes. On the night I had finished in fourth, I was still trying to dial in my time management. I had identified the levels just before and after the first break as crucial moments in the tournament to make a deep run. The blind structure made it so that by the time you come back from break it was important to have some chips to play with or your tournament life would be on the chopping block. I had spun up my chip stack and was not at risk when we came back from the first break. By the time we got down to four players, one of the other players proposed a chop. The chip leader who had more than half of the chips in play countered with an ICM chop and since the rest of the table agreed, I agreed too.

A few days later I made another final table. This tournament made me realize the importance of how I manage my composure on and off the table. Early on I busted after my chip stack had been decimated. I was headed for the door when something told me to just fire another bullet. Taking multiple shots in a tournament is normal but I think you should only do so when there is value. Being a predominately cash game player, I see more value in having a deeper stack. Because of this I don’t always like to re-enter in the later stages when I would only be left with ten big blinds or less. I fired another shot and did my best to manage my short stack and just before the break I managed to run up a stack. One of the key hands that night, I flopped a set of sevens and then turned quads. The chips were all in on the flop.

By the time I made it to the final table I was the chip leader and there were a lot of small chip stacks. One by one the inevitable happened and they went all in; one by one being eliminated for the tournament. Soon there were only three players left. A French lady who spoke very little English, a guy with a limp that looked painfully stiff, and me. We kept playing for a few hands until I think the guy with the limp realized that the French lady and I were going to keep playing. He suggested a chop and I said I would consider an ICM chop. It took a little more effort for us to explain to the French lady what we were talking about, but she soon was on the same page. Once the numbers were presented to us, we all agreed, and I won the tournament on a technicality.

About a week had passed before I cashed for the last time. During that time, I was playing around with firing multiple shots in a tournament, and it just so happened that this tournament I had fired twice. I honestly don’t remember much about the tournament because I didn’t even have an expectation to win. I do recall thinking to myself that I had to play more carefully when I entered again. The reason I had busted in the first place was because my opponent showed no aggression at all. No raise pre-flop and no raises post flop. This left me thinking that my hand was good and instead I find that my opponent had slow played and trapped with pocket Aces.

We had just redrawn at eighteen players and started to resume play. This hand blinds were 1.5k/3k/3k and we had two limpers when the shortest stack at the table jammed for 7.5k. This was expected because he had two and half big blinds. The deep stack was next to act and raised to 20k. This almost put me all in, I had 1.3k left behind. When the button folded, I decided that the chances that the deep stack only raised to isolate were very high. I jammed with pocket tens, hoping that no one behind me was trapping. We ended up with one caller who had limped, I didn’t feel very confident about my hand anymore. With two players all in, the dealer started to deal out the flop; sitting in the nine seat I could see the window card first and it was a ten! After the complete board had been dealt out the early position player who had called tabled pocket sevens, the deep stack said he had pocket eights, and the short stack player never showed his hand. I was awarded the entire pot worth 75.9k chips. This changed things and put me in great position to make a run for first place.

680k in chips for 1st!

Going to the final table, I had a little over 200k in chips. This had to be the most brutal final table I had played so far as players were not just jamming. But as the clock ticked down and the blind levels continue to increase, chip stacks started to become short, and players started to go all in. I was running great and had managed to eliminate a few players myself. My chip stack had doubled by the time we went on the final break of the tournament. There were only four players left coming back from the break and there was no sign of anyone giving up. The first hand dealt when we came back the under the gun player jammed and I called on the button with A9 suited, he had A4 off suit. The board ran out with no one making a pair, my nine played. We played a couple more hands after that when one of the players asked about a chop. We all agreed to see what an ICM chop would be. After we were told what the numbers were, we negotiated what we thought were more fair numbers. Since I was the chip leader, I was awarded first place.

Bizzy’s 2022 Gains: -$838.31

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