WSOP Highlights

I didn’t last very long in the WSOP Bracelet event in which I played.  Event 42 seemed just right for me, with a $1,500 buy-in (fully funded by winning my home poker league), extended blind levels (90 minutes per level, as opposed to 60 minutes per level in all other $1,500 events), and traveling an extra day early to get past jet lag, adjust to pacific time, get some exercise and eat well.  But I flamed out with little fanfare during the 4th level.

The cash games also seemed quite good.  Mostly of one ballroom at the Rio was set up for extra cash games for WSOP players, ranging from $1/3 no limit hold’em to high limit games, Omaha, Big O, mixed games and Open Face Chinese poker.  It was bustling and awesome.

I stuck to the $1/3 games, as I had a ton of hours to play but not a ton of bankroll to risk.  At these games, the players were generally friendly, and the skill level was generally beatable.  I ended down a couple of buy-ins, nothing I cannot handle but disappointing nevertheless.  I’ll save the why’s and wherefore’s for another entry.

There were some other highlights, however, that I should hope to remember for a long time.  In somewhat close to chronological order:

Ken Adams – Ken is a Washington DC lawyer and part-time poker player who runs the Washington Poker School.  Thanks to a mutual introduction by Tom Farin, I had an opportunity to meet Ken at the WSOP.

I had lunch a few weeks ago with Tom, who is Ken Adams’ brother-in-law.  Tom lives in the Brier Creek neighborhood near RDU airport and is the owner of Pegasus Lighting.  I met Tom several years ago when he attended a seminar at which I spoke about exit strategies for business owners.  Tom and I figured out that we both enjoy playing poker, and he provided an email introduction to Ken.  One year when Ken was visiting his sister here (Tom’s wife), I tried to arrange a group of players from the “Wealth Redistribution Poker League” for a half-day poker workshop run by Ken, but could not get enough people.

Fast forward 3 or 4 years, and Tom re-introduces me to Ken via email a few weeks before my trip.  It turns out the my dates at the WSOP this year almost perfectly overlapped with Ken’s, and he was very gracious in providing some helpful information for a first-time attendee (what to pack, how to get the lowest room rates at the Rio, how to avoid long lines, etc.).  We had a great visit over tea one morning right after Ken busted out of the seniors tournament (all-in with nut flush on turn, then lost to full house on river – boy was he pissed!), and lunch another day, plus he let me tag along with him in making some rounds.

Ken is very well connected in this environment.  He knows a lot of the pros, old-timers, and WSOP senior staff, introduced me to some cool people (some of whom are further described below), and we shared some good poker hand analysis and strategy discussion while starting a friendship I hope will continue.

“Kenny” – I played one tournament, Event #42, a $1,500 buy-in no limit Hold’em tournament with extended (90 minutes) blind levels.  A recap of the tournament is here.  At my table was a 30-ish guy who called himself Kenny, wearing a hat bearing the logo of some poker room in Sacramento, CA.  He told me he was originally from The Philippines, and his last name is Tran.  I’m pretty sure this was NOT the professional player/bracelet winner known as Kenny Tran, who is Vietnamese American.

We started the tournament with 7,500 in chips, and the blinds were 25/50.  In 90 minutes the blinds increased to 50/100, then another 90 minutes they went up to 75/150.  In these long tournaments, players tend to be pretty cautious about getting all their chips committed at the lower blind levels.  But Kenny went on an amazing heater, where he kept getting big hands and kept getting paid off.  I’m not sure how many players he knocked out at these early levels, but by the end of Level 3, he had amassed approximately 65,000 chips.

He had 44 and flopped a set, got another player all-in and won.  He had Ac 2c and flopped a flush.  He had As Ks, and flopped a flushed with another player flopping top set and losing all of his chips.  He had Qs 9s and the flop was JT8 for a nut straight.  On this hand I had KJ and another player had AJ and re-raised all-in on the flop.  Whoops.  Good-bye.  He had 33, flopped a set and turned a full house, only to lose to a better full house.  Shortly after that, he got into another pot with the same villain with  KT, calling a pre-flop raise, and a C-bet on a flop of AQx.  When a J comes on the turn to complete a Broadway straight, he gets all of his chips back and more, busting the villain who has AQ.  He called a short stack all-in bet with Jh Th v. Ah 9h and hits a pair to win.  He has Js Ts, gets 9s 8s on the flop, Ks to make a flush on the turn, and Qs to make a 6-card straight flush on the river.  And gets paid!  Over and over!

I’m probably leaving out a nut hand or two, as there were so many.  Kenny took all the oxygen off the table, leaving me and the others gasping for our breaths while I never saw a pocket pair higher than 88, made one weak straight that was only good as a bluff-catcher, and otherwise just sat and watched Kenny destroy the table in a manner that I dreamed about over and over prior to going there.  Wait a minute!  Maybe that’s my seat.

Before I busted out in Level 4, Kenny started ramping up the aggression with his big stack and consequently started spewing away some large chunks of his stack.  Play was scheduled to continue on Day 1 of the tournament until 1:30 am.  I busted around 6 pm.  Shortly before midnight, I saw Kenny walking through the casino area, very slowly and aimlessly.  He looked a little pale.  I decided not to bother him.

Greg Raymer – Last October, I participated in a daylong tournament poker workshop led by 2004 Main Event champion Greg “Fossilman” Raymer.  He lives just north of Raleigh, and the workshop was held in a friend’s garage turned poker room for about 24 players.  It was fun, informative, and I was impressed with Raymer’s instructional ability and hand analysis skills.

As I was leaving the tournament room after busting out of my only WSOP bracelet event, I notice Raymer sitting at one of the tables near the exit.  I slowed down just a bit and saw that his stack was rather short.  A few minutes later, after going to the restroom and tweeting about my demise, I see Raymer walking slowly out of the tournament room, with backpack, water bottle, etc.  Busted!  I milled around a bit longer, saw another guy go over to Raymer to chat for a couple of minutes, and when he left I wandered over to say hello.  He was very gracious and pretended to remember me from the workshop, and ever the professional, walked me through his final hand (I didn’t ask, but it goes to show that even a former world champion can’t help telling a bad beat story).  He shoved with QQ, got called by TT, and a river T sent him to the rail. I told him that I follow him on Twitter and enjoy his posting hands on the ShareMyPair app.

Tom Haigler – after busting out of the tournament, I sat next to a fellow named Tom Haigler at a cash games table.  Tom lives in Wyoming, but originally hails from the Charlotte area.  He was drinking enthusiastically (Jamison Irish whiskey), and said he had just cashed in the seniors tournament for $2,830 (174th place out of 4,193 entries) and was celebrating.

Tom was a very amiable drunk!  He told me about his life in Wyoming (a physician’s assistant), his big game hunting trip to South Africa, complete with pictures on his smart phone of him proudly kneeling next to a dead ibex, impala, wildebeest, and half-dozen or so other big-horned, big game animals once living and free.  He described the pure joy of killing (and the cost – apparently you decide what animal you want to kill, pay the price to purchase a permit or something, and the guides then make sure you get one), along with commentary about how poorly the white South African guides treated the black South African support workers.  I’m going to resist the temptation to ‘go off’ into editorial mode here, but suffice it to say that I don’t own any guns, don’t hunt, and don’t get it as to what makes this so thrilling.  I’ve never been to Wyoming either.

More interestingly, Tom was wearing a hat featuring the logo of the popular Food Network program “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” (“Triple-D”).  This is one of my wife’s favorite shows.  It turns out that his son (Dexter) lives in Mt. Pleasant, SC just across the bridge from Charleston, and owns a breakfast restaurant there called the “Early Bird Diner.”  And the Early Bird Diner was featured on Triple-D awhile back for its signature  chicken and waffles.  (A southern thing.)  Tom shows me where his hat is autographed under the bill by Triple-D host/celebrity chef Guy Fieri.  I’m going to be in Charleston next month, and Tom said if I found his son and mentioned our meeting at the WSOP, he just might give me a freebie.  We also discussed shrimp and grits, another popular dish at the Early Bird Diner, and I mentioned that my step-mother had written an entire cookbook dedicated to shrimp and grits (“Nathalie Dupree’s Shrimp and Grits”).

He also asked me to please not tell Dexter that his father was drinking so much.

“Oklahoma Johnny” Hale – One day I was on the waiting list for a seat at a cash game when they formed a new table.  It takes a few minutes for everyone to get seated, get chips, and get started.  On the very first hand, a few players limp in for $3 (this is $1/3 no limit Hold’em), but I fold.  The flop is 654 rainbow, and all of a sudden there is a lot of betting action.  The turn is a J and river another 4.  I’ll spare all the betting details, but by the river card four players are all-in.  The big blind has 73 and flopped a straight.  The button has 87 and flopped the nut straight.  The guy to my right has J7, flopped an open-ended straight draw, picked up top pair on the turn, and somehow with all the betting could not figure out that at least one player had flopped a straight or set, and likely more than one.

Then this 88-year-old guy turns over pocket 55s and wins the whole pot with his full house.  He turns about to be “Oklahoma Johnny” Hale, one of the great legends of the game.  Johnny is the author of “The Life and Times of a… Gentleman Gambler” and the founder of the Seniors World Championship of Poker, which originally was a separate tournament series for senior players and later merged with the World Series of Poker to become its seniors event.  He still delivers an opening speech each year just prior to the start of the seniors tournament.

Why is he playing at the $1/3 cash game?  Because, he says, it’s still fun, it’s still poker, and you get to meet interesting people.

Johnny tells quite a few stories while play continues, including a simple plug for donations to The Seniors Charities, which provides caring services to seniors in the Las Vegas area.  He also passed out business cards with the offer that for anyone who emails him afterwards, he’ll provide a link to be able to download a Seniors World Championship of Poker Yearbook that he developed in the style of a high school yearbook, to chronicle the event’s history, complete with many pictures and stories.  After awhile, he racked up his chips, struggled from his seat to his scooter, and away he went.

So I emailed him the next day, mentioned the 4-way all-in pot that he won, and he responded with this:

Hi David
That sure was a lucky hand—-I will remember that one—-the gift I promised will come to you by separate email.  I give them to special friends but sell the link for the benefit of the seniors charities.
David, you are invited to download or take to your local printer for a hard copy.  You may give it to anyone you wish—but when possible help The Seniors Charities.  But please, protect it from sale.
Stay Lucky,   Your new friend  OklaJohnnyHale

Dyana – One of the dealers at the table with “Oklahoma Johnny” Hale was a 50-ish woman named Dyana.  She was clearly a veteran dealer and engaged in a bit of dialogue with Hale about various characters from the past.  She said that once years ago, Johnny Moss fired her, twice during a single shift.  I mentioned this to Ken Adams, who said that wasn’t unusual in the old days whenever Moss suffered a bad beat, and Benny Binion would just rehire them dealers before they left the building.  I would imagine that Dyana might have been very attractive in her younger days.

Quads, 3 Times – At this same table (unlike Johnny Hale, I spent over 8 hours in the same spot), there were 3 separate hands where a player with a short stack of $75 or less went all-in pre-flop, got called, and made quads.  The first had 87o, flopped trips and rivered quads.  The second had JJ and flopped quads.  The third had 55 and got called by a guy with KK.  He flopped a set and hit the case 5 on the river.

I’m watching this – not involved in any of the hands – and thinking “strategy schmategy.” Just stick it all in pre-flop and magic will happen.  At some point I get below $100 in my stack and dealt As Qs.  My friends know how much I hate the “Big Chick” and frequently just fold without a second thought as a form of tilt-avoidance.  But in this hand, there was a $6 straddle UTG, and I decided to limp, then shove if anybody raised.  (Can’t avoid tilt when you’re already there!)  There was a raise to $22 and one caller, so I went with the plan and shove for approximately $90 total.  The raiser called me with KK.  An A comes on the flop, followed by running spades on the turn and river to give me the nut flush.  While the A alone was enough to win, ending up with the nuts on an all-in pre-flop, after seeing the quads three times, seemed really weird.  Especially since I seemed to go several days without connecting very well to a flop on hands that I played conventionally.

Dena from Wyoming – Also at the same table as “Oklahoma Johnny” Hale, Dyana, and the series of quads following all-in pre-flop shoves, along came a woman from Wyoming named Dena.  I’d guess she was 35-40-ish, a bit overweight, wearing a cap and dark shades.  I wasn’t paying very close attention until she got short-stacked and shoved her last $38 into the pot over a couple of limpets.  Somebody called, and Dena turns over T9o, makes a pair of 99s on the flop and it hold up for her to double her stack.

Over the next 4-5 hours, Dena goes on one of the most incredible cash game heaters I’ve ever seen.  When I left the table, her stack was over $1,600.  She made a bunch of big hands and got paid.  She made some hero calls and got paid.  Twice she called very large all-in bets (once on the turn, once on the river) with pocket AAs that had not improved.  This deep in the hand, when someone raises all-in for $250 at a $1/3 game, you have to believe they can beat one pair.  Nope.  She call a river bet with a pair of deuces, that could only beat air.  Yep.  She min-raised pre-flop with A4o and made a full house.  She called pre-flop raise with 97s and rivered a flush.  More straights, more flushes, more full houses.  She turned out to be rather friendly, sociable and funny (who wouldn’t???). She claimed that she had quads twice that she didn’t show when everyone folded.  And don’t get me wrong here… she was actually a very good player.  It was difficult to read her and her bet-sizing was superb.

In the conversation, she said she had been playing “Big O” earlier.  Big O is an Omaha Hi-Lo game, where instead of dealing each player 4 hole cards as in regular Omaha, they deal every player 5 hole cards.  You still must use exactly 2 of the hole cards and exactly 3 of the community cards to make a poker hand.  But the extra card leads to bigger hands and more betting action.

Just when I’m thinking this gal is just too lucky, a friend of hers walks over to the table and sees her monster stack.  “Hey Dena, do you think you can repay the $300 that you owe me?”  Ouch!  Big O might not have worked out so well for her.  She’s killing us, but apparently had to bum from a friend just to buy into the lowest stakes game in the room.  LMAO.

Jonathan Little – Ken Adams had told me about his personal poker coach, Jonathan Little.  Jonathan is a poker rock star, having won multiple WPT titles earning WPT’s Season 6 Player of the Year award, and has over 25 WSOP tournament cashes to his name.  He also writes poker books, blogs and has a poker training site full of articles, videos and other strategy materials.  His newest book, “Excelling at No Limit Holdem” just came out earlier this year, and features chapters written by 17 exceptional no limit holdem experts including Phil Hellmuth, Ed Miller, Chris Moneymaker, Mike Sexton and others.

So I’m following Ken down the hall one afternoon, and there’s Jonathan, standing in front of a table set up by another poker training site where several of his books are on sale.  He’s very gracious, and I quickly buy the new book to get it personally autographed.  I’m a sucker for autographed books, which I guess is the natural result of coming from a family of writers.  Now I have one more.

Perry Green – One of the great and tragic figures in the history of the WSOP was Stu Ungar.  Stu won a total of 5 WSOP bracelets, including the Main Event 3 times, going back-to-back in 1980 and 1981, and again in 1997.  Only Johnny Moss has duplicated this feat.  Afflicted by drug addictions and gambling debts, perhaps the greatest no limit poker ever died a pauper in 1998 at the age of 45.

In 1981, Ungar’s final opponent in the Main Event was Perry Green, a veteran player and winner of 3 WSOP bracelets (all in the late 1970’s) from Anchorage, AK, where his “day job” is as a fur trader.  During my time hanging out with Ken Adams, Ken told me about his introduction to no limit Holdem in the early 1980’s, which came during a trip to Alaska where he met Perry Green.  Perry told Ken about the book “The Biggest Game in Town,” by Al Alvarez, which chronicles the 1981 WSOP where Perry was runner-up in the Main Event.  It was reading this book that initially piqued Ken’s interest in learning to play no limit Holdem, and in going to Las Vegas for the WSOP (initially just as a spectator, later as a participant).  Over the years, Ken and Perry became friends.

Now Perry is 79 years old, and still coming to the WSOP.  This year he was playing in the Super Seniors event (Event 43, for players who are at least 65 years old) and had already cashed once earlier in the series, in Event 31, a $3,000 PLO8 tournament.  When we stopped to say hello and buy an autographed book from Jonathan Little, I was following Ken to the Super Seniors event to watch Perry play.  At this point, they were down to the final 2 tables, with 13 players remaining.  Perry was in the middle of the pack.

Honestly, it was like watching paint dry.  First of all, in any of these tournaments, when they get down to just a few tables remaining, the payouts increase in larger and larger increments.  This results in slower and slower decision making.  The consequences of a mistake are too high, and extra thought goes into just about every move.  Secondly, these are the Super Seniors.  Even if they wanted to, none of them are capable of doing anything fast anyway.  In fact, much of the time, it looks as though half of them are asleep.  I look to see if the dealer has a cattle prod or other special tools to wake up the players if they nod off before it’s their turn to act.

Nevertheless, we watch for awhile.

Russian girl – On my last night, there was a black-haired, very attractive Russian girl at the far end of the table.  She was gorgeous, in addition to being a decent, albeit just a bit too loose, poker player.  She was also flirting quite a bit with the Italian guy sitting next to her.  One of the players sitting closer to me said he thought he overheard her saying that she is a professional dancer, perhaps in the “Vegas showgirl” fashion.

I’m trying not to stare.  Then on one hand I have something decent and put out my standard pre-flop raise.  When the action gets to her, she makes a large re-raise.  Huh?  My cards a not strong enough to call a 3-bet from out-of-position (AJo?  KTs?  I don’t recall, but for this story it doesn’t matter.  Easy fold.).  Right before folding, I look at her to see if she might be giving off any physical tells that I can use later.  Her nipples are protruding.  She looks back at me and smiles slightly.

And then, BAM! it hits me.  This is fantastic.  I can stare at her for much longer than one or two seconds, enjoying her awesome beauty, while pretending to be pondering my next move.  I can stare without looking like I’m some creepy old man.  So I stare.  And stare some more.  Eventually, I peek again at my cards.  Still an easy fold.  I’ll stare just a bit more first.  Eventually she becomes just a bit self-conscious, looking back at me again only this time with a broad smile and goofy half-wave.  I wave back.  Finally I fold.

Awhile later, she raises me again.  “You are so hard to read,” I say this time.  Let the staring begin again.

Jim McManus & Peter Alson – On my last night there, still playing $1/3 no limit, the seat to my right opens up.  A few minutes later, a new player sits there in offers a handshake.  “Hi, I’m Jim from Chicago,” he says.  We shake, I introduce myself, and our poker game continues.  Jim from Chicago gives the chip runner $300, and soon his chips are delivered.  On the first hand he plays, he calls a $10 bet, then folds after the flop.  Jim pulls out his wallet, finds a $10 bill, and asks the dealer for another $10 in chips to top off his stack.

I understand why many players like to keep their stacks at the maximum buy-in level, but I’ve never, ever seen anyone do it like this after just one hand, where as a practical matter there is virtually no difference between $290 and $300.

A few hands later, Jim gets involved in another hand, putting in about $20 before folding.  Immediately, he pulls out his wallet again, and hands the dealer a $20 bill to ask for more chips please.  Pretty soon, it happens a 3rd time.  At this point, I’m thinking “what is it with this guy?”  Is he going to buy a few chips every single time he slips even slightly below $300?  Will he pull out $4 after he has to post his blind bets?  This is going to slow down play for everybody.

Within 15 minutes, he’s also complaining about how difficult it is to win a pot at this table.  Tell me about it, Jim!  I’ve been feeling pretty card dead for six days now.  But after awhile, he seems to get into the rhythm of the game and forget about topping off his stack at every opportunity.  I notice that he’s all the way down to about $260 and seems content.  Perhaps he’s noticed the Russian girl at the far end of the table.  She’s certainly hot enough to take the edge off most curmudgeons.  Another guy moves to Jim’s right and tells us a couple of jokes and stories, and that also seems to get Jim feeling better.

Then a friend of Jim’s comes over and pulls up a chair behind us, asking me if that’s OK.  Sure, fine.  We introduce ourselves, and his name is also Jim, also from Chicago.  Then another guy wanders over and chats with Jim for just a minute or two.  I recognize him – at least I think so – as author Peter Alson. A couple years ago, I read his book “Take Me to the River,” which chronicles his trip to the 2005 WSOP as a means of raising the funds to pay for his upcoming wedding.  It’s a wonderful book, well written, insightful and funny.  After he leaves, I comment to Jim that he looks familiar.  And Jim confirms that it was Peter Alson, and offers to call him back over and make introduce me.

Absolutely!  I ask the dealer to skip me for a few hands, and stand up to meet Peter and we talk for about 10 minutes.  I praise his writing style, remark how much I liked the ending of his book, both of which are sincere comments and both of which will endear me to him as I know how much writers like to hear compliments about their work.  He offers me a business card and wishes me luck at the tables.  For me, this chance conversation was a real treat, and I thank Jim profusely when I sit back down, again noting how much I enjoyed reading “Take Me to the River.”

Then Jim asks me if I’ve read his book.  Given that we are playing poker – at the lowest stakes in the room – I quickly assume he’s bullshitting me.  “You have a book?  Really?  Well have you read MINE?”  He goes on to tell me the title is “Positively Fifth Street.”  And his friend Jim #2 nods in affirmation.  Well, sorry but I’ve never heard of it.  I ask his last name since he never said it when we introduced ourselves earlier, and rather than say it, he spells it, M-C-M-A-N-U-S.  When I pronounce it, I must have accented the last part too hard in a manner that rhymes with ‘anus’ as he very sarcastically says, “Thanks a lot!!”  Whoops.

Embarrassingly, I cannot recall ever hearing of a poker writer named Jim McManus.  But a few minutes on the smart phone and Jim #2 pulls up a list of the 10 Most Important Poker Books of All Time (non-fiction narratives, not strategy books), according to WSOP’s Director of Media Relations, Nolan Dalla.  Not only is “Positively Fifth Street” on the list at #5, but Jim from Chicago has a second book on the list as well, “Cowboys Full” at #10.  And one of Peter Alson’s other books, “One of a Kind:  The Rise and Fall of Stuey ‘the Kid’ Ungar” also is there as an honorable mention (#4 is “The Biggest Game in Town” which I mentioned earlier in the Perry Green section of this post, the same Perry Green who was runner-up to Stu Ungar at the 1981 Main Event).  I don’t know why Jim is playing $1/3 with the pedestrians, but he is the only author with multiple books on Nolan Dalla’s list.  And tells me he has 15 career WSOP cashes, worth a total of $437,000+, including the final table at the 2000 Main Event.  Now I’m really embarrassed, but I turn on the charm to make it up a bit and promise to get and read them both.

And Jim #2, commenting on McManus’ occasional lack of charm (and stack topping-off habits), explains to me that back home, his friends refer to McManus as “Jimbo Sweetness.”  Yeah, I can see that.

For awhile there, I forget about the frustrations at the table all week, play the game, and continue to chat with Jim McManus and Jim #2 from Chicago.  They both seem to warm up to me when I tell them I come from a family of writers, with my father, step-mother and brother combining to publish over 20 books.

Food Vouchers – While I’m a member of Caesar’s Total Rewards club, there was no mechanism at the cash games ballroom to swipe a Total Rewards card, or otherwise accumulate any points toward food or other complimentary items.  So on about the 4th day, I asked the staff at the cash games registration desk if there was any benefit to being a Total Rewards member.  And learned that most of the floor supervisors had $10 food vouchers available to give out at their discretion.  You just have to ask, and better to ask nicely and discretely.

During the next 2 days, I secured $40 worth of vouchers, good for discounts at almost all of the food options within the Rio.

Note to self:  Next year, ask for food vouchers early and often!


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