I recently won The $100K Holiday freeroll tournament at Full Tilt Poker. The buy-in was 2,000 FTP points, and there was a cap set of 10,000 players.
A total of 1,800 places were paid: 1,800th - $10; 91st - $100; 10th - $600; ninth - $1,000. More than one-third of the payout went to the final-table players. The top three finishers received $10,000, $7,500, and $5,000, respectively.
This kind of tournament is usually much different than the normal major tournaments I play on Sundays. Given that it was a freeroll, you would expect there to be a lot of weak players looking for a big score. In reality, I found the play early on to be a lot better than expected. However, once we made the money, you could see that many of the players were playing simply for the next pay jump, even if it was "only" $40.
Early on, I struggled to maintain an average stack. The tournament lasted nine hours, so we obviously were going through players at a rapid pace, with the blinds escalating rather quickly. But once we got down to the final 150 players or so, I found the structure to be workable, especially when we got down to the final 20 players.
I basically just managed to stay alive until we finally caught up to the structure, and I could play my style of poker. Once we were down to 150 players, I started playing much more aggressively. It was obvious that some players were happy to move from 91st to 90th, which meant an extra $50 in prize money. I played aggressively, sometimes raising three or four hands in a row, with little resistance.
When we were down to 40-50 players, I suspected only two players to be capable of three-betting with weak hands. Most of the players were afraid to play flops. I was free to raise with little resistance to try to accumulate chips basically risk-free. From any position, I raised all pairs, any A-X, and any suited one-gap hands or better, but sometimes folded the A-X and suited hands from early position. My standard raise was 2.2 times the big blind, so I was actually risking less than the size of the pot on every hand I raised.
I became the chip leader with about 40 players left. I was accumulating chips relatively risk-free, so I really wanted to avoid confrontations if at all possible. I respected reraises, and didn't reraise a lot myself without a premium hand. I also saw flops when in position to put maximum pressure on my opponents.
With 14 players left, I continued to exert aggression, as there just weren't any opponents willing to take a stand. The big pay jump from 10th to ninth also made most of my table play very tight.
Actually, there was one player on my left who was making a lot of plays, and I tried to avoid him. I started eyeing him with about 30 players left and realized that he was dangerous. He ended up being seated directly to my left at the final table, and he basically steamrolled the final table until we got heads up.
When we got to the final table, I was the chip leader and had a substantial lead over my opponents. I tightened up a little once we were back to full-ring play, with the plan of playing more aggressively once we got shorthanded. My main concern was trying to avoid a big confrontation, since I believed I could accumulate chips simply by raising a lot of hands preflop.
One hand demonstrates this concept well. A rather tight player raised from under the gun and I called from the cutoff with J-J. The flop was 10-X-X. My opponent bet the pot and I called. The turn was another rag, and my opponent bet the pot again, which was basically the rest of his stack. I still would have had a decent stack had I called and lost, but I would have lost about half of my stack. The other consideration here was that this player seemed unlikely to be the type to make some kind of play in this situation. I also doubted that he would raise from under the gun with a hand like A-10. It seemed like an easy laydown, as there were far better spots to try to pick up chips.
Unfortunately, even though you try to avoid confrontations, sometimes it is hard to do. I was dealt A-K suited in middle position and raised to 220,000, 2.2 times the big blind. The loose, dangerous player to my left called, and the small blind went all in for about 2.2 million. There was roughly 2.9 million in the pot. Normally, against an average to tough field, calling a reraise with A-K suited and a big stack would be an easy decision, given the size of the pot. However, I was reluctant to get into a race, given the ease with which I was accumulating chips. But two things led me to believe that I "had" to call.
First, I had been playing very loosely, so it was feasible that my opponent might make this play with A-Q or even A-J. But, this still looked like it would be a race. The other factor was that there was already a caller adding to the size of the pot. The pot was just too big to fold here. This is one of those cases in which, although the pot odds dictate a call, I think you could argue that folding would be OK. I think I would have folded without the additional caller, but I called and lost to Q-Q.
This loss wasn't devastating, but now I was at risk that one more big pot would put me in a tough position. By the time we were five-handed, I was the short stack at the table, when luck came to my side. I sucked out with A-8 versus A-Q. I then went on to hit two flush draws when I was in trouble both times on the flop. Those lucky hands gave me the chip lead by the time we were heads up. My moniker at Full Tilt Poker is "IonlyplayAA," in reference to a comment made by an opponent when I lost with A-A during my deep run in the 2004 World Series of Poker main event. Thus, it was only appropriate that my last hand was A-A.
I've had much bigger cashes than this before, but it is pretty cool to win a tournament with 10,000 entrants! The great thing about this tournament was that I really didn't plan on playing it. I registered for the tournament the day before it started. However, on Sunday, I realized that since I had only one monitor (I was out of the country), I didn't have enough space to play as many tournaments as I usually do. I thought I had unregistered, but to my surprise, the tournament popped up and started. Now that's what I would call a lucky day!
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.