Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tournament Poker for Dummies

OK so the most common complaint I get about this blog from friends who aren’t poker players is that they don’t know what the eff I’m talking about with all the slang and terminology. It would be far too difficult to explain everything, but I want to write down the absolute basics so you can at least easily follow my Twitter feed when I’m reporting my chip count from the tournaments I’m playing and have some idea what's going on.

Every tournament has a buy-in. This is the amount of money each player pays to enter the tournament. For their buy-in they each receive an equal amount of tournament chips. The amount of chips is arbitrary and need not be related to the buy-in in any way, but at the world series of poker (WSOP) this summer the number of starting chips will always be three times the buy-in. You then go play the tournament with those chips until eventually you lose all of them (or if you’re lucky until you win the tournament by winning all the chips in play). You are then paid by how many people are left when you bust out (lose all your chips). The tricky part is that only around the top 10% of finishers get paid at all (this % varies from tournament to tournament but 10% will be typical for the WSOP). For example, if a tournament had 1000 players then typically the first ~900 people to bust out would get nothing and just lose their buy-in. The top 10% will all get paid enough to at least cover their buy-in, but generally speaking unless you make the final table (the last 9 players) you will not make more than 2-10 times the buy-in. The really big prizes (relatively speaking) are typically reserved for the top 3 finishers.

Blinds/Antes: The blinds and antes are forced bets that players must make (with tournament chips of course) that force the action so there is some money in the pot at the beginning of the hand to play for. As the tournament progresses the blinds and antes increase so that the tournament can’t go on forever. Each time the blinds increase is called a level. Typically, each level in the WSOP will be an hour long, though in some special tournaments the levels will be 90 minutes or 2 hours long (the latter is the case in the main event). Depending on various factors such as how many chips we start with, how many players are in the event, and how long the levels are, most tournaments will last anywhere from 2-4 days (most events are 3 days long) though the main event with its 30K (30,000) starting chips, 6000+ players, and two hour long levels will take about 7 days of play just to reach the final table. At the WSOP it is typical to play until 2am or 3am before you get to bag up your chips and go home for some rest.

So, when I report “I have X amount of chips” what does that mean? One of the easiest ways to get a general idea how I’m doing is to compare my chip stack to the “average stack”. If I have more chips than the average I must be doing pretty well, though often times even if I am well below average the fact that I still have chips at all may mean I’m really not doing that badly if it’s late in the tournament. The average stack is given by:

Av. Stack = starting stack * players started / players left, or equivalently

Av. Stack = starting stack / % of the field left

So, for example, when half the field is left average stack is twice the starting stack. One other useful example to consider is when 10% of the field is left since that is when we “reach the money”. In this case average stack would be ten times starting stack. Therefore, whenever I have close to 10 times starting stack before we reach the money I should be a solid favourite to at least make the money. Similarly, later in the tournament another useful number to consider is the average final table stack, which you can calculate easily by putting “players left = 9” in the first formula (or occasionally players left = 8 or 6 for certain special tournaments).

Hopefully that will make following my progress this summer (via and easy and enjoyable. Wish me luck!


Friday, May 22, 2009

The Annual Pilgrimage

It's almost that time of year where professionals, amateurs, enthusiasts, and degenerates all converge on Las Vegas for the holy event that is the World Series of Poker. A month and a half of battling every day against 45 degree heat, hangovers, burn out, tables games, and of course your opponents, to try to win a bunch of loot and "a place in poker history", in the form a gaudy gold bracelet you'll never wear more than twice (unless you're John Phan). This year the "poker battle" begins early for me with the $40K 40th anniversary NL Holdem event this coming Thursday. After that I'll mostly be playing mixed games and golf as well as the bigger NLHE events in an attempt to keep my sanity throughout the entire the summer. As has been well-documented in the archives over at, the last two World Series must be considered failures for me as I have yet to final table a single event. Last year I did manage to keep my head on straight throughout the summer though and bink the Bellagio Cup at the end.

With my plan to play more of the different games this year a final table is a lot more likely as the average field size I will be playing against will be much smaller. I'm still far from a mixed games expert but I'm confident I'll have a big edge in almost every tournament I play. And most importantly it will be a lot more fun than playing Holdem day after day. I haven't done quite as much study and work on my game as I probably should have leading up to the series, but I put in a long session yesterday 4-tabling the 100/200 8-game mixed on Stars that went well. I definitely ran really good throughout but if I can even just hold my own in those games I should do very well against the weak fields at the Series. I also took a shot at a 400/800 8-game mix and luckboxed a solid win so my confidence is high.

In fact, I've basically run really hot in all my cash game play this week. I've played a bit in the 50/100 and 25/50 with antes PLO games on Full Tilt and put up good results. There has also been a shot or two at the 300/600 with ante game when a certain someone was tilting badly that went very well. As always whenever you go on a rush like that in PLO it has a lot more to do with the cards than anything about how you're playing, but I'm happy where my PLO game is at.

As for tournaments, I've put in a few mostly lighter sessions since I last wrote without any particular success. I had a couple small cashes in FTOPS events but nothing that covered my buy-ins. Hopefully my tournament run good is being saved up for the series this year, but more importantly I hope this is the most fun summer I have at the WSOP, win or lose. You'll be able to follow my progress throughout the summer on my Twitter feed located at, and of course I will be blogging semi-regularly throughout.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Monte Carlo Wrapup

Alright so Monte Carlo has come and gone. I lost just over 40K euros playing live on the trip plus probably like another 8k playing Sundays which is pretty solid I think. Just a quick rundown of the results for people that haven't been following my twitter feed (which I now have on my blogger version of this blog at

First was the EPT Monte Carlo main event. Day 1 went poorly for me as I ended up down from 30K starting stack with 24K, but Day 2 went well as I finished up with 133K after being as high as 180K. Day 3 unfortunately went poorly as well though despite winning some pots early with AK to get back to 180K, I then a couple pots in a row and went fairly card dead. I eventually got down to like 70K at 3k/6k a500 and shoved QJs in the HJ and got snap reshoved by AK and lost to bust 97th when 88 paid.

I busted just in time to play the high roller though but unfortunately that went even worse. I was hovering around the starting 50K stack when I played this funny hand:

300/600 a75 Ivan Demidov opens to 1525 in MP with like a 27K stack, I flat JJ on the button though I think just 3-betting and going with the hand is perfectly fine here too and Gus obviously does not fold his BB getting such a price. The flop comes 822r, they check to me and I bet 3250. Gus folds and Ivan thinks for like a minute before calling which is super weird but I'm pretty sure he doesn't have much. The turn is an offsuit A though and goes chk/chk. River pairs the 8 and he bets 5125, maybe I could fold because the A hits most of his rando float range on the flop and it doesn't look like he expects me to fold but I'm getting a good price in a spot where his line doesn't really make much sense so I pay off and lose to that A6.

After that I stop winning pots and bust shoving 25K with A7o at 600/1200 a100 when zigmund opened the CO to 3400 with AKs. I think against zigmund this has to be a profitable shove but I probably would have justified it somehow anyways since I was so tired and card dead.

Then in the 5k 6-max on Saturday I busted super early on another funny hand:

25/50 Shaun Deeb opens the HJ to 150, old Moroccan fish flats the button as he plays almost every hand, I call A3cc in the SB, BB calls. Flop 245ss, I lead out 500, BB calls, Deeb folds, and button calls. Turn Jh, I bet 1500, BB calls, button quickly splashes out a bunch of big chips that add up to 7K, I shove, BB folds, and he asks me "Is the maximum enough?" as I guess they don't have a similar term to "the nuts" in French or something so it's a bit of a lost in translation moment but I'm pretty sure I know what he means. He doesn't slowroll me for than a few seconds and at least I only wasted like 45 minutes on not cashing this one (and no, he was not suited).

So now I'm back in Toronto for a while. Next live tournament will be the opening 40K event of the WSOP in Vegas May 28th. Usually it takes me like 10 events at the series to lose that much so it should be fun! FTOPS starts tomorrow as well so I'll play some events when I have time and feel like it. The next 2 installments of my PLO series on PS+ should hopefully be finished shortly as well.