WSOP Main Event: Analysing the opening exchanges

wsop2009_thn.gifThere were two ways these opening exchanges were going to go: cautious or very cautious. "Have we seen a turn yet?" asked a colleague in the press box, approaching an hour into play. "No," was the answer to that, hinting at the trepidation among these nine, none of which could in any way be described as a nit. (The first turn card did eventually come, at 2.05pm. It was followed by our first river card and our first showdown. Read about it below.)

The first verbal declaration of all in came from Phil Ivey, reraising Jeff Shulman but putting what looked like an agonising decision on Joe Cada in the small blind. We've seen quite a bit of Cada over the past couple of months, most notably in Barcelona and London on the European Poker Tour, and he wouldn't stall without good reason. Eventually he passed up the chance to knock out the superstar, perhaps fearing the consequences should he double him up. That moved Ivey up to about 10 million, but which keeps him in the bottom three in chips.

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It's difficult to gauge how the game stands from those chip counts at the moment, although they can loosely be split into three groups of three (with a bit of blurring at the boundaries). At the top, Darvin Moon, Eric Buchman and Steven Begleiter are playing a different game to the rest. They are comfortable and can still afford to take it easy. They can call in position with marginal holdings, hoping to hit a flop. Or they can bully with a re-raise whenever they like, especially from the three players immediately below them in the counts.

Those three, Shulman, Cada and Kevin Schaffel, are probably being forced into making the most poker decisions around the table. They still have a stack big enough to scare the leaders into getting too deeply embroiled, but with around 10 million apiece, they're often in a tough spot. They can afford to fold to a re-raise, but don't want to be bleeding too many chips lest they end up in the category below.

There we find the short stacks: Ivey, Antoine Saout and, in particular, James Akenhead. The three of them will have spent a deal of time over the past couple of months planning their shoving strategy: what hand is good enough to re-raise all in pre-flop. They came into today's play knowing that subtlety was going to be difficult; they needed to find a spot to get their chips in.

We saw Ivey do it, and Saout has also open-shoved pre-flop to take down a pot. But we must assume that Akenhead has been utterly card dead. He's yet to win a hand and has dropped to below four million, which means he is all in or fold until he doubles up or departs. One of those is likely to happen in the coming hour or so.

Once that happens, the game will probably open up, and even Daniel Negreanu agreed. "Expect this level to be really nuts," said the Team PokerStars Pro. At the moment, though, the stacks are too tentatively positioned for this to be a free-for-all. And there ends this episode of cod analysis.

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WSOP Final Table 2009

Let's hear some action from that past hour:

We know a flute with no holes is not a flute, and a donut with no hole is a danish. What is an hour with no flops? Well, not entirely that interesting (and not nearly as tasty as a danish would be right now). The last hour of action was nearly flop-free.

When Joe Cada came in for a raise to 750,000, Steven Begleiter re-raised to 2,250,000 from the small blind and picked up the pot. On the very next hand, Begleiter raised from the button and won the blinds and antes again. When Phil Ivey raised the next hand to 800,000, Eric Buchman pushed him off with a raise to 3 million. Then Ivey came in for 800,000 and picked up the blinds and antes. Buchman did the same thing on the next hand.

Finally, we got around to seeing our very first turn of the day. Eric Buchman came in for a raise to 800,000 and got a call from Jeff Shulman. On a flop of K♥7♦7♠, Buchman checked, Shulman bet 1,750,000, and Buchman called. Both players checked the turn T♥ and river 3♣. Buchman showed Q♥Q♦ for the win.

One hand later, the players went on their first break of the day.

One of the most active players from the early skirmishes has been Joe Cada. Here he shares his thoughts on the final table with the video blog team:


Watch WSOP 2009: Joe Cada on PokerStars.tv

Howard Swains
@howardswains in World Series of Poker