Final Table (Finally) at the Academy

After a succession of near misses, I finally made a final table last night. On Day 2 of the WSOP Academy, 185 of us sat down for a tournament structured the same as the nightly Caesar’s tournaments I described in the last post, with a couple of twists. Instead of a typical cash tournament, there is no money distributed for the top 10% of finishers. Instead, the last person standing receives a $10,000 entry into the World Series Main Event. In addition to the camp attendees, all the pros in attendance sat down and played as well. Although the pros could not win the $10K entry, they could (and did) bust out players along the path. Thus, in addition to a mix of strong and weak players attending the camp, we had Greg Raymer, Joe Hashem, Phil Helmuth, Mark Seif, and a slate of other pros. They had a side bet between them with the last pro standing collecting bragging rights and cash from all others.

I sat down to a table with some meek, and some aggressive players, along with Annette15, a pro from Norway (online cash winnings in excess of $3 million despite that fact that she’s too young to compete in U.S. casinos). My first big hand came up early on, when an aggressive player in early position raised to $150, got one caller, and it folded around to me on in the small blind. I found JJ, and re-raised to $450 with the intent of either taking the pot there, realizing that I was a big underdog (if he re-re-raised), or isolating the original raiser. Sure enough, the big blind folded, the original raiser just called, and the other player folded. Isolated against the original raiser, my jacks just improved in value. I was still, however, expecting to let go of them if a king or ace hit the flop (I was less concerned about a queen and would likely bet it if the flop was queen high).

All of those mental preparations, it turned out, were unnecessary. The flop was ideal: T, T, J, giving me a full house. I took some time, and checked, figuring the original raiser would sense weakness. He fired right away with a feeler bet of $500. This, I assume was designed to get some information, but not necessarily to chase me away given that it was less than half the pot. If I raised, he would probably shut down, but if I just called, perhaps he’d keep pushing.

I again took my time and just flat called the bet, hoping that his hand would improve on the turn so he’d keep going. On the turn, an ace hit. I again paused, and checked. I wasn’t worried about his having aces given that he didn’t re-re-raise preflop. The raiser pushed in $1000. I thought about the progression of the hand and put him either on a middle pair, or a big ace. Again, I just called. The river was a 5 — no help. I checked in hopes of getting his last $1500 which he obliged by pushing in as soon as I checked. He went a little white when I insta-called. The full house resulted in lots of oohs and ahhs as the dealer pushed all the chips over to my end (he had 9-9 so my read was right on).

Annette15 showed how she won so much online, getting very aggressive, and just abusing the weaker players at the table. She and I only tangled twice with no real damage either way. She gave me credit for hands both times given my growing chip stack. As the tournament progressed, the tables started breaking with more and more campers busting out. I got lucky twice to keep my steady accumulation going. First, when I hit two pair on the turn with 10-3o to bust a medium stack who overplayed a pair of 9s.

The second hand was a pure fluke, a mistake that turned positive for me. I read the big blind as weak when I was on the button and made a standard raise preflop. Unfortunately, given the quickly rising limits, the standard raise was about half my stack. He talked a lot, and I knew I was behind when he pushed all in, leaving me a with a very tough decision. I had 9-10 of hearts, a good drawing hand, but not a hand you want to go broke with, particularly without the benefit of seeing the flop first. I really would have at least preferred to see a flop, but I had to decide if I was going to proceed with a crippled stack or make a stand with this hand.

I put him on a big ace who did not want me to see a flop, which would have put me as a little over a 2:1 underdog, but the amount of money in the pot was giving me more 2:1 given the amount I had left. It was the right mathematical call, but I knew I’d need to get lucky as I would likely lose 2/3 of the time. I announced that I thought I had two “live cards” as I called the bet and sheepishly turned over my measly suited connectors. My opponent from Dallas was thrilled as he had a pair of queens. I was horribly wrong in my read, and I was well beyond a 2:1 underdog. I needed to get incredibly lucky to survive, with either a straight, a flush, or a miracle two-pair.

Sure enough, the poker gods sent me two more hearts on the flop, giving me 4/5 of a flush with two cards to come. Miraculously, I was now only approx. a 60:40 underdog. I very quietly asked the dealer “one more heart, please” and he obliged with the 7 of hearts on the turn, giving me a flush and converting the queens from a massive favorite to drawing dead (no card on the river could save him). While I was happy to begin stacking my chips, I had to hear about that hand the rest of the night from Mr. Dallas (who did, by the way, still make the final table).

To my immediate left was an incredibly aggressive guy, celebrating his birthday with what looked to be the tournament of his life. He was clearly starting to feel the pressure as we were working our way toward three tables remaining, snapping at his wife to get him something to eat. One thing that became clear, however, was that he was a one move player: All-in, all-in, all-in, typically in the face of a raise. I didn’t particularly want to tangle with him, but when a hand folded around to me in the big blind and with the number of players dwindling, I figured I’d be able to steal his big blind. I raised without even looking at my cards. He looked at his cards, looked at my stack, and pushed all-in. Oops. I’d seen him do it several times the same way, and I didn’t think he had anything. I had him covered (albeit not by a lot), and thought through the bet patterns and his reactions before looking at my cards. Finally, I decided that if I had an ace, a king, or any pair, I’d make the call as I had him on a stone bluff.

I looked at the first card and it was a 4. Not good. The second card was a king. Ugh. Courage of convictions? Rely on the read and hope the poker gods were still with me? Yep. With a “let’s gamble,” I called and turned over K4. The guy went absolutely nuts. “How the HELL can you call me with that shit?!” What an idiot!” yadda yadda yadda. At that point, I knew I was ahead and, sure enough, he turned over 8h 6d. The flop comes king high and the birthday boy took his rant on the road. Mr. Dallas leans over and says “nice call” and that he would have called with just about anything given the way the guy had been playing.

From there, it was a relatively easy cruise, stealing the occasional pot when in position and avoiding any hard decisions. After two more hours, we were down to 10 players, with the final 9 to play the following night for the $10K ticket. At this point, there were two tables of 5, playing hand-for-hand (meaning that when one table finishes a hand, it waits for the other table to finish a hand so people don’t intentionally delay in hopes of the other table busting someone first).

During the first hand, I was the first to act (a position that typically folds just about anything because everyone else gets the advantage of acting after you). I had a bit of a dilemma, looking at Q-Q. This is a monster hand when playing with only 5 players, but any ace or any king has the ability to beat me. I had a little above average with $40,000 or so in front of me, with blinds at $2,000/$4,000 and $300 antes. Thus, the money in the middle totaled $7,500. I thought about it for awhile, looked at everyone else who had peaked at their cards, and raised to $16,000, hoping I could just take the blinds and antes or, at worst, get one smaller stack caller. I was scared to death of the chip leader pushing back, assuming that I’d have to make an uneasy call all-in preflop. If I got a caller and no all-in preflop, I was prepared to dump the queens if a king or ace hit the flop.

The guy to my immediate left thought briefly and pushed all-in. This was actually a very good thing for me because (1) he had fewer chips than I did so worst case scenario I was still alive, and (2) it would likely chase away anyone who wanted to just call. Sure enough, Mr. Dallas in the big blind thought for a long time before mucking his pair of 9s (a very good lay-down). I called immediately and realized I was a huge favorite when my queens faced down against a pair of jacks. Both suits were identical, meaning that the jacks could not get lucky with a flush. No help on the board and we were down to nine.

We play the final table tonight at 8:00 pm during the final banquet of the Academy. There will be a raised platform up front and we’ll play with closed circuit cameras broadcasting to big screen TVs throughout the hall for the others to watch while they eat. The winner gets the magic $10K ticket, while 2nd and 3rd get certificates to a future Academy (not sure what I’d do with that). Each of us get a $300 pair of Oakley sunglasses, so at least I can say I won something tangible on this trip.

This morning’s session was fun in that they announced the final table and had us stand during the introductions. Although all the players are within range of each other, I’m in second place currently with $79,300. The chip leader has $95K and the short stack has about $25K. With the blinds at $3,000/$6,000, and $500 antes, there won’t be a whole lot of options. Each pot will start with $13,500 in blinds and antes. I’ll need to find a strong hand and push as most everyone will either fold or move all-in. I’m intending to play it conservatively in hopes that the small stacks get overly aggressive. If I get a hand, I’ll have no hesitation in moving it all in, but I think my greatest advantage would be playing heads up so I’ll likely get out of the way with anything marginal.

No matter how it turns out, it’s the perfect capper to what has been a very strong week. I’ve gone deep in every tournament I’ve played, and it gives me enough confidence and momentum to go forward with the Main Event, whether I win the ticket or not. I had a good chat with Joe Hachem, the 2005 Main Event winner (Aussi, Aussi, Aussi) who had some good first-day advice.

I’ll update with the results of the final table tomorrow.

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