05/04/2006

The Next Best Thing to Winning, is Staying at Home

Ashley Alterman 'The Poker Cynic'

The tournament formerly known as the EWSOP (European World Series of Poker), has now been renamed The Austrian Open for legal reasons. I would like to categorically deny that were six thousand entrants, the real figure was 234; the other 5700 were just playing satellites trying to enter the tournament, and have now been resettled with new identities on independent poker sites somewhere in cyberspace.

This tournament was an attractive proposition for those who believe that the fast pace prevalent in many tournaments makes them a lottery. Players started with 10,000 chips each and the blinds commenced at 25, 50 per round, with increases every 90 minutes. The tournament was scheduled for four days, with the fourth day set aside for a six handed televised final, to be shown simultaneously on all 87 new poker channels at 4.00am every Monday Wednesday and Friday. Ok, by now you will have guessed I got knocked out during the early stages of this tournament, and you are having to put up with the sour grapes of another also ran. People who win hundreds of thousands of dollars in Poker Tournaments, that are then televised, rarely complain about how much poker there is on TV, or when it is on.

The card room is south of the city, so although my hotel was conveniently situated, being on a business park is not the most attractive location. Culturally and architecturally, I felt somewhere between Walsall and Luton, but at least I could understand what they were saying in Vienna. The hotel staff were unfailingly polite, and the facilities were good. The food was mediocre at best, but if you've ever eaten in the casino in Luton, you'll be familiar with this sort of experience. I won a package online, which included the tournament entry, my hotel and some spending money. I also won a package to go on a Caribbean cruise to play another tournament a week later, where hopefully the environment will be a lot more attractive. As long as the sponsor of these tournaments has not read this column before I go, otherwise I might find my cabin located next to the engine room.

I was looking forward to the event, as it provides a rare opportunity to play with such a slow structure at a cost of 2100 Euros; as opposed to the $10,000 which is the cost of the four day WPT events, and the WSOP main event, although that is now even longer due to the increased size of the field. To ensure a pleasant atmosphere in the long windowless room, our health conscious hosts considerately made the tournament a non smoking affair. Of course, if you were just a spectator, or you were prepared to stand two feet away from the table, you were then free to smoke cigars or cigarettes to your lungs content. This way everyone was happy apart from a few miserable people who seemed intent on breathing. As a reformed smoker I like to be as tolerant as possible. But enough about all the peripheral benefits, back to the competition:

I allowed the slow pace to lull me into a false sense of security on the first day, as the small blinds meant one was never under pressure. Unfortunately, if you do not keep pace with the average chip stack, you end up at a serious disadvantage as the blinds soon become a major consideration. By the end of the day we were down to 90 players, which meant an average of 25,000 per player. My 15,000 was looking decidedly weak, as indeed my play had been. By the start of the second day blinds were 200 - 400 with a running ante of 50, meaning that a nine handed round of the table now cost 1050 chips. As it turned out I fell on my sword during the second level of the day when blinds had increased to 300 - 600. I sunk without a trace in a sea of young aggressive barracuda. When you see a group of hooded youths on the street, you may feel uneasy if they behave in a loud obnoxious way, but they are much more dangerous at the poker table. They are more likely to be internet millionaires than itinerant, and the fearlessness they display is as a result of their experience rather than their machismo.

I played a couple more tournaments during the remainder of my stay there, contributing another 1500 Euros to the general prize pool, without getting anything back in return. By the third tournament, I was playing fine, but even then I couldn't decide which of the three B's was responsible for my demise; Bad luck, Bad timing or Bad play. If the event had lasted as long as the World Series (six weeks), I am confident I would've played one well from start to finish. I made my way to the bar, and sat around with the other losers, feeling too unstable to play in a cash game, and too unenthusiastic to visit the euphemistically named sauna situated right next to the club. The idea of paying someone to be nice to me, seemed even less attractive than the experience I had just had, of paying people to be nasty to me. Instead I drowned my sorrows in a café latte, and spent a couple of hours enjoying an amusing string of poker anecdotes as related by World renowned Opera critic and bon vivant Tony Holden. If only I'd had the sense to stay at home and read his book, I would have avoided all the hassle of travelling and the pain of losing, and still enjoyed a few hours of first class entertainment.