Wednesday, August 30, 2006

WSOP Final Table Hand No. 60: Riding the Rush?

Rush, 'Moving Pictures'Before reaching that huge hand between Jamie Gold and Richard Lee I found one other interesting hand involving two of the short stacks. Figures I would. To paraphrase a Chandler short story title, shorts stacks is my business.

On the prior hand, Michael Binger had doubled up through Allen Cunningham thanks to a fortunate draw. Down to about 3 million (7th out of 7), Binger had raised to 700,000 UTG. (The blinds at this level were 100,000/200,000 with a 30,000 ante.) It folded around to Cunningham who called from the big blind. Cunningham checked the QJ8 flop, Binger moved all-in, and Cunningham called with ace-queen. Binger had ace-ten, and luckily for him a king came on the turn, filling his gutshot.

Now comes Hand No. 60. Binger is now the big blind, and his 6 million puts him in 5th place. At this point the seven players have essentially divided into upper and lower divisions, with Gold (37 million), Richard Lee (20 million), and Cunningham (11.5 million) all with large stacks and Douglas Kim, Binger, Rhett Butler, and Paul Wasicka all with short stacks (from 3 to 7 million).

As the hand begins, we watch from overhead as Binger carefully stacks his new chips into a symmetrical arrangement. Doyle Brunson is in the booth answering questions about the H.O.R.S.E. event. It folds around to Paul Wasicka on the button. Wasicka looks at his cards and spends twenty seconds or so counting out part of his chips before announcing he’s all-in. Cunningham folds in the small blind and the action is on Binger.

Binger looks at his cards and it is immediately apparent that whatever he has, he’s not ready to fold it instantly. He scratches his forehead and looks worriedly over in Wasicka’s direction. He rubs his eyes and audibly exhales. He momentarily bends forward and covers both ears with the palms of his hands. In short, he looks like a poor sap who has finally gotten up the gumption to ask his best girl to marry him and she just said let me think about it . . . .

In all, Binger deliberates about 30 seconds or so before finally saying “I call” and turning over his hand -- Ah9s . Wasicka turns over AdJc , and Binger says “damn,” grimacing and shaking his head as if he’s trying to undo what he’s just done. “I can’t believe the ace-nine called here, do you, Doyle?” asks Gordon. (Brunson later says he’d rather have two face cards in that spot, “’cause the other guy figgers to have an ace.”) Nejad correctly notes that even if Wasicka didn’t have an ace here, Binger wouldn’t have been that big of a favorite against any two random cards. All agree the call was a major miscalculation by Binger.

The board comes AcAs8s5cTc , and Wasicka has doubled up to 6.7 million or so. Meanwhile Binger has landed right back where he was two hands earlier, in last place with less than 3 million.

Is there any defense for Binger’s play here? Perhaps not. I’ll offer what I think might be a partial explanation, though . . . .

When Wasicka moved all-in from the button, it was the fifth time he’d made a large preflop raise from late position (always from the button or the cutoff). That’s out of eight orbits or so. Binger is in the small blind when Wasicka is in the cutoff seat and in the big blind when Wasicka is on the button, thus making Binger acutely aware of what Wasicka has been doing. Having lost his blinds four times already, Binger had probably already thought to himself that the next time Wasicka pulled that move and he had any kind of hand at all, he’d consider looking him up. The fact that he had just doubled his stack perhaps made him even more eager to entertain the idea (since prior to Hand no. 59 he and Wasicka had been essentially even in chips the entire evening).

I really don’t think Binger was “riding the rush” here and acted recklessly after winning his first big pot of the night. No, I think his call was very likely at least somewhat premeditated. Of course, A9-offsuit is hardly the ideal hand with which for him to have made this play. But we’ve all been there . . . you’ve picked up an opponent’s betting pattern and have convinced yourself precisely how best to exploit it, but when the opportunity comes around certain factors (e.g., other players’ actions, your starting hand, what happened the hand before, etc.) compromise the play. All in all, I’m not faulting Binger too terribly here. Think how hard it would be to make correct decisions with all the various pressures (the money, the cameras, etc.). How’s it go? Living on a lighted stage approaches the unreal for those who think and feel . . . ?

Also worth noting here is how smartly Wasicka appears to have played his short stack during the latter stages of the tourney. Recall he was the player who began day 7 (the next-to-last day) way down in 24th place (out of 27) and managed to claw his way to the final table. While Gold’s successful handling of the big stack is getting most of the attention, Wasicka’s short-stack play during the last two days of the tourney is probably also worth some praise. (I believe I’ve read somewhere how Wasicka somehow managed never once to call a river bet at the final table, but I haven’t checked that out.)

Hand No. 122 coming up.

Image: Rush, Moving Pictures (1981) (adapted), Amazon.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

WSOP Final Table Hand No. 22: Just In Case

Shamus watches the WSOP final tableThe blinds are still 80,000/160,000 with a 20,000 ante. For the three main players in this hand, Gold has around 27.5 million in chips, Cunningham has 16.7 million, and Erik Friberg 7.5 million. Gold limps in from UTG, Friberg calls from middle position, and Cunningham also calls from the button. “Oh boy, here we go,” says Gordon when Cunningham calls. Cunningham has only voluntarily put money in the pot once during the night’s first 21 hands (a brief battle of the blinds with Michael Binger in hand no. 13), so the mere fact that he’s entered a hand warrants our attention. Douglas Kim checks his option from the big blind, and the four see a flop of 8h9h9d.

Kim checks and then Friberg -- his view of the chip leader perhaps being obscured by Gold’s enormous stack of chips -- accidentally checks out of turn. “I didn’t check,” says Gold, and Friberg apologizes. “It’s all right . . . you didn’t see,” Gold replies. He then bets 1 million. With minimal deliberation, Friberg calls. “This the man who checked out of turn?” asks Cloutier (still in the booth with Gordon and Nejad). When Gordon confirms, Cloutier claims “I haven’t seen that play before.”

If the check out of turn were intentional, Friberg’s call doesn’t seem that odd. With that flop, he could well have a nine or a strong draw and now believes he’s induced a bluff from Gold. However, watching the action, it really doesn’t appear Friberg meant to check out of turn. I’m guessing he has some kind of draw and is willing here to commit the 15% or so of his stack in order to see the turn (barring, of course, a reraise from Cunningham). [EDIT (added 9/28/06): As ESPN's edited version of the final table reveals, Friberg indeed had reason to pay to see that turn card -- he held QhJh, thus giving him an open-ended straight flush draw.]

Cunningham also calls. When he does, Cloutier says to “watch out,” because he’s likely strong. “When he’s not doing the leading,” says Cloutier, Cunningham “is very very dangerous.”

The turn brings the 5s and Gold quickly says “check check” while looking at Cunningham. I’m not certain, but I think Gold might be implying that he’s confident Friberg is going to check behind him. In any event, it is pretty clear that Gold is primarily concerned with Cunningham here. Friberg indeed checks, and Cunningham fires out 2.5 million (into the 3.8 million pot). Gold calls quickly and Friberg folds.

The river is the As. Gold checks. The announcers are now convinced Cunningham has a nine. (They don’t offer to guess what Gold has.) “Will he bet for value?” asks Gordon. Cunningham bets 2 million -- less than 25% of the pot. Definitely appears to be a value bet. Gold swiftly puts down his water bottle and with a “what-can-I-do?”-type gesture says “I gotta nine . . . I gotta call you.” Gold shows the T9 (we don’t see the cards), Cunningham slowly mucks, and Gold slaps his hands together, yelling “Yes!” The pot he’s won is something like 12 million, thus far the biggest pot of the night (and maybe the entire tournament).

“They’ve asked to see Allen’s cards,” says Gordon, and we learn he held 97. (It isn’t clear who asked to see Cunningham’s cards, though I imagine it was probably Gold.) Gold then is shown telling Kim (on his right) that if Cunningham had gone all-in on the river he would probably have folded, fearing a boat. Cunningham looks dismayed -- I think he's genuinely surprised Gold had the case nine. But Cloutier quickly points out “You know, he [Cunningham] is supposed to have lost more money in that pot.” Cunningham is now in third with 12 million, and Gold is up to 34.5 million. It takes Gold a couple of hands to finish stacking all of his chips.

I’m sure Cunningham thought he was good after the river and indeed was betting for value. Even if going all-in might have bought him the pot, doing so with just a set doesn't seem like a realistic option for Cunningham at this point. I can’t tell if Friberg’s out-of-turn check after the flop had any real effect on how the hand played out. It seems to me that Gold would’ve probably put in his bet of 1 million (about a third more than the size of the pot at the time) no matter what, and Cunningham would’ve probably still just smooth called.

Cunningham was indeed fortunate not to lose more on the hand. But was it skillful play that kept him from being crippled here? If he had Gold on a busted draw or an eight or an ace -- which is what I think Cunningham was probably thinking -- I imagine he would’ve played the hand identically. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that having position -- more than anything else -- is what enabled Cunningham to escape the hand without greater damage. In other words, I don’t really think Cunningham was betting 2 million on the river “just in case” Gold had him beat.

And what about Gold’s play? His caution following that initial flop bet appears to make sense here, but could he have gotten more out of Cunningham on this hand (as Cloutier seems to be implying by his comment)?

During the subsequent break Gordon talks about how some viewers had been emailing in their thoughts about this hand. Gordon is now saying that he questions Cunningham’s 2 million river bet, claiming that he could only be called by a hand that beats him. Perhaps. (Or could Gold call there with aces up?)

The next hand I want to talk about is probably going to be Hand No. 122, the one involving Gold and Richard Lee and what I think turned out to be the biggest pot of the entire tourney. Still have four hours and eighty hands to watch first, though, so there may be another interesting one before I get there . . . .

Photo: Tom Neal from the 1945 film Detour (adapted), public domain.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

WSOP Final Table Hand No. 5: The Mighty Ducks

Had a buddy pass my way a copy of the ESPN telecast of the WSOP Main Event final table. I began watching it yesterday . . . it will probably take me a week to get through this sucker. I’ve only seen the first ninety minutes or so, but my initial impression of the telecast is favorable. Both Phil Gordon and Ali Nejad seem to be doing a good job explaining and commenting on the action. So far they’ve interviewed WSOP Commish Jeffrey Pollack and T.J. Cloutier. The interview with Pollack didn’t add much to the show (or to my previous knowledge), but Cloutier’s contributions were enlightening. (When isn’t Cloutier enlightening, really . . . ?)

As I slowly work through the marathon program, I thought I’d discuss here a few of the more interesting hands. All of the ones I’m choosing to write about qualify as “what-would-you-do”-type hands -- they all have at least one (and sometimes more than one) moment where a player might easily have played the hand differently, I think. (By the way, CardPlayer has a hand-by-hand rundown of the entire final table, something I’ve been consulting now and then as I watch whenever it isn’t crystal clear what is happening on screen.)

The first hand I want to discuss is Hand No. 5. Jamie Gold (with over 27 million chips, about 10 million clear of Allen Cunningham in second) smooth calls the 160,000 big blind from UTG+1. (Gold does quite a bit of calling from early position at the final table, a strategy that has drawn a lot of varied reaction.) When calling, Gold has that same bored-looking expression he often seems to have whenever he first gets involved in a hand. The table folds around to Dan Nassif on the button. Nassif is the short stack with only 2.5 million or so. He looks at his cards, takes a sidelong glance in Gold’s direction, then announces a raise to 700,000. The blinds both fold and the action is on Gold.

Gold points and asks Nassif how much he has left. Nassif counts it up and together they estimate he has about 1.6 million left. Nassif doesn’t look nervous, but he doesn’t really look like he wants Gold to call. Gordon suggests that Nassif should have reraised all-in, since “he’s pot-committed, anyway” here. As Gold contemplates, Nejad tells how two days before Gold had called Pralad Friedman’s all-in bet of 1.7 million while only holding 78-offsuit. (The flop came 654 and Friedman was out in 20th place.) Gold makes the call. Then, just a moment before the dealer turns over the three flop cards, Gold announces “I check.”

The flop is 2c3s5s. Nassif pauses and quietly says “I’m all in.” Gold quickly calls, rising from his seat as he does. Nassif has a sheepish grin on his face and actually says “you flopped a set” even before Gold reveals his cards: 2h2s. Nassif was right. Meanwhile he's way behind with the AcKd.

Gold and Nassif immediately walk toward each other and start discussing their preflop thought processes. Gold explains how he had to call Nassif and how he knew if he hit the flop they’d both be putting in all of their chips. Nassif readily agrees that he was going all-in regardless of what had come out on the board (if Gold had checked, I assume . . . or perhaps even if Gold had bet). They continue to talk as the dealer prepares to reveal the turn card. Gold tells Nassif that he would have folded had Nassif gone all-in preflop. “You gotta move with that . . . you priced me in,” Gold explains. I don’t hear all of what Nassif is saying, but from his tone it sounds like he’s in agreement.

The turn is the Ah, which Gold correctly says “was a good card” for him. Now Nassif can only chop if the 4 does happen to come. Gold and Nassif appear to have established a relationship of sorts, and it actually sounds like Gold tells Nassif to be sure to give him his phone number. “Give him the four,” pleads Gold. “I want him to stay around.” The river is the Ts, and Gold gives Nassif a hug. “I had a blast,” says Nassif as he shakes hands with all of the other players.

It’s hard to know, frankly, whether the hand might have turned out differently had Nassif gone all-in preflop. Given how Gold played during the next few orbits, I tend to believe him when he says he would’ve folded his ducks. Most accounts characterize Gold as sometimes acting the part of the reckless bully with his big stack at the final table, but so far I'm not seeing him going out of his way to give any “courtesy double-ups.” (At least here during the first hour or so of play, anyway.) I could be wrong, of course. It would have been interesting to see if after checking in the dark Gold would’ve called Nassif’s all-in without having flopped his set.

Should Nassif have gone all-in? Would you have? And what about that check in the dark? Worked out beautifully for Gold here, but is it a recommended play?

The next hand I’ll discuss is the first big pot in which Allen Cunningham gets involved. And again, as is the case with just about every big pot at that final table, Gold is there, too.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Three is a Magic Number

Tried another SNG (my fifth over the past week). After taking a 3rd and a 1st in the first two, I’d failed to cash in the last two. Perhaps the third time would be the charm. I played another $5.00+$0.50 (limit, 9-handed) on Stars. I'm not planning to narrate every one of these, but this one ended up being so wild I couldn’t resist sharing.

First hand of the tournament. I get the button and am dealt JhJs. My initial response is to feel slightly uneasy. Pocket jacks on level 1 sometimes spells an invitation to danger. Sort of like having the boss’s wife openly flirt with you at the Christmas party. Steel yourself, Shamus. Remember, it’s not worth it . . . .

Then I remember this is a limit SNG. Mathematically impossible to bust on the first hand. By the time the action gets around the table to me, I’m feeling stout enough to reraise (properly) the cutoff who raised following two limpers. Everyone, including both blinds, calls my three-bet, so we have five players and a pot of 300. Flop is 6h3dJc and everyone checks to me. I bet, and three of the other four call. The turn is the Jd. Oof! Quads. It checks around to me and I decide to check as well, hoping somebody makes something on the river so I can get some action here. (Not necessarily the correct play, but the stakes are only 20/40 and I’m not making a lot on this hand anyway unless someone hits something . . . I’m pretty sure no one else cared much for that second jack on the board.) The river was the 5c, and I got two check-callers (one with 85 and the other with 64). I win a not-so-bad pot of 560 chips, and am up to 1,940 right away.

I take a larger pot on the first hand of level 2 when (again from the button) I’m able to win a hand with KQ without showing, boosting me up to 2,410. Then, before level 2 is completed, I get dealt KK not once, but twice -- and lose both hands. On the first one I had three players call my preflop raise, and the one with A5 flopped an ace and turned a five. On the second I had four callers and when the board came 5h9h6d7s I got out in the face of a reraise (the hand was won by the player to my left who cold-called me with 58-offsuit). Even after having cowboys cracked twice within five hands, I still had 1,960 chips (and the lead), and was feeling pretty good about how I'd handled things so far.

The game calmed down a bit. I won a few small pots and lost a few, staying out of the way mostly while five players went to the rail. We were at Level 5 (stakes 150/300) when I picked up KsAs in the small blind. I was down at that point to 1,448 chips. It folded around to me and I raised, and the big blind (then chip leader with 5,642) called. The flop was 5cAh2s. I bet, he called. The turn: Kc. Nice. I bet, he called. Must have an ace, I thought. Or perhaps a gutshot and picked up a club draw here or something. I’m also thinking this is the hand where I’m gonna get healthy. The turn is the 3d and I mindlessly bet again only to be raised. Immediately I regretted putting out the bet, but realistically hadn't many options at the moment I had. Now I'm looking at a measly 398 chips left, and so can put in 300 to call or just be done with it right here. Perversely I decide just to call and he shows 3h3c. Criminy! I’m down to 98 chips.

Next hand I’m dealt 2dAd. All in! Wheeee! Two others call, and they both check it down as the cards come 2hTs2s . . . 7s . . . 2c. Lord. Quads again. If I’d saved a bet on the river the previous hand, I’d probably have 600 more chips here, but no matter. I’m up to a robust 294 chips.

Hand after next I get Ad8c and I’m all in again. An eight falls on the turn, and that’s good enough to beat my two opponents in the hand, both of whom had small pocket pairs. A few hands later I’m up to 1,070. Meanwhile the other short stack had started to drop, actually slipping down below me to 608 chips. (The other two left were around 8,000 and 3,000.) I may actually cash in this sucker, I thought. I soon get QsAs in the cutoff and raise it up. Mr. Eight Thousand calls me from the button, then the other short stack reraises, leaving himself only 158 chips. I call as does the chip leader, and the flop comes 5hAc Qh. Sweet. The short stack predictably puts out the bet of 150 and I smooth call, wanting to keep the big stack in this hand. He calls. I’m not only gonna knock out bubble boy, but this hand is gonna get me in a position to do better than third. The turn is the 3c and the short stack puts in his last eight chips. I raise, the big stack folds, and we show our cards. What does he have? 3h3d. No! The river is a meaningless king and I’m back to square one (with 462 chips).

“Threes killin’ me,” I type. No one responds. They're no doubt glad to see me bumped two hands later with 98-suited.

The last round of hands having been such a crapshoot, I wasn’t that upset at having bubbled. I played fairly well, I thought -- though hardly perfectly -- and if not for those sets of treys I’d have easily made the money, probably making at least second. Encouraging enough to keeping trying, I think.

Lately I’ve also taken a couple of shots in those crazy Turbo-FPP satellites for the WCOOP. Got sort-of-deep in one (finishing around 20th in a field of 135; needed to make the top four to qualify, though). I have enough FPPs to try again, so we’ll see. I would say the third time is the charm, but I have to say I'm having mixed feelings about the number three just now . . . .

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