One of the great things about playing poker for a living is that every year I have the opportunity to win a life changing amount of money by playing in a tournament that lasts a little over a week. That tournament is the World Series of Poker Main event, a $10,000 buy-in tournament that takes place every year usually right after the 4th of July. Each player starts with 30,000 chips and the blinds increase every two hours with five levels being played each day. Over the last few years, the Main Event has averaged around 6,000 entrants and because of the amount of players participating it takes until the 4th day of the tournament to get into the money (typically the top 10% of the field makes the money with the minimum cash being worth approximately double the buy-in, in this case about 20k.). Last year the final 8 players made at least 1 million dollars with the winner receiving 8.7 million dollars as well as the bracelet and the title of World Champion of Poker. The tournament takes place at the Rio in Las Vegas and is covered start to finish by ESPN with the final 9 players returning in October this year to play the final table. Due to television exposure as well as the amount of money at stake, this is the most important tournament for just about every poker player out there (we won’t include the 1 million dollar buy-in Big One for One Drop that just concluded in this discussion) and for many people just being able to play in the tournament is a dream come true. This year will be my 4th year playing the Main Event and my 7th year overall at the WSOP. Before I tell you guys what I’ve done to prepare for the Main Event this year, let’s take a look back at my three previous main event experiences.
2009: “Make the money but knocked out by twitter!”
On day 1 of my first ever Main Event, I played pretty tight and avoided playing big pots and ended the day with about 45k. I had an amazing day 2 which started out with a full double up when I had 99 against my opponents 55 on a Q95 board and later had AA vs. another players KK. Later in the day I played a couple of incredibly funny hands that I will never forget (although the bet sizes might be slightly off, however my memory is ridiculously good so they are probably pretty close). In the first, I started the hand with 135k and my opponent, a guy named Hung Pham who would go on to finish 46th, had me covered by a bit. He raised to 3.1k on the button and I called from the big blind with 56hh. The flop came 8c5c2h and I check/called a 3.1k bet. The turn was the Qh, I checked and he quickly bet 10k which I called. The river was an offsuit 4 leaving me with a pair of 5′s. I checked he bet 15k and I thought for a bit and decided he was bluffing and made the call. He says good call and turns over missed K high clubs and I turn my hand over and it turns out I have 67hh for the nuts and not 56hh. I had never misread my hand like that in my life, but thankfully I rivered the nuts because I would have ended up losing a large portion of my stack in the main event calling down with 7 high. A little later, an Italian gentleman came to the table with a massive stack and very quickly bluffed off a huge amount to Pham. This left the Italian guy with about 30k with the blinds at 500/1k. I raise MP to 2.6k w KJo he calls in BB. Flop K66ss he ch calls 4200 turn 4o he ch I shove him in for his last 20k. He looks around, throws the chips in and starts to walk away even before I turn my hand over. He has 88 and was eliminated. I finished the day with 207k which was a pretty sizable stack going into day 3. My first table on day 3 was very tough and featured several other big stacks who played very well. I played tight for a while and luckily the table broke early on in the day and I was moved to a much easier table. I won a few pots here and there and got up to around 250k when I was moved with two levels left in the day to the toughest table I’d ever played on up to that point in my poker career. Ben Lamb (who would go on to finish 14th in this event and follow that up by finishing 3rd last year and winning WSOP player of the year) was on my direct left with stacks and stacks of chips. The table also had Paul Wasicka on my right who finished 2nd in the Main Event in 2006 as well as 6 other tough, competent opponents all with big stacks. I was content to sit back and play tight for the final four hours due to the fact that we would have a new table draw on day 4 and in retrospect although I thought I was a good player during this time I lacked the confidence that I currently possess and the experience to handle this type of high pressure situation against tough players. With my stack down to around 200k after folding for most of the first level I was at this table, I raised to 8k at 1500/3k with AQ in middle position. Ben Lamb 3 bet to 23k and I decided to call. The flop came Q52 with two diamonds and I checked, Ben bet 26k and I called. The turn was an offsuit 3, I checked, Ben bet 67k and I thought for a while and called and the river was another offsuit 3. I checked and Ben predictably put me all-in and I thought for a very long time before ultimately deciding to fold. This hand has eaten at me for a long time and although I don’t feel like I played it optimally, (don’t really want to discuss what I would have done differently here) Ben told me in the hallway at the end of the night that he had Aces although he certainly could have been lying to me but it didn’t seem like it. I didn’t win a hand the rest of the night and limped into day 4 with 61.5k about 150 players from making the money. Early in the day I moved all-in over a raise with J10 suited and the player folded and I mentioned that in a tweet that I sent out. A little later I moved all in on the button with KQ suited and Hevad Khan made the call in the big blind with AJ. I flopped a King, he turned a flush draw but the river was a blank and I got a much needed double up. The money bubble took forever but ultimately the guy sitting directly behind me was the last player to get knocked out without any money. Shortly after the money bubble broke, a player raised in middle position to 15k and I went all-in for approximately 85k with AK. The raiser called with A6. The flop was good for me but the turn was a 6 and I didn’t hit a king on the river. I was eliminated in 638th place for $21,365. I happened to be right next to Scott Ian, the lead singer of Anthrax, in the payout line and he talked about the band a bit and how he got eliminated from the tournament so that was cool. I later found out from a poker forum that my opponent in my final hand called my all-in with A6 because he was reading my updates and saw that I shoved J10 earlier.
2010: “Well that was quick”
Coming off my experience in my first Main Event I expected big things in my second go around. Unfortunately, things went terribly from the beginning and over the course of the three levels I did play I won just two small inconsequential pots and lost in pretty much every way you could imagine. It was an ugly bloodbath not worthy of recounting. Ultimately I got all-in pre flop blind vs blind with AJ against 88 and never improved.
2011: “How fast things can turn badly in No Limit Hold ‘em”
Early in 2011, I had my biggest tournament score ever when I finished 3rd for about 190k in the Borgata Winter Open. I went into the WSOP brimming with confidence and ready to play the most events I’d ever played and win a bracelet. I wound up playing 16 or 17 preliminary events and despite building a lot of big stacks, I only cashed in two events. Despite the mediocre results in the preliminary events, I felt confident I could make a deep run in the Main. On day 1, I had a very quiet and calm day and finished with 51.7k. On day 2, I chipped up to 66.2k at a good table which unfortunately broke early in the day. I was right around there when just prior to the dinner break Ray Henson raised utg and I 3bet AA in mp, he called. Flop came 862cc and he ch/called my cbet with about a little more than a pot sized bet behind for the turn. Turn was an 8 and he checked, I put him all-in and he snap called with 78 suited and the river was a jack which left me with 10 big blinds going to dinner break. I was able to double once after dinner but eventually shoved 89 suited and lost to QQ to bust.
2012: “Prepared to Succeed”
I can say without a doubt that I have never been more mentally, physically or emotionally prepared for anything in my life as I am right now. I decided to take the preliminary tournaments off this year for a multitude of reasons and although I’ve regretted it at times throughout the summer I think it was by far the best decision for me to make. It’s easy to get burnt out on poker during the WSOP, spending 6-7 weeks building stacks every day just to get knocked out and start over again the next day. Instead, I’ve spent that time at Parx playing in the game that I enjoy most in the world and I’m coming in fresh, invigorated and ready to tackle a 6,000+ person field. Physically, I’ve never been in better shape in my life. The Main Event is a grind and it helps a ton to be in good physical condition to deal with playing long hours for many days in a row. I have never been more confident in my abilities as a poker player and my mental strength relative to other players. I can envision myself making the final table and I see myself winning the final hand. I understand some fortunate things need to happen along the way to make the ultimate goal reachable. I understand the power of positive thinking but I’ve also trained myself to be prepared for every scenario. Regardless of the amount of preparation I’ve done, I could sit down and be eliminated in the first hand of the tournament, I could play my best and be the person that bubbles the money, I could finish 10th or 2nd or 3,056th. Poker players have said for a long time that the worst day of the year is the day you are eliminated from the Main Event. I’m sure that it will still hurt as it has in the past but I’ve done my best this year to mentally prepare myself for every possible result and know that I’ve done everything I possibly can to put myself in the best position to succeed. I think it’s easy as a professional poker player to lose sight of how incredibly fortunate I am to actually have the opportunity that millions of people dream of having to play in the Main Event. And although I plan on playing this tournament every year for as long as I live, I will never take a single hand for granted. Here’s to hoping that this year is my year! When I get home I will post a day by day account called “Ten days in Vegas” so you guys can look forward to that. In the mean time you can follow my updates on twitter: @TreMomey. I will be playing day 1b tomorrow.