The scoop on WCOOP
In 2007, I finished second in the WCOOP Main Event, winning $700,782. Since then, I have several more top-ten finishes in subsequent WCOOPs (and SCOOPs) and am 18th on the all time WCOOP money list. Admittedly, online tournaments traditionally necessitate a strategy quite different from that of the big buy-in live tournaments that I play regularly. However, the WCOOP is arguably the closest thing that online poker has to compare to major live poker tournaments. Ultimately, I believe that many of the skills I have honed playing deep stacked, slower paced live events have been the key to these results.
One of the things that I have learned from WCOOP events of years past is that the fields tend to play a lot tighter than they do in standard online tournaments--this is probably because the WCOOP (as opposed to normal online tournaments) have much slower structures, deeper starting stacks and the bigger tournaments usually play out over two days as opposed to a mere few hours. Therefore, I believe that the WCOOPs allow for more post flop play and a higher level play as well. This is probably why I enjoy playing the WCOOPs so much. Well, that, and the fact that you can win six-figures in your pajamas!
In 2007, I felt confident going into the WCOOP Main Event as I had come close to the final table of another WCOOP event just the day before. Also, at that point in my career, I was reinventing my style--or, more accurately in retrospect, solidifying what is still to this day my baseline strategic approach to deep-stacked no limit holdem tournaments. This approach is characterized by a loose aggressive style in the early phases of the tournament and a gear shift into a more tight aggressive mode during the later stages of these events.
Leading up to the WCOOPs that year, I had been playing a much tighter style than usual--and I did not enjoy much success with that approach. Towards the fall of 2007, as the WCOOPs approached, I realized that it wasn't that I was specifically misplaying hands-- rather, my slump probably had had more to do with my overall tournament strategy. As a result, when the WCOOP tournaments began, I decided to shake things up. I made a conscious effort to play more aggressively than I had in a very long time. In fact, I don't think I had played quite that aggressive of a style since the September before when I won the $5k buy-in Borgata Open. I have since learned that this wasn't an accident. For me, tournament success is usually followed by a lull where I tend to sit back and rest comfortably on my recent success (not feeling the pressure that is required to be willing to make plays)--and as a result failing to harness the aggression that got me the score in the first place.
So, when the WCOOPs started up for me in 2007, I played a lot of pots and I played them aggressively. I felt that I was playing a style that really worked for me and it was refreshing to be having so much FUN playing (clearly I enjoy an active LAG style much more-so than a TAG one). I was outplaying my opponents and I spent the first few hours of the 2007 WCOOP main event building my stack by taking any spot for a +EV play that came to my attention--sometimes I was engaged in as many as seven out of every ten hands! Usually, you want to avoid playing this aggressively as it risks your opponents exploiting your strategy with re-raises, check-raises and the like. However, perhaps since the WCOOPs allow players the luxury of tremendous patience, and also probably because players pay less attention to their opponents' table images when they are playing online, I found that my style wasn't being exploited nearly as much as it should have been!
Normally, when you build your stack early on, you eventually change gears in the later stages of a tournament and tighten up. Although I did throttle back a little bit in the middle stages, I must admit that I still played far more hands than I normally would that year. Ultimately, about four hours in, I finally decided to tighten up significantly--but when I did play hands, I was in it for the win.
One interesting hand that occurred in the late stages is where I folded A-K pre-flop. I had raised, and a short stack pushed in behind me. A big stack smooth-called the push behind him and I mucked not wanting to risk 30% of my stack in a spot that I felt was far too risky to justify so many chips. It ended up being a good fold, as I was beat by both of my opponents who held pocket kings and pocket queens!
In my final hand, I called Ka$ino's min-raise to defend my big blind with the admittedly risky but still playable 6♣3♣. The flop came T♠3♦6♥, giving me two pair--and I was stoked! I checked the flop and he bet. I smooth-called with the intention of check-raising the turn. The turn was the 7♠ and I checked as planned. I was surprised when my opponent then checked behind. The river brought the J♠, completing a backdoor flush. I bet out, and he moved all in. I called thinking his range was just too wide at that point to fold such a strong and underrepresented hand as my two pair. He could easily have been bluffing, right? Unfortunately, he turned up 9♠2♠ for a flush.
I have since agonized about that decision--thinking that I should have considered how out of character his turn check was. In retrospect, it most likely indicated that he picked up a draw or hit the turn in some way. Thus, I have since decided that I made a mistake in calling. In my defense, we had been playing over 24 hours at that point, and I probably wasn't playing my best poker. Fortunately, many of todays WCOOP events are two-day events in order to avoid this very scenario...not that I wouldn't happily do it all over again for another 24+ hours anytime!
Vanessa Rousso is a member of Team PokerStars Pro