With all the tournament-style games I’ve been playing in home games and online sit-n-gos, I’ve felt like my no-limit tournament style play has been improving. To test that feeling, I went looking for a low buy-in tournament to try and came across a $100 + $20 satellite at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez. 600 players. Top 100 cash. 1-3 get into WPT Bellagio event. 4-10 get into satellite in Vegas for the Bellagio event. I convinced a couple of home game regulars, lkim and sarge, to join me.
I called on the Tuesday before the event to see how full things were and if we were going to have any trouble getting seats. I was lucky to call when i did, as I was informed that it was sold out (!) but that there was a waiting list with only 6 people on it. Furthermore, we could get on the waiting list over the phone, which was very good news given the distance to Santa Ynez. I was not looking forward to driving up there that night just to put our names on the list. So we were 607, 608 and 609 on the list. even if all 600 entrants showed, we only had to wait for 6 to bust out in the first hour before getting seats. Essentially, we were in. I was told we should show up at 9am.
Santa Ynez is about 90 minutes north of my house, which is 45 minutes northwest of lkim, which is 20 minutes north of the sarge. We agreed that they’d pick me up at 7:15, meaning they had to get started much earlier. We made good time and got to the casino at 8:45, as planned. As we drove, we talked about what to expect and made a last longer bet. Whoever lasted longest got a meal (to be determined) from the other two. I could feel myself getting just a little nervous as we got close. The stomach was doing light cartwheels. Nothing serious.
We arrived, lkim valeted, and we headed for the poker room. We found the banquet hall next to the poker room open and setup for the tourney. We checked in and were told that at 9am (15 minutes), we would be able to buy a seat. Once securing a seat, we watched lkim take an absolute beating at blackjack before moving to a 3 card poker game that looked like his money would last slightly longer than at the blackjack table.
We headed back to the banquet hall and found our seats. We were at adjacent tables, B3, B4, and B5. I sat in seat 9 and played with the $5000 in chips in front of me. The table quickly filled with the other players and before I knew it, the tournament director was ordering the dealers to get the cards in the air. No time for nerves.
The structure was a little surprising. The first level was 60 minutes @ 25/50. Very long. Every other level was 30 minutes. The schedule said that the first break was after level 3. I didn’t look too far past that.
I didn’t know much, but I knew that I was going to play very tight early until I got comfortable with my surroundings and the other players. And I did, playing nothing but my blind for the first three orbits. And folding all of those as soon as soon as the flop missed and I faced a bet. Nothing tricky early.
The personality of the players became clear during this time. By seat number:
- Cue ball. Very animated with his chewing gum. Glasses on forehead except when looking at cards. Impatient. Loose passive.
- Middle aged. Bushy mustache. Flannel shirt. Looked scared out of his mind.
- Kid in clippers hat and sunglasses. Seemed to know what he was doing. I heard him mention to scared guy that he just missed the money in the last big tournament held here.
- Too well coiffed, lots of gold and his shirt unbuttoned too far. Looked confident. Sunglasses.
- Asian guy. Quiet. Tight. Sunglasses + Visor.
- This was the guy. I later named him Hellmuth. Beer belly, salt-n-pepper hair. Wraparound Oakley knock-offs. (Much) more on hellmuth later.
- Older African-American man. Sunglasses + hat. Very loose. Bluffed. Joked. Went home early.
- Older Asian man. Sunglasses + hat. Loose aggressive.
- Your humble narrator. Binion's Horseshoe baseball cap and my usual nerd++ Nasa/JPL 1962 prescription glasses.
- Old, pleasant gentlemen who looked, acted and spoke exactly like Facty's grandmother up in boise. Freaky.
I did play a couple of significant hands near the end of the first level. First one: 45 minutes in. 7s limped in to open and I raised to 150 with tens. Scared guy, who had been seeing a lot of flops and was a little low, called from the big blind, as did 7s. The flop was KQT, giving me a set, but not the most comfortable set I could have hit. Scared guy immediately goes all-in for about 3000. while I’m trying to decide if he’s made the straight, 7s calls! This makes my decision a little easier, but I still take my time with it. I’m not as concerned about the 7s, as he has been calling big bets with very little, but scared guy was suddenly not looking so scared. I stared him down for a while, waiting for him to give me some sign of weakness, but never got it. Finally, i looked back at my cards again and mucked with a pained expression. 7s turned over KT for two pair. scared guy turned over AJ for the straight. 7s got no help and I had made the right read and layed down a set on the flop! I pulled my notebook and tried to capture the hand. As i wrote, the 8s looked down and jokingly told me not to mention him in my notebook. I told him that I wasn’t taking notes on him, but that I had a bad memory and could not remember hands.
HellmuthMeanwhile, hellmuth was busy talking. And talking. And talking. Every hand came with commentary. Among the things he made sure we all knew:
- He cashed three times in september;
- He doesn't like ace ten, but he has good luck with ace nine;
- He knows all the dealers;
- He knew the 4s;
- This was a pretty tough table compared to the surrounding tables;
- He didn't like to be "tested" (when someone reraised him pre-flop);
The first sign of Hellmuth being Hellmuth was when the 1s called one of his preflop raises with K8s and ended up catching his flush on the river. Hellmuth had AK and freaked out. He stood up and berated the 1s for playing “that crap”. He went on an on about it. To his credit, the 1s didn’t say a word.
Later, another kid was moved to our table and ended up going all in on Hellmuth’s preflop reraise with AJo. Hellmuth had AK again and this time it held up, sending the kid home. That didn’t stop Hellmuth from again berating the kid as soon as they turned the cards over. The kid couldn’t believe it and scurried away once the hand was over and he’d been eliminated.
I’d been playing very few hands and not getting too much action when I did play. I was only at 5400 when, with the blinds at 200/400, I raised to 1200 in early/mid position with KK. Hellmuth called out of the big blind. My read was that he felt he could outplay my after the flop, so he didn’t need much of a hand to call here. The flop was 848, 2 hearts and he checked. I did not want to give him a free card to the flush, so I decided to bet. The pot had 2600 in it, and I only had 4200 left. While I’m deciding on an amount, he says, “Ok, how much is it going to cost me?” I looked at him and he was holding his cards like he was ready to fold them, something I’d noticed he did a lot when he was going to fold. I pushed it all in and he did, indeed, fold, showing me an ace.
The one major screw up of the tournament was the break. Rather than the scheduled 10 minute break after the 3rd level, they decided to push through to the second break and lunch. so 600+ people went about 4 hours without a break. many complaints from everyone. When the break finally did come, I was at 9400 in chips. Hellmuth, who was at about 12000, walked around during the break to assess where he was. As we started after the break, he informed us that there were some big stacks out there - a few 20k+.
lkim had been eliminated and was getting on the list in the regular room to play some no limit cash game. Sarge was still in, but a bit short stacked. Both agreed that we were all having a great time and needed to do this again in the future. Ate lunch. Sat back down.
When action resumed, I knocked out the short-stacked 4s with JJ vs. his AT. I was at 14600 in chips. And feeling good about things. As players were eliminated, they were breaking up tables in order from the back of the room to the front. This made it easy to track how many were left in the tourney. We were sitting at the 12th table from the front, meaning that when the 13th table next to us was broken up, we were down to 120 players. The cards went super cold for me during this time and when our table broke, I had 10000 even with the blinds at 1500/3000. I was very short stacked.
Pick a hand and go with itI was moved to table 3, seat 6. I pulled out the chair, nodded to the old man in the 1s who was giving me the stink eye, and set my meager stack of chips down. I could feel the table checking out my chips, and breathing a sigh of relief when they saw that a big stack hadn’t arrived to bully them. The 1s was still staring me down and I started to wonder if I knew him or something. Creepy. As i surveyed the table, I was clearly the short stack and I saw that my situation was more desperate than I’d realized at my old table.
The button was 3 away from me, and, again, the blinds were 1500/3000, so half my stack was going if I didn’t do something soon. I look down at my first hand and see 77. Shit. Was this it? Was this the hand to take a stand with? Unfortunately, I could not rely on the image I’d built at the previous table as a tight player to scare everyone off and take the blinds. I decided to do it anyway. I wanted to make a stand while I still had some chips so someone would have to make a decision. Plus, the way the cards had been, it was the best hand I’d seen in an hour. It looked like a monster.
I didn’t have to wait long. The guy next to me in the 7s, who had about 40000 in chips, called with only a little hesitation. everyone else folded and we turned our hands over. He had JJ. Ugh. The flop was 68T, giving me a gut shot draw. The turn was a 7!! I’d hit my 2 outer and the whole table erupted. The 7s sort of shrugged. Whew. I’d escaped. now just the formality of the river and I’d be doubled… J on the river. What? Jack? Again, the table erupted and players from other tables came over to see the commotion. The 7s was consoling, as were some others at the table. I got up in shock and wished everyone good luck. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I was out at about 110. Pretty closes to the bubble.
In the end, I was pretty happy with how I played. I couldn’t think of any major mistakes. While lkim was winning his buy in back in the poker room, Sarge and I watched the tourney get down to about 40 players. Hellmuth cashed, finishing about 70th, but not before one more big outburst, this time as he had a hand hold up.