Who’s the Boss?

I never came to Vegas to lose.

In 1997, the year of my first WSOP, I had a job. There was only one reason I had a job. I needed to get money.

I took time off from work to come to Vegas and play poker and the WSOP was pretty much the only time there was enough action in Vegas for me to justify the time, the flight and the expense.

I would sit in $4/8 Limit Hold’em and $5/5 Pot Limit Hold’em cash games whiling away my ‘holiday’. Not winning on the trip wasn’t even a consideration and the thought of blowing a week’s worth of ‘earn’ playing a tournament against people who were absolute legends to me was something I wouldn’t even contemplate.

In 2001, I finally couldn’t resist it. I had to try. I had to see how I matched up. I entered one of the smaller ones. There really weren’t any small ones. It was the $3,000 No Limit Hold’em event. I had very little experience of big buy-in tournaments. I generally played 20-quid and tenner rebuy tournaments with just the odd hundred quid one or bigger three or four times a year. I remember playing super tight with my 3,000 chips and getting very low with 100 players left. I needed a run of getting aces three times to finally get a stack going and that carried me into the latter stages.

Tournaments in the UK were mostly Pot Limit and all the cash games were, so when we the antes really started to bite I played way too tight. I folded a pair of sevens to a reraise from Ram Vaswani, a guy who had sussed the value of the three-bet long before anyone else, and that effectively killed my tournament. Erik Seidel polished me off and went on to grab the bracelet.

I won a seat for the Main Event that year and managed to finish 72nd, just outside the money. Not bad for a first try. I was hooked.

It wasn’t until 2007 that I started playing a double-figure number of events and in 2008 I had my first full-on WSOP playing 18 or so events. That number has always reached at least 24 since.

As someone who came into it very late, I’m quite proud of my 27 cashes for around $700,000. I was very proud to get nine cashes in 2008 and I have definitely got to the stage where I expect to run deep in these events. After last year’s second place and several deep runs in the big $1,500 fields, I wasn’t just hoping, I was really assuming, that I’d get close to a bracelet this summer.

I haven’t even managed a Day 2.

After the first ten events, I was extremely philosophical. I had busted out of nine of ten in situations where I was the aggressor in a pot that would give one of us at least twice the average and my opponent had called me. In every instance it had been a race, in some of those races I was 60 percent to win, and in every one, I had lost.

Fair enough, no complaints, part of the game.

It wasn’t until Event #20 that things started to really get painful. It was a $1,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em. I’ve never done well in those. You only get 3,000 in chips and I’ve always struggled to get going. In this one, we were well after the dinner break with the chip average at 13,500 and I was pretty happy with how I was playing. I was very happy with my 43,000 stack and I was absolutely delighted with my pocket eights on the J-8-4 rainbow flop. I was practically orgasmic when the guy with 45,000 went all in when the ace turned and I was fairly stunned and a little sad when he turned over his pocket jacks.

The shootouts are among my favourite events. In the $1,500 one, I had got heads-up on a pretty soft table and I got beat by a guy who got dealt a lot of big hands. In the $5,000, I never really got going and I didn’t play that well. It was very disappointing. I really wanted that one.

I took days off. I ate good. I swam. I missed events I might have played. I did everything I could think of to change things around.

Event #40 was the one that hurt the most of all. There isn’t a player at The Rio that doesn’t think he has an enormous edge at six-max. They will all tell you they crush this game online. I do think that I have a natural edge in this game though which I get because I’m now an old geezer. They think they can bash me around and however much they try and look at situations as they arise, they can’t help but think:

"He’s an old codger, so he probably has it."

Randy Dorfman didn’t think I had it though.

A total lunatic at our table was opening, three-betting and four-betting on every single hand. He opened and I raised the button. The blinds were 200/400, and I made it 3,300 from my 53,000 stack. Randy may well think I’m making a move here. I would probably be tempted to pull out the cold four-bet to 8,000 from the small blind with the Kd-Qd from my 55,000 stack if I were him.

I might get slightly suspicious when the English guy on the button makes it 16,300 though and I may not six-bet shove.

I called and the 120,000 pot would put me on five times average with three hours until Day 2.

If you’re going to get aces cracked you may as well do it in style. I felt sick, dazed, confused, demoralised and disappointed.

I stumbled out of The Rio.

The rest of the Series seemed like a mess. For certain, I played really bad in at least two events and there were four where I grinded like I really can grind when I want something so bad. In all four of those I crashed within an hour of Day 2 after a really hard days work. In all four I played to win and to give myself a chance to have chips. I was happy with my play but the bust-outs were all gut-wrenchers.

In between poker, I was trying to relax. I would play one-table sats if I bust but I was avoiding the cash games in favour of lazing by the pool at the Black Belt Poker mansion, dinners out with the Black Belt Poker team and some business meetings. We had a lovely BBQ and invited lots of friends round. The mansion is lovely and they’re a good bunch.

In the early stages of the series, the Black Belt Poker stuff was too distracting. We have a team of 15 here and dealing with everyone’s buy-ins, keeping records, getting them up and to The Rio on time, keeping the site up to date with news from here and playing father, mentor and boss was distracting me from my WSOP. I’ve learnt my lesson. Next year I will get more help.

The boys were all playing around eight events each this year and apart from a few minor cashes there hadn’t been much to cheer. With just one $1000 event and one $1500 to go beore the main one of us would need to plow through 3500+ players to save the day.

I’ve known Warren Wooldridge for almost twenty years. He was one of a small number of players who frequented the Vic in their twenties. We definitely stood out from the crowd of grumpy old men who had spent their previous twenty years in the same Seven-Card Stud game.

Warren had set up the country’s first gambling magazine ‘Inside Edge’, given Roland de Wolfe his first job, turned around Easy Odds, a gambling company that spawned Poker Verdict, a new poker organisation who were never really famous for anything other than sponsoring me and making me wear an Arsenal shirt for 300 days a year.

A couple of years ago I asked him to help me out with Black Belt Poker and after a while he became our first CEO. In between running the business and keeping an eye on his two young children while attending all Arsenal games he hardly has had time to keep up with the latest trends in playing styles. The triple range merge is not a weapon he brandishes often and his DeucesCracked membership is sadly under-utilised.

As the CEO of our enterprise, Warren did feel the need to road test the product. He wanted to really see how hard it was to go from signing up as a White Belt to Blue Belt and $1,500 in live tournament backing each month.

He found it was pretty easy and he’s been one of our team of players for a while.

With 400 people left in Event #54, we were thinking that Kevin Williams could give us a good result – he had twice the average. We definitely hoped that Jerome Bradpiece could double-up and get the deep run we’re all certain he has in him. We were so happy to see young Hasmukh Khodiyara – who won the iPoker WSOP Warrior on our site and who was playing this as part of his prize – playing well and getting deep.

We also had Warren plodding along behind with ten big blinds.

As the others fell one-by-one, Warren kept on surviving. God knows how he did it; he never even had half the average and he didn’t seem to be in many pots. Maybe he wasn’t putting the antes in.

Once Kevin was out, the last one out we had to rely on was Warren, but when he ended the day 40th of 45, we were really preparing for the "Well done, good effort, great job for hanging in there" speech.

Warren once came third in a Limit Hold’em event in 2006 and this year he went one better. If he could have got A-J to beat A-9 for half the chips in play three-handed he may have won it. The $298,000 was some consolation.

We were all very proud of him. Like me, Warren has been coming to the WSOP since 1997. He’s played way less events than I have in that time and he has a remarkable record getting results in all games.

I was very proud of him this week and I’m hoping the inspiration he has given me will help to lift me and get me through the Main Event. Meanwhile Warren is off home.

Somebody has to be the boss.