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by Bob Ciaffone |  Published: Aug 20, 2014


Bob CiaffoneThis year, I once again went out to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker tournament. It was my first trip to the WSOP in three years. The trip was prompted by the fact that I was getting sponsored into three tournament events and was also interested in playing in the cash games. The tournaments were the $1,000 buy-in Senior Championship, a $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament, and a $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament.

The Senior Championship is my favorite event these days. I always run into a number of my old friends playing in it, and the competition is not as tough without the younger competitors. I also enjoy the company of people who seldom hold up the play and are polite to the others at the table.

My experience in this year’s senior event did not last long; it was the only time in my life that I busted out before the button had even completed one full orbit around the table. Here is what happened. We started out with 3,000 worth of chips and two blinds of 25. The first hand I was in the small blind (SB) and did not have a playing hand. A gentleman in early position raised to 75 and there were four or five callers. It looked like I was going to get a nice loose table. On the second deal, I was on the button and looked down to find a pair of queens. An early player opened for 50 and was called by most of the field. I raised to a total of 450. The fellow on my immediate left started playing around with his chips as he sank into thought. After 20 or 30 seconds he raised to a total of 1,000. The field all folded and it was up to me. What to do? All three possibilities were in the picture: fold, call, and reraising all-in. I absolutely hate to have a tough decision for all my chips before I know anything about my opponent. He was a very short fellow, perhaps even a dwarf, as he appeared to be well under five feet high.

I finally decided to postpone my decision until after the flop and called the guy. The flop came down real ugly for my hand; K-J-9 with two clubs. The pot was now about 2,400 and I had 2,000 left. My opponent bet 700. At this point I could easily have folded with a clear conscience, but decided to call. The next card was a king, pairing the top card, and he checked. I also checked. At the river was an insignificant card and he bet 1,000. The pot was huge. so I called, and was shown ace-king. Two hands later I picked up A-9 suited. Having only 275 left, I went all-in, and got called by the big blind (BB), who had an 8-7 suited and decided to play it. He made a pair at the river, which won, and I headed for the exit.

In the $1,500 no-limit hold’em event, the interesting question of choosing a bubble strategy came up. I made it through the first day, but was low on chips. I will tell you the essence of what happened the next morning. They were paying 271 players and there were 278 players left, so we were very close to the bubble (point where the prize money starts to get paid). I had 10,100 when play began. The blinds were 600-1200 with a 200 ante, so a wait-and-see policy was not likely to let me slide into the money. My opportunity came on the second hand dealt to me, when a big stack open-raised in early position and another big stack called. I had the ADiamond Suit JSpade Suit on the button, so wasted no time in betting all my chips. The opener folded and the second player called. He held a K-J suited, giving me a nice overlay on him with my A-J. He failed to buy a king, so I now had around 24,000, which looked like it was probably enough to cash in the event. Cashing at this point would pay $2,840. I generally play aggressively at bubble time and hope to amass some chips while most other players tighten up. This is a good strategy when you have enough chips to cash, but that was hardly a description of my present situation. However, I resolved to give myself a chance to get some chips if the situation arose. I did not have to wait long.

I picked up an A-10 offsuit in early position. This is a hand in my opinion too weak to play in early position in a 9-handed or 10-handed game under normal circumstances, but on the bubble, who knows? I opened for 6,000 and got called by a young player who had started the deal with only about 18,000. Calling was a strange play, since who calls off a third of their stack trying to hit the flop? An ace came, I went all-in and got called. The guy had A-J, exactly the type of hand my strategy was supposed to drive out of the pot in the bubble situation! With hindsight, the general idea of pushing hands hard using the bubble as a threat probably ought to be modified into specific targeting of certain people, so you are tailoring a certain play at a specific opponent.

I still had about 5,500 left, but with the BB on my immediate right, I decided to go all-in on my 7-6 offsuit before I had to take the blind. All folded around to the BB, who had a monster stack; he called me (without looking) holding a 9-3 offsuit. I flopped a pair, but my opponent rivered a nine to knock me out of the event.

Poker has certainly changed a lot in the 21st century. We now have far bigger prize funds, much more use of aggressive play, more women and minorities playing the game, etcetera. Whereas change is normally for the better, poker has a glaring exception. The pace of play is much slower nowadays. I am not talking harshly about key decisions when a wager has put all your chips at risk. I am talking about habitually slow players for whom the simplest decision produces a ridiculously long huddle. This reduces the pleasure of playing the game for everyone at the table.

Why do so many people play much more slowly than they need to? Probably, the more youthful players of today play some role. What people see on TV also has an effect on behavior. I would assign a lot of the blame on the cardroom itself, where too many management people do nothing to speed up the pace.

I was sure happy to see on the cover of the June 11 Card Player the announcement, “The Shot Clock is Here.” Poker surely needs a shot clock. While we enthusiastically await widespread use of this technology, I suggest that the cardrooms not sit back and wait for its introduction, which may be somewhat slow, but actively try to speed up play right now! ♠

Bob Ciaffone’s new poker book, No-limit Holdem Poker, is now available. This is Bob’s fifth book on poker strategy. It can be ordered from Bob for $25 by emailing him at Free shipping in the lower 48 states to Card Player readers. All books autographed. Bob Ciaffone is available for poker lessons.