OK, I'm many thousand feet up in the air, and I just woke up from a nap, so I really have no idea where in the country I am. For the first time since the tournament I'm ready to think about poker, so here goes. For lack of a better format I'll go roughly chronologically.
*Celebrity Encounter #1*
Now, I didn't have as many poker-celebrity encounters as most players did. This is because I was trying to win the tournament, and most of the other players were interested in... I have no idea, usually something like going back to Topeka and telling their friends that they saw Johnny Chan order a Coke. More on this phenomenon later.
But it's pretty inevitable to at least run into some "name" players. I got to the Rio a little early, but punctuality came at the expense of a leisurely breakfast, so I grabbed a slice of pizza and a croissant and camped out in a relatively quiet corner of the conference area. A few minutes later I notice a dude a few feet away from me, and it's Sam Grizzle, wandering aimlessly and blathering incoherently into a cellphone. Later he wanders back, and this time he's accompanied by a guy who looks like an extra from one of the episodes of Seinfeld set at the retirement community. I still have no idea how anyone can understand him when he's not speaking extra-clearly for the cameras, but then again my hearing is bad.
Things went well almost from the start of the tournament. My table consisted of four tight guys, a guy I think was pretty solid, me, and five clowns who ranged from bad to insanely horribly bad.
A couple hours in I take a key pot. I'd been playing a lot of hands; the clowns were in seats 2-5 and the tight guys were behind me. So I could take the button very often and play raised pots with deep stacks against horrible players. It was rare for me to fold anything resembling a hand if it wasn't raised to me. Anyway, I limp behind a clown limper with Q9o. The two of us and the big blind take a flop of AQ9, with the ace and nine of hearts. Check-check and I bet 200, one of my standard bets, into the 350 pot. The big blind folds and the clown limper (named Fernando, and wearing a "Brasil" baseball cap) calls, looking a whole lot like he's on a draw. He's the strain of bad player that is reasonably tight, but totally devoid of sound decisionmaking faculties. The turn pairs the 9 and Fernando checks to me; I bet 200 again to make it impossible for him to fold. He squints confusedly at the bet and calls. I'm confident he's drawing dead. The river's the ten of hearts. He gives off various strong tells and checks. I bet 500 and he raises me 1000 more. I pop it another 2000 and he calls.
The next few hours pass mostly without incident, and by the second break I'm up over 16k. Blinds are still 100-200 at that point, so it's coming along well. A while later Fernando busts and a young hotshot-looking guy in a Full Tilt jacket comes to the table. He's a big stack who loves to play with his chips and raise a lot of pots, and my number one priority becomes figuring out how good he is at doing that sort of thing. I also don't want to lose control of the table. About an orbit after he arrives he's under the gun (blinds 150-300/25), and the big blind is off in the bathroom. He raises to 1200 and I figure he's doing this with a lot of hands, so when the action gets to me I make it 2700 with J9s. Folded to him and he juggles his chips for a while, gives me many funny looks (he likes to engage his opponents,) and calls. The flop comes 9-high with a flush draw. He checks to me and I bet 2500; he goes into a long routine, counting out a call and a small raise and a big raise and then a call again and then he looks at me for a while and then he folds.
Speaking of people being away from the table for urination purposes... it happened a lot. Thousands of people, very few bathrooms. There was little point in even trying to use the bathroom during the break, so it was better just to miss a few hands. Ten minutes after the J9s hand I'm leaving the bathroom, trying to get back for my blinds, when Full Tilt Hotshot taps me on the shoulder. We chat for a while, he asks me where I'm from, I ask him where he's from, and discover that he's (a) from Amsterdam and (b) named Noah. Turns out it is indeed Noah Boekin, Internet whiz and EPT champion this year. He's got skills; more on that later if I feel like it.
Eventually, and tragically, my table breaks, and I get moved to a much tougher table. Various clowns are there, but most of them either bust before I can get their money or are severely shortstacked and reacting to being short by becoming way way overtight. Also, a few guys to my left are quite willing to reraise preflop, which is annoying. I'm down from 27k to 25k (I had stacked a guy for 6k right before the table broke) when I play this hand. I raise to 1200 UTG+1 with QQ; all fold to the big blind, a very aggressive Swede. He calls and I'm getting weird vibes. He calls a lot of raises preflop but this time he seems stronger. The flop comes 963 with two hearts and he bets 1500. Alarm bells are going off. Either he's trying to give off fake tells or he loves his hand, and in the few hands I've seen him I have him pegged as less a tricky bombard-you-with-sensory-input maniac, and more of an ABC bet-all-the-time maniac. I call and plan on re-evaluating the turn, folding to pressure and otherwise showing down as cheaply as possible. This all changes when the turn's a Q, not completing the flush. He bets 3500 or so. I have him barely covered, so he's got about 17k left. After some thought I decide that it'd be silly for me not to jam. No need to get fancy when he's so likely to call for his whole stack right then. So I jam and before I can finish the phrase "all in" he calls with 66. I hit one of my 43 outs and get up to 55k or so.
All is well when disaster strikes in the form of Vinnie Vinh. Vinnie won WPT Commerce last year and is very good and very aggressive. Make that very very good and very very aggressive. His first hand at the table, he raises UTG or UTG+1 and I reraise with AA. He makes a rare preflop fold. Amusingly, I don't lose any substantial pots to Vinnie, but he turns the table into Variance City. Soon after he arrives he raises and the SB, a PokerStars guy who seems like a real jerk, calls. Some medium cards come on the flop and PokerStars guy check-calls. A small card comes on the turn and PokerStars guy bets and Vinnie raises and PokerStars guy reraises (they're both 50k deep or so, and we're still at 150-300/25) and Vinnie immediately jams. PokerStars guy goes waaaay into the tank and eventually folds. He informs Vinnie that he's not making any more laydowns like that. I chuckle silently. Anyway, about an orbit later PokerStars guy raises UTG and I call in LMP with AKo. Flop comes 765 and he bets 1500, about half-pot and I call planning on bluffing the turn, or spiking an A or K and re-evaluating. He looks a lot like QQ or so. Turn comes a 4. He makes the same bet he made on the flop, so quarter-pot or so, and this seems to be a good spot, so I make it 4500, even though he's steaming. I mean, I'm less inclined to bluff a steaming opponent, but how can I pass up this opportunity. He makes a really forceful call and checks the river dark. Well, now I'm sure where he's at. The river's a Q, and there's no visible reaction from him. I decide 15k looks a lot like a value-bet; he thinks for a while and calls. Damn.
I can live with myself because I don't think I was overplaying here. I was still playing the best I'd ever played, and I just decided that even against a steaming opponent, or an opponent pretending to be steaming, I couldn't pass that spot up. If it was an error it was one of judgment, not discipline.
I then run coooooold, and 20k is a whole lot shorter when Vinnie has all but taken the table from 150-300 to 150-300-1200 (and then 200-400-1600.) He made enough crazy-good calls that I ruled out pure resteals, and if I wasn't willing to make moves with nothing I didn't have the cards to do anything. Thankfully hands take a very long time when Vinnie's around, so I was looking to seize any opportunities I could but be patient enough to get through the last hour and a half (probably only 30 hands or so) and get to day 2 and a new table. (For all other purposes I didn't care about making day 2 for its own sake. I'm shocked at how many people were hoarding chips, trying to blind into a postion that doesn't even pay. But day 2 means a redraw for tables, so I was looking to get there.)
But then I pick up QQ UTG+1 and make it 2000 (we're at 250-500/50 by this point.) Tight guy on the button calls. Flop comes KTT with two diamonds. I check and call 3000, figuring he'll bet any hand there and I can get some value and a read and evaluate on the turn. After the flop call I have just under 14k. The turn's the Jd. Now I've got a straight-flush draw and my hand might be best and I'm against an opponent who likes to find folds. So I jam.
Now, he goes way into the tank. He only has me covered by a thousand or two. And as he's rubbing his cards back and forth they touch the muck. I think for a second and figure that if I call the floor it's as likely, from his perspective, to be reverse psychology as an attempt to get the hand mucked. (I don't think I was shooting an angle here; it really looked a lot like a muck, and the rule exists in part to prevent ambiguity, and one reason to prevent ambiguity is to keep him from getting a read on me as he almost mucks his cards.) Anyway, the floor rules the hand isn't dead. He thinks for a good while longer and eventually calls with AK (without the ace of diamonds.) Damn. And I miss all 16 of my outs. Damn.
In the ritualistic post-bustout handshaking session PokerStars guy said that he "had too much invested" to fold to the 15k. Don't know what to make of that; probably just making an excuse for steaming.
I think both those last hands involved questionable decisions on my part; in particular, calling the floor seems suspect. I imagine that is likely to sound really really dumb to an outside observer, but I had pretty deep insight into this guy's psychology, and I'm almost sure it weighted him toward a fold. I'm almost sure he called simply because he thought AK was too strong. Anyway, I don't need a fold much of the time; the pot was 11250 so my bet was something like 1.2x the pot. I have, on average, enough outs that check-calling all-in is very close to break-even if he has AK no diamond. The decision between checking and jamming (I don't think a smaller bet can be correct) comes down to how my folding equity compares to the equity I can by sometimes seeing the river for free or cheaply. I might even induce a bluff sometimes. (Whether or not to call all-in if I check is close; I could be drawing thinner than 17 or 16 outs, sometimes far thinner, but sometimes he'll be betting a worse hand or something like AJ with the Ad.) I think it's a call, but I think that jamming is better; remember that this guy saw me jam with QQQ against the manic Swede. And I think he's also trying to sneak into the money. And he's a big tool who is trying to collect stories about playing with Vinnie Vinh. Anyway, he got the best of me there, so good for you, annoying kid from Albany, wherever you are.
So, yeah. It's a long walk out of the Rio when you've busted. (Literally, too; you have to go down like six really long hallways to get to the front door.) I got back to the hotel room, took a bath, and changed my flight out from tomorrow to today; I couldn't tolerate being in Vegas today.
By the way, even though I wasn't looking to collect Vinnie Vinh stories I wound up with a few anyway. First of all, he's outgoing and friendly at the table, and it seems like he genuinely loves playing poker and enjoys the company of the people he plays with. Obviously he's cultivating an image but it's a pleasure to play with a guy who's so entertaining and who loves the game so much. Also, he's daaaaamn good. He was up over 90k, if I counted right, by the time I busted. He has less than .02% of the chips in play but I wouldn't be surprised if he goes reeeal far; he's exactly the type of player who thrives in conditions like this. He accumulated chips at a dizzying rate and I see no reason why he's going to stop.
The only unfortunate part is that he was so willing to chat that I had to listen to an incessant stream of inane poker philosophizing from both the 1-seat (the guy who busted me) and the 4-seat (a complete tool who has no chance of doing anything in the tournament.) I was in the 5-seat and Vinnie was in the 3-seat, so I was right in the Sucking Up Zone. I only had a couple short exchanges with Vinnie because focus was my first priority all day, but it'll be a while before I forget the ones I had:
-It's the last hand before the break, and Vinnie has reraised the small blind (the completely annoying tool in the 3-seat) all-in. Everyone else is gone to dinner but I stay to watch the hand; I want all the information I can get, especially because I need to know what range to play back at Vinnie with. Annoying Tool eventually finds a way to call with as little as AKs (the call was beyond automatic to anyone with a shred of ability, but he found a way to either almost make an atrocious laydown or to be dramatic for no reason at all; not only were the ESPN cameras nowhere close, there was nobody else at the table besides me, Vinnie, and the dealer.) Anyway, he has Vinnie (K7o) dominated and holds up. Vinnie's counting out the chips and saying nice things to A.T. when the dealer stands up and starts to count things out. Now, I'm not faulting the dealer for trying to count out the chips, but this guy was a total jerk, and getting really close to Vinnie's face. What happened next:
Vinnie: "Sit down; I'm paying him off."
Dealer: "I will not sit down! [Some other overreaction I can't remember]"
[Vinnie sits down, stops counting out the chips]
Dealer [still standing]: "Pay him off."
Vinnie: "You said you'd pay him off."
[Dealer stands there glaring at Vinnie and not counting the chips.]
Vinnie: "Call the floor. I want to teach you something."
[Dealer calls the floor.]
Dealer: "I'm trying to count out the chips and he [points at Vinnie menacingly] is telling me to sit down."
Floor: "Sit down."
[Dealer sits down.]
[Vinnie starts explaining the situation to the floor.]
Dealer [standing up]: "I'm not going to sit down."
Floor: "Sit down."
Dealer: "You're a horseshit motherfucker."
The floor fired him immediately. Actually, I'm almost sure the floor fired him as soon as he stood up the second time. I can see how to some outside observers Vinnie might seem to carry some of the blame here, but the dealer was actually way more out of line than the dialogue can convey. What might seem like rudeness is actually just Vinnie's semibroken English; more importantly, Vinnie wasn't just messing with the dealer. Some guys take any opportunity to feel superior, but Vinnie is nowhere close to being one of those guys; he had a million chances to correct both dealer and player improprieties (often very significant ones) and he only did when it had a significant effect on a hand or it involved someone breaching a line of politeness or respect.
(It's funny; much of the respect I have for Vinnie is emerging only in hindsight, because at the time I was so determined to keep myself focused and un-starstruck, and so conscious of the fact that he was conscious of table image and table conditions.)
Anyway, that spiced things up a little. Oh, yeah, my exchanges with Vinnie: we chatted a little after that hand; on a couple occasions he told me I played a couple hands well (I'm chalking it up to politeness;) and this exchange, the one time I talked to him without him talking directly to me first: On a 873 flop, Vinnie bet into several opponents from the blind and took it down. He showed an 8 and showed that his other card was three across [either a 6 or a 7.] He then said "50-50 I have two pair!" While everyone was laughing or getting annoyed I said "Vinnie -- it's 4-3 against, not 50-50." He got a kick out of it. Yeah, yeah, lame, I know.
Anyway, maybe more hands and stuff when I feel like it. It took fifteen hours just to be able to write this down.