|2017 was my second year at the World Series of Poker. The venue was amazing and the buzz surrounding the event was fantastic. I am going to stray away a little this month from my usual focus on strategy and talk about some of the highlights of my experience this year in the world’s biggest poker dance.
I played 11 events this year and cashed in three events: a limit, pot-limit, and the main event. I got some great opportunities to play against some of the best players in the world. Some of the players I found myself against: Freddy Deeb, Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Erick Lindgren, Barny Boatman, Steve Zolotow, Antonio Esfandiari, John Hennigan, Jennifer Harmon, Scott Fischman, Jennifer Tilly, David Williams, Johnny Chan, and on and on. I relished the opportunity to get to see these players in action, and more importantly, to test my skills against them.
The one player I learned the most from was Daniel Negreanu. This wasn’t necessarily due to anything special he did, but simply because I found myself at his table during three tournaments, all of them limit tournaments (I think Daniel and I prepaid for our tournaments about the same time so I have some questions about the randomness of table assignments). We played about 15 hours together so one can’t help learning simply by watching him play. We get to see top players at the final tables on TV whenever we want, but how do they get there so often? How do they play in the early and middle stages of the tournaments? Watching Daniel gave me the chance to at least see how he does it in Limit play.
I have been toying around with some limit tournament concepts for the last year. The theory is that in Limit tournaments, you have a better chance of winning the tournament by playing a loose aggressive strategy with a high fluctuation. The same style would show a negative expectation in a ring game, but the idea in a tournament is to win the most money in a short period of time. Note that I am not talking about outplaying your opponents after the flop, but simply playing a lot more hands preflop in hopes of increasing your fluctuations so that you could get on a huge run. Some of the hands would have a long-term negative expectation, but the goal is short-term profits. Everyone knows that Daniel plays a loose aggressive strategy in no-limit events, but what about limit?
It turns out that Daniel plays a very solid tight aggressive strategy in the early and middle stages of a limit tournament. He will raise first-in with a few more hands than the average player, but overall his play is just plain solid. You will almost never see him simply call a raise preflop which is the correct play. The only time I saw him deviate from this was when he got on a tremendous rush of cards. Twice he called an UTG raise from early position with KQ and KJ. Both times he hit top pair and both times he called his opponent down to the river winning nice size pots. His rush was a thing of beauty as he simply couldn’t miss for a couple of hours. He quickly became the chip leader early in the tournament but floundered out around 20th place.
Even though we played about 15 hours together, we rarely saw flops together. I would estimate no more than 10 actual hands. I was lucky enough to knock him out of the limit shootout when I flopped a flush out of the big blind and he hit trips on the turn. I’ve always wanted to play against Daniel and I got plenty of time this year. Of course Daniel is a lot of fun at the table. Some of the spectators truly treat him like a Hollywood star. My only complaint with Daniel was having to watch him eat this purplish cabbage which smelled up the table!
My best finish came in the $2500 Pot-Limit event where I finished in 12th place. It was quite disappointing as two other players were knocked out immediately behind me. Just one more lucky hand and I would have made the final table with a good opportunity to win my first bracelet. I played some really good poker early in this tournament to be within the top 3 in chips. Freddy Deeb and I rubbed elbows quite a bit and he got the best of me while calling my early position raise with 32 in the big blind. The flop came up something like T33 and he won a nice size pot from me as I had KK. His preflop call came about because a wild maniac entered the pot and Freddy wanted to be sure to play as many hands as possible against that guy.
The main event was quite a rollercoaster. I managed to finish in the money for the 2nd year in a row (330th) but fell short of my goal of improving on my 33rd place finish from a year earlier. Overall I played some great poker but made a few mistakes towards the end which led to my exit.
On Day 1, I found myself at the table with a bunch of unknowns, with the exception of this one guy named Doyle Brunson. Doyle had a very rough day. He played very tight rarely raising preflop. He called a lot of raises and found himself constantly folding on the flop. He just couldn’t seem to hit a hand. On the other hand, my day got off to a blazing start. I couldn’t seem to miss a flop and rolled over my table knocking out a number of players.
A quite exciting scenario came out late in the afternoon. I raised from early position to $1000 with 77. Doyle announced, “I’m all-in”. The camera crews and other poker players quickly surrounded the table. I felt like the entire room was watching me as I contemplated my decision. Doyle was short-stacked so I only had to call an additional $2200. I was getting about 2 to 1 pot odds. He had played extremely tight all day. As I sat there thinking, Doyle says, “You don’t want to knock me out with all of these people watching”. I called and Doyle turned over KJ and my hand held up. Knocking out Doyle is something I will never forget but I will say that I didn’t relish knocking him out like I would other players. He’s a legend and it would have been fun to see him get a lot further in the tournament…but not at my expense!
Matthew is author of Internet Texas Hold’em: Winning Strategies from an Internet Pro which can be found in the Poker Pages book store.
Matthew Hilger is author of the new book, Internet Texas Hold’em: Winning Strategies from an Internet Pro, which can be found at his website, www.InternetTexasHoldem.com
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