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My World Series of Poker Preliminary Events

Part II - $1,500 limit hold'em shootout

by Matt Matros |  Published: Sep 12, 2007

In my last column, I told tales from a couple of tournaments I played in this year's World Series of Poker - a festival of poker tournaments unlike anything else the planet ever witnesses. Here is the story of my third cash of 2007 - in the $1,500 buy-in limit hold'em shootout event.

Shootouts are my favorite tournament format. In a shootout, unlike in a normal tournament, you have to win your table in order to advance and make money. Tables are not broken, and no new players are moved into empty seats once players bust out. You start at a table with nine other people, and it is played out until one person at the table has all of the chips. Everyone who finishes in the money will, at some point, have at least 10 times as many chips as he started with. Contrast this to a normal tournament, in which it's possible to double up once or twice and then cling to a small stack for hours and still sneak into the money. Shootouts eliminate this possibility completely.

Regular readers of my columns will know that, with a few rare exceptions, I consider normal tournament strategy the same as shootout strategy. The question, "What play gives me the best chance of winning the tournament?" is usually equivalent to, "What play should I make here?" In shootouts, these two questions are always equivalent, at least at the first table. Players who fail to understand this concept, and continue to try, somehow, to sneak into the money without putting their chips at risk, will fail disastrously in a shootout.

In addition, reaching the lowest tier of the payouts is worth more in a shootout. In a typical tournament, the bottom payouts are up to two-and-a-half times the buy-in. In the $1,500 limit hold'em shootout at the WSOP, the lowest-paying spot was worth about four-and-a-half buy-ins. My only complaint with WSOP shootouts is that they're not true shootouts. By that I mean, WSOP shootouts revert to a typical payout structure at the final table, instead of continuing with the shootout structure, in which the winner of a table takes all. Here were the payouts in the $1,500 shootout mentioned above:

First - $217,438
Second - $124,816
Third - $83,538
Fourth - $58,968
Fifth - $31,450
Sixth - $19,656
Seventh - $12,776
Eighth - $9,582
Ninth-72nd - $6,634

There were 720 players, so we had 72 tables of 10 in the first round, eight tables of nine in the second round, and eight players at the final table. Anyone notice something amiss? A player who wins his first table and his second table still might take home less than six buy-ins of profit for his effort (in fact, this fate will, with certainty, befall one person in the tournament). You're guaranteed a $4,134 profit for winning your first table, but are guaranteed only an additional $2,948 for winning your second. This happens because the final table no longer has the shootout property of winner-take-all. Why not? Wouldn't the event be more exciting and more interesting if the final table awarded only the player who won?

Here is my revised payout proposal for this tournament:

First - $338,074
Second-Eighth - $31,450
Ninth-72nd - $6,634

Look at the differences: (1) there is a real, guaranteed reward for winning your second table; (2) the first-place prize is more than $110,000 bigger; (3) there is much more incentive to play to win at the final table, which means the tournament strategy is more consistent from round to round, and there is better potential for some good TV (for example, a lot of action) at the final table; (4) everyone who makes the final table immediately earns fifth-place money based on the first structure. I can't speak for other people, but I'd be surprised if there were too many shootout players who would prefer the first structure to my structure. Just a thought for next year, WSOP!

While I'm at it, I should mention once more that this shootout was a limit hold'em event. I personally love limit hold'em, although I know a lot of people don't. I also know a lot of great limit hold'em players who would love to see a shorthanded limit hold'em WSOP event. Most players believe - and I agree - that shorthanded limit poker requires more skill than full-table limit poker, if only because far more hands are dealt per hour. The WSOP doesn't even have to add a new event to bring us this one; just change one of the existing limit hold'em events to a shorthanded event and we're there. I'd bet that there wouldn't even be a drop-off in the field size.

OK, enough of that stuff, on to the shootout itself. I drew a fairly tough table, with David Levi, Shawn Keller, and several other tough players. Early on, I got three bets in preflop with A-A, only to have David turn a set of fours on me. I also lost a coin flip for a good chunk of chips, and was quickly down to $1,250 from my starting stack of $3,000. I then beat aces with two queens, and this drawout began a run that propelled me all the way up to $7,500. It's always a roller coaster, however. I lost some hands and went back down again, to $2,400. I caught a rush and went back up, to $13,000, and eventually ended up heads up with David with roughly equal stacks.

David and I agreed to save 5 percent, meaning the loser would get 5 percent of the winner's profits for the tournament. A shootout is the only format in which I will do this, because shootouts make colluding impossible (another reason I love them). Once David and I got to playing, I caught a tremendous rush of cards and won almost every hand. A monkey could've won the heads-up match with the cards I had. Thus, I advanced to round two for the first time in my brief WSOP shootout career.

Unfortunately, my round-two table was even tougher than my first table. Although this is to be expected in a shootout, I still thought it a little extreme that I drew Dr. Bill Chen (who won two WSOP bracelets in 2006), Noah Boeken (a former winner on the European Poker Tour and a highly successful online player), tournament veteran Jean "The Prince" Gaspard, and eventual second-place finisher Andy Ward. I caught some lousy cards, and didn't play my best, either - which is a pretty deadly combination, especially at a table full of strong players. I ended up finishing 61st (which, thankfully, was the same as finishing ninth in this event), for my third and final small cash of the 2007 World Series of Poker.

In my next and final WSOP column, I'll tell you about all of the ups and downs of my $10,000 buy-in main event.

Matt Matros is the author of The Making of a Poker Player, which is available online at