Confessions of an Open Face nit : OFCP at the WSOP

A beautiful Russian, all blonde curls and icy stare, is going to fantasy land for the third time in an hour. The other Russian at the table, normally cheery, is despondent, while the young tournament grinder is hysterical. He was playing well earlier, but now he's shouting nonsense as he splits aces for no apparent reason.

An angry villain asks me sarcastically, "You with the leopard shirt and bright orange pants. You must really have your act together, huh?!" I giggle over a latte & burger, reveling in the insult. It's the first time in 2013 I fit into these jeans. I rarely consume red meat or whole milk, but with the long hours of poker and miles of Rio hallways, it's been impossible NOT to lose weight. "How can I not win against a bunch of circus performers?" the villain continues as he exposes his cards to the table prematurely: Another badugi with a useless two-flush. I laugh again at his exaggerated frustration, and he slams his arms on the table. Our cards shake. The dealer yells at him. He loses all of his cash, then all of his lammers.

The next day, he coolly introduced himself and congratulated me on various chess accomplishments.

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Open Face swings are brutal, and they test your character, your tilt control and your ability to figure out bankroll management quickly in a game evolving toward even higher variance.

Team PokerStars Pros Victor Ramdin & Nacho Barbero, placed first and second in the WSOP Open Face Carnivale of Poker event (for $76,000 and $47,000 respectively). When I told Nacho that I was working on an article about what you can learn about other poker games from Open Face, he wisely pointed out that clicking OFC buttons between hands does not increase your profit (in the tournament at least). "My other games got worse because I spent so much time playing OFC ," he admitted, though he was happy with his edge in the WSOP event. "It was a very good value for a $5K. Pretty much everyone knows how to set the first five cards but make mistakes on later streets." Victor was honest and thrilled: "Got my face smashed in the last week," he wrote after winning the OFCP title, "So this win was great."

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My own happiest OFCP moment was leaving the Aria Hotel past sunrise with mixed game pro Melissa Burr. Along with a few others, we chopped a marathon 90-player Open Face tournament which began at 5:00 PM and ended more than 12 hours later. Melissa and I became friends after I interviewed her for PokerStars Women last winter. Our chats on three flushes and kickers stretched from long text message threads to longer pool dates, interspersed with gossip and life planning.

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When I'm obsessed with a topic, I try to express it visually, and Melissa gracefully obliged, playing a valuable fantasyland hand on the windows of a plush hotel room as my love, Daniel Meirom, directed.

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I structured my OFCP action (cash games and two tournaments) well in advance of the WSOP so that my risk of ruin was pretty low. Banging tables wasn't likely, though playing sessions beyond my peak focus and failing to game select were indicators that I had not fully eluded tilt. Some key points from my WSOP OFC days:

1. A Point Saved is a Point Earned: Nitty OFC plays can be just as satisfying as audacious attempts at fantasy land. One of my favorites came early in the Aria tournament when I was dealt a card to give me a boat. But, there were six cards left in the deck. Two would foul my top hand if I went for the boat, one would re-boat me up, one would quad me, two were bricks. It's pretty rare to pass up on boats in OFCP, but in this case, it was correct to lock up the non-foul since I had redraws.

2. What Kind of Player Are You?: Exposed cards, manipulating position and the possibility of getting negatively freerolled make Open Face rife with ethical issues that haven't been fully explored. In every session, you'll have to make choices about doing the right thing or squeaking out a little short-term equity. Paying players the wrong amount accidentally is the most common issue, and the culture of the game is to point out such mistakes.

3. Know the Next Trend: I was far down on the 25 point list and even lower on the 10 point games when I met a group of fellow OFC addicts who were friends with some of my friends. They invited me to play rake-free OFC at a bar where everyone else would be focused on a basketball game. Just before the cards were dealt, I was informed, "We don't play regular Open Face anymore."

To sum up: I got in a car with people I vaguely knew to go to a bar where we were to play a variant (Pineapple) that I knew nothing about for a significant amount of money. How do you like my line?

Still, I doubt the high-rolling pros playing businessmen for thousands a point quibble over rules variations. Foresee, adapt, or quit.

4. Bug Your Friends: Just like in No Limit Hold'em, it's frustrating to try to improve your Open Face game in a vacuum. So, I take screenshots of interesting Open Face spots and fire away texts to friends like Melissa, or my chess student Bill Chen, until someone responds. Then I continue to ask questions about the hands until they get exasperated and start ignoring me.

Kidding aside, I've done a lot of independent thinking on Open Face, and this has improved my general poker confidence and sharpened my mind. Women seem to take to Open Face at a higher rate than other games, so join us on the fast track to fantasy land. And go ahead and message me some interesting hands.

Jennifer Shahade
@PokerStars in PS Women