My Two Mistakes From WSOP 2015

As I’ve gotten older, more mature, and better at tournament poker, the mistakes I make are much smaller, but not any less significant. When you look at professional golf as an example, what makes them better is not that they consistently hit perfect shots, it’s that their misses are not as big as the average golfer. When they are 105 yards out they are trying to sink the shot. They rarely do, but they often get the ball to within 5 feet of the hole.

The two mistakes I’m going to share with you may not seem all that big, but they are the two that stick out to me so I thought I would share them with you:

Hand #1 Justin Schwartz threw out a 500k chip in the cutoff with 80k-160k blinds and didn’t say anything. I know limping is part of his game plan, but he had smaller denomination chips that he could have called with. My thinking was that he did this on purpose to make it look like he meant to raise so that the rest of us left in the hand would be less likely to attack his limp.
I picked up 7d 8d on the button and limped. This is exactly the type of hand that plays well post flop and I didn’t think it was necessary to isolate Justin. The small blind folded and the big blind checked his option.
The flop came Kd 7s 6c and both players checked to me. Here is where the mistake comes: I bet 250k. The big blind folded, and a short stacked Justin check raised to 600k. I called with lots of back door potential with a 3 card straight, 3 card flush, and a pair.
The turn was the 3 of clubs and he went all in for about 3 million. I didn’t think about it for very long and folded my pair.

So what is the mistake? My bet sizing on the flop allowed Justin enough room to check raise me as a bluff. If I bet 450k he would have to risk a million or so to bluff me and that wouldn’t have left him enough wiggle room. By betting just 250k in a spot where I could easily be bluffing myself, I opened the door to get outplayed. I found out later that he had QT of clubs so he turned a flush draw but I was still ahead. I don’t think folding the turn is a mistake, besides, he had 15 outs to beat me, but that could have been avoided had a I made a more substantial bet on the flop.

Hand #2 Blinds at 150k-300k Alex (short stacked) raised from middle position at a 5 handed table to 600k and I defended the small blind with Ac 6c and we went heads up to a flop of 10-10-3. I checked, he bet just 350k and I called. The turn was a 9 and we both checked, and once again it went check check on the Jack river.

So what is the mistake? This one is a little more subtle so think about this one for a minute…

Some would argue calling preflop is a mistake. I disagree with that, and that’s not the mistake. When I checked and he bet 350k I felt like I had the best hand, but wasn’t certain. The play was to check raise to one million and put the pressure on Alex to guess. A 10 is a card that is very likely to be in my hand (9T, JT, QT, KT, AT) so even if he had a hand like 88 he may consider folding. Truth is though, he rarely has a hand like that and bets only 350k. To call my check raise he would have to call more than 25% of his stack and then be in no mans land on the turn whether I bet or check.

Turns out he had Q9 and hit the 9 on the turn to beat me that hand. Many would look at the hand and think “unlucky.” I don’t see any value in that. What’s the point in labeling it as lucky or unlucky? Did I play the hand the best way that I could? No. There is value in analyzing your plays, not your variance.

My last hand was the A4 vs J3dd hand on an AKTdd flop. Some will argue that against a player who opens 100% of buttons in that spot, that moving all in preflop is a better play. I think for most people that is absolutely true, but not for me, and not in that situation. The reasoning for that is a little lengthy but I’ll try to explain it in brief the best I can:

My goal was to win the tournament not make the final 9. I knew that Joe was abusing the bubble and the other players were not fighting back. I felt fine playing both in position and out of position against his very weak range post flop. My strategy wasn’t to just guess when he had a hand preflop that was strong enough to call a reraise, it was to see flops with him and eek out value wherever I could and rather than double up in a flip situation, GRIND my way to a double up.

It was working. I was able to go from 4 million in chips to 9 million without being in an all in situation. I was clawing my way back into the match by seeing flops and moving in with some hands when necessary.

Once I got over 8 million it allowed me to start defending my blind a bit more liberally against Joe. A few rounds in a row I had defended the blind, once with an all in reraise with KT, a much better hand to move all in with than A4, by the way, considering how he was playing.

So the reason I chose to call with A4 rather than reraise was threefold:

1) It balances my calling range from the blind a little bit
2) I WILL get extra value post flop when I hit an Ace. He can’t check an Ace
3) I avoid getting it all in preflop in spots where I will almost certainly be a 2-1 underdog when called

Once the flop came out, the hand played itself and it wasn’t meant to be in the end. Had I won that pot, though, I would be sitting on a very healthy stack of about 14 million. That’s the way I do it. Chop away, chop away, chop away, see flops, try to get it in good when necessary, and then hopefully the hand holds. It didn’t this time, but I’m quite happy with how I played overall and stuck to my game plan throughout.

I said this to a friend yesterday and I will leave you with this, “The game is much simpler than people want to make it out to be. It’s only complicated when you choose to complicate it.”