Getting Started in Poker Tournaments: The Ball Cap Kids Meet the Oaf from Hell
By Math Boy
(From Blackjack Forum , Summer 2006)
© Blackjack Forum 2006
[Editor's Note: Math Boy has been a professional gambler for as long as I have known him. Don’t get the idea that anyone can start making money in poker tournaments this easily right from the start, just by reading The Poker Tournament Formula (or half of it). Math Boy’s got a lot more game in him than any average newbie who starts out in tournaments. He has a long history of involvement in high-risk gambling plays where aggression is not only the optimum strategy, but a necessary component of profitable play. He plays casino games at the highest levels, and the poker tournaments he played were small stakes events in terms of his gambling bankroll. But I really like this article. He sent us this story unsolicited, and I am publishing it because it really does address the fearless attitude you must take into a tournament, and, let’s face it, it’s amusing as hell. —A.S.]
“Since, as a beginner, you can’t be good, at least opt for being dangerous.” —The Poker Tournament Formula
I liked the sound of Arnold’s new book, The Poker Tournament Formula. I’d heard from people that players are worse in no limit games than limit, and it seemed to me that players would have even less of an idea of how to play no limit tournaments. Plus, no limit tournaments sounded like something fun to do for grins. In 2000 I had read the Lee Jones book on low limit hold’em (Winning Low Limit Hold’Em, Conjelco, 2000), and I had played about a dozen hours of low limit poker in the years since then. So I got Arnold’s book and started reading it. I read the first few chapters at home, and got up to the position strategy. On the flight to Vegas I read about card strategy, and flipped ahead to a few chapters that seemed like lighter topics. I got to the point where I had read the position strategy, card strategy, and how to keep track of how much was in the pot. Three new things were enough to keep track of for my first tournament.
So I got to Vegas and the first tournament I entered was a small stakes event rated Skill Level 1. I figured I would not want a higher skill level tournament because I had no skills. In this first tournament, I screwed up the position strategies. The book advises that from the button you should raise if first in, call any number of limpers, and call up to one raiser. But from the button and the two seats next to it I was raising any number of limpers. I lasted 25 minutes.
That night I went to a higher class of casino to play in a higher skill level tournament. I had read the rest of the card strategy section, and knew much of what I had done wrong in my first tournament. Unfortunately, I immediately became the table oaf when the third guy got to the table, because I had sat in his seat, 6, when my card said 4 and I didn’t know the difference. I lasted 35 minutes this time, but learned more. I watched a wraparound shades pro push people around from position. I went out when I had pocket kings and got beaten by A-Q, but overall I played the strategy much better. I was able to stereotype players. I had talked to Arnold about learning the position strategy, and he had advised me to stop looking at my cards, so I went ahead and raised with whatever crap hands I had, but looked at my cards anyway to try and remember card strategy as well. As I made the position strategy raises, I was always amazed how often everyone would fold just because I bet with position. Someone would check, I would bet with junk, and they would fold time and time again.
The next day I went to the same higher class casino for another try. At my table, there was a boat person, two ace masters, and two tight players. One guy tried to steal every other blind and rarely got shown down. I just played the strategy in The Poker Tournament Formula. I stole blinds, and won a hand or two. The table broke up and I got sent to another table. My first hand at this table, I went all in with a great hand and busted out another player. The next hand I was on the button and the bet was $100 with blinds of $25-$50. I wanted to bet, so I threw out $200. The dealer said “call”, because you can’t raise with one chip. A few minutes later I made the exact same mistake, thus becoming the table oaf once more.
The blinds were $100-$200. A cagey codger next to me was wearing a Binions shirt and an Orleans hat. He threw out $600. I wanted to bet $1000 as I had A-K on the button, so I threw out two purples. The dealer said that was a call, because you can’t raise with one chip. I protested because that didn’t seem right. The flop came with a king and two other cards. Apparently, the cagey codger could not feel threatened by anyone who could be that much of an oaf, because he pushed all in. I called and beat his K-J. Later on at that table, I lost back half my chips to a worse hand that outdrew me.
I got taken to another table. I have a Rolex, and three other guys at this table had Rolexes. One was a Brit with a two-tone submariner, and the others were two ball cap kids with no caps but plenty of chip shuffling tricks. The ball cap kids had crappy datejust Rolexes. For people who don’t know anything about Rolexes, Rolex gives each store a certain number of each model. The popular models (submariners, daytonas) sell out quickly. The unpopular models (day-dates, datejusts) sit on the shelf for a long time and at some point probably get smuggled to ebay to get sold off. (OK, call me a watch snob. But it’s true. And it’s also a tell.) At one point the two ball cap kids are in a pot. There is a bet before the flop, and the other guy calls. The flop comes down K-K-5, and one bets. (Which I would have done no matter what.) The second ball cap kid takes about two minutes, then folds and flashes the table his pocket aces to show how brilliant he is in his laydown. I think to myself there is no way in hell I would have just folded like that. Later I get into an all-in showdown with Mr. Pocket Aces and I have to show my K-5 (I was on the button). I had drawn out on him, and Ball Cap Kid #1 tells me sarcastically, “I think you had the better hand.” I tell him I had the better hand after the river came down, and that is all I care about. He spends the next few minutes making sarcastic remarks at my expense, and then I was sent to another table. I had one other lucky draw-out in the entire tournament. Those were the only two times I had to show a junk hand. But by that time I had more than double the chips of anyone at the new table.
Two more tables later a player I liked went out and was replaced by a cagey codger with an Orleans hat. No one liked this guy. He thought very highly of his witty repartee. He was telling the dealer how to deal. He was telling the table oaf to not show his cards to everyone. (By that time I had too many chips to be the table oaf.) About ten minutes later I was the small blind and in the pot with Orleans Hat. The flop came, and I knew I wanted to bet, but forgot that I had to go first. I waited a long time, expecting him to bet. Then he made some comment, and I bet $1200 as the blinds were $200-$400. He made a snide comment that he had intended to bet the same amount, and I replied, “That’s great.” At that time we started paying antes and I started having a problem. I was stealing the blinds like clockwork, and it took too long to scoop and stack all the greens and blacks as well as keep track of who was betting what.
After that table broke up, I had made it into the final 30. I went to my penultimate table and had the biggest chip stack. Yet, by Arnold’s definition, I was slightly desperate because I had about 25 big blinds! So I played a little looser even though I had more chips. At this point, I had been at the table with a few people who were experienced players, and who stole the blinds. They all had mediocre chip stacks. By Arnold’s standards, they should have been all in every time they made a bet. Yet, a Dutch player was the only one who did that. When we got down to about 20 players, the dealer counted out over a dozen hands where no one saw the flop. It was just ante-blinds, then one guy would bet, then the table would fold. Once in awhile one of the short stacks would go all in against the bettor, and the guy who bet would just fold. I took about one out of every five blinds at this point, and my chip stack kept on creeping up while better players’ stacks kept on creeping down. Everything was happening just like Arnold said it would in the book. There was a tight player to my left who made the final table and had about half my chips. He also was a great source of chips, because I stole the antes and blinds from him several times in a row without a call.
At one point I had a mediocre hand and made a position play. A smallish stack went all in over the top of me. But the amount to me was only about $800 more than I had in the pot, and I figured I was being given something like 5:1 odds. So I called with my 6-4s. I pulled out the straight to win, and that was the second of two times I got shown down with a junk hand. While I know how to calculate pot odds, that is the only time I had to do it. I don’t think I had a flush draw the entire tournament.
I actually made money from a cagey codger. He had shown down three times. Every showdown he had a pair, and one pair was as low as 5’s. So I had him down as a pair master. When I had pocket 10’s, he made a smaller bet than usual. He had a smallish stack at this point, and I figured that he could not have a pair, but must have two high cards and was taking a half-hearted shot at the blinds. I bet my usual bet to make him call. Then after the flop he checked. I bet, and before he folded he showed me his A-K that the flop had missed. I had made money from stereotyping him.
The closer we got to the final nine players who would make up the final table, the tighter everyone got. When there were 10 players left, Ball Cap Kid #1, who had been ragging on me, went all in as the first one to bet. Pair Master Cagey Codger went all in to call him. Then I pushed all in with pocket queens, and Ball Cap Kid #1 goes “Oh shiatsu” (real swear word edited out). My hand busts out both guys. Even better, Ball Cap Kid #1 only got half the 9th place prize because he busted out at the same time as the cagey codger. We moved over to the final table, where the Submariner Brit from the last table was the short stack. He thanked me for busting out two guys so he would get higher in the prize pool.
At that point there was one stack bigger than mine. I just followed the strategy in The Poker Tournament Formula and stole blinds and antes. At that point the blinds were $500-$1,000 and the antes were $200. Those steals add up! My standard bet was $5,000 at this point, and people would just lay down for me when I made my position plays. I would push people around with total crap because I was in position, and would steal blinds when in position. At one point we had a break and there were six people left. A tattooed British guy came up to me when I was going into the bathroom and said, “You are a great poker player. You are a dangerous man when you have chips.” That made my day, because I knew I had no skills except for being able to follow Arnold’s book. Later, the British guy busted out at #5, and I whispered in his ear that I had never played a tournament previous to the day before. He looked like his eyes were going to pop out of his head.
Shortly after that the chip leader suggested a chop. With a very slight adjustment, we agreed to a chop weighted by chips. I had the second most chips on the table at that point, even though I had lost a showdown to the fourth place player, Submariner Brit. So I had made better than 2nd place money in my third tournament. Better than 88 other players, even though I have always considered myself a horrible poker player. I was horrible in high school and college before I knew how to gamble. Other pros can testify to my bad low limit play. But I read half a book and won money. I told the other three guys at that point that I had never played in a poker tournament or no-limit cash game before the previous day. All I had done was read half a book. The chip leader told me he hoped I wouldn’t read the second half of the book. ♠
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