Part II: How Mike Caro Got Eliminated From The World Series Of Poker

Mike Caro professional poker playerTournament complaint three.

Rebuy tournaments. I don’t like that whole concept. I won’t revisit the reasons today, but it comes down to the inequality of opportunity between those who can afford to rebuy and those who can’t. Furthermore, those – like myself – who are interested primarily in winning the first-place trophy will usually rebuy or add-on, given the opportunity, even when the decision is not merited in terms of profit.
I believe that in a tournament, anything you do correctly to increase your chances of winning first place should not be punished. But that’s not the case with poker tournaments today. The ones that work, in my mind, are winner-take-all in which the table champion gets immediate compensation and advances to the next winner-take-all table. Don’t get me wrong. As I’ve said before, I have nothing against “rebuy events,” just don’t call them “tournaments.”

Having now sounded my tournament dissent, I’ll tell you that this year I entered the main event at Binion’s World Series of Poker for the first time. Before this year I was content to say that, although I’d never won the event, I’d never lost it, either. Now I can’t say that anymore.

The hand.

Those of you who follow this column and take an interest in the Internet know that I frequently recommend the discussion group You’ll need a newsreader to access it. Anyway, in May, I left a message about how I got eliminated from the tournament. I’d like to share it with you now. Then, next column, I provide some of the responses and my subsequent comments. Here it is (although it has been edited slightly to conform to my follow-up post revising the seating positions)…
Subject: How Mike Caro got eliminated — an interesting hand From: (Mike Caro) Date: 1998/05/12 Newsgroup:

How would y’all have played this hand? I got eliminated with it, and possibly should have played it differently. Here’s the situation…

We are three hours into the final $10,000 buy-in event at the World Series of Poker. I’m at table two, which is outside the main room in the satellite area. My table consists of no players that I am very familiar with, but five of my eight opponents have talked about my books and introduced themselves. Surrealistically, there are two separate discussions about my philosophy of tells while the action is going on — neither of which I participate in. Everyone is friendly. Opponents all seem experienced and capable, but no super stars that I can spot. All male. Action is marginally loose compared to what I expected in this main event at the early stages (I’ve never entered before).

After about three hours, I’ve built to $13,500 in chips. I have Ad-Qd Two seats to the right of the button (dealer position), nine handed. Blinds are $50 and $100. Everyone passes to the player on my right (6th position). He makes a routine attack raise of $300 ($400 total). He has far fewer chips than I do, probably about $7,000. Here’s my first decision.

I can pass, call, raise marginally, or raise big. You could make an argument for any of those four tactics, since nobody behind me has more chips than I do, although the button has almost as many.

I call. Button also calls. Time for the flop.

It’s Kd-Kc-6d giving me an ace-high flush draw with my Ad-Qd. Sixth seat bets $1,400. I debate. A good argument can be made for throwing the hand away here. Actually, I would if the off card were a nine or higher, because this would greatly increase the chances of a full house. Pot is now $4,100 and it costs me $1,400 to call. In a ring game, I would occasionally raise here (not usually, though) — perhaps $3,000 or $4,000 more.

Again, there are valid arguments for passing, calling, and raising. I decide to call, but I think I would have folded a good percent of the time in similar situations. Button also calls.

Turn card is 7d. I make my flush. Check to me. There is danger here, but I need to weigh the chances of an opponent holding K-K, 6-6, K-6, or K-7 (not likely to be 7-7) to beat me against the chances of an opponent holding K-anything else — or even, less likely, two diamonds or another pair to lose to me. If I bet big, K-J, K-10, K-9 or K-smaller (except K-7 or K-6) may fold. If those hands call, I’m not as happy (because of the tournament danger), but I have the best of it.

There are valid arguments for checking along, making a small bet, or making a large bet. I move all-in.

Player on the button calls instantly with 6-6 (a full house), leaving me with only $300 in chips that last another 10 minutes.

I thought that since this was a hand with so many options, it would be fitting for r.g.p discussion. Of course, some readers will look at it and conclude that it is obvious that the hand should be played a particular way. But I don’t think so. Let me know what you think.

Build your poker bankroll at pokerStraight Flushes, Mike Caro

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The Benefits of an Aggressive Image

Scott Montgomery - WSOP November Nine

One of the most important aspects of poker is establishing an individual image and using it to your advantage. By playing an extremely aggressive game, you’re likely to get paid off when you make a big hand because your opponents assume you have nothing; by consistently playing tight, you’ll get away with bluffs because they assume you’re strong. Either approach is fine, but it’s tremendously important to be aware of your table image so you can profit by playing against it.

Most of the time, players fall between these two extremes and that’s not a formula for success. One of the keys to succeeding in poker is consistently playing a different game than everyone else at the table. Developing a unique style and then varying your game allows you take advantage of opponents who don’t adjust their game.

Personally, I feel the style that works best is all-out aggression. One important reason for this is that it gives me a shot at becoming the chip leader and running away with the tournament. On the other hand, it can also lead to busting out early. For me, this is a risk worth taking; in the long run, I’m more interested in finishing tournaments in 1st place once in a while than just making the money most of the time.

Keep in mind that this type of aggression isn’t just a matter of bluffing to steal pots; my ultimate goal is to get paid off when I have a big hand. By getting involved in a lot of pots with mediocre hands while still keeping my stack close to even, I put myself in a position to profit from opponents who are convinced that I’m completely loose and taking shots with any two cards. I don’t have to be successful every time I bluff, just enough to stay alive and reinforce that wild image so that when I catch that hand, I’ll be sure to win a big pot.

Here’s a perfect illustration from Day Seven of the World Series of Poker Main Event – the day that determined who would reach the final table. I came into the day with about 4.5 million in chips, which was a little below the average. I knew that to make it to the final table and have a real shot at taking it down, I’d need about 15 million in chips. I had no intention of sneaking in short-stacked, so I knew I’d have to triple up over the course of the day.

I stayed pretty even throughout the whole day, except for two massive pots that were directly related. The first pot came early in the day, when I tried to bluff a player off a pot on the flop with nothing but Ace-high. I made this all-in move because I thought I could get the guy to fold. He ended up calling with top pair, but I spiked the Ace on the river to double up through him. I certainly got lucky there, but one other very important thing came out of it: I made the table aware that I wasn’t afraid to make a move for most or all of my stack.

Later in the day I was involved in a hand where I had the nuts – there were four spades on the board and I had the Ace of spades. My opponent had a smaller flush – with the nine of spades, I believe – but my image was so crazy that he called because he put me on another bluff. The earlier hand, when I pushed with the Ace-high, had to have been in the back of his mind. Poker players always want to call. They think: what hands can I possibly beat? This is magnified when you’re at a TV table, because no one wants to be that guy who laid down a good hand and lost a huge pot to a stone-cold bluff, especially when the whole nation is watching. Because of my loose image, I ended up winning an 18 million chip pot.

In a sense, it isn’t easy to play poker this aggressively. You have to be equipped to handle the emotional swings; you have to understand, deep down, that sometimes you’re going to lose huge pots – maybe even your whole stack – on a bluff. When it happens, you can’t collapse. You have to walk into the next tournament willing to make that same play again, because most of the time it will work. You can never be afraid at the table or preoccupied with the past. To play this aggressively, you have to believe that it’s the right way. If you can manage this, you’re going to be successful in the long run.

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Paul Wasicka: On The Future of Poker

The Future of Poker - by Paul WasickaPeople were surprised at the number of “amateurs” at the final table in the 2006 WSOP Main Event. This year they wondered if a pro would ever win the Main Event ever again! While the Main Event is far from a scientific analysis of how the poker world is doing, it’s a good jumping off point.

One year removed from my seat at the Main Event final table, people kept asking me what had changed in my life. But as I looked out at this year’s final table, I kept thinking about how poker had changed. More importantly, I kept asking “What will poker look like in the future?” This isn’t a “year in review” or anything like that, but it’s important to see what has affected poker this year in order to predict what might cause changes down the road. While poker has been around in some form or other since time began, in recent years it has become a much more volatile industry, subject to the whims of media executives, popular perception, and lawmakers worldwide. Up until now, this volatility has meant one thing: incredible growth. Five years ago, 630 sat down for the Main Event. This year, 621 people got paid!

It’s hard to look at numbers like that and feel anything but optimistic about poker’s future. But let’s look at a few other numbers. In 2006, there were 8773 players. This year there were 6358. That’s a drop of 27.5%. Does this spell doom for poker? Perhaps not immediately and perhaps not at all, but just as money quickly won can be quickly lost, so too can an industry flash in the pan and then sputter out.

Poker has seen dramatic changes in the past year, many of them for the good. We’ve witnessed the rise of non-profit organizations like the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) and the World Poker Association (WPA), among others. These organisations are fighting for the future of poker, working to legalize and legitimize this great game and to keep it professional. They are also standing up for players’ rights. For too long, casinos and sponsors have wielded all of the power and made the decisions upon which literally millions of dollars ride, often without even consulting players. While we are still far from the equilibrium that the players deserve, it has been great to see some recent measures adopted that make the game more “player friendly”.

One of these changes came when WSOP officials made the payouts less steep for the Main Event. While that results in fewer stacks of hundreds behind the bracelet this year, it also means that more people can afford to continue playing poker because “merely” cashing in an event still means something.

There are other positive changes too. Last month the WPT tried a new final table structure during the Bellagio Cup. The goal? Increased post-flop play, more creativity; in essence: more skill. This has a number of benefits. Due to certain legal nuances, if poker is to survive, it must be considered a game of skill, not merely one of chance. For that reason alone, this slower structure is a good one, but it’s also time to give an informed television audience the skilled play they’ve been denied. They can handle it! The ratings might dip at first, but once people realize that all-ins don’t happen every single hand, I think audiences will prefer watching players get out-played instead of out-flopped. I’m not sure I’d even call what is typically shown on TV these days poker. I hate to say it, but if the only poker I knew was what I’d seen on TV, I’d be inclined to agree with the [US] government and most of the “haters” out there that this is primarily a game of luck. It’s time to showcase skill and the WPT went a long way toward doing just that.

And who knows? Maybe it’s all a conspiracy. Maybe “the man” set up steep structures to send the message that “anyone can win”, thus encouraging the growth of the game. I mostly joke, but whatever the reason, with “Cinderella stories” like Chris Moneymaker’s, my own, and thousands of others, I think people have gotten the point. Now it’s time to tell the other side of the story. The harder you work, the more you put in, the more you get out.

The negative influence on the game this year has undoubtedly been the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). AT the time of the bill’s passing, ESPN had been airing poker tournaments for years and changing the public’s perception of “gambling” with each rerun. The UIGEA did much to wipe out these good feelings. Most of the non-poker playing public didn’t bother to learn that the UIGEA did nothing to make the playing of online poker any more or any less legal than it already was. Nevertheless, the result was a huge black eye for poker. I can’t even count the number of friends and family members who kept asking me what I would do “now that online poker was against the law”.

So where does all this leave us? Did poker get it’s moment in the sun only to return to shady, smoke-filled back rooms, or is it here to stay? Now that the public has whetted it’s appetite for this great game, there’s no way it will totally die. But the way I see it, if poker is to thrive, we as players need to unite and fight for our right to play.

Appeal the UIGEAThe first step is to repeal the UIGEA. Like the repeal of prohibition, as long as poker crosses the government’s palm with a little silver, there’s no reason why online poker has to be illegal. As it stands right now, people can watch poker on TV, and if their friend or a local charity has a game going, they can play a few hands; but other than that, without a sensible, user-friendly way to get money on and off poker sites, there’s no way for poker to attract new [American] people. Few people start playing poker at the $10,000 level (although I encourage this) and they need an easy, fun way to get started. Want another poker boom? Repeal the act, publicize the heck out of it, and make it easy for new people to play online poker.

The other way to keep poker booming is to go international. Fortunately, this is pretty much happening. Poker is taking the World by storm. The European Poker Tour has a solid following and last January’s Aussie Millions hosted the largest field that continent has ever seen.

Even more exciting is the prospect of new and potentially huge markets opening up in Asia. Singapore held its first poker tournament last year and news sources have recently announced that India will again hold the Asia Poker Classic. With ESPN airing World Series reruns in China now, over 1.3 billion people will be exposed to the game. Perhaps we’d better start learning how to say “all-in” in Chinese.

With these recent changes and possibilities of things to come, you ask, “What does the future of poker look like?” I think it looks really good. I believe we are seeing the rise of ethical, player-friendly tournaments featuring players from across the globe in venues worldwide. Ultimately it’s still too early to tell exactly what the future holds, but I like my chances.

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Recalculating the Average Stack

Phil Gordon Full Tilt Poker Pro

In a recent World Series of Poker circuit event that I played in, the nine-handed final table started with blinds of $10K – $20K, and there were roughly 3.5 million chips in play. Some quick division would tell you that the average stack was more than 350K, or about 18 big blinds. This simple calculation could lead you to some bad conclusions, however, because in fact most stacks were much shorter.

Phil Gordon professional poker playerWhen the final table started I had a chip stack of about 1.2 million or almost one-third of the chips in play. So the average among the rest of the table was a little over 250K, or approximately 13 big blinds.

As the chip leader, I would have played aggressively if most of the stacks had 18 or 20 big blinds. Players with those sort of stacks can afford to fold and wait for a decent spot, so I’d do well to raise frequently pre-flop while attempting to steal the blinds and antes. Against players who have 13 or fewer big blinds, however, that strategy won’t work.

Players with short stacks need to gamble and, if they pick up any kind of decent hand, they’re going to shove all in and hope to double up. Playing aggressively, I could find myself in some tough spots. For example, if I were to raise to 70K with some marginal stealing hand like A-10 or K-J, and then a short stack came over the top for 210K, I’d be getting two-to-one on my money to make the call. It would be tough to fold and I could end up doubling up a short stack with a hand I didn’t love.

At this final table, where the average stack among the other eight players was so short, my best strategy was to play extremely tight. I decided to play only top-quality starting hands while I waited for the short stacks to gamble with one another. Eventually the stacks would consolidate and we’d be left with five or six players who had decent stacks. At that point, I could get more aggressive and begin stealing from players who could afford to fold.

In the end, I got some big hands that didn’t hold up and I didn’t win the event. Still, by understanding that the true average stack was shorter than a quick calculation would initially have me believe, I was able to apply a strategy that gave me the best chance of coming out on top.

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A Hand in Poker History: Jerry Yang vs Tuan Lam

Poker handJerry Yang had been chip leader since early in the day, when it got to heads up play he had a 5-1 chip lead over his opponent Tuan Lam.

Jerry had looked to bully Tuan into submission, doubling Tuan up once didn’t even slow him down.

Once again from the button Jerry kept the heat on and raised to 2.3 million, this time however Tuan had a hand and reraised all in, Jerry went into the tank and decided he liked his chances.

The cards were flipped and it was a race, Jerry had a slight lead with pocket 8’s, but Tuan had two over cards and flush possibilities with A-Q all diamonds.

The flop comes down Q-5-9 and suddenly its Tuan in the lead, and it will take a miracle 8 or runner cards for a straight for Jerry to eliminate Tuan on this hand.

The turn is a 7, and while it opens up the chances of a back door straight for Jerry, Tuan is still in the lead, and it looks like he is about to double up again.

The river card however ended that dream, the river brought a miracle 6, completing Jerry’s backdoor straight, and handed Jerry the 2007 WSOP Main Event Championship.


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Howard Lederer on Playing Large Fields

Howard Lederer poker tournamemt tips

During the World Series of Poker, players are confronted with massive fields. For example, in the 2006 WSOP, nearly 2,800 players bought into the first $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event. Throughout the Series, it was common to see starting fields of 1,500 to 2,000.

Many players who are accustomed to playing in smaller tournaments can be overwhelmed by the prospect of competing against so many people. Some feel they need to make major adjustments to their games in order to be competitive. They play faster than they normally would, playing marginal hands and looking for the opportunities to gamble.

I think this is a big mistake. You should never alter your strategy to compensate for the size of the field. When you sit down to play in a tournament, you should concentrate only on things you can control.

Whether you’re playing against 200 or 2,000 players, you should be focused on how you’re going to beat the other players at your table. Let the rest of the tournament take care of itself. If you manage to make good decisions against your opponents, you’ll have the opportunity to accumulate the chips and survive as the field dwindles.

Howard Lederer poker professionalIf you manage to stick around, you’ll have the opportunity for a nice payday. But if you gamble excessively in the early stages and bust out, you’ve got no chance at all.

In any tournament, the determining factor for whether you should play a given hand is the size of the blinds. If you have 10,000 in chips and the blinds are 50 and 100, there’s no need to play A-J in early position. But if you have 10,000 in chips and the blinds are 1,000 and 2,000, you need to move in with that same hand. It’s the blind structure that should determine how you play, not the number of players in the event.

In the WSOP Main Event, I’ve seen a lot of players feel pressured by the vast size of the field. But it’s a false pressure. The Main Event has a great structure. The blinds increase slowly, so you can play patiently and look for your spots.

You can’t win any large event in the first hour on the first day, so don’t worry about what’s happening elsewhere in a tournament. Play your game and do your best to beat the players at your table. It’s the surest path to success in any tournament, no matter the size of the field.

Howard Lederer.

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