An oldie, but goody, if you ask me, from 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event. I could not find my assigned table anywhere at Binion’s Horseshoe in Vegas. I searched both upstairs and downstairs without satisfaction.
Then, I realized there was one place I did not look, and it was the featured table. I recognized 2 top named pros at the table immediately. Sam Farha (white shirt, cigarette) placed second in the main event in 2003, losing to amateur Chris Moneymaker. Also. John Juanda, a top cash game and tournament player (asian, black ‘Full Tilt Poker’ shirt on) was at the table as well. The luck of the draw putting 2 top pros at my table made it the most appealing table for ESPN to feature.
Frankly, I was scared shiatless for the first 30 minutes or so of play. Then I saw Saw Farha calling way too loosely, and raising constantly with garbage, and I realized that he was ‘just a guy’ (one playing badly), and that calmed me down considerably.
Sam Farha was by far the loosest (played the most hands) player at the table. I was the tightest (played the fewest hands) player at the table, with professional John Juanda a close second.
I was very much a tournament novice, at the time, but quite accomplished at low stakes cash games, both limit and no limit. I played a fundamentally solid cash game approach, but was extremely weak as the blinds (2 forced antes) moved upwards, which mathematically changes the value of a tournament chip (T), more on this later.
As luck would have it, by the time this hand had played early in Day 1, I had more than tripled my standard starting stack of T10,000 to about T34,000.
A few good stories on building my stack:
1. I called a decent size raise, along with several other players with pocket threes. I flopped a set, and immediately my goal became to take the pre-flop raiser’s stack. So I bet the full pot into him on the flop. He raised all in, all others folded, and I insta-called (my chips beat his into the pot). He had flopped an Ace with AK (top pair, top kicker in poker jargon), but when the turn did not improve him to two pair or trips, he was drawing dead, forfeited his stack to me, and exited the tournament.
2. Farha, who was raising constantly with garbage, raised it to T300. With position on him (I act last on all streets, meaning I get the advantage more information, seeing what he will do first), I looked down at JJ and reraised to T1200. He looked at me with the toothiest, most confident grin, and said, with his Lebanese accent, “So, you want to go out this hand?” Although I maintained a statuesque stare at him from the safety of my low drawn cap, I panicked internally, while I decided what to do if he re-raised. I was close to concluding that I should probably fold, but was not 100% decided.
Luckily for me, he didn’t put me to the test for the T1200 I had just put in the put, and just called the remaining T900. The flop came 9 high, he checked to me, and I bet around T2400. He insta-folded, without even giving me his patented glare, and I was the most relieved man in the world.
3. I was in the small blind with either 66 or 77 several limpers (they called, not raised). We all saw a flop of something like Q52. Everyone checked to Juanda, who bet about half of the pot. I believe another player joined me when I called, thinking there was an excellent chance he was betting something like a single 5 in his hand. The turn brought, I think an Ace, definitely a scare card. Juanda bet again, and I insta-called, sticking with my initial read. The other player folded.
Side note on the insta-call: Even though I was a solid cash poker player at the time, it is extremely dangerous playing even a competent player out of position, because they have so much of an informational advantage over you on every street. John Juanda is to competent as Peyton Manning is to competent, so you get the point of the danger of the situation. I insta-called to project confidence, because I did NOT want him to bet again on the river.
Well, the river was another scare card, a Queen. I realized, that if Juanda had been betting Ace high on the flop, and had turned top pair with the Ace, the Queen was a scare card to HIM more than the Ace was a scare card to me. As soon as I had that thought, combined with the knowledge that he is a top pro and knew I was the tightest player at the table, I insta-bet 1/2 of the pot. He thought forever, and I was so scared he was going to call (I was SURE he would not call with a hand worse than mine, so if he called I was beat).
Eventually, he reluctantly folded. I still don’t know if I stole the pot from his better hand (maybe he folded a 5, or pocket 88, but probably not an Ace, and certainly not a Queen), or not, but it was still a fun/scary hand.
Actually, I’m going to email him, and on the unlikely chance he reads the email, maybe he will remember the hand and tell me.
Anyway, as the blinds progressed, and players got more aggressive, I toned my aggression down, and became more passive, expecially with my medium strength hands like 77, 88, 99, AJ suited, and AQ offsuit. I made it through day one, but busted out of day 2. When game players don’t adjust to escalating blinds (or go on a huge card rush), they will be ‘blinded out’ (anted to death) of the tournament, and thats what happened to tournament novice me.