Saturday, September 25, 2004

$8,000 Guaranteed

I left my notes at home and since I'm writing this at work the specifics may be a little off. I played in my biggest cash tournament last night, a guaranteed $8,000 payout at Absolute. I hadn't intended to play but when I saw it listed and that only around 340 players were signed up I decided to pony up my $22 for a piece of the overlay action. I'm glad I played as I was really able to gage my progress in the no limit tournament arena. The payout structure seemed a bit odd to me. They paid out to 46th place, but from 34-46 the payout was only $12.40. This made no sense to me, perhaps this is the way these things generally work but if your going to make the money, at least make it slightly more than the buy-in, even if fewer players get paid. I was shooting to at least make 34th so I could double my money and then work to the top 2.

I tried to start out the tournament like I do all the lower buy in ones but I quickly found that more players were willing to push back at me than I was used to. This put me a little on guard and my game got very weak/tight. My stack wasn't decimated early but I was certainly losing more than I was winning. I admit to feeling a little bullied and I was giving into that feeling. I really was giving into the other players and didn't believe I had the cards to push back. I was then slapped in the face, and boy did I need that to wake me up. I was dealt within the last 1/2 of the first session, KK, AA twice, and was either all in or had someone all in preflop each time. All three hands held up and I found myself the chip leader of my table at the first break.

Nothing like a good run of cards to boost ones confidence. I need to address the hole in my game where I pull back into a shell early. Fortunately I now had enough chips to bring me around. It is how I played to the second break that really allowed me to be impressed with my progress as a player. I had some good cards but it was how I played my draws and busted draws that allowed me to maintain a good chip stack. I found myself able to play a board postflop in a manner that I haven't ever found myself doing before. I was reading the betting patterns in a way that, not 100% of the time, but most of the time I could tell if a player had made their hand or not. This seems elementary and at a limit table it is a little more obvious but at the no limit level things are quite a bit trickier. I was able to use this knowledge to push opponents even when I had missed my draw by representing the best hands. Now this does not mean going all in or even betting overly large amounts. The patterns that develop during the hand will lead you to the correct amount. I was able to bet just the minimum at times on the river knowing that the player would fold his hand, even though the player had called 5x that bet amount earlier. I don't advocate doing this often. In fact I didn't have to do it very often at all but this second sight allowed me to maintain and even slightly build my stack. You should never, unless virtually 100% sure of the outcome, risk your tournament chances on this type of play. I still believe it is better to maintain a prudent chip stack size at all times, but as a player you constantly here that postflop play is even more important that preflop hand selection. I always thought this must be true since so many people were saying it but I can't say I "understood" it until last night. The key to future success will be if I can maintain the clarity that came to me last night.

After the second break I was still the chip leader at my table but then things began to head a little south. The great run of cards I had during the first session were now all gone and my stack was starting to slowly dwindle. With the blinds getting to near unmanageable amounts for a small stack I went on the aggressive and built back up to just over an average size amount. That is when it happened. We were into the money but I was still shy of my doubling up goal. I held a little over 11,000 chips which wasn't the biggest stack at the table but close enough that if anyone challenged me all in and lost they would be crippled. I was in MP and dealt AKo. The short stack at the table who was under the gun raised the minimum amount. It was folded to me and this is what my thought process was.

I didn't put the small stack on a big pair. If he had that he would just go all in. He was short enough that a big stack would more than likely call so that's his best play. A minimum raise usually only thins the heard slightly and you end up with two or three callers. You don't want anyone drawing out on your big pair so unless your playing incorrectly this is a bad move. I held the AK so I'm putting him on a small pocket pair or maybe two face cards at best. My only thought here is to go all in over the top of the short stack. He is going to call me. He has to with his short stack and even if I lose, which I don't believe I will, I will still be in good shape. I don't want to just call or only bet enough to put the short stack all in as I don't want any callers. If I move all in I don't really expect to be called since we are so close to the money jump. If I do I'm still in decent shape with outs so I proceed with my master plan. All goes well until we hit the small blind. He calls the all in. I have him covered but if I lose I'll be down to only about 2,500 chips and with the blinds getting ready to move to 500/1,000 that won't be a good thing. The original raiser calls.

When the cards are flipped up I was correct with my read on the raiser as he shows 77, the small blind though dominates me with the AA. I get a K on the flop but couldn't find another one and the chips slide across the table. No matter how much I replay this I still believe it was the right move for me to make. Holding AK the odds of an AA out there are pretty small. Obviously it happens but you can't play scared like that if you want to win a big one. I ended out at 41st when forced to go all in in the big blind and found my K9o against AQo. Neither of us paired up but he didn't have to so I left a little disappointed. It sucked to feel I played my best ever and yet still lost. If I can play this way in the days to come I'll hit a big one, it's only a matter of time.