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The End of the Dream?
On Monday, I played Day 1 of the World Series of Poker Main Event. This is the most prestigious tournament in all of poker. It's the one Matt Damon's character heads out to Vegas to play in the movie Rounders. The first-place prize is around $10 million. Last year, I wondered out loud how anyone could possibly bust out on Day 1 since levels are 2 hours and you start out with 300 big blinds. Yet last year I busted out on Day 1. At least I was in good company, since poker legend Daniel Negreanu also busted on Day 1. And 2020 WSOP Main Event winner Damian Salas busted out of the 2021 WSOP Main Event after only two hours.
If I survived Monday, I’d have a 3-day break before Day 2 on Friday. The tournament ends on Day 11, July 17. I was hoping that my terrible run of cards and bad beats would end for this tournament, but my immediate goal was just to make Day 2.
But on the third hand, it seemed that my luck had not changed. I had A♥Q♥. I raised pre-flop, and one player called. The flop was A♦Q♥Q♦. OMG! I checked. The other player bet $2,000. I called. The turn card was K♦. He bet $3,000. I called. The river card was J♦. I got a little nervous at that. I checked. He checked, and I gave out a premature sigh of relief. He showed 10♦, the only hand that could beat mine, or any other hand, the royal flush. Thank goodness he didn't shove on the river! The other players at the table asked him why he didn’t raise, but he said something about it being early in the game. It was clear that he didn’t even realize he had a royal flush, the highest hand in poker. Unbeatable. I guess you can consider me incredibly lucky that he missed it, because I would have called a large bet with my full house. Or incredible unlucky that he got the one card in the whole deck that he needed to beat me.
I have to admit that a bad beat like that makes me question everything I do in poker. I read that a player gets a royal flush once, maybe twice in a lifetime. The odds of him having that hand were very, very small. But he had it and he beat me.
I then got dealt A♣10♦. The flop had two clubs. One player bet $600. All players folded except I called. The turn card was a club. The other player checked. I checked. The river was not a club, so there were three clubs on the board and one in my hand—not enough for a flush. The other player bet $200. I raised to $2,200, representing the nut flush. In other words, I was bluffing, but it was reasonable for me to actually have the nut flush since I had the A♣. He called with a pair of 8s. This is the kind of player I hate playing against. He risked all those chips with just a medium pair. There were so many hands I could have that beat him.
I then got pocket Qs and lost when an A came on the flop.
Then my AK lost to a pair of deuces. I raised from $200 to $2,200 pre-flop and everyone folded but the same player who beat me with a pair of 8s. He had 24 and flopped a 2. He is a very “sticky” player, meaning he will keep betting, hoping to get a better hand. Those players should lose to me most of the time, except when they get the card they need, as he did this time.
I flopped a pair of As but lost to a player who got two pair on the river.
I flopped top pair, Ks. I tried to get the sticky player to fold, but he kept going to the river where he caught an A for a pair of As.
Then I won two small pots in a row. The last one I had A4 with 5 people in the hand. I got a 4 on the flop and won against a pair of 2s and a pair of 3s. It’s rare to win against so many players with such a small pair. Had my luck turned?
I got pocket Qs, raised pre-flop, and got 3 callers. The flop was Q78, but all diamonds. I felt sick that someone had hit a flush, but I had to find out. I bet and they all folded, fortunately for me.
I got pocket Ks. I raised from $200 to $1,200. The player who had had the royal called. Everyone else folded. The flop was J10 9. That looked fairly good for me. I bet $2,000. He called. The turn was 4. I bet $2,000 again. He called. The river was 2. I bet $2,000 yet again. He raised to $5K. I called. He had 10 9 for two pair. I was suddenly down to half my stack in less than 2 hours, though I still had about 150 big blinds.
I got pocket As. I raised from $200 to $2,200. One player called. You guessed it, the sticky guy. The flop was 454. I bet $3,500. He called. Oh man, could he have a 4? Pocket 5s? Anything was possible with him. The turn was 9. I bet $5,000. He called. My stack was down to $15K. The river was a J, putting 3 diamonds on the board. He checked. I checked. He showed pocket 8s. I beat him finally!
I got A♦3♥. I called the minimum, $300, with 4 other players in the hand. The flop was 8♦9♦Q♦. I bet $1K. All the other players folded but one. He called. The turn was 7♦. I had hit the nut flush! I bet $2k. He called. I felt sick. Could I possibly lose to another straight flush? The river was 4♣. I bet $3K. He said, "Flush? I think you have a better kicker than me. I'll just double it." I felt sicker; it sounded like he wanted me to call. I had no choice, so I called. I showed my A♦ and he folded. I let out a loud sigh as I collected my chips. My stack was up to $40K, two thirds of starting stack.
I got pocket Qs in the small blind. The player under the gun raised from $300 to $1,200. There were three callers. I raised to $4,200. They all folded. Whew!
I kept getting really good cards. I just needed to figure out how to win with them.
By the second break, I had managed to build my stack up to $42K, which was 105 big blinds. It's a very good stack, though I always want to do better.
Then I won a big pot with AK. Then a small pot with pocket 4s. I was almost back to starting stack.
Dinner break came. When the tournament restarted, I would have about $50K, or 100 big blinds. Below starting stack ($60K) but still a very good stack.
By the way, the guy who beat me with a royal flush later got another straight flush, A2345, against another player. Do you know how rare that is? Two straight flushes in a day? They rarely come in months. As it turns out, his luck didn’t hold, and he busted after the dinner break.
The tournament was about to continue. I was walking around to calm myself. I normally don't get nervous but with my bad luck streak for 6-7 months and almost busting out on the third hand today (if my opponent hadn't misread his royal flush), I couldn’t help feeling stressed. I knew I was playing as well as I could, but when things keep going badly for so long, it's hard to remain optimistic.
I got back to the table but was getting fidgety. The player to my right took 30-60 seconds for each play, even when he folded pre-flop. He seemed to think this made him unreadable or something, but it just slowed down the game for no reason. Other players at the table were getting annoyed too.
I got dealt A♥K♦. The player under the gun flatted (called the blind bet). Another player called. I raised to $3K. The first player reraised to $12K. The second player called. With so much money in the pot, I called. The flop was Q♥J♦4♥, giving me a straight draw and a backdoor flush draw. All players checked. The next card was 7♣. One player checked. I checked. The player under the gun, who had originally raised to $12K, bet $10K this time. The second player folded. I reluctantly folded. The betting player showed pocket Qs. I was behind, but I didn’t realize just how far behind. I had lost a lot of chips, but at least stemmed the flow by folding.
I then won a small pot, but my stack was down to $32K. Still a decent 64 big blinds, but the stack was going in the wrong direction.
I then won a nice pot and increased my stack to $35K. I needed to keep my stack going in this direction.
The last break of the day arrived. My stack was at $33K. That was still OK at 55 big blinds, but I wanted to start Day 2 with more chips than I started Day 1.
I had been running card dead for about 2 hours or more when I got pocket Js. The short stack, betting after me, had just lost most of his chips in a heads-up match. He was in the big blind, had about 8 big blinds left, and needed to shove soon. I figured he was ready to shove. I bet $4,000. Everyone folded but the short stack shoved with $4,300, as I had predicted. I called. He showed pocket 8s. His hand was much stronger than I had expected, but I was still way ahead… except that the flop was 8QQ. I lost and was down to $22K, about 37 big blinds. Now I was getting worried.
I got KQ under the gun. I raised from $600 to $1,200. Another player raised to $3,600. I called. The flop was 379. I checked. He checked. The turn was K, giving me top pair with a good kicker, a queen. I bet $5,000. He raised to $10K. I could fold my decent hand and have about 25 big blinds. I could call and have about 13 big blinds left. He could have a big pair like Qs or Js. He could have AK, which would be ahead of me, or he could even have As, but there was one more card coming that could possibly save me. Or he could just be bullying me, knowing that my stack was so short I might just fold a better hand. So I decided to shove my remaining $13K. He called and showed AA. The river was not a K or Q, so I busted out.
It can be argued that my final action was a bad choice. I don’t know. I think it was a close call. But I think every other play I made was the right one. And now I’m home contemplating whether I should continue playing poker. After these bad beats, people tell me, “That’s poker,” or “It’s just The Variance,” or “Just play the game if you love it and don’t worry about winning.” But I don’t see the point of doing it if I don’t win. I’ve had a few small wins, but the last year has been really disappointing. It may be that the variance (i.e., long losing streaks) are going to be too long to overcome if I’m not playing every day like a professional does. Or it’s possible I really don’t understand the game and the psychology and the probabilities like I think I do.
I’m going to stop blogging about poker for a while. I may play a few games now and then if my budget allows. Maybe I’ll read some good books on the subject. Or maybe I’ll find another hobby.
Signing off for now.