When I took my seat along with 66 of New Zealand's best poker players on day two of the SkyCity Waitangi Deepstack Main Event tournament last weekend, I had a pretty good idea of how the day would play out.
105 players had ponied up $1500 to enter the two day tournament, generating a prize pool of $136,000 and a reason for me to dream.
The first hand of day two was dealt at 12.30pm, so I figured I'd make the final table by 11pm and celebrate with a few cocktails along with my $41,000 first place cash prize sometime shortly after midnight.
But my thinking isn't always based in reality.
In reality, I have never won a live poker tournament, nor have I even made a final table, so my dream was always destined to end in tears, and it did. But I didn't expect to still be following live updates of the tournament the next morning at work.
Glossary for the poker illiterate below*
That's right, 20 hours after play had started on Monday, two tireless grinders were still going at it at 8am on Tuesday in a deserted casino. So probably a good thing I didn't win the tournament, because there's no way $41k would justify missing a shift at work.
Here is the story of my experience at the $1500 buy-in Waitangi Deep Stack Main Event at Auckland's SkyCity Casino:
12.30pm Saturday: I've decided to play Day 1B due to a friend's wedding on Friday and I immediately regret my decision when I turn up a little jaded squeezed in between three poker wizards. There's Jason Brown on my right, who is one of New Zealand's best players, Shane Tamihana on my left, an aggressive high stakes cash game player who recently chopped the Festival of Poker Main Event and Ryan Shiffman next to him, a talented American cash game grinder.
There's a saying in poker that if you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table then you are the sucker. I can't see one.... Uh-oh.
3.30pm: I learn that we are only playing six one hour levels today and players are allowed to re-buy up until the end of the third level. My two high stakes neighbours didn't know this either and I soon learn that $1500 isn't as much money as I thought it was. Jason and Shane both make it clear that they want to gamble to try and double their stack and are happy to re-buy if they lose. Jason doubles after moving all-in preflop with K6 and beats JJ and Shane busts then immediately re-buys. I sit and smile, quietly thinking about how many work lunches from pita-pit $1500 would buy (115).
4.30pm: A bloke at our table has a brain snap and three-bet shoves all in for 120 big blinds pre-flop with 99. I would not recommend this play. He gets called by Jason Brown's AA but a 9 on the flop creates a few oohs and aahs from the table. Better to be lucky than good!
6.10pm: Last level of the night and I decide to get creative with a bluff. It works, but I make a mental note to myself that trying to bluff the two best players at the table probably isn't a winning long term strategy. (full hand details below)
7.00pm: I finish the day with 37,800 chips with the blinds at 150/300. It was a fairly uneventful day for me but I'm happy with how I played and have an average size stack heading into the final day.
Sunday 12.30pm: 66 players qualified for day two and it's announced the top 11 will get paid between $2780 and $41,000. Sounds good to me.
I don't recognize many at my new table and I'm immediately put in an awkward position when I hold 9T on a board of 95553 facing a large river bet. I fold. (Full hand details below).
2pm: I'm on fire. I get dealt QQ twice in four hands and win big pots both times. The first time I elect to call an under the gun open on the button and got three streets of value on a 6 high board, and the second time I three-bet preflop, flopped a set, turned a boat and got paid. Blinds are up to 400/800 and I have 85k which is probably good for a top 10 stack. I'm pretty sure I'm going to win this tournament.
3pm: Bugger. I get moved to a new table and lose 50k in the space of 10 hands. I opened QThh and was priced in to call a short stacks shove and lost to A8, I 3bet AK pre-flop and was out flopped by A8 and gave it up after a c-bet on the flop, and I lost a big pot to the tables chip leader (full details below). In the space of 30 minutes my thought process has gone from 'would my landlord mind if I bought a spa pool with my winnings' to 'At least I'll get a good night's sleep tonight.'
5pm: Can't get much going. I've been bubbling up and down from between 20-40bbs for a couple of hours but nothing's really going right.
6pm: I get moved to a new table and quickly double up from 20bbs to 40bbs when my 99 beats AJ all in pre-flop. Back in the game.
6.30: The end times. I lose half my stack with AK against AQ on a Q high board. Soon after I three-bet shove 12 bbs with A5 and get called by KJ and lose. I finished in 25th place, 14 short of the money.
My two compatriots from day one Ryan and Jason both made the final table and were rewarded for their patience, discipline and well-timed aggression.
The biggest myth in poker is that the key ingredient to live success is having a good poker face. The reality is concentration is key, and clear, clean problem-solving skills. To win a big tournament you have to be prepared to sit in a chair for 20 straight hours, correctly deciphering the right course of action to take with every bet. Or at least that's what I think, because, you know, I've never won one.
I really enjoyed my tournament experience and was impressed by the quality of poker at all my tables. The floor staff were helpful and friendly and enthusiastically worked overtime despite the tournament running into breakfast time. Bring on the Queen's Birthday Weekend Main Event in May, I think I'll win that one.
Glossary for the poker illiterate:
A poor player who is seen as 'easy money' and often makes the wrong decisions.
The fifth and final board card in Hold'em is called the river or 5th street.
Out of position:
Being at a disadvantage due to having to act first post-flop.
Action that takes place before the first three community cards are dealt.
Re-raising the original raiser (preflop)
The button or dealer button is a chip that shows who the current dealer is. The position where the dealer sits is also called the button. We also say that the dealer is on the button.
The first pre-flop bet.
Hand #1 - The bluff
Ryan opens to 700 from UTG at 150/300 playing off 40k. Jason calls in the SB off 60k, I call in BB with KT (28k).
Flop 2h2d8d. Jason checks, I check, Ryan bets 1600. Jason calls, I raise to 5k.
Ryan calls, Jason folds.
Turn 3s. I bet 9k, Ryan tanks for a while and folds.
Thoughts: Against two thinking players I felt it would be hard for either of them to continue on turn. The range I was representing was A2, 23, 24s, 88 or two diamonds, and I would play all these hands the same way. I also hadn't been out of line all day and felt my raise would be respected. I didn't think Jason was strong, and thought I could make Ryan fold an over pair by the river, especially if a diamond hit.
Hand #2 - The fold
Sixth hand of day two blinds at 200/400 I have 35k. 35-year old Asian male who I have never played with before opens UTG +2 to 1k. I call on button with 9Thh, bb calls.
Flop 955. BB check, UTG+2 bets 1500 I call bb fold.
Turn 5. Utg+2 bets 3000, I call.
River 3. UTG+2 bets 8k. I fold
Thoughts: I think it's very unlikely the villain is bluffing on this board. He turns up with an overpair here most of the time. You could make a case for folding the turn.
Hand #3 - The bad river call
I have just been moved to a new table and am one of two big stacks. I am quite active and have opened 3 out of first 7 hands at table. On the 8th hand I open ATss UTG +3 off 80k at 400-800 to 1800.
It folds to a good player in the big blind who I know plays high stakes cash games and rebought into the tournament on day one. He is the other big stack at the table. He calls and the flop is 9T2 rainbow.
I bet 2000, he calls. Turn 3s putting two spades out. I bet 4k and he raises to 10.5k. I call.
River Jd and he bets 13k. I call. He shows T3 to win the pot.
Thoughts: I should have folded the river, but I didn't have T3 in his range.
I thought that when he check/raises the turn the only value hands he could have were sets and T9, but I thought he would be more likely to c/r on the flop with those.
My hand blocks the nut flush draw, but he can definitely have QJss/78ss and may take this line with QJo/78o some of the time. He could also have KQss too.
But I didn't think he would just be check raising randomly. The river card was ugly, and meant that a lot of his semi-bluff hands got there.
I could have checked back the turn, but I think I prefer betting as realistically I've got the best hand the vast majority of the time and he's going to call me with Tx all the time and most of the times with 9x.
As played, and in hindsight, I think the river is an easy fold. I'm only beating missed draws and they only make up a small part of his range.
*Steven was invited to play the Main Event at the Festival of Poker by Sky City.