The past month or so, I've been playing the tournament at the Mirage during the week. The cash games at the Rio and elsewhere are still pretty juicy on the weekend, but it seems like during the week, the biggest fish are playing in these tournaments. I also like the change of pace of playing in a tournament. The Mirage tournament is $130 plus unlimited $100 rebuys for the first hour, except on Thursday, when it's $230 plus a single $200 rebuy. Most people do the rebuy, so on Thursday it's essentially a $430 tournament. I've played in six or seven of these in the past couple months, and have never managed to make it to the money, which is either top 5 or top 9 finishers (depending on whether there are at least 50 entrants). However, my tournament strategy has been improving and I just know I'm better than nearly all of the players who play in these things.
So, yesterday (Thursday), after I got up around 4pm, I decided I'd try to make it to the tournament. I've been reading Harrington on Holdem Volume II, which is an excellent book about tournament strategy, so I decided I would do some last-minute reading before heading out. I've reached the part on Heads-Up (1v1) play, which is only useful if I make it to the final two... little did I know this would be the case later on in the night. However, the tournament was over after only one heads-up hand, and I didn't play it quite as Harrington suggested anyway. So, I guess the last-minute studying was kind of useless after all.
There were 59 entrants and about 50 rebuys, for a prize pool of I guess $21,800. First place is supposed to get 26% but this didn't quite work out when I did the math, so I'm not quite sure what the deal is. Anyway, I received nearly what I think I was supposed to. Here are some highlights:
Tournament lasted exactly 6 hours, going from 7pm to 1am.
Dealt AA once, raised in early position (EP), won the blinds.
Never dealt KK or QQ.
Dealt JJ twice. The first time was in the first hour, and a short stack (550) had gone all-in in EP, and was called by the player to my right. Since my hand was quite strong and I like to play a risky style to accumulate a big stack (and I hadn't used my rebuy yet), I just called. I figured that someone behind me with a weaker hand would be more likely to play, possibly even raising all-in to try to isolate the original all-in. People sometimes do this with relatively weak hands like AJ or 99, and if my JJ held up, I would be easily the chip leader at the table. Being chip leader is a position I am quite capable of exploiting. By just calling, however, I'm inviting AQ to play, too... a hand I'd rather have fold. This was a risk I was willing to take. I'd rather have a player with AK fold, too, but I think AK would call even if I raised all-in (I had about 2600 total I think). Even though I had only called, everyone else folded. The flop came 346, and, to my surprise, the guy to my right went all-in, betting 1550 at a 1700 pot. This is an unorthodox move, and it caught me off guard. What could he have here? With one player all-in, I can rule out a complete bluff. My opponent must think he can beat the all-in player. Usually people will only bet in this situation if they have a very big hand. So, my initial thought was that he must have a set, probably 66. It was also possible he had AA or KK. With these hands, though, he should be betting only 500 or so, trying to draw more of my chips into the pot. I decided that a hand like 88 or 99 was much more likely. Also possibly AK. These are hands that are probably ahead of the all-in raiser, but are still quite vulnerable and thus would like to get me to fold. So, I called and was surprised to see that he had only AJo. The other player had 77. The turn was a 9 and the river a 5, giving the all-in player a straight, but I won the 3100 side pot and came out ahead.
The second time I had JJ I raised and just won the blinds and antes.
Never dealt TT or 99.
I was dealt a pair higher than 88 only three times in six hours! Perhaps this isn't all that surprising. If I played 221 hands, I should expect to get a pair higher than 8's six times on average, so getting them only three times isn't all that ridiculous. Also, I may have played fewer than 221 hands, I'm not sure.
By the time we were down to ten players, there were two tables of five players, and I had the second biggest stack at my table. Two or three players were super short-stacked, but ninth place paid out over $900 and tenth paid $0, so people were playing very tight to try to get into the money. Fortunately for me, the big stack at the table was sitting to my right, allowing me to fold whenever he entered a pot, and steal the blinds and antes whenever he folded (this player would eventually be the tournament's second-place finisher). We had ten players for quite a while. Finally, I was in the small blind and an extremely tight, somewhat passive old pro raised under the gun. I figured him for at least AQ or 99, probably better. The next two players folded to me. I raised all-in with QT. Since the raiser had the third biggest stack at the table, he could have just folded his hand here and coasted into the money easily. He had been playing so tight that I thought this was his main goal, so I figured he would likely fold unless he had AA or KK. Actually, he called with AK! Even if I had AQ, which is about the best he could hope for, he was only a 74% favorite. Against any pair he is at only around 45%. Against a complete bluff he was only about 65% to win. So he was risking a sure $900+ here unnecessarily. Anyway, my QTo was 36% to win, and I caught a queen and knocked him out. The short stacks thanked me, and I was the new chip leader.
We consolidated into one final table of nine players. After a few hands I realized that players were still hanging on and just trying to move up a spot or two, even though 8th, 7th, and 6th paid only $120 or so more than the next lower finish. This was a great situation for me, as the chip leader. I started going all-in about 75% of the time if the players had folded around to me. With a stack of about 40K, I was picking up 2K or 3K each time I did this. Before I knew it, I was up to 60K, out of 160K total on the table. People were noticing what I was doing and even grumbling about it, but I wasn't showing my hands, so they didn't realize just how indiscriminantly I was raising. At one point, though, a micro stack smaller than the small blind limped in. The players in the blinds were particularly tight so I just pushed all-in with J4o. I figured people would see that the all-in player was on the brink of elimination and not want to risk their stacks at this point. I was right, and despite losing the main pot, I still added a bit to my stack from the side pot, which consisted of most of the blinds. The downside was that I had to show my J4o, and now some people were clearly determined to catch me bluffing. One guy actually complained to me. He thought I should be letting more hands in to try to knock out the short stacks. I didn't respond, but obviously, I didn't want the short stacks knocked out at all, since they were the whole reason my strategy was working so well.
I kept the big stack until we were down to four players and I started losing some hands. My J9 lost to AT, my J8 lost to AK. I had the second biggest stack when I found ATs under the gun. Four handed, this is a big hand. I considered a normal-sized raise, but one of the players at the table had recently started raising me all-in whenever I did that. So, I just went all-in myself. The big stack called me with JJ, and I was on the verge of elimination. Fortunately, the dealer put two tens on the board, and I sucked out and became the chip leader again.
When it got to be heads-up, I had about 100K and my oppenent had about 65K. First place was about $1300 more than second, and the Mirage rules forbid deal making, so we had to play it out for high stakes. The blinds were 2K, 4K with antes of 300, and I had the small blind and the button. I looked down at A3o, a good hand heads-up. I raised to 12K, looking for a call because I would have position on the flop. My oppenent raised all-in for another 50K or so. This is the player who had been re-raising me all-in quite frequently in the past 45 minutes or so. As a result, I somewhat recklessly decided to call him. Fortunately, my hand held up against his KJs (I was about 54% to win), and, for the first time ever, I had won a live tournament. They even gave me a framed picture of myself sitting behind all the chips!