Sunday, May 28, 2006

Poker Day

Long day yesterday. Got up early to see C off as she rushed off to catch a 7am flight to Okinawa for a friend's wedding. Then I figured I'd just play a few hands online before heading off to the gym.

Does it ever work out that way? I tore myself away about 3 hours later. I wasn't even winning, just holding my own. Still playing mostly on the Bad Beat Jackpot tables on Party -- for a guy who says he doesn't like limit holdem, I sure seem to be playing a lot of it.

Gym, lunch, and then off to the JPPA room in Ueno. With the girlfriend off until Sunday evening, it was time to get in as many hands as possible. The 2pm game in Ueno was Holdem, but the 7pm game showed as 7-Card-Stud and Omaha Hi-Lo. Since the Saturday games are more expensive than the Everest Cup games on Fridays, I decided to play the 2pm holdem game and then head over to Duke in the evening for the fourth-Saturday-of-the-month games.

The crowd was light for a Saturday, only 14 players for the 2pm game. Maybe it was because of the price -- 5000yen! The Everest Cup games are only 500yen now, last I checked. Of course, Everest Cup sponsors the Friday games, wheras the Saturday games are all played for points in the WPJ series (presumably "World Poker Japan"). Winner earn points for placing in the weekly games, then at the end of the year, the player with the most points wins...

An entry to the WSOP main event, or an entry to a WPT $10,000 event. Whoa. This also explains why the Saturday games are more expensive.

This Saturday's tournament was... limit holdem.

Many of the Saturday games are NL, or limit for the first few levels and then switching to NL as the number of players dwindle. However, the fourth Saturday of the month is their limit-only tournament, with long levels. Since this is supposed to favor the skilled players, the tournament fee is higher than usual and the point values for the winners are quadrupled.

The game started out easy -- we all had deep stacks, and the blinds only increased every 30 minutes, so it was going to be a long battle. Towards the beginning, most pots had 4-5 callers and few raisers, and I found myself falling into the pattern of calling with a bunch of marginal hands. This paid off once or twice as I drew out an unlikely straight, but eventually I realized that if I was playing like this online, I would call myself an idiot and force myself back into a raise or fold mentality. It's easier in a live game to go with the flow and start passively calling, so I gave myself a stern talking to, warned that I'd be keeping a watchful eye on my shoddy play, and told myself I better shape up and play a better game, pronto.

I did tighten up and become more aggressive with the hands I had, and it paid off. I used my above-average stack to put pressure on the smaller stack players, and the friendly family game started getting a lot more serious as players got knocked out.

After a couple hours, we compressed down to a single table, and shuffled positions around. I checked everyone's chip count and I was in pretty good shape. One of the other players on my original table, a young lady named Kikuchi-san (going on the name she wrote on her drink glass to identify it) had a good stack as well, but several of the remaining players were struggling to stay in the game. I was still expecting to finish up in time to head over to Duke, so resolved to keep the pressure up and raise any pot I was getting involved with. Unfortunately, I found Kikuchi-san in the pot with me quite a few times, and we mostly shuffled chips back and forth between us for a while, occasionally sucking in blind money from the other players but not accomplishing much to thin the field.

6pm. I'm still in it, with a very healthy stack, and about 6 players left. I begin to think I might be here longer than I planned. Kikuchi-san's stack has been slowly shrinking after her early and mid-game successes. She seemed to be calling into pots too often, getting involved with marginal hands with slim chances of winning, yet not putting any pressure back on other players so they would fear getting involved with her. As we dropped to five players, she said her goodbyes and left - other plans. Her stack remained and we blinded it off. Celica-san, whose stack was dwindling, struggled to stay in the game because she "didn't want to lose to someone who wasn't even here," but didn't quite make it. I'm in the lead and still putting on pressure. Partly because I figured that was the correct thing to do, and partly because, dammit, look at the time! How long have we been here?!

7pm. Sida-san has fallen, and it's down to three humans (me, Doyle, and Otonn) and Kikuchi's zombie stack, now only a few chips. I comment that the only two tournaments I've won here, I was up against Otonn heads-up at the end. He and Doyle both seem a bit surprised to hear it. Otonn makes it to final tables a lot more than I do, so perhaps he's forgotten. The first time was the first night I walked through the door of the JPPA one Friday evening and introduced myself. We had only about 8 players that night, and for all I know Otonn took it easy on me as the new guy. The second time was about 6 months ago at one of the Everest Cup Friday night games, where I won my iPod nano. I had just finished reading Harrington on Holdem Vol 1 and felt enlightened. The stars aligned. I sat across from Otonn, huge stacks of chips in front of both of us, and managed to take it. I was more surprised than anyone.

Otonn had a bit of a dark look in his eyes as he considered my comment. "I'm not planning on making it three."

7:20pm. My lead has shrunk as I have bled chips off to Doyle and Otonn, and it's getting closer to even between the three of us. Have I been too aggressive? Doyle seems to have got a read on my preflop raises, meant to keep the pressure up, and is playing back at me selectively to see when I will lay down. I back off a bit, trying to figure out what I should figure are good cards to hold three-handed near the end of a tournament.

Queen Five offsuit. Doyle is on my left, Otonn on my right. I raise it up, and Doyle calls, Otonn folds. The flop comes with a queen and two other small cards. I bet, Doyle smooth calls. Turn is another small card. I bet, Doyle raises. Is he playing back at me, or did it help him? Either way, I still think my queens are good, so I reraise, and he calmly calls. The River is a five. I bet and he calls again, and I show my rivered two pair. He had Ace-Queen and was reeling me in - instead I cripple him and he goes out shortly afterwards.

7:30pm. Heads up with Otonn. He holds about 1/4 of the chips and is not going easy. All I know about heads-up play, and it's not much, is for no limit. But I think back to the articles I have read about the Andy Beal versus the Corporation games, which were heads up limit holdem. "Aggression is absolutely the key in heads up limit. If you have an edge, you push it." It's about all I have to go on, so I run with it. Otonn seems frustrated, as if he can't tell what my raises mean. I see him disgustedly throw away hands after raises, seeming to suspect he's got a good hand but not able to tell anymore. My plan works against me more than once, as we go to war on another queen high flop, bets and raises down to the river. I flip over my queen seven and he drags in the pot with his queen nine to take the lead.

7:40pm. I'm trying to check the time on the wall clock, but the glare of the ceiling lamp off its face blocks it out, so I pull out my mobile phone and flip it open to check the clock display. Doyle (now the dealer) and Otonn both freeze. Too late do I remember the rule against using your mobile phone at the table - no calls, no emails, no SMS. Flipping it open to check something on it may be enough to kill my hand. "Oh shit, I'm sorry, is it all right? I couldn't see the clock." Doyle hesitates a moment, then decides that since my cards are still untouched and unseen in front of me, we can continue. Abashed, I put the phone away and check. KJ offsuit. The flop comes with two Jacks and I drag down a big pot with it, feeling kind of like a shit. Otonn continues to brood and says nothing.

8:00pm. Otonn's down to his last chips, as my aggression strategy seems to have paid off. I'm in betting and raising with any king, any ace, and any pair, and if I hit a pair on the flop I am betting it to the end. More often than not the right cards have come for me. Finally, he's down to putting his last chips in for the big blind, and he flips over his 9-3 off. I had something like K-7, and the board brings two more 7s and a couple deuces for a totally unnecessary full house. Otonn shakes my hand, good sport to the end, and I discover that he's either left-handed or was once a boy scout.

Six hours of limit poker and I am wasted. All thoughts of heading to Duke are long, long gone. The remaining players at the other table applaud and I am too tired to know how to respond. I bob my head. Doyle notes with a smile that the six points for the win are quadrupled, so I just won 24 points towards the 2007 WSOP main event.

Me: " that a lot?" I've never had these point things before.

Doyle laughs.

I take the piss I've been holding for the last hour, make my goodbyes and head home. It's still early and I have a rare bachelor weekend with the girlfriend out of town, yet I go straight home, heat up a convenience store bento for dinner and zonk out in front of the TV to get around to watching my download of Sin City. My brain still feels packed in cotton. I wonder what it would be like to play in the main event... 12 hours a day. Then 12 hours the day after that. Then 12 hours the day after that.

I guess I'll worry about that if the time comes. The current point standings put me in fifth place, but next year's WSOP is a long way off and I'd need to play pretty much every week just to have a shot at it.

That's time and money better spent in other ways. But I'm still proud of this win. The real question is, will Otonn ever speak to me again?

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