My next event is always a marquee WSOP tournament for me: the $1500 Limit Hold’em. Granted, I’ve been playing mostly no limit cash games the last two years, but I spent almost all of my live cash game hours in limit Hold’em games the 17 years before that. It’s surely my best game and I figure most of the elite mix game pros don’t spend much time playing it.
I started off keeping notes for this tourney, but it didn’t last long. I felt like I was the strongest player at my starting table but a solid margin so I was playing a lot of pots and by the first break I had already increased my 25k starting stack to 34.1k and soon after hit a WSOP limit event peak of 41.4k.
With roughly 45 tables in play and some 450 players left, my table either broke or I got high-carded to a new table and one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me in a WSOP event happened:
I got seated on Joker’s immediate left. For the rest of the night. I was having a good day and after nine levels of play I had built my stack up to 52.9k and Joker had his at 37.1k. We actually did a fair amount of battling too. I should have probably at least kept notes on those hands. The only one I remember distinctly was raising under the gun with JJ, the next player called two bets cold (wearing an honorary Team Torch patch!) and then Joker 3-bet his big blind like an absolute psycho. I know this range is strong as hell, so I just called and so did our third opponent. The flop was Q52 and when Joker led out, I raised it to try and get the pot heads up. Perhaps this is foolish considering the range Joker is repping. He’s probably not betting that flop with AK. But he would bet it with TT, so raising can’t be that bad. The third player called though and Joker punished me with a 3-bet. I peeled looking for a jack only on the turn, but it was a 7 so I folded and Joker got raised by the other player in the pot. He ended up calling down and getting shown a set of fives.
Both of us managed to build our stacks a little over the next three levels and going into the last break of the night I had 58k and Joker had 41k. And this is where our fortunes completely switched course. I got absolutely decimated over the last three levels and Joker crushed. I ended up bagging a measly 10k in chips and Joker bagged 135k. I barely had one big bet left and Joker was top 15 in chips.
I was pretty much counting myself out as I’d need to win several hands in a row to even think about being back in contention in this tournament. In another improbable turn of events, Joker started Day 2 seated on my immediate left. I was positive he was going to be the one to knock me out because when I put chips in the pot, he usually can’t help but wake up with some sort of hand.
To make matters worse, I started under the gun on the first hand. I was going to have to put it in with anything reasonable or go all in from the big blind on the next hand. I ended up getting a piece of cheese and taking my chances in the big blind. It folded around to the small blind and I snap-called blind when he put me all in. I turned over the absolutely beautiful T4o vs his J7o and flopped a ten and turned him dead for a double up. Then I picked up JJ vs AK and won that race for another full double and found myself at 42k and halfway to an average stack! The ball really got rolling for me when I played a 3-bet pot with 88 against KK and flopped a set for another full double up. This had me at 82.5k when the average stack was 102k and feeling like I was really back in this thing. By the end of the first two levels, I had dipped down to 60k and Joker had surged to 265k, about double the average stack with 100 left and 79 of us making the money.
My rise continued after the break and I rather comfortably made the money and when the bubble burst, I found myself sitting on an average stack, in position to actually make a deep run. Plus, Joker and I were getting some coverage from PokerNews.
After four hour long levels, I was nearing 200k and Joker had a massive 325k stack with 58 players remaining. Meanwhile, our friend Lee Markholt, #2 on Washington’s all-time money list, had a massive stack that was near the chip lead. So three of us PNW boys were in the hunt with less than 60 players left. We had tried to get Lee to wear a patch but he said he needs to get paid to do so. I was like, “bro.” BROW. Come on.
Joker and I eventually switched tables and I ended up on the right of 2015 Main Event winner Joe McKeehen. I’ve actually played with Joe before and I don’t think he said a word to anyone the whole time. That’s the kind of dude I expected him to be. This time was a completely different experience. First, he said something to the dude to his left about a tweet Brock Parker made thinking that he was Brock (he wasn’t) and then said, “and that’s why I never talk to people.” I was watching a hand he played and he was wondering if he took a different line if he would have saved a bet and I commented that it would have saved him half a bet because his opponent never bets the river and he agreed. After that, Joe didn’t stop talking to me for hours. I guess he felt like I knew my limit Hold’em? It was strange, because I’ve always heard he basically doesn’t like anyone, but here he was yapping away at me to the point where I was thinking, “dude… give me a break.” Plus, he’s a mumbler so I kept having to ask him to repeat himself. One thing he did mention to me was that I needed to stop defending my big blind. It made me think… in cash games, I’m a liberal blind defender. Anything connected, most suited hands, anything remotely playable, I’m seeing a flop – especially from mid-to-late position openers. But the thing about poker tournaments is that you can’t put more chips on the table and playing marginal hands out of position can be very costly – and unlike a no limit format, the implied odds of making the best hand are limited to the fixed bet sizes. The lesson: tighten up from the big blind, avoid those marginal spots, and save your chips for when you have the range and positional advantage. It makes sense to me. Thanks, champ!
Here’s a key hand I played vs. Joe that he said I played perfectly and that he thought he could arguably fold preflop:
In a shocking turn of events, Joker busted out in 38th place and I had 240k with average stack at 350k as I headed to dinner break with 35 players left. Just goes to show how swingy tournament poker is and how important it is to have a chip and a chair. Joker started the day with a top 10% stack and I had to put my tournament life on the line the second hand of the day with two random cards. And six hours later, he was out and I still had a chance to win a bracelet. Wild stuff.
The pot that unofficially ended my run in this tournament was when I opened with the JJ under the gun and only the big blind called. The flop came KQx and I checked back. The turn was a blank and I called a bet. The river was also a blank and I called another bet and lost to K3. Maybe I can save a bet on the river – especially with two straight draw blockers – but I feel like my hand is too good to fold when I check back the flop and show weakness. The whole point of that line is to get to showdown cheaply and/or pick off bluffs.
I didn’t note any of the hands I’m talking about, but here’s what my input in the Team Torch chat looks like over the next 50 minutes:
And that was that. 28th place for $3900 and probably the least annoyed I’ve ever been busting a WSOP event. Why? Because I had no chance at the start of Day 2! And I made a deep run. And I sat right next to one of my best friends (and worst enemies) for most of the tournament! It was an absolute blast and an experience I hope we get to duplicate many times over the next several years. You know, if Joker can ever escape from Arkham for more than a few weeks each summer.