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The Education of a Poker Player
Installment #11:

The ESPN Degree All-In Poker Challenge: Sunday Qualifier

Finished 45th of 1,500
Monday 25-Apr-2005
By Greg Mallon

I did not keep the statistics on this tournament, a mistake, but I did well so I thought I would try to recount the events. I’ve finished high in large tournaments before but I think this one was more meaningful since lately the competition has seemingly become very tough – my perception anyway. I’m really not surprised since the prize package is about $15,000, including the entry fee to the World Series of Poker (WSOP). I made the mistake of thinking that all I had to do was finish in the TOP 50, based on what ESPN was constantly saying. What I DID NOT realize was that, since there was so many participants and they decided to create three separate 1500 man tournaments (for the Sunday Qualifier), it was not the TOP 50 you needed to reach, but the TOP 15, or so. Bummer.

At any rate, I decided before-hand that I would just play solid poker and not press too hard. I would just try to make intelligent decisions and, assuming I get my fair share of cards, things should go well. This is of course assuming I know what I am doing. I realize I am a relative rookie to some, but I have been doing a lot of studying and it has clearly been paying off. The number one thing I have learned to implement is a great deal of patience – not pressing when you have only a slight edge early on. Also, not committing too much even when I may have a slight edge early on. If you are out of the tournament, you cannot win. Sounds very simple and it is true. You have to realize if your lose all your chips, your are OUT and it is over. Tournaments are not like a ring game where you may more often take advantage of a statistical edge, since over time – over the “long run”, that play will make you money. But the tournaments are not like that. And if you like playing tournaments, you must adjust to this.

So I play my version of solid poker, which means I was in very few hands, won very few pots, but the pots I did win, were substantial, and that kept in a situation where my chip stack continued to grow. At one point I was either the chip leader or close too it. My strategy was paying off. Actually, I should mention that early on in this tournament, I was a bit frustrated since, I played some pretty solid starting hands, but frequently got a “bad beat” on the river. That is, I made some reasonably good calls and still lost to players who, in my estimation, were playing a “roulette style” earlier trying to accumulate chips. You must be aware of this. Early in some of these tournaments, especially the so-called “free rolls”, there are a number of players who subscribe to the theory that “any two cards can win”. So even when you make a strong play for a pot, they may “incorrectly” CALL you and still win with dumb luck. It would not be so bad if only ONE player would call your strong move, but when two or three do this, you have put yourself at the mercy of luck. Unfortunately there is not too much you can do about this early in a “free roll” style tournament, but just realize it and play tighter than normal early – my opinion anyway. The reason I bring this up is because I was actually down to 600 chips (in serious danger) about a half hour into the tournament. But I decided to get a bit more aggressive, got some good cards and was back in the fight – and back to my “solid poker” strategy.

I participated in very few pots, but I was aggressive when I was in and began to steadily move up in chips. About 90 minutes in came the hand that would put me out of the tournament. I had about 35,000 in chips and I was dealt an A-K suited (hearts). I made more than a standard raise hoping to either steal the blinds or trim down the competition to just myself and another opponent. I was called by only one guy, one of the other chip leaders with about 38,000 in chips. The flop came down ten high, but I had four to a nut heart flush. I checked. The opponent threw out a bet of about 10,000. Now I had a decision. I had my over cards and a flush draw, a good number of cards would help me on the turn or river if I decided to continue. I decided that this might give me an opportunity to reach the final table if I won this hand and I had a very reasonable probability to do that. If I went all in and he called and I won, I would clearly be the chip leader and might be able to coast to the final 15. I had realized that only the final 15 would play for the WSOP prize package (and seat in Vegas). On an amusing side note: if I lost, then I would simply win a stick of “Degree Deodorant”. Talk about a stark difference in prizes. I decided to take this gamble and went All In, fully expecting to get called. The opponent did call and within seconds the turn and the river came up empty for me, no Ace, no King, no hearts.

I was out, but at least my underarms will smell nice.

©2005 by Gregory J. Mallon, PokerDecision.com, All Rights Reserved.
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