WCOOP 2011: From rust to gold

wcoop2009-thumb.jpgAt the end of my second week back playing online poker, I won WCOOP event #34, the 2-7 Triple Draw tournament. It paid $21k, but it was also a symbolic highpoint for my move to Vancouver and a huge overall morale boost.

Under the best of circumstances, it can be challenging to play good, concentrated poker for hours on end, and having a good set and setting--mindset and physical setting--is very important for the effort. After four months away from online poker, and uprooting my life in California in order to set up in Canada, I was more than a little worried that I would not get back into the groove, about the "rust factor." I told friends that I would not feel comfortable with everything until I was "back up and clicking on Stars," but the truth was I would not feel comfortable until I was actually "back up and winning on Stars."

Thankfully, I found my return to online poker to be more like "riding a bike" than I expected it would be. There was (and still is) a re-adjustment aspect, and I have definitely made mistakes in a variety of crucial spots, but after a few days of playing a schedule similar to what I was playing earlier in 2011, I found myself making some runs, accumulating cashes and generally feeling comfortable with online tournaments as I remembered them.

I quickly got back into the mode of working long days, starting my first tournament at 8:30AM and usually registering for new tournaments for the next 8-10 hours. September 15th, turned out to be the longest day yet. Maybe unwisely, I woke up at 5:30 AM for WCOOP-32, the $320 6max hold-em that began at 3AM local time. My plan to play such an early tournament was overly ambitious, and although I am basically an early bird, waking up at 5:30 is not conducive to my playing good poker. By 8AM, the time I would normally begin my grind, I was busted from the WCOOP 6max, stuck about a thousand dollars, and unsure of what I wanted to do with the rest of my day.


Then, a fortuitous conversation took place. I was chatting on IM with Shaun Deeb, an online poker legend and a player with a really great mind for all forms of poker. We discussed the 2-7 TD tournament that was coming up later that day, and I said, "yeah I'd like to play but it's probably -EV." mostly referring to my tired, hazy state of mind. Deeb said, "most people in that tournament don't even know the rules or how to draw clean." I replied, "hmm I do know those things, maybe I should play." Deeb said if I didn't want to put up the money, he'd put me in for a 15% freeroll, meaning he'd put up the buyin and I would keep 15% of the total cash.

I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my day, but after unsuccessfully trying to get back to sleep, I realized that the only thing for me to do was try to wake up again and put in some hours playing poker, despite the eventual exhaustion that waking up at 5:30AM was going to cause.

So, I got out of bed and decided to go all out. Instead of taking Deeb's original offer, I sold him 50% of my buyin at face value (meaning we each put up half the buyin and split the profits evenly too) and registered for my normal slate of tournaments, plus the two remaining WCOOPs that day (Shaun also bought half my action in event #33, a $300 1r1a PLO event).

Twelve hours later, I was down $5,000 for the day but still alive in the 2-7 event. I actually felt pretty good about the way I was playing throughout the event. Although I am primarily a NLHE player, I have at least a basic understanding of most forms of poker and have played many hours of low-stakes 8-game on Stars. I've also read Daniel Negreanu's Super System 2 chapter on lowball and generally feel comfortable with 2-7 hand values and betting pattern. Otherwise, I just relied on my general understanding of aggression in tournament poker to help me fake my way to the end.

And then with two tables left, I experienced a ridiculous run of cards. I was dealt, or drew to, an improbable number of strong hands (I think I was dealt at least three "pat wheels" at the final two tables).

I got to the final table with almost half the chips in play, but winning the tournament would not come without a hard fought headsup battle. I had my opponent down to 3-1 or so at least twice, and she (my opponent stated she was a woman) battled back every time. After a long stretch where our stack sizes went up and down but no one had a dominating lead, she finally had me badly wounded, at a 5-1 chip disadvantage.
By now, I was extremely exhausted, going on 19 hours of play from the time of the 3AM WCOOP. I was making plenty of fundamental mistakes and also not playing an optimal psychological game headsup. If I ever get to see the replay, I am sure I will be horrified.
Seeing that I was on the ropes, my opponent chose this opportunity to needle me (she had been a bit feisty in chat since we got down to two tables), and typed, "it looks like your luck has finally run out." There was nothing I could do except not let it bother me. I typed back a vague retort and then had to pause to correct a typo. She stuck the needle in further, saying, "what are you doing, stalling for the next payjump?"

Then, the next thing I knew, I had won a pot or two. I can't even remember if she had me all-in or not, but I do remember looking down and seeing that I had regained the chip lead. I couldn't resist the opportunity to taunt her back a little, and said, "Oh, hey--it looks like my luck hasn't run out," a comment which fortunately didn't come back to haunt me since I did not give back the lead and won the tournament soon after.

After the dust settled on that 19 hour day of online poker, I had made about $5,000 (remember, I was down about $5,000 for the day, and I sent Shaun Deeb 50% of the $21K win). That's a pretty good day in terms of income, but it felt exponentially better in the broader scheme of things. After being in town a few weeks, I finally felt calm about the move I made to Canada in order to resume playing online poker. The win made it feel like I had more fully established myself in a new environment that I had picked up where I left off. Mostly, it's a lot of fun to take a shot in a WCOOP event in a game I don't normally play, to focus throughout a long day, and pull out a win at the end of it.

Shane 'shaniac' Schleger
@PokerStars in WCOOP