World Series of Poker, Las Vegas
$1,000 No Limit Hold’em

Harry Demetriou’s guest diary…

I (Joe) have just left Binions having watched Ross and Ram both make the money in today’s $1000 No Limit Hold-em multiple re-buy event. There were 538 entrants with 534 re-buys and 262 add-ons and 54 get paid. So having played for 10 ½ hours and getting knocked out in 58th I was a little disappointed. Maybe Barny was better off getting his Aces busted (again) a few hours earlier.

If Daniel Negreanu had his way this would have been the biggest prize pool in WSOP history. He managed a magnificent 27 re-buys at $1,000 each and has to finish 8th or better to make a profit! Daniel is still there and going well as is Phil Ivey (14 rebuys!) and Howard Lederrer. Ram had about $40,000 in chips when I left, well above average, and Ross about $10,000. Of the other Brits Ian Dobson had a good stack and Dave ‘El Blondie’ Colclough had just doubled up so the chances of a good Brit showing or even a bracelet are very possible.

Harry Demetriou, one of the regular posters on the Mob forum, and, although a relative newcomer to tournament poker, someone that is already making his mark in big international events has written a diary for us that shares his experiences from the Bellagio events through to the WSOP. He is also responsible for next months ‘Pro Tip’ and although he is still moving up the curve he has a lot of valuable things to say.

Over to you Harry…(take a deep breath)…

Feeling flattered that The Mob should invite me to write this column I’ll give it my best shot and hope you find my thoughts and approaches to these type of tournaments of interest.

The main event the other week was the $25K buy in Bellagio event and this was followed on Friday 23rd April with the $2K buy in No Limit Tournament which kicked off the World Series of Poker (WSOP). Traditionally the opening event was a Limit Tournament but due to The Internet and TV coverage No Limit’s popularity has soared to such an extent that more and more of these events now take place so supply is trying to meet demand. To qualify this, in my first ever tournament in 2002 at the WSOP, there were 440 players in the $2K buy in no limit event whilst in 2003 they had approximately ten more players but this year 840 lined up. In the Bellagio $25K event last year had around 111 players whilst this year they had 343. Not only that but on the preceding Saturday they had a $1 million super satellite yielding 42 seats for The Bellagio event.

How long this can last I do not know but the bottom line is that there are serious amounts of money up for grabs and if you want to get your share you are going to have to work hard for it and adapt to the new players and conditions demanded by these large field events.

Many castigate the on line players who qualify for these events claiming they are too loose, wild, inexperienced and unworthy of sitting down at the same table as seasoned real life pros but I for one do not agree. Personally I believe that the best online players are at least the equal of the best real life tournament players if not better because they represent a tiny subset of a huge larger global population. In the past the pool of tournament players may have been a few hundred but now you have an extra couple of thousand players from a global online group of tens if not hundreds of thousands. Not only that but these new kids (which many of them are) have been brought up on video games so to them poker is just another one of these games. Most frightening however is that due to the speed of internet poker sites and the ability of these players to play three or four tables at the same time they are able to make lightening quick decisions which in some ways may be our saving grace. When they get to a live game or tournament they find it so slow that they may get bored of playing. But that’s another story and perhaps we’ll leave the subject of online players to another day but for now let’s just say that just because there are some very bad internet players it doesn’t mean that they are all terrible and useless.

The point of all this is that you now have very large fields with very large prize pools which means that if you are going to succeed you have to adapt accordingly because you are going to encounter a diverse range of opponents from the solid professional to the complete and utter idiot.

It has been said many times that no limit poker is not about the cards but about people. To succeed you have to play the players as well as your cards. Time and time again people claim they didn’t get any cards and that they could never get in with a chance during a tournament but this applies to everyone and yet you will see the same faces time and time again going deep into tournaments and the prize money. Are these players lucky? Not at all, they simply get on with the job of utilizing whatever ammunition they have and turn bad cards into winning cards by selecting their weaker opponents or victims as their targets for collecting pots. In essence you need to be around long enough to give yourself a chance of getting good cards. TJ Cloutier said that No Limit is about mistakes and that you need to minimize your own and maximize your opponent’s mistakes and these are very prophetic words indeed.

However great a play you may make, absolutely nothing improves your equity more than your opponents making mistakes.

Poker is a game of imperfect or incomplete information and as such it is impossible to play perfectly. You can play the same cards against the same opponents in different ways on different days and all can be totally correct or incorrect.

In the Bellagio main event I got off to a good start. I had a pre conceived game plan but I soon found that because of a couple of very aggressive players at my table I had to revert to a tighter than hoped strategy. The structure was so slow that there was no real reason to play anything other than premium hands and to be honest without doing too much I managed to run my stack up from an initial 50K to 102K. The intention was to exploit opponents being too tight and do more than average stealing but I found very few real hands all day but as the day progressed it was easy to see who was playing very tight and who was playing too loose and I simply picked on the weaker opponents to get chips. Although I am not a fan of the Phil Helmuth book “Play Poker Like The Pros” one thing I do like is the way he encourages you to categorize players. Using your own definitions I would suggest you label players as Tight, Aggressive, Weak and/or Strong and once you have done this play accordingly. However don’t make the mistake of sticking rigidly to this. As play goes on key hands will develop that may cause these players to change from one type of player to another and if you are going to be successful you will have to notice these changes. You should also try to note which players are capable of putting in big bets on bluffs and or sub optimal cards and which are not. This is very important as depending on opponent’s bad beats and stack sizes it will affect their play. It will also help you in deciding whom you should try to stay away from and whom you should confront. The first level I spent developing my very tight image (something that cannot be said of me normally) and watching my opponents to see which thought AJ was a monster and those that would play poorer starting hands out of position. Having developed this image it was then a relatively easy process to steal in later levels when everyone would instantly fold whenever I came into a pot (albeit often with garbage) and when someone played back I would deliberate forever before appearing to reluctantly fold. An advantage of this too was that on later rounds there were bigger blinds and antes to steal. In essence then the approach was to develop and play on my perceived image because this is usually what will gain you your greatest advantage.

The second day I felt very ill and how I survived with 71K at the end of the day is beyond me. Ted Forrest (a great and underrated player in my opinion) came to my immediate right with a very large stack. He knows how to use his chips and was constantly raising every pot. This is his style when he has chips and he knows that everyone will get out of his way because they are scared of going broke. When you come across this type of player you have really only one course of action and that is to fight fire with fire. You simply have to play back and I did this four times in quick succession. Unfortunately for me the fifth time I decided to smooth call with an AQ suited and proceeded to hit top pair. Unfortunately he had raised with a 95 off suit and the flop came Q95 causing me to lose a significant number of chips. My saving grace however were running clubs and a possible gut shot straight which most likely saved me from losing more.

On the third day of the main Bellagio event I was running over my table quickly when a couple of new players joined the table. I had gone from 71K to 300K very quickly (within three rounds or thirty hands) and was in great shape. One of the players was Howard Lederer who was relatively short stacked and quickly began to get involved. After a couple of hands the two players to my left immediately started making comments like…”this game was Ok until you, the number one player in the world joined in” which to me signalled instant defeat and submission. I could see the grin on Howard’s face and I had a hard time concealing my glee at hearing these defeatist comments. Poker is a psychological war and although all players and especially the Howard Lederer’s of this world command and deserve respect they too will make mistakes. I don’t care who it is I have personally witnessed every one of them make a major mistake at one time or the other so never let yourself get into this defeatist attitude because you can beat each and every one of them. These two types of player are unlikely to ever succeed as they immediately go into defensive mode permitting the better players to bully them out of pots. This then was probably one of the main reasons day three was so easy as they kept rolling out of my way.

But before you all think I’m singing my praises too much I have an embarrassing confession. I lost 250K on a hand and went broke by making a very fundamental mistake, one that was so bad that even a novice would have a hard time making it. In short I made an all in call against the only player at my table who could break me with a substandard hand and was promptly sent to the rail quite deservedly (of course I could have got lucky but I didn’t and in any event if I did would not have been able to justify my bad play. There can be no justification for my mistake as it was pure and simply a whopper of a mistake which was self inflicted but also in part brought on by my opponent. I had made two previous lay downs against this same player in the previous half hour and I was simply pushed over the edge. Unless this kind of ego error can be eradicated it is IMPOSSIBLE to become a great player and I can only assure you all that this problem has been very readily and rapidly addressed. In real terms I threw away around $100,000 worth of real cash equity and absolutely nobody in the poker world can afford to do that. There were 80 players left at the time and I was approximately average if making the correct lay down as I would have had around 185K left in chips.

So let that be a lesson to you all…DO NOT LET EGO get in the way. The point I guess I’m trying to make is that because of the structure of the main event and the large stack sizes there was absolutely no hurry to do anything and that you had plenty of time to do nothing but watch opponents and play premium cards. The other point is that because of the large numbers of players you have to watch your opponents and try and label them and the kind of player that they are. Once you have done this you can then make the appropriate adjustments in order to play against them optimally. You can also see that you should try and remember how you played previous hands against your opponents so that you can try and trick them into making a mistake at a future time.

Having busted out through playing Russian Roulette using a gun with a fully loaded chamber on the Wednesday I was not sure if I wanted to play the Friday $2K no limit event at The Horseshoe but I had to prove to myself that I could get over this nightmare and my preponderance to self destruct at critical times during tournaments. As they say there’s no cure like jumping straight back into the fire and action.

Friday came and there I was sitting down at my table at midday in this 840+ player event and my table had three more than half decent players including John Bonetti. I was already in defeatist mode thinking this was a bad beat but I made my mind up I was going to play well and do my best. The first thing to note was that because I was drawn downstairs it was likely that I was going to have my table broken pretty quickly. If you get a chance and can find out it is important to know when you are going to be broken up because if you are not going to be around long enough with the same opponents you can only play regulation poker i.e. you can’t set up people with early plays for benefits later on in the way you could at The Bellagio.

Another key feature of this tournament was the incredibly fast structure. After four levels half the field had gone and noticing this has a big impact on your strategy. Regardless of whether you get any cards you simply have to get busy and you cannot afford to wait to play only good cards. With such a large field you also have to pay close attention to your opponents because there will be a very diverse range of players with different abilities. If you get a chance to see a hand called on the river make sure you see it because it tells you a lot about how players play and what there starting requirements are. Too often you see the guy who called turn over the winning hand first so make sure you get all the information that you have paid for.

Using this knowledge by the end of level three or four I was probably chip leader with around 32K in chips but the constant moving and the ever increasing blinds and antes was always going to catch up with everyone but nonetheless I still managed to finish 50th and well into the money which paid down to 81st place. My stack size was very volatile due to the fast pace at which I needed to play but it’s far easier to play with chips than without them. They are a powerful weapon and you should use them when you have them because your opponents will fear you.

It was only $3600 in prize money but this was my fifth cash at the WSOP and this was only my third WSOP and probably my 15th or 16th tournament at The Horseshoe in total. In fact looking back I do not know how I ever got to a final table as I know much more now than I did then but one thing I know that I have always had is my fearless approach and I don’t mind getting it wrong because we will all get it wrong from time to time. Nonetheless this was a much needed confidence boost after a dismal third day at The Bellagio.

If you have ever played any of The Horseshoe WSOP events there is nothing on earth to describe the feeling and if you make a final table you feel like God and playing a $25K buy in event is very special indeed. It’s like a childhood dream where you grow up wanting to play with your sporting heroes but in this case you will definitely be taking on the best and worst in the world.

In the next ‘Pro Tip’, May 2004, Harry offers some very good advice following on from what he has said here.