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My 2013 WSOP Main Event

by Matt Matros |  Published: Oct 30, 2013

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Matt MatrosWith the final nine players of this year’s World Series of Poker main event about to convene in Vegas for the grand conclusion, I thought I’d look back on my own attempt to reach that illustrious final table. This year’s November Nine features a slew of great talent — including JC Tran, who has destroyed tournaments for the last decade, and David Benefield, who is possibly the most respected cash-game player alive. I’ve competed against both of them and I assure you that their ability is off the charts. It would’ve been nice to join those guys, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be this year. Let’s return to Day 1C of the main event, and learn why I won’t be making the trip back west any time soon.

I drew the kind of table you’d expect (and hope for) from Day 1 — only one player I knew, and the rest happy-to-be-there amateurs, polite and friendly and playing a very straightforward brand of poker. When things go wrong for me in this situation, it’s usually because I make a routine or slightly thin value bet only to get called by a better hand. Sure enough, I confidently made two large river value bets during the first level — and I was quickly down to 24,000 from the 30,000 chip starting stack after I was called by two severely underplayed hands. But then something odd happened, the kind of thing you hear about in home games but never actually see at tournament tables. I showed down a big hand early in the second level — and then I stopped getting called. I’ve never in my career had so many successful steals in one day. Every time I’d try another “hopeless” bluff on the river, I’d tell myself “there is no way this’ll work again.” And then it did. Every time. I was starting to feel like Vanessa Selbst. I literally never got caught, which probably means I should’ve tried even more bluffs but it felt like I was trying everything! I guess some people really, really, really don’t want to lose chips (or God forbid, bust) on Day 1 of the main event. I bagged up 51,850 (it would’ve been more except that I took a bad beat in a decent pot, and also lost a 15,000 chip flip) before resting for the night.

My Day 2 table was the polar opposite of my previous one — almost all pros, and I had arguably the worst seat, with recent PokerStars Caribbean Adventure winner Dimitar Danchev on my immediate left. He started with only 10,550 in chips, but that changed quickly and he had about 30,000 to his name when the following, crucial hand came up.

With blinds of 300-600, an early position player opened for a raise to 1,300. Because people had been opening fairly wide at this tough table, I chose to three-bet to 3,000 from middle position with A-Q suited. Dimitar, right behind me, cold four-bet to 6,800. The action folded back to me, and while I had one of the weakest hands in my range (remember, I was three-betting an early position raiser at a full table), Dimitar had already proved himself to be highly aggressive, and I thought I had a decent amount of fold equity as well as showdown equity if I moved in. So that’s what I did. Dimitar called immediately with two tens. (That he instacalled my five-bet with far from a nut hand leads me to believe I was right about his four-betting range.) I lost the coin flip and dropped down to about 33,000.

A couple orbits later, the player to my immediate right opened in the cutoff, and I looked down at pocket tens. I had already three-bet this player three times, and he had very recently witnessed the five-bet confrontation I’d had with Dimitar. I expected that I would not be given credit for much of a hand, so my tens looked huge. I three-bet to 3,000, and when Dimitar cold four-bet to 7,500 I was sure all my money would go in. But after the big blind folded I got a surprise — the cutoff player, who had just a few thousand more than I did, immediately moved all-in himself. Suddenly my tens didn’t look so big anymore, and I had a real decision. I went through my reads. I felt absolutely convinced based on body language and the action this player took that the cutoff did not have two aces, and probably not two kings. I was almost certain he had something (he would’ve been insane not to), but I thought it was a good, not great hand that he wanted to protect. There were also small indications — showing up a little late for Day 2, and discussing relatively large sports bets with his buddies on the rail — that he didn’t care too much about survival. Putting it all together, I thought the cutoff’s most likely holding, by far, was A-K. After that, I put it something like, in order of most likely to least: J-J, 9-9, Q-Q, 8-8, A-Q, K-K, 7-7, and five percent chance of some crazy bluff. Even after making this assessment, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. It was very likely that I had the best of a coin-flip situation, and if I didn’t, I still had about as much chance of dominating as being dominated. But I could’ve been wrong, and I still had to consider the small chance that the aggressive Dimitar actually had something. I’d tanked for several minutes by this point, and so I finally decided to let my gut instinct be the tie-breaking factor — and my gut said that the cutoff didn’t have a big hand. In the back of my mind, maybe even unconsciously, I might’ve been thinking about a spot in the 2010 main event where a player had cold five-bet me, and I’d made a tough call with two jacks. That opponent had two sevens. Here in 2013, I decided to call with my tens…and after I did, Dimitar looked disgusted, but didn’t fold right away!

Thankfully he did a few seconds later, claiming (plausibly) that he had two jacks. That was good news, but it wasn’t enough to save me, as the cutoff, to my chagrin, held pocket queens. Given that I’d more or less ruled out aces or kings, pocket queens was the worst-case scenario. I didn’t improve, and my tens and I were eliminated from the main event.

Everyone wishes they could take back their bustout hand, but I went through a very thorough analysis at the table and made the best decision I could with the information available. It seemed at the time to be worth the calculated risk to get my chips in, and it still seems that way today. I have no regrets.

Next year! Next year I’ll emerge from the July preliminaries with chips — and maybe face off against one or two of my readers in the November Nine. ♠

Matt Matros is the author of The Making of a Poker Player, and a three-time WSOP bracelet winner. He is also a featured coach for cardrunners.com.