Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 46: The Odd Couple

The Odd CoupleYesterday was Day 3 of the 2010 WSOP Main Event, the day when all the players finally came together.

Of course, when I say the players were “together” they were still spread out pretty far.

The Amazon room, which I’ve heard can seat up to 1,089 players, was filled to capacity. And the Pavilion, which has something like 257 tables set up, looked to be about three-fourths full of Main Event players when we began yesterday.

There were 2,557 total runners to start the day, and the bustouts came quickly. In just eight hours of play, they’d made it down to less than half that total, with a little over 1,200 players making it through the last hand of the night with chips.

PokerNews had the full court press on yesterday, with all available bloggers and reporters working. Even then, it was a challenge. For instance, there were two of us -- me and a field reporter -- covering about 50 tables to start the day over in the Pavilion. By mid-afternoon, though, the tables in our section began to break elsewhere, and so as the day wore on things became more manageable.

Probably the most interesting table we had was one at which sat both 2002 WSOP Main Event champion Robert Varkonyi and Vanessa Selbst, positioned on either side of the dealer. The two players couldn’t be more different, both in terms of their personalities and reputations. I am a fan of both, actually -- for different reasons -- and so enjoyed watching the two of them play.

Varkonyi, the amateur who won the WSOP just before the Moneymaker boom, continues to play the Main Event each year and occasionally will show up for other tourneys here and there. But he’s always retained that amateur status; he even jokingly said something at the table last night about how he’s “new to the game.” He’s a soft-spoken guy who generally seems desirous to avoid conflict, if possible.

In other words, he seems like the sort of player Selbst consistently runs over. I actually helped report on Selbst’s WSOP bracelet win in 2008 -- one of my favorite events I’ve covered, in fact -- the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha event in which her aggressive style served her well. Unlike Varkonyi, Selbst’s reputation as a sound, tough player is unquestioned. That is to say, even though relatively speaking she’s only been a pro for a short time (just a few years), no one would ever even joke about her being “new” to the game.

One could probably pursue the contrast further by bringing gender into the discussion, and perhaps characterize Selbst’s style as including so-called “masculine” tendencies (aggression, competitiveness) while Varkonyi could even be said to have “feminine” traits (passivity, conflict avoidance).

But I won’t go too far down that road. The culture creates these so-called “gender roles,” of course, and also tends to criticize -- unfairly, in my opinion -- those who exhibit tendencies usually associated with the other sex (i.e., a “masculine” woman or a “feminine” man). You get my point, though, I hope. Two very different people. And players.

And, as I say, I like them both, though for different reasons. Varkonyi just seems like a friendly guy with a very good perspective both on his own abilities and his place in the poker world. I probably identify with his still being an amateur (and being humble about it). And Selbst is an intelligent, clever player whom one cannot help but respect. With her I am probably more awed and fascinated to see (and maybe learn from) the plays she makes.

So it was particularly interesting to see this odd couple get involved in an odd couple of hands with big pots in which their differences seemed to be highlighted.

I’m not going to go through both hands in full detail here -- you can read the reports on the PokerNews live blog, if you’re curious (linked to below). The first was delivered to me by my field reporter, Dave, and the second I saw for myself. Both eventually had Varkonyi all in, and both resulted in chopped pots as the two players held the same hand.

In the first one, both players made the same straight on the turn, which was the current nuts. There was a third player involved in the hand who led with a bet, Varkonyi called, and Selbst raised. The other player folded, and Varkonyi took several minutes before reraising all in. Selbst snap-called, and was surprised to see Varkonyi had the same hand. Indeed, it was strange that he’d tanked like that having the best possible hand.

In the second hand, the pair were the only two involved. Varkonyi had raised from the cutoff and Selbst called from the button. They each flopped top pair of queens, but kings came on both the turn and river. Still, they made it to the end with Varkonyi pushing all in and Selbst taking a long time before making a very tough call.

Both hands -- especially the second one -- were ones that kind of fell into that “strange but true” category of hands that can be challenging to report. I wrote about that subject last summer in a post titled “Seeing Is Believing.” Actually the only real strange thing about the first one was Varkonyi’s tanking before reraising all in, but the second one involved some interesting thinking from both players that could have helped explain how the hand went.

But that’s where the reporter has to pull back -- we can’t explain what players are thinking, even if we’re tempted to do so.

Today I imagine the Amazon room will be filled, and there will be about a dozen tables or so over in the Pavilion which will be the first to break. The money bubble will burst sometime in the late afternoon or early evening, which in some ways is the most exciting moment of the Main Event other than the final table. Head over to PokerNews to see how it all plays out.

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Blogger Tim Peters said...

Hi Shamus.

You write "But that's where the reporter has to pull back -- we can't explain what players are thinking, even if we're tempted to do so."

I cannot emphasize enough how important this is to those reading journalistic accounts of poker hands or hearing/seeing them on TV. I cringe whenever Norman Chad (whom I generally like) says something like "Great read by Antonio..." because he cannot possibly know if that's correct. It might be a great read, it might be a mistake, it might be a frustration call.

The hand you cite, about top pair (Qs) with a K-K turn river, is a great hand. Most of would wonder how a lot of people could call that bet from Varkonyi (he certainly exudes a tightness in person), but Selbst may have noticed something a dozen hands before--a hundred hands before--that enabled her to make the correct call.

Anyway, I'm glad you point out that you can't explain with the players are thinking because it is so true and so often missed.

Sorry I didn't see you back in June at the Rio...next time!


7/13/2010 5:02 PM  
Blogger Shawnee Barton said...

Great post. Stories about Vanessa's play are always fascinating and complex. That 2008 heads up match was crazy. it was fun to reread about it. I was disappointed to see that she has slipped back to average stack, since she plays the big stack so well. Anyway, so nice that you weren't afraid to delve into complexities instead of taking the easy way out and just two-demensionalizing players into stereotypes. Great work.

7/14/2010 1:01 PM  

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