Saturday, July 03, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 36: On the Schneid

Bang Head Here“People are playing for their lives.”

Poker pro Tom Schneider said this to me over Sports Deli burgers at the Rio a couple of nights back. I first met Tom three years ago, just before he went on to win two WSOP bracelets and earn the WSOP Player of the Year title in 2007. He’s one of a growing number of players whom I’ve gotten to know over the last few years. Tom’s a funny, thoughtful guy whose book Oops! I Won Too Much Money is a good introduction both to his sense of humor and his insight.

Most would say Schneider has had a successful WSOP in 2010, having cashed four times in preliminary events. But Schneider knows that hasn’t been enough. For most pros like him who play lots of events, it really takes more than just earning a few relatively small cashes to offset buy-ins and expenses. “Have a bad WSOP and you really have a bad year,” he explained to me, highlighting the importance of these many tournaments piled on top of one another over the last five weeks.

Schneider could be forgiven for having been a little down about poker during our dinner. Just a couple of hours before, he’d been eliminated from the event I was covering, the last of the $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tourneys (Event No. 54). I’d actually had just happened to see his bustout hand from beginning to end, and had thus been able to report it over at PokerNews.

They had reached Level 5, the last level before the antes kick in, and Schneider was sitting on a little less than the starting stack. He had opened with a raise from middle position, and the player on the button reraised. I stood off to the side -- in fact Tom told me he didn’t even realize I’d been there -- and watched as it folded back to him. He paused a beat and said he was all in, exhaling the announcement in a way that made it seem like he wasn’t too happy to be getting his chips in here, but that he didn’t see he had any alternative available to him.

His opponent snap-called, and Schneider flipped over two black aces, getting a small reaction from the rest of the table. His opponent had two red jacks. But then the dealer delivered four hearts among the community cards, giving Schneider’s opponent a flush and sending him out of the event.

“That’s kind of how the whole Series has been for me,” said Schneider of the hand afterwards. He has a favorite saying he sometimes uses which seemed to apply here quite readily: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Poker is hard enough, but the chance element further challenges those who play the game well yet find themselves not being rewarded for doing so. Which happens. A lot. And in fact, there are more and more players playing well these days, much more than even just three years ago when Schneider won his bracelets and the WSOP POY.

But that general increase in the number of skilled players isn’t what Schneider was referring to when he said players were “playing for their lives.” He was referring to the poorer economy and the fact that many players are essentially now playing with their “case money” with no margin for error. Gone (for the most part) are the rich whales playing for fun and without much care about losing their buy-ins. The relative “stakes” are higher for everyone, it seems, whether the buy-in is $1,000 or $10,000.

I was back on Event No. 54 last night for Day 1b where I had an interesting interaction with one of the players which kind of reminded me of what Tom had said. We were getting close to the end of play, and he wanted to know both where he stood chip-wise versus the field as well as what the payouts were.

I showed him what those making the final table stood to make (from $570,960 for first down to $45,286 for ninth). Then I showed him what the minimum cash was ($1,868). Then he wanted to me to scroll back up to the range where he said he “needed” to finish. We got back up to the top 54 and that was where he said he had to get.

I looked at him and he confessed why it was he needed to come away from this $1,000 buy-in event with at least a $9,000 score. “I have to offset what I lost at craps,” he said with a mischievous grin.

Schneider doesn’t have that craps problem to add stress to his efforts at the WSOP. But he is struggling to break even here, as are so many other players. Indeed, for many the idea of breaking even has long been essentially abandoned, with only a deep Main Event run making that even possible.

Schneider did just that last summer, finishing 52nd in the ME and thereby making up for an otherwise not-so-hot WSOP (he’d just one small cash prior to the Main Event last year). I’ll be pulling for him and a lot of other folks next week when The Big One finally gets underway. Though I know it’ll be tough for all, given that everyone is fighting so hard. And the way good deeds (or plays) tend to get punished now and then.

Meanwhile, I’ll be back on Day 2 of Event No. 54 today, when the cash bubble will burst and the fight for bigger rewards will continue. Follow that one as well as the other final preliminary bracelet events (plus the Ante Up for Africa charity tourney) over at PokerNews’ live reporting.

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