Gotta Win the Races

In a few days, I’m heading to Las Vegas for my first trip ever (can you say… Bucket List?) to the World Series of Poker.  I will be playing in exactly one bracelet event, with a $1,500 buy-in, starting June 20.

So a couple days ago I switched from my normal cash game mode to a tournament mode.  I played an online tournament on Thursday, and played in live, private tournaments on Friday and Saturday nights.

Let’s get real here, very quickly, and acknowledge that these tournaments aren’t going to be representative of what I should expect at the WSOP.  But at least they involved more players who I do not play with regularly, and the basic issue that the blinds increase in scheduled increments, creating various inflection points along the way.  And when you bust out, you’re out.  Finished.  Over.  Done.

On Friday, there were 47 players in the tournament, with a $50 buy-in plus $10 bounty.  Blinds increased every 20 minutes.  The prize money goes to the last 5 players.  I did pretty well, played a mini-“Survivor” and made it to the final 4.  Then we negotiated a “chop” of the remaining money, giving a larger share to the guy with the biggest stack and splitting the balance equally among the other three.  I had the 2nd largest stack, although my lead over 3rd and 4th place was slim… no more than 3-4 big blinds.

On Saturday, there were 16 players, with a $60 buy-in, plus re-entry for the first hour, plus a $10 add-on at the end of an hour.  Blinds increased every 15 minutes.  The prize money goes to the last 3 players.  Again, I hung on for a good while, busting out in 6th place.

Here’s the thing:  in both tournaments, there are points where significant risks are required.  Let’s call a “big risk” any situation where you are going to commit all or a sizable portion of your chip stack before the flop.  This is when you have the least amount of information — only your two hole cards.  When you go all-in and another player calls, or another players goes all-in and you call, you cannot ever be assured of winning.  With pockets AA’s, you might be somewhere between 77-94% favorite, but never 100%.  And some additional times you’ll be doing the same on the flop, with two cards still to come.

Often times the odds will be fairly close to 50/50.  When this happens, we call it a “race” or a “coin flip.”  I suppose it’s fair to call it a race whenever neither player is a greater than 60% favorite (although I have not seen any semi-official definition).  Even at 70/30, the underdog is going to win often enough to make it pretty nerve-wracking.

Here are some of the hands from Friday and Saturday nights that stand out:

Friday – Coachman’s Trail tournament (format:  my cards, my percentage equity at the time we went all-in, “>” or “<” to indicate that I won / lost, villain’s cards, villain’s percentage.  (Percentages may be slightly off as I don’t remember the suits from every hand.  This is in the order they occurred to the best of my recollection.)

1.  AKo (45%) > 55 (55%).  Knocked out opponent.

2. JJ (50%) = JJ (50%).   Chopped pot.  Villain shoved over my opening raise, then picked up a flush draw on turn but missed.  Whew.

3.  A9s (30.5%) < AKo (69.5%).  Doubled up opponent.  I had raised first, he shoved, not too much more to call and I had the bigger stack.  Same villain as #2.

4. AA (80%) > TT (20%).  Doubled up my stack.

5. QQ (80%) > TT (20%).  Knocked out opponent.  This was the very next hand after #4.  Mini-heater.

6. KJo (73.2%) < K3o (26.8%).  Doubled up opponent, who had gotten short stacked and made a “fuck it” call that was less than my pre-flop raise.

7. K9o (57.8%) > QJo (42.2%).  Doubled up my stack.  Villain open-limped in cutoff and appeared weak.  I shoved on button hoping to have just enough fold equity to get rid of him.  He called anyway.

8. KQs (44.1%) > ATo (55.8%).  Doubled up my stack.  Flopped flush draw giving me lots of outs, hit flush on river.

9.  TT (80%) > 88 (20%).  Doubled up my stack.  Villain was loose, aggressive, big stack.  Now at 5 players remaining.

In this group, I won 6, lost 2 and chopped 1.  Both losses came when I had a big enough stack to survive the beating.  4 of the wins came when I was the shorter stack (and 2 of these were 80/20 situations so not exactly races.  But still…).

My simple average equity in these hands was 60.1%.  My “win rate” of 6.5 out of 9 is 72.2%.  So without weighting for stack sizes or Independent Chip Model theories and such other fancy analysis, I performed slightly better than expected on this small sample of hands.  Most importantly, there were 5 times that a loss would have knocked me out of the tournament and I survived them all.  This is a must to go deep in a no limit holdem tournament, especially with the blinds increasing so quickly.  When we finally negotiated the chop, even the biggest stack had only about 15-17 big blinds remaining.

Saturday – John D.’s house tournament.

1.  KK (78.6%) > QQ (11.1%) < Q6s (10.3%).  WTF?  Villain #2 UTG min-raises,  Villain #1 UTG+1 re-raises, and I shove on the button with KK.  V2 has slightly less than one-half of her starting stack and we have not yet reached the end of the re-entry period, so she makes a tilted, “fuck-it, I’ll just re-buy” call with Qs6s and V1 also calls with QQ.  I love this spot.  Then a 6 comes on the flop and another 6 on the river.  I make a very tiny profit on the side pot and knock out V1, while V2 pulls in chips equal to about 135% of a starting stack.  OMG.

2.  8c 3c (44.2%) < Ks Qc (55.8%) after flop of Kc 8d 7c.  After 2 limps, I completed from the small blind (AND THEREIN LIES THE REAL MISTAKE!!!) with total garbage.  But I hit the flop pretty good, with middle pair and a flush draw.  We are 6-handed and the blinds are big, such that I begin the hand with 10.5 BBs.  I open shove into a pot of 4 BBs, a massive over bet designed to put maximum pressure on the villains knowing I have a lot of equity.  Guy on button calls (why did he limp and not raise with KQo on the button???).  Turn is another 7, pairing the board and eliminating some of my outs as now I cannot win by pairing my kicker.  River is a 3, pairing my kicker.

Trying to remember other races from this tournament and cannot think of any.  I know I didn’t knock out anyone else as I only had one bounty to cash in afterwards.  I cannot recall any other hands where I doubled up my stack.

Both of these hands were weird, and the first one doesn’t really qualify as a “race” other than how it illustrates what can happen in tournaments.

My simple average equity for these two hands is 61.4%.  I won the side pot on the first hand but lost the main pot.  So let’s just say I won 1 out of 3 pots for a win rate of 33.3%.  Performed worse than expected and finished out of the money.

Friday –> variance is my friend.  Saturday –> variance is my enemy.  Inevitably, gotta win some key races to survive.

On to the cash game.  A key hand there (see #1 again from the Saturday tournament) is where again I have KK and raise to 7 BBs pre-flop.  2 callers and then a short stack makes a “Fuck it!” shove for 25 BBs.  I go all-in to isolate him and he turns over 33.  KK (80%) < 33 (20%) after he spikes another 3 on the turn.  Sigh.

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