Those with a better understanding of economics, generally speaking -- and “poker economics” in particular -- can comment on this subject much better than I can. (Which is to say, most of you, probably.) But what I tend to hear is that the money doesn’t “trickle down” from higher stakes games to lower stakes games, but rather moves in the opposite direction. That is to say, the better players win at the lower stakes, then take the money out of that level and move it into the higher stakes games. There they either keep winning and moving up, or encounter still better players and lose, with the winners taking the money to the next highest level. And so forth.
Of course, this has to end somewhere, yes? A highest level where the money stays until someone leaves the game with it all?
When it comes to online poker, that level appears to be the so-called “nosebleed” games over on Full Tilt Poker. There the site has designated five different stakes: Micro, Low, Middle, High, and Ivey’s Room. The latter, named after Full Tilt pro Phil Ivey, of course, is where we find the toppermost games such as $500/$1,000 no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha.
Those who play in such high-stakes games are generally known quantities, either Full Tilt pros like Ivey, Patrik Antonius, Gus Hansen, or Tom Dwan, or other non-Full Tilters whose identities are generally understood by those involved. Thus it was a somewhat novel development a few weeks ago when a new player -- named “Isildur1” -- showed up relatively unannounced to challenge poker’s current royalty.
Even more curious, the player (from Sweden, it seems) began winning. Big time.
Isildur1 had first arrived on the site sometime in September, starting out at the $25/$50 NLHE tables. By October he had moved up to challenge the likes of Cole South, Brian Townsend, and Brian Hastings at the $200/$400 and $300/$600 PLO and NLHE tables. At the start of November, he appeared to have settled into Ivey's Room, ready to take on all comers.
By last week, Isildur1 had become the talk of the virtual town, having amassed over $5 million in profit while occasionally seen taking on Ivey, Antonius, and Dwan simultaneously at multiple tables. One particularly epic session of multi-tabling took place between Isildur1 and Dwan in which the unknown Swede took more than $3 million off of Dwan.
The player Haseeb "INTERNETPOKERS" Qureshi keeps a well-written blog for CardRunners where he is one of the site’s stable of pros, and early last week he wrote a thoughtful post (dated 11/17/09) about the Isildur1 phenomenon. Qureshi played (and lost) to Isildur1 as the latter was on his way up in stakes, and shares some thoughts about their match. But he also speaks thoughtfully about the significance of Isildur1’s sudden rise to prominence and how it affects the “mythology of online poker.” If you are at all interested in the Isildur1 phenomenon, Qureshi’s post is a good read.
On Saturday night I found myself railing the games in Ivey’s Room. I saw Isildur1 playing multiple tables versus Patrik Antonius and Phil Ivey while also participating in the $25,000 buy-in PLO heads-up tournament from which Isildur1 eventually busted in the quarterfinals. The games went back and forth for a while, then Isildur1 went on a big downswing, highlighted by a record-setting $1,356,946.50 pot won by Antonius (pictured at the top of the post).
In the hand, Antonius started with almost $1.26 million, while Isildur1 had just over $678,000. The buy-in at these $500/$1,000 PLO games is $200K, so that gives some indication of how well Antonius had been doing at this particular table versus Isildur1.
Most every hand between these two began with a pot-sized raise from the small blind/button, and this was no exception, with Isildur1 raising to $3,000. Antonius reraised pot to $9,000 -- something that happened, say, every fourth or fifth hand or so. Then Isildur1 reraised pot again to $27,000. That was relatively rare to see, but would happen every once in a while.
Then Antoinius reraised again to $81,000. I’d been watching the pair play four tables for the last hour or so, and I hadn’t seen that happen once. After thinking for a while, Isildur1 made the call.
With the pot already $162K, the flop came . Antonius requested time, then bet $91,000 -- a little over half the pot. Isildur1 then also requested time, ultimately raising to $435,000. Antonius reraised to $779,000, and Isildur1 called with his remaining $162,473.
Antonius held for a five-high straight. Isildur1 turned over for a big draw to a higher straight. Two Dimes says Antonius is 54.6% to win here and Isildur1 45.4%. The turn was the and the river the , and the Finnish pro’s hand had held. Total rake for the hand? Fifty cents.
By the end of Saturday, Isildur1 would lose something in the neighborhood of $3.3 million -- $2.1 mil to Antonius, and $1.2 mil to Ivey. Apparently he was back on last night to take on both Dwan and Ivey once again, and along the way won a $1,127,955 pot himself (vs. Ivey). Reports are Isildur1 got back something like $650-850K or so yesterday, all told.
Pretty surreal stuff, watching more than a million dollars sliding across the virtual felt like this. These games still haven’t quite reached the level of those “Andy Beal vs. the Corporation” limit hold’em matches of 2001-2004 in which the stakes got as high as $100,000/$200,000. Single pots frequently exceeded a million clams in those games, and multi-day sessions ended with swings of $10-15 million. Still somethin’ to see, tho’.
Who is Isildur1? Will he fully recover from Saturday’s setback? Or is he destined to go busto? If not, and the Swede takes all the big boys’ money, where will it go? Finally, to pose a question Qureshi does a good job addressing, what does it all mean?
Questions without answers, as yet. But we’ll keep watching.
Meanwhile, I’ll stick to my $25 buy-in PLO games. It’s relatively rare, but once in a while I’ll get involved in a pot as big as $135. I only have to win 10,000 of those to make what Antonius did in that one hand Saturday night.
(EDIT [added 1/3/10]: Per Pokerati, here is a cool video showing the big hand, plus a couple leading up to it as well as commentary:)