The Finals of the live 9 week poker league that John (JWK) and I play in were last night.  Harrah’s bills this as a WSOP league, with the 20 player finals awarding a 10K seat to the Main Event in Vegas… winning the first ever league they ran was how I won my seat to the 2012 Main Event.  Sadly (and somewhat shamefully on Harrah’s part imo) they did not make the seat a guarantee, and the finals prize pool didn’t reach the full 10K, so there was no seat up for grabs this night.   The final prize pool was $9325 and they awarded that to the top 5 finishers, $4196, $2331, $1399, $933, $466. 


So the way this works is, it runs for 9 weeks, and costs $60/week.  A portion of the buy in goes to pay out the top 4 each week, and the rest goes into the finals prize pool.   You get points based on your finishing position each week.  You must play at least 6 to qualify for the finals.  They take the average of your top 6 scores, and you get bonuses for attending 7, 8, and all 9 weeks.  At the end, the top 10 get a seat in the finals, and 11th on play in a semi-final satellite to award the other 10 seats.   This time I had finished 9th in the ranking so had a direct entry to the finals.  John, who ran like dog dung much of the 9 weeks, had to take the scenic route through the semis.  I arrived about 25 minutes before the start of the finals to find John had just qualified.  Rumor was he survived a bunch of all ins as a short stack… actually I ran into another league regular Matt half way to the poker room and he greeted me with “Your friend has a horseshoe up his a—“ .  lol   When I saw John at the front desk of the poker room and congratulated him on making the finals, he confirmed the rumor.   The structure of these live events is similar to a turbo online relative to the # of hands to the blind level escalations, so you have to get some measure of luck along the way.   The way John ran throughout the 9 weeks, he was due for a little horseshoe time, and this was the right week to receive it.

I started the finals on table 6 seat 10… John was in seat 6.  I think we got the worst table draw… if I had walked in and seen the other players seated, and told I could have my pick of tables, I would have snap picked the other table.  There were some good players there for sure, but the soft spots where all there too.  Starting stack is 4K and I got 200 bonus chips for my 9th place finish in the league rankings (10th gets 100, 9th 200, 8th 300, etc… up to 1st who gets an extra 1K to start).   Table 6 had 2 tight players (borderline nits) and the rest all know what’s going on, so I figured chips wouldn’t be easy to come by.   My first 2 pots were both won with pocket 4’s.  In the first one, Roger (1st overall on the league leaderboard) opened from UTG+1 to 150 (25-50 level) and got 1 caller, and I flatted in late position with my 4’s.   The BB also came along and we saw the flop 4 handed, 953 rainbow.  Roger fired a continuation bet of 225.  He had won a few pots already and had been very active up to now.  The player between us folded and I thought about what to do.  It really smelled like he wasn’t strong here, and the c-bet was small, 225 into a pot of 625.  I wasn’t too worried about the BB because he sees a lot of flops on levels 1 and 2 while it’s still cheap in an attempt to hit a few hands and chip up.   I considered floating Roger but then thought better of it because A) I’d be giving him a free card to hit overs and B) he was in loose-aggressive mode right now as I assessed it and if he fired another shell on the turn I wouldn’t really be able to call with 4’s.  I instead opted to make a play at the pot and raised to 600.  While I felt like I usually had the best hand at this point, I thought this was a great spot for the play anyway as it denies both A and B above, and on a dry board with my so far tight play it should look a lot like a set, and thus unless Roger himself flopped a set it would be very hard for him to call with his entire range… so even if I’ve misread the situation, there was a reasonable expectation that he would lay down an overpair not wanting to risk crippling his stack on level 1.  The BB quickly folded to my raise, and Roger hemmed and hawed a bit, and stared at me for a read.  I think I was exuding confidence (and in fact I WAS confident, not in my hand strength, but in the fact he was not going to call the raise).  After about 20-30 seconds he folded pocket 7’s face up.   The next pot was on level 2, 50-100, ironically also against Roger.  After some limpers I limped on the button with 44.   We took the flop 6 handed and it came out K74 rainbow.  Roger led into the field from EP for 425.  The other limpers folded to me and this time I elected to flat call and slow play the set a bit.  If the blind had a king I didn’t want to raise them out.  And Roger would have raised AK preflop so while his bet sizing and blasting into a multi-way field pretty much told me he had a king, I felt his range was capped at KQ and definitely included hands as weak as KTs and K9s as he’ll play these even from EP for a limp.  There was a small chance he held 77, but if he did it would be an early night for me.   And he had raised from EP earlier with 77, so I wasn’t concerned about it.  That’s something I see in hand analysis questions, the poster will ask “should we be afraid of 77 here???”  And the answer is no, we should never be worried about that.  While it’s not impossible for him to hold that, A) it’s not likely, and B) there is nothing we can do about it anyway, we are never folding a set in this type of tournament structure on a benign board, so don’t sweat it and try to maximize value against the kings in his range.    The blinds folded leaving us heads up to see a turn 6 putting 2 diamonds on the board.   Roger now checked to me.   Since I know he’s ranging me (not sure how well he does this skill but I know he’s doing it), this leans me more towards K9s, KTs, KJ, as I think he’d lead again with KQ.  Also while the K was not a diamond, I thought he would lead again with KdXd if he picked up a flush draw.  Still, I’m not slow playing now, as there are a lot of scary river cards that will make it hard to get paid off by a weak king.  On a board of K746, any ace, 8, 5, 3 or diamond is not going to look appealing to Roger.  So I thought about what bet sizing he couldn’t refuse, and opted on 775.  He only thought about it for maybe 15 seconds before making the call.   The river was one of the best possible cards in the deck for me… can you guess what it was?   Given the read as I’ve laid it out here, you should be guessing it was another king.  The one card that will make it extremely hard for Roger to fold the river.  I considered just going all in after he checked to me, but opted against that as it would be too big a bet… he might actually find a fold with K9 or KT if his tournament life was on the line, concerned he had kicker problems.  The other issue was that the river completed the back door flush, Kd.  While he should never be putting me on a back door flush the way the action went, I’m not sure how good his reading skills are and players who don’t think back through the hand well might get overly concerned with the flush possibility.  He had a touch over 3K left in his stack, so I decided on 1575 for my river bet.  I figured if a wrong call still left him with 1500 chips he wouldn’t be able to resist paying me off, even with K9 (which as this hand has played out should actually never be good and is only a bluff catcher).  He was visibly pained by my bet.  I must have made a good assessment, as he counted out the call, then the rest of his stack to see what would be left, and after some hemming and hawing, put the call in.  He didn’t show his hand, but said disgustedly “yeah, vnh… that was the worst possible river for me” confirming that what we didn’t see was what we already knew, Kx. 

We also had some of the stranger happenings I’ve seen in a while during this first hour.   First of all, our initial dealer dealt a premature card not once, but twice, inside a span of 5 minutes.  A premature card is when they burn and turn the next card out before the action is complete.   So for example on the flop there is a bet and a call, the dealer burns and puts out the turn card, but there’s still a 3rd player in with a hand who hasn’t acted yet in response to the flop action.  The floor gets called for this but the ruling is always the same… the premature card is coming back, that won’t be on the board any more.   The remaining player acts.  Then they burn and turn… this is what would have been the river card if there was no premature action.  Players complete the betting round, and if a river card is necessary the remaining deck is shuffled (with the formerly premature card shuffled back in so it could in theory come out again on the river), and a river is placed with no burn card.   I don’t think I saw more than 2 premature board cards dealt all of last year (and I played quite a bit of live poker), and here we saw 2 of them basically back to back.  The floor person was not amused. lol   The second of these instances was bizarre, and not just because it was happening right away a second time.  The flop was 2d5h8d, the action went check, bet 375, call (Roger), and while the SB player who had checked first was thinking, the dealer burned and turned the 6c.  Here’s where it gets weird… the SB is a bit stunned and doesn’t say anything instantly, and the other 2 players apparently don’t realize he’s still in either as the dealer after putting the turn card out points to the 2nd player, who again leads for 375 and Roger raises.  This action sequence went very fast, and we are telling the dealer hold on you have a player still in over here.   The floor is called back, and it’s a bit unclear at first what’s going on as the floor thinks the bet and raise on the table are the flop action, when in fact those are turn actions.  Finally we get it straightened out, those bets come back, and the 1st player must call or raise the flop bet.  He calls.  Now the turn card comes back and Roger protests.  Oops.  He clearly made his hand with the 6c since he wanted to raise the turn, and now was upset it wouldn’t remain out there.  He quickly quelled his protest but I figured the damage was done, his hand was basically face up now.  He either had 34s, or a hand like 9d7d or 7d4d.  The “new” turn card (which would have been the river) was the 7h.  The action went check, bet 375, and now Roger quickly called.  So I figure he has to have exactly 34, 9d7d, or 7d4d.  The other player check/called.  The floor tells our dealer to shuffle the premature card back in and put out the river.  I say to the table “ok let’s see how good a mechanic you are, BLACK 6!”  And bang, the 6s rolls off.  lol   Too funny.  It goes check/check and Roger bets 500.  I thought well it’s a bit of justice that he got there after that debacle, but it’s a shame he won’t get paid off now since everyone knows what he has.  I thought too soon… the first player called 500, and mucked when Roger tabled 3d4d for the small end of the straight.  Wowzers.

The other strange happening was towards the end of level 2, 50-100.  It folded to the cut off who opened for 300.  The button threw in 325 and the dealer announced call and reached to return the 25 green chip to him.  “No, I’m raising” he said.  No, you’re calling the dealer advised and pointed to the cut off’s 300.  He didn’t see the cut off raise (even though it was right next to him lol, pay attention people!).  The BB called as well and they saw a 3 handed flop of 7d6d4h.  BB checked, the raiser checked, and the button bet 750.  The BB folded and now the cut off check-raised to 2000, leaving himself only about 2K behind.  The button tanked for like 3 minutes and called, leaving himself with 1600 chips.   As soon as he made the call, the cut off moved the rest of his stack in “dark” (meaning he was betting all in on the turn before even seeing the turn card).  The turn card paired the 7, and the button went into the tank again.  It got a little outrageous how long he tanked.  I have not called the clock on someone in, well, maybe years, and I don’t like to do it especially when it’s someone’s tournament life on the line, but I was 42 seconds from calling clock on this one.  This is a fast structure with 20 minute levels.  This turn card came out in level 2, and the clock was down to 17 minutes left in level 3 when I decided ok, if it gets to 15 minutes that’s it, I’m calling clock.  Although it was his tournament life what made this outrageous imo is that he called the flop check-raise in a situation where he had to expect the cut off to move the rest in on the turn, and so he should have already known what he was going to do (and he should NEVER call this check-raise putting like 2/3rds of his stack in then fold, he should fold immediately or go all the way with it).   So what was the huge delay?  Have a plan for your hand people!  Think ahead!   I was relieved it didn’t get to this point as he finally put the call in with 15:42 left in level 3 on the clock.  He had QQ, and the cut off was just making a total blind steal with, you may have guessed it, 8d5d.  If the button opined how costly his preflop mistake was… if he had seen the preflop raise he would have reraised and the hand would have ended without the cut off flopping the nuts with an open ended straight flush draw.  Costly indeed.  A real strange first hour.

When we reached the final 10 we redrew for seats, I drew seat 7 and John was in seat 8.  The 10 seat was a micro-stack with like 2 bb’s.  He is a tight player and waited and waited as long as he could, but finally went out.  After this as we went on break again the topic of a deal came up.  When we returned from break there was a bunch of negotiating  to spit up the prize money.  With 9325 in the pot and 9 left it was about 1K each.  The 2 biggest stacks hinged on the deal, they had 17 and 16bb’s respectively and wanted more money.  There was a mention of them getting like 1400 each and the rest of us taking 900 to which I immediately said no, I won’t take less than 1K.  I had 12 bb’s and position on both of them, and was quite content to play on.  Eventually an agreement was reached giving me 1K so I said fine, and we had a deal.  On the one hand, I think I took slightly the worst of it with my stack size compared to some of the other shorter stacks, but on the other hand I only had 12bb’s!  In this structure it changes so quickly and becomes so much of a luck-fest at the end, locking up better than 4th place money with 9 left can’t be all bad.  The 17bb stack took 1200 and the 16bb stack took 1125 and the rest of us got 1K.  The bigger stacks did worse than me slightly imo, and the shorter stacks all did great, but meh, the money is so shallow and so much luck/variance is involved at that stage, it’s not an awful deal for any of us tbh.   We all agreed to put in $20 and play on for the $180 to the winner.  I didn’t really want to do this, seemed like a big time waste to me once the deal was done, but I was in the minority so played along.   The 16bb stack to my immediate right, who had the hardest time reconciling the deal out of anyone I think, was quite glad he pulled the trigger on it, as the very next hand a (I think 10ish bb) stack shoved and he called with JJ.  The shover had AA and held, so just like that he lost over half his stack.  Things change quickly on a very shallow money final table. 

Then I had the fun of busting John out, without the chip gain for my effort! lol   With the blinds at 500-1K I open raised from UTG to 2500 with QQ.  John went all in for 2700 right behind me, and the one shorter stack at the table than John called all in for 2500.   I called the extra 200 chips and John turned over A9s, while the other short stack woke up with KK.  No one improved, so the short stack tripled up while I got the 400 chip side pot containing John’s last 200 chips.   The triple up guy blinded back down (happens quick as we were now at 600-1200 with the jump to 1k-2k looming) and shoved his short stack in late position with 5 players left.  The big stack moved all in to isolate him and I looked down at 99 in the bb.  I actually didn’t feel good about it but with what was now a 6bb stack soon to be shorter, and facing this action, the big stack should be isolating pretty wide and 99 plays easily well enough vs. that range to get it in so I did.  He had JJ though and held to dash my hopes of picking up the extra $180 and send me out in 4th. 

Over all a fun league again, a good group of people that we all get to know each other over the course of the 9 weeks (many of whom play regularly), so it’s a nice deal.  The juice is high but there’s still an overlay imo for the solid player as there are a lot of soft spots from league to league.  The next one starts right away next Tuesday, and I plan to play again as it’s worked out nicely for me… I’ve made a profit in 3 out of the 5 leagues I’ve played (breaking even in a 4th, due to cashes in the weekly games), including last year’s main event seat.  I still hold hopes that we get enough players to make the 10K prize pool this time around (we were exactly 25 buy ins short this time, which less than 3 players/week), as that’s the ultimate goal in this deal, to get to Vegas with a chance at the big dance.