My day in (or rather out of) the Sun

I’d had a pretty good year in the league and finished fifth (a million miles behind Grumbledook but a decent points haul nonetheless) and qualified for the 9 man play off. I’ve played thousands of single tables and just approached this one in the usual way. I ran well and got cards when I needed them and somehow managed to take it down. It was as tough a one table as I have played in a while and I definitely rode my luck but, unlike Phil Hellmuth, without luck I’d never win.

So I was off to Vegas – excellent! I’ve been a couple of times before and there is no city quite like it. However, then came the Icelandic volcano to put a spanner in the works and my ideal dates were compromised by work commitments. The Mob generously offered to defer the package through to WSOPE in the autumn and after thinking it through I opted to play in London itself.

Fast forward a few months to Sunday 19th September 2010, the day of my WSOPE debut. I found myself living the life of a high roller, well, to an extent. I was staying in a central London hotel where breakfast cost £30 and a room service chicken tikka massala was £25. In fact, the ridiculously priced poached eggs on toast were about as glamorous as it got, there were no hookers and champagne involved and I had even avoided any alcohol the night before so that I was fully focussed for the day ahead.

I walked down from Holborn to Leicester Square and registered at the Empire before descending to the darkness of the main casino floor. I had arrived by 11am which seemed to be ridiculously early by most poker player’s standards. Having picked up my seat assignment (table 3, seat 4) I found myself sipping a coke at the bar and chatting to a Canadian whizz kid. He had landed at Heathrow a couple of hours before and was pondering whether beer or red bull was the best way to combat jet lag. Following a license law determined decision to go with red bull, he was telling me how he had come over for this event and the main event and would possibly play the high roller heads up. He was just 18 and he’d made the trip, even though the expenses were costing him about £5k, as this was his only shot at becoming the youngest ever bracelet holder. “Fair enough” I said, all the while thinking that at 18 I was working on a checkout after school so that I could afford the weekend’s beers. We were still 3 years away from the first series of Late Night Poker back then.

I also bumped into Jason “Nightbully” Kemp, the Ironman winner who was also playing today. Jason seemed like a nice guy and I took comfort in the fact that he seemed more nervous than me!

The call went out to take our seats and I found table 3 just as Joe Beevers approached. I’ve always been a fan of Joe (and Barny, Ross and Ram) since the days of Late Night Poker so it was a pleasure to meet him. Joe provided me with some extra patches to give me that Full Tilt sponsored pro look. I settled down at the table and we were soon six handed and all filling out our image release forms. At this point I was vaguely disappointed that I didn’t recognise anyone else at the table immediately. Some people may think it is perverse, but one of the reasons I had opted to play at WSOPE was that the fields would be tougher and I stood a better chance of being on a table with a big name pro. Whilst this was intuitively negative expected value, I wanted to see for myself whether I could take these guys on.

Just before we were about to see the cards in the air, Phil Laak sat down in seat 9 and was followed into place by Freddie Deeb in seat 8. I’d got my wish as Phil had just won his first bracelet and Freddie is one of the all time greats. I knew that between they had around $10 million in tournament winnings. At the next table over, Neil Channing was sat in between Willie Tann and the Devilfish. I was definitely in a big tournament.

With a 3000 chip starting stack there was never going to be too much room for manoeuvre but the first level was 25/25 so my plan was to keep it fairly tight until I had chance to get a feel for the table. About half a dozen hands in I was shocked at quite how badly an unknown player in the 6 seat gave his stack to Freddie Deeb. He had opened in mid position for 100 and was re-raised to 350 by Freddie on the button. He made the call and the flop was Ks Jc 7d with just the two of them. Mid position guy bet 700 and Freddie set him in for roughly 1900. Mid position made the call instantly and flipped over Ah Jh while Freddie flipped over Ad Kc and took it down. I thought to myself that however today goes I’m not going to toss away my stack that lightly.

I got involved in a few pots in the first level but didn’t lose or win much. I took a small pot off Phil by 3 betting on the flop and I took a small one off Freddie Deeb by 3 betting preflop. Freddie seemed annoyed at his fold and got up and went for a walk for a good 20 minutes. He needn’t have been as I was holding KK and kicking myself that I hadn’t played it slower.

I had pretty much the starting stack at level 2 with blinds up to 25/50. We had already lost a couple of players from our table and bust outs were happening around the room as people tried to get chips early and found you only had enough space to play one big pot. I then defended my big blind against Phil Laak and flopped a small 2 pair. After we both checked the flop, I took over the betting on the turn and river. Phil called-called and to my chagrin I discovered he had rivered a better 2 pair.

I was down to about 2k and spent the rest of the level scrambling back up to around 2.5k before I had my stack cut again by Freddie Deeb. I had been dealt TT in the cut off. Freddie had open min-raised under the gun for 100 and was re-raised by a player I had pegged as fairly loose to 300, I called the 6bb as did Deeb. We all checked a flop of Qx 9x 5x and after it was checked to me when another 5 hit the turn I decided to make a thin value bet of 500 to try and take the pot down. Unfortunately Freddie promptly set me all in and I thought it through before making the fold.

By this point I was completely relaxed at the table and enjoying the banter. Phil Laak was reading out his list of movies to watch from his Blackberry and receiving commentary and advice from the table. The best that can be said about the list is probably that it was ‘eclectic’ (the Vampire’s Assistant, Resident Evil 3D and Ratatouille alongside some obscure European films). Phil then move onto talking about hand percentages when Freddie Deeb intervened:

“Phil, go back to talking about movies not poker”.
“Why’s that Freddie?” asked Phil.
“Because I don’t like the way you play poker” responded Freddie to the entire table’s amusement (including Phil).

I had made it through to the first break having seen 7x 2x three times and 2 x 3 x four times but the only pairs were KK once and TT once. I was not at this point running well and I was now into dangerous territory with my stack down to 1300 and blinds up to 50/100. It was quite a nice size to 3 bet all in though and that was my plan.

My spot had come when I was in the small blind with stack at 1200 and I found Ad Jd. UTG opened for 250 with 2 callers with mid size stacks. UTG guy had been moved to the table with a short stack mid way through level 2 and had managed a couple of double ups with fairly loose play, hence the two callers behind. I had no reason to believe that I didn’t have the best hand and even if I got a call then I could well be racing for 3k which would get me back off life support. Sadly UTG had Qh Qc and shipped his stack in. The Kd 7d 2c flop gave me 9 more outs but Phil Laak took that opportunity to claim he had folded an Ace and the cards ran out blank.

I had lasted less than 3 hours but I had had a blast, with no major regrets about the way I played and a fantastic experience that I’ll never forget. I had got to play and banter with some of the biggest winners in tournament poker and felt totally at home. All that was left to do was to text Joe my exit hand details and thank him for the opportunity, you really can’t beat the added value in the Hendon Mob Forum League.