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WSOP 2012, Event 16: Part One

by Matt Matros |  Published: Jul 11, 2012

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Matt MatrosIn the post-Black Friday era, it’s hard for an American poker pro to stay sharp. I played a grand total of eight events – all on the east coast – in the five months leading up to the 2012 World Series of Poker. I had no cashes. Without the experience of a recent deep run, I tried to avoid rustiness as best as I could by giving private lessons, exchanging strategy emails with my poker confederates, and reading the occasional hand discussion on a forum. But there’s no substitute for sitting at the table and playing, hour after hour, day after day.

I arrived in Vegas on June 3, and the dullness in my game was evident during my first few events. I played the $1,500 no limit hold’em shootout and got heads-up against an opponent who I felt I should’ve beaten. Instead I called off all my chips with the worst hand, and sent my adversary through to the next round. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I found myself misremembering, if only for an instant, basic short stack guidelines that I’ve been teaching my students for years. I hadn’t played in a while, and so I expected it would take some time to round into form. But how much time? And how much money would I lose in the process?

The day after the shootout I entered Event 16, the $1,500 no-limit shorthanded event. I arrived determined to focus, and to do whatever I could to get my game peaking as soon as possible. During the first level, with blinds of 25-25, I opened to 75 from the cutoff with ASpade Suit 7Spade Suit. The button called, and the small blind three-bet/squeezed to 275. I called and the button followed. The flop came 7-6-3 rainbow with one spade. The small blind led out for 450. I called and the button folded. The turn brought a four and the small blind checked. At this point I didn’t know whether I had the best hand, but I thought that if I committed to firing two bullets at the pot, I would very likely win it. I bet 925 and the small blind called, which meant he probably had an overpair. The river brought a deuce and my opponent checked. Following through with my plan, I bet 1,800. The small blind thought for a long time before eventually folding.

An hour later, at the 25-50 level, the button opened for 100 and I three-bet to 300 from the small blind with QSpade Suit JSpade Suit, only to see the button four-bet to 725. He had an additional 2,200 remaining, and I decided I had an ideal hand with which to five-bet semibluff, so I moved him all-in. The button called instantly with A-K offsuit and I lost, which brought me back down to my starting stack of 4,500.

At the first break I phoned my wife, Ivy, who the day before had listened to me bemoan my poor decision-making in the shootout. “I’m playing much better,” I told her. “I haven’t moved up in chips yet, but I’m playing much better.” And I was – playing more aggressively, going with my reads, taking calculated risks to try to grab the chips.

I got moved to a table of Internet wizards, and I managed to hold my own against them. I even pulled off a river bluff in a four-bet pot, which vaulted me from 15,000 to 43,000 after my opponent folded. Had he called (and he later claimed he folded two aces on the K-Q-6-K-J board after I moved in), my tournament would’ve been over. I picked up some more pots and won a few showdowns to end day one with 116,700 – good for eighth place overall with 136 players remaining. The event had started with 1,604.

Day two began swimmingly. I seemed to pick up a big hand once an orbit, and when I didn’t pick up a big hand I would make one by the river. I hardly remember losing a pot as I ran my chips up over 600,000 at the 2,000-4,000 blind level to take the overall lead in the tournament. That’s when the player to my right, a tough young Internet type named Mark Darner, opened for 9,000 under the gun. I looked down at two kings in the next (hijack) seat. Mark started the hand with 426,000, a monstrous stack in its own right. I three-bet to 22,000 and it folded back to Mark, who promptly four-bet to 59,000. I thought for a while, considering whether to flat the four-bet and play the kings in position, or five-bet them for value. I surely didn’t want to five-bet the kings only to fold to a six-bet, so it only made sense to five-bet if I believed Mark capable of six-betting without two aces in his hand. I had logged several hours with Mark on day one, observing his aggressive style in action, and so I decided that he could indeed six-bet semi-bluff all-in without holding the immortal nuts. I five-bet my kings to 109,000. Without much delay, Mark six-bet. But instead of moving in, he surprised me by making it 190,000. This brilliant sizing by Mark almost caused me to rethink my plan and muck the kings after all. Mark’s six-bet to half his stack against the tournament chip leader seemed to be screaming out aces. Really, how could he not have aces? Mike Matusow, who was at the table, later told me he put Mark on exactly aces after just the four-bet, let alone the six-bet.

Stubbornly, I held my breath, stuck to my analysis, and announced all-in. Mark didn’t call instantly, but he called after only a few seconds. It still seemed exceedingly likely that he had the aces. Mark rolled over his hand – an ace…and a king. I was a 2-to-1 favorite, and feeling very comfortable when the flop brought all low cards. After the turn came a blank, I allowed myself to think about the commanding position I’d be in if I won the hand. I’d have more than a million chips when the average stack was a mere 220,000. I’d have one-seventh of the chips in play with thirty players left. As I pondered this dream scenario the dealer burned and turned a final time, slamming down the ace of spades on the river, and sending the 861,000 pot Mark’s way.

No massive chip lead for me. Instead of passing the one million mark, I was down to a below-average stack of 180,000. I don’t tilt at the poker tables, and I rarely even get flustered. I’ve been on many a roller coaster ride in tournament poker – too many to count – and I’ve lost kings to ace-king countless times. But I had never before lost a 215 big blind pot in the final five tables of a major event. It seemed unrecoverable. It seemed devastating. And I seemed destined for a mediocre 25th or 30th place finish.

(to be continued…) ♠

Matt Matros is the author of The Making of a Poker Player. He is also a featured coach for cardrunners.com.