WSOP Event #31 No-Limit Hold'Em: Caught Beneath the Landslide in a Champagne Supernova

by Wil Wheaton

Years ago in Los Angeles, there was a talk radio guy who I listened to at night who always admonished cell-phone callers, "Don't drive angry."

I suppose the same advice could be extended to bloggers, but if I took it, and didn't blog angry, I wouldn't be able to write at all today.

Yeah, I am angry. I'm angry at myself. I'm angry at myself because I made a terrible call to cripple myself, and I'm angry at myself because, quite frankly, I feel embarrassed to show my face in the Amazon room right now.

I had high hopes today: I've listened to great strategy lectures by Barry Tanenbaum and David Sklansky over the last few days, and I've talked with some great pro players several times this week. I felt as confident as I've ever felt as I sat into seat 9 of table 140 at noon today, calm and focused, and ready to make it deep.

I had a relatively easy starting table, which was perfect, because my entire strategy today was based around chipping up and taking a few chances early to do it. I did that, and managed to double my stack by the first break.

Photo copyright Rob Gracie - IMPDI

Then the card rack arrived. This woman was insane: she hit sets on back to back hands, caught top pair against overs, made boats against flushes . . . it was just sick, and it really screwed up the table's flow. She had enough chips and enough courage (or insanity, depending on your point of view) to use it against everyone. I donked off a few chips to her when I made middle pair on a steal and she turned top pair after calling my continuation bet, but mostly I stayed out of her way.

While I stayed out of her way, my mind wandered, and I began writing notes in my book.

Fossilman is one table away, so is Hassan. Beautiful girl with jet-black hair to middle of her back moves to table 144, and all the guys tilt a little bit. She waves to her boyfriend (?) at the rail, and they mega-tilt.

It was just after 2pm, and the final table of the pot-limit hold'em event, which Joe Hachem and Maros "Premier" Lechman were both playing, was about to begin.

Before FT starts, interviews with players -- Bill Chen called "bling bling?" Who came up with that? HE's A GEEK!! Call him "The Doctor."

The TV table was just one table away from me. "Oh, cool," I thought. "I can play cards here, and also watch Joe and Premier."

Yeah, that's a great idea, and it's also a great way to lose focus and all your chips.

Joe was all-in with pocket eights, and I found Q8c in the cutoff. I glanced at the table, saw that it was an unopened pot, and I decided to steal.

"Three hundred," I said, putting three black chips on the felt in front of me and my monkey.

It was folded around, and I heard a voice from the far end of the table say, "Call."

What? Call? I just saw the big blind fold.

So it turns out that, when I was watching Joe on TV, under the gun had limped. Normally, I'm not playing Q8c, even with one limper ahead of me, at the 50-100 level. It's a bullshit hand, and I'm better off just folding it. But I lost focus -- or, rather, I should say that the writer took focus away from the poker player -- and I got trapped.

"Okay, stupid," I thought, "Unless this flop hits you perfectly, you're done with this hand."

The flop came out J-7-x rainbow. "Perfect. It missed me, so I'm done." Under the gun checked, and I checked behind.

The turn was a queen. "Well," I thought, "This just got interesting."

He bet five hundred into a pot of 850, and I figured he probably had a jack, an underpair, or maybe a queen. My task was to determine if I was in kicker trouble if he also had a queen, but after some thought, I decided that he had something like JT, and I was ahead. I called, with the intention of betting out and getting paid off on the end, or taking the pot when he folded.

Yeah, you can all see where this is going, of course, because I'm a goddamn stupid donkey.

The river was a brick, and I fully expected him to check, but instead he went all-in for his last 1200.

Now, I've seen this player do some incredibly stupid things at this table, including calling huge bets with middle pair, but I also know that, in his range of hands, I could be totally dead. "QJ is possible, though unlikely because I have a queen, and there are two on the board. He could open-limp with KQ, too, but calling a late position raise, even a stupid raise like mine, out of position? Also unlikely, because I have the other queen. Queen ten? Queen nine? I just don't think he has a queen."

I counted out the chips to call. If I was right, I would have about 5000. If I was wrong, I would have about 900. I had to call 1200 to win a pot of just over 3000, if my math was correct, and getting around 2.5:1, I talked myself into the call.

I was right. He didn't have a queen. He turned up two sevens for a flopped set, and I felt as stupid and disgusted with myself as I've ever felt in my life.

"Oh, wow," I said, astonished. "I never saw that coming. Very nice hand, sir."

He looked at me with complete contempt, like I was a real idiot who didn't deserve to be in his company. Lady card rack looked at me like I was the only player at the table who didn't see how clearly I was beaten. The writer in me took lots of mental notes. My stomach turned.

A few hands later, with an M of less than 8, I open-pushed from late position with A4h, right into the small blind's pocket tens. I never caught up, collected my things, and left.

I was really, really embarrassed. Hell, I still am. I know better, I play better, and if I just hadn't lost my freaking focus, I wouldn't have been in the hand that crippled me in the first place.

I hung my head as I walked out of the Amazon room and back toward the suite.

"Jesus Christ," I thought to myself, "I am such an idiot. Way to take a decent chipstack and completely donk it off, you moron." By the time I walked into the suite, I felt like I was going to throw up. I tossed my backpack (okay, I threw it) under a table, and called Pauly up for a beer at the Tilted Kilt, where he listened with a sympathetic ear to my tales of self-lothing and disgust.

One Arrogant Bastard, one Guinness, one barbecue chicken pizza and about forty minutes later, I felt a little better, so I made my way back to the suite to get back to work. Maybe, I thought, writing about it would make me feel better.

I sat on the couch, pulled out my laptop, and prepared to write when Otis walked into the suite, a storm cloud over his head. "Did you see the beat Joe just took?" He said.

"No, I didn't," I said.

Otis proceeded to tell me how John Gale brutally sucked out on Joe with a five outer to send Joe to the rail in fourth place. It was as if Otis had been bounced from the final table himself.

Aside: Here's the thing about Otis: when someone he really likes takes a bad beat, or is eliminated from a tournament (or both) -- especially if it's Joe or Isabelle -- you'd swear that Otis was in the hand with them, lost all their chips, and backed his car over his dog for good measure. I mean, we all feel crappy when our friends take a bad beat (especially the five outer that eliminated Joe today) but I've seen Otis lose to a two-outer suckout, and leave the room with better humor than when someone he cares about gets busted.

"How is Premier doing?" I said.

"He's short-stacked," Otis said, "and I better go back in there to watch him."

"Okay. Maybe we can grab a beer later?"


Terrence Chan sat on the couch next to me, and replayed the hand that crippled me. He said that I wasn't as big of an idiot as I felt, and if my read of the other guy was so strong, based on the terrible moves I'd seen him make, as well as the push on the end, it wasn't as bad a call as I thought. I really respect Terrence and his game, so I loosened the hair shirt a little bit, but continued to whack myself in the head with a board, Monty Python and the Holy Grail-style.

"I really feel like I should stick to writing," I said, "and not play the main event."

"Aren't you already in the main event?" Terrence said.

"Yeah," I said. "But if I'm going to play like I played today, the money would buy-in would be better spent on making beautiful origami cranes and launching them off the roof of the Bellagio."

"You always this hard on yourself?" He said.

"Yes," I said. "Yes I am."

We talked for a few more minutes, but I don't remember what we talked about. I was too busy yelling at myself in my head.

Greg Raymer walked in, after being eliminated a few levels later than me. "Hey," I said, surprised to see him, "are you out?"

"Yeah," he said. I didn't tell him how I busted. Greg hears enough stories from people about their lousy play, and I didn't need to add to the list.

We talked for a minute, and then word must have spread that he was in the suite, because people flooded in to get autographs and pictures. I sat back down while his fans swarmed him. About fifteen minutes later, it looked like he was ready to leave the suite.

"Hey Greg," I said, "are you hanging around, or are you going home?"

"I'm going out to dinner," he said, "to get some sushi. Do you want to come?"

"Oh man, I'd love to, " I said, "but I really need to stay here and write."

"Are you sure? It's close by, and you can write when we're done."

"Dude, I really have to stay here and get some work done."

"Oh, come on, man!" He said. "It'll be fun!"

I laughed. "Stop raising me, Greg! I fold! I fold! I fold! I'm staying here to work!"

Greg laughed with me. The entire room joined in, and I went along for the ride.

He walked out into the hallway, where Mike Matusow gave him a bunch of shit about something or other.

"Yep. It's just another day here at the World Series of Poker." I thought.

The two of them were cracking up together, and I really wanted to go out an join in the mirth . . . but goddammit, I had to write, so I stayed on the couch and continued to work.

As I went over my notes and pulled everything together, Otis came back in.

"Premier just doubled through John Gale," he said, "and now he has the chip lead."

This was an incredibly big deal. Maros (Premier) bought into the event with FPPs, and could be the youngest player in World Series History to win a bracelet. He was essentially freerolling for nearly 200,000 dollars.

"I know I have to work, but I'm not going to sit here and type while history unfolds a thousand feet down the hall from me." I thought. "I can go watch, and come back to write later. It'll be fun! Hee-haw! I call!

I closed my laptop, grabbed my notebook and a bottle of water, and headed down to the Amazon room.

On the way there, I helped a man and his two sons -- obviously tourists, but clearly part of the great number of people who watch the World Series on television -- find the official WSOP store. They appeared as overwhelmed and lost as I felt last year, and I was happy to do a good deed -- however small -- in a place where they don't seem to happen very often.

"Thanks for your help," the man said.

"No problem, sir," I said. "Have a good time."

Aside: Yet another example of the insane weirdness that surrounds me like fog on the California coast: a woman just pulled into the PokerStars suite on a Segway. She stepped off, and sat down on one of our couches next to a guy who I've figured out is some sort of big deal. Uh, what?

A few minutes later, I stood on the metal bleachers at the final table, next to a bunch of guys in their early and mid-twenties, who all friends of Premier and very huge PokerStars players. Gank, PBDrunks, Hollingol, Lurped, SamENole, The_Shrike and bILiaRds, (who I sat next to at my starting table in the 2K) hollered and high-fived and cheered on Premier like a bunch of college students watching their team in The Big Game.

As I walked up, Premier bet out 80,000 on a flop of 7-Q-T, and John Gale came over the top of him for total of 200,000. Premier thought for a moment, and pushed all-in. If John called, he would have to win the showdown, and he thought long and hard about it (though, in true John Gale fashion, his face never revealed a single thought; he is a granite rock) before eventually folding.

Premier's friends went berserk, and the rowdy cheering and celebrating was infectious. I know John, and I like John, very much . . . but when I was on the bleachers next to a bunch of young guys who are poker's next wave of superstars and they were cheering like that, I couldn't help but join in.

Premier turned around and gave what Paul Phillips told me was "the sly sideways glance" that typically accompanies a huge move with over cards. In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw him mouth "overs." I won't know what he had until ESPN airs the event later this year, but I'm pretty sure he made a huge move and his friends knew it.

Over the next half hour or so, John and Premier battled back and forth, neither player really gaining much of a chip advantage. In fact, it would have been a pretty uninteresting level, if not for Premier's friends (who I learned are almost all PokerStars Supernovas and staying in the same house here in Vegas for the Series) who actually started busting his chops and giving him hell over virtually every move he made. It was incredible to watch the camaraderie these guys appeared to have, and quite honestly, it was a pleasure to watch them all so obviously having a good time together. Oh, and there's a bracelet and a mountain of money on the line, too.

Just before the dinner break, Premier had about one million chips, and John was clinging to life with four hundred thousand. Premier put John all-in with a pair of fours, and John called with a pair of eights. We all stood up, knowing that Premier was a massive underdog, but hoping for a miracle.

The flop put a very thin draw on the board for Premier, and one of his friends shouted out, "bring a four for the suckout, just like online!" We all laughed really hard at that, and I hoped that our mirth would please the poker gods . . . but the turn and river didn't help, and John doubled up one minute before the round ended and they went on a dinner break.

Otis and I met up with Pauly and Change100, and headed up to the hooker bar for a beer. When we got there, Otis said, "How are you feeling, man?"

"I feel stupid," I said. "I feel like I played like shit, and I really hate myself right now."

"Don't hate yourself," he said. "Tell me again how the hand went down."

I did, and identified the really big problem with the whole goddamn thing: I lost focus at a key moment, because I was watching Joe. The writer and the player came into conflict, and the writer won. If the writer hadn't been watching Joe to get the story, the poker player wouldn't ever have tried to steal and end up in a crippling hand. It also turns out that the poker player just didn't bring his "A" game today.

"I can't see how I could have played it differently," I said, "unless I'm willing to be so tight, I give him credit for a hand he might have . . . "

" . . . and that's monsters under the bed," Otis said.

"Yeah," I said. "And while I'll tell myself that I would rather bust before the dinner break than nurse a short stack just to stay alive . . ." I shrugged and threw up my hands. "I don't mind going out of a tournament, but calling off my stack with top pair and not even a great kicker to cripple myself was just stupid. It was a goddamn Celebrity Poker Showdown move, and I really went out hating myself. No matter how hard I try, I just feel stupid," I said, "and the truth is, I'd much rather write than play poker right now, because I don't like feeling stupid."

Otis didn't say anything. He's too good of a friend to kick me when I'm down, but we both knew that I played like shit.

We finished our beer, and walked back to the tournament area. Otis headed into the tournament area, and I walked into the now closed PokerStars hospitality suite, where I've re-written and edited this post for the last hour. It's empty now, and I'm alone in here with just the whirr of a bubble machine to keep me company.

When I was eliminated from the Main Event of the World Series last year, I called Paul Phillips from the hallway.

"Did you go out good, or did you go out hating yourself?" He said.

I thought I went out hating myself, but at least I took and lost a race. When I picked up my things and did the walk of shame out of the Amazon room this afternoon, I really knew what hating myself was.

I don't hate myself when I write.

I think I'll stick to writing for a while.

I'm all-in.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker