WSOP Event #17: Wil Wheaton Report

by Wil Wheaton

When I walked into the Amazon room at the Rio yesterday morning, and it didn't feel as cavernous and intimidating as it did last year, I knew that I was going to be okay. I've spent so much time studying my books, analyzing my game, warming up in two-thousand player MTTs at PokerStars, and discussing strategy with my friends, the only thing I was concerned about were the cards. Would they come my way? The blinds in event seventeen were so fast, I'd be out by dinner unless I caught some real hands.

I scouted out my table, figured out which bathroom would be closest -- which is much more important at the WSOP than you'd think it is -- and headed back to the PokerStars suite to hang out for about twenty minutes until I took my seat. It's a really nice suite, and I'm not just saying that because I'm totally biased. Well, maybe I am, but it's where I'll be during my WSOP downtime, so if you're in town and you want to drop by to say hello, that's the place to do it.

Just before noon, I took my seat at table 15. I felt confident, prepared, and relaxed right up until about five minutes before the tourney began and my fellow author and poker blogger Double As came over and sat two seats to my right.

"Are you f-" I stopped myself. I didn't want to get a stupid F-bomb penalty before the cards were even in the air, "Are you kidding me? 2300 entrants and I have to sit with you?!"

He smiled a lazy and confident smile. "There are a lot of us in this event today."

In fact there were. This last weekend, the WPBT had another blogger gathering in Vegas (which I wasn't able to attend) and many of us stuck around to play in this event. "I know," I said. I pointed around the room where I knew other poker bloggers were seated. "Maybe one of us will make it deep."

Maybe it'll be me. I sure hope it's me.

I knew that this event would play just like a large-field MTT at PokerStars. We started with an M of 30, but that would quickly drop to less than 10 by level three, so the game plan was the same as it is for those online MTTs: stay out of trouble, fold marginal hands out of position, and don't risk any chips doing anything stupid early on. Chip up when I can, survive the first few levels of hee haw, and hope to make some moves when the chips really matter.

Players were dropping out at the rate of about one a minute, and my table broke before the middle of the second level as alternates were moved into the tourney (there were 500 alternates, and I understand that they all got to play. Holy. Sh--.)

I wished DoubleAs good luck, thanked the poker gods for getting me away from his table before he could put the hurt on me, and moved to a table right behind Phil Hellmuth, who was wearing Wayne Gretzky's number on an Ultimate Bet hockey jersey that looked an awful lot like a Pittsbugh Penguins jersey. I was hoping for a poker brat tantrum, but it didn't happen as long as I played there. It was a good table, with a mix of smart and interesting players, including Brandon Cantu, who won event number 2, and is the youngest player (at 25) to ever take home a bracelet. At the other end of the table was a guy whose name I didn't catch, but at 75 years old is one of the oldest people I've ever played with. My writer's imagination went crazy with images of him playing in every WSOP since 1973, and I wished I could have talked to him about how the game has changed in just the last five years.

I was at this table for just over one level, and with an M in the 30s, I could afford to protect my stack and carefully pick my spots. It paid off when I used my tight image and large chipstack to my advantage on one hand.

I was UTG, and found pocket sevens. Normally, I'd throw away this weak middle pair, because I don't want to limp in and have to fold to a raise, I'm not going to feel very good about most flops if I get called and don't hit a set, and I'll have to fold to any re-raise. But on the hand before this, one of the players -- who was in the small blind on this hand -- commented on my tight play, so I figured that an open-raise from UTG, while risky, would likely get folds from this particular table at this particular moment, and I could just fold to a re-raise if necessary without feeling it too much in my stack. Luckily, I was correct about my read of the table, and they all folded. One of the players even said, "now that is respect," as the pot was pushed my way, and I'll admit that I felt kind of cool for about 4 seconds.

I built up my stack to about 5500 after that hand, and then went so completely card dead, I found myself with an M of just over 7 when the antes came in.

Darwin, Wil's companion and card protector

In a tourney with a field this huge, I'm very happy to take coinflips when my M gets below 8, and I'll take advantage of first-in vig whenever I get a reasonable hand to collect antes and blinds, depending on my read of the table. Unfortunately, I got moved to a table with some rather . . . uh . . . unorthodox play, just when I needed to double up. People were pushing all their chips in with monster hands like JTh, KQs, and the mighty powerhouse known as pocket threes. I wanted so badly to get in on the action and get paid off, but I was pretty sure that T5o and The Wheaton aren't favored, even against these acolytes of the popular book Donkey/System, so I had to wait . . . and wait . . . and wait. I had two huge stacks to my right who were mercilessly stealing from me before I could steal from the two players to my left who were also very, very tight, but I never had anything to play back with. My only move, if I was going to play at all, was to push all-in, and I can't justify re-stealing with powerhouse hands like 64o and 52s.

I did get to double up once, when I pushed all my chips in from MP with 99, after one limper. The SB also pushed to isolate, and the BB and limper folded.

I said, "Are we racing?"

He flipped up AK, and I wished him luck.

The flop came A-A-x, and I figured I was done. I stood up, picked up Darwin, and wished the table luck. The turn was a blank, and I felt the power of the Luckbox surge through me when I hit my 2-outer on the river to make a full house.

I felt bad for the guy who I sucked out on, until the player to my left pointed out that I was a slight favorite pre-flop, fell way behind in the race, and then regained the lead inches before the finish line. It doesn't translate right now, but at the time I thought it was hilarious.

The double-up bought me a little bit of time, but the blinds went up again just a couple of orbits later, and though I had more chips, my M was in the same precarious position, so I was still looking to double up again. I knew that if I caught a hand -- any hand -- I would have a good chance at getting paid off, but the cards continued to have other ideas, and the lack of Gap Concept and first-in vig at this particular table really took some important bullets out of my poker gun.

See, I knew this event would play like an online MTT, but I had no idea just how crazy it would be. I noticed that there were two extremes: the players who were very inexperienced and were taking their shot at a bracelet for the relatively low buy-in of $1000, and experienced cash game players who routinely play for stakes that dwarf this tourney's buy-in. Both extremes played equally poorly and recklessly, and the rest of us caught in the middle, trying to just play smart, solid poker, were really at the mercy of the cards and the relatively fast blinds.

It was incredibly frustrating -- in fact, I'm starting to tilt just recalling it now -- but without chips to back up any moves, I had to get some cards to do it for me, and they never came.

When I finally made my stand, I was happy with it. I was Ultra-shortstacked and found K9o in the BB. This is a terrible hand, but my M was less than three, and when I correctly read the SB for yet another steal that would put me all-in, I called, confident that my K-high would be in the lead, and I'd put myself back on track for another hopeful double-up.

I was correct. He said, "good call, man," and flipped up 65o. I was about a 62% favorite, and when the flop came J-high with two of my suit, I went up to a 75% favorite. When he caught a 6 on the turn, I was pretty much the opposite of a favorite. There was no miracle river suckout for me this time, and I was finished.

Again, I picked up my monkey, wished the table good luck, and walked out into the hallway, where the frustration of being card dead behind two LAGs exploded out of me in a litany of rather colorful metaphors. Change100 walked with me to the hooker bar (EDITOR'S NOTE: It's a nickname for the bar...) where several bloggers were hanging out, and listened to my Hellmuthian tirade the entire way. One Newcastle and one Guinness later, I traded my colorful metaphors for realistic analysis, and concluded that I'd made the correct decision, and I'd gotten unlucky.

Hey, that's poker. It's all about the decisions. If you make a good decision, make the right read, get your money in ahead, or snap off a stone bluff, you should feel good about your play, regardless of the result when all five cards are put out on the board.

I'm happy with my decision. Of course, you'd rather not be in a place where you're forced to play for all your chips by calling with K9o, but I made the right read, and got my money in as a 60% favorite as an incredibly short stack. I'm trying to feel good about my play, regardless of the result, but . . . well, insert your favorite colorful metaphor.

I ended up finishing about 550th out of a field of 2800, and while I would have liked to make it deeper into the tourney, Team PokerStars is well represented by players like Humberto Brenes and Victor Ramdin who -- unlike me -- have always had a legitimate chance of winning the whole thing.

Even though I busted out of the event relatively early, I get to stay here in Vegas for the next week, and bring you reports from the Rio and beyond, as I get ready for my next WSOP event. I'll introduce you to other PokerStars players, toss out any cool inside stories I happen to overhear, and I'll do my best to give you Vegas and the WSOP from a geek's perspective.

But now I have to head out to the mall and buy some socks and underpants. I was only supposed to be here for three days, and I'm kind of unprepared.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker